Tag Archives: leadership

Want to be a great leader? then grow some Resilience

Welcome to my blog, one in a series exploring leadership characteristics. Here I draw on my own leadership experience and my work as an executive coach to share with you my thoughts on what makes for a great leader. I consider there are a number of leadership characteristics a leader needs to display and work on to be more than average.  I want in this blog to focus on the theme of resilience in leaders and leadership teams. I have developed this blog from a speech I gave to young women at the Norwich High school for Girls. Strengthening resilience is important at any age and in any area of responsibility.

In my work as a leadership coach I spend most of my time with women and men in their thirties, forties and fifties who are at the top of organisations. They often struggle as leaders with bad habits they have learnt over the years and ways of thinking that don’t help them to be effective at work or in life.  I am not promising any magic solutions but I will share with you some of the learning and research that can help you on the road to being more resilient.

I like to think of what Gandhi said when I work as a coach “As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world – that is the myth of the atomic age – as in being able to remake ourselves.”

 So why do we need to remake ourselves or grow resilience? Well in essence because life is about facing new and often relentless change and challenge.  The paradox is that as we get more successful and take on more senior roles the challenges get more complex and require more of our own self to deal with them.

You know what I mean, at the end of the day you get home and get asked how you feel, “I feel rung out”, “the day took everything from me”, “I can’t begin to tell you the nightmare of what we are dealing with.” Then secretly in the dead of night, with just your own thoughts you might say “I have no idea how to do this” or “I’m going to fail.” Your heart races and then all too soon its 6am the alarm goes off and out into the world of work you go again. But have you rested? Have you recovered?  Are you stronger? Are you resilient enough? Welcome to the world of the leader and you are not going to quit but how do you keep going?

This is where you need resilience and you need to grow it and keep growing it.  If not, you will burn out. We don’t like to talk about being burnt out but I see it too often in the corridors of power: “Maybe if I had not been so stressed on the weekend or worked so hard I could have saved my marriage, had better health, drunk less.”

Now, I can’t save your marriage but I can give you some hints to how you can be stronger and more able to cope with pressure and that might help your marriage…or it might not. BUT if you focus on growing resilience you will be a stronger person or as I like to say “the best version of yourself”.

What is resilience? I like this quote from Hara Estroff Marano, Editor-at-Large for Psychology Today, wrote in her article “The Art of Resilience”:

“At the heart of resilience is a belief in oneself—yet also a belief in something larger than oneself. Resilient people do not let adversity define them. They find resilience by moving towards a goal beyond themselves, transcending pain and grief by perceiving bad times as a temporary state of affairs. It’s possible to strengthen your inner self and your belief in yourself, to define yourself as capable and competent. It’s possible to fortify your psyche. It’s possible to develop a sense of mastery.”

I can guess what you might be thinking now as it’s the prevailing thought that we have had for many years in the West. You think some people are born happier, some more sad and then life happens to us. These life experiences can help us be happy and sometimes our life experience can bring us down. Some people are just luckier in life than others, aren’t they?

All of this has some truth as a baseline but those patterns are not fixed and we can all learn happiness and strategies that make us more fulfilled in life. That’s great news isn’t it? We are not stuck where we are, with what we have been born with, we can take control and we can make a difference to our level of happiness. As Gandhi suggested we can REMAKE OURSELF. Also there is something uncanny in struggle as it can often make you stronger.

I believe with the right mindset we can all achieve a great deal more as individuals and as leaders and make a real difference to our customers and staff. BUT like athletes before they enter the Olympics you must train your resilience levels NOT just concentrate on doing the job or learning the technical skills as you lead in organisations.  I can’t tell you in this blog post everything about emotional resilience and we will just touch the tip of the iceberg. But I want to give you a framework you can work on and practise. It will require practise as resilience is a work in progress and there are no short cuts here.

My life also has had some great highs and lows. I had a difficult start in life and was made homeless at 17. It’s not how anyone would choose to start adult life is it? But I learnt some lessons that I have carried into life:

  1. You can always start again
  2. Take responsibility for your own growth
  3. Surround yourself with good people who believe in you

Some pretty famous women have faced much greater real life difficulties at the start of their life and overcame them and became a huge success in their field. Like Rhianna – alcoholic and abusive father she says at 13 music saved her, Charlize Theron another abusive father and she witnessed her mother shoot him dead as he attacked them when she was 15.

They remind me you can start again, you can overcome difficulties and you can become stronger.  Your adult life too can throw you a curve ball. We can think of J K Rowling, a rejected single parent and grindingly poor on welfare. Now a billionaire and Sheryl Sandburg, a Silicon Valley CEO (and so was her husband) then he fell off a running machine two years ago and died leaving her alone with young kids.

That’s essentially the myth isn’t it?  We look at people on the outside and they seem successful, they seem to have it all. We think that to have a successful life it should be easy, we should just sail through life and everything we reach for falls into our grasp. We all want to protect ourselves, to be wrapped up in a safe box filled with cotton wool. Our friends and families want that too and to give us a great life free from difficulties. But comfort does not make us strong. Testing times and how we learn from them are often what enable us to grow.

So how might I know I’m not resilient enough? The second myth I want to bust is that resilience is about being tough. Those tough bosses definitely generate the need for resilience in their staff BUT it’s not toughness I’m looking at here. I think that the tough boss personality is nearer a psychopath than a healthy human being. Reacting is basic survival or the fight or flight instinct. The need to work on your resilience shows that you are human and the more you work on your resilience the more you will also positively impact your workplace climate and that encourages others to talk about and work on their resilience too. That’s the third myth showing you are working on resilience is a weakness. The opposite is true as it strengthens you and for those around you.  But, of course its threatening for those living under the veneer of tough isn’t it?

