Tag Archives: Books

Bringing heart to leadership in difficult times

I have been somewhat parochial in the last couple of weeks in my approach to the news.  On 10th February, the news reached me of the death of someone whose work has enriched my life immeasurably:  Marshall Rosenberg.  Marshall was the creator of an approach to communication which he called Compassionate or Nonviolent Communication, a passionate advocate for social change, a great teacher and author of a number of books, including his core text Nonviolent Communication:  A Language of Life.

New concert hall boost for London
New concert hall boost for London

Then, too, there has been a flurry of commentary about Sir Simon Rattle.  Journalists have been speculating for months now that Rattle, whose tenure with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra is due to come to an end in 2018, will take up the post of Principal Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra.  (This matters to me because, in my spare time, I sing with the London Symphony Chorus.)  Rattle has spoken openly about his belief that London lacks a world-class concert hall and some have speculated that he is holding out for a commitment to build this hall as a condition of taking up the post with the LSO.  It seems the politicians have been listening:  in recent days, there have been public statements from various politicians.

There has been wider news.  There was an attack on a café in Copenhagen, which was hosting a discussion about free speech.  Three teenage girls left the UK, apparently to travel to Syria, raising concerns about their safety.  British football fans were caught on camera in Paris, chanting their love of racism.  There have been discussions about the Greeks in Europe.  In the UK, election fever is starting to build.

In the UK, talk of deflation has been carefully framed and, largely, played down.  Still, talking to friends and family, and to clients in the privacy of my offices in Harley Street, I am repeatedly reminded of just how different the business environment is right now compared to ten years ago.  The possibility of a round of deflation is one more nail in the coffin of hope for many businesses.

Is your organisation struggling to weather difficult times?

Businesses continue to struggle:  yours, too, may be struggling.  It can be hard to lead in an organisation that’s grappling with change.

As a leader, you have to make decisions in the face of great uncertainty, when many things you used to rely on can no longer be taken for granted, such as year on year improvements in sales and in what you can charge your clients.

The decisions you make have an impact on large numbers of people, from staff in your own organisation, suppliers, their friends, family and communities.  This can leave you feeling torn, uncertain, though you try hard to maintain the calm authority your staff expect of you.

What’s more, you know your own employment is at risk and your prospects of career advancement are diminished.  At no other time have you given more, been more tested, with less opportunity for any kind of reward.

How do you weather such difficult times?

Turning the screw on under-performance

It can be easy to think, in difficult times, that you need to use more force to achieve results.

This was the approach that Sheldon took.

Sheldon was a sales manager in a time when sales were sluggish.  Under pressure from his own line manager, Sheldon shared targets with members of the sales team and spelled out the consequences of not achieving those targets.  The consequences for the company were significant, he said, and everyone’s jobs were at risk.

Sheldon piled the pressure on individual team members, too.  One team member was new and struggling.  This team member, Ash, had made a flying start on joining the team but his results had been patchy following a down-turn in the economy.  What’s more, he was finding it hard to balance his core work with his contribution to a new initiative in the team.

Sheldon kept a close eye on Ash, giving detailed feedback on every failing he could find.  Ash was frustrated and devastated when he was copied in to an e-mail from Sheldon to the company’s MD, highlighting a particular problem and attributing it to Ash.  If only his manager had checked the facts, he would have known the problem lay elsewhere.

The thing is, the more Sheldon gave feedback, the more Ash’s performance deteriorated.

With love, not fear

One of the articles I recommend most often to leaders and aspiring leaders is Daniel Goleman’s article Leadership That Gets Results.

In his article, Goleman lays out research which identifies six different leadership styles and explains their impact on the performance of those being led.  This research suggests that the most effective leaders use a range of styles when managing their employees.  It also shows how the most effective leaders do this consciously, because they understand that they need to do what’s most effective in a given situation.

There’s more.

Goleman’s article (which he develops more fully in his book The New Leaders) shows that, over time, the use of four styles in particular is more likely to build a climate in which team members can perform.

There’s one thing that Goleman doesn’t mention in his article and that Sheldon didn’t know either.  Sheldon’s choice of leadership style was largely driven by fear.

Sheldon’s senior management were driven by fear of the consequences for the company of a whole if the sales team did not perform.  They passed their fear right on to Sheldon, together with the responsibility to find a way to increase sales.

