: A Tangible Example of Emotional Intelligence in Real Life

A Tangible Example of Emotional Intelligence in Real Life

Wondering what cricket can tell you about improving team performance?
Want to understand how “emotional intelligence” actually works in IRL?
Need actually phrases and tactics of how to “DO” emotional intelligence?

If you hate sports or don’t understand cricket, read on. There are leadership lessons for you to learn, even from bad examples of emotional intelligence on a sports field.

Last month the England Cricket Team played a Test match with India over 5 days. Spoiler alert, England were posed to win going into the final day until 1 hour of behaviour over 7 hours of play derailed them resulting in a draw. This isn’t just me saying it, Derek Pringle, sports journalist, summed it up as “England were puerile and it totally ruined their chances.” FYI for non-native English speakers, puerile means childish or immature. You could call some of their behaviour childish and I would say they were not operating with emotional intelligence. This is commonplace in many sports teams, organizations, businesses and even families.

Emotional Intelligence and Leadership

On that last day of play, the captain, Joe Root, had a poor showing at bat just after tea (gotta love a sport with a tea break I say). What I’m going to say is speculation as I wasn’t there and don’t know Joe Root. My speculation is based on what I’ve seen and heard over decades of organizational experience.

I assume he was disappointed in his batting performance. The team might have been frustrated they weren’t further ahead. They might have been anxious or worrying that Root’s at bat didn’t edge them close enough. There could have been some lingering resentment from the previous day when the Indian bowler (the person throwing the ball) bounced the ball in such a way to hit an England batter a few times. After that, England’s bowlers appeared to lose composure or forget their strengths or choose to change tactics and target the Indian batter’s head, hitting his helmet twice. Reactions were emotive across and between both teams. Please note there are many possibilities to what might have been going on in peoples’ heads and hearts – I name a few hear to illustrate. This illustrates the importance of recognizing that lots might be going on, and you probably don’t know for sure, so get curious, but I’m jumping ahead.

Leadership Lessons:

RESILIENCE – Increased resilience would have helped England during this last day of play. Resilience means the ability to bounce back after disappointment or step backs. The speed of being able to bounce back can be a game changer (literally for England’s Root).

How to be more resilient – Be self-aware enough to know what might trigger or derail you. What things (people, situations) throw you off your stride? An example for me is if two people in a group training I’m providing start talking among themselves, that CAN derail me, make me more concerned about what they are talking about, then what I’m doing with the rest of the group. Because I know that, it rarely knocks me off my game. Knowing what might upset you beforehand helps you see it before or just as it’s happening, to then be able to tell yourself “oh, I’m being triggered”. Beforehand, decide how you want to “be” in those situations and then in those moments choose what you’ve predefined. A post-it note on your monitor to remind you of how you want to be is helpful.

REACTIONS – Humans react to things, full stop. As much as we say business is rational, emotions are present all the time, even in offices and in virtual settings. Employers want the emotions of loyalty, commitment, positivity, excitement, gratitude, and many more. Employers and most humans don’t want the “negative” emotions of disappointment, unhappiness, overwhelm, anger, frustration, resentment or sadness. We can’t have it both ways.

How to handle reactions or emotions – Just as we can be triggered or derailed by situations and people, other people can be too. And they can also be triggered by what we do or say potentially. Best way to handle both our own and others’ emotions is to breath. When there’s time you can get curious by asking what are you feeling? What’s going on for you? I sense you might be frustrated, what’s happening? Naming an emotion can often diffuse it or at least clarify it for further exploration – much more productive than avoiding it as the person will still feel it. If there’s not time, such as on a cricket pitch mid-game, help point people to who they are when they are being their best and/or to what the goal is. For the cricketers it might have been for Root to: remind the bowlers of their what they had done well yesterday (“probing a good line and length to take advantage of cloud cover and an uneven pitch” according to Pringle); or what their strengths are; or that the goal/winning is in sight, they need to put aside any frustrations and be smart about how they play this to win (and then give them specific behaviours); or give them a positive mindset to hold (that was maybe discussed in training) such as “we are better than arguing on the pitch, let’s be the winning team we can be by playing how we can play”; or maybe set out an aspiration which could be asking “what would Ben Stokes expect or want for us now in order to win?” (Stokes is a star England cricketer who is on a break for mental health attention).

STEPPING UP – Yes, the captain of the sports team is the captain. The manager of a group at work is the manager. And a leader can be anyone who is present – both literally and emotionally (in the meeting, focused the moment/being present). By definition, a leader is someone who sees what needs to be done and rallies people towards that vision or goal. There could be a number of leaders in any situation, the leader is the one who sees what shift needs to happen to perform better and influences others towards it. Leadership is not a title, it’s the fact of having followers, people who choose to follow your direction hence leaders giving big direction (company vision or department goals) and leaders giving “small” direction (what’s needed right now, in an interaction, to get the most of out people in a way that’s mutually satisfying to achieve the task at hand).

How to be a leader, no matter your position – If there’s tension, anyone in the room can say “I sense we might need a break, how about we reconvene in 10 minutes after a breath of fresh air or glass of water?” Alternately, really courageous leadership would be pointing out the tension and getting curious about what’s happening for people. To do this type of courageous leadership requires trust amongst the team. Anyone can make any of the suggestions listed in the above ‘How to handle reactions or emotions.’ Any of the England team could have stepped in and said, “what do we need to do right now to win this?” Leaders often don’t have all the answers, they often have the best questions to unleash peoples’ potential to deal with the issue at hand.

