Raise your Head above The Parapet? Lesson on Risk Taking

Raise your Head above The Parapet? Lesson on Risk Taking

Is this a good idea?

Do I risk raising my head above the parapet?

What will others think or say?

I felt this way two years ago as I was working with my publisher on my book. Who did I think I was to be writing a leadership book? Was this book even a good idea? Would it help people? What if no one reads it? What if it doesn’t sell? What if people don’t like it? And so many more questions and doubts.

I thought writing the book was hard, then I thought the editing process was hard, then I thought the design and layout was hard. In the end the hardest part was putting it out in the world – putting myself up for judgment – and not the good kind of judgment. I had the fear that it was a bad idea, it not being relevant, being ignored or worse maybe being criticized or ridiculed.
And I did it anyway. That old book from the 80’s, Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway, was my mantra when I was anxious and doubting myself.

Risk Taking in Business

This same trepidation about taking risks shows up in organizations. This was the discussion of a coaching group I led last week off the back of this question in their 360 reports “Willingness to be the only champion for an idea or project.” There was discussion about the reluctance to speak up in a high-pressure meeting for fear of making a mistake, looking stupid, or becoming a target. CEOs have the same fear of making a mistake (it’s the #2 fear behind fear of being found incompetent) from research by Roger Jones reported in Inc.com.

Calculated Risk Taking – Why is it important?

Organizations need risk takers – not foolish, impulsive risks – rather intentional and purposeful risks. Every organization claims innovation is a key strategy they need to succeed, to keep ahead of competition, to serve clients well. True innovation does not happen without taking risks. The key is calculated risk taking to mitigate any potential issues and increase the likelihood of success.

How did I Overcome the Fear and Take the Risk?

What I did to navigate the fear over writing and publishing my book are the same things you can do in organizations.

Identify why it matters to you. When you have a bigger WHY it’s easier to overcome the fear and doubt. Remind yourself why this idea or project is important to you and to the organization. Write it out, or draw it, post it close by to give you a vision. Putting my message out into the world mattered because it had practical tips for results-driven leaders that are actually simple. It mattered personally to me because the journey of being more motivating and inspiring rather than so task-focussed was my journey.

My book writing journey started with a 10-day book proposal writing programme offered by a book coach. The programme was designed to produce a proposal for my book for a publisher or literary agent. Writing that proposal felt a bit like the cart before the horse. Upon completion of that proposal I was more committed to my book than before. While articulating the audience for my book and the main ideas of my book in that proposal, it crystalized the vision and benefit of my book and that there was an audience for the models, tools and tips in my book.

Have support. I had the support of a book coach and was part of a book-writing group that supported each other through the process. They gave me input on the book content and also on my fears and worries. They shared their concerns which made me feel better about my feelings. We were a community of support, ideas and encouragement for each other which fuelled us forward. Find people who can support you with the content of your idea and with the encouragement to take a risk, people who believe in you and your ideas.

Realize it’s a process. Take one step, the first step. People often get overwhelmed when they think of the WHOLE, BIG PROJECT. Instead, think of one step you can do to advance the idea. Electric cars for example didn’t just materialize overnight, they were broken down into a series of steps, more accurately many series of steps. Focus on the step that is in front of you and take it one at a time.

Feel the fear. Emotions have information that can be valuable for us to know. When you feel something, notice the emotion and name it (there are many emotion wheels on-line to help you articulate the names of emotions as we aren’t taught emotional literacy at school). What is the message or information in the emotion? That emotion is data for yourself. For example, anxiety can mean you need more support or input to proceed. Frustration often means you have an unmet need so identify that unconscious need and ask for it to be fulfilled.

Emotional Intelligence in Leadership and Risk Taking

In organizations and even in families or volunteer groups, calculated risk taking is made easier if you build psychological safety. When there is psychological safety there’s the belief that one can speak up without risk of punishment or humiliation. You can create this by:

 Inviting questions and soliciting differences of opinions (eg. If you knew we couldn’t fail, what would you try?).

