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Leadership Toolbox

Learning in the Time of Covid-19 (how we can distil the great things we’ve done since March)

By | Coaching and Mentoring, Education, Leadership Toolbox, Personal Development

Not another leadership lecture

Against a backdrop of constant change, deep uncertainty and a fair dose of fear, we have all had to adapt like never before.  I’m not here to preach; but I want to celebrate amazing creativity, innovation, determination and a group of people who have taken on new roles, people who have come together as teams and who have discovered things that they didn’t know they could do.

As a coach – most often in a leadership environment – I am working with individuals who are on a ‘leadership journey’.  This means that references to classic leadership tools, guru’s statements and all the well-known instructions for success are familiar.  We all have to learn, but there is little doubt that reflective and experiential learning is the most powerful way to embed our knowledge for effective future action.

What I have seen recently in my coaching conversations is powerful.

This is culture

“This is how we do things around here”.

Sound familiar? Just Google Culture or Organisational Culture Change and you can soon be overwhelmed.  I’m going to hazard a guess that in the next six months or so we will be even more awash with solutions and ways of bringing about swift culture change.  I’m also going to suggest that in six months time the bandwagon will not be seen for dust.  Don’t get me wrong, the essence of culture change will be similar: 1. look at what you have; 2. Look at what you want; 3. Design something new; 4. Share it with everyone (at which point I am, I confess, rolling my eyes as this needs to be number ONE); 5. Check the new is in line with values and visions and what you really want; 6. Implement and keep under review. So, maybe not so different.  But just read on to see how people in education are living and succeeding at change.

What WILL be different is the speed at which it can happen.

I found a nice piece in Forbes (https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidrock/2019/05/24/fastest-way-to-change-culture/#734ecf243d50, Thank you David Rock) where there is a suggestion that almost all organisations are thinking about a change in culture, but worryingly less than 20% of employees think they are up for it.  Dr Rock talks about a model PHS – Priorities, Habits, Systems, which has been tried and tested and which he believes can effect a real difference in nine months.

Nine?  We have just had three and a bit and look where we are now!!

So what happened?

What has just happened?!

What has just happened is that we have been forced to rethink our priorities, change our habits and use new systems in order to get work done.

Let’s think about this in the context of education, as this is where almost all my coaching conversations have been in the last three months.  I’m working with Senior leaders – Executive Heads, Head Teachers, Deputies and Section leads across academy trusts.  They have been busy, really busy since lockdown, and although many of them are tired, I am not seeing the same overwhelming exhaustion that many have near the end of term or a school year. This is about how they have had to juggle an array of different things.

Suddenly their staffing was diminished, with people shielding or self-isolating. Suddenly, the role looked more like child-care than education as they allowed other key workers to do their jobs. Suddenly they lost face to face contact, not just with colleagues, but importantly with the children.  This wasn’t just about the children’s learning, it was about their well-being. Suddenly, the communication with parents changed. Suddenly the way that lessons and learning were delivered had to change. And this meant that the feedback to children had to change.

Did our wonderful teachers give up? Did they down tools? Oh no. There was no choice, change was upon us all.

Priorities

If I had to construct a word cloud around education, I think that ‘Ofsted’, ‘Data’, ‘SATs’ would loom large. We have to be able to see how a school is faring because our next generations deserve to head into the world with the best chances we can give them, but the line between measuring what is done and doing what needs to be done gets shaky.

All of a sudden the priorities changed.  It wasn’t about what Ofsted were going to say, it was about how the children were going to get the education they needed and how vulnerable families would be supported through education.

All at once, people’s roles changed, they were geographically separated and we immediately lost a common communication method.  The ‘quick question’, the ‘door-stepping’ in the corridor, the ‘tea-room’ conversations: gone at a swipe.

Virtual meetings changed all this.  Availability changed, planning changed (and, as an aside, aren’t we all much better at writing shopping lists now?), focus changed.