In the case of this Test match and many meetings I’ve been involved in and heard about, keeping one’s head is paramount. That’s emotional intelligence. It doesn’t mean denying an emotion or feeling, it means knowing and managing yourself and your responses so that you can be aware of others’ feelings and manage your interaction with them to achieve the desired result. A captain exhibiting emotional intelligence would have recognized he was disappointed in himself for few runs; realized his bowlers were not using the tactics that had been successful up-to-now (maybe because of frustration or anger); rallied his team at any number of points in this 90-minute time span to focus them on their strengths, who they are when they are at their best and point them to the goal of winning.

Which of these leadership lessons matters most to you?

When have you seen such emotionally intelligent leadership? In sports or business?

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore your leadership, and how to help yourself and others keep your head in the game to win.

Photo by Patrick Case from Pexels

Leadership Lessons of Gareth Southgate, Past the Waistcoat

Leadership Lessons of Gareth Southgate, Past the Waistcoat

Who’s a great leader? This is a question I’m often asked by random people when I say I’m a leadership coach and author. One recent example I cite is Gareth Southgate, the manager of the England national football (soccer) team. England’s advancement to the final of the Euro 2020/1 played last month brought his leadership to the forefront, their loss taught us more. He’s famous for wearing waistcoats on the sidelines, and his leadership is more than what you see on the surface.

Emotional Intelligence in Leadership

Leadership is the ability to excite others to perform towards a wanted vision or objective. Emotional intelligence is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and be aware and able to manage the emotions of others thereby handling interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. Combine the two and it’s about behaving in a way that has you understanding what motivates others to influence them to achieve the necessary performance.

Emotional Intelligence and Leadership – Gareth Southgate

I could write pages and pages about Gareth Southgate’s leadership. He exhibits so many qualities of a conscious or emotionally intelligent leader. Here are 4 key attributes and an example of behaviours he’s done that illustrate those traits.

Leadership Lessons

Here are just a few of the many leadership lessons from Gareth:

Vulnerable and transparent. For those who don’t know, Gareth Southgate missed a penalty kick himself as a player that sent England out of Euro 1996. This probably ‘forced’ vulnerability on him. Few leaders ‘fail’ so publicly. He has acknowledged the criticism directed at him of being ‘too soft’ to win. He has actually spoken openly about it which might feel contrary to the defensiveness many of us might feel about judgements of us. He said, “I was not ruthless enough to be a top player. Some people will say I have that problem to be a top manager, that’s an area I need to keep developing…I ask myself ‘What are we prepared to sacrifice to win?’ It’s a big question” for leaders. By sharing his development area he’s taken power away from his detractors, shows his players everyone has something to work on and can access his empathy. Being vulnerable as a leader allows others to risk, be brave, push themselves outside their comfort zone – all necessary for success.

Empowering the team players, not his team. As he said in a recent interview with Mercedes F1 boss, Toto Wolff, “We can’t kick the ball for them. On the pitch they have to make their own decisions, react to the momentum of the game, help each other. If everything is controlled by a ‘Svengali on the side’, how are they going to be able to react in the moment that really matter for winning in the way we want them to?” He talks about responsibility being with the players, about preparing them to react in the way that promotes winning. He talks of trusting the players, giving them increasing levels of responsibility so they grow, developing them as people not just players, like “we do with our children.” If you listen to him speak, he rarely says ‘I’ when speaking of the team, the players and the accomplishments, it’s usually WE.

Taking responsibility thereby having peoples’ backs. The one place I’ve heard Gareth say ‘I’ is when he takes responsibility for mistakes. He does not blame others. After the final game, which ended in missed goals during a shootout by some young English players, some commentators blamed the players who missed scoring for having volunteered when they didn’t deliver the result. Gareth quickly said he had chosen which players would be in the shootout, he explained his rationale for choosing them and saying he had faith in them. He takes responsibility for his decisions, allowing his players to deal with their own grief rather than having to deal with the media reaction as well. When players trust their manager, they are willing to do more, their self-belief grows and we know that positivity motivates and leads to better performance versus fear which breeds doubt, caution, inaction and mistakes. He took responsibility in 1996 and he took responsibility now for his decisions and actions.

Reflection and recovery. In the interviews the morning after the final, Gareth was asked ‘What Next?’ He answered, “I don’t think now is an appropriate time to think about anything… to lead your country in these tournaments takes its toll and I need a break now”. He said it was time to reflect and rest. Rarely do you hear a leader talk of needing a break and a rest. He understands that the leader’s well-being plays a strong part in success. A leader is like an athlete, their mind and body need to be kept in optimal condition to produce the desired results. Exercise, energy, and rest are key to sustaining success. Additionally, he is very reflective on his decisions and behaviours, not just reflecting on the win or loss. This demonstrates a growth mindset which is proven to deliver improvements, learnings and innovation.

Gareth Southgate’s leadership has earned him respect from his team members and with many fans. Additionally, he’s led the England team to better results than they’ve had in the past. And he’s increased the sale of waistcoats!

Which of these leadership skills matters most to you?
When have you experienced such emotionally intelligent leadership?
Who do you celebrate as an inspiring leader?

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore your leadership, and how to motivate and inspire others.

Leadership Lessons from The Olympic Games Tokyo 2020

Leadership Lessons from The Olympic Games Tokyo 2020

Did you watch The Olympics?

Have you, or more likely your child, been inspired to take up BMX, wall climbing or skateboarding?

The Olympics always entertains, informs and inspires me!  It’s not just the actual competitive activity that I find captivating, it’s the journey that led the participant to the Olympics that intrigues me.  Being the ‘doer,’ achievement-oriented person that I am, I’ve often struggled with the notion that the journey is as important, if not more, than the destination and the Olympian stories are a good reminder.

Here are 4 journeys that also teach great leadership lessons.

