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Work, love and myths to let go of

Kahlil Gibran

Work is love made visible

Kahlil Gibran

The Prophet

In recent days, I have found myself on a bit of a rant.

Now where did I put my soap box?
Now where did I put my soap box?

The rant is not unfamiliar.  There are moments in conversations when I can almost feel the rough wooden edges of my soap box in my hands.  These are moments when I want to put it down in front of me, to step onto it and to speak on a subject about which I feel deeply.

It doesn’t take much to trigger the rant.  And once I’ve started, I find it hard to stop.

What is the rant?  Why has it been triggered in recent days?  You’ll understand it if you are at a cross-road in your career and feeling stuck.  You’ll understand it if your son or daughter is at cross-road in his or her career and feeling stuck.  Perhaps you feel the pain of it yourself.

Are you at a cross-road in your career and struggling to find direction?

Whether you’re at the very start of your career or some way in, there will be times when you feel at a loss to know what to do next.

If you’re moving from university to employment, you’ll know that this transition can feel like falling off a cliff.  All the way through your education you’ve been choosing from a menu.  What subjects shall I do for my GCSEs?  What university shall I go to?  You’ve made your choices and you’ve been successful.  It ought to be enough.

Suddenly, it’s time to find a job and there is no menu.  What’s more, in so far as you can identify actual jobs, it’s not clear how they relate to anything you’ve ever learnt at school or university.  You feel confused, anxious, uncertain …and more.

Maybe you’re some years into your career.  You found the job.  You set out to prove yourself …and you did.  You were successful.  You’re still successful.  But you’re not fulfilled.  You look at the path ahead and your heart sinks.  You know you want something different, but you don’t know what it is.

Perhaps you’re on the right path, and still you’re struggling to fulfill your potential.  You yearn to do more, to be more, to contribute more.  Somehow, you feel as though you’re wading through mud.  You yearn for more but all you feel is frustration.

Myths we learnt at school

Years ago I met a man who, very early in his life, had been homeless.  Growing up in the care of his retired grandfather he had heard, again and again, how awful work was and how good it was to be retired.  As a young man, it seemed logical to him to skip this part of life …until, that is, he experienced the reality of life on the streets.

Most people are not like this young man and still, we all grow up at the feet of people who teach us things about working life that are not always helpful.  It’s these things – I call them myths – that trigger the ranter in me, the soapbox addict.

Let me just test that it's strong enough to stand on
Let me just test that it’s strong enough to stand on

Perhaps the biggest myth of all is this:  if you study hard, if you do well at school, you will do well in your life and career.  This is the myth that troubles me most.

It troubles me, because I have seen people shine in the education system, gathering qualifications, A grades and other symbols of success and still, when they get there, struggling to succeed at work.  Perhaps they have the intellect but not the emotional intelligence they need.  They go from succeeding at every stage to being told, repeatedly, that they lack the people skills or “common sense”.  Perhaps their love of the A grade makes them fearful of failure and constantly anxious about making mistakes.  They fear trying something new, expending unnecessary energy in worrying and even more in covering up their fears.  Perhaps they are so wrapped up in thinking about what others want of them that they barely know what they want in their lives and careers.

Of course, there’s more.  The idea that success depends on doing well at school sends messages to generation after generation of children that, if intellectual performance is not their forte, or doing well in exams, they won’t be successful.  I could tell you how hard it is to find a good plumber in London but even this barely scratches the surface of the implications of this myth.  Think Alan Sugar.  Think Richard Branson.  Look at Theo Paphitis and Duncan Bannatyne from BBC’s Dragon’s Den.  Many highly successful entrepreneurs left school early.  Some struggled with dyslexia.  And still, they succeeded.  How many fell by the wayside because they believed the myths and didn’t even try?

Deeper truths

It’s interesting to me to note how some people seem to sail through the world with ease, carving a life that others envy by being, simply, themselves.

The Society For Recognition of Famous People, for example, highlights how Henry Ford resisted pressure from his father to take over the family farm.  Ultimately, Ford went on to found the Ford Motor Company.  In doing so, he transformed transportation and the American automobile industry.  But the journey was long that led him to his ultimate success.

I found an interesting detail, for example, in The Society For Recognition of Famous People’s description of Henry Ford:

 When Henry was in his teens, his father gifted him a pocket watch. At the young age of 15, he dissolved and reunited the timepieces of neighbors and friends many times and gained a status of a watch repairman.

It seems that the seeds of Ford’s ultimate success were already visible whilst he was still at school.

This posting is not about Henry Ford.  Instead, Henry Ford stands as an example of a broader principle:

We are most likely to make our greatest and most valuable contribution in the world by doing things we enjoy.  

Ford’s career exemplifies other broader principles:

Whilst some successful men and women start their career with a clear and enduring vision, many find their way by taking one step at a time.

At key moments of decision, we get to choose between those things we (or others) think we ought to do and those things we most enjoy.  It is the things we most enjoy that lead us to our greatest successes and our deepest fulfillment.

There are many failures on the road to success.

I feel so much better now I've spoken my mind
I feel so much better now I’ve spoken my mind

I use the word “principles” but I could talk of laws of nature.  The more we try to carve a career by doing what “ought” to work rather than observing what’s true in practice, the more we risk looking back in our old age – like the grandfather I mentioned above – on years of unhappiness at work.

So often, in their concern to guide and support us, our parents and teachers teach us what “ought” to work, or perhaps what worked in a bygone era, rather than what actually works.  Here.  Now.

Learning from those things we most love

If you are a regular reader, you’ll know that right now, I’m recruiting for a small coaching group to help you if you want to Kick start your next career move.  If you’re interested, I hope you’ll follow the link to learn more or contact me directly.  I’d love to talk with you about the group and how it might help you.

And even if this group is of no interest to you, I invite you to notice what things you do – at work or at play – that most gladden your heart.  These are things that can teach you about your own career path.

Only a few days ago I shared with a client a story about someone who, after a successful corporate career asked for some coaching.  Following his retirement, he had taken on a role with a charity that was working in area he felt passionate about.

His question was simple:

“Is it okay for me to be enjoying myself so much at work?”

Keeping your best talent: lessons from the school playground

Working, as I do, on two sides of the leadership coin, there’s one thing that intrigues me.

I’ve yet to work with a client organisation in which the most senior leadership cadre complains about having too many talented leaders or aspiring leaders across the organisation.  This remains true even now, in the midst of painful down- (or right-) sizing, when the number of leadership jobs available is diminishing.

It seems that talent is in short supply.

At the same time, working with individual leaders in organisations or at my coaching clinic on a Sunday, I meet men and women who are clearly talented and yet who struggle to find the right next job. (Right now, as a result of these kinds of conversations, I’m recruiting members of a London-based coaching group called Kick start your next career move.  If you know anyone who might be interested, please forward this link to them.)

It seems that people with strong potential don’t always find it easy to find a job in which they can truly shine.

If you read my blog on a regular basis you’ll know that I don’t hold line managers responsible for the careers of their staff.  We all have a primary responsibility to meet our own needs.  Still, if you are a line manager to a talented and aspiring leader, I wonder if you relate to the dilemma faced by your colleagues.

Are you worried that coaching your staff will prepare them for a future in someone else’s organisation?

Learning to hold the reins
Learning to hold the reins

You know how it is.  You’ve made the case for a new member of your team, someone who can take some of the load off your shoulders.  Perhaps it took you a while to ask for help.  Maybe it was a long and painful approval process, so that by the time you get to recruit, you’re almost on your knees.