So, resilient people do react to stress and pressure and it’s their ability to bounce back that sets them apart. A healthy amount of resilience is a sign of good mental health. The next myth is the corporate culture one of lean in, take on more, try harder and work longer. The research shows you are more likely to be resilient by developing strategies OUTSIDE of work than you are by trying to be stronger IN work.

Growing resilience is strange and exciting and we can see the effect of it now on MRIs. As the MRI will show in real time how we react in the moment to situations. The work by Richard J Davidson & Sharon Begley from their book and research in “The Emotional Life of your Brain” demonstrates this beautifully. They show how its incremental, that our resilience to the small blips is a great predictor of our resilience to the big stuff. So the phrase “don’t sweat the small stuff” really is quite profound in the field of resilience study.

Maybe their book should be called “the brain bounces back” rather than the emotional life of your brain. Because that’s what we are after here, the ability to bounce back from setbacks. So, like any muscle it’s about the recovery time of your brain that shows your resilience.

Try and think about a difficult situation recently and think about how it made you feel both at the time and after.  Not just a big event like a death or a divorce but a car pushing in front of you, the boiler breaking down so you could not have a hot shower or being really late for an important meeting because the train was delayed.  Remember how we react to small stuff is as important to be aware of as the big stuff.

Some of these signs might be familiar:

Physical responses can include:

Tiredness, headaches, ‘butterflies’ in the stomach, indigestion and nausea, neck ache, heartburn, allergies, skin problems, shallow breathing, blurred vision, aching muscles or palpitations.

Mental responses can mean you may:

Be more indecisive, find it hard to concentrate, become forgetful, have feelings of inadequacy or low self-esteem.

Emotional responses can mean you are likely to:

Get irritable or angry, be fearful, feel numb, get embarrassed, be hypersensitive, get tearful, or feel drained and listless.

Behavioural responses can mean you may:

Find it hard to sleep, change your eating habits, focus too much on work, smoke or drink more, avoid friends and family or experience relationship problems.

Now ask yourself honestly “how long did I take to get over that situation.”

So, what does a resilient person appear like then? well they are more likely to demonstrate the following traits:

  • They know their boundaries
  • They keep good company
  • They cultivate self-awareness
  • They practice acceptance
  • They are willing to sit in silence
  • They don’t have all the answers
  • They have a menu of self-care habits
  • They enlist their team
  • They consider the possibilities
  • They get out of their head

Now take a minute to reflect and ask yourself:

How did I do thinking about a situation that didn’t go well for me?

How do I react to pressure or difficulties what does my body tell me?

How do I think I do on the traits of resilient people?

Now take a deep breath and whatever you feel like you are doing in terms of being resilient right now don’t worry, you can always get better. Don’t beat yourself up and instead use these insights to set goals to improve. Resilient people have SELF CARE HABITS looking at the research and best practice available I have devised what I call an Emotional Buoyancy Plan or my list of self-care habits.

I suggest you try and populate each one of them. On your own is fine but it’s a great tool to use with your coach or do it with a partner, friend or teenagers (make sure it’s someone who will take it seriously and give you honest feedback though!)

Ask yourself in which of these categories am I already good? what happens when I don’t practice that habit? sleeping enough for example and which things do I never do?

The aim is to think about what can I do more of? and where do I need to start something in the area you know you are not working on yet.

MY BUOYANCY PLAN

I can thrive if I remember to practice these things:

I will TALK about how I feel I will BUILD healthy friendships
I will LOOK AFTER my physical health I will love SLEEP & EAT WELL
I will practise being GRATEFUL

 

I will practise my FAITH or MINDFULNESS
I will do something just for the LOVE

 

I will BE CURIOUS & learn something new
I will GIVE MYSELF TIME TO RELAX I will GET TO KNOW my moods & triggers
I will be KIND by learning to like myself I will SAY NO to stuff or people that do not help my well being

 

If you want to think more about gratitude or curiosity I have written blogs on these areas and you will find summaries on my website. If you struggle with the other areas these are rich topics to work on with a coach, they can help you develop strategies to improve in these areas.

If you would like to talk to me directly about supporting you as a coach or speaking as a key note or workshop facilitator, then do get in touch.

www.blendassociates.org

Finally, Sheryl Sandburg speaking after husband’s early death “What I want to talk about today is what you do next. About the things you can do to overcome adversity no matter when it hits you or how it hits. The easy days ahead of you will be easy. It’s the hard days — the days that challenge you to your very core — that will determine who you are. You will be defined not just by what you achieve, but how you survive.  You are not born with a fixed amount of resilience It’s a muscle. You can build it up and then draw on it when you need it. And in that process, you figure out who you really are. And you just might become the very best version of yourself.”

 

 

 

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Want to be a great leader? Be more popular

Welcome to my blog, one in a series looking at leadership characteristics. Here I draw on my own leadership experience and my work as an executive coach to share with you my thoughts on what makes for a great leader. This blog builds on my earlier blogs and in particular my last blog on LOVE. If you are short on time look at the lovely graphic  illustration from @engagevisually

popular

Scott Peck in his book The Road Less Travelled starts with:

“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

I would add to that “people are difficult”. Many of you know that as a leader you have to work at engaging your workforce and it will not be easy. You need to develop strategies and grow yourself to be an effective leader. My blogs help you consider and develop those skills.

So to add to the themes so far, being popular is an important skill to cultivate. Unless you run a business employing robots then you need to find a way to be more popular with staff. I have wondered about the balance between effectiveness, efficiency and popularity in leadership for a number of years now. I also know it is something those I coach often ponder as they lead teams and face business challenges.

At the beginning of my career a mentor told me to concentrate on being effective not popular. They suggested that if I wanted to be promoted I should not get involved with the staff and the detail of the organisation. I should try instead to remain focused on my/ my team’s targets and deliver the results. This was seen as particularly important if I wanted to be spotted by more senior managers and to progress in my career through the corporate hierarchy.