Their approach intensified Sheldon’s fear and Sheldon lacked the skills to turn down the dial on his emotions in order to reflect on how best to handle the situation.  Like his own managers, Sheldon passed his fear right on.

Ash was already anxious when his performance started to drop and he didn’t know how to respond.  What’s more, he could see that an initiative in the sales team, designed to give better service to some of the company’s smaller client organisations, was asking members of the sales team, repeatedly, to be in two places at once.  He’d tried to give feedback to Sheldon but Sheldon seemed to be on a mission to prove to Ash that he was not up to much.

Ash was struggling to maintain his confidence and self esteem.

So was Sheldon.

So, too, were members of the senior management team.

About Marshall Rosenberg

On the day I heard that Marshall Rosenberg had died, I noticed my heart opening and the sensations in my body.  I knew it was not a day to bypass my experience but a day to take time out to be with everything that was in my heart, including the great sense of gratitude and the feelings of love.

Following the announcement of his death, colleagues at the Center for Nonviolent Communication (CNVC) set up a call for people to share their memories, to celebrate and mourn together.  Intended to last a few hours it went on for seven days.  A group set up on Facebook has become a living memorial to this towering giant of a man.

Early in his life, Rosenberg was struck by the various forms of violence he encountered growing up in Detroit.  He went on to study psychiatry and obtained a doctorate before going on to develop the approach to communication which has become known as Nonviolent Communication, with the aim of widely disseminating much-need communication skills.  During his life he worked widely around the world, bringing healing to many individual people and to troubled, often war-torn, communities.

It’s a testament to Rosenberg’s leadership that he set up a Center for Nonviolent Communication as a way to spread his approach and worked with many people around the world to share his skills.  He leaves behind many people who are themselves experienced in training others in NVC and in mediating conflict.

At the heart of his work, Rosenberg emphasised paying attention to feelings and needs so that we can find ways to meet our own needs whilst also respecting and contributing to the needs of others.  The disciplines of NVC – the process he described for communication – are especially powerful when they are rooted in love and in an intention, where there is fear, to find our way back to love.

I owe much to Marshall Rosenberg and to the approach he developed.  I am particularly grateful to the clarity of intention I have, as a result of studying with him and with others in the community, to live my life from a place of love.

Leadership with heart

This posting is, for now, my own testimonial to Marshall Rosenberg and an expression of my own love for and gratitude to him.

At the same time, I am aware of the power of love as an underpin to the kind of leadership Goleman describes in his article, Leadership That Gets Results.

Marshall advocated separating our observations from our judgements and Goleman highlights the need to step back and assess what is needed in each situation we face as a leader.

As a leader, Sheldon’s experience started to change when he learnt to notice his emotion and to bring care to his fears before choosing how to respond to each situation he faced.

The experience of his staff was also changed by this.

So, too, was their performance.

Marshall Rosenberg, 1934 – 2015.

When you hesitate to show compassion in your role as a leader

Do you feel comfortable to show compassion in your role as a leader?

If you’ve ever had a tough time in your career, you’ll know how much you yearn for compassion.  Perhaps you’ve had difficulties with a colleague or you’ve made a great howler of a mistake and are afraid of the consequences.  Perhaps you’ve had challenges at home – when someone you love has had an accident, been ill or died, for example, or when your marriage has been in trouble.  You’ll probably recognise times in your life when you have been in need of empathy and compassion – but did you get it from the boss?  In my experience, many people turn to their colleagues when they are in need of compassion in the workplace.
As a leader yourself, you may have hesitated to give empathy to your staff.  Sometimes, your judgement may have got in the way of your compassion (“What would make someone get upset about such a minor thing?”) or perhaps you fear the outcomes from showing compassion (“How can I show compassion for such a stupid mistake and still hold him accountable?”).  Roger Schwarz, in his recent article for the Harvard Business Review blog, entitled What Stops Leaders from Showing Compassion, outlines key reasons why leaders hold back.  Roger also shares a recent paper which tends to suggest that compassion creates positive outcomes in organisations.  The paper is entitled Compassion Revealed:  What We Know About Compassion At Work (And Where We Need To Know More) and it builds on a great deal of earlier work.
If you want to get geaky, follow up on this paper.  As much as anything, it has a long list of references including some of my own favourites (look for Boyatzis, Goleman and McKee).  But even if you don’t want to get geaky, I invite you to take a moment to reflect.  How comfortable do you feel to express your compassion for those you lead?  What supports you in expressing compassion?  And what, if anything, holds you back?  My own experience, from interviewing hundreds of men and women in leadership roles over the last twenty years, is that those who are most effective have a heart.  The respond with compassion to their staff in a wide range of situations and regardless of the rights of wrongs of a situation.  What’s more, they do so with skill.
I’d love to hear from you.  Yes, how comfortable do you feel about responding with compassion to those you lead?  But also, how confident do you feel that you have the skills you need to express your compassion in the workplace?  What support do you need to increase your ease and skill in responding with compassion to those you lead?

