Working from Home? Soft Skills are Crucial for Success.

Working from Home or WFH means soft skills are even more critical to our collective success and happiness.

Everyone is working from home right now: some alone; some with children needing care if not homeschooling, everyone adjusting to this ‘new’ situation is still trying to achieve their work objectives. Everyone is uncertain about the future and when and how everyone will return to work and life outside.

Soft skills are even more important when people are working from home because WFH necessitates virtual or remote contact. People can’t be observed over time when they WFH so it’s hard to know what is really going on for them. People can consciously or unconsciously ‘hide’ in the distance. Additionally, WFH under stressful situations is, by definition, stressful and probably many more emotions many of which can interfere with our wellbeing and productivity.

Importance of Soft Skills

When I published my book in January I wrote that soft skills were crucial to work (and life) success. I still believe that and feel they are even more important with all the uncertainty caused by coronavirus. Many emotions are present for everyone at this time, so leaders can’t pretend emotions don’t exist nor ignore them and still expect people to be productive.

  • There’s a tangible cost and benefit to poor and good soft skills respectively – positive soft skills motivate others, create safety for innovation, build trust for empowerment and greater engagement.
  • Humans are emotionally driven even in business as our brain evolution is wired that way (bodily sensations enter the brain through the spinal cord which ‘hits’ the emotional space of our brain first before ‘getting to’ the higher reasoning part of the brain at the forehead).
  • Neuroscience has confirmed that the brain can create new neural pathways – we can learn new things regardless of age – it’s called neuroplasticity. This means that leaders and employees can learn new things when influenced positively through motivation and not being relentlessly driven.
  • Humans are social creatures or ‘herd animals’ – we survive in highly coordinated groups as outlined by Psychology Today so staff want to feel that they belong.

The work you want to be doing at home or having your team while WFH, those make-or-break tasks in your organization (and their associated measurements, key performance indicators – KPIs) can be made or broken by good or bad soft skills respectively.

Work from Home Soft Skill Tips for Individuals

Here are some tips for good interpersonal or soft skills. Some of these might seem selfish given people skills are about relationships – remember the best relationship you need to foster is the one with yourself.

  • Create a routine or schedule for yourself balancing work, family, rest and self-care.
  • Have a morning routine that sets you up for success – set an intention for the day, meditate or quiet time, journal, exercise, shower and dress for work, healthy breakfast.
  • Have a designated space for work ideally away from personal space.
  • Recognize this is a difficult time so practice self-care and compassion.
  • Know what works for you and schedule yourself accordingly. For example, if you’re usually more productive in the morning keep that time for what matters to you, your key tasks. If you’re an introvert, limit the number of group conference calls you participate in a day, or book quiet time after group calls.
  • Identify a relationship or project you’d like to improve, experiment with different behaviours – coaching instead of telling, listen instead of talking.
  • Take a moment before a call and think of the other person, who will you be interacting with? What’s their position on the subject you’ll be talking about? Step in their shoes for a moment.
  • Write down 3 things from the day that make you grateful. Capture what you’re proud of yourself for too.
  • Decide if you want to talk about how you are feeling and share when it works for you. If you’d rather not share, say that respectfully and move on with the work at hand. I’m hearing some people are overwhelmed by the repetitive answering of “how are you, really?”

Work from Home Soft Skill Tips for Leaders

The tips for individuals apply to leaders and there are some more when you’re thinking of others.

  • Be conscious of the extroverts in your group – they might be struggling more than the introverts
  • Notice who is in touch and who isn’t and ensure you reach out to all – via different mediums, timing and durations depending on the individual.
  • Engage with the WHOLE person, not just the work persona, as WHOLE people are showing up remotely. This means that often with video you are seeing your team member’s setting, their décor, pets, and sometimes family members.
  • Give feedback using the COIN model – find achievements, qualities and/or behaviours you can genuine give feedback on, mostly positive at this time. Remember, leaders in successful companies give 5-6 pieces of positive feedback to someone for every 1 piece of developmental feedback.
  • Ask for feedback – ask your direct reports what you should stop doing at this time, what you should start doing and what you should continue doing. These specific questions make it easier for people to give specific feedback. Getting feedback helps you know where to focus and it makes people feel valued and heard.
  • Cultivate some stories from this turbulent time. What are you learning from the experience? What’s working well and what isn’t? These real stories that you distil now can be used in the future to inspire and motivate your teams. Ask your team what they are learning to build bridges.
  • Be aware that different people will be handling WFH differently – adapt to the needs of each individual as much as you can.

The change to all of our lives with WFH for many of us due to the COVID-19 crisis requires courage and vulnerability. Courage to forge ahead, act despite the fear and uncertainty, to set a vision for yourself, your family and/or your team. Vulnerability because this is an unprecedented time, we don’t have experience with this type of situation where work/life is so blurred and all present.

Download the first chapter of my book by signing up here to learn more about the starting point for better soft skills.

Diversity, Equality and Inclusivity Starts with You – Practical Tips

This virus has given a lesson in diversity, equality and being inclusive If nothing else; it’s shown we are all equal and interconnected. It is diverse, fragile in the wake of soap & water and strong in its entrenchment in the lungs, it shows equality in that it has hit almost every country in the world; and; it is inclusive, affecting young, old, rich, poor, famous, and unknown.

Diversity, Equality and Inclusion – Where to Start

I was asked by an HR professional for my take on this topic and, given I’m not an HR professional, I’m going to approach it from a different perspective. And I’m referring to diversity as covered by the Equality Act 2010 UK of age, disability, protected characteristics, gender, race, religion, beliefs, marriage, partnership, sex, sexual orientation, the gamut.