So what actually happened to our priorities? Working from home has provided some interesting insights as well as challenges. The reduced interruptions have meant clearer thought pathways, the ability to see more of the family (no commute time and short breaks stroking the dog or hanging out washing maybe?) have highlighted family life.  Has the work still got done? Yes, albeit different work.  People are telling me that they have identified (tangibly) the priorities that really matter. Dr Rock called them ‘sticky’ (I like this, it describes them completely).  Because the individuals have identified new priorities for themselves they will be memorable and have shown themselves to be feasible (certainly at present).

Priorities have shifted from the day to day, from the data and measurement of what is being done, to actually making the schools safe places for key worker children and to providing home-learning for others.

Many schools have been providing food parcels and support in their communities and have been getting to know and understand them better.  Communication with parents has been different, (phone, not ‘at the school gate’), but focussed on the families.

Habits

Habits or ways of working become comfortable, ingrained and easy to continue – which is why change is tough.  It takes effort and it can also be worrying. Psychologists will tell us that the best way to change a habit is to do something we haven’t done before.  This feels uncomfortable so our default is often to stay the same.  In his book ‘Rip it Up’, Richard Wiseman asks us to rip pages from the book as we work through it.  He was spot on when he predicted that I was saying ‘noooooo’.  Who tears up a book? This is it in a nutshell, even if something is harmless, it can feel very un-nerving to do it if it is out of our normal sphere of action.

And what’s happened in this pandemic?

Habits have had to change, overnight.  Completely. All those little communications, the way we plan (no certainty these days!), the way that feedback goes to children on their work, (the way that marking disappeared?), the way we would commute, work late, separate home and work.  We’ve all had to embrace technology.  Online lessons, online meetings, shared documents, meetings at unusual times.  Not all of these things are advantageous, but we’ve seen seismic shifts in habit.

On the whole, the people I have been coaching have worked right through, many with no Easter holiday or half term and although exams are not going to be missed in some ways there are some serious milestones which have disappeared.  The importance of these was raised by one Head Teacher and reminds me of how important these things are. It is easy enough to lose track of which day it is when routine disappears and even that feels strange.  It is uncomfortable and a sign that we need some kind of stability in our lives.

Systems

Systems help us to achieve things and allow us to work from a framework or with new infrastructure.

How many of us really wanted to have so many virtual meetings?  Why didn’t we do it before? Why was it that we didn’t set up that shared document system to speed up reviewing? Why did we always assume that meetings had to be at certain times? That feedback had to be done in a certain way? That communication, if not face to face, could be left?

Systems have had to change too, in order to accommodate the new ways of working and our shifting priorities.

How has this all made a difference to schools?

Again, from the Priorities/Habits/Systems model, we hear that experience of insights to new culture will engender strong motivation.  All change leaders urge us to talk about it all the time – and who hasn’t recently? We are told that to reach our goals and achieve the ambition for our organisation, we have to have a shared vision.  Never has this been seen more practically than now. We have to LIVE our culture. LIVE our priorities.

I’m not telling you this as a leadership coach, this is what senior leaders in education have been saying to me.

“We (the team) are working so well together.  The cohesion and collaboration is really good”

“Phoning the parents has been great, we’ve started to understand each other so much better”

“We all know what we are aiming for”

“Everyone has been so flexible.  We have different roles, but we are still getting everything done”

“I know that I really need to see my own children in the evenings”

“We are finding ways to give feedback to the children”

“I’m loving the ‘child-care element’, but I’m looking forward to really teaching again and seeing all the children”

“People are less overwhelmed and they are willing to get stuck in”

There are stories of teachers and LSAs coming in to redecorate, to build outdoor class-rooms, to develop things for the children’s return, there is a sense of achievement, success in challenging times, creativity and innovation.  There is lots of kindness, there is trust and delegation because people are working remotely.

And in future?

The reason that I believe we can make lasting change is that this has all been tangible, it has been experiential and although the change itself was outside our control, we have all made our own changes so that we could get on with what we do.  Our Senior leaders in education have been showing all the things that leadership gurus tell us we need for good leadership and effective organisations. They have been living their visions, defining their values, understanding their priorities and learning how to communicate effectively.