Surely, I thought if you want to deliver results they are delivered by teams, through others and with others. I think that we have got this wrong and we have in business schools swallowed the efficiency and strategic purpose mantra at the cost of staff engagement and organisational resilience.

To run an organisation effectively you need the motivation and engagement of ALL your staff and most importantly the contribution of their skills and their will. I started to realise that what was needed was a way to engage the discretionary effort of the workforce. That discretionary effort is like fairy dust and when engaged can increase individuals effectiveness dramatically.  Staff have to WANT to work with you and if you are a leader then they must WANT TO follow you. Not just follow you in the good times but TRUST YOU to lead them in their/the company’s best interest in tough times also. You cannot be effective and will never be effective in leading change and transforming the business without the will of the staff to work with you.  They have to like you enough and so you have to be more popular with them.

Now popular is an interesting word and I don’t mean the sort of popular leader who will not upset the status quo. Nor do I visualise a leader who does not really drive change and definitely not the leader who is nice but is seen by staff as ineffective. We need instead to be popular on a deeper level and this will lead to engaged staff, effectiveness as a leader and success for the business. Popular and efficiency do not have to sit as opposites as they actually balance the best leaders.

So, I am intrigued by the word popular and its root is in the Latin word popularis.  Two definitions of the word jump out at me and they are:

“Being regarded with favour, affection or approval by people in general” and

“Relating to or representing the common people”.

Many of us are not in favour with our staff as GALLUP analysis of US Employee Engagement suggests less than a third of workers in Washington DC are engaged in their jobs. Leaders need to make a difference here as I think we have a leadership popularity crisis that is leading to poor staff engagement.

http://www.gallup.com/poll/181289/majority-employees-not-engaged-despite-gains-2014.aspx

I saw some graffiti recently which I thought summed this problem in business up:

“You pretend to give us satisfying work and pretend to pay us a proper wage and so we turn up and pretend to work for you.”

We know what staff want to be effective at work and it’s not more money. Instead they want autonomy – to be left alone to do a good job, they also want mastery thats the skills and support to do that job. They also want a sense of purpose, I would describe this as hope. And you as leaders can help them with all three of these areas. They want great leaders and they tell us they would rather have no leader than a poor one!

DDI did a fabulous and comprehensive study of what employees think of us as leaders and it is not comfortable reading. They think we are so busy trying to be effective and running efficient organisations that we don’t notice them and do not lead them well. So if you want to be effective and efficient then start thinking about being more popular with the aim to engage your staff. You can practise and learn some of these skills and this can start by just understanding what the impact of your current behaviour is having:

https://www.ddiworld.com/DDIWorld/media/trend-research/lessonsforleadersfromthepeoplewhomatter_mis_ddi.pdf

If you want to work actively at being more popular cast you mind across your organisation, your people and yourself and the leaders you work with and start to ask some questions:.

  • Do your staff regard you and your fellow leaders with affection and approval?
  • Would staff say you relate well to them?
  • Are you seen as “of the common people” and do you know what interests them?
  • Who has had a marriage, a baby, kids go to college, anniversary lately? did you notice it? did you acknowledge it?
  • Do you survey your staff on what their aims and goals are for the next year or five years are in work and in life?
  • Are your business goals aligned to the staff goals for work and life?
  • When you go walk about do you ask staff what are their thoughts on how the business is doing?
  • Do you ask them for ideas on how to improve things?
  • Do staff tell you they know what’s expected of them from you and their manager?
  • Do you reward effort as well as results for the company?

Now spend some time listening to what you hear and reflecting on what it says to you. Be honest and challenge yourself as you ponder the questions above. You will need a great coach to help you sift what you are hearing and to think about what you will do with the data this exercise provides you as a leader.

I can promise you efficiency without the people will fail. I have failed myself when I was in an organisation that caused me to put efficiency and targets above taking people with me. When the organisation hit hard times I was not popular enough to survive the cut backs.  I learnt a lesson that a key skill of a leader alongside developing the business strategy is to facilitate cooperation. People NEED to want to be around you.

I think the avoidance of popularity is particularly problematic in women who seek leadership roles. They may fear their feminine side, often seen as “the soft skills”. But these skills are so valuable in leadership as staff like REAL and POPULAR leaders. Though I am a passionate advocate for gender equality in the boardroom I am a realist when it comes to women still being judged harder than men if they appear too ruthless.

There will be many leaders in your organisation and they do not just operate in or around the boardroom. So why not give them a chance to do this development work also. John Quincy Adams said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.

And if you need one more reason to work on and develop the skills of being more popular it is to balance your own ego as a leader. You don’t want to end up like Aesop’s wolf do you?

A Wolf, who was roaming about on the plain when the sun was getting low in the sky, was much impressed by the size of his shadow, and said to himself, “I had no idea I was so big. Fancy my being afraid of a lion! Why, I, not he, ought to be King of the beasts”; and, heedless of danger, he strutted about as if there could be no doubt at all about it. Just then a lion sprang upon him. “Alas,” he cried, “had I not lost sight of the facts, I shouldn’t have been ruined by my fancies.”

Do contact me for executive coaching, mentoring and leadership speaking. I can travel to you or I offer high quality Skype coaching. I might be able to help you become more popular and I would love to work with you on your leadership journey.

http://www.amandareynolds.org

Want to be a great leader? Learn to Love

Welcome to my blog, one in a series looking at leadership characteristics. Here I draw on my own leadership experience and my work as an executive coach to share with you thoughts on what makes for a great leader. I consider there are a number of leadership characteristics you need to display and work on to be more than average.  I want in this blog to focus on the theme of LOVE.