You advertise the post and get any number of recruits.  Maybe some of them look just right for the post, though your colleagues worry that these well-formed candidates are already ready for the next job and encourage you to take on someone who can benefit from some learning in this post.  You do.

You choose someone with potential and you spend time bringing them up to speed.  For a while, it seems as though you have more work as a result of recruiting them rather than less.  Perhaps you spend six months, eight… maybe even twelve months or eighteen teaching them to hold the reins.

Having delegated all sorts of tasks to your new team member, you’re starting to motor.  You are free now to handle an altogether more strategic agenda.  You enjoy stepping back from the detail to plan your forward path.

And then, just as your plan comes to fruition, they leave.

It may be that this is the reality of your situation.  Perhaps it’s something you worry about even though it hasn’t happened yet.  Is it wise to invest so much in support of members of your team if all it means is that they move on?

Building a learning organisation

In 1999, the UK’s Department for Education funded a major piece of research in order to understand what differentiated the most effective school teachers.  It followed hot on the heals of research into effective school leadership which underpinned the design of a national Leadership Programme for Serving Headteachers.

I was working at the time for the Hay Group, which carried out this work.  Although mostly I have worked with client organisations in the private sector, these projects heralded the beginning of my involvement in the education sector.  I was Director of Quality for the conduct and analysis of interviews with teachers across the country, for example, as part of the Hay Group’s research.  After I left the Hay Group, I served for ten years as a regional and then national judge for the Teaching Awards.

One year, it was my privilege to observe a head teacher who, already successful in leading her own school, had taken on the headship of a second school.   The second school was in some difficulty so her remit was to raise standards in the second school whilst maintaining standards in the first.  As others before her had already found out, parents’ fear that standards might drop can make them highly unwilling partners in such an endeavour.

Coaching new skills
Teaching new skills

Nonetheless, the head teacher’s approach was audacious.  She started to make strategic exchanges of personnel between the two schools.  A member of staff in one school would swap places with his or her peer in the other school.  Both would receive coaching and both would work with each other to exchange best practice with the aim of raising standards in both schools.  Hers was essentially a coaching approach.

It worked.

Standards improved across the failing school.  Teachers across both schools reported an enriching experience which had built their awareness of and confidence in their skills.  They improved existing skills and developed new ones.  The head teacher had created what some call a learning organisation, in both schools.  Coaching was woven into the culture and practices of both schools.

What “Miss” knew

What did this head teacher know that made her feel comfortable to take such audacious steps?  Two things.

Firstly, she knew that even without any changes of personnel, the school she was taking on had greater potential than it was currently fulfilling.  She had faith in the people in the new school – faith that they could learn and grow.  She also held the belief that staff in her existing school, already seen as high performers, had the potential to learn and grow.  She set out to make the experience a learning experience for everybody.

So far, so good.  But what about the risk of preparing people for a future in other people’s schools?

In truth, this head teacher positively wanted to prepare people for their next roles, whether or not it was in her school.  You could say that she wanted it because this was a reflection of who she was.  She was, at root, a coaching head teacher.

But in case you are not a coaching leader, you might still want to know why.  What thoughts and attitudes did she have that made her want to coach her staff even whilst knowing they might move on?

This head teacher’s approach was the manifestation of her belief that there are plenty of talented people in the world, people with potential to learn and grow.  She knew that there would always be people coming into her school with potential and with an appetite for learning.  In truth, experience had taught her that creating a learning environment for the adults in her school made the school an attractive place for precisely the kind of people she wanted to recruit – people with aspirations to learn and to work to high standards.  She had no concerns about losing good people because she felt confident of her ability to recruit more good people to the school.

Room to shine

As I draw this posting to a close, I remember that this head teacher’s school shone like a beacon in her area and was heavily over-subscribed.  It attracted parents and their children.  It attracted teaching and non-teaching staff.  What’s more, it attracted applications from precisely the kind of people she wanted to recruit.  I wonder what brand your organisation has in your marketplace, whatever it is.

It’s easy, too, to see that some people also have a personal charisma that makes them shine like a beacon within their organisations and beyond.  These are the people you recruit with confidence, if only you get the chance.

But if you’re not shining as an individual to your current or prospective employers, it doesn’t mean you have nothing to offer.  More likely, it means you don’t know what your talent is or how to describe it.  (If so, please think about joining me to Kick start your next career move.)

And if, as a leader, you want to attract staff who will make a real difference in your organisation, think about recruiting the very people you’d most like to keep, coaching them whilst they’re with you and accepting that, at some stage, they will move on.

Coaching: the gift that keeps on giving

Recently, I was absolutely thrilled to discover that former coaching client, Carrie Bedingfield, has done a very successful talk which is available on TEDx.  Her subject?  How striving is costing us everything:  the profit paradox.

I thought of Carrie again recently.  I’ll come back to the “why”.  First though, I want to touch on something that coaches, and their clients, constantly grapple with:

Pondering what return you’ll get from your investment in coaching?

When you make an investment in coaching – time, money and more – you want to know that it will be worthwhile.  This is true whether you are seeking coaching for yourself or sponsoring coaching for someone in your team.

Will coaching help you with the immediate issues that have made you consider coaching as an option in the first place?  You want to know.

Will coaching lead to benefits in the long-term that make the investment worthwhile?  You want to know.

At the same time, coaching holds no guarantees.  There’s no guarantee that coaching will deliver the solutions you are hoping for.  There’s no guarantee that coaching will deliver any solutions.  Coaching, as an “act of faith” remains an expensive option.

What proof is there of the long-term benefits of coaching?

Coaches, too, grapple with this issue.

We look for studies which demonstrate the impact of coaching.  They’re out there but they’re not always easy to find and, quite quickly, they can look out of date.

Sometimes, I prefer to let clients speak about the results over time from their investment in coaching.  Carrie told me at the time what benefits she had from her investment in coaching with me.  In recent days, she’s been kind enough to add a few words about the long term impact of coaching.

This is what she had to say:

CarrieWhen I first started working with you, I was working flat out and trying to make myself available to everyone – clients, team members and others – all the time.  Paradoxically, the more I tried to make myself available to people, the more I was starting to resent people for stealing my time.  Also, I was riding the roller-coaster of other people’s emotions.  A client would be unhappy (or just express something in a way that brought us all down) and I would dive down.  A project would go well and the world was a sunny happy place.  I was feeling exhausted and I knew the approach I was taking wasn’t sustainable.

Like many people, I’m a bundle of sharp contrasts – they conflict all the time which causes wasted energy/effort or even pain.  With Dorothy, I learnt to unpick these. They all want something good for me.  If I can identify how each is trying to serve me, I can end the conflict.  Now I understand, for example, what dangers my desire to be available and my concern to protect my time are warning me against and how they’re trying to help me.  And I can set and communicate boundaries that don’t cause inconvenience for me or anyone else.

Another massive lesson for me was to take responsibility for myself only – one I share with other people all the time.  Clearly defining what I’m responsible for and what I’m not (you need to keep doing this ALL the time!) changes the energy completely and removes the emotional weight of running a service business.  Dorothy enabled me to disentangle myself from all of this and establish what I am responsible for which helps me focus effort on what I can actually change and lift the weight from my shoulders of other people’s responses which are their choice.

