How to Demonstrate Inclusive Leadership Across the Workplace

Inclusive Leadership: Strategies for Effective Leadership During Times of Crisis

How do you focus on strategies for effective, inclusive leadership during times of crisis? By choice. And the Black Lives Matter movement, gender gap, and under-representation of people of colour and women in leadership positions is part of the crisis. Many leaders realize diversity and inclusion must be fostered and in fact will help deal with the societal inequity, the pandemic and this new normal.

Inclusive Leadership – What is it?

Inclusive leadership is a leadership that focuses on inclusion, diversity and having the “differences” present and participating in the situation. It ensures all people are represented and treated respectfully and all people feel valued and belonging. Leadership that is inclusive of all disparities or dissimilarities is what is needed. These differences can span national origin, industry background, gender, race, sexuality, age, education, neuro-diversity, introversion/extroversion and thinking preferences.

What could you do to be that leader that brings those less-heard voices and underrepresented people to the forefront?

Benefits of Inclusive Leadership

Diversity is important for many reasons. Beyond just the fairness and justice of equality for all, the bottom-line benefit for organizations is financial. Numerous studies from the Boston Consulting Group and McKinsey to the World Economic Forum document that diversity leads to innovation and greater financial performance, often double-digit improvements in fact.

Every organization has innovation in its mission or vision or as a key strategy. Now most organizations need innovative ideas to deal with the unprecedented situation in which we all find ourselves. Diversity prompts innovation because different perspectives are present and hence we think differently. We question our assumptions. Challenging our assumptions opens ideas and solutions to potential thinking that wasn’t apparent from one’s insular perspective.

Strategies for Inclusion Leadership

The key to productive diversity is for it to be well-managed. Diversity that is poorly managed does not have the same positive returns. Here are some strategies for better inclusive leadership:

    1. Commit to being inclusive and be vocal about it. Make it a priority. If looking to hire someone new ask to see diverse candidates. Ask HR or your recruiters why diverse candidates aren’t being put forward if that’s the case. Require your leadership team or other leaders to mentor and promote underrepresented employees. Call out racism and sexism when you hear it and when you might say it. Be courageous in noticing it and naming it.
    2. Create psychological safety for people to participate. Psychological safety is present when someone is not afraid of a negative consequence (to their image or career) for who they are. Create safety by being engaged with your people, ask them questions and listen to the answer; have their backs especially when they take a risk; give them credit and appropriate visibility; condemn gossip and talking behind peoples’ backs; eradicate blame; give and ask for feedback; be self-aware and require others to be the same; build trust through being impeccable with your word; include others in decision making; explain why things are happening the way they are or why they are not happening; communicate openly, honestly and frequently.
    3. Be aware of your biases and blind spots and those of the organization. Look at your track record of hiring and promoting people. With whom have you historically surrounded yourself? Are they people just like you? How inclusive is the organization? Get the numbers on genders, POC, less-able-bodied, education institutions etc at all levels in the organization. What are the types of people the organization has fired or managed out? The numbers don’t lie. Ask people who are different from you about your biases and blind spots. Make it safe for them to tell you. Reflect for yourself on your thoughts when a woman asks for time off for a sick child versus a man (or do men ever ask?) or when you see a CV with the name Mohammed versus Michael versus Michelle.
    4. Invite all voices into the discussion. This is both a micro and macro strategy. On a micro level when you have a meeting ensure every person speaks. Encourage those who are reluctant. At this time of uncertainty, it’s good to periodically check in with everyone at the beginning of the meeting to get people talking and sharing to create a sense of all being in it together and to highlight how this situation is different for different people. On a macro level, bring different voices than usual into projects or discussions in order to challenge assumptions and provide different perspectives.
    5. Ensure equal access with remote working. Confirm all employees have tech and infrastructure to work at home if that’s continuing. Use closed captioning on virtual meetings and reiterate points in the chat box for those hard of hearing, or those that might need to be listening for a baby or child at that time, send info in advance of meetings so introverts and neuro-diverse individuals can process the information to prepare and therefore fully contribute.
    6. Be compassionate. Recognize and acknowledge that everyone handles things differently whether that’s with the pandemic, home life or work challenges. People are affected by things differently especially with all this uncertainty.
    7. Be humble. You don’t have all the answers, you might make mistakes, others might have better ideas and solutions. Your role as a leader is to unleash the potential in others to move towards the desired goal or outcome. Let others unleash their potential, don’t be precious about from where the next great idea or advancement comes.
    8. Be curious. Be curious with others to understand their differences, their differing opinions and ideas relative to the work. Don’t just stop at the superficial, delve deeper asking “what is it about that that is important?” Or “Tell me more” or “Help me understand what’s behind that”. Like a new puppy let loose in a playground, leave no stone unturned.
    9. Be vulnerable. Especially in an on-going crisis, acknowledge your challenges and vulnerabilities (those that are acceptable within your job; an accountant can’t say they are bad with numbers). Share the challenges of juggling work and home. This allows others to be vulnerable too and creates safety.

Consciously have diversity of people as a focus within your organization and strive to manage them well (if not exceptionally) to leverage each of them for the solid contribution they can make to each other, the organization and the goals.

What inclusion leadership improvements would you and your organization benefit from?

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to assess your leadership and address what might be impeding greater success.

 

Endnotes:

¹ https://blog.capterra.com/7-studies-that-prove-the-value-of-diversity-in-the-workplace/ and https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/04/business-case-for-diversity-in-the-workplace/ and https://www.irelaunch.com/blog-diversity-in-the-workplace-benefits

 

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Working with a diverse team means understanding how to lead across generations. Here are a few leadership strategies to effectively lead across age generations.

