Archive for the ‘Leadership Skills’ Category

Are you living your values?

Thursday, November 27th, 2014

Twice a month I attend and help run a local networking group for small business owners. The key focus of the meeting is to discuss topical issues, share challenges, knowledge and support each other.

This morning we talked about authenticity and business leadership values, a topic I cover in the first chapter of my book 'Soft Skills for Strong Leaders'.

What is it that drives our behaviour in our day to day dealings with clients, suppliers, colleagues and fellow networkers? How do we come across to others, and what is it that we do – or don’t do – that motivates people to want to do business with us, and to help us succeed?

I facilitated the session to encourage fellow business owners to recall people from the past and present day, who have had some influence on the way they do business. Some mentioned ‘dreadful’ bosses who were unapproachable, were poor communicators, and led by the stick rather than the carrot. Others talked of inspirational role models who they aspire to, from the likes of Richard Branson and Clive Woodward to first time bosses who took the time to listen, to challenge, nurture and instilled a strong work ethic.

Following on from this discussion, we each then explored our top five ‘business leadership values’. What kind of business leader/owner are we? What do we stand for? What is important to us about how we do business and come across to others? What have we taken on board, either consciously or unconsciously, from our role models?

There were many familiar terms, such as trust, integrity, honesty, transparency, respect, giving back and professionalism. There were also values including; profit, success, structure, inspiring, adding value, fairness, knowledgeable.

What I always find interesting is our personal interpretation of each of these words, What does ’trust’ mean to you? Or 'transparency'? You can bet it means something different to each of us. 

There is also the assumption that what is important to us is also important to everyone else, but this exercise demonstrated that despite our similarities, it highlighted our uniqueness in what specifically is important to each of us, and the reason why. 

So, having given some thought as to what is important to you, what actions do you take on a day to day basis that demonstrates you are fulfilling your values? You may say that honesty is important to you, but are you shying away from giving honest feedback to a client or supplier? 

It’s also worth considering (and actually finding out) what the values are of your clients and suppliers. What is important to them – and what can you do to fulfil those values?

Just thinking about what is important to you and to others can help you to reflect upon, and to influence how you conduct yourself at home as well as at work each day. When you are living and breathing your values, whether they are your work values or core values (which apply in any context), you will be able to be more authentic and genuine.

The result is that you will gain more trust, enjoying deeper and more rewarding relationships with those around you.

“One day they will find me out…”

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

If you have ever quietly said this to yourself, you are not alone.

And dare I say it, even I have had these thoughts from time to time… Writing a book (Soft Skills for Strong Leaders) and asking for honest feedback is really scary! What if people don't like it? What if they actually sit down and read it and think it's rubbish? Thankfully no-one has said this directly to me, and I have had some wonderful feedback, but some might not like it, and I have to accept that they are entitled to an opinion.

'One day they will find me out…'  is a phrase I often hear from managers and leaders, particularly those who have recently moved into a new role. They are good at putting on a brave face and portraying an air of self-confidence to the outside world, when secretly they have doubts whether they really do have the skills to deliver on their promises.

So, where do these doubts come from? And what happened to the confidence that they started out with?

Self-confidence levels fluctuate daily, by the hour and even by the minute. Self-confidence is the measure of how much trust and faith you have in yourself and your abilities, and how you project yourself to the outside world.

I meet many people who can act confidently when needed, but confess to not truly feeling it on the inside. You know the saying ‘fake it ‘til you make it’, which simply means pretending you are confident until it becomes a habit. But in my experience, it’s better to tackle confidence issues from the inside, working on developing your self-esteem and controlling your inner dialogue.

Your thoughts have a powerful effect on how you feel, how you act, and how you come across to those around you. If you keep telling yourself ‘I’m rubbish at this’, or ‘I’ve really messed up now, what will they think?’, or ‘She is so much better at presenting than me…’ is it any wonder you start to feel anxious?

When you tell yourself ‘one day they will find me out…’ the underlying assumption is that you don’t have the skills you need, you will be exposed and you will be humiliated! This isn’t going to bolster your self-confidence at all.

Here are a few ideas to increase your self-confidence, should it start to dip….

1. Pay attention to what you are saying to yourself. Self-talk is constant, and if you are feeling uncertain about a situation, or what you are about to do or say, notice what you are thinking about. The odds are that you are expecting the worst to happen, either in how you will act or how others will think/respond.

Decide what thoughts would be more empowering, and choose to focus on something positive about the situation.

2. Avoid over dramatising when things do go wrong. That’s life! Ask yourself some productive questions, such as

·         What’s the worst that can happen – and can I handle it?

·         How important will this be in a few months time?

·         What resources do I have to resolve this situation?