Attracting, engaging and keeping talent

Why should anyone come and work for your company?

Paul Goring wrote an article this week about attracting, engaging and keeping talent for Discuss HR blog.

I’m not sure Paul is saying anything particularly new or going beyond common sense… but that’s not the point.  The point is that, even in these straitened times, talented people have choices – and make them – about who to work with.  In my experience as an assessor, organisations never (and I mean never) complain of having too many talented people for the roles they have available.  If you want to continue to attract talented people for jobs at every level of the organisation, you need to pay attention to the promises you make and to how you deliver on your promises when you hire people.

And there’s another point.  The way you treat people when you do hire them… well, it tends to seep out to the customer and become part of the customer experience.  In my local branch of Timpson – I’m sure I’ve written about this before – I’ve had staff go into unsolicited raptures about how the company works and how much they enjoy working there.  No surprise, then, that Timpson has a whole section on its website about awards it has won, including the Tomorrow’s People Annual Award Of Achievement, Employer Of The Year 2012 award.

Of course, there’s more to it than that.  I have been gifted so many free lattes by staff at Pret a Manger over the years that I know there must be a policy lurking somewhere.  (After all, if it were just a spontaneous act of kindness by one human being to another – a human response, for example, to the one customer who smiled today – why haven’t I also been gifted the occasional book of stamps in the Post Office, or even… well… mortgage by my bank?)

I don’t need to spell out the impact of having unhappy, demotivated staff on the customer experience (though it may be worth saying that unhappy staff can lose confidence and they don’t always leave… so don’t count on losing them.  Equally, it may be worth saying that even when they do, they may well continue to talk about their poor experience of working for your company a long way down the road).

Of course, this Friday snippet would not be complete without highlighting the impact of your organisation’s leadership on engaging staff and reminding you of Daniel Goleman’s article Leadership That Gets Results, which is readily downloadable.  In it Goleman, outlines in brief the findings of research about the links between different leadership styles, employee engagement and organisational results.  If you’re serious about developing a brand as an employer that you can be really proud of and which attracts the kind of staff you really want to hire, you need to get serious about recruiting and selecting the right people to leadership posts and about how you education, train, manage and… mmm… lead them when they’re in post.

Please let me know how you get on.