Short on time have a look at this fabulous graphic provided by @engagevisually

150928 LOVE.under 2MP

Love is a strange and potentially difficult concept for some of you in the context of buisenss. I’m sure that you didn’t learn Love in Business School and we never talk love in the boardroom.  Well not in the boardrooms I have been a member of that’s for sure.

I like many of you went to business school and my MBA taught me useful skills and strategies for developing, running and growing business. It also taught me the latest thinking on leadership and management and I think with hindsight it acted as a badge of honour to validate my climb up the slippery corporate pole. It taught me particularly to assess and manage risk and ultimately it taught me that we lead through controlling and sometimes by instilling fear in the workforce. Boardroom talk is so often”meet your targets, keep the project on track, assess risks and avoid failure at all costs”. When you do fail then blame the business context, blame the workforce or worst blame the customers for being too demanding or for wanting something else.

If you love someone do you behave like that though?

Business school didn’t teach me how to really engage customers or staff beyond the business norms. I learnt that instead in business settings, from working with senior colleagues, through my reading and through my own experience of leading. I learnt that we need a radically different approach to succeed.

We need the opposite of strong and tough leaders and leadership by fear. We instead need to build business based on LOVE. To love our products, our customers and to love our staff. There is of course a paradox here with what we are taught in business school, practised in our work and how we do business in the west. Business settings often make us think that love is weak and inappropriate in business as it’s not defined by seeking power or control over organisations or others.

If we focus on love we also face a challenge if we are associated with teams and products we don’t or can’t love and don’t believe in. But, if you are in a business or a team you don’t love I think it shows. So, it’s in all of our interest to find ways to love our work and our staff or leave and find the work and people we can love. Unfortunately our approach to business is more often one of shutting down feelings, emotions and connectedness. I have worked for CEOs who have even said:

“No emotions in the boardroom please that makes me uncomfortable.”

Those sorts of business leaders have always troubled me and they often see me as trouble too. As I just can’t lead like that and I don’t think that’s the way to lead either. I’ve been told at times I’m too connected to the staff and customers and I should hold it all more lightly. But, if you want people to follow will they do it if you don’t take their needs seriously? If you don’t commit to them and the business? I don’t think they do and I think that’s why staff engagement is so poor in many of our businesses.

We instead look around at the businesses who are successful, especially the great entrepreneurs. We see that they love their products and they want to share that love with the world. They don’t grow their business to make money. Money is a by-product of a great offer and a great staff team always reside behind that offer. They love their customers and they get a huge sense of satisfaction with the customer’s pleasure and positive experience. They also go to the ends of the earth to fix problems in their business if customers and staff are dissatisfied. This sort of business leadership is rare and I fear becoming rarer in a world of cost cutting, competitive advantage, professional image and regulation.

Deloittes 2015 HR survey suggested culture, employee engagement and retention is now the most pressing challenge for business. So, my summary of their report is we need to find ways to love staff, even if loving is hard and sacrifices something of ourselves on the way. We need to find ways to keep staff and find even better ways to love them back to us if they are disengaged.  http://d2mtr37y39tpbu.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/DUP_GlobalHumanCapitalTrends2015.pdf

If you don’t believe focusing on love would make a difference to you or your team? Just throw into your next team meeting a couple of questions. Ask each team member to take five minutes and write down their responses and then to stick them up on a board.

  1. Tell me about the risks and challenges we currently face?
  2. What or who do you each love and how does that make you feel?
  3. Think about our business and tell me who or what do you love about this place?
  4. Think about our products and would our customers say they love them and why?

I tell you, the reactions will astound you, we are desperate to love, we look for love and we are brought alive by love. Whereas power and fear shut us all down and scare us out of innovation, creativity and motivation. In her book, Freedom from Fear, Nobel Peace Prize winner and Burmese opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi said, “It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.”

The opposite of fear is love and the ancient Greeks had 30 words to describe love. Yet we have diminished love to just a few things.  We have often reduced love to erotic love, familial love and friendship love…..but what if we had a broader view of love and brought that to our workplace, our staff, our bosses the business we do,  our customers…how would that change the way we work?

If you remember the movie Jerry Maguire you will remember the character played by Tom Cruise. Jerry loved work with a passion, he loved his business that’s why he wrote that mission statement, that is ultimately why he got sacked in the opening scenes. No one else could get it, engage with it or pull down the façade of business and professionalism they had created. So, they thought Jerry was crazy. Jerry shared the love he had of his only player when he said:

“I am out here for you. You don’t know what it’s like to be ME out here for YOU. It is an up-at-dawn, pride-swallowing siege that I will never fully tell you about, ok?”

But, for most of the movie Jerry never brought that out in the open into his leading or the way he led. He talked under pressure, in a wash room and angry about never fully telling it. Are you that leader? The one who loves? The one who wells up when a customer tells you how a product disappointed them or how brilliant it was? The one who loves but can’t share it?

I am that leader and I know many of you are too. But why are we scared to show that love and that connection with our product, our customers and our business. Why can’t we talk about love, celebrate it and mean it in business?

We have been shut down by a western view of leadership being about control, holding onto power and success being equated with strength. But deep down we feel a fraud as we know it’s something else that is needed isn’t it?

If we take a minute to reflect on these feelings of connection with staff and customers and our product we start to delve into agape which is the love of and for humanity or  philia, the love we feel from a shared experience. Then we are in touching distance of the space where we need to get to be great business leaders.

If we focus on how we can experience and grow love in an organisation rather than leading by fear and control how would that change us and those we work with? Well I think it would change everything. But we so often don’t do it because it is risky. We are not open in business as we fear that protectionism, envy and power are stronger than love. But look to history and tell me did fear and power and envy ever last in the end or was it eventually overturned by love? That’s why we need to love ourselves, our staff, our customers and our organisations. If we love them they will start to love us back.