3. Notice when you are generalising. As confidence levels drop, we tend to using phrases such as ‘no-one ever listens to my ideas’ or ‘I always make the wrong decision’. Notice when you use these generalisations, such as no-one, never, everything, always, and challenge yourself as to whether this is absolutely true. Focus on the times when things have gone well in the past.

4. Avoid mind-reading. How often do you have a conversation in your head, running through a difficult conversation you need to have, and mind-read how the other person will react? We assume the worst and so decide not to say what needs to be said, based on what we imagine might happen! 

If I spent my time assuming that no-one likes my book, how could I possibly have the confidence to stand up and promote it? Instead, I focus on all the wonderful comments from new managers and even senior leaders, telling me how they "continually go back to it as a reference" and "its currently doing the rounds with my leadership team", and I am motivated to get on the phone and find more speaking opportunities!

So, the key is, notice your thoughts, and if you want to feel and act differently, and with confidence, then choose thoughts that make you feel better about yourself.  Try it and see!

Do you love your work, and are you doing what you love to do?

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

Sounds a simple question and I meet many small business owners who really DO love what they do.  It’s quite refreshing to hear, especially after working with some managers who struggle from day to day, and are overwhelmed with daily challenges, deadlines and email content to absorb. Yet many small business owners, managers and leaders have numerous tasks that they don't enjoy doing.

I love what I do, I love coaching one-to-one, training groups of people, and I actually love the business generation side, meeting new people, networking, finding out about their challenges and helping them to move forward. Yet there are tasks that haunt me from my To Do list. They are tasks that I am capable of doing, but if I was to allocate a chunk of time doing them, I would feel guilty that I wasn’t out there looking for new business, or working on my own personal and professional development! They are tasks that desperately need doing to progress my business, yet they don’t move from the list as quickly as they should.

Just before Christmas I attended a one day workshop learning about Talent Dynamics (TD). This is a personality profiling tool, which helps you to identify when you are ‘in flow’. Being ‘in flow’ is when you are totally absorbed in what you are doing, you are fully focused, and time just seems to disappear.

My TD profile is a ‘Star’. This isn’t about me being the centre of attention, it’s about me being centre stage, but shining a light on those around me. My ‘strengths’ (according to the report) are: creative, outgoing, able to motivate and inspire others, quick to connect, holds the stage, high energy and knows how to have fun. Yes, that sounds like me.

My best activities in the workplace are: marketing, promotion, sales leadership, presenting, motivation and starting new projects. Yes, that’s me too.

My worst activities are: Financial detail, research and measurement, detailed writing and project management. Yep – spot on.

Which explains everything! It explains why I avoid researching information (I would rather be chatting to someone at a networking event), I struggle to read and absorb lots of detail (just give me the bullet points), and I would rather be giving a talk than taking down the detailed minutes of a meeting.

Well, I actually know all of this having being trained in psychometric profiling tools, but what I hadn’t realised that I have been my own block to success. I have been wearing so many hats, trying to do the detail as well as the creative thinking, that stuff just isn’t being followed through. I’m great at starting projects, but not following through. And so, when I paused, and considered for a moment what jobs I would love to let go of, and who could do them for me, I felt a tremendous sense of relief. 

I have now found someone, Lynne (my sister!), to do the detailed tasks that I procrastinate on, and she loves doing research, managing projects, and getting things completed. In fact she has the exact opposite TD profile to me, which means we complement each other perfectly. This means that I have time to do more talks, networking, marketing which will help me to grow my business, knowing that the projects that have been simmering rather too quietly in the background, are now gathering momentum. 

And which is why I have the time to write this blog – at last!

Do you hate giving feedback?

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

I find it fascinating to notice themes emerging from individual and totally separate coaching clients. Over the last week a common theme has been giving feedback.

It seems that many of us dislike giving feedback even more than we dislike receiving it, so what is it that prevents us from giving honest and constructive comments?

Here are some of the fears that clients have shared with me:

  • Fear of upsetting the other person
  • Fear of creating an atmosphere
  • Fear of retaliation
  • Fear of destroying a relationship
  • Fear of losing control

When communicated in the right way, giving constructive feedback is a powerful way of improving relationships, performance and productivity.

Here are some top tips:

  • Recognise your reasons for giving feedback, and share if appropriate
  • Be clear on what outcome you want as a result of giving feedback, i.e. change in behaviour, motivation, specific results.
  • Balance your feedback with positive as well as constructive comments
  • Check out any assumptions you may have i.e. don’t try to prove that you’re right
  • Ensure that you challenge a person’s behaviour, not their identity
  • Avoid blaming, labelling or generalising i.e. ‘you always’ or ‘you never’
  • Be specific when delivering positive as well as negative feedback
  • Avoid using the word ‘but’ after giving positive feedback, this negates the position

Ensure that your feedback is

  • Legal – you have the right or agreement to deliver the feedback
  • Decent – respects the individual
  • Truthful – tell the simple truth
  • Honest – based on the facts, complete and unembellished

End the conversation on a positive note. And remember, some feedback is better than no feedback


Are your thoughts sabotaging your success?