Britain’s Tom Dean, swimmer, contracted Covid-19 not once but twice leading up to the Olympics, the last time in January, 6 months before he was to race in the 200-metre freestyle.  Now, you might think it didn’t affect him much as he’s young and in great shape.  Unfortunately, it did; sore lungs, sluggish cardio and continuous coughing impacted his physical ability combined with quarantining stopped any training.  He went on to win the gold medal, which was a surprise for Team GB.

The Lesson: resilience, the ability to bounce back from set-backs, is both physical and mental.  He credited his coach for calming him down, waylaying the fears and building his        confidence to overcome and compete again.

 

Simone Biles participation in the Olympics has been controversial unfortunately.  The American gymnast bowed out of the women’s team final after her first vault due to reported ‘mental issue’.  As she explained more honestly, she wasn’t having fun, was having the “twisties” meaning she was spatially disoriented which meant she could have seriously injured herself and jeopardized the medal for the USA and her teammates who had worked so hard.

The Lesson: authenticity, passion, transparency, purpose.  True leaders know themselves, their strengths and limitations.  They are connected to their purpose, WHY they do what they do.  Great leaders are authentic, being true to themselves, rather than a character or façade and take responsibility and own their decisions.  She has been criticized  by many for bowing out, and she stands by her decision.

 

Welsh middle weight boxer, Lauren Price, was adopted at the age of 3 days by her grandparents as her parents were unable to care for her.  At eight it became her dream to go to the Olympics after seeing Dame Kelly Holmes compete.  Price didn’t know the sport at the time, she’s accomplished in football (soccer), kickboxing and taekwondo until she decided on boxing.  She is the first Welsh female boxer to even compete at the Olympics.  Her beloved grandfather and advocate passed away in December, not seeing her win Team GB’s final medal of the tournament, a gold.  When she won she pointed up to the sky, acknowledging his presence.  As her grandmother always says, “reach for the moon, if you fall short you’ll land in the stars.”

The Lesson: support, someone having your back, role models, drive.  Leaders never operate in a vacuum, they aren’t a one-person show.  They have a network of people supporting           them, many out of the limelight, and can range from profession support to friends and family.

 

Lastly, Matt Richards, another GB swimmer, was so worried about not training with the pools closed for lockdown, his parents bought a massive paddling pool to keep training.  It measured 5 x 3 meters, hardly big enough for a 100-metre swimmer.  He tethered himself to the garage with a bungee cord attached to a harness to “swim” in a stationary position.  It took a few attempts to get the tension right, once having the harness detach and hurl into his back.  This training kept is body fit and acclimatized to the water and most importantly kept his sanity as he identifies himself as a swimmer and couldn’t image not being in water.

The Lesson: adaptability, agility, good habits, determination.  When faced with an obstacle, leaders are agile, adapting to the situation to maximize their performance, determined to achieve their purpose.  Additionally, research shows that consistent, good habits around many activities such as exercise, sleep, and diet will yield good results.

These are just four stories, I’m sure every Olympian has a journey to share from which we could all learn as they strive to be among the best in the world.

What are your stories of inspiration from the Olympics?

What lessons could you apply to your leadership or life?

Maybe you just want to try wall climbing?

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore your passions, leadership or inspiration.

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

How HR Leaders (Anyone) can Build Trust in the Workplace

How HR Leaders, any Leader actually, can Build Trust in the Workplace

Trust has always been important in the workplace – among individuals, departments, functions and hierarchy. It’s now more important than ever as uncertainty is rampant in many aspects of both work and life. HR can both role model and lead the creation of a high trust culture. Anyone can impact trust – positively and negatively – through simple (maybe not all easy) daily behaviours.

What is Trust

According to Collins dictionary, trust is your belief that others are honest and sincere and will not deliberately do anything to harm you. This definition encapsulates both trust and psychological safety described by Forbes. They describe trust as you are offering others the benefit of the doubt when you are being vulnerable. Whereas they say psychological safety is you believing others are extending the benefit of the doubt to you when you’re taking a risk.

A simple example of trust in the workplace is people doing what they say they are going to do. A colleague commits to doing a specific task for a project by a specific time and then does it.
A more nuanced example of trust is being able to disagree with a senior leader about a decision even in a group setting without the risk to your career or being ridiculed.

Benefits of Trust in the Workplace

There are obvious and less obvious benefits of high trust which apply in any relationship, not just those in the workplace. These benefits focus on the workplace:

  • Having different and dissenting opinions openly shared leads to better decision making.
  • Pointing out unconscious bias comments, patterns and decisions e.g. challenging potentially racist or sexist comments in a discussion, resulting in equality, diversity and inclusivity.
  • Transferring your efforts or resources to another groups’ project to serve the organization’s greater goals.
  • Improving mental wellbeing as emotions and stress are shared so better retention, fewer grievances, less absenteeism.
  • Feeling safe so energy can go towards doing the work rather than manipulating the political environment.
  • Taking risks and speaking out leads to more creativity, new ideas and better solutions.

How to Demonstrate Trust in the Workplace

These ideas apply to HR leaders, leaders across the organization and most people interacting with others in general.