Finally, I want to say a huge thank you to all of the people I have coached in the last few months, and from whom I have taken inspiration, because they have all demonstrated all the important qualities and behaviours that we are going to need for the next phase. They have learned and reflected and this is what can help us to bottle this all up into the Positive Vibes bottle and carry it on into next year.

I take my hat off to you all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coaching conversations: Being Worried

By | Coaching and Mentoring, Leadership Toolbox, Personal Development

Leadership and Personal Coaching – topics from coaching conversations

After many hundreds of hours coaching, I see some repeating themes, so I’m hoping that this series of info sheets will add a little background to conversations that I’ve had, or will provide a start point if you are thinking about having coaching.

Circles of Concern and of Influence

We all worry about ‘stuff’. It’s a normal, human thing to do. The problem comes when it overtakes our lives. It is also a fact that some people worry more than others and some people are more proactive when it comes to dealing with the things that life is throwing at them.

We can look at this in a number of ways, but essentially it is about understanding how we perceive this ‘stuff’ and deal with it for ourselves.

One way to start unpicking this is to look at circles of concern and circles on influence as described by Stephen R. Covey (in his book, the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People).  Within the circle of concern are the things about which we have little emotional or mental connection and/or the things which we cannot control. Within the circle of influence lie the things that we can make a difference to and which we can affect by our own actions in some way.

Separating these two types of ‘stuff’ is a good start in understanding and then changing how we approach the things that cause us worry.

As an example, change is a big topic, but you’ll probably already know that being in control of change makes things feel more comfortable than when we are subject to changes made by others. Being proactive, rather than reactive, helps us to gain a better feeling of control and to feel more positive about what is happening with the ‘stuff’ around us.

We can make a start by identifying some of the things on our mind and then placing them into the ‘concern’ or ‘influence’ section. For example, we can’t change the weather, so this would go near the outside edge of the concern circle, but if we are considering what to have for tea, then that sits pretty well into the middle of the influence circle.

Let’s suppose that we are really worried about the big family picnic that we’ve organised for our Aunt’s 70th birthday. We’ll want it to go well, of course. Where does it sit in relation to our circles of concern and influence? That will depend very much on our own approach to ‘stuff’.   A reactive person might fret about the weather, but a proactive person will make a plan B. A reactive person might worry about the caterer getting the order right. A proactive person will check the order and communicate with the caterer to see how preparations are going.

In this way, the reactive person keeps all their concerns out there as concerns, but the proactive person is bringing elements into their own influence and effectively increasing the size of the inner circle. (And, at the same time reducing the size of the concern element by taking back some control over ‘stuff’).

There’s more to it than this, but it is one tool in our armoury and something which arises in coaching conversations from time to time and which might help to separate things out from a different perspective. I hope it’s useful.

ALISON

April 2020 in sunny South Wales

Virtual meetings, new social rules and coping with a new normal

By | Business, Leadership Toolbox

Moving from face to face to virtual meetings

My coach Supervisor laughs at the notes that I take in some of my coaching conversations because so many include drawings: What does this cat remind you of? Draw your day? Johari Windows and Freeze/thaw/freeze pictures and doodles which would only be comprehensible to me and the person being coached.

I have always been loathe to coach via a computer because I thought I’d miss out on the nuances of body language and the easy sharing of written ideas, thoughts and notes.

However, we are at a place where virtual meetings are becoming more normal and are likely to stay with us for far more than the occasional Skype conversation with distant family. (By the way, if you want to make those really good fun, then switch on the subtitles!). The whole idea is going to bring a new set of 21st Century social rules, so here are a few thoughts from my experiences so far.

Technology

As we all set out into our new virtual world, there is no doubt that the technology will be one of the big challenges (and we won’t all have a five year old to hand to sort it all out like the TV).  It (almost) goes without saying that you’ll need decent broadband speeds and a computer running modern Software.

a) Security.