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

I love coaching. It’s such a privilege to be a witness to my client’s world and their thoughts. I find it fascinating just how much our feelings and therefore our actions are driven by our thoughts and how we make sense of situations around us. We are constantly thinking, analysing and judging. We are mulling over what has happened in the past, or thinking about the days/weeks/months ahead and our hopes and fears for what might happen.

I was working with a client recently (let’s call her Jill) who was feeling overwhelmed. She had been recently promoted, and with the promotion came increased responsibilities. Although she was more than capable of dealing with her new role, her thoughts were full of doubt. Had she taken on too much? What if she couldn’t deliver? What if she made a wrong decision?

The more she was focusing on the ‘What ifs’ and how it could all go pear-shaped, the more anxious she felt and so she retreated from taking action. As I reflected this back to her, Jill could see how her thoughts were impacting on her behaviour, and therefore her results. I helped Jill to create some fun strategies so that she could monitor her feelings and when necessary, switch to positive and more empowering thoughts. It has taken a few weeks to adopt some new habits, but the results have been worth the effort. Jill is now more confident in her new role, she’s happy to use the resources around her and is ready to accept that making ‘wrong’ decisions will be part of the learning process.

Are your thoughts helping or hindering you?

The fears behind our behaviour

Monday, December 10th, 2012

Last week I was on a course, gaining a more in depth knowledge about FIRO theory.

F.I.R.O stands for Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation – in other words, understanding the deep-seated way in which we relate to other people. This theory explores how our behaviour impacts on those around us, how we act in response to how we think and feel about ourselves – and how we behave based on how we think others see us.

It’s a fascinating theory and even after all these years of coaching, and my own self exploration and self development, I gained further understanding of what is driving my behaviour.  It was interesting to uncover that my fear about making the ‘wrong’ decision is down to my fear of being humiliated. What I know now is that this fear comes from many years ago, and isn’t relevant any more – quite a powerful lesson for me.

Our behaviour is underpinned by our feelings, and fears of being ignored, humiliated or rejected.

Think about something you keep putting off, and the ‘fear’ associated with that. Unless it’s obviously life threatening, I bet you can see which of the three fears above is most relevant.

“So vital is an awareness of THE SELF that the leader who is unaware of their own blind spots or how they impact on others is like to become a walking disaster in the workplace, a leader who may lead their ‘troops’ over the cliff face” (McCarthy & Ganavan 1999)

If you want to find out more about FIRO theory, just drop me a line.

Are you hiding your ‘true self’ in meetings?

Friday, August 3rd, 2012

There has been a theme with some of my clients recently around a lack of confidence with senior people in their organisation. This is having a negative effect on their personal impact and influencing skills, and they are not adding the value that they could be adding if they felt more confident.

How come we can be confident with our team members or clients, yet when we step into the boardroom with our peers, our confidence fades? What is it that stops you from speaking up, asking questions, sharing your ideas? What conversations are you having in your mind that prevents you from adding value to the discussion?

The common cause is often a fear of some sort. It’s usually a deep seated fear that you are not even aware of until you bring it out into the open and name it. Fear of rejection, fear of saying the wrong thing, fear of taking up too much air time and a fear that your specialist subject isn’t as important as the next person's. Fears are driven and fed by our long held beliefs, in fact we have had them for so long we can’t remember where they came from or if they are still relevant. Once you start to unpick where your beliefs originated and explore whether they are still valid (which they rarely are), you can choose to let them go and find more empowering beliefs.

You can free up your mind to focus on adding value to the discussion, and show the 'real you' to your peers and senior leadership team.

Do you suffer from procrastination?

Friday, May 27th, 2011

"When I get the feeling to do something, I lie down until the feeling goes away"

We’re all guilty of it, and know we’re doing it, so just why do we put things off?  When you finally decide to start that project you know has to be done, tidying up your desk, or making a coffee suddenly become quite appealing.

There are many reasons why we delay doing the important but not urgent stuff:

  • The project is so big you don’t know where to start.
  • The project isn’t interesting.
  • You have too long to do the task.
  • You don’t like the task you need to do.

We put off the majority of important tasks because they are too overwhelming. They are too complex or time consuming for us to handle.

Swiss Cheese Technique

Alan Lakein suggests the Swiss Cheese Technique.

  • Pick a small task related to the main project & do it.
  • Follow this task with another small, easy & instant task & do it.

This process is dubbed as poking holes in the cheese. Eventually the cheese gets filled with holes, you get more and more involved in the project and it becomes much easier.