    1. Listen – really listen to people. As Stephen Covey said decades ago, “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”¹ Many people listen to respond thereby they often stop actively listening as they start to formulate their response. In my coach training listening was one of the first things we were taught. How to listen at many levels – to what the other person says, and doesn’t say, to their body language and energy, to your own intuition about their feelings. Don’t listen for listening sake, listen to learn, adapt and understand.
    2. Get curious – pause your own thoughts and potentially your defence mechanisms to understand someone else’s perspective. Ask questions to understand. A specific action for HR is to learn intimately about the business. This will help you position HR policies to support the business needs and to step truly into their shoes when you consider your initiatives and language. Encourage others to be curious too.
    3. Interrogate your own mindset – what are your feelings about risk, fear of failure, fear of looking stupid and making a mistake. Adopt a more supportive mindset for yourself, changing your internal dialogue to “if I make a mistake I’ll at least know and will learn from it.” Ask your team to become more self-aware too.
    4. Show you trust – take a risk and show vulnerability. Risk making a mistake or getting it wrong. Acknowledge when you don’t know something. Give your time, support or resources to “competing” initiatives. Be generous to others verbally, publicly and even use the words “I trust you” when warranted. Give others the benefit of the doubt.
    5. Act with integrity – do what you say you are going to do. If circumstances change communicate quickly and gain alignment to the impact of those changes. In the hardest HR situations act with the upmost integrity and with compassion. Examples are not tolerating gossip, or blame, any negativity in fact by calling it out respectfully in the moment. Not laughing at others or dismissing their ideas.
    6. Ask for feedback – and then listen and take it on board. This will show people you are engaged, care about the impact you have. This is also a great measure of how much trust there is in you or the organization. People will give helpful, constructive feedback when they trust you. Feedback might be vague or overly complimentary when they don’t feel safe to share.
    7. Encourage healthy conflict – disagreement and conflict are not bad especially when done respectfully and with the purpose of getting to the best solution, not just to ‘win.’ Practice asking questions that challenge someone’s idea in a way that shows respect. Think about debate rather than win/lose or judging right/wrong. Healthy debate leads to more thorough investigation and understanding.
    8. Own your mistakes – admit if you make a mistake or get something wrong. You can then talk about the learnings from those situations. This shows humility, builds trust and makes it safe for others to admit their mistakes. This means things don’t get hidden and continual improvement becomes possible.

What would be possible by increasing the trust in your team? The trust between people across different teams and functions?

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore how you could improve your effectiveness as a leader by building more trust.

Endnotes:
¹ https://www.franklincovey.com/the-7-habits/habit-5.html

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How to Say No to Your Boss While Still Being Credible

How to Say No to Your Boss While Still Being Credible

“Say no to my boss? Really? I can’t say no to anyone, let alone my boss,” you say. Ok, maybe you can say no to some people, sometimes. But when it comes to our bosses many of us struggle. And the problem is worsening in lockdown. Working remotely means many of us are working later than normal, finding it harder to keep a clear boundary between work and home and virtual presenteeism a real issue. Some may also be feeling worried about possible redundancies at work, which can put extra pressure on you to say ‘yes’ to everything that’s asked of you.
Actually, it’s key to our performance at work to be able to say no when we’re too busy to fit in a task. If we’re overloaded, exhausted and fed up, as it affects the quality of our work.

Ask yourself – ‘What’s Behind the Yes?’

The first step is to figure out what’s behind saying yes, especially when you don’t have the time, energy or mental capacity to do it. You’re already busy between work, life and family commitments (forget about personal time). Remember the last time your boss asked you to add another piece of work, task or project to your towering to-do list? In that moment before responding, what were you thinking and feeling? Ask yourself: What was my motivation for saying yes? What were my fears of saying no?

If I was coaching you I’d stay on those questions a long time. The insights from your answers would allow you to potentially identify some limiting beliefs. In absence of interaction, the most common reasons I come across in working with my clients are: fear of rejection, fear of disappointing, being seen as not good enough, feeling manipulated, too timid, jeopardizing your job and/or wanting to please. Those thoughts are the worst reasons to say yes.

A caveat, if you are worried about your performance, reputation or likelihood of promotion then deal with that directly. Review your recent performance appraisals – what do they really say about your ability? Is your boss aware you want a promotion? If not, tell him/her – ‘promote yourself’. If you have too much work or are close to burnout, have a discussion with your boss about workload and expectations.

Identify your priorities

We can’t do everything we want all the time. There are only 24 hours in a day and 7 days in a week. Step two is identifying your priorities. There’s always a balance between the number of priorities that are motivating and possible, versus burning out – prioritising is easy to say, harder to do. What are your work and life priorities? How much time do you want to spend at work to achieve the level of performance you want, given your priorities in the other areas in your life?
Write your priorities down. You need to be clear on what they are and how flexible you are about them. What are your boundaries? What’s acceptable to you and where do you draw the line? If you don’t know, you’ll have a hard time knowing when you’ve crossed them or when someone has tried to push them.

Say no, by saying yes

One approach is to say yes (to something else) – let me explain.

When you are ‘asked’ to do something there is the option of saying YES or NO. Very simple words and when talking about conscious choice and commitment they are very profound. Whenever you say YES to something, you are saying NO to something else. When you say YES to working late, you are saying NO to joining your family for dinner. Often, you would be saying NO to meeting the deadlines of your own projects, your family or your wellbeing. So rather than focusing on the NO and disappointing the person immediately in front of you, say YES to your conscious priorities. If you are only willing, or able, to say ‘I guess I can’ to something, say NO. The enthusiasm and boldness of your YES or NO should tell you something about how wholeheartedly you are committing to it or not. This prioritization approach allows you to say project A is my focus, so I can’t do project B. A discussion is then possible – about changing your priorities or giving you an extension. It shows your boss you can prioritize and are committed.

Tip – put your priorities in your calendar, all of them. Most colleagues can see each other’s calendars on-line, at least when they are booked and when they are ‘available’. Book your time with your priorities, including thinking time. Booking yourself is even more important now with working from home as some of the physical boundaries we used to have (like the commute, or workplace vs home space) are gone. This shows you what ‘free’ time you do have left over to take on more work.

Be assertive

Another approach focuses on assertiveness and is derived from Manuel Smith’s book, When I Say No I Feel Guilty.

1) Acknowledge the request: “I really understand how important that is to you/the business…” (or words to that effect).