How to Lead Across Generations

Now more than ever leaders and managers are having to lead across different generational groups. COVID-19 is showing two different trends among Baby Boomers: some being forced to retire due to organizational constraints and others staying in the workforce due to the poor economy and not able to financially retire. This means that many organizations have 4 generations of workers; a real breadth of ages, attitudes and experiences for leaders to manage and draw on.

Leading Across Generations

One of the best leadership styles for leading across generations is servant leadership. That means putting the needs of other people first over yourself; serving others in the pursuit of goals rather than using power to achieve.

Leading Across Borders and Generations – The How-To of Servant Leadership

Interestingly, the aspects of servant leadership that can help you lead better across generations can also help you lead better across borders such as, in multi-cultural organizations.

    1. Be self-aware about your beliefs, the stereotypes or biases you hold about the various generations. We all have some form of preconceptions towards others so reflect on what you might believe about Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials or Gen Z. Encourage your employees to be self-aware as well.
    2. Understand people as individuals rather than making assumptions about them or buying into generalizations based on age or generation. Everyone is unique. In your team, what are each person’s values, motivations, needs and working styles?
    3. Notice your impact on others and be intentional about what impact you want to make. Consider each individual and situation, what behaviour on your part would best serve this moment? This also means leading by example. As Gandhi said, “be the change you want to see in the world”.
    4. Listen. Everyone wants to feel valued and respected regardless of which generation they fall into. The biggest way to have your team feel valued is to really listen to what they say, and don’t say. Listen for the words and the emotion. Say phrases such as “what I think I heard you say is….” which shows you are trying to understand them and their ideas.
    5. Embrace differences and leverage them for the best outcome. Research shows that well-managed diversity improves organizational performance. Diversity makes us think better as an organization; we question our assumptions thereby coming to more innovate and well-rounded solutions. People of different ages, backgrounds, education, races, genders, and generations bring diversity by definition. Value those differences by creating space for everyone to contribute.
    6. Create an environment that allows people to perform at their best. What does each individual need to be their best selves? What are the strengths of each team member and how do you foster there use more? The first step in this is asking people what brings out their best and what are their strengths. The key is for both you and them to consciously know. Too often organizations focus on weaknesses, gaps or development areas rather than having people use more of their strengths more often. Share among the team who is great at what.
    7. Be courageous and vulnerable. You won’t get it right all the time when managing individuals. Sometimes you’ll have a bad day, sometimes others will have a bad day. Be courageous to continue trying new behaviours and saying new things. It takes vulnerability to try new things and risk making a mistake or looking foolish.
    8. Give constructive feedback consistently and ask for feedback about yourself. Constructive feedback is positive feedback (what they do well that you’d like them to continue doing) and developmental (what you’d like them to do differently for improved effectiveness). Research shows that high performing organizations give 4-6 pieces of positive feedback for every 1 piece of developmental. Leaders give constant feedback throughout the organization and they accept feedback, solicit it in fact about themselves.
    9. Create trust or psychological safety amongst members in the team. Many of the previous behaviours such as listening, self-awareness and understanding others will help build this safety and trust. Additionally, have your employees’ backs, if they fail or make a mistake, support them and strive for learning. Give them opportunities to shine. Banish blame. Promote positivity, openly squelch negativity. Involve the team in the bigger picture and in key decisions so they are engaged.
    10. Coach team members rather than problem solving for them. Coaching helps people figure out their own solutions to issues. The leader needs to listen, ask questions, suspend making assumptions, refrain from giving them ‘what you think the answer is.’ It might take more time initially which will pay off in the long-run as it breeds inner resourcefulness in staff.

Leading Across Generations Training

You can probably find some training for leading across generations and my belief is that most of the elements that make leaders successful at managing across generations are the same elements that make leaders successful in managing people, as individuals are unique. Practice the 10 behaviours and approaches above to improve your effectiveness with any team. Encourage the team members to talk to each other, share ideas, leverage their unique strengths and value the differences rather than disparage the differences.

If you are lucky enough to have multiple generations working in your organization, leverage each of them for the solid contribution they can make to each other, the organization and its goals.

What cross-generational leadership improvements would you and your organization benefit from?

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to assess your leadership and address what might be impeding greater success.

 

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Man Making a Mistake - COmmon Leadership Mistakes

5 Most Common Leadership Mistakes & How to Avoid Them

No leader likes admitting they make mistakes, let alone making the mistake – and this is often the best way to learn. By reflecting on what we’ve done, and what made it be a mistake, is the best way to determine what to do differently next time to have a more positive effect.

Biggest Leadership Mistake

The biggest leadership mistake I see the most across my executive and middle management coaching clients is FAILURE TO GIVE FEEDBACK. There is a reluctance to give both positive and ‘negative’ feedback. Yes, leaders don’t even tell their people what they do well.

The reasons leaders fail to provide feedback are numerous: don’t know how; takes too much time; it’s obvious workers should know already; to side-step perceived confrontation; to circumvent demotivating the employee; don’t notice the good things; raises employee’s expectations for a raise or promotion; to avoid the employee being hurt or feeling bad; many of which stem from the leader’s fear (of doing it wrong, making a mistake, someone crying, anger, looking foolish).

Solution:

1. Learn a model for giving feedback such as the COIN model by Anna Carroll here. This easy 4-step structure can be used for giving both positive and ‘negative’ feedback (of note, positive and developmental feedback should both be constructive). Practice with the positive first, practice at home or when out and about (eg. with wait staff). For more tips check this article out

2. Have a visual reminder to look for what employees do well. Research says financially successful companies give positive feedback 5–6 times for every 1 piece of negative feedback given¹. Few leaders do it this frequently. A reminder might be having a post-it note on your wall to remind you to find the positives.