 Promoting self-awareness so people are aware of their impact, potential biases, and triggers.

 Offering multiple ways for people to input – verbally in a meeting, in the chat function of a VC, on post-its that are anonymously collected.

 Showing concern for people as people as it demonstrates your interest in them holistically and not just on the work-side.

 Shutting down gossip, backstabbing, and ridicule whenever it appears makes people know you have their backs.

Sticking my head above the parapet and publishing my book was worth it – this year my book, Soft Skills HARD RESULTS, won The Business Book Award for Business Self-Development!

What could you create if you raised your head above the parapet?

What impact could you have? Or others in your team?

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore how to help yourself and others take risks for greater innovation, trust and performance.

Coaching Client Cath’s Confidence Success Story

Coaching Client Cath’s Confidence Success Story

Cath* is a returning client. Lucky me. I first coached her years ago as she was wanting to get a more senior role. She didn’t get the promotion in her organization while we worked together. She did get the higher role in another organization afterwards due to her perseverance and increasing confidence in interviewing.

Her Situation

She is the director of a quasi-NGO reporting to a board or panel of overseers. She had issues being clear in setting expectations and giving negative performance feedback so the panel authorized coaching for her. Like many people I work with, she struggled with having what most people call “difficult conversations.” Many people worry about giving “negative” feedback to others for fear of doing it wrong, hurting someone, making a mistake and facing emotions from the recipient that the leader couldn’t/didn’t want to handle.

Her Work

The coaching focused on three areas: her leadership style, her confidence and her focus.

1. Leadership Style:

• What is leadership? This seems like an obvious question and it’s the question I always start with no matter the coaching topic. Defining the topic is key to clarity. My definition of leadership is about motivating and empowering people to achieve your desired outcome.

• What is her leadership style? Most coachees struggle with this question as they find it hard to articulate. How do you motivate people, set direction and implement palns?

• What leaders does she admire? It’s always helpful to identify people that do what you want to do well. Observing others is a great way to learn what works well and what doesn’t.

2. Confidence:

• What is confidence? Clarifying the definition again.

• Remember a time you felt really confident, personally or professionally. Where do you feel that confident feeling in your body? Once you know what confidence feels like in your body you can recreate it when you need it.

• I challenged her to notice when she is or does good things and write them down. Specifically, everyday write down (yes, writing by hand to embed it) 3 things about yourself for which you are proud. This builds the confidence muscle just as reps in the gym build strong muscles.

3. Focus:

• What was her focus as a leader? Her focus was on her direct reports and how to engaged and empower them.

• Where did she want to start? She choose to start with being clearer with her direct reports in terms of her expectations about the work and how they do the work.

What did she need to do that? She needed training as she didn’t know how to give feedback. She hadn’t seen good role models of this. She hadn’t been trained on this despite holding a senior position. I gave her a copy of my book, Soft Skills HARD RESULTS, which explains how to give positive and construction feedback. This is a template that Cath used a lot for giving feedback using the COIN model, here. We role-played specific scenarios. She practiced with her staff between the coaching sessions, noticed the impact, tried again, all the time persevering through the discomfort.

Her Result

Near the end of the coaching, Cath informed me that her bosses might want some feedback from me about her progress. This is something as a coach I don’t do. The coachee’s progress is assessed by the coachee and the organization with me sometimes facilitating that discussion. What happens in the coaching is confidential. I would only say something if the coachee didn’t show up to the sessions, I was worried that they might be of harm to themselves or someone else or were engaging in something illegal.

She had her performance review in front of the board and my input was not required.

The performance of the organization over the last year (exceeding financial targets), the results of the external reviews (surpassing expectations) and how she was in her interactions with them (a confident leader) was a testament to her progress.

As one of them said, “How you are is all the evidence we need of the coaching working.”

 

Want your boss to rave about your performance?

Do difficult conversations worry you?

Do you want to feel more comfortable giving feedback?

Use this great template that Cath uses a lot for giving feedback, here, or get in touch to arrange your complimentary coaching session here. 