For many leaders, diversity, equality, and being inclusive are often thought to be outside of themselves, an issue external to them, something ‘out there’ that needs to be addressed. That is true. It is often something outside that needs to be changed; you can’t have equality, diversity and inclusion without multiple parts. The paradox is that the necessary change starts within; the leader needs to shift to have the outer impact/effect. Here are practical tips for leaders as part of your overall equality, diversity and inclusion strategy.

Know Yourself First – Embrace Your Diversity

To effect change the best place to start is knowing yourself well – the great, the good, the bad and the ugly. Include all the diverse aspects of you. The reason to start within is to understand truly what you are bringing to a given situation, whether that’s interviewing a new hire, considering promoting someone or listening to a different opinion. What are your strengths and weaknesses? What are your natural tendencies? Your default preferences?

  • Review existing data such as previous performance reviews, 360° surveys, awards, certifications, complaints, feedback you’ve received, any personality assessments you’ve done, comments from family and friends (praise and stuff they tease you about!)
  • Look at your company data around number of diverse hires and promotions. What are your numbers within this organizational total?
  • Look for the patterns of who you like to work with and who you find frustrating – Who do you hire? Who do you fire? Who do you promote? What traits and characteristics do they have in common and what are their differences? Think age, ability, race, ethnicity, religion, education, social background, gender, sexual orientation, introvert/extrovert, thinker/feeler in decision making, planner/keeps options open, big picture/detail oriented, personality traits, nationality to name a few. One of my coaching clients called this a ‘people management autopsy.’ Reflect objectively on what this means. This will start to highlight any biases you might have/had.
  • For the patterns you identified above, make sure you know your preferences on each of those aspects, so you can see who is similar to you and who is different.
  • Ask for feedback from your boss, direct reports, peers. Use these specific questions to help people give you clear feedback: What should I start doing regarding equality, diversity, inclusion? What should I stop doing? What should I continue doing? You could also use these 3 questions of start/stop/continue about getting feedback on your leadership in general. Depending how well you know them and how close you work together you could ask about your blind spots and biases specifically.

Authentically Inclusive of Others

This is about the dance between yourself and another person, your connection with others. It’s the energy field between two magnets. Given you’re the one reading this article, you are responsible for navigating this space between yourself and another. How do you do this you ask? By being self-aware, aware of the other person and in the moment together. Here are some practical tips:

  • Know yourself – you’ve got that covered from the work above.
  • Know the other person as best you can – especially if they fall into the ‘category’ of those you don’t normally interact with or whom you don’t enjoy working. Try and create a picture of them like you created for yourself in the previous section. Be curious, ask questions, don’t interrogate, genuinely learn about them – who are they when they are at their best? What brings out the best in them? By doing this you will be treating diverse people equally and they will feel included.
  • Set a target for interacting with others that are different from you. View those differences as complimentary versus contradictory.
  • Practice these skills in situations that are not mission critical. And with people who aren’t your key stakeholders. Said another way, practice in less risky situations and people if able.
  • Try the improvisation (improv) comedy technique of Yes, and. This means when someone shares an opinion, especially one you don’t agree with, pause and find the thread, something in it you can agree with or do value. And then build on that thread. This allows inclusivity of ideas and allows co-creation, rather than you vs them.
  • Experiment – practice doing things differently then you normally do. Reach out to people you normally wouldn’t. Try some of these ideas and those suggested by your specific HR department. Notice the impact. Ask the impact. Adjust. Experimenting is about trying new ideas and methods to see the effect and adjust as needed to get the desired outcome.

Be Genuine, Be Transparent

What’s in your heart about equality, diversity and inclusivity? Years ago, when promoting women was at the focus, when coaching my executive clients who were struggling with the topic and their role in actioning women into leadership, I asked a simple question – What would you want for your daughter in her workplace? (or niece or sister depending on their family). This gave them perspective, they connected to it personally and made it more real, they could engage more genuinely, it mattered, it wasn’t just a tick box or intellectual exercise anymore.

What do you believe? What do you want for your people? For your organization? Your company probably has a target or mandate about diversity and inclusion. Make it personal. What really matters about this to you? Come from that heart space. It might be service, duty, empathy, respect, fairness or something else. Once you answer these questions, how can
you ensure those targets or mandates are threaded through your entire talent strategy supporting the business?

Be transparent as you navigate your interactions and your organization’s inclusivity initiative. For example, if you treat someone poorly or say something inappropriate, the moment you realize what you’ve done, stop, apologize, own your mistake, don’t give excuses, do better. Recognising and owning your unconscious biases takes work and insight. Awareness is key and may be your starting point, not just about your unconscious bias, rather that it impacts others, even when it is unintentional.  If you are awkward in an interaction, you can ‘name it’, say “I’m feeling awkward and am trying my best.” Sometimes just naming it can ease the tension and create connection. You might not get it right the first time, especially with all the uncertainty swirling around now (being it coronavirus or inclusion). You might not get it right the second time. Admit your mistake or name your challenges, have a conversation about it. The impact you have might not be the one you wanted. Stay. Stay connected with the person, try to resolve it together if they are willing.

Identify a ‘buddy’ that can give you feedback on your progress and be a sounding board as you work through things. This could be your HR business partner, someone in the minority population or a trusted colleague.

These practical tips do not replace formal training, they do not overrule legal requirements. They are suggested as ways of being as a leader with essentially anyone, especially those your organization wants to include more.

Be honest with yourself. Be brave. Be vulnerable. By being responsible, examining your thought patterns and including your feelings, uncertainties and ambitions in the discussion, you role-model inclusion, encourage diversity and make it a more equal playing field.