3. Deal with your own fears. Maybe you can’t be with compliments like one of my clients. Do the self-reflection work to learn how to be with your good qualities so you can help others be with theirs. Maybe you’re afraid of the employee crying or yelling. Do the self-reflection work to be comfortable with emotions. And, if you use a model and practice it often, the chance of any outburst is low. People are usually grateful you value them enough to take the time.

Common Leadership Mistake My Clients Commit

The next mistake I see clients commit is NOT BEING CLEAR ABOUT GOALS AND EXPECTATIONS. Leaders give context, leaders define a vision and what success looks like.
The reasons leaders are unclear are: they assume everyone knows the context and what success looks like; they feel it’s obvious what a ‘good job’ is; they don’t want to demotivate people by micro-managing; they don’t believe they have time; employees should know. Leaders think employees should know what good is except leaders often can’t define it to me when I ask. They don’t spend time thinking about what success for the goal or task is and therefore wouldn’t know what to tell employees if they were asked.

Solution:

1. Before assigning a task or giving an employee a goal, be clear what ‘good’ or successful completion means. Think beyond deadline and budget. Think about what the employee should be doing in terms of behaviour, what are the parameter s of the project, what’s important about this work relative to the company’s purpose. Share those thoughts with the employee.

2. Take responsibility for the employee understanding the message, not expecting the employee to ask for clarity. Ask “what request have you heard from me?”. “what’s your understanding of the successful conclusion of this work?” “what more can I share to make you confident in fulfilling the expectation I’ve outlined?”

3. Notice your assumptions when defining goals and setting expectations. Put yourself in your employee’s shoes at that moment you are talking to them: they are not in your head nor have they just come from the meeting you attended nor read the email to which you are referring. Don’t assume anything, they probably have their head in a totally different project than the thing on your mind.

A Leadership Mistake to Avoid

In the hundreds of 360° reports I’ve reviewed with managers the majority of direct reports say that their managers do NOT DELEGATE ENOUGH. Yes, the very people that would end up doing the work are asking for it.
Leaders don’t delegate because they think no one will do it as well as them; worried they will overload their staff; they think it’s faster to do it themselves; others won’t do it their way/the right way; worried they’ll lose control or power and nervous they’ll be outdone by your team.

Solution:

1. Identify what’s stopping you from delegating. Be honest with yourself. Once you know what prevents you from delegating, change your mindset to start delegating. See my article on creating a new behaviour here.

2. Ensure you have the right people in the right positions with the right skills. Make sure you delegate the specific jobs to the appropriate team member – someone with the skills and motivation. When you do their development plans include projects and work that you can delegate to them to grow their abilities. Detail what updates you want on the progress of the work and when you’d want those updates.

3. Tell your team to hold you accountable to delegating the work they should be doing. This includes you not being copied on emails they should be handling for the delegated work. It’s about you letting go and them being empowered.

Client Admitting His Mistake in Leadership

Clients I coach want feedback from their manager and staff to know where to focus. Very often the client already knows their development area. Two recent clients admitted their mistake of NOT MAKING TIME FOR YOUR TEAM. That means making time to do some of the other mistakes listed above (give feedback, set clear expectations, delegate) and also to develop their teams, have conversations about professional growth and career.

The main reason this doesn’t happen is time; prioritizing other things, usually the work which is short term. If you don’t invest in your people they will stagnate, burn out or go elsewhere.

Solution:

1.Make time to think about each individual. What are their needs and aspirations? Pull out last year’s performance review if you don’t know where to start. Where do you think their talents could take them in the organization?

2. Book time to meet with your people beyond just performance reviews. Plan that time in your schedule before all the other stuff takes up your time. You need to be planning your big priorities ahead other peoples’ priorities for you. If you haven’t done this before then the first conversation is listening to their needs and aspirations to check if your thinking was accurate. Get curious about differences, their beliefs about themselves, what they want.

3. Identify work and profile opportunities that would help them grow into their potential. This could be work you do or meetings you attend (see delegation above). Again, meet with them to discuss, listen for their emotional reaction as well as their thoughts – excitement and nervousness can be too sides of the same coin.

Last Common Leadership and Management Mistake

BEING TOO FRIENDLY. A recent client, Sally, recognized herself in the leadership discussion about needing a balance between being close and being distance with colleagues. Everyone wants an approachable boss, you want people to trust you so they share concerns and issues with you and you have to have some distance from your team when the tough decisions need to be made.
Reasons leaders are too friendly is that as humans we want to be liked; means they are relatable; leaders assume that being liked and friendly will motivate people to do what’s needed. Wouldn’t you rather be respected?

Solution:
1. Notice if you are better at being close to people or if you are better at being distant with people you lead. If you are too close, practice pulling away, verbally not sharing as much about yourself, asking about others, not hanging around informally too much with your team. If you’re too distant, think of a couple of stories about yourself that make you interesting and relatable, share those. Being close isn’t about disclosing inappropriately.

2. Leadership is contextual, so you need to assess each situation to determine the appropriate level of interaction and disclosure with others. For example, if an individual is often not meeting expectations, prepare a simple message about that and what you expect to be different after the conversation. Keep the discussion work-related, factual, be clear with your message.

3. Think of leaders you respect. They can be people you know, people in the public eye, fictional leaders. What has them be respected? What could you learn from how they lead? Think of the best boss you had and the worst. What can you learn from the best and avoid of the worst? Practice some of these ideas you’ve identified.