2) Own the refusal—I won’t, I will not, I am not going to. The idea is to avoid saying can’t or unable as they imply lack of skill or ability, which is rarely the reason for saying no. Use a respectful tone. Assertiveness isn’t aggression.

3) Give a TRUTHFUL reason.

4) OPTIONAL: offer an alternative (a date in the future, another person to ask).

Example:

I fully understand why you want me to do that as I am best suited for that job
and I am not going to do it

I am at capacity.

(optional: Ask me earlier next time and we can prioritize accordingly.)

Saying NO at first will be hard for both you and your boss because you have conditioned your boss to the fact that you say YES. The more often in the past you have said YES, the more likely they will be expecting you to say YES again. But it gets easier – and more than likely your boss will respect you for your assertiveness and dedication to achieving the projects and task you are doing well.

Book a COMPLIMENTARY coaching session with me here for support in further developing your leadership. Where would saying ‘no’ more benefit you?

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

How to be More Empathetic at Work and Why It’s Important

How to be More Empathetic at Work and Why It’s Important

Being empathetic or showing empathy is being mentioned by my coaching clients more and more lately. These leaders feel its importance has increased with new generations in the workforce, the focus on employee engagement and more so with the stresses and uncertainty of the pandemic. Research detailed below suggests they are right to make it a focus as 1 in 3 employees leave their organization for a more compassionate one.

Let’s start with some definitions because language does clarify.

What is Empathy?

Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, that is, the capacity to place oneself in another’s position. It’s putting yourself in the shoes of another, to see and feel from their perspective, not yours. You don’t necessarily agree with what they are feeling or their predicament. It’s an emotional link between people. Empathy doesn’t require me to have experienced that emotion before. It can be used for both ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ emotions.

What is Compassion?

Compassion is a sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others. It’s the idea that you can be with someone, and with their emotions while keeping your own emotional centre. A leader would do well to be compassionate with an employee they are firing, rather than empathetic. Being empathetic might cause you to be in their perspective and feelings so much that you engulfed in their fear or grief.

What is the Difference between Sympathy and Empathy

Sympathy is sharing the feelings with another, often with the expression of sorrow or pity for their troubles. There’s a sense of agreeing with the other’s misfortune and sharing it. Sympathy does require that you’ve felt that way yourself previously in order to share it. For example, we say we sympathize when we hear about a death, that means we connect to our own feelings of grief and loss and feel those feelings so can share how they are feeling.

Empathy and Emotional Intelligence at Work – The Business Case

Annual research by Businessolver shows the importance of empathy on employee engagement, productivity and retention and even more so for Gen Z.

In fact, they’ve found each of the last 5 years that they’ve being doing the survey that employees would sacrifice pay or work longer hours to work for an empathetic employer. In 2020, 74% of employees said they would work longer hours for an empathetic employer, and 80% said they would switch companies for equal pay if the employer were more empathetic.

Their research found that empathetic organizations were even more important to Gen Z with 83% of Gen Z employees saying they would choose an employer with a strong culture of empathy over an employer offering a slightly higher salary. 83% of Gen Z would consider leaving their current organization for a similar role at a more empathetic organization.¹

Furthermore, the research shows that CEOs overestimate how empathetic their organizations are versus how employees perceive it. Same for CEOs views of themselves: 5% of employees view CEOs in general as empathetic— representing a four-year low—versus 87% of CEOs.

What Makes Empathy at Work Difficult?

• It takes time, effort (emotionally and mentally) and is vulnerable as you have to name emotions of another person which might mean you are wrong.

• Different beliefs about the focus hence management prioritize what they believe vs their employees thereby losing the benefit. CEOs think empathy improves the bottom line, rather than the day-to-day work environment. Versus employees who think empathy creates a better workplace which increases their productivity and loyalty. CEOs and leaders miss the opportunities for empathy in the everyday which is what employees want.

• Different beliefs about who is responsible for building an empathetic culture, employees say their manager vs senior managers and HR having it as an initiative.

• We are not taught emotional literacy at school or work. At school we are taught reading, writing and numerical literacy not emotional. Many of my generation, the senior leaders today, weren’t taught about emotions at home.

• It can’t be measured.

• Empathetic people in an organization can be taken advantage of or be expected to “be the empathetic one” taking time and emotional energy.

Showing Empathy at Work

There’s a 3-part structure that’s helpful for conveying empathy as follows:

Acknowledge what the person is feeling – name the emotion

State what is making the person feel that way – seeing it from their perspective

Hypothesize why they might be feeling that way – give the person a sense or guess of why they might be feeling that way, be humble as you might not be correct

Here are some examples:

“I hear you are frustrated, Lisa, with your interactions with your colleague, Teo. I guess that’s because he’s not giving you the information you need in a timely manner.”

“I see that you are angry about the fact I’m not agreeing with you. I sense that’s because you wanted to just get on with it. “

“You sound really pleased that your recommendation got approved. I guess it’s because it’s your first one.”

Tips for Empathy

Listen from their perspective, meaning you need to be silent to listen and sense their experience. Actively listen, take time, clear out your own thoughts, beliefs, opinions and listen to put your attention on the other.

Ask questions. Don’t try and solve things initially (if at all), seek to understand the root cause of the other person’s thinking and feeling. Probe don’t interrogate. Clarify your understanding especially if the other person isn’t as clear as you want or need.

Suspend your assumptions about the person, the topic or the situation. We assume multiple times a day, if not more. Assumptions are from our experience, they are probably not shared as everyone’s experience is different.

Prioritize issues wisely, not first-come-first-serve. Giving priority to critical or more pressing issues shows people you understand.

Give empathy to those who are empathetic, as they often carry a heavier load.