What’s the stretch in this for you?

A Developmental Activity To Learn During Quarantine

Have time on your hands for an activity during coronavirus quarantine? Want to learn about yourself during this time? Need to process what is happening and how you’re reacting? If any of those are remotely enticing here’s a simple and profound exercise. This exercise is so important I’ve included it in Part 1 of my book, Soft Skills Hard Results, on knowing yourself.

The Activity to Learn

Personal and Professional Identity Narrative

This activity can be done in one sitting or easily over time as it fits into your schedule and it’s the latter I recommend. PPIN stands for a Personal and Professional Identity Narrative. Jack Wood, International Institute for Management Development (IMD) Professor and Jungian Analyst, uses this exercise with MBAs and Executives for some of their greatest learning from their programs (a bold claim considering they are paying tens of thousands of euros). The PPIN is your life story – where you have come from, where you are right now and the general trajectory of where you are headed or where you think you might be headed. He says, “if you take the PPIN seriously, the process of reflecting and writing about your life – the sources of your identity and the objectives that you embrace – can help you better understand the deeper currents and patterns in your life and their continued influence”¹.

2 Simple Steps for the PPIN Activity

Step 1 involves writing about the significant events in your life. Just start. This is just a collection of small stories, like chapters or simply paragraphs. You’ll want to cover your childhood (not just the facts but also your sense of what it was like growing up), school experiences, work and career (it’s not a CV/resumé though), relationships (parental, romantic, friends), what have been the highlights, the low points, the regrets (of what you’ve done or haven’t done), the times of greatest learning and when things have felt effortless. Don’t worry about whether it makes sense, is well written or in a logical format. This is only for you to read and analyse. Include examples, rich descriptions (not PowerPoint or bullet points) and your feelings and emotional reactions to the events and people.

I did the first draft of my PPIN in a week and ended up with over 10 typed pages, single spaced. Remember, I like to write and am a good typist, so I don’t want to intimidate you. A couple of months later, it was in excess of 20 pages. Jack Wood suggests 5–10 pages for the first draft and 10–15 pages for the complete narrative. If done exhaustively it can take a while, so at worst, it’s a legacy for your children (although it might be too revealing if done with no fear of it being seen). I’d encourage you to do more than what makes you comfortable; it’s at the edges of our comfort zones where we learn the most and feel energized.

Step 2 is the analysis of what you’ve written. The informative part happens during the reflection. This might be while you are writing it or once it’s written; when the patterns and themes in your life emerge (or appear once you observe your story on paper at a distance). What have you noticed about what you’ve created in your life? What’s been easy? What’s been hard? What has impacted you from one situation to another situation? What did you conclude about yourself or the way life works from the various events in your life? Where does it point you to in terms of further personal development? What patterns are influencing you?

For example, the PPIN exercise helped me understand why I adjusted so quickly when I moved from Canada to Switzerland; as a kid I had moved to a new city every five years due to my father’s career. Prior to the first move my parents asked an education specialist for advice on moving young children. He told my parents to move my brother and me a month or two before the end of the school year as that would allow us to make friends in the new place before being let off school for the summer. That way we’d know other kids in the neighbourhood with whom to play. This meant that at the new school I was put into established classes with groups of children who had been together for months and, as the newbie, I was required to integrate. I remembered one situation in Grade 3 (so I was about 9 years old) where I was escorted into the classroom by a school secretary after the kids had already started their day. The room was a mixed group of both Grade 3s and 4s and I was stood at the front of the class and asked to introduce myself. I did this on more than one occasion. Hence when I arrived in Switzerland, I just threw myself in, introducing myself to strangers. The PPIN helped me recognise this pattern; understand that aspect of myself and become more conscious of using the skill when it served me (such as when I moved to England on my own and without a job).

Dynamic Learning About Yourself Now

Write a few paragraphs or pages about your current situation with coronavirus – your thoughts, your feelings, what bothers you, what pleases you, what have you observed in others or society and what’s your reaction to that? How was it for you 7 weeks ago compared to now? Write about your experience as it’s different for all of us. This is called free-flow writing, just writing what comes up for you in your mind, heart and gut; follow the flow without censoring or critiquing.

Reflect on what you’ve written:

  • What reactions and behaviours are you having now that you recognize in your historical stories? What is the continuing pattern?
  • What situations or perspectives from your past are hindering you now?
  • What situations or tendencies from your previous stories could you leverage to help you in current times?
  • How has your thinking or feelings evolved from the onset of quarantine to now?

I said at the beginning this was a simple exercise. It is, just write your life story in chunks over time and reflect on the patterns and learning. I didn’t say it would be easy. Contact me here for a complimentary session to understand more about your learnings from this exercise or for any avoidance you feel about doing such as exercise.

¹ Wood, Jack Denfeld. ‘The Personal and Professional Identity Narrative (PPIN).’ Print.

Depression During Coronavirus Quarantine? Could be The Dip

Worried about depression during coronavirus quarantine because you feel you’re In a funk? Lack concentration? Can’t focus? Feeling resistance? Grumpy? Overly tired despite not doing much?

If you are worried it is depression or have a history of mental health challenges call a professional to get support. If you don’t those feelings could be The Dip.

Change Theory

Psychiatrists, psychologists and professors have often mapped out the process human beings go through during change; outlining the emotions felt throughout the experience. One of the most famous is the Kübler-Ross grief curve. She was a pioneer in near-death studies developing the theory of 5 stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. The emotions of depression – sadness, why bother, sullen, quiet – are the downward dip in the curve before transcending to acceptance. We are suffering with grief through this pandemic. Grief is the loss of someone (or something) with which we had a bond or affection towards. We are experiencing loss – loss of ‘our normal’, loss of routine, loss of our freedom and liberty (albeit for the greater good), loss of socialization and broad physical interaction.