Most of the mistakes are about what leaders don’t do so one broad rule of thumb to avoid making mistakes might be to try things, to act, to pro-actively do something different in a given situation. As Mark Twain said, “…you’ll be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did.”

What leadership mistakes might you want to learn from?

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to assess your leadership and address what might be impeding greater success.

Endnotes:
¹https://hbr.org/2013/03/the-ideal-praise-to-criticism

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How to coach, coaching skills

How to Coach Employees | Coaching Skills for Managers

Telling is a useful skill to have as a leader, telling people what to do and how to do it. You have years of experience, you’ve seen lots of issues and been in numerous complex situations. You have lots to share. There are many people in your organization who want your contribution to assist them with their responsibilities.

And sometimes telling is detrimental. It creates dependency, it’s slower in the long run if you always must tell, as you don’t enable someone to think for themselves, and it limits diversity of ideas as it’s always your thoughts you are perpetuating.

Coaching on the other hand builds independent and diverse thinking. It is a skill, a set of tools and a mindset. What I’m presenting here is coaching as a skill and set of tools. This will not make you a certified coach; this will assist you in using coaching skills as an option in your toolbox of leadership skills.

Benefits of Coaching

  • People learn to think their way through a situation, enabling them, making them less reliant on you.
  • People bring their ideas and thoughts to the situation which might result in new, unique solutions and more creativity and diversity of thinking.
  • It’s less work for you in the long run as you train them to figure it out (make them more independent and empower them when it is done well).
  • You don’t have to know everything all the time (which might be a blow to your ego).
  • People feel valued and heard and often are more engaged as they are genuinely asked to explore their ideas.
  • You develop leaders, grow greater talent, thereby growing the organization’s capability (and it just might be more fulfilling for you).

How to Coach an Employee

Coaching is the creation of a reflective space for the employee to figure out their own solutions and ideas in relation to a topic. This is done by the coach (or leader in your case) listening in a deep and non-judgemental way and asking open (sometimes powerful) questions that help the employee discover ideas and possibilities in themselves.

Coaching can be 10 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour or longer – depending on the situation, topic, what they want out of it and the time you have.

  • Listening is the starting point for great communication including coaching. Through my coach training with Co-Active Training Institute (CTI), I learned there were three levels to listening¹.

Level 1Internal Listening/ Focused on self: Your focus is on yourself, your thoughts, feelings, issues. When someone mentions a topic you immediately go to your thoughts, feelings and opinions on that topic. It’s about your internal narrative or conversation.

Level 2Focused Listening on the other: Your focus is on what the other person is saying in a laser-like fashion, as though you’re under the ‘cone of silence’ in the old Get Smart TV program. When someone mentions a topic, you want to know that person’s thoughts, feelings and opinions about the topic. You have little awareness of the outside world.

Level 3Focused on the whole or Global Listening: Your focus is on everything, the space, what’s going on inside you and with the other person, what’s going on energetically. This is where intuition or gut-feel might come in; the action, inaction and interaction.

  • Questioning is the second important factor to good coaching; it’s about being curious, so the employee gets curious. Formulate your questions based on what the employee says; use their actual words to formulate questions that help them delve deeper to greater understanding. Use open questions (which can’t be answered with ‘yes’ and ‘no’). Keep the questions short (as this focuses the thinking and doesn’t confuse things). Ask “so what?” after almost any question to get the employee to keep thinking or go deeper.
  • The GROW model is a widespread coaching framework (Goal, Reality, Options, Way Forward), first published by John Whitmore in his book Coaching for Performance in 1992. When clients have practised this they are struck by how often they just want to tell the person the/their answer; how they have so many ideas going through their own head they find it hard paying attention to what the other person is saying; how often they ask closed and leading questions; and how they want to speed up the process, even if the person is not ready. Some have been amazed at how often the coachee generated tremendous value from the exercise even if the coach had no idea what was being talked about!

Coaching for Employees – Use the GROW Coaching Model

When an employee approaches you asking what they should do about something they are working on rather than you telling them, try this approach. The following are the 4 steps in GROW, the explanation of each step and examples of actual questions you can ask to your employee in each step.

GOAL – What’s the goal?

This is to help define what, in fact, the problem or issue is. What’s the objective? What are you trying to achieve or accomplish? This can take a few minutes or quite a while, depending on what clarity the employee already has.

  • What is it you would like to discuss?
  • What would you like to achieve?
  • What do you want to get from this discussion?
  • What would you need to happen for you to walk away feeling that this time was well spent?
  • What do you want to be different? What outcome do you want?
  • What would you like to happen that is not happening now?
  • Can we do that in the time we have available?
  • Will that be of real value to you?

REALITY – What’s the current reality or situation?

It’s valuable to explore this area so the employee is very clear what is going on. This could highlight assumptions they have and gaps in knowledge – about the situation or themselves!

  • What is happening at the moment?
  • How do you know that this is accurate?
  • When does this happen?
  • How often does this happen?
  • What effect does this have?
  • How can you verify that this is so?
  • What have you or others done previously about this?
  • What other factors are relevant?
  • Who else is involved?
  • What is their perception of the situation?
  • What have you tried so far? What did you learn?

OPTIONS – What are the possible options?

This is where you want them to brainstorm about alternatives. Continue having them generate ideas until they’ve reasonably exhausted the options.

  • What could you do to change the situation?
  • What alternatives are there to that approach?
  • Tell me what possibilities for action you see.
  • What approach/actions have been used in similar circumstances?
  • Who might be able to help?
  • What are the benefits of that option? What might the problems be?
  • Which options are of interest to you?
  • Would you like suggestions from me?
  • Would you like to choose an option to act on?