I didn’t think it was possible to learn something completely new or to massively grow in an area of little experience.  For me that was coaching and developing others.  I had limited beliefs about what others were capable of so I neither thought they could transform nor that I could help them do it.  I learnt by doing that actually, I could change/develop/grow/learn and that opened up a new world. All these people in my extended team could also develop amazing new talents and I could help them do it!  And that’s exactly what happened.

The work we did together had a massive impact on me at the time.  Learning to coach members of my team meant that they were able to fulfil their potential more fully and I could delegate to them.  My role changed quite quickly.  I went from being key to the provision of services to take on a leadership role and, quite quickly, to become CEO.  This opened up opportunities to do other things, such as lecturing for the University of Cambridge Judge Business School and founding 50th Generation, an incubator for meaningful, growing businesses.

It’s easy to say that, as a result of our work together (and other learning with other learning partners), I became a different person.  I think it’s more truthful, though, to say that our work together helped me to become a more effective, fun and joyful version of myself.

Carrie Bedingfield

Entrepreneur, business grower, investor, communications specialist, guest lecturer

Investing in your life and career

I thought of Carrie because I am currently putting together information about a coaching group I will be offering in the next few days for people who want to make their next career move – people who are seeking promotion within their current organisation or seeking to move from one organisation and another.  If you want to find out more, about this, click here.

Carrie’s experience demonstrates the kind of progress people make as a result of investing in their personal development.  Her testimonial exemplifies the kind of things people learn in coaching.  It also exemplifies the kind of results people can look forward to in the short-, medium- and long-term.

There’s a curious thing, too, about coaching.

Carrie’s testimonial is a reflection of just how extraordinary she is.

At the same time, in my experience, successful coaching demonstrates just how ordinary it is to be extraordinary.

Managing your boss

Portrait of Albert Einstein
Portrait of Albert Einstein

 

 

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results

Albert Einstein

 

 

 

 

In the last couple of years, I’ve enjoyed selling things on eBay.

In recent days, however, I’ve been grappling with a fair degree of frustration.  On Tuesday, I booked a courier to collect a parcel on Wednesday.

The courier didn’t come.

On Thursday I was out and left it with my neighbours.  I checked in with them on Thursday evening.

The courier hadn’t come.

Friday?  I was at home in the morning.

The courier didn’t come.

I had a meeting in the afternoon and left the parcel with my neighbours.  (Again.)  I collected the parcel from my neighbours on my way home.  The courier made his first attempt to collect soon after.  “Everybody’s complaining today,” he told me.  I knew I was not alone.

I was all the more frustrated because this has happened a number of times in recent weeks and my attempts to engage the company concerned have generally been met with an apology and a request that I deliver the parcel to them.

Are you working for your worst boss ever?

Working for a difficult boss is a subject that comes up repeatedly.  If you’re working for your worst boss ever, you may already recognise some parallels with my courier experience.

Your boss is the boss, right?  You expect him or her to do the things bosses do.

You expect your boss to clearly define what he or she wants of you.  He doesn’t.

You expect your boss to support you in shaping an agenda for your part of the business and to help you to gain support for important initiatives.  But you can’t get time in your boss’s diary or you face a wall when you put your ideas forward.

You expect your boss to organise herself to be effective.  You expect leadership from your boss.  But the last thing you get from your boss is good, sound leadership.

You expect the boss to provide support and coaching to help you become more effective in your current role or prepare for your next role.  But all you get is criticism when you don’t do things his way.  (And how the hell are you supposed to know what his way is?  He certainly doesn’t tell you.)

Perhaps you try making requests of your boss or giving feedback.  He may agree with your assessment of the situation but nothing changes.  She may take offence at your feedback.

Over time, you feel more and more frustrated.  Perhaps you feel anxious.  Maybe, if your boss is super critical of you, you lose confidence.  Your performance starts to slide.  Or maybe you find yourself increasingly filling the gap.  Others approach you rather than seeking help from your manager.  Or you start to shape the agenda, to do the influencing, to make things happen.

What Ben knew

Recently, I met someone who had made quite an art out of working for difficult bosses.  I was intrigued to learn more.

The first thing he told me intrigued me most of all.

It hadn’t always been that way.

Early in his career, he had set out to change a difficult boss.  He was confident that his perceptions of his manager were correct and felt sure that if he only raised his concerns at more senior levels, something would be done to address the boss’s behaviour.

In a way, he told me, he got lucky.  His boss’s boss was sympathetic to his concerns.  At the same time, she also highlighted the risks of taking on someone who was so powerful within the organisation.  “You can’t change the others,” she told him.  “You can only change yourself.”

Ben (let’s call him Ben) became curious about the possibilities of what he could achieve by focusing on what he could do rather than focussing on how his boss should be different.

In his first experience, for example, he recognised that his manager had a lot of power in the organisation and a strong desire to look good.  Ben learned to make the most of his boss’s powerful position by working with him to develop initiatives that moved the organisation forward.  “Whatever his limitations” he told me, “I always treated him with the utmost respect.  I shared ideas with him and explored the implications with him.  Quite quickly, I realised I had to start small if I wanted to get him on board.  The effect was to create a pathway towards the next small initiative and the next one and the next one.  I gave credit to my boss whenever I could and, quite quickly, he started to take the credit for the way he had encouraged me.  Once this happened, he started to sing my praises around the organisation so that we both looked good.”

I asked him if this kind of strategy had always worked for him.

“No,” he told me.  “There are times when I look at a situation and ask myself what I can achieve by adjusting my own behaviour and what changes I can make.  In one job, I gave feedback to my boss and he acknowledged all the issues I raised with him – and then did nothing at all to address them.  After I’d had this conversation with him several times I thought hard about my next steps and decided that I needed to accept the situation or, if I couldn’t accept the situation, I needed to accept that I couldn’t accept the situation.   At that stage, I knew it was time for me to move on.”

Tolle2Ben had learnt something I still find difficult.  Eckhart Tolle summed it up like this:  “When you complain you make yourself a victim.  Leave the situation, change the situation or accept it.  All else is madness.”

You could also put it this way:  “When you expect your boss to manage you, you make yourself a victim.  You need to start managing your boss.  Accept that your boss is the way s/he is, do what you can to transform your relationship with your boss, or leave your boss.  All else is madness.”

What struck me about Ben was not that he turned a blind eye to the weaknesses and failings of his line managers.  No.  He was curious about his bosses’ strengths and weaknesses.

He did, though, give up the word “should”:  he stopped telling himself that his line manager should be doing all the things that good bosses do.

My experience with my courier was a reminder that, whatever views I might have about my courier and what they should be doing, they were not.

Making your peace with working for the worst boss ever

The courier should have turned up on Wednesday but it didn’t.

I have already tried to attract attention and get the help I needed.

I’ve used the on-line chat facility and talked to people in Mumbai.

I’ve tried tweeting the UK team.

I tried writing to the courier’s Head of Customer Service.

Twice.

I got no reply.

Because the issues with this courier’s service have been repeated, I spoke to the Citizens Advice Bureau.

And then I looked hard at my courier’s standard Terms and Conditions.

I was surprised to discover that, as far as the courier is concerned, the service starts once their courier has collected the parcel.  (How weird is that?!)  What’s more, they take no responsibility for events beyond their control, including mechanical failure.  (In short, if the courier’s vehicle breaks down, they won’t collect.)

The thing is, I realised that my courier isn’t going to change.

I thought about the reasons I use this particular courier and I knew they still stand.  At their best, this courier provides a good standard of service at a price that suits my customers on eBay.