This grief curve concept is the same for most any change including Coronavirus Quarantine. I coach on the Leading Change programme at London Business School. The programme is directed at those tasked with leading change in their organizations. People often resist change as it takes them outside of what they know, what is familiar. Part of the curriculum covers how to win peoples’ hearts and minds in order to enable the change, how to ensure that both the emotional aspects and not just the intellectual rationale are covered when communicating through the change.

I remember when I was transferred to Switzerland as an expat with Nestlé. Part of the induction programme talked about change, the emotional rollercoaster I might go through with the relocation. It involved 5 stages very similar to the grief process – leaving, honeymoon, crisis/depression, experimentation/recovery and integration. The excitement about the move and the novelty would fade as the realization that it’s not easy hits and the fact so many things are different is more of a pain then a quaint occurrence. You would not have believed how often every single expat in Switzerland talked about their ‘allocated laundry hours’ while in temporary accommodations.

Leading Up to Depression or to The Dip

The grief curve or change models all have a series of phases to them that we journey through in times of change including coronavirus crisis. These curves or models are not consecutive phases or steps, we can shift from one to the other and back. Each model has a crisis point or depression. When the realization of the magnitude of the loss or change hits us; the initial denial or even hope diminishes. With my Mum’s death one of my initial emotions was relief, might seem shameful to admit that and it’s true. My Mum lingered in essentially a coma for a long time so when she died it was a relief that whatever had held her back had been released (as a side note, the doctor who said her time was limited to days was surprised when it became weeks and said “there is clearly something she needs to work through to let go and she’ll do that on her own schedule”. This from a medical professional).

For Coronavirus Quarantine I’ve heard things from friends and coaching clients that the joy of Netflix binge-watching, opportunity for daily exercise, the extra time from shorter or non-existent commute, the time with close family and the productivity of working from home have dissipated. There’s been anger at the restrictions, at the lack of physical closeness, variety, freedom, the frustration of repetition especially around meal prep from what I hear and experience. There are even protests happening against quarantine, for the lockdown to be lifted. Bargaining is happening as people sneak an extra walk in each day, sunbathe in parks in London, go for a non-essential drive for a change of scenery, ‘permission from advisors’ to go to a friend’s if you’re challenged mentally if you maintain social distance and some plead ‘if we social distance could you open the pub?’

The Dip

Many people are now in the dip. Fed up. Totally “over” the initial obligation, understanding and unexpected benefits. People are sad. This is not a change we asked for, it has been imposed on us. The rational and emotional reasons for quarantine are still understood however, don’t comfort or motivate us in the same way they did at the beginning. Patience is waning, disagreements are more pronounced.

10 Tips on How to Navigate The Dip

Whether you’re thinking of how to manage The Dip as an individual, as a leader, or as an organization, here are some things to consider:

  1. Recognize where you and/or others are in the curve. That creates cognitive understanding of what’s going on and also illustrates there is a pathway forward.
  2. Be intentional about creating the way forward to experimentation, recovery and acceptance.
  3. Show compassion. If you read my article on ‘Myths about Emotions at Work’ then you know the nuances for emotions is important. Compassion means you can be with someone’s emotional state without losing your emotional centre vs empathy meaning you feel their emotional state too, you share it with them without trying to set something done or shift it. Be compassionate to others and yourself – listen, repeat what they say, ask about the physical sensations they are feeling, take time, don’t take ‘I’m fine’ as an answer, have softness in your voice and manner. What would you say to a friend who was struggling? Have that same compassion for yourself. Ask for praise and encouragement as you move forward. Give praise to others for any glimmer of light.
  4. Accept the feelings. When we try to avoid or deny emotions they do not go away. Suppression of intense emotions can lead to mental and physical health issues. When we acknowledge the emotion, name the emotion and feel it the emotion shifts. Humans have the capacity and incidence of many emotions simultaneously and consecutively.
  5. Practice wellbeing tools – cuddle a pet, listen to calm music, practice mindfulness, touch another human (if you share a household), exercise, read an engaging book, take a bath, dance or move in some fashion.
  6. Give yourself some time – don’t beat yourself up for feeling low and not getting over it quickly. That disappointment and shame in yourself exacerbates the negativity.
  7. Set some goals – set some short-term, easier goals for yourself to create some momentum. Make an actual list of a few daily activities to accomplish. Do this after you’ve given yourself some time just to feel low and tired.
  8. Practice health basics – get plenty of sleep (in a dark, cool room, no screens an hour before bedtime, a bedtime ritual to wind down, go to bed and wake up at the same times each day), stay hydrated (min 1.5L of water per day), eat healthy food (limit sugar, alcohol, simple carbs) in reasonable portions for your energy expenditure.
  9. Talk to someone – really talk to someone that really listens. There are many mental health charities, therapists and counsellors working remotely that can help. Many of my colleagues, like me, have volunteered to coach NHS staff. Reach out.
  10. Visualize the way forward – not in a way that punishes you for not being there already. Rather imagine how you’d like to feel; what acceptance and hope feel like in you. Imagine the future of meeting up with friends and family ago, going out and moving freely.

Be kind to yourself and others. Be reassured that acceptance and integration are in your future. Know that we will be creating a new normal and you will create that for yourself and your loved ones.