There’s wisdom in knowing when to forgive

There’s wisdom in knowing when to forgive
I’ve been struck recently by the way the theme of forgiveness has been popping up.  Over lunch the other day a colleague described how he had been reaching out to former colleagues some years after leaving the organisation in which they’d worked together.  Clients have been talking about difficult experiences with their colleagues – when someone had done something they’d found hard to forgive.  Rosabeth Moss Kanter has been writing on the subject recently in a blog posting for the Harvard Business Review entitled Great Leaders Know When to Forgive.  Even as I sat down to write this posting I realised there was a phone call I needed to make before I could be in integrity with myself in writing about forgiveness.
The interesting thing is that forgiveness is not a word that comes up often at senior levels – so you may be wondering what I’m talking about.  Reflecting on this topic, I wondered if – at least for now – the topic of forgiveness covers three areas.  In the first area, colleagues do something that is deeply personal – these are the small-scale actions that can be a thorn in our side.  Perhaps, for example, your colleague has taken credit in the board-room for an idea you know he or she got from you.  Perhaps he got the job you really wanted and you find it hard to let go of the conviction that, for some reason, the job was meant for you.  Perhaps you know someone has ‘bad-mouthed’ you to your colleagues at senior levels without ever coming to you to give open and honest feedback.
This first area has a ‘first cousin’ in the form of actions your colleagues may or may not have taken and which you have taken personally because you have attributed some kind of intention or drawn some kind of conclusion.  Yesterday, for example, before I wrote this posting, I decided to phone someone I’d been reaching out to for weeks – I’d sent multiple e-mails, I’d phoned and then phoned again.  I was starting to feel angry about the lack of response and also to wonder – was there something going on?  Part of me was concerned for the person I was contacting who is normally so reliable in coming back to me.  Part of me was angry about the consequences of not bringing to a conclusion some conversations we’d started earlier in the year.  And part of me was, well… a bit paranoid.  Had I done something wrong?  Was she angry with me?  I knew I needed to find out what was going on.
Sometimes, the things we struggle to forgive move beyond the personal to the organisational and beyond.  Moss Kanter, in her posting, Great Leaders Know When to Forgive, points to some of the examples that are familiar to us all.  Most striking to me is the example of Nelson Mandela, whose actions included appointing a racially diverse cabinet when some of his colleagues were clamouring for revenge against those who had oppressed black people in South Africa under apartheid.  In the kind of organisations I work with, forgiveness can range from letting go of one’s feelings about a hostile merger to forgiving those who had failed successfully to deliver an expensive IT project or letting go of angry feelings about a financial loss incurred.  These are examples of events that can cast a long shadow across an organisation unless they are forgiven.
How do you know that there’s something you need to forgive?  Your emotions – if you are attending to them with care – will give you some clues.  Do you feel angry or resentful, for example, about something someone has done or about some ongoing situation in your organisation?  Such feelings are closely linked to thoughts which are also worth noticing – when you’re telling yourself that someone has done something wrong or that such-and-such a situation is unacceptable.  This doesn’t mean it’s time – yet – to forgive.  Instead, such moments represent an opportunity to be present to your anger and to notice what it means.  Often, beneath the anger there are fears – fears that your needs (which needs?) will not be met.  You may also be assigning responsibility to someone else for your well-being.
Connecting with your thoughts and emotions in this way can lead you to insights about what you really want and open up new ways forward.  It’s not that such ways are always easy.  Perhaps your reflection will help you to realise that the things you most want to change in your organisation are not going to change and that it’s time for you to accept the status quo or move elsewhere.  Perhaps you need to recognise the incompetence of colleagues and consider what you need to do given the capabilities of your colleague(s).  Perhaps you need to look at the larger outcomes you desire for your organisation and accept that maintaining a low level feud stands in the way of your desires.
And then, it’s time to forgive.  In my experience, forgiveness becomes an option when we recognise that whatever has happened, it is the way we are thinking about our experience that makes us feel so bad.  Change our thinking and we open up the opportunity both for forgiveness and for a better experience going forward.  As a leader, your act of forgiveness may be an act of heroism on a grand scale.  It may, equally, be entirely invisible to anyone but yourself.  Either way, it releases you to move forward in a more constructive way and makes energy available to you that was previously the fuel of anger and resentment.
Forgiveness.  When have you done it?  How?  And with what outcomes?

Below the surface: the hidden obstacles to organisational success

The long weekend seems a world away and it’s only Thursday.  It’s not about work (or perhaps, not only about work).  It’s also that three days of dry and even sunny weather quickly gave way to rain and cold.  It seems as though winter is still with us.

I had designated the weekend for gardening and was true to this promise, knowing that my planting is already late and that it will be a couple of weeks until I can do anything substantial again.  I dug borders and planted runner beans, potatoes, dwarf beans, peas and broad beans.  I mowed the lawn.  I weeded a patch in the corner which has been gradually encroaching on my strawberry plants and threatening to encroach on the montbretia I planted last year.  I weeded the patch in front of my house and planted iris bulbs in the front and back gardens.  I potted up some spares for friends and neighbours – I probably made an unusual sight in my wellies and gardening gear when I walked down the road with plants for Dan. There’s more (much more) to do and still, I felt pretty chuffed with myself.

I even tackled something which, last year, I left alone.  Weeding a particular corner of my vegetable patch I struck something hard with my spade.  I’ve been used to digging up bricks in my garden since I moved here 13 years ago but this was something larger.  Last year I left it alone, but this year I wanted to dig it out so that I could plant a small lavender plant – a birthday gift – and know it would be unhindered in its growth by this unidentified object.  In South East London you have to look out for the occasional unexploded World War II bomb but this was something far more prosaic…  a sack of cement.  No doubt the builders left it behind.  By now it was solid and extremely heavy.  It is now sitting on my patio waiting for me to move it to a more permanent home.