Don’t try and bite the same hole out of the cheese twice. If you tried one task and it didn’t lead to involvement, just try another task. Use the same technique for unpleasant tasks – do little 5 minute tasks then do something else.

Eat the ugly frog first!

Mark Twain said that, suppose tomorrow morning the first that you do, is catch a live frog, stuff it into your mouth, munch it down and swallow it all up. Once you did that, the day can’t get much worse now can it?

Therefore every morning, find the ugliest most repulsive task that you have on your to-do list (i.e. your frog) and knock that off before getting on to doing anything else. Once you’ve got that done, the rest of the day when you’re doing the easy tasks would seem like relishing your favourite dessert.

Brian Tracy, author of ‘Eat That Frog! 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time’, takes the analogy further:

  • If you have to eat a live frog at all, it doesn’t pay to sit and look at it for very long.
  • When you’ve got two frogs, eat the ugliest one first.
  • You cannot eat every tadpole and frog in the pond, but you can eat the biggest and ugliest one.
  • How do you eat your biggest, ugliest frog? The answer is: “One bite at a time.” i.e. you break it down into specific step by step activities and then start on the first one.
  • You should never be distracted by a tadpole when a big frog is sitting there waiting to be eaten.


Are you putting of making a big decision?

Friday, May 27th, 2011

We make decisions every day. What to wear, which route to take, how to spend our money. The smaller decisions are relatively easy because you can probably cope with the result of making the wrong decision. But what about the bigger decisions?

What stops us from making decisions? In most cases it's the fear of getting it wrong.

'Fear' is expecting something unpleasant to happen in the future, based on the experience of something that happened in the past.

Do you remember the last 'bad' or 'wrong' decision you made? How did you manage with the fallout, the embarrassment, picking up the pieces?

The unconscious fear behind making a big decision, more often than not, is whether we can cope if we make the 'wrong decision'.

Before you make a big decision, consider whether you can handle it if it's the wrong decision. A good way of helping you to have more faith in your decision making is to determine what your style is. What's working and what's not?

Review your most recent 'good' decisions. How did you make the decision? What was your decision making strategy? Was it based on gut instinct, how it would affect other people, or was it based on fact, rationale and research. Or maybe a mixture?

I have found it useful to make a list of all the good decisions I've made and how I made them, then a list of the poor decisions I made – and how I made them. It's interesting to see a theme emerging!

My natural style is to follow my gut instinct, my emotions. I decide whether I like someone and gather personal recommendations. Yet often I forget to gather solid facts and figures and do the research. Now that I'm aware of where I've been going wrong, I know that it's important for me to use my logical and rationale side, as well as my emotional side.

Look on the bright side, when you make a wrong decision, at least you can learn from the experience. If you choose to of course.

"Good decisions come from experience, and experience comes from bad decisions." Anon

Engaging for the future?

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

As a business owner or business leader, wouldn’t your life be easier – and your company more successful – if your staff were as motivated as you, performing to the highest level, always prepared to go the extra mile and committed to your organisation?

If this describes your work force, then you already have good employee engagement, and yet a recent report  commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, found that only a third of UK employees are actively engaged in their jobs.

The MacLeod Report, published in July 2009, sent a clear message to the UK plc last summer, that good employee engagement is vital for organisational success and is even more crucial in the current economic climate.

But does Employee Engagement really matter? Research indicates that the benefits of increased employee engagement include better financial performance, increased innovation, more employees advocating their organisation, reduced absenteeism/turnover and higher employee well-being. Financially it makes a lot of sense.

We can see that it is important for success, but just how do you engage your employees? The report found that some key drivers for engagement are personal values matching organisational values, meaningful work, a sense of community, valued performance and individual opinions listened to and valued.

At a one day conference, ‘Engaging for the Future’, the authors of the MacLeod report, David MacLeod and Nita Clarke shared their ideas and facilitated group discussions to explore the behavioural challenges associated with employee engagement. Many business owners and leaders are aware of the need for employee engagement, and yet there appear to be barriers stopping them from getting the employee commitment they need for success.

Through group discussion at the conference, we found that the key obstacles were lack of communication (across the organisation), leadership skills, employee/line manager ownership and the current climate.

Many leaders fail to engage their staff when their natural style is systematic and delivery focused. Leaders generally like to take charge, get results; they are practical, rational and efficient. This style of leadership may get the results but this could be at the expense of the individual if people’s feelings are neglected, if employees don’t feel valued or empowered. There is a well known saying that ‘employees join an organisation, but they leave their bosses.’

As an experienced Executive Coach, it is obvious to me that the success of a business lies within the people, and if you look after your leadership team, develop and hone their leadership and people skills, they will be better equipped to motivate and engage your employees, contributing to a more successful organisation.