Give people the benefit of the doubt if they are having a bad day or struggling. Don’t assume the worse in others especially if they make a mistake or are being difficult. More on this bias of attributing people’s mistakes to their character rather than external causes in a previous blog here.

Be present. Smile at people. Remember their names and ideally those of their family. Turn off your notifications and distractions when you’re in conversation with them.

Being empathetic doesn’t mean their issue becomes yours. In fact, you trying to solve it or make it better might make them feel they haven’t been heard or understood.

Show your own vulnerability. Share some of your worries (those that are ‘acceptable’ given your role) and positive emotions too. Share a few acceptable personal things. This makes you more relatable.

The key to empathy is to see your colleagues as people with feelings. Those feelings can be because of work or what’s going on personally for them. Get to know people as individuals, it doesn’t mean you have to be friends rather it means showing some interest periodically beyond just the task at hand. This is not a quick fix, it will be a journey for you and the organization’s culture to compassion and empathy leading to greater loyalty and productivity.

Book a COMPLIMENTARY coaching session with me here for support in further developing your leadership. Where would being more empathetic and compassionate benefit you or your team?

Endnotes
¹https://f.hubspotusercontent40.net/hubfs/378546/Empathy-2020/2020%20State%20of%20Workplace%20Empathy%20Executive%20Summary/businessolver-2020-state-of-workplace-empathy-executive-summary.pdf

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Asking for Help is a Leadership Quality - Really!

Asking for Help is a Leadership Quality, Really!

Think asking for help is a weakness? Especially if you are a leader? Think about when someone asks you for help, you are usually flattered and feel valued for the contribution you can make. Others often feel the same way. Also, there are few Solo heroes – even Superman had support from Lois Lane. We as humans are social beings, interdependent within organizations and life.

When I was writing my book, Soft Skills HARD RESULTS, I had to ask for help often. I asked coaching clients’ permission to use their experiences as case studies (anonymously), asked target readers to give me feedback, and thought leaders and corporate leaders to endorse the book to name a few. Each time I did that my book was better and the people were grateful I reached out and chose them.

Few jobs or tasks can be done in isolation, organizational structures are complex, people are remote yet connected so there’s actually an inherent expectation in today’s organizations of working together in various forms.

Why is Asking for Help a Strength?

Self-aware – asking for help shows you are self-aware by knowing when you need support or information you don’t have. You are not blind to your gaps in knowledge or behaviour.

Resourceful – asking for help shows you can identify alternate resources to get the job done.

Confident – asking for help shows you are confident enough in yourself and your ability to reach out to others. You can overcome any associated fear. You have humility – you recognize you don’t have all the answers.

Results-oriented – asking for help demonstrates your commitment to getting the job done, to the best of your ability and actually beyond your ability as you involve others’ knowledge and abilities too.

What Stops Us from Asking?

Most of the barriers we have to doing something are self-imposed, few come from external sources and asking for help is no exception.

• Fear of rejection

• Worried about being seen as needy

• Thought of as incapable or incompetent

• Insecurity of not knowing, not being able to handle it on your own

• Personal shame/feeling you’re not good enough

• The issue didn’t seem worthy of getting help

 

When asking senior leaders to review my book I was fearful of rejection and being seen as needy. I knew I couldn’t write my own reviews or endorsements (obviously), so I wasn’t worried about being thought of as incompetent.

The bottom-line of what stops people from asking for help is vulnerability – being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, at work it’s about being thought less of. Vulnerability and courage are two sides of the same coin. As researcher, Brené Brown, shared in her book, Dare to Lead, firefighters are some of the most courageous people, running into danger, putting their lives at risk which also demonstrates they are vulnerable – to death, injury, risking others’ lives.

The Leadership Benefits of Asking for Help

Beyond the obvious benefit of getting the work done to the best standard possible as you’ve gotten help from someone, there are many other leadership benefits to asking for help such as:

1. Role model the importance of collaborating with others. When a leader asks for help it sets the tone for what’s accepted in the group, and demonstrates that collaborating, getting others involved is acceptable and desired.

2. Enrol others in your ideas and solutions. One of my coaching clients always did things on her own, to her own detriment at times, to appear strong, capable, able to handle anything single-handedly. She got feedback from people that she was closed minded when in reality she loved input from others. She started asking for help to solicit the input she loved, and a side benefit was that she engaged others. It’s worked brilliantly, she’s found people more engage in the projects earlier, gotten better solutions with their input, not only making it better for the business outcome but also easier and more enjoyable for her.

3. Allow people to play to or use their strengths. Not everyone can be good at everything, and ideally your organization has a diversity of skills, talents and abilities. Asking for help allows people to use their strengths not only for their work but to help others’ work. Imagine if everyone in your organization was leveraging their strengths? Happier people and better results.

4. Makes us mentally stronger. When we practice a skill, we get better at it. Asking for help is no exception. It gets us out of our heads to some degree thereby sharing the burden and lightening our load, both in terms of completing the task but also emotionally. This sharing makes us more resilient and saves energy for when we are required to deliver individually.

How to Ask for Help

Sometimes the very expression “asking for help” makes people cringe at the thought of saying it. If it does make you cringe, and we were in a 1:1 coaching relationship, I’d be tempted to probe what caused that reaction in you or how you could say those words in a way (tone, attitude, come from place) with which you could be comfortable (if that was of interest) and I digress.

There are ways to achieve the same end (better results with less personal angst) such as:

1. Have people ‘volunteer’ their strengths. Have your team members share what they are good at and what types of things they could help others with. Having people publicly share their strengths, offering them up to others creates a shared understanding of who can help with what. It opens the door to be of service to another.