I decided to add a few words to my listings on eBay – my own Terms and Conditions – to alert my clients to the possibility of delay.

And, having done this, I felt at peace.

If you’re still waiting for your boss to change you’re doing what I do when I get cross when the courier doesn’t come.  Of course it’s logical to expect my courier to come on the day scheduled.  It’s what couriers do.

But all couriers are not equal and neither are all bosses.

Instead, you will be at your most effective – and peaceful – when you take a long hard look at the boss you have and ask yourself, “Where do I go from here?”

Please let me know how you get on.

The trouble with New Year’s resolutions

Blog Jeju 61

 

On Friday, 2nd January, I stepped into the office for the first time since Christmas.  I had a small list of priorities, including clearing my desk ready to start the year, some scheduled phone calls and preparing to write this blog.

It seemed to be a good time to reflect on the year just gone and the year ahead.  What did I achieve last year?  What do I want to achieve in the year that has just begun?

If New Year’s resolutions are working for you, there’s probably nothing I can add on this topic.

More often, though, they don’t.

For this reason, I decided to explore the topic in my first blog of 2015.

Does your heart sink at the thought of setting New Year’s resolutions?

Whether you are contemplating making New Year’s resolutions for yourself or setting new goals for your team, you’re probably acutely aware that for many people, the habit of setting New Year’s resolutions can be laced with cynicism and disappointment before the year has even begun.

Maybe you know you need to lose weight or to increase sales across your business.  You said it last year.  You said it the year before.  Saying that you wanted to achieve it did not, though, make it happen.

Perhaps you feel the pressure to come up with new goals.  Maybe you are under pressure to deliver against somebody else’s new goals.  But past experience tells you that knowing the pressure is there has made no difference in practice to the results you and your team have achieved.

To cap it all, the more you focus on what you should be achieving that’s different, the more your heart sinks as you reflect on past failures.

SMART goals – are they any better?

The acronym SMART has become a byword for goal-setting in organisations in recent years.  It didn’t, though, stop one client from complaining about the impossible challenge of setting and achieving team goals.

John (let’s call him John) had been struggling with one particular goal for two years in a row and the need to achieve it was becoming increasingly pressing.  He had checked it for “SMART” and it ticked all the boxes.

Still, they had failed to achieve the goals as agreed in year one.

They had failed to achieve the goals in year two.

Failing to achieve it in year three didn’t seem to be an option.

It seemed to me that we needed to understand why John and his team were failing to achieve their goal before he could make the adjustments that would make the difference.

Two reasons why we fail to turn New Year’s resolutions (and SMART goals) into practice

Let me turn away from John and his team for a moment.  Why, in practice, do we fail to achieve our goals?  I am thinking about our personal goals as well as the goals we set with and for our team.

Reflecting on my own and others’ failures, I notice two key reasons why people don’t achieve their goals or fulfil their New Year’s resolutions.  Firstly, at times, we simply set the wrong goal.  Sometimes, for example, we set a goal for our career and yet fail to take steps to achieve it.  Perhaps it’s a goal that honours the wishes of our family but fails to gladden our heart, for example.  (And yes, many achieve such goals and turn up years later in coaching or therapy clinics, dissatisfied and wondering where to go next).  Perhaps we set a goal for our team which fails to get to the heart of what’s needed or to take account of what’s going on in the marketplace.  (One person I interviewed years ago was charged with a sales goals which was a percentage increase of current sales of a product that was about to become obsolete.  It was clear he wouldn’t achieve his goal and still, he had to fight a hard political battle in his organisation to gain wider recognition of the implications of this change in technology.)

There’s a second reason why we fail to fulfil our New Year’s resolutions or to succeed in meeting a business goal.  Quite simply, we underestimate what it takes to achieve them.  If we know from the beginning what it takes to achieve our goals, we’re probably playing too small a game.  This applies in our personal lives as much as it does in our businesses and organisations.  When I jotted down some of the reasons people don’t fulfil their New Year’s resolutions or their business goals some very human things came up:

  • Lack of commitment:  Have you ever said yes to doing something, only to find that you didn’t, well… do it?  Sometimes we don’t get off the starting blocks because we haven’t really tested for commitment.  This is true when the goal is a personal one – one part of us wants to achieve X, for example, but another part is concerned about the implications.  Across our teams this inner conflict may be replicated many times.
  • Failing to acknowledge the benefits of our current behaviours:  If you want to lose weight and you’re still eating all the foods (or drinking all the drinks) you know you need to give up, it’s because you get something you want from your current habits.  Psychologists call these hidden benefits “secondary gains”.  You may know intellectually that you have some bad habits you want to ditch and still, some part of you is clinging on tight to the same bad habits.  And yes, the same is true across whole organisations.  One organisation I know has repeatedly expressed the aspiration of creating truly equal “win, win” partnerships with suppliers.  At the same time, this organisation has benefited for a long time from seeing itself as stronger and superior to people outside the organisation.  There may be some element of illusion in this aspect of the organisation’s culture and still, it fuels a certain confidence in the marketplace.
  • Failing to identify and overcome barriers to progress:  It’s remarkable how many organisations turn a blind eye to key barriers to progress.  This can extend to using labels (“naysayer”, whinger” etc.) to describe anyone who raises a concern.  At the same time, the self same “naysayers” can be invaluable in highlighting issues that need to be overcome in order to meet a personal or organisational goal.  This failure to face the key challenges involved in achieving a goal can, in turn, lead to another issue which prevents us from achieving our goals;
  • Making too many changes in direction:  Have you ever noticed how team members can greet the goals of the new boss with a quiet resistance?  Conversations round the kettle suggest that he or she will calm down soon and nothing will get done, because who has ever followed through to achieve their goals?  At the same time, I’ve seen organisations invest significant amounts of time and money in a new idea, only to abandon it when it doesn’t go strictly to plan.  It can be painful to face mistakes and to correct them.  Sometimes it’s easier to abandon an idea completely and save face by saying it was a mistake to attempt something in the first place.  Changes in bosses can bring changes in direction.  Even without new people at the top, there can be unhelpful changes in direction before goals are ever met;
  • Timing, timing, timing…  Any number of failed goals are down to timing.  Was it timely to address this goal, or did it need to wait until you’ve addressed something else first?  Were you, your team, your senior colleagues willing to discover just how long it might take to achieve a goal?  Did they value the goal enough to persevere over time?

The reason behind the reason

In his exploration of the reasons he and his team had failed to achieve their main goal, John and his team identified a number of reasons which were both hidden from view and obvious once they had been identified.  It was a painful process for John and for a number of members of his team.

I could stop here.

After all, having identified why they were stuck, he and his team were able to revise their plans to address the key issues and, suddenly, the speed at which they made progress towards the goal they had identified two years early accelerated dramatically.

What had seemed hard suddenly seemed terribly easy.

But one question hit hard as John reflected on this sudden change of pace.  Why was it that such obvious reasons for delays had remained out of view?  And what was it that had suddenly made it possible to identify and discuss – address, even –  the barriers to progress across the team?

John was humble in his response:

“It was so clear that this goal was well within our grasp that every time we met a barrier I felt frustrated with myself or with members of my team.  Why wasn’t one team member doing the things he had promised week after week after week?  Sometimes, frustrated with my own role in the delays, I would give staff a ‘talking to’ and let them know how disappointed I was with them.  I always felt better for doing this, as if I was doing what I should do in my role as leader.  At the same time, I could see heads droop and motivation flounder.  All the frustration in the world, the self-blame, the criticism of my staff… it seemed right and logical but it didn’t make one bit of difference.”