Collage Photo of Faces Showing Emotion

Busting the Myths about Emotions at Work (and Home)

How are you faring during isolation, lockdown, quarantine, whatever you’re calling it? If you’re like me, and most people I’ve coached and talked to, you are experiencing a myriad of emotions. We’re confronted with so many emotions right now, many conflicting, coming at us so fast. How do we all cope especially when most organizations and some people want to deny emotions affect us or are even present!

School of Emotions

I had the honour of interviewing Dan Newby, Founder and Director of School of Emotions this week. In my words, his mission is to increase emotional literacy on par with language and numerical literacy. He sees the 3 pillars as mind, body and emotions whereas historical education only valued mind and body. It’s about the practical application of emotions in peoples’ lives, they are a tool in our lives (and work).

He works with leaders and organizations on how emotions can be ‘used’ intentionally for positive effect – whether that’s productivity or satisfaction or both. For me, understanding emotions is foundational to emotional intelligence; see this HBR article for more.

The Myths of Emotions at Work

He outlined some of the myths about emotions, especially at work.

1. People should leave their emotions at the door when they come to work.

So Dan asks leaders “you want them to leave ambition, loyalty, trust and inspiration at the door?” Usually not. Organizations want those emotions, they just don’t want the ‘difficult or uncomfortable’ ones. This highlights the belief that some emotions are good, and some are bad. Emotions are just sensations and data. Fear is good sometimes as It alerts us to danger. Anxiety is the belief something might hurt us but we don’t know what, so it is good to keep us vigilant. There are no good or bad emotions and they are present.

2. People need to get rid of emotions to think clearly.

That’s impossible. Emotions are part of our thinking process. Also, do you want a customer service person to do their job from the places of empathy or joy or service instead of resentment? If so, those are emotions that you want present.

3. Emotions are intrinsic. That’s just the way I am.

It’s just the way you’ve been, you can learn and choose differently if you want. Some things about us are hard wired and many things are conditioned or learned over time. We need to experiment with different ideas, thoughts and behaviours to see which can be changed and which are fixed.

4. We need to Motivate People at Work.

True. Motivation comes from the same word as emote, to move people. And Dan suggests we need to be more specific or nuanced around the language of emotions. An employee embezzling from your company is highly motivated. Is that the type of motivation you want? Probably not. Leaders need to be more specific about the type of motivation they want, what moods and emotions do they want in people, their teams, and the organizational culture. The behaviours exhibited come from the emotions we feel. Same of your family too.

5. If a leader displays fear the team will become fearful.

Dan says that studies show that if a leader acknowledges the ‘darker’ emotion the team feels better; it’s healthier psychologically as illustrated by this Psychology Today link. The sheer act of naming it presents the possibility of shifting it as it’s been raised in consciousness; it doesn’t fester in the shadows. Fear or anger have less power when you say, “I’m angry.” It changes once it’s articulated. Same with “I love you.”

Now What?

The first step is learning the language of emotions. According to Pia Mellody the 8 basic emotions are: anger, fear, pain, joy, passion, love, shame and guilt. Practice mapping your bodily sensations (feelings) to these emotion descriptors to start your emotional literacy journey.

Feeling emotions are different than demonstrating them. Practice feeling them first, so you know what they feel like in you. Demonstrating them can be as simple as saying it, emotions don’t have to be demonstrated in a dramatic way.

At the end of my discussion with Dan I said I was appreciative and grateful. I think of those as perspectives or mindsets. Dan claims they are emotions. When I feel appreciative it feels like a soft comfy sweater wrapping me from the inside.

If you’d like more about cultivating the emotion of gratitude in this uncertain time read my recent blog, Say Thank You to Dire Times – Be Grateful. If you’d like a simple framework for your gratitude practice refer to my blog, Struggling with Positivity? Use this ‘Gratitude’ Framework for Ease.

How to Cope with the Weight of Responsibility in a Crisis

Some people are feeling a huge responsibility due to the virus, a weight unlike they’ve ever felt before despite being senior, experienced leaders. And I don’t mean weight gain from staying home, opening the fridge continually and comfort eating. I coach leaders in food manufacturing, retailing, media and IT. I have friends in healthcare. The pressure and responsibility they are feeling right now in this crisis is huge – it is about life and death.

Your Responsibility

What is your responsibility as a leader? This is a good clarifying question. What are you truly responsible for? Sometimes in times of heightened pressure and stress people start assuming they are responsible for more than they truly are. They also start becoming insular, which can cause them to think that they alone are responsible for everything. Be clear on what you’re responsible for – you solely. In many organizations there is a hierarchy of responsibility and for the big decisions there’s lots of input and discussion. I have coaching clients who are having to make decisions ahead of their company HQ and even in advance of their country. They decided on work-from-home before either their country or company decided. They are deciding about priorities

Tips to Cope with the Responsibility

  • Look after yourself – what is your support system to ensure you can carry the weight for the duration? This includes exercise, proper nutrition, good sleep, friends, talking, some form of mindfulness. These aren’t nice to-do’s, they are necessities for you to go the distance with this crisis.
  • Breathe – this is so important it’s a separate tip. Some deep inhalations, down to your belly will engage your parasympathetic nervous system to help calm you down. Regularly take deep breaths, inhale for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, exhale for 4 counts and hold for 4 counts. Alternatively, inhale for 4 counts and exhale for 6 counts. Both reduce stress.
  • Communicate – constantly, to superiors above, to your team members and sideways to your peers, customer, suppliers and colleagues. This can be written and verbal, direct and messages.
  • Be open to ideas and help – Schools are spontaneously creating PPE (personal protective equipment) on 3D printers and sending it to hospitals and care homes, without having been asked. You never know where ideas and solutions will materialize.