2. Ask in a way that feels right for you. There’s lots of ways to ask for help. Can I get your input? What would you suggest about…? Can I bounce something off you? Would you have time to collaborate on…? Can I pick your brain? I’d like an outside perspective please on…

3. Create a buddy system. Rather than asking for help being a one-way exchange, create a give-and-take with another person. Find someone inside or outside your organization who is complimentary to you and create a buddy system for giving each other help. This can work for both intellectual and emotional help.

4. Get clear on what help you need if possible. Identify what the obstacle or problem is that you’re struggling with and therefore what you’d want help with. Sometimes identifying the problem is what you need help with – and that’s good to know when approaching someone so you can articulate “I’d like your assistance identifying a block I’ve encountered in this project.”

5. Get a mentor. Be a mentor. Mentors are people senior to you, outside of your reporting line, even outside your organization, that provide training or advice about career progression and professional development. I’ve done training sessions for formal mentoring programs and the mentors were all volunteers and thrilled/honoured to be involved. They also said the relationships ended up being reciprocal – they learned from their mentees and sometimes asked them for help (on using social media for example).

6. Be genuine. Ask for help when you need it or when it would benefit the project, don’t use it as a ploy to engage people or shirk your responsibilities. People can sense when you’re passing the buck or going to the trough too many times needlessly so make it a win-win – everyone feeling good about their involvement.

In summary, organizations are simply systems of interconnected people designed to achieve a goal, purpose or specific outcomes. Everyone in an organization is dependent on someone for something – payroll to pay you, IT to provide support, manufacturing to produce the product for the customer. Your need for help is no different, how can you engage with others, by asking for help when needed, for better results?

Book a COMPLIMENTARY coaching session with me here for support in further developing your leadership. Where would asking for help make you more effective?

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Balancing Strategic Focus vs Operational Execution

Balancing Strategic Focus vs Operational Execution

This topic of strategy vs operations has always been a discussion point with my Executive coaching clients. It’s comes up even more now with the uncertainty of the pandemic and ever-changing guidelines. For example, working with people in retail has meant that one day the stores are open and the next day the stores are mandated to close, with differing requirements by region. Having to respond to these types of operational changes is mandatory, time consuming and draining. How does a leader prioritize time, energy and headspace for strategic initiatives with this constant operational firefighting, let alone get others on-board?

Strategic vs Operational Thinking

Never has a company asked me to support their leader on being MORE operational. It’s not their operational thinking and focus that needs to be developed, especially if they’ve just been promoted to a more senior role. It’s usually about helping the leader develop their strategic thinking.

Operational thinking is required too. Strategic thinking is of no value if it doesn’t get implemented operationally. Ensuring operations are well-thought through and running smoothly is important to success. If operational thinking isn’t happening during the execution there won’t be any operations or business to worry about in the future.

A successful business needs both sound strategic thinking to chart its course while having optimal operational thinking to deliver the day to day requirements.

What is Strategic Thinking?

It’s the intentional thought process a leader does to figure out how to achieve long-term success for the organization, team, initiative or project (depending on the leader’s scope). It’s about focusing on the future and working back how to lay the foundation for success. It involves lots of critical thinking skills like analysis, conceptualizing, identifying patterns and options, synthesize making choices and engaging. It’s about creating connections or links between different ideas, sources of information and opportunities for greater synergy or success.

Big A vs Little a Agendas

The concept of Big A and little a agenda is from my coach training and I teach my clients about it too.

When I work with clients we define their leadership development goals for the coaching. The ‘Big A Agenda’ is this bigger, overarching goal. At each session, the client brings situations and topics from their work life for which they want coaching. These daily topics are the ‘little a agenda’. In the coaching we create links between the little a agenda to the Big A Agenda so that each coaching session progresses them towards their leadership development goal. It’s the notion that every step you take is one more step in your legacy.

This concept gives you an opportunity to link operational topics or issues back to strategic priorities and opportunities while working with people on the execution. It’s a great chance for you as the leader to re-affirm the link between the daily operations and the businesses strategic goals (as there should be a link).

Tips to Balance Strategy vs Execution

There are no hard and fast rules on this, as it depends on the business and its current situation. Here are some ideas:

Remember this is a big part of your job. If you’re not doing this type of thinking for your business, area or function than who is? Every leader has some level of responsibility for strategic thinking. This means delegating and empowering others to do what they need to do so you have some time for this priority.

Set aside thinking time in your schedule before other people fill it up with operational topics. Put time in your calendar for your priorities before other people take your time for their priorities. Book it off. Call it something that doesn’t sound dispensable to others if they can see your calendar. Make it a “meeting” rather than solo time as solo time is easier to relinquish. Time is reported as the #1 barrier to strategic thinking.

Change your location. Take yourself out of your usual environment to trigger your brain that this is different than daily business. Also, it will minimize interruptions and distractions. Go for a walk. Sit in another room. Be in nature. Watch traffic in an intersection of traffic. Sit in your car (in the driveway even).

Stimulate thinking through a different lens. Strategic thinking is about the future. How can you put yourself into a different perspective than today’s position to think differently? A client and I once went to a museum together (when we could) and walked around assessing what we were seeing through the lens of his business. What would this museum piece tell me about my business? How could an exhibit inform my business’ future and/or success? What can I learn from this museum theme?

Talk to people who are outside your regular circle. My last 2 articles have been on bias – the Fundamental Attribution Error and Confirmation Bias. To minimize bias, it’s helpful to have an outside perspective, a person very different from yourself to highlight blind spots of which you’re not aware. Also, read information and data from different sources to broaden your input and perspectives.

Listen with an open mind and question, question, question again. Listen to what is being said while suspending your own judgment and assumptions. Listen to what is said and not said. Question what you hear, what is underneath what is being said. Be deep in your discussions, curious, not superficial, not taking what is said on face value.