So what did make the difference?

“When we talked about this goal in our coaching, I noticed something about the way you responded.  There was a quality you brought to our discussion which was entirely absent until that point – compassion.  I had been really beating myself up in the days preceding our session.  I was getting ready to do the same with my staff.

“This quality of compassion allowed me to recognise that delays and challenges are perfectly normal.  It also allowed me and my team to explore what was really getting in the way of progress.  It was as if, by taking blame out of the equation, we all became more willing to share our perceptions and to hear each other fully.  Initially, I felt vulnerable doing this and then, because of the lack of blame, I felt safe hearing staff tell me about the issues I had overlooked and about the impact of my approach.”

One afterthought on John’s part particularly struck me:

“I used to think that compassion was the opposite of accountability – a sign of weakness on my part as a leader.  This process has taught me that the opposite is true.  The greater the compassion, the easier it becomes to hold myself and others to account, because we’re not confusing the issues involved with who we are and what we can bring.”IMG_3752

Looking forward with compassion to 2015

Personally, I have a confession to make.

I haven’t made any New Year’s resolutions this year.

My goals – both personal and business – are anything but SMART.

At the moment, I am feeling my way through a period of considerable personal and professional change.

I have though, like John, learnt the value of compassion.  I have learnt how much more self aware I am when I can explore my desires with compassion.  I have learnt how much I can learn from my own inner resistance and from those who doubt when I can bring compassion to the conversation, for myself and others.  I have learnt how compassion can carry me through times of fear and uncertainty, or lift me up when something goes wrong.

In this moment I am accepting with compassion that I am publishing my first blog posting of 2015 almost a week after I started to write it.  Worse still, I am realising that although I scheduled this posting for 8th January, some glitch means that I’ve discovered, well into the month, that it hasn’t yet been published.

I am also looking back to see what progress I have made in my business and personal life despite the many moments in which I have felt anxious when things have not happened as quickly as I hoped and realising that there’s a much larger picture for me to look at.  From this perspective, I see successes I could never have anticipated and some very human barriers I have overcome.

I am looking forward to whatever life brings in 2015.

I hope you are, too.

PS  The photos are from my visit to a Buddhist temple last year on mainland South Korea.  Buddhism emphasises compassion, which may be why I was drawn to these photos in particular when writing this post.

Finding a way past frustration to your next senior promotion

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This year, I have worked on a number of projects with client organisations who want to nurture and develop their high potential leaders.  It’s an endeavour that’s full of pitfalls for everyone involved, though this is a topic for any number of other posts.  Today I’ll pick just one to explore, which seems timely as Christmas approaches.

One of the people I worked with this year was John.  We’ll call him John, though he could have been called any number of names.  Indeed, he could have been any number of people I met this year.

John’s employers were sponsoring a leadership assessment as part of their High Potential Leader programme.  The interview technique involved asking for examples of recent successes and he described a complex project, fraught with difficulties, which he had led to a successful conclusion on behalf of his employer.  Based on the evidence he gave, I was confident that he had a strong and rounded skills set and was ready for his next promotion.

At the same time, John’s work had left him feeling exhausted.  As he looked around him, he could see that successive reorganisations had reduced the number of opportunities available going forward.  What’s more, having nominated him to take part in their HiPo programme, his employers seemed to be leaving him to it and this was fuelling a creeping resentment on John’s part.

Waiting for your next senior promotion?

If you’re feeling ready for your next promotion, it’s possible that you can relate to John’s experience.

Maybe, initially, you felt really pleased to recognise that you’re ready for the next challenge.  However, as time has gone on and without being able to see your way to your next job, you have started to feel bored in your current role, or frustrated with the long wait for an appropriate opportunity to come up.

If you’ve had successes like John has, you may share his sense of resentment.  After all the things  you’ve done for your employer (and all the personal sacrifices you’ve made in order to do them), it’s hard to see how little is coming back the other way.  No thanks.  No offers of help to move to the next level.  No recognition, even, that just because you’ve handled one big hairy project well, you may not want to take on another.

In truth, if you’ve been working as hard as John had, you may be feeling physically exhausted and emotionally drained.  This is especially likely to be true if, in order to do what you did, you had to draw on strengths that are in your repertoire but which don’t speak to your true self – the things you most love to do.  This, too, will fuel your resentment:  after you’ve given so much time and effort to make a success of something you don’t even enjoy very much?!  You may wondering when it will be your turn to do something you really enjoy.

When it’s time to change your career management strategy

I think I was drawn to John (and others like him) because I recognised myself in him.  There was a time in my career when people would express surprise when I was promoted (“I thought you were already [insert more senior job title.]”)  I was often last in my peer group to be promoted, even though I was seen by my peers as someone who could be relied on to deliver.

At the same time, I’m aware that John was making a classic career management mistake.

He was waiting for the next job to come to him.

Sunset on Jeju Island
Sunset on Jeju Island

Let’s be clear, early in his career, jobs had come to him.  John was purposeful.  He got things done.  He was skilled in handling objectives and getting people on board.  Team members loved him.  Because of these and other skills he stood out amongst his peer group and was often sought out for interesting projects.

Increasingly, John needed to use a different career management strategy, because promotion at senior levels is different.  Whereas John stood out by a country mile in a junior peer group, there were more people to match his talents in his more senior peer groups and all of them chasing a smaller pool of more senior jobs.

There was more.  Early in his career, it was enough for John’s immediate manager to be impressed for the opportunities to appear out of nowhere.  At his current level, the stakes were higher for his organisation and the jobs were spread more thinly and widely.  He hadn’t realised that, as well as networking with senior stakeholders to gain buy-in to important projects, he also needed to ask for their support to progress in his career.

Jeju, at the covered market
Jeju, at the covered market

What’s driving your career management strategy?

To me, what was more important to John than a change of career management strategy was this:  the reasons behind his strategy.  I was pleased to have the opportunity to explore this with him in our feedback session.

What quickly emerged was that, fundamentally, John was looking after his employer’s interests but he wasn’t looking after his own.  Somehow, he imagined that if he did a good job for his employer they would do a good job for him.

This was partly a reflection of his early experience.  When he’d done a good job for his employer they had done a good job for him.

This was partly a reflection of his early experience… but only partly.

John realised that, to a significant degree, he wasn’t giving himself permission to look after his own interests.  To seek out a job, yes, in which he could contribute to the success and progress of his organisation.  But also to seek out a job he would really enjoy and which would lead him towards other jobs which really worked to his natural strengths.

Armed with this insight, John realised that he needed to increase his permission levels before he could truly follow through on changes to his career management strategy.

Filling your own cup first

On the surface, this posting has been about finding your next promotion.

At the same time, the principle that applies when managing your career, applies in every sphere of life.  We have to fill our own cup first.

John was doing a good job for his organisation.  His organisation wanted him to do more of the same.  But the projects he was executing so successfully were proving exhausting.  Yes, he could do them, but they weren’t really his bag.  They were missing key elements of his ideal job.

As a more general principle, whether as a leader or in life, it helps to know that if you want to give to others, it helps first to give to yourself.  It’s easier to give with a glad and pure heart when our own cups are already full.  As Christmas approaches, it seems particularly timely to remember this principle.

I want to end by saying, in all humility, that I don’t always get this right myself.  Recently, after a challenging year in 2013 and a challenging start to 2014, I have been taking time refill my cup.  This is one reason why I have been silent on the blog for some weeks now.