I found myself comparing this hidden item with some of the obstacles that lie just out of view for individuals and organisations.  Yes, we bump up against them from time to time and still, we don’t quite know they are there.  One of the greatest organisational myths, for example, is that a healthy economy is one that is growing.  Our expectation of growth works well at certain stages of the economic cycle but leaves us poorly prepared for the moments when growth is unlikely if not impossible.  These include the moments when our local or global economy is in decline.  They also include the moments when some change in the marketplace makes a fundamental difference to our offering.  How many banks, for example, were still setting stretch targets for foreign exchange the year the Euro was introduced?  How many companies have been caught on the hop by new generations of technology and the advance of the internet?

In my work with organisations, I have noticed how there is often someone who sees beyond old paradigms to anticipate a change.  Such a person can be a great asset to the organisation, if only he (or she) can make himself heard.  Clearly, if the organisation can see such a change ahead of time, its leaders can allocate thinking time and creativity to shape a response.  I notice that my thoughts have wandered (wondered, even) to a place I did not anticipate when I started to write and I am taking time to check in with myself and to ask, “so what?”  It seems to me that the question for you, in your leadership role, is this:  how do you respond to the pessimists, the ‘nay-sayers’, the ‘black hats’ of your organisation?  And if you are yourself the pessimist, the ‘nay-sayer’, the ‘black hat’ of your organisation, how can you share your insights in ways that your colleagues can hear?

If this posting resonates with you, please share.  I’d like to hear about the times you’ve seen the hidden bag of cement and the times you haven’t.  I’d like to hear how you’ve made the case for change and with what success.  I’d like to hear what trends you see on the horizon that need to be recognised.

PS  And here’s a clue…  I haven’t read it yet and still, I was curious to hear about a book by Stephen D. King entitled When The Money Runs Out:  The End of Western Affluence.  

Good Communication that Blocks Learning

Twenty-first-century corporations will find it hard to survive,
let alone flourish, unless they get better work from their employees.
This does not necessarily mean harder work or more work
What it does necessarily mean is employees who’ve learned
to take active responsibility for their own behavior,
develop and share first-rate information about their jobs,
and make good use of genuine empowerment
to shape lasting solutions to fundamental problems.

Chris Argyris

Whilst not directly aware of the work of Chris Argyris, I have nonetheless been aware of his work via the work of Roger Schwarz.  I was interested recently to come across an article by Chris on the Harvard Business Review blog, entitled Good Communication That Blocks Learning.  The quote above is the opening paragraph to Chris’s article, positioning it within the challenging economic times we live in.

Chris’s article took me back to the early days of my career, when Total Quality Management was all the rage  and everyone was reading Tom Peters’ In Search of Excellence.  This was an era that emphasised making many small improvements based on listening to members of the workforce in order to create a quality product or service and to design out flaws and wastage – at least, this is my memory of Total Quality Management approaching 30 years later.

I don’t remember ever hearing anyone criticise the logic of TQM and still, there are reasons why, all these years later, we still talk about the need to empower – without actually empowering.  Argyris’s article scratches the surface to uncover the unconscious behaviours that run counter to our leadership aspirations, preventing us from ‘walking our talk’.

It’s long and it’s also worthwhile – so make yourself a cuppa and close the office door before you read it.

How much do you recognise the behaviours Argyris describes – in yourself?  In others?

The not-so-positive “positive sandwich technique”

If you’re using the ‘positive sandwich technique’
to convey negative feedback, you may
be treading on thin ice 

In 2007, it was my privilege to participate in an Intensive International Training in Nonviolent Communication with Marshall Rosenberg, author of Nonviolent Communication:  a Language of Life.  Regular readers will know that this book is a favourite of mine and gets a regular mention on my blog.  I went with a friend of mine and we decided to join some of our fellow participants in the dormitory accommodation a short walk from the main building.  It was only on day two of the training that I realised that one of our companions in the dorm, surrounded by women old enough to be his mother, was a young man.

The training was a rich experience for me which I continue to treasure.  A few people touched me in particular, including the young man in the dorm.  As our time together was drawing towards its completion, I asked him (and a few others) if I could have some time with him before we said goodbye.  I wanted to express my gratitude and appreciation ahead of our final goodbyes.