Support Systems You Should Tap Into

  • Share the burden – leaders have teams within organizations, lean into the skills and abilities of people on your team. Reach out beyond your team and potentially beyond your organization for specialist support – it’s incredible who is willing to help. The government is doing that by sourcing medical PPE from fashion houses and ventilators from car manufacturers.
  • Have a buddy – it can be a colleague in a different area in the same company or someone trusted in your external network. A buddy is someone walking along side you through some of these unchartered routes, so it’s a shared experience. These buddies can offer advice, be a sounding board, be encouraging, a devil’s advocate or just an ear to help you sort through your thinking.
  • Family and friends – what is your non-work support system? Some clients have no non-work time at this moment and they are trying to carve out some opportunities to be present for partners and/or children for connection and bonding (feel good hormones) and reaching out virtually to friends for levity. Figure out the best times in your schedule to make these connections.

It appears this will be a longer-term crisis then originally expected so ideally the goal is to thrive, not just to cope.

Struggling with Positivity? Use this ‘Gratitude’ Framework for Ease.

An easy way to cultivate being grateful is a daily practice of identifying good things from the day, saying thank you for the silver linings even in a crisis. As explained in my last blog, Say Thank You to Dire Times – Being ‘Grateful,’ the benefits of such a positive practice are numerous as the previous blog details. Here’s the summary: you’ll be happier, less anxious, sleep better, fewer aches and pains, more optimistic, more friends, better marriage, deeper relationships, greater networking, better teamwork.

The Crisis Challenge

My challenge to you: Get a journal and every day for one month do this practice.

Yes, EVERY DAY. Yes, WRITTEN. Why? Every day to create the habit. Written because this engages your eyes, your hand (kinaesthetic movement), and your brain, making the gratitude more tangible as it’s a multisensory exercise. If you only ‘think’ about them they are just more fleeting thoughts crowding an all-ready-busy mind.

It will get easier rather quickly. Initially it was hard to see what I was grateful for beyond the weather and something extra special, such as a gift, a work achievement or an acknowledgment. I’d get my journal out at night and struggle to write something, I’d almost feel like I was ‘making it up.’ After a while I started to look intentionally for things in my day that I could be grateful for because I knew I’d have to write something in my journal that night. Over time it evolved into me just noticing through the day “oh, that’s a gratitude” and now I see them many times through the day, it’s just a natural observation and label for me.

This crisis seems to be pointing out many silver linings, things to be thankful for – carers, healthcare workers, clean water, delivery people, food, sunshine.

Grateful Structure or Template

Specifically, every day for one month WRITE 5 THINGS you are grateful for from that day, then one thing ABOUT YOURSELF for which you are proud, then the BEST thing from the day, then the WORST thing from the day (to let it go), a FEAR from the day (to surrender it), and something you LEARNED today about yourself, life, living or the world and lastly, something about YOUR PARTNER (or friend or family member) for which you have gratitude.

You can download my gratitude worksheet/template from my website here.

It will look something like this each day:

  1. Something I’m grateful for today
  2. Another thing I’m grateful for today
  3. Another thing I’m grateful for today
  4. Again, another thing
  5. You get the idea

Self: Something about yourself for which you are grateful or proud
Best: The best thing from the day
Worst: The worst thing from the day
Fear: A fear from the day
Learning: Something you learned today
Partner: Something about your partner you’re grateful for

Many of my clients do this practice often starting it because they are questioning themselves, second guessing themselves, especially now as some decisions they are making are well outside their comfort zones. The gratitude about yourself builds self-belief, certainty and confidence.

Tips for Maximizing Positivity

  • Be specific – the detail is what makes the experience rich and creates the good feeling.
  • Have fun with it, it’s enjoyable and feels good.
  • Involve others. Around the dining table ask your family or friends “What are you grateful for today?” Clients who do this learn so much about their family’s day and have gotten feedback from their partner that they’ve “shown up differently, not pre-occupied with at home.”
  • Find the time in the day that works best for you (ideally in the evening or night as you have your day to reflect on).
  • Make the commitment to yourself to try it consistently (I say try to be kind to yourself, and really there is try and just do so do).

What are you grateful for today? Let me know here.

Say Thank You to Dire Times – Being ‘Grateful’

It is easy to say Thank You during good times. More difficult to do in tough times. And it is possible to find things to be thankful for despite the virus or any other stressful and uncertain situations.

Benefits of Being Grateful

The best time to start a gratitude practice is now as it improves your wellbeing. Multiple research sources document the benefits of being grateful, or living with the perspective of gratitude, across five key areas

    1. Emotional wellbeing – happier, less anxiety and depression, bounce back from stress
    2. Physical health – better sleep, fewer aches and pains, less pain, more exercise
    3. Personality – more optimism, self-esteem, spirituality
    4. Social interactions – more friends, better marriages, deeper relationships
    5. Career enhancements – greater networking, better teamwork, less absenteeism, greater employee and client loyalty

These benefits are great at any time in our lives and even more important during times of stress.