I also invite you to ask yourself, are there any areas of your personal or professional life in which your cup is half full?

I’m glad to be back.  I hope you are still with me.  And I sent you my heartfelt wishes for your own emotional, mental and physical well-being this Christmas and throughout the coming year.

 

In the covered market on Jeju Island
In the covered market on Jeju Island


PS  In case you’re wondering, the photos in today’s blog are from a recent holiday I took in South Korea.  Just one way in which I have been filling my own cup first!

Conflict at work: alternatives to “fight” and “flight”

20140714_190617I saw my counsellor on Monday, the wonderful David Hamilton.  I found myself laughing as I sat down and saying, I guess you’re going to sit and watch me, waiting for me to say something…  and then I went on to tell him about all the things that had been in my thoughts during the twenty minute walk to his offices.  Our sessions have been part of my self-care following a most extraordinary period, in which I fielded more challenges than I could easily handle and which left me feeling physically and emotionally exhausted at the beginning of this year.

Firstly, I supported a friend in crisis, something I wrote about in a blog posting entitled Preventing employee suicide.

Just as my friend was admitted to a hospital ward that could give her the care she needed, I was ordered to take down a blog posting by… well, I’d best not say in public.  I was happy to make amendments to the posting based on clear and detailed feedback and confident we could find a way forward that met my needs and the needs of this organisation.  But no, I was to obey orders (including orders that went way beyond the legitimate authority of the organisation concerned).  I quickly discovered a clash of values around leadership of monumental proportions.

As the French say, jamais deux sans trois.  As if this wasn’t enough, in the New Year, I found myself in conflict for a second time.  This time, I chose to draw an agreement to a close when I felt my partner in this agreement (let’s call him Carl) was failing to act in line with the spirit and most fundamental clause of the agreement – to be sensitive to each other’s needs and make time to talk about any issues arising during the course of our agreement.

Each one of these experiences was taxing in itself, taking time and energy from other things.  Together, these three experiences left me feeling exhausted and rather bruised.  I knew it was time to take care of myself.

No wonder, if my experience is anything to go by, that people try to avoid conflict.

Trying to avoid conflict at work?

Do you ever find yourself feeling frustrated with the behaviour of a colleague at work and, at the same time, anxious about the consequences of addressing the issues that are stimulating your frustration?

Perhaps you have concerns about the approach being taken by your boss or by your peers.  At the same time, you want to preserve your relationships so you try to smooth things over – but your frustration doesn’t abate.  Or perhaps you’re anxious about the consequences – which you can’t predict with any accuracy – of sharing your concerns.

Or perhaps you are holding back from addressing your concerns with members of your team.  You might be concerned, for example, that if you address those aspects of your star performer’s behaviour that are most unhelpful you will lose not just those behaviours but also the star.  Or maybe the prospect of embarking on a discussion with one of your under-performers fills you with dread.

Or maybe you are watching conflict brewing amongst members of your team and are trying to head it off.  The truth is, many people put off addressing issues in the workplace because of concerns about conflict.

Delaying conflict makes it worse

Now, it would be easy for me to talk about the failings of my partner in relation to the agreement I dissolved at the beginning of the year.   However, years ago, I learnt that you can’t change the others, you can only change yourself so, instead, I’m going to share my reflections on my own behaviour during the course of our agreement.

Firstly, I’m going to give myself some credit.  From the beginning, I put in place an agreement that reflected a fundamental principle… everyone’s needs matter.  I also recognised that neither party to the agreement could anticipate everything that we’d need to have in place for our agreement to work.  That’s why I included a clause in the agreement which said we needed to be sensitive to each other’s needs and make time to talk about any issues arising during the course of our agreement.

Having said that, in practice, I put off having conversations when I started to notice that my partner in the agreement was not doing things he had agreed to do.  In effect, I was choosing to “pick my battles” – deciding which issues were important enough to mention and which issues I should overlook for the sake of maintaining the agreement.

The trouble is, the cumulative effect of my choices were two-fold.  On the one hand, I was putting too many issues to one side so that, over time, I was supporting my partner in meeting his needs – but at the expense of my own.  On the other hand, because I wasn’t sharing my smaller concerns, my partner in the agreement was unaware that his bank account of goodwill was dropping slowly into debit.

I knew he was contributing less than he had agreed and taking more – and maybe he did, too.  What he probably didn’t realise was that, as well as not working for me in the context of our agreement, this was putting a strain on our long-standing relationship. By the time I was ready to move beyond conversations about the detail of our agreement to address my overall concerns, it was already time to dissolve our agreement.  More than this, by the time I was ready to address my concerns, our relationship was at risk.

Do I regret raising my concerns?  No.  But I do wish I’d raised them sooner.

Ground rules for constructive conflict at work

20140714_183513Even when we are slow to address issues in the workplace, there are things we need to know if we want to do so constructively.  You might think of these as “ground rules” or “truths” to focus on when you decide to take action.  What’s more, by sharing them with members of your team, you can help your team to address issues constructively within the team.  Here are just a few of my favourites:

Focus on interests – who needs what?  We get stuck in addressing issues when we take a position (usually some form of “I’m right”) rather than trying to work out who needs what.  Identifying the needs of everyone involved opens up the possibility of finding a way forward that meets everyone’s needs.  Equally, when we try so support everyone in meeting their needs, we leave everyone with their dignity intact, even in the messiest of conflicts.  This is about exploring why something matters to the individual(s) concerned.

Everyone is creative, resourceful and whole.  When we trust that everyone in the workplace is an adult with strengths and capabilities and the capacity to learn, we are more likely to do some of the things that will help us to find a way forward, such as sharing our own views and asking questions or sharing information openly.  (Roger Schwarz offers a great behavioural list in his books and articles under the heading “skilled facilitator”.  It seems to me that we follow Roger’s recommendations most easily when we trust that our colleagues are creative, resourceful and whole.)

Everyone – yes, you, too – has something to learn.  Conflict is most constructive when everyone involved comes to the table willing to learn something new.  Even if our partners in a discussion don’t understand this, we need to understand it for ourselves.  A willingness to learn opens up new possibilities – the possibility of a different way forward in a particular discussion, for example, or the possibility that we might learn something that will make us more effective in future.

The outcome from conflict is always the right outcome – for now.  The outcome from conflict is unpredictable.  We can never know how our colleagues might respond when we raise our concerns with them.  Often, working through conflict means we have to abandon our preferred strategy.  At the same time, handled effectively, conflict can help us to come to a better outcome than we will achieve by avoiding conflict.  It may fit neatly into our plans or it may challenge them.  Either way, it can bring us closer to finding ways to achieve results that meet everyone’s needs.

The aftermath of conflict

You may be wondering what the outcome is from the conflicts I have shared with you above.

One outcome from my experience with the unnamed organisation is that I am much more informed about the style of leadership that currently prevails in that organisation.  As it happens, other people are, too, because our disagreement was a topic of discussion at the organisation’s Annual General Meeting in the spring.  What’s more, people not only know more, they also know that others, too, know what they know.  In my experience, such open debate opens up possibilities, in time, for constructive change across an organisation.

20140714_184222And Carl?  Well, for now, he isn’t responding to my e-mails and has severed our connections on social media so I’m inferring that he wants to take a break or even to sever our connection altogether.  It’s a choice I respect.  For my part, I am clear that our experience offers an opportunity to ask this: is it nourishing for us both to be in contact with each other?  Or are we better off nurturing other relationships?  My choice, which I make with a glad heart, is to stand up for my needs in the context of that relationship whilst also wanting to support Carl in meeting his.