I think we need to imagine our customers as our family and friends. We know how to love them don’t we? What would our business be like if we loved our customers and our staff like we love our friends, our family or ours sports team. Making it goo denough for your mum, sticking with them, going the extra mile, getting it right for them and staying with it, admitting it when getting it wrong also.

But be careful as for a start it starts with you as an individual and it will be costly as it would mean changing how you engage. You have to be open, authentic and vulnerable as love hurts. But without love you will slowly die and your leadership and business will not thrive as it might. CS Lewis said in his book The Four Loves:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, and irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

Our public services and businesses and our staff need love and leaders who love them. We are so familiar with leaders who are self-serving, egotistical or narcissistic. We read of care scandals, over whelmed and exhausted staff and rules after rules and we know they are not the answer. We cannot change these issues overnight but we need to think about a different approach.

A few years ago I was working for the UK government and had the privilege of organising a study tour to Sweden to look at their model of Dementia care. I took about 20 senior leaders. Civil servants, Public health doctors, social services directors and general practitioners. We visited a number of care settings and met staff and leaders of those services. One day we were in a dementia day centre and the staff member was affectionately holding the hand of an elderly lady with dementia. She had her dog in the unit and would kiss her dog then spontaneous kiss the staff member. Another lady was cutting up apples for a pie (badly and slowly I must add). The place was happy and there was sense of calm, love and affection in it. We asked about lunch and were told they would eat when the pie was ready and that might be later than 12 noon. They operated like your family would, lunch came when lunch came and all contributed.  So very unlike any units you expect to see in this sort of care setting.

Later as a visiting group we discussed what we found and all concluded rather jokingly that based on what we saw we would like Swedish citizenship so we could be cared for that way. But sadly we reflected that in our system that model of care would not be tolerated as the professional boundaries and regulations were challenged by this approach. But we all agreed that they had love and that’s what we wanted if we needed care in old age.

We asked the leader later over dinner with us why the staff interacted this way and how they maintained professional boundaries when staff did this. Horrified she had misheard our questions she asking our interpreter to translate again. She then took a deep breath and replied:

“We love these people, we can’t do this work without love. We help them by being alongside them, they are not calm, happy or cared for without our staff loving them.”

The next day our meeting with another senior leader was delayed as there had been an incident overnight and she was being interviewed on TV  by local media. We assumed it was a death or a patient had disappeared from the unit. The sort of issues we would go to the media about in the UK. We were genuinely shocked to discover she had called the press in herself. To tell them the service had failed a lady by leaving her unattended and alone on the toilet for an hour and the staff were upset they had let her down. The sort of reaction you would give if you left your own toddler in the supermarket by mistake but not as a business leader. She was the leader of this service and crying on local TV about this incident as if it had happened to her own mother. That looked like love  to me.

So, how do we start to bring love into the business where you are? Start that personal and business journey today. Simply start to love and you will be loved by your staff, your team your customers. Ask your colleagues the questions I outlined above.   Put on your wall in your office a sign saying: if this business were loving its customers what would it be doing? Wait for your visitors to notice the sign and make suggestions.

Remember this is a journey, a mind set shift and you can’t do this overnight and it will hurt at times. Get a coach yourself and a facilitator for your team to discuss this and start to think about having these conversations with staff. When it hurts and is difficult you will need a safe place to take that pain and frustration and to keep working on it so you don’t shut down under the pressure to be open and real.

Let’s finish with that great book The Velveteen Rabbit – as this is how love really works:

“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

Do contact me for executive coaching face to face or SKYPE, mentoring and leadership speaking. I might be some of the difference you need and I would love to work with you on your leadership journey.

http://www.amandareynolds.org

Want to be a great leader? Learn to Love

Welcome to my blog, in this series I explore leadership characteristics. Here I draw on my own leadership experience and my work as an executive coach to share with you thoughts on what makes for a great leader. I consider there are a number of leadership characteristics you need to display and work on to be more than average.  I want in this blog to focus on the theme of LOVE.

Short on time have a look at this fabulous graphic provided by @engagevisually

150928 LOVE.under 2MP

Love is a strange and potentially difficult concept for some of you in the context of buisenss. I’m sure that you didn’t learn Love in Business School and we never talk love in the boardroom.  Well not in the boardrooms I have been a member of that’s for sure.

I like many of you went to business school and my MBA taught me useful skills and strategies for developing, running and growing business. It also taught me the latest thinking on leadership and management and I think with hindsight it acted as a badge of honour to validate my climb up the slippery corporate pole. It taught me particularly to assess and manage risk and ultimately it taught me that we lead through controlling and sometimes by instilling fear in the workforce. Boardroom talk is so often”meet your targets, keep the project on track, assess risks and avoid failure at all costs”. When you do fail then blame the business context, blame the workforce or worst blame the customers for being too demanding or for wanting something else.

If you love someone do you behave like that though?

Business school didn’t teach me how to really engage customers or staff beyond the business norms. I learnt that instead in business settings, from working with senior colleagues, through my reading and through my own experience of leading. I learnt that we need a radically different approach to succeed.

We need the opposite of strong and tough leaders and leadership by fear. We instead need to build business based on LOVE. To love our products, our customers and to love our staff. There is of course a paradox here with what we are taught in business school, practised in our work and how we do business in the west. Business settings often make us think that love is weak and inappropriate in business as it’s not defined by seeking power or control over organisations or others.

If we focus on love we also face a challenge if we are associated with teams and products we don’t or can’t love and don’t believe in. But, if you are in a business or a team you don’t love I think it shows. So, it’s in all of our interest to find ways to love our work and our staff or leave and find the work and people we can love. Unfortunately our approach to business is more often one of shutting down feelings, emotions and connectedness. I have worked for CEOs who have even said:

“No emotions in the boardroom please that makes me uncomfortable.”