 

*name and identifying details have been changed to preserve client confidentiality

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

Anne Taylor Directions Coaching

Directions Coaching Case Study – Coaching an Assertive and Intuitive-Driven Leader

Executive Coaching – Background

Anne Taylor worked with Jim* from a leading global consumer goods company to improve his leadership presence specifically around:

  • Imposing himself and being assertive when verbally communicating with senior management to influence and drive issues.
  • Being a more intuitive-driven thought leader rather than just a technical leader.

About Jim – A Senior Technical Leader

Jim is a scientist working in a demanding technical innovation role in Europe, the youngest among a small group of specialist peers. With his seniority and the heightened focus on his area of innovation, the organization wanted to support him to share his point of view more, adapting to their perspective, to convince and influence senior leaders to his course of action. He was great at connecting one-to-one and needed to extend this to group meetings and presentations. He also needed to be less technical in adapting his message to other senior audiences.

Executive Coaching Programme and Process

Jim engaged in a 12-month coaching programme with monthly sessions virtually. This allowed enough time between sessions to practice new behaviours and mindsets without going too long to lose momentum and not process the learnings.

Before the coaching, I held stakeholder interviews where I interviewed his boss, another senior leader, his peers and a couple of direct reports. This was to understand how he was perceived by others. Specifically, I needed to determine what they thought his strengths and weaknesses were, what might be the obstacles to his effectiveness, and where they think he should focus his development.

At the beginning of the coaching, we did a self-assessment on a scale of 1 to 10 for his two coaching goals, where 1 is ineffective and 10 is highly effective continuously.

During the coaching we worked on:

  • Defining his values and then how to understand others’ values to create connections and find commonalities.
  • Increasing his confidence beyond just his technical expertise.
  • Interrogating some of his beliefs, assumptions and language (especially towards himself).
  • Broadening his communication style to appeal to different audiences when needed.
  • Honing his interpersonal communication skills of giving feedback, being curious, and situation sensing.
  • Motivating and inspiring his team more through empowerment.

The result was positive feedback from the organization of his presence and impact, a promotion three-quarters of the way through the coaching and an increase of 166% of his assertive goal and 75% increase on his intuitive-driven leader goal.

In Jim’s and HR’s Words

“I feel more confident. I am proud of having grown as a leader in a short period of time. I have demonstrated my agility and my ability to try new things and adapt to a new environment. I now talk about what I believe rather than just what I know.”

From his HR business partner: “I have observed changes in Jim and find they are all related to a more ‘strengthened backbone.’ Jim is more challenging when he believes the leadership team doesn’t do the right thing. For example, he questioned why certain subjects were reviewed since he doesn’t see the added value. The colleagues were reluctant to change it (nobody wanted to move out of the comfort zone) but he insisted strongly on his point of view and seemed almost ‘aggressive’ (in a positive way). That was new! I can also see that his presence has become stronger. He is inherently a more introverted person but has demonstrated the past weeks/months that he can become more visible. Overall, I see a good development from coaching with Anne and I am confident he will succeed even more.”

This HR business partner has since referred me to another person in the organization based on the success.

Why I Loved this Executive Coaching Work

Working with an individual that is successful in his field and passionate about people is always enjoyable, and Jim’s journey to confidently owning his abilities and trusting his intuition has been an honour. Jim has a very empathetic nature and an awareness of other people’s feelings and situation (social awareness in emotional intelligence language) that was being side-lined at work due to the technical nature of his training and work. By leveraging this innate ability combined with his intelligence he’s an inspiration of a successful, emotionally intelligent leader.

Executive Coaching London – So What?

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, I worked virtually by phone and video from London and them being in North America, Europe, Asia and as far as Australia thereby being more efficient for my clients and being able to work together despite the distance. My clients tell me I have extensive experience in creating trust and safety despite the distance and technology.

Where could you benefit from developing your leadership impact and presence more?

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore how you can increase your leadership effectiveness.

* Name has been changed to protect confidentiality