WILL DO OR WAY FORWARD – What’s going to happen? What will you do? What’s your way forward?

This is the time to have the employee define next steps and create accountability. What will they do? When? How will they ensure success?

  • What are the next steps?
  • When will you take them?
  • What might get in the way?
  • Do you need to log the steps in your diary?
  • What support do you need?
  • How will you enlist that support?
  • How will you know you are making progress?
  • What else needs to be done?

How to Coach Employees – The Don’ts

  • Don’t necessarily try to complete all four steps at one time.
  • Don’t just focus on O and W, spend time in G and R, as so often people skim over these and later find out they were solving the wrong problem!
  • Don’t work so hard. Let the employee do the work. For example, using their actual words in your questions, pausing and being in silence so they can figure it out.
  • Don’t use closed questions. Use open questions that ideally start with WHAT, at least initially (WHY makes people defend what they just said, HOW focuses on doing and you might be jumping to a solution before clarifying the true problem).
  • Don’t use assumptive questions – a question that comes from an assumption you’re making. For example: “What makes you uncomfortable about this?” Only ask this if they’ve told you they are uncomfortable, not if you’ve assumed they are. Ask them: “What are you feeling about this?”
  • Don’t ask leading questions – where you include possible ideas or solutions to lead the person in a certain direction. For example: “What are your plans to cut costs, reduce headcount, cancel a shift, or limit travel?” Notice you’re leading them down a path, probably the typical path you would be pursuing.
  • Don’t answer when someone says, “I don’t know.” This is an easy way out for an employee especially if you’ve always just given the answer in the past. Either be silent to let them think or ask something like “if you did know, what would you say/do?” or “if some part of you knew, what would it say?” or “what would an expert on this say?” This line of questioning helps people find their resourcefulness within.

Coaching Employees – Top Tips:

  • Use a compassionate and curious tone of voice rather than making it an interrogation.
  • Acknowledge them through the process, noting what they do well and how they are being during the journey (e.g. “You’re open. You’re reflective. You’re creative. You’re courageous for trying something new and unknown”).
  • Encourage the employee at the end of the process with their identified actions, e.g. “Those are some good actions you’ve identified. Go for it. You’ll be great at that” (be more specific, related to the actual action).
  • Champion them, stand up for their potential and value, especially when they aren’t feeling it, by saying what you see when they are at their best.
  • Silence is good, it means someone is thinking and isn’t that what you pay people for?
  • Practise, even if it’s just asking one question, before you jump in with the solution.

What aspects of your leadership would benefit with a coaching style of leadership?

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to assess your coaching leadership style and to experience the benefits of being coached first-hand.

Endnotes:
¹ Witworth, Laura and Karen Kinsey-House, Henry Kinsey-House, Phillip Sandahl. Co-Active Coaching. Davies-Black Publishing. P34-40, 2007

How to Create a Habit of a New Behaviour Running

How to Create a New Habit for Better Leadership and Performance

“How do I create a new habit for some new behaviours?” a client asked after receiving recent feedback. He was told that his team wanted more positive feedback. He also felt he should be spending more time on their development rather than just getting the work done and driving for results.

Creating a new habit is just learning to do something new and doing it without having to think about it. It’s the 4ᵗʰ and final stage in what psychologists call The Stages of Learning:

  1. Unconscious Incompetence – you don’t know what you don’t know
  2. Conscious Incompetence – you’re aware of the new behaviour, and not good at it yet
  3. Conscious Competence – you’re aware of the new behaviour, and it takes effort and feels forced
  4. Unconscious Competence – you’re no longer aware of the new behaviour as it’s habitual, and you’re on autopilot

How Long Does It Take to Create a Habit?

This is often asked as we ideally want instantaneous results. If you google it there’s a common belief/myth that it’s 21 days. A 2009 study by Phillippa Lally and her colleagues at University College London indicated that on average it took 66 days for participants to achieve “automaticity” for behaviours such as eating a piece of fruit or jogging daily. The range among participants was 18 to 254 days – encouraging and disheartening. The good news from the study was that you can miss a day and not jeopardize the creation of the habit.

The truth is that it depends. It depends on the habit you want to create, the frequency of practising it, the consistency of practising it, your propensity to habitual behaviour and most importantly, how much you care about making the habit. Habits are designed to be hard to break so complex ones might take more time to form.

Neuroscience of Habits

Our brains are designed to create habits; they search for ways of saving effort, to reduce processing of only one thing. Habits save us time and thought power. As something becomes more and more habitual or automatic the less and less our brains actually think about it. The brain does this by ‘chunking’ – translating a series of behaviours into an automated procedure.

Imagine if every time you brushed your teeth you had to remember to uncap the toothpaste, spread the paste on the bristles, turn the electric toothbrush on, brush every surface of your teeth, spit, rinse the brush… You’d be exhausted even if you only brushed once per day and not the recommended 3x a day.

How to Create New Habits

The focus here is on creating a positive, new habit. This isn’t about breaking a bad habit or changing an existing habit. The more of these tips you follow, the greater the likelihood of success.