Sitting in a quiet corner, I shared, one by one, the things he had done that I most appreciated and how they had contributed to my well-being and enjoyment of the course.  It’s been my experience that sharing appreciation in this way can create moments of connection, both with the pleasures of giving and receiving and with each other.  On this occasion, though, I noticed that my colleague was becoming increasingly tense – I watched as his body stiffened and asked him what was going on for him.

He told me he was waiting for the real feedback and when I asked him what he meant, he said he was waiting for the negative feedback which must surely follow.  I told him there was no negative feedback – I wanted to talk with him precisely because I wanted to share my joy at meeting him and how much I appreciated the time we had spent together.  For a moment he seemed to doubt this until he realised that, yes, I really meant what I said.  We laughed about the misunderstanding and went on to have the real conversation, celebrating together the times we had enjoyed.

I was reminded of this experience recently when I received notification from Roger Schwarz of the publication of a blog posting he wrote, entitled The “Sandwich Approach” Undermines Your Feedback, published recently by the Harvard Business Review.  This approach has been taught to managers over time as a way to soften the blow of giving negative feedback, making it easier to give and easier to receive… or so the theory goes.  In practice, as my own experience illustrates, this approach can make people wary of receiving positive feedback because they assume it’s a precursor to some kind of corrective feedback.  If you’ve ever tried the “positive sandwich technique” to giving feedback and wondered why it doesn’t work or even tried it and come away believing that it did work, it’s worth reading Roger’s article for a different point of view.

Please let me know know how you get on.

A modern understanding of the brain

Brain science has progressed and continues to progress at such a fast rate in recent years that concepts that were very fashionable just a few years ago are now known to be vastly over-simplified.  We also live in a society which favours rational thinking over all else.

Recently, dear friends and members of my mastermind group, Marc and Melanya, have been speaking highly of a book by psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist, called The Master and His Emissary:  The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World.  I put in my order on Amazon recently (my, it’s hard to get a hardback copy!) and await its arrival.

At the same time, my friend and coaching colleague Len Williamson highlighted this talk on www.TED.com:  The Divided Brain by, you guessed it, Iain McGilchrist.  www.TED.com says of this talk:

Psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist describes the real differences between the left and right halves of the human brain. It’s not simply “emotion on the right, reason on the left,” but something far more complex and interesting. A Best of the Web talk from RSA Animate.

I wonder if the number of views equates to the number of people who have watched the talk or to a much smaller number – it bears viewing many times.
If you want to understand the way your mind works or to gain insight into the mind of colleagues, this is a good place to start.

Reflections on my 50th birthday

There is something wonderfully bold and liberating
about saying yes to our entire imperfect and messy life.
With even a glimmer of that possibility, joy rushes in.
Yet when we’ve been striving to make “Pillsbury biscuits” for a lifetime,
the habits of perfectionism don’t easily release their grip.
When mistrust and skepticism creep in, we might be tempted
to back down from embracing our life unconditionally.
It takes practice, learning to bounce back
each time we’re dragged down by what seems to be wrong.
But […] when we stop comparing ourselves to some assumed standard of perfection,
the “biscuits of today”, this very life we are living right now,
can be tasted and explored, honored and appreciated fully.
When we put down ideas of what life should be like,
we are free to wholeheartedly say yes to life as it is.

Tara Brach
Radical Acceptance:  Embracing Your Life With The Heart Of A Buddha

On Saturday, I had a moment of awareness of being in heaven.  I was sitting in the You Don’t Bring Me Flowers cafe in Hither Green on my way back from a visit to my hairdresser.  It helped that the sun was shining – had shone, indeed, on my walk from Lewisham, through the underpass at Hither Green Station, along Springbank Road and all the way to Hither Green Cemetery and back.  It helped that my sandwich was freshly made and accompanied by a (very rare and much savoured) cup of coffee.  It helped that I was seated by the window and enjoying the bustle of the cafe.  Most of all, it helped that, in this moment, I was present to each and every one of these things – even to the strange juxtaposition of my feelings of sheer bliss with the rather prosaic view out to the rows of cars parked on either side of the street.