And you?  I wonder what challenges you face at work?  How many of them are an invitation to a discussion and even to a potential conflict?  As I draw to a close, I invite you to notice how many conversations you would have, and with whom, if you only believed that addressing the issues openly – and risking conflict – would be a constructive way forward for you and your colleagues.

Concerned about staff behaviour? Check your systems

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My clients have been expressing some envy in recent days on conference calls and coaching calls knowing that, in the midst of a heatwave, I have been working from home.  I am indeed glad to be able to dress casually – no suit, no make-up – in my home office.

It’s also true that, for the solopreneur, life away from work can be an extension of life at work.  In the last few days I have been thinking – as a client, as a woman with a hobby (more about that later), as the manager of a home, as a service provider – about systems.

When your work descends into chaos

Have you ever found yourself – whether at work or at home – overwhelmed?

It could be that you have more e-mail correspondence than you know how to handle. Or you have an overwhelming amount of physical material – from stock to stationery, from filing to furniture – to organise.

Maybe the number of tasks that are piling up, waiting to be done later is slowly growing.  You know that “done later” increasingly means “won’t get done at all”.  It wouldn’t be so bad if it also meant, “will be filed, shredded, put in a place where they belong” rather than “will create clutter, chaos, confusion”.

It’s not just that you, or your team, or even your organisation, is not getting certain things done.  It’s not only that there are consequences for your business (unhappy clients, for example, or unpaid bills).

No.  In addition, your failure to address a growing problem begins the process of institutionalising an inefficiency, a failure of service, or some other problem for the longer term.  Over time, it also creates a built-in failure of thinking, innovation, problem solving as thinking descends into a fog as a result of the mess you’re in.

Ahem…  I know

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It may surprise you to know that the sink in my garden is at the heart of several systems in my life and not all to do with gardening.

In the last eighteen months, for example, I have taken up a bit of a hobby – buying and selling china, ceramics, pottery… items of beauty. On eBay, I go under the name of arabesque1963 and, increasingly, I recognise that this gentle pastime – the occasional visit to Greenwich Auction House, mooching round the market at Lee Green, letting go of items that no longer please me in my home and replacing them with things that do – is (albeit on a small scale) a fully fledged business and presents the same challenges as any other business.

Now, I don’t want to turn this posting into a rave review of eBay, though I do have reason to be grateful for the work that has gone into supporting me as both buyer and seller at their end.  Only recently, for example, I received a parcel as a buyer in which three out of four items were broken.  The person who sold them to me was kind enough to refund the money I had spent but many aspects of their communication were wholly unsatisfactory, including the feedback they left on my profile.  I contacted eBay who took the view that yes, this was in breach of their trust and safety policies and removed it.

As a seller on eBay I have been evolving systems.  I have standard terms and conditions, for example, which I use to create each listing I make of new items for sale.  I am making a practice of including a rather beautiful mouse when I take photos of items for sale – this creates an identity for my eBay brand and attracts attention and comment.  (No, the mouse is not for sale).  I have a few places where I take these photos, including the garden sink.  I always include a thank you note which is often the subject of comment when buyers leave feedback.

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Frankly, even after twelve years at the helm of Learning for Life Consulting, I have to say there’s no better education that I can think of in the art and science of business.  I know, for example, that I can make more profit when I buy large lots rather than individual items or that I can make better use of my time if I group items together to create an offering worth a certain amount of money.  I know, too, that if I were doing this to make a living I would need to think much less about my love of a good mooch and much more about income targets, how best to meet them and how best to maximise profit whilst minimising my investment of time.  (I’m guessing that I hardly need to point out that wrapping breakable items takes care and time).

Systems alert!  It’s easy to mistake a systems error for a failure by your team

My experience of eBay has reminded me of times in my business when things start to go wrong.

Right now, for example, I am grappling with a particular challenge – where to store items which have yet to be sold.  The truth is, I am buying more quickly than I am selling.  Where can I create enough space to store my stock so it’s not in the way?

In the meantime, well… it is in the way.

I remember a similar stage in running Learning for Life Consulting when I didn’t know where to find paperwork and client files, because I hadn’t yet created a storage system that worked.  And when I had created a storage system that worked, I still needed to use it – to put existing files in their rightful place, to keep them up to date, to create a new file for each new client.

It took me a while to clock something that businesses face every day – the risk of blaming staff for your failure to create a system, because what you see is the unhelpful behaviour rather than the absence of a system.  Worst still, it may be your clients, rather than you, who are complaining about the unhelpful behaviour of your staff.  Organisations are particularly vulnerable at times of change or growth or even when they face a problem and lack a system to deal promptly and effectively with client complaints.

Recently, I experienced this from the client end.  I was dealing with an organisation that provides services I have been used to buying over the years and I wasn’t happy.  The organisation was offering an attractive package… but failing to deliver.  I had to remind them of the promises they’d made me.  I asked about one small thing and was greeted with, well “what’s it got to do with me?”  I wasn’t impressed. It was enough to make me reflect on the standards I expected and to realise that, well, this small organisation is still muddling through at a time when they need to set clear standards and work out how they will deliver against those standards… every time.

It especially highlighted to me that they are trying to compete with some of the “big boys” in their industry but haven’t yet worked out what made those boys “big”.

What systems are you lacking in your organisation?

I am still working on a system that works for my eBay hobby and realising that, in the eyes of anyone who buys from me, it’s no hobby – I am providing a service and creating expectations.

What about you? I invite you to think about those areas of your business that – on a large or small scale – are chaotic.  In what corners of your business do you feel most frustrated with your staff?  What complaints do you most often hear from clients? These things are all clues that you need to look at your systems.

Changing jobs? Finding your ideal job

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There’s been a bit of a theme recently amongst my coaching clients.  Come to that, there’s been a bit of a theme amongst friends, too.  People are on the move… looking for a new job.

A client has taken redundancy from his employer of some twenty years and is wondering whether to seek a similar job elsewhere and, if not, what else might beckon.

A young friend is looking for a job that matches her skills and preferences.  She’s not sure where it exists.  She’s not sure where to find it.

A friend is aware that he’s done what he came to do in his current role and wants to find his next challenge.  He can see it’s not easily available in his current organisation .

Are you looking for your next job – and struggling?

Maybe you love your current job but struggle with the quality of leadership from above.  You’d like it to change.  It’s not changing.  Slowly you’re realising that you need to put up and shut up – or pack your bags and move on.

Maybe you have done everything you came to do in your current job and can see that there isn’t an opportunity in your current organisation that matches your skills or leaves you with a glad heart and ready to go.

Maybe you feel a tension in your current role between those things that really excite you and those things that are most important to your boss.  You want to be doing work that fulfils you as well as doing a good job for your employer.

Maybe you’ve closed a door and want to open a new one.  You know you could find the same job again in another organisation.  You’re wondering if you can find something, at this stage in your life, that draws on more of who you are.

Before you start applying for jobs

Peter was disappointed at the poor response when he started to apply for jobs.  He had taken care to write a CV that he thought would appeal to potential employers.  It was clear he was a seasoned professional with a string of achievements scattered throughout his career.

Peter was also assiduous in looking for jobs, signing up to job boards, scanning papers, talking with recruitment agents in his field.  His search for his next job was starting to take so much of his time it felt like a second job.