There is a lot out there and much is free, but, as my Cyber Security expert friend reminds me, if the product is free then there is a strong chance that YOU are the product.  Be careful and watch out for updates, news and support around security, follow basic rules around cyber-safety and consider what you share very carefully.

b) What’s out there?

I’m no expert on the different pieces of software but have used GoTo meeting, Cisco’s Webex, Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp, Facetime.  There are others including MS Teams and, plenty more I’m sure.  Check out their websites for their plans, pricing and ways of working.  Talk to other people about ease of use, scope and what seems to work well for them.

c) Try out the different apps.

See what works well for you – for example things like the phone apps are OK for 1:1 conversations, but it is awful trying to have a serious conversation with someone when they keep wandering around and lose their audio or show you videos which give you the opportunity to examine their nostrils. (Ugh).  Zoom works well, but is very busy at present so bandwidth has been a challenge at times and their security in chats was questioned by National Newspapers recently. Skype is fairly straightforward to use, but the video quality is variable.  (I struggle to find all the settings easily on the mobile app).

d) Practice

Try your chosen system/systems in non-critical conversations with family, friends or close colleagues. Play with the settings and see what you can achieve.  It’s worth doing it pretty much daily while we all get more used to working like this.  Even complex job interviews are being carried out virtually so it is really important to be familiar with the technology so that you can focus on WHAT you are saying, not HOW you are saying it.  After all, we don’t have to think hard about talking in an interview, which means that we can focus on the content of our conversation.

Tips and wrinkles – setting up and getting started

I’ve had to do some thinking, researching and training so some of these tips have come from there, some from my own experience.

  1. Practice.  Make sure the software is loaded and you know how to access your meeting / call.
  2. Always have your mobile handy and share this with your meeting organiser so that if technology has a blip then you can text or call to sort things out.
  3. Make sure you are somewhere comfortable! Get a coffee or glass of water in case you need refreshing during the discussion.
  4. Set up your device to provide the best audio you can and video so that the light is coming from the right direction and doesn’t make you look like a being from a sci-fi movie. (Oddly, having light directly in front of you (i.e. behind the device) usually works well.
  5. Consider your background.  Some software allows you to blur the background or add a virtual one.
  6.  ‘Arrive’ in good time.  You can be sure that if you leave it until the last minute, you will have a software glitch or the laptop will want to update or run a security scan and gobble up time and memory.

Tips and wrinkles – social niceties

Some of our social rules won’t change, but for some reason seem to get ‘lost’ as people move to a virtual world.  We also have new ones that will make sure we can work collaboratively and effectively.

  1. Be presentable. There seems to be a more ‘heads than threads’ approach online, but it is just as important to create a good impression virtually as it would be in person.  In truth, it might be even more important as we might miss out on some of the smaller signals that we get about people when we meet face to face.
  2.  Be punctual.  You can’t creep into a virtual meeting like you do to a room full of people! If you do come late then it will be noticeable and can be disruptive.
  3. As host, make sure that introductions are made where appropriate and try to welcome people as they arrive.  This creates a positive feeling and also acts as a form of introduction.
  4. Make sure that there is a clear agenda.  One of the downsides of virtual meetings is that discussion has to be more clear cut and it isn’t always easy to spot who wants to say something.  In a room, there will be some form of ‘intention gesture’ that can be picked up on by the host – not always so easy in a virtual room.  A good agenda will help to focus everyone in the same direction and support input from those who need to give it.
  5.  Turn mobiles to silent once the meeting starts).
  6.  Shut children, pets and family out – they can be an unwanted distraction.  There are times when they might add a personal dimension to the discussion, but make sure it is for an appropriate audience.
  7.  Follow the host’s instructions on audio and video, but generally it is good practice to mute your microphone unless you are making a comment to the meeting.  (Failing to do this creates sometimes unbearable noise for everyone else).
  8.  Engage.  Your hosts might be fairly new to all this too.
  9.  As host, it might be useful to have a co-host who watches chat boxes to pick up on relevant input that needs to be shared.
  10.  Look at the camera – we are used to looking at the face of someone that we are talking to, but on a laptop this might mean that you are looking at your colleague over their shoulder.