What Am I Grateful for During This Virus Pandemic? The Positives

Let me state the obvious – I am not grateful for the suffering, hurt, grief, fear and loss this virus is creating. I mourn for those globally who have been touched by this, especially those who have lost loved ones and those on all the frontlines.
And knowing light can co-exist alongside dark, what are the silver linings from this situation? Here are some gratitudes I’ve seen, felt and heard:

  •  The planet is regenerating, the turbulence that man imposes on the land, on mother nature is lightened so streams are clearing, pollution is dissipating, stuff is growing again not being damaged by our travel and stripping.
  • Consciousness about waste and need. People are turning to fresh ingredients where they can and are not wasting food, heck even heard of grilled celery being eaten so it doesn’t go to waste. I know I’m spending more time cooking new and nutritious meals. Less consumerism for a variety of reasons.
  • For some, being forced to slow down, to be less busy, less rushing around, less hurried- sickness (something many of my executive clients suffer from normally).
  • People are connecting more virtually, for dinners, drinks, bday parties, catch-ups. People are calling those they might not have called previously, people are thinking of others.
  • People are seeing value in occupations they might not have noticed before, like carers, grocery workers, delivery people, telecom engineers, manufacturing and obviously healthcare providers (although I think these people have been valued previously and
    certainly differently than a shop attendant). These are the things that are essential to daily life. What is essential has been redefined in some ways.
  • Addressing the plight of the poor, homelessness and domestic abuse. It’s forcing society to deal with these people that are so often ignored or at best, dealt with, rather than helped.
  • Health has become our main focus, staying healthy, wanting others to stay healthy, wanting the hospitals and medical professionals to be able to treat every patient with the equipment, care and time they deserve – not being overloaded where their health and compassion is compromised.
  • Generosity – offering to shop for the vulnerable, free exercises classes on-line, volunteering in their communities, reaching out to others, people donating money and rooms for sick or healthcare workers, free food and parking to healthcare workers.
  • Creativity is flourishing – companies making ventilators rather than cars, new hospitals built in a week which would have taken years previously, face-to-face things now being done virtually.
  • Reflection – what matters really matters? In society? To me as an individual? What part of ‘back to normal’ do I/we want to re-embrace when this settles? What parts of ‘staying home’ do I want to adopt into life afterwards? What do liberty and freedom really mean?
  • Greater awareness of those around us, even though we are less physically in contact.
  • Intimacy has shown up in some interactions where it might not have in the past. People are connecting around how they feel, what their fears and hopes are, what makes them laugh, rather than the external factors we might have discussed previously (sports, weather, the commute).

Thank You Reflection

Thank you for reading this. I invite you to reflect and share:
What are you grateful for today? What has been positive about this situation for you?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and what you’re thankful for – as it’s a virtual world now, reach out and let me know.

How to Replace Anxiety with Resilience during Virus Uncertainty

Anxiety and other derivatives of fear are present as the UK is in lockdown to stem the transmission of the Covid-19 virus. People constantly say we are in unprecedented turbulent times. Even those words have triggered my clients to feel more anxious. Anxiety can range from worry or unease to panic and terrified. People experience it differently and reactions can vary depending on the situation. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from setbacks.

Anxiety Symptoms

The symptoms and effects of anxiety are different for everyone. The effects can be physical, mental, emotional or behavioural or a combination of all of them.

Here are some anxiety symptoms:

  • Fast, strong or irregular heartbeat
  • Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, even if feeling tired or exhausted
  • Thoughts of dread or overwhelm or not being able to cope
  • Inability to concentrate, make decisions or progress things
  • Repetitive behaviours to check things are ok, in search of security
  • Seeking reassurance from others often
  • Procrastination and/or avoidance
  • Irritable, tense, sharp tongued
  • Dry mouth, excessive sweating, dizzy

The Chemical Impact of Anxiety

Anxiety is not just in our heads. Physical things go on in our bodies when we are threatened and anxious. Adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol are released (they are hormones and neurotransmitters if you need to know). Cortisol is released in stressful times to help with our short-term survival – it diverts attention from longer-term bodily functions such as the immune system, digest and bone formation. Adrenaline is involved in our sympathetic nervous system, it helps prep our bodies for fight or flight. It increases our heart rate, blood pressure, opens our airways and dilates our pupils. With modest amounts of stress, it helps us be alert and focused. With too much stress, it overwhelms the executive functioning part of our brain causing us to be less sharp mentally. When stress and anxiety are too high and/or for too long our bodies and minds are worn down and impact our wellness.

What is Resilience?

The ability to handle what comes at you in life without being thrown off. Or, as Angela Armstrong, a co-writer in my book writing group, defined it in her book, The Resilience Club: resilience is the ability to take the challenges and changes of life in your stride and say yes to the opportunities that excite you.
The purpose of resilience at its basic level is to be healthy (physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually) despite what’s going on around you. To enjoy life and be able to contribute despite the circumstances.

Choose Resilience and Hope

The word ‘choose’ is key to resilience. There’s a belief that stress is a choice and if you adopt that belief you will be well on your way to feeling more resilient.

“Stress is a choice: the trigger of the stress might be outside your control; how you perceive the stress and how you respond to it are within your control” Angela Armstrong (author of amazon No 1 best-seller, The Resilience Club)

Notice there are often choices which we don’t initially see. I’ve seen people who have lost their jobs and feel there’s no opportunity end up in a better role and are happier. Choice requires you to focus on what you can control and let go of what you can’t. You can control many things including your mindset.
Hope is not wishing and dreaming. As defined by Oxford Dictionary it is “a feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen. A feeling of trust.” What do you hope for? Start feeling that within you rather than looking for it externally. The key is feeling the feeling of hope and not just wishing a wish. If you want more love in your life, feel love for yourself, give love away readily to create the feeling of love within. If you want more calm, feel calm for yourself, convey calm to others, that creates the feeling of calm and hence hope for it within yourself.

Tips to Manage Anxiety and Build Resilience

  1. Breath – do deep, belly breathing or box breathing. You can google these but essentially, it’s about breathing deep into your diaphragm, so your belly extends out and slowing down your inhale and exhalation. Start with a count of 4 – breathe in for 4, hold for 4, exhale for 4, hold for 4, repeat. This activates your parasympathetic system which is responsible when your body is at rest.