Those sorts of business leaders have always troubled me and they often see me as trouble too. As I just can’t lead like that and I don’t think that’s the way to lead either. I’ve been told at times I’m too connected to the staff and customers and I should hold it all more lightly. But, if you want people to follow will they do it if you don’t take their needs seriously? If you don’t commit to them and the business? I don’t think they do and I think that’s why staff engagement is so poor in many of our businesses.

We instead look around at the businesses who are successful, especially the great entrepreneurs. We see that they love their products and they want to share that love with the world. They don’t grow their business to make money. Money is a by-product of a great offer and a great staff team always reside behind that offer. They love their customers and they get a huge sense of satisfaction with the customer’s pleasure and positive experience. They also go to the ends of the earth to fix problems in their business if customers and staff are dissatisfied. This sort of business leadership is rare and I fear becoming rarer in a world of cost cutting, competitive advantage, professional image and regulation.

Deloittes 2015 HR survey suggested culture, employee engagement and retention is now the most pressing challenge for business. So, my summary of their report is we need to find ways to love staff, even if loving is hard and sacrifices something of ourselves on the way. We need to find ways to keep staff and find even better ways to love them back to us if they are disengaged.  http://d2mtr37y39tpbu.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/DUP_GlobalHumanCapitalTrends2015.pdf

If you don’t believe focusing on love would make a difference to you or your team? Just throw into your next team meeting a couple of questions. Ask each team member to take five minutes and write down their responses and then to stick them up on a board.

  1. Tell me about the risks and challenges we currently face?
  2. What or who do you each love and how does that make you feel?
  3. Think about our business and tell me who or what do you love about this place?
  4. Think about our products and would our customers say they love them and why?

I tell you, the reactions will astound you, we are desperate to love, we look for love and we are brought alive by love. Whereas power and fear shut us all down and scare us out of innovation, creativity and motivation. In her book, Freedom from Fear, Nobel Peace Prize winner and Burmese opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi said, “It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.”

The opposite of fear is love and the ancient Greeks had 30 words to describe love. Yet we have diminished love to just a few things.  We have often reduced love to erotic love, familial love and friendship love…..but what if we had a broader view of love and brought that to our workplace, our staff, our bosses the business we do,  our customers…how would that change the way we work?

If you remember the movie Jerry Maguire you will remember the character played by Tom Cruise. Jerry loved work with a passion, he loved his business that’s why he wrote that mission statement, that is ultimately why he got sacked in the opening scenes. No one else could get it, engage with it or pull down the façade of business and professionalism they had created. So, they thought Jerry was crazy. Jerry shared the love he had of his only player when he said:

“I am out here for you. You don’t know what it’s like to be ME out here for YOU. It is an up-at-dawn, pride-swallowing siege that I will never fully tell you about, ok?”

But, for most of the movie Jerry never brought that out in the open into his leading or the way he led. He talked under pressure, in a wash room and angry about never fully telling it. Are you that leader? The one who loves? The one who wells up when a customer tells you how a product disappointed them or how brilliant it was? The one who loves but can’t share it?

I am that leader and I know many of you are too. But why are we scared to show that love and that connection with our product, our customers and our business. Why can’t we talk about love, celebrate it and mean it in business?

We have been shut down by a western view of leadership being about control, holding onto power and success being equated with strength. But deep down we feel a fraud as we know it’s something else that is needed isn’t it?

If we take a minute to reflect on these feelings of connection with staff and customers and our product we start to delve into agape which is the love of and for humanity or  philia, the love we feel from a shared experience. Then we are in touching distance of the space where we need to get to be great business leaders.

If we focus on how we can experience and grow love in an organisation rather than leading by fear and control how would that change us and those we work with? Well I think it would change everything. But we so often don’t do it because it is risky. We are not open in business as we fear that protectionism, envy and power are stronger than love. But look to history and tell me did fear and power and envy ever last in the end or was it eventually overturned by love? That’s why we need to love ourselves, our staff, our customers and our organisations. If we love them they will start to love us back.

I think we need to imagine our customers as our family and friends. We know how to love them don’t we? What would our business be like if we loved our customers and our staff like we love our friends, our family or ours sports team. Making it goo denough for your mum, sticking with them, going the extra mile, getting it right for them and staying with it, admitting it when getting it wrong also.

But be careful as for a start it starts with you as an individual and it will be costly as it would mean changing how you engage. You have to be open, authentic and vulnerable as love hurts. But without love you will slowly die and your leadership and business will not thrive as it might. CS Lewis said in his book The Four Loves:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, and irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

Our public services and businesses and our staff need love and leaders who love them. We are so familiar with leaders who are self-serving, egotistical or narcissistic. We read of care scandals, over whelmed and exhausted staff and rules after rules and we know they are not the answer. We cannot change these issues overnight but we need to think about a different approach.

A few years ago I was working for the UK government and had the privilege of organising a study tour to Sweden to look at their model of Dementia care. I took about 20 senior leaders. Civil servants, Public health doctors, social services directors and general practitioners. We visited a number of care settings and met staff and leaders of those services. One day we were in a dementia day centre and the staff member was affectionately holding the hand of an elderly lady with dementia. She had her dog in the unit and would kiss her dog then spontaneous kiss the staff member. Another lady was cutting up apples for a pie (badly and slowly I must add). The place was happy and there was sense of calm, love and affection in it. We asked about lunch and were told they would eat when the pie was ready and that might be later than 12 noon. They operated like your family would, lunch came when lunch came and all contributed.  So very unlike any units you expect to see in this sort of care setting.