A couple of other thoughts

Have a think about what might distract you in a virtual meeting and try to manage it so that you can focus on the conversation.  The kind of things which people report as distracting are:

What they look like, what their colleagues look like (how’s my hair looking three weeks into lockdown?!), are my bookshelves tidy? What is that on their wallpaper? Shall I just answer that incoming e mail?  Am I using the technology properly? And so on….

This is just a quick blog, so I’d love to hear your hints and tips for effective meetings over the internet!

 

 

Redefining ‘Coaching’

By | Coaching and Mentoring, Education, Leadership Toolbox, Personal Development

Do you think of any of these if I say ‘coach’?

Understanding different perspectives
Most people have a clear idea of what a coach is, maybe even what a coach does. The difficulty is matching it with what we, as coaches think we are, and with what we actually do.  OK, so my pictures are a slightly extreme set of examples, but I have been wondering if it’s about time for a total re-brand.  The idea of ‘coach’ seems to be so ingrained in people’s minds, that it proves tricky to get people to fully understand what coaching is and what it can do for them.  What keeps me going, standing on my soapbox, is that people who have had (high quality) coaching are generally sold on the idea.  It’s just those who havent experienced it that we struggle to convince.

In some ways the challenge that needs unravelling is all about detail, semantics even, and being rather pedantic in our own use of the term.  I spent many hours discussing and writing assignments for my coaching qualifications on the subject of coaching versus mentoring. I’ve had similar conversations with my sporting colleagues – they used to be ‘instructors’, then ‘trainers’, and now… ‘coaches’.  The real problem is that people – and often our potential clients -no longer know what to expect.

Should we define coaching?

Maybe it is pointless to get hung up on the niceties of the language, because the key thing is to be able to communicate with people around us in a language that is meaningful to them.  If any of you have done battle with research papers and ended up almost screaming for clear, plain English, you might know what I mean.  Another common frustration might be the use of jargon (and most professions have it), which isn’t helpful when relaying information to a lay audience: it needs to be readable.  I have a friend who is a great research scholar, but she spends a significant amount of time re-writing her work for blogs so that they are accessible to people outside academe.  It isn’t dumbing down, it isn’t damaging our language, it is about communicating appropriately for our audience. So, for these reasons, we need to know what our potential clients think coaching is, rather than insisting on what we believe it to be.

Selling the idea

It really isn’t new – we need to provide what our clients need (if we can’t then they need signposting elsewhere).  Marketing our services isn’t about what we can do, it is about matching what our clients want with the strengths, skills or experience that we have.  If we turn the marketing equation around like this, it immediately makes more sense to look at the possible outcomes of coaching, rather than offering ‘coaching’.  Working in this direction also means that listening to what our clients want becomes central to the conversation and the plan.  It sounds obvious, but these basic tenets of business so often get lost in the moment.

So, what might coaching be?

I had a eureka moment last Spring whilst working with senior leaders in schools.  In education, there are clear set-ups for coaching which are roles that are supportive, informative, guiding and training.  In some words, then, closer to mentoring in my book.  This means that, mostly, if you are taking to educators about coaching, they will have this idea.  If you talk to someone in the caring professions, they may well jump to the other end of the continuum and start by imagining counselling (and that really isn’t coaching).

One day the Head Teacher was talking about a ‘coaching’ session that she had attended which had really got her thinking becasue it was novel. Her coach had used some great tools and practical exercises to create analogies for where she was and where her team were, what the barriers were and where they wanted to get to.  It was a new approach and challenged her view of coaching.  It helped clarify the terms for me, highlighting how differently people view coaching.

Describing coaching

In truth, coaching is made up of myriad elements and it is this that probably makes it so difficult to describe accurately. We might look at the way that a coach reaches their objectives, very often they’ll describe themselves through the tools that they use,  for example’I’m an NLP practitioner’, or, ‘I’m a mindfulness coach’. Alternatively they might look at the specific challenges that they’re going to address, ‘I’m a career coach’, ‘I’m a transition coach’, ‘I’m a performance coach’.