  1. Define the new behaviour and habit you want to create and keep it simple. It might be giving positive feedback once per day, or sharing your opinion, listening more, exercising, eating healthier in one way, or reflecting weekly. Start small. If you make your goal too big too fast it’ll too big a mountain to climb. Make the decision to do this new behaviour.
  2. Define the (contextual) cue and (internal) reward. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit. He describes the ‘Habit Loop’ as cue -> routine -> reward and it’s a craving that powers the habit loop. Habits create neurological cravings. Define a cue that’s in your environment or context that prompts you to do the new behaviour and then get an internal reward. When you perform this loop over and over a habit is formed when just seeing the cue starts the craving for the reward, so you’ll then perform the routine to satisfy the craving and get the reward. For example, when you hear a notification on your phone, the brain starts anticipating the reward (distraction, key info, attention). If the craving is not immediately satisfied, you become anxious and distracted until you check your phone. If the notification is turned off, you can focus for longer.
  3. Write it down. Writing something down makes it real and not just another fleeting thought. Also, it engages your sight and hand movement, and these two senses process and aid memory.
  4. Create a reminder or structure to support yourself. Doing something new is by definition something we don’t currently do so we need to create reminders. Use a post-it note on your monitor or a prop on your desk. For example, in the case of my client, a wrapped gift on the desk would be a reminder of giving positive feedback (it comes from the expression that feedback is a gift).
  5. Schedule it. Put the performance or action of your habit in the diary. What gets planned gets done.
  6. Do it daily or multiple times a day if appropriate. The more you practice something, the better you feel, and the more ingrained it will become.
  7. Be compassionate with yourself. It’s about trying, not perfection. You will make a mistake or forget and that’s ok, it’s new. When your child fell after their first steps you cheered, not jeered.
  8. View it as an experiment, trial, or play. This removes the need to succeed as experiments are about learning and modifying. And play is fun so how can you make it enjoyable?
  9. Notice who does it well and take what works. Role models are always useful to observe and learn from – they can be people you know or those in the public eye or on the internet.
  10. Be accountable to someone. Share your goal with someone, a coach, friend or colleague. Someone who will motivate you and potentially see you in action trying the new behaviour and encourage you.
  11. Visualize the process of success often. Use your imagination to regularly create the image of successfully doing the new behaviour, not just the result or outcome of the behaviour. Research indicates to visualize the process of getting to the goal and what you actually have to say and do, not just achieving the end result. The concept of visualizing the process also reduces feelings of anxiety.
  12. Write down the downsides of not creating this habit. This helps remind yourself why this habit is important. Refer to this list when motivation is lacking.
  13. Make your environment conducive to the new habit. If you want to exercise in the morning, lay out your exercise clothes where you must step over them when you get out of bed. If you want to eat better, don’t have junk food in the house.
  14. Learn from missteps rather than abandoning the practice. Be forensic about figuring out what went wrong. What part of the routine or habit isn’t working, and what’s preventing you from doing it? This will help you address the root cause.
  15. Chart your progress visually. Every time you do your new habit put a gold star on your diary, calendar, or board. You won’t want to break the cycle of getting a gold star (or checkmark or happy face) on each day’s entry.
  16. Celebrate! No matter how small it is, celebrate each time you’ve done it, give yourself a reward. It could be taking a few seconds when you give yourself your gold star (see above) for an inward smile. We are so good at beating ourselves up for doing things wrong, catch yourself doing it right (even if that’s just making the attempt).

What habits would benefit your leadership, effectiveness and impact more?

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to figure out which behaviours would improve your and your team’s performance and how to start the process.

Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice Directions Coaching

6 Ways to Conquer the Critical Inner Voice that is Holding You Back

We all have voices in our heads, some of which are critical inner voices that are holding us back. For many of us, the person we talk to most in a day is ourselves. How do we make sure that our inner voice or self-talk is the most helpful for achieving our goals and enjoying life?

Positive or Negative Self-Talk

The voices in our head have both positive and negative messages. Both are helpful except when they go to the extreme. There are times when this critical inner voice is beneficial, when it protects you from failing, from looking stupid, risking or making a mistake. Its’ role is to keep you safe. It’s a defence mechanism. The problem with that is when you start trying new things and moving outside your comfort zone, your internal voice may not realize you are intentionally trying something new. Hence, your critical voice is conflicting with your desire to grow. It wants to keep you safe and small, to keep you within your comfort zone, to maintain the status quo.

Same for the positive messages. When the inner voice says you’re amazing, infallible, always right, you lose touch with reality and miss threats and opportunities to learn.

The focus here is on negative messages of that critical inner voice as that’s most people’s struggle.

What is an Internal Monologue?

The critical voice in your head, the judgemental voice that tells you that “you aren’t good enough” or “who do you think you are?” Another name for that voice is the saboteur because it can sabotage your efforts, and it can hold you back or make you doubt yourself excessively.

Examples are:

I’m going to embarrass myself.
I’ve messed up again.
How could I be so stupid?
I should have known better/done more.
I’m lazy/selfish/stupid/uninteresting/bad.

Critical Inner Voice – It’s Origins

The origins of the saboteur are two-fold. The first is from neuroscience. Our amygdala, the oldest part of our limbic brain, is meant to see threats and dangers in order to trigger the fight or flight response for survival. It was very helpful in ‘cave-man’ days when we needed our bodies to be flooded with stress hormones to survive encounters with lions and tigers. That fight/flight response still gets activated in present-day when we perceive we are at risk from making a mistake, looking stupid, and being ostracized from our ‘tribe’ aka work colleagues.

The second factor is our upbringing or conditioning. We have been conditioned through family, school and society for certain responses depending on how we were raised. What were you praised for growing up? Or what level of success or achievement did you have to attain to receive love or attention? What were your caregivers’ or teachers’ responses when you failed or made a mistake?

Your experience in those formative years will dictate the level of criticism or punishment you inflict on yourself. If you want to investigate its origins, therapy can help you do that.