Later as a visiting group we discussed what we found and all concluded rather jokingly that based on what we saw we would like Swedish citizenship so we could be cared for that way. But sadly we reflected that in our system that model of care would not be tolerated as the professional boundaries and regulations were challenged by this approach. But we all agreed that they had love and that’s what we wanted if we needed care in old age.

We asked the leader later over dinner with us why the staff interacted this way and how they maintained professional boundaries when staff did this. Horrified she had misheard our questions she asking our interpreter to translate again. She then took a deep breath and replied:

“We love these people, we can’t do this work without love. We help them by being alongside them, they are not calm, happy or cared for without our staff loving them.”

The next day our meeting with another senior leader was delayed as there had been an incident overnight and she was being interviewed on TV  by local media. We assumed it was a death or a patient had disappeared from the unit. The sort of issues we would go to the media about in the UK. We were genuinely shocked to discover she had called the press in herself. To tell them the service had failed a lady by leaving her unattended and alone on the toilet for an hour and the staff were upset they had let her down. The sort of reaction you would give if you left your own toddler in the supermarket by mistake but not as a business leader. She was the leader of this service and crying on local TV about this incident as if it had happened to her own mother. That looked like love  to me.

So, how do we start to bring love into the business where you are? Start that personal and business journey today. Simply start to love and you will be loved by your staff, your team your customers. Ask your colleagues the questions I outlined above.   Put on your wall in your office a sign saying: if this business were loving its customers what would it be doing? Wait for your visitors to notice the sign and make suggestions.

Remember this is a journey, a mind set shift and you can’t do this overnight and it will hurt at times. Get a coach yourself and a facilitator for your team to discuss this and start to think about having these conversations with staff. When it hurts and is difficult you will need a safe place to take that pain and frustration and to keep working on it so you don’t shut down under the pressure to be open and real.

Let’s finish with that great book The Velveteen Rabbit – as this is how love really works:

“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

Do contact me for executive coaching face to face or SKYPE, mentoring and leadership speaking. I might be some of the difference you need and I would love to work with you on your leadership journey.

http://www.amandareynolds.org

Want to be a great leader? Leaders love difference

Welcome to my blog, one in a series exploring leadership characteristics. Here I draw on my own leadership experience and my work as an executive coach to share with you my thoughts on what makes for a great leader. I consider there are a number of leadership characteristics a leader needs to display and work on to be more than average.  I want in this blog to focus on the theme of difference or diversity in leaders and leadership teams.

Please don’t think this is for someone else in your team or that I will make a moral or quotas argument about board diversity.  I want to talk instead about the business, rational and logical case to love difference. This is really NOT an add-on to your business or something that your human resource team can lead on for you. You need to pay attention to this yourself to be more successful than your competitors.

LOVE-DIFFERENCE.with-shadow.SFW

I love to coach leaders as they identify their challenges, their business goals and grow their capability, confidence and self-awareness. I had the honour recently of coaching a leader who was looking to expand his team. When exploring what he needed in his team he boldly said:

I need to bring in someone with a very different profile and skillset to me and the rest of the team. I know it will be challenging and the organisation might find it uncomfortable. But, this place will only grow and develop a really engaging vision if I recruit difference.”

He is a leader with a clear goal, he is after DIFFERENCE and he knows why it matters to the growth of the organisation. I think he knows something about the vital role difference plays in top teams and organisations. I know from my own career and personal life how difference can be challenging. I, like others am always more comfortable with those like myself. Then when I look back my greatest achievements in life they have come when I led teams of difference or worked with those very different to me.

But why would a leader go out of their way to look for very different skills, skills they do not have or understand themselves?  Having the hassle of welcoming someone into the team who will not fit easily and may jar with colleagues and the organisation/team culture? That is madness isn’t it? You want people who complement each other and create team harmony for a great team, surely?  People who share the same values and ideas as you. People who will work with you easily. You want people like you surely; no you do not.

The evidence is mounting that loving difference is what you need to do if you want your business to rise above the mediocre and win over its competitors. It is also definitely what you need to do to engage the discretionary effort and maximise the morale of your workforce.

This thinking of mine is not new, in fact Stephen Covey said “Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.”  It’s been around awhile but I think it is still not taken seriously enough. Many Boards are still not making it core. Businesses and leaders are falling behind because they are ignoring it or worse deliberately avoiding difference in their teams or belittling its importance.

But, meanwhile a minority of businesses are seeing the benefits. They will overtake you if you do not get DIFFERENCE into the core of what you do and how you do business.  And that’s exactly what Mckinsey in their recent research found. More diverse boards do equal more profit and have a more successful impact in their market segment. Mckinsey do not say categorically why that is but they suggest some reasons.

I agree with Mckinsey that the CEOs and chairs they found who are open to, value and seek out difference in people around them and in the strategies pursued are then leading more successful companies. Mckinsey go as far as to say they are putting diversity as a core business goal and there is best practise here to watch. These are boards it seems where gender, race, sexuality, varied social backgrounds, belief, age and disability are seen as valuable assets not barriers to success.  You can read the full summary here:

http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/organization/is_there_a_payoff_from_top-team_diversity

And of course you want to lead the most successful team in your field don’t you? You do not put in the hours and heavy lifting to come home and say I was average today or my team was mediocre do you? If you want to be the most successful business in your field then you need the best team. Many CEOs and Chairs spend a great deal of time with coaches and recruitment agencies considering how to achieve this. But what if they are looking in the wrong places and working with coaches and recruiters too like them? It seems you only get real success by seeking out difference, not the same. Maybe the first thing you could do is fire your recruitment agency or your coach and find a DIFFERENT one!

Patrick Lencioni in his New York Bestseller “The five dysfunctions of a team – a leadership fable” starts by stating:

“Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare.”