I’m making no value judgement here, but here is the question: how can we separate all these elements when home, health, career, lifestyle are all entwined in each of us? How can we know that a particular coaching tool will be a panacea?  Don’t we need to understand exactly what each of our coaches will need?

 

Talent

By | Coaching and Mentoring, Leadership Toolbox, Personal Development

TALENT

Let’s think about ‘Talent’.  Just what is talent?  It is a widely used word, but in sport coaching we are careful how we apply it and this got me thinking…

We might say that someone has a talent for sport or a talent for leading people or a creative talent.  Current thinking is that it is about the hours that we put in to make things work.  It is about the effort and commitment that we make which leads to successful outcomes. Do I hear you say ‘no, I could never do this/that/the other, of course there is such a thing as talent’?

One of the things that I love about my work as a coach is the transferability of coaching principles.

Let’s think about that.  If we start with sport, it helps to illustrate the point. Consider a Ladies netball team. Do they have physical attributes in common? How about great bowlers – do our best cricketers have anything in common? How about Gymnasts? Sport climbers who almost run up impossible-looking rock faces? Rowers?  Ask yourself, are they tall? Short? Well-built? Wiry?  Can you see a rugby prop doing gymnastics? For sure, we can all make a difference to our body shapes, but only to a degree.  We wouldn’t expect the best sport climbers to be powerful rowers. We wouldn’t expect our netball players to be gymnasts or ballerinas.  There is no judgement in this, it’s just the way we are.  We build on our physical attributes and learn the motor skills for our sport.  We develop patterns and neural pathways which mean we don’t have to think everything through from scratch.  

Although there may not be a direct comparison, it isn’t a huge leap to accept that we are born with a certain nature and then, as life goes on, we build on early interactions to develop ourselves into who we are today.  It means we are all different, we all have strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes.  We may have great ‘emotional intelligence’, we might have excellent practical skills, we might be very creative, we might love a challenge.  This is the fascination with people: we are not the same. And this is where the challenge comes in when we have to work with those different people….

I think that talent is maybe something rather more subtle than we first thought.  It is the intrinsic ‘wiring’ of our brain, or the shape of our body plus commitment and practice in what we want to do.  

It is all a question of degree, of our expectations.  Somehow we need to identify realistic expectations.  If we’re not built to be jockeys, then we must look to what we can do: if not flat race, then maybe a steeplechase jockey who can be taller.  If we are too broad to be a sport climber, then maybe a mountaineer.  For World Class athletes or for leaders of the World’s biggest companies, then we are likely to need a very specific body type or set of brain functions, but if we want to do well at a different level, then maybe there is nothing stopping us.  Just because we can’t run a country, we shouldn’t give up on helping at a community level.  Just because we aren’t brilliant with numbers, it doesn’t mean we can’t run a business.  If we are great with people, then perhaps we should look at jobs that need those skills, if we are practical and logical and risk averse, perhaps we should look at jobs that need that.  If we love numbers, then there are jobs that need those skills. We don’t all have to climb the same career tree, there are people in diverse roles who can all reach the top.  We can compete at a high level in sport or sports – there is no shortage of people succeeding in second sports because, given the right build, a huge part of success is mental.  It is the determination and single-mindedness to focus on a vey specific goal – at the highest level this is usually to the exclusion of just about everything else.  We need to pick our level, decide on the balance we want and then be sure that our expectations are realistic for the person that we are. 

Finally, then, next time you wonder what’s stopping you from reaching the top of your tree, perhaps the first question is, ‘Am I climbing the right tree?”

Responsiblity…What is it really?

By | Coaching and Mentoring, Leadership Toolbox

I am just in the process of developing a workshop for a client who is hoping to help her team to become more proactive, leaving her to cover more strategic challenges.  One of my start points is to consider accountability and responsibility. Well – don’t ever type THAT into Google! No only are there myriad references, but also lots of differing opinions.  Ultimately, like all else, we need to make our own decisions on what we believe is right for our context and what is well-evidenced.  Anyway, accountability is one for another day because I found this neat little video (Thank you Active Nation) which describes responsibility pretty succinctly.