Life has not always been bliss, is not always bliss at this time.  Regular readers know that the year started with the final illness and death of my uncle and more recently the death of Sir Colin Davis with whom I have regularly performed in recent years as a member of the London Symphony Chorus.  There have been other deaths, too.  Business has been relatively quiet this year.  Initially I was grateful for this period of quiet and even now I know how much it has benefited me to take my foot off the accelerator for a while.  I have taken time to assimilate the death of my uncle and to notice how it signals to me the passing, one by one, of my mother’s generation.  I have been busy with the house and am thrilled that, having completed the kitchen last year, Gary returned to prepare one of the spare rooms for a second lodger (so that the house can work harder to pay for itself) and to strip and varnish the floors in the hallway.

There are, though, bills to be paid.  As the months have gone on at this slow pace I have been feeling increasingly anxious about money, even whilst some part of me feels totally calm.  With the anxiety about money come all sorts of thoughts …about the future consequences of this quiet patch, …about whether after almost eleven years of running my own business, I should be looking for a proper job, …about what I should do  next to make things happen… about… about… about…  It’s not that I have been entirely idle.  I have not.  I have continued all sorts of activities which, over time, keep me connected to the world and let people know that Learning for Life (Consulting) is open for business.  At the same time, in recent weeks, as these different voices within me seek to hold sway, I have found myself neither fully resting nor fully productive.

There are moments when I have been touching into a layer of thinking that is deeper still.  I have been surprised, for example, to catch myself fearing that friends and family will not join me in celebrating my 50th birthday.  I know these fears are not rational and still, they have, at times, been present – or I, at times, have been present to them.  These are fears of being alone and unloved.  In my work life I have also had fears – old, old fears of being incompetent and unable to find my way forward.  I recognise the tenderness and feelings of vulnerability that comes with these thoughts.

I know from my work with clients that I am not alone with my concerns.  Yes, the particular thoughts relate to my own circumstances and still, others also grapple with a plethora of thoughts and with the fears that accompany them.  Currently, I am reading Tara Brach’s book Radical Acceptance:  Embracing Your Life With The Heart Of a Buddha.  Brach begins her book by describing what she calls the “trance of unworthiness”.  I have met it in the Board Room.  I have met it at every level of the leadership hierarchy.  I have met it in my own experience.  Brach is not alone in naming our common experience.  I think of Timothy Gallwey’s Inner Game of Tennis, of James’ and Jongeward’s Born to Win and even give a nod and a smile to authors whose names and books will come back to me later.  I am blessed in having skills and also friends and colleagues who have skills to help me to respond compassionately to my own deepest fears.  On Monday, I took time with Steve Matthus, from my mastermind group, to bear witness to those parts of me that are struggling and filled with fear.

Right now, though, on the day of my 50th birthday, I take time to bear witness to everything that is in my life at this time.  I bear witness with deep, deep gratitude to friends, family and colleagues for the love and care which nourishes me in my life.  I bear witness to the extraordinary privileges that are in my life at this time or have been in my life in the past, including my life and career as a trainer, consultant and coach, including my diverse roles amongst friends and family, including my experience as a lifelong student of what it takes to live life consciously and fully, including my years of singing, including more than half a lifetime of singing as a member of the London Symphony Chorus.  And I bear witness to the twists and turns that take me, at times, by surprise and to the fears and doubts as well as to the yearnings and even the needs fulfilled.  This is my own imperfect and messy life.

Most of all, I wish myself a very happy 50th birthday.  

How criticising in private undermines your team

There’s an old adage that leaders should “praise in public, criticise in private”.  It’s so well established that many people accept it without question – except one.  Roger Schwarz, writing in March for the Harvard Business Review’s blog, recently wrote a posting entitled How Criticizing in Private Undermines Your Team.  I recommend you read it.  Why?  Two reasons – maybe three, even four…

  • If you hold the view that you shouldn’t criticise in public, this article will help you to test your view against your practical experience and maybe even to revise it;
  • If you have any ‘persistent offenders’ in your team, this article may give you alternative approaches – and ones that work;
  • This article may deepen your understanding of what it means, as a leader, to hold ultimate accountability for the performance of your team;
  • If you’re the “leader” of a family (i.e. a parent), this article includes pearls of wisdom for you in this other leadership role.
In case you haven’t spotted it, Roger Schwarz is author of The Skilled Facilitator and a favourite source for me of leadership and communication wisdom.  His regular newsletter is well worth signing up for and his article Ground Rules for Effective Teams can be downloaded for free.