In summary, prioritize your time to do what only you can do which is the strategic thinking for your area of responsibility. Delegate and empower others to execute so you can deliver on your responsibility. As you deal with operational issues, how could you do it strategically when possible thereby getting the best of both worlds?

Book a COMPLIMENTARY coaching session with me here for support in further developing your leadership to balance the strategic vs operational. What would make you more effective?

 

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A Rife Unconscious Bias for Leaders to Perform Better

Another Unconscious Bias for Leaders to Unearth

This is my second article about cognitive bias – the collection of faulty ways of thinking that might be hardwired into the human brain according to American Professor, Ben Yagoda. He says science suggests we’re hardwired to delude ourselves. Some say it is possible to re-wire biases. This time I’m highlighting confirmation bias. Many people are more open to the notion that they could have confirmation bias than the Fundamental Attribution Error I wrote about previously, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Bias

Many of us understand the idea of bias as it relates to media. A common example is the news media being biased in their reporting in favour or one political party or the other. Bias applies to individuals too. It’s a way of thinking about the world or interpreting things going on around us which has typical patterns or is systemic to us as individuals. Our experience of the world is subjective; we experience things in our own way. And we behave from our own perspectives hence why knowing a potential bias is helpful to determine if it’s has negative consequences and therefore needs to be reviewed.

What is Confirmation Bias?

Confirmation bias is the tendency to see, seek out, interpret and favour information that supports our existing ideas, beliefs and values. We gather evidence to support our thoughts and beliefs (both the conscious and subconscious ones).

For example, if you decide to buy a blue Mini, you will start seeing blue Minis everywhere. It’s not because more blue Minis have been unleashed on the roads, it’s just that you now have a heightened awareness of and predisposition to them. In many cases you are looking to confirm the decision you made to buy a blue Mini.

The Risk of Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias has us see and seek information and data that corroborates our ideas and hypotheses. By definition, it has us discount or ignore anything that appears contradictory or different to what we believe or think.

This is what social media algorithms do – they see what we searched for and give us more of the same. If you’re searching for the best plant-based recipes this might be all right. If you are trying to understand who to vote for in the next election your initial thoughts will just be confirmed.

A Trump supporter will hear his speech and get confirmation of his positives while a Trump detractor will hear the same speech and get confirmation of the negative opinion – all from the same words.

Confirmation Bias Leadership Implications

Confirmation bias appears in every aspect of life, including work, as it is a form of judgement (good or bad), our brain assesses things to make sense of it. To name just a few leaders should be particularly aware of are:

Judging People’s Performance – if you think a team member is good at their job you will see more things that confirm this belief. If they make a mistake, you are quicker to dismiss it as an exception. Conversely, if you think someone is lazy, you will repeatedly find evidence to confirm they are lazy.

Making decisions – many people have an intuitive response when faced with a decision. What confirmation bias tells us is that they then gather as much evidence as possible to justify proceeding with that decision. This also means we can say the decision is based on sound rationale and not emotion.

Hiring or promoting situations – Imagine the leader of another department is someone you don’t like, they have different ideas than you, behave differently, and have a different disposition. And their results are consistently strong, maybe even above expectations. Confirmation bias would need to be put aside to give them the recognition or respect they deserved.

Unconscious Bias – 6 Steps to Tackle It

A bias is only unconscious if you don’t know you have it. Therefore, the first step in any development area is to start to become aware of it.

1. Become self-aware about your own biases and notice how you confirm that, often unconsciously. These biases could be towards yourself, others or concepts/ ideas. I worked with a coaching client this morning who sometimes feels “not good enough” and therefore tries to “prove” he is. When he receives emails from his boss, he reads it through the lens of “not good enough” so perceives criticism where none is intended.

2. Foster diversity of people, ideas, perspectives and input. Talk openly about confirmation bias. Some experts say it’s the most pervasive and damaging bias. Involve people of diverse backgrounds in developing solutions and making decisions. Diversity includes race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, education, age, experience, etc. Let a project or decision be viewed by someone outside of the project (or department or organization) for an ‘external’ view.

3. Create a system of open communication. We find it easier to see the shortcomings in other peoples’ thinking than in our own and vice versa. Create a culture and compassionate communication that allows flaws and gaps to be pointed out in each other’s ideas and solutions. This requires courage and bravery especially for junior people to point out bias in a senior leader.

4. Reward behaviour that highlights omissions, differences and gaps. People rarely want to speak up with a dissenting view for fear of being punished (hence whistle-blower laws). To mitigate that fear the act of sharing contrary data and opinion needs to be rewarded. The first time someone says something contradictory how do you (or others) respond? Learn to acknowledge and praise them so others follow suit.

5. Systematize your company’s decision-making process to include contradictory data. By doing this you make the standard process more bias-proof. For example, at P&G we were trained to do one-page recommendations that included strategic rationale, financial benefit and research or data of probable success. It could easily have included a fourth element of risk or contrary data. By adapting current systems to include highlighting potential bias is easier than creating a new and separate system to address the bias.

6. Conduct “autopsies” in advance of key decisions or projects. Gary Klein, a cognitive psychologist, suggests ‘post-mortems’ in advance. Imagine a project has failed very badly and analyse what led to that failure. This can become part of the procedure or checklist for key decisions. This forces the contrary view and encourages the contrary evidence to be considered. It’s easier to collect evidence in support of our theories (we can never fully prove a theory until it’s implemented), so take time and try to disprove them to be more certain.

Awareness and understanding are the keys to better ideas, interactions and hence results. You can’t eliminate all biases and you can be aware and mitigate them to have the impact you want to have. This is especially important for these emotional-charged times in which we are working and living.

Book a COMPLIMENTARY coaching session with me here for support in further developing your leadership. What would make you more effective and fulfilled at work and/or life?

 

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