I hope you like it too.

Getting ‘STUFF’ done

By | Education, Leadership Toolbox

There are a few recurring themes when I’m coaching people.  One of those is about ‘Time Management’.  We could get into discussions on the practicalities (lists, urgent vs important).  We could argue that time is not something that can be actively managed – it has to be about what we do within the confines of that dimension. We could get into philosophical conversations about the meaning of life, work and ultimate purpose.  Lets leave all that for another day.

I have been reading a neat little book by Andy Buck about leadership in education and he made mention of this video.  It’s only about 5 minutes, (so it is a good investment in time, and allows us one last shot at procrastinating!)

Enjoy it…

SPACE – Definitely not the final frontier for learning

By | Coaching and Mentoring, Education, Leadership Toolbox, Personal Development

Space – (Definitely NOT the final frontier for learning!)

 

Yesterday I attended an interesting conference on Critical Leadership.  In just a short space of time we touched on many topics which challenge us as leaders.  One of the themes centred on how we keep formal learning going in our day-to-day jobs once we return from the buzz of workshops.  This is a topic very close to my heart.

Four points stick in my mind as crucial for continued learning:

–        We need to open spaces for conversation

–        We need to listen and empower

–        We need to foster constant curiosity

–        We need to enable conversations

If I could have created a word cloud from the speakers yesterday morning, I think that SPACE would have featured in the centre in huge letters.  It’s something that we just don’t really have in our busy lives, busy jobs and busy careers.  Yet how can we see what is happening if we don’t make a space to understand what is around us?  How can we start to get these four points into action if we don’t have ‘space’?

Another phrase which would have being pretty obvious in the word cloud would have been CRITICAL FRIEND. (And underneath that I would have posted ‘constructive challenge).

This is all great metaphorical chat, but what do I mean in practical terms?  OK, please stay with me on this…..

Creating a SPACE, means we can give valuable time to reflection.

Reflection is an increasingly well accepted and understood ‘tool’ for deep learning. Taking the time to really think about our experiences means that we can gain new and useful perspectives.  When we reflect, we can create some structure for our thought processes, use positive questioning to get deeper understanding and see the small but powerful changes that accumulate to lead to our success.

How often do you get to the end of a working day and feel that you have achieved nothing?  I think most of us have been there at some time, but even on those days, if you took just ten minutes out (sitting in the car before you drive home, walking the dog, cleaning the goldfish bowl – whatever…..) and identified the smallest thing, the tiniest positive achievement for the day, I am sure there would be something.  It might not be something that you would see as directly relevant to your role, but think again.  When you showed someone a quick move on the computer (that you do without even thinking about it) – that could have a lasting benefit.  When you made that difficult call, but still didn’t reach the right person – at least you have started climbing that fearsome rockface.  When you answered the door for someone, even if they should have done it, it gave you a moment to let the blood back into your legs after sitting for hours at the computer.  If you set up the template for a new spreadsheet, but didn’t enter any data – well, it’s one thing less for tomorrow.  In those mundane examples we’ve covered well-being, support and encouragement shared learning, and action just for a start!  Don’t dismiss the small stuff, it just might be valuable.

So, when I sit down with you as your coach (for want of a better label!), we create SPACE.

First we set some ground rules.  One of these is that we recognise that this time is your time to do with as you choose.  It will not be interrupted, cancelled, driven by me, scripted, or disrespected. It is golden time, a rare oasis away from hustle and bustle. I will guide our conversation and challenge your thinking when necessary. I will hold you to account for your planned actions but most important of all, I will be facilitating your reflection and helping you to embed esoteric learning into practical actions and tools.

Go on – find your SPACE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Praise Sandwich

By | Leadership Toolbox

We’ve all heard about this: how to give feedback.

I was always brought up to avoid food fights, (though school raspberry jelly was good for not much else), and recently I was the victim of just such a sandwich flung unceremoniously in my direction.