He was getting some response and had been called to interviews.  However, despite his significant investment in applying for jobs and attending interviews, he wasn’t making the second cut.

What’s more, although he’d been to a number of interviews, he had yet to feel really excited about any of the jobs he’d applied for.

What was going wrong?  Peter was spending too much of his time trying to appeal to potential employers and not enough time thinking about what he needed in a job to make it something he could gladly sink his teeth into.

He needed to know more about his ideal job.  He needed to find out where his ideal job might exist.  Only then could he start to make his investment in applying for jobs really count.

First steps to finding the job that’s right for you

Working with clients at my coaching clinic in Harley Street, I have enjoyed helping people to identify next steps that are uniquely tailored to each person.  I thought I’d share some of them with you.  As you read, I invite you to ask yourself if any of these actions is right for you as a next step to finding the job that’s right for you:

Jaspar had a broad idea of the field he wanted to work in and also what he thought he could contribute in his chosen field. However, he didn’t know what organisations might offer the kind of job he wanted and his description of what he wanted was so vague that people were struggling to help him.  I invited him to write a single statement which crystallised – for himself and others – what he really wanted.  Initially, he asked friends for feedback about how clear his statement was.  Quite soon, he was able to use it to ask people where he might find the kind of job he most wanted.

Henry was quite clear about the kind of job she wanted and wanted to know if her CV was selling her as the right candidate for her ideal job.  I invited her to write a summary statement at the start of her CV that would make it clear to a potential employer what problems, in their organisation, she most wanted to solve.  Her revised CV started to attract more interest from headhunters and potential employers.  More than ever before, she found that she was finding her way to the right kind of conversations about opportunities which matched her ideal.

When Navim wanted to explore new directions I borrowed from a friend who had trodden the same uncertain path.  I asked Navim to write down all the the things that he most enjoyed doing – the things he would love to spend his time doing if only he could find a way to make them pay.  His list provided a basis for exploration into options that would give him financial ease and security whilst also gladdening his heart.

Under pressure – are you at risk of derailment as a leader?

Pressure pushing down on me

Pressing down on you, no man ask for

Under pressure that burns a building down

Splits a family in two

Puts people on the streets

Queen, Under Pressure

After roughly six years of blogging I am writing today for the first time in seven weeks – so much for writing at least one blog posting per week!

It’s been an intensive period.  I hope it means that our difficult economic climate is picking up a bit.  In my business, this means “delivery” – juggling client assignments, moving from one area of activity to another (coaching, leadership assessment, executive development…), travel (Stockholm, Munich, London…)

I am reminded of the insistent beat that underpins the song by Queen, Under Pressure.  It is powerful precisely because it mimics the heart under pressure, adrenalin-laden, without pause.  It’s a song that has often been in my mind in recent weeks.

Are you feeling the pressure?

If you’re taking time to read this article, you probably aren’t, right now, “under the cosh”.  At the same time, you’re probably all too familiar with feeling under pressure.

You know, too, that when times are tough – demanding or difficult, frantic or frightening, irritating or intense – you’re probably not at your best.  Whilst some people may claim to thrive under pressure, we all face kinds of pressure that we find hard.

You may even be thinking this:  that pressure is a way of life for you rather than a temporary event.  Or perhaps the pressure has been going on for so long that you’ve stopped noticing and you’re just getting on with it.

If it is, if you are, you may well be placing your health, your well-being and your performance (yes, your performance) at work at risk.

Coming off the rails

Morguefile steam train

As it happens, one of the things that has kept me busy in recent weeks has been working with a colleague to help upwards of 60 leaders understand their personal motives, values and behaviours – including the way they behave under pressure – using the Hogan suite of psychometric tests.

The thing is, we all have our own ways of feeling the pressure.

We all have our own ways of responding to the pressures we feel.

One of the reasons Hogan has established such a strong reputation at senior leadership levels is because these tests recognise that, under pressure, some of the behaviours that fuel our success can become strengths overplayed.

Suddenly, we’re at risk of derailment.

This is valuable information for organisations at the point of recruitment.  It’s also valuable for you to know in your role as a leader.  Wouldn’t you want to know if you’re at risk of derailment as a leader?

Have you noticed how, under pressure, you have a particular way of responding?  Have you even wondered why you respond in that way?  (And why others don’t?)

We feel the pressure most when we face situations that are like those we struggled with when we were very young.  And when we do, we are most likely to use strategies, quite unconsciously, that we adopted at a very early stage in our lives.

Arthur, for example, lost his job as a senior manager because he failed to manage his own patterns of behaviour when he followed his old boss to a new organisation.  Arthur respected his boss highly and they had worked well together.  In his new organisation, though, he reported indirectly to his old boss via a new line manager whom he found difficult and for whom he had little respect.  His old boss urged him to treat his line manager with respect and to recognise his long-standing contribution to the organisation and his power – however ill-founded – within it.

Arthur’s resentment started to build.  He quietly gave priority to assignments from his old boss over the tasks delegated to him by his new line manager.  Others, including his line manager, noticed the delays.  One day, without warning, his line manager called him into the office and told him that his services were no longer required.

It didn’t have to be that way for Arthur.  It doesn’t have to be that way for you.

Bringing a mindful approach when you’re under pressure

More than anything else, two things trigger our sense of feeling under pressure.

Firstly, we feel the pressure when something we experience is at odds with our most deeply held values.

Take a moment to think about this.  When was the last time you felt deep, deep emotion – be it anger, or love, irritation, or gratitude?  What happened to trigger the emotion?  What need was met?  Or violated?

Secondly, we feel the pressure when our own underlying confidence or self esteem is such that we worry about our performance.

Notice how you felt when you last made a mistake, for example, or when you feared you might make a mistake.  How did you feel, too, about the possibility, under pressure, that your staff might make mistakes?

How did you respond to your feelings?

It’s easy to buy the story you have in such moments, the thoughts that are triggered when we feel under pressure and all the feelings that come with them.  This is, after all, what Daniel Goleman has called the Amygdala hijack, when the pressure of the situation triggers all sorts of responses in one of the oldest parts of our brain.

It’s harder, much harder, to simply say hello to our thoughts and feelings… to notice what’s kicking off inside us and to give empathy to those parts of ourselves that are triggered and active at a particular moment in time.  To do this, is to begin to develop our emotional intelligence as leaders.

It’s harder still to notice how, in some situations, we are not alone in feeling the pressure.  Two people, feeling the pressure, can both behave from a place of stress rather than from a place of mindfulness.

Paying attention to how you respond when you’re under pressure and noticing what things are most likely to trigger this response opens up the possibility of managing your response, avoiding a derailment and becoming more effective in your role as a leader.

(Oh!  And yes, life becomes less stressful and more enjoyable, too.)

After the storm

Arthur, frustrated by his new line manager, confused the map with the territory.   He thought his view of his new boss was objective and indisputable and maybe he was even right.

What he failed to notice was his own pattern of thinking and his habitual responses.  What he also missed was the opportunity to choose a different – and more effective – response.

As I sit and write, I can feel huge empathy for Arthur.  Most people, at senior level, are at risk of derailment as a leader, though the form this can take varies from person to person.  What’s more, the strategies we develop in childhood, as ineffective as they are, can be hard to spot and harder still to change.

We do, though, get to choose.  Do we want to be aware?  To catch our patterns in action and begin the process of changing them?  Or to we prefer to say “It’s just who I am”?

This, though, opens up a whole new area for exploration…