Patrick writes convincingly and with much real expertise from coaching executives and teams. But his 5 dysfunctions needs the addition of a 6th dysfunction avoiding difference. Yes we do need to build trust, engage in conflict, build commitment and accountability and focus on the results. BUT we must also seek the different, the divergence, the new, the unusual the downright weird. As in this place is the breakthrough you need in your business and to avoid it you are likely to be a breeding ground for the horrors of Group Think. Group Think is not another new concept either. In fact it was first coined by psychologists in the 1970s. In my work with organisations and leaders I still find it far too prevalent four decades on. Irving Janis in his work at Yale described Group Think and its real dangers as:

“The more amiability and esprit de corps there is among the members of a policy-making ingroup, the greater the danger that independent critical thinking will be replaced by groupthink.”

So the crazy idea I suggest is you need to build a team that will make life more difficult, more different to you, less harmonious and more conflicted at times. Through this difference you and your business will become more successful in your field.

Malcolm Gladwell in his latest book “David and Goliath” sums up how assumptions and current paths to the top table do not get us diversity in thinking, approach or strategy and he says:

“We spend a lot of time thinking about the way that prestige and resources and belonging to elite institutions make us better off. We don’t spend enough time thinking about the ways in which these kinds of material advantages limit our options.”

We know leaders and business are less trusted now than ever before and we know when we look up at the top table they don’t look much like the rest of us. So, advantages as we measure them, the right school, college internship and CV aren’t advantages. They potentially stop you connecting with your organisation and your customers. You need difference in your team to see different and be different to the rest of the field.

And teams need this difference as teams that are full of people who are too alike often are not harmonious. They can breed constant internal tension and focus turns to individual status, ego and MY results instead of the whole organisational success. Difference stops the internal competition and comparison that is always so tempting to fall into in top teams. In teams where difference prevails the focus shifts to competing together against the world and to grow and succeed together. A good analogy would be to fix a door you need wood, hammer and nails, three of one won’t do it.

We need to go a bit further than just recruiting difference in our teams and organisations we also need to be different ourselves. I recently interviewed a CEO of a very large public sector organisation. He had taken on an organisations that was in a mess and one that has had high profile interest for its many problems from government and regulators in the UK. He was past his retirement age and shared with me how he was leading the organisation back onto its feet and to be a leader in its field. His background was not traditional CEO as he had spent a number of years in research, strategy and policy development. He did not fit the bill for the shortlist. He wasn’t a current deputy CEO, chief operating officer or finance director.  He said to me in describing the rationale for his approach which was different to his peers:

I am not like my CEO peers in other organisations. I have not come through that route and I don’t have status and belonging to that group to hold me back. I’m going to turn this organisation around the way it needs to. It will not be comfortable for me or the Board. But I’m past retirement age so what is the worst that can happen to me? They might fire me.  Then I will say thanks for giving me a try and I will go home to the cottage by the sea and put my feet up!”

He is an outsider with the passion, vision and energy to make the change. He is not reckless and he is building a very clear strategy to develop his organisation. Because he is not part of the pack he can challenge and change things without fear of what he will lose. He does not need the approval of peers and he is not looking for it either.

Malcolm Gladwell sums this quality up as being disagreeable, and my CEO friend, lets call him Ted is clearly disagreeable in his approach:

“Crucially innovators need to be disagreeable. By disagreeable I don’t mean obnoxious or unpleasant. ……They are people willing to take social risks – to do things that others might disapprove of.”

So how do you develop a team that is difference or disagreeable? and how do you work on your own difference? There are a few thing you could try and they build on my Curiosity and Gratitude blogs. If you are serious about being different and loving difference get a coach and a team facilitator if you don’t have one already. Get a coach who isn’t like you but someone who is different to you and your team. Here are some thoughts on what you could do and you will need your notebook again:

  • Go out and about and notice people in your organisation “the ones who are most unlike you”. Take time to talk to them about the business and get their feedback.
  • Who comes to mind as trouble when you implement a new plan at Board? The one who won’t like it or complains about it. Go see Joe, Fred or Betty ask them to explain what’s wrong with your plan, say thanks and just write it down.
  • Who is the quiet one in your team? Take them out to coffee and ask them to tell you what they think about how the business is doing and what could we improve.
  • Look at your top team psychometrics again or get them done. And see what skills and preferences you have lots of and what is missing in team.
  • Go visit a successful business in a completely different field and reflect on what they seem to be getting right.
  • Find out all you can about the main competitors in your field and ask where they are different to you in team and approach.
  • Ask yourself and your team if we made diversity core to our business what would we do differently?
  • Ask yourself if I could recruit any business innovators past and present and from any field to my team who would I pick and why?
  • Reflect on when you last had someone very different in your team, how did you feel or how did you react to them? What have you learnt from this experience.
  • Find out from your team: what is the worst job they ever did? And what was a big event in their childhood? Tell them yours also.
  • Now take some time out to reflect on what’s in your notes and what it is saying to you? Reflect on what surprises you.
  • Set up a top team day and tell your team what you are hearing from outside, ask them to share what their reflections are on this feedback.
  • Start to devise your refreshed business strategy with your team based on what you have learnt
  • Ask your top team one by one and privately to buy in to the new refreshed strategy and direction. Offer them an opportunity to step aside if they don’t want to do the tough work in a DIFFERENT team.

This will not be easy, it will be harder work but you WILL get better results.

So, in summary difference is what you need in your team and your organisation and different is what you need to be also. Maybe you are more different than you let on and maybe on your journey to the top you have hidden your unique attributes and difference? Don’t hide yourself anymore,  be authentic and it will make you a better leader if you share your difference.

“As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”
― Nelson Mandela

Do contact me for executive coaching, mentoring and leadership speaking. I can travel to you or I offer high quality Skype coaching. I might be some of the difference you need and I would love to work with you on your leadership journey.

http://www.amandareynolds.org