6 Ways to Conquer the Inner Critic

    1. Reflect on yourself while you are DOING something (chairing a meeting, disciplining your child, cooking dinner) and capture your thoughts about yourself. Notice the running commentary you have in your head about yourself. What are your dominant scripts? If you find yourself being defensive, examine what triggered that defensiveness as it might give you insights.
    2. Reframe your thoughts. Replace your common critical phrases with positive reframes. Here are some examples:6 Ways to Conquer the Inner Critic Directions Coaching
    3. Rewire your brain. Separate yourself from your inner critic. Do this by writing your negative scripts using the word YOU (not I) as this will give you some distance and you act as a witness to the criticism rather than the source. Write positive affirmations that flip those critical thoughts and read them frequently (out loud). Can’t think of positive statements? Who sees you positively (not as a saint)? Write what they’d say. Or chose from a place of growth – who do you want to be and what do you want in your life? Write from that perspective.
    4. Recollect your positives. Capture the positive feedback you receive (verbally and otherwise) each day in a journal. Notice your inner value each day – what are you proud of yourself for today? Write these positives and prideful moments down. Writing it makes it real and not just another fleeting thought that comes and goes. Writing engages your hand (movement), eyes (visual) and brain. Feel the positive as you write and read it. This will help strengthen the new neural pathways in your brain to conquer the critical voice.
    5. Release critical thoughts. When you notice your negative self-talk, let go of it. Be light about it – have it float away on a cloud. Put it in a box. Don’t ruminate on it or beat yourself up for it. You’ve had it for decades, it will take some time to replace your critical inner voice. Distract yourself with a different activity when you notice your dwelling on it
    6. Reward yourself with self-compassion. Research shows that self-criticism decreases goal attainment and success. This is contradictory to the thinking of many coaching clients – they think that being hard on themselves motivates them to work harder and achieve more. FALSE. Studies, one from Stanford Medicine, show self-compassion increases motivation (not self-indulgence as many worry). Dr Kristin Neff’s book, Self-Compassion, recommends giving yourself a hug when you notice the negative self-talk, literally hug yourself. If you’re in a meeting and can’t do it overtly, cross your arms with your hands touching your body with a slight squeeze. It will increase your motivation!

Thoughts influence how we feel and what we do. Therefore, our self-talk can impact our success and enjoyment of work and life. Conquer your critical inner voice and create positive self-talk that encourages you to be your best self.

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore how you can conquer your inner voice.

Storytelling in Business Directions Coaching

The Power of Storytelling to Influence Your Audience

A good story can positively influence your audience – whether they are employees, stakeholders, customers or consumers. Stories have the power to impact people more than what charts, graphs or data can do. Stories can appeal to our heads, our hearts, and create connections and communicate origins, purpose and values.

My focus here is on how to use storytelling in business to influence, motivate and inspire your teams. In fact, this is often one of the biggest challenges facing senior leaders I coach.

Why Storytelling is Important

People are emotional creatures, and stories are a great way of connecting with people since good storytelling is so emotive. That’s what makes the great books and movies they tell such engaging and emotive stories. Have you ever had feedback that you need to be more motivating or inspiring? If so, storytelling could be the answer. Here are some positives to adding storytelling to your business technique repertoire:

  • You appeal to the emotions of your employees, stakeholders or customers.
  • You share part of yourself with others, to connect personally.
  • You make your point in an entertaining or descriptive way.
  • You can merge data, facts, fun, story and purpose together.
  • You can simplify complex ideas and concepts, which is especially helpful for change and innovation.
  • You show flexibility in communication style, thereby being more relatable to different types of people.

Storytelling in Business

The way to start storytelling is to have a small inventory of 3–5 in your mind to use when the situation warrants. For example, when a colleague says to you that they are struggling to give needed feedback to one of their team, tell them the story (which you’ve already prepared) of when you had a similar situation and what you learned (in addition to showing them the feedback chapter in this book). Or if one of your employees made a visible (but not a gross) mistake, share your story of when your mistake was a growth opportunity and how it improved your performance dramatically. Sharing your story is a way of motivating and inspiring people in difficult situations to excel.

Storytelling Techniques

Want to hear the secret of storytelling? It’s about thinking of your stories before you need to share them. That’s right; plan them in advance. The process is the same for your professional or personal stories, depending on your audience. It’s not as complicated as the following nine steps imply. I’ve just broken it down in detail to walk you through the process step-by-step.

  1. Peak moments – Think about your professional journey, what have been the highlights, low points, key lessons learned and crossroads along the way. Think about what matters to you as a leader and where that purpose or motivation came from. If you’re struggling, think of some things you’d like a graduate to know about leadership and remember where you learned that lesson in your own career.
  2. Your situation – From the specific events and moments identified above, think about your situation – your thoughts, feelings, motivations and relationships with those involved in each of those peak moments.
  3. Lessons – Identify the lessons you learned from each of those peak moments. In other words, what is the moral of each of your peak moments? This will become the ‘so what’ of your story and be useful in identifying which story to share and when to share it.
  4. Choose – Which topics, values or morals are the most applicable to your current leadership situation? Which might be helpful to the challenges your team members are facing now?
  5. Create – Take the topic or moral from above and create the story, including the situation, the learning moment, the feelings and the ‘so what’ or moral.
  6. Elaborate – Put in more emotion (you probably have skimped on feelings as so many people do), share the angst and the light bulb feeling, include specific details to add flavour and paint a picture, and lastly, reveal how that transformed you from that moment on.
  7. Refine – Delete some of the factual filler or extra words. The length of your story should be about 3 to 5 minutes. You could have a slightly longer version depending on the application.
  8. Practise – by yourself. First, read it over and feel the story. Then read it out loud to hear yourself say it (you don’t want the first time you hear it to be when another hears it). Read it in front of a mirror, occasionally looking at your face in the mirror. This increases your comfort level further. Hone the message and wording, if necessary.
  9. Deliver – This isn’t about memorizing a story, it’s about knowing the structure and flow of what you want to convey. Try it out with a low-risk person and use your newfound awareness sensing skills to judge the impact. Or you could ask for feedback! Also, watch how others tell stories – what works and what doesn’t for them.