I wasn’t sure if this was feedback badly done, or whether I really was a complete disaster in the work I’d just completed.  In the cold light of a new day, and with my rational hat more firmly on my head, I am fairly sure that it was the former.  After all, I know that I can do my job, even if not always perfectly.

So, this got me thinking…..

Just why was I so aggravated by this horrible sandwich?  I think it comes down to something really simple: honesty.

We all know that trust and honesty are foundation stones in any relationship and tinkering with these building blocks is going to weaken the whole structure.  Don’t get me wrong – we should not be brutal, discourteous, thoughtless or undiplomatic in what we say, but there are ways of getting a message over and there are ways that messages really shouldn’t be delivered.

So, what is wrong with the ‘Praise Sandwich’?

First, the negative feedback, (criticism, or suggestion for change) can get lost in the crusts of the sandwich.  When the praise is too much, too gushing or focussing on major parts of a job or role, then this is what we will hear. The critical feedback will be a thin layer of sour jam that gets lost.  This is completely pointless and would certainly leave me wondering why I’m suddenly getting all this praise.  A bit is lovely, but lots of it?  Things that happen anyway, part of the job – why are they suddenly getting a mention?  I’m suspicious, confused. Was the criticism the important bit, or the praise? I’m wondering what the hidden agenda holds.  Oh, and by the way, was there something you wanted me to do differently?  Happy to try but I’m not really sure if it was OK or not….

Second; if the praise is thin, it will not be authentic. Any of us will see through that and head straight for the filling. There’s a double whammy here because not only am I going to be fed up that the job wasn’t right, but the giver of my feedback isn’t being honest.  They want to give me criticism but they are hiding it in something meaningless.  Why are they doing this? It will make little difference by now if the criticism is constructive or not; the damage to trust has already been done.

We don’t want to write our first novel and be praised for our handwriting on the cover letter. We don’t want to design an amazing new machine to be told it’s a nice colour. Get the idea?

So, next time you are giving feedback, think about this.  Identify the elements that really matter and allow for small differences. Respect the person getting the feedback, be kind but be clear. Be honest but positive.

Social Media, a Game for People to Sell more……?

By | Business

social-mediaSocial media is a way to sell more social media.

Social media does not sell more of your products and services.

Social media takes significant time, but there is no evidence for an acceptable return on the time investment.

DISCUSS……

A quick scan of Google (and a few abstracts from academic articles) doesn’t help a great deal.  As a business owner what I really want to know is how much additional turnover I can gain from investing in social media.

Social media gurus (who DO make money from selling the idea of social media) turn the idea of ROI into just about anything that they like and it no longer means ‘return on investment’.  We are all drawn into discussions on ‘Attention’, ‘Interaction’, ‘Velocity’, ‘Conversation Index’,  and for websites- ‘click throughs’ and so on and on.

My question is still not answered.

OK, so how about brand.  Is it all part of that far less tangible idea of brand and reputation?  Do we need to just ‘get our name out there’?  I return to the old idea of the sales hook, you get someone’s attention, you engage them with information that interests them, persuade them that they want to buy in, then close the sale.  Social media might well catch someone’s attention, but the real trick is to engage them and hold them there.  It might do. But the final parts of the sales process are already disappearing into the mists of the day.  Remember that car salesman?  He knows only too well that if he doesn’t close the sale when he meets his customers, then there is a slim chance of closing the deal. So I suspect it is with social media – it just gets us part way.

I’m still not convinced.

“Ah”, shout the gurus, “but you need to ‘do’ social media because all your competitors do it”.  Hmm, well, I still have a problem here because they aren’t the same as us and anyway, that doesn’t make it right does it?  We become followers, (An unplanned pun there!), not leaders.  We want to be at the front, changing ideas not running to keep up with the rest.  So it’s going to take one of the big boys to be brave enough to say NO to social media. Well, maybe.

So, I’m opening up this question – ‘how much extra revenue does social media bring to YOUR business?

I’m waiting to hear from you….