  2. Identify your trigger –What is the thing, person or situation that triggers your anxiety? My trigger right now is negative news about the coronavirus. Keeping a journal might help you identify what is triggering you if you’re not sure. Once you know your trigger, start minimizing it if possible. Work longer-term to build up your resistance to the trigger with smaller exposures, breathing and compassion for yourself.

  3. Reframe your anxious thoughts – a technique originating in therapy to have people look at situations from a different perspective, often used to look at things in a new way, often more positive or a better serving way. For example, my attempt to reframe a news item about grocery shelves being empty because people are hoarding. Instead, shelves are empty as people are home cooking so many more meals than normal with the whole family home and no eating out.

  4. Limit your worry time – if anxiety is taking up a lot of your time, designate a specific period in a day and a specific area to worry. Time yourself so when you walk away from that area you can remind yourself to leave it behind.

  5. Who handles anxiety well? – identify people who appear to handle anxiety well, watch them. Observe what they do to cope with stress. If you know them, ask them about their thoughts and attitudes towards stressful circumstances so you can adopt their thinking.

  6. Create – tap into your creativity (or borrow it from someone else) to come up with innovative solutions to the obstacle or stressor. As Einstein said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” For example, Dyson is trying to switch it’s manufacturing from vacuum cleaners to ventilators given the need for them in treating the virus.

  7. Find meaning – resilient people find meaning in turbulent times. Rather than feeling powerless or like the victim, identify the opportunities or learnings from the situation. What’s your purpose in life (best to identify this before calamity strikes) and how does the stressor advance your purpose? If you don’t know your purpose, you can create meaning in things like community and belonging as we’re all in this together.

  8. Self-care – during turbulent times, and anytime actually, take care of your physical, mental and emotional self. Eat well, exercise, sleep well, have connections with friends and family, have a spiritual practice (whatever that means to you), have fun and laugh. Figure out what nurtures your soul and include that regularly in your life.

Resilience Resources

Check out Angela’s book by downloading the first chapter free here. She writes for leaders and managers who are balancing external uncertainties with the company’s ambition, stakeholder and employee needs and their own wellbeing. She provides 30 simple, powerful habits to help you stay healthy, sane and spirited in a demanding world. There are also more free resources here on her website.
An oldy but a goody is the Harvard Business Review article How Resilience Works by Diane L. Coutu, originally published in 2002.
Click here for the NHS website for more information about anxiety in general.

Question Mark

Here’s Where to Find Strength in Times of Uncertainty

Hard to think of strength in such a destabilizing time. Business, life and the world are uncertain. Now more than ever. What do you lean on when things feel shaky? You. Your strengths.

My Executive Coaching clients this week have been grappling with the risks from the coronavirus or Covid 19 – how do they support their employees, customers, the business and themselves? How do they lead when consistently virtual? How do they still strive to achieve the business objectives to lessen the negative fiscal impact? What happens as their opinions of what to do conflict with their colleagues especially in multinational organizations?

What Strengths?

When things are uncertain, destabilizing and potentially scary the greatest certainty can be found in yourself, your skills, abilities, qualities, mindset and inner resources.

Start with self-reflection:

  • What do you know you do well? What training have you had? Think about skills and abilities. Look at your historic performance reviews if you’re struggling.
  • What have you achieved in your life including work? What was it about you that made that happen? For example, many people say they have raised great kids. Ok, what is it that you did and what type of parent were you that lead to that great child?
  • What are the qualities or characteristics of you that your friends and family appreciate?
  • What compliments or positive feedback have you received?
    What is your attitude and mindset when you’re at your best? What do you do to manage that?

Ask others:

  • Ask friends, family and colleagues what they appreciate about you? There’s even a tool, called Point Positive, for doing this methodically that I use in some leadership programs. It actually requests and captures stories from your friends, family and colleagues of you when you are at your best. The stories that participants read (myself included) are so affirming and help remind us who we are when we’re our best selves.
  • Get feedback from your team – ask them “what should I continue doing?” as this is an easier question than “what feedback do you have for me?”

Create as long a list as possible. Include strengths that others named even if you don’t quite believe it. Include ones that might not be 100% amazing, that might only be 75% – it’s still a positive attribute you can call on during this time.

How to Stay Positive

So, you now know your strengths. How do you keep that positive focus as turbulence swirls around you?

  • Read your list of strengths often. And don’t just read them, feel them. Pause as you read each one. Breath them in. Really feel them in your body. Smile and appreciate each strength as you read it.
  • Start a gratitude practice if you don’t have one already. On a daily basis, write down things you are grateful for, and have at least 1 of those gratitudes be about you – a self-gratitude means something about you that you are proud of from that day. Download this Gratitude Template from my website to help you start. I suggest you have a gratitude journal to make it a practice. A consistent daily practice is proven (click here to see some research) to have many benefits – emotional and physical wellbeing, career success and happiness.
  • Post them on your bathroom mirror – read them daily to remind yourself.
  • Talk to others about their strengths and encourage people to play to those strengths.
  • Leadership includes self-leadership – consciously manage your attitude and mindset to have the impact you want to have.
  • Think of how you can leverage your strengths to the new reality.

Focusing on your strengths also puts you in the frame of mind to focus on other peoples’ strengths. How do you bring out the best in each other especially at times of stress?

Your strengths, these inner resources are constants during turbulent times. Trust in yourself and those around you.

If you want support in this VUCA world (click if you haven’t heard that term before) contact me through this link to book a complimentary clarity session. I have now allocated time each week for complimentary sessions with leaders wanting a safe place to talk. Sessions are virtual.