The Power of Storytelling

Authentic, impactful storytelling comes from your heart. It’s your expression of your experiences. It shows your foibles, your passion and your self-reflection. Where people so often go wrong is that they try and make up an inspiring story; which can end up being more fabrication than authenticity. They also strip out the emotions and context to communicate the facts, transforming a story into a patronizing one-line instruction such as, “I once missed a crucial deadline too and learned from it so now I ensure key stakeholders are engaged well beforehand.” Or as another client’s profound experience of having a suicide in their team would have been, “I once almost experienced burnout and learned to pace myself and not neglect looking after myself.” They could have read that in a book for the amount of personal inspiration it conveys.

Feel it – tell the story, ensuring you remember and feel the emotions of the time you are talking about. Feel the tiredness and relentless pressure you felt when approaching burnout (if we’re referencing Anthony’s story) and then the relief and self-compassion of coming out the other side.

Pace – change the pace during your story, use pauses, make eye contact, breathe. These things create variety for the listener, allow the emotion to come through and keep you present in the story rather than ‘just recounting the story’ as if memorized.

Tone of voice – what’s your usual tone of voice? What adjectives would you use to describe how you communicate – Funny? Colloquial? Polite? Chatty? Authoritative? Energizing? Expert? Reflective? Factual? I describe my tone of voice as direct and succinct. And I change it up sometimes depending on the audience.

Elements of Storytelling that can be the Cherry on Top

Front-line staff, those people in touch with customers or consumers, have great stories just from doing their jobs. Leaders can tap into those stories to influence other senior leaders and stakeholders.

Have a strong end to our story. We’ve all experienced movies and books with lacklustre endings that just fizzle out. Underline the hope or improvement the listener will experience, what’s the deeper take away for them to embrace?

Storytelling is an art, it’s not a technique or process although I’ve tried to break it down somewhat for you. Who in your organization does it well with whom you can partner? What stories have you seen told by other leaders or presenters outside your organization? Have a look at what they do for ideas and inspiration. Marketing departments and advertising agencies can often be good options for learning.

Telling stories can happen in various forms – verbally, audio, written or digitally.

Imagine the next time you want to influence or inspire, step into your audience’s shoes and share some of yourself with a story that plants the seed for them to consider what you’re suggesting. Stories are powerful ways of motivating and influencing people, especially those in your team with whom you have a relationship already.

Where could you benefit from developing your storytelling ability to motivate and inspire?

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore how you can better influence and motivate your team.

Woman writing personal strengths Directions Coaching

How to Objectively Assess Your Strengths & Weaknesses at Work

Assessing your personal strengths especially and your weaknesses is key to improving your effectiveness and hence results. Improving your results starts with you because YOU are the only person YOU can change. I’m sure you’ve tried changing other people, such as your partner or boss. How did that go? You may have been lucky if they changed at all. The greatest opportunity for improvement lies in knowing yourself well and focusing on what’s within your control.

How to Identify Your Strengths

There are essentially two steps to identifying your strengths – looking at what you already have and then getting more input to ensure you have a well-rounded view. You want to reflect on your own thoughts about your strengths and you want the opinions of others too as you might have blind spots (strengths you aren’t aware of about yourself) and/or have an unrealistic view of yourself.

  1. Start by taking an inventory of all the available data you have on you. Look for all the evidence you have accumulated from recent years, including:
    1. Performance reviews (this will have your manager’s perspective and probably your own as well as many companies get the employee’s input as well as the management’s)
    2. 360⁰ surveys (surveys that your boss, team and peers have completed on you)
    3. Awards and certifications
    4. What are your passions? What do you enjoy doing?
    5. Any feedback you’ve received, e.g. verbal accolades, congratulatory cards, letters and emails
    6. Any assessments you’ve had done whether about strengths, personality, behaviour, preferences or aptitude
    7. Comments from your friends and family (yes, really!)
  2. If you don’t have any of the above, then initiate getting the feedback as other peoples’ opinions of your impact are important. One thing you can do is send a simple email to a variety of personal and professional contacts asking them for input. You can use the following verbatim to make it fast and easy for yourself, don’t overthink it:

I am working on my leadership development (always a work in progress I feel) and would genuinely appreciate your input. Would you please respond to the following 4 questions with as much detail or specificity as you can (bearing in mind, your initial, quick response is best for both you and me):

What should I start doing?
What should I stop doing?
What should I continue doing?
What is unique about me versus other leaders/people you know or with whom you work?

Thank you so much for your feedback.

How to Identify Your Weaknesses

Go through the same process as above and pull out your weaknesses, development opportunities and any complaints and criticism you’ve received. It’s especially important to ask for feedback from others so you have an accurate view of yourself as often we don’t know what we don’t know.

Personal SWOT Analysis

The SWOT model is commonly used in business and competitive analysis. SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. The model can also be used to analyse your leadership situation and career advancement. There will be overlap in some of the items because opportunities are often derived from addressing threats. Complete it for yourself. If you have a close colleague, ask them to complete it for you as well or do what I did when I started my coaching practice, I had a few friends complete it on my behalf. That made for ‘interesting’ reading.

SWOT Analysis Directions Coaching

Personal Strength List and Weakness List

A reminder that the list of your strengths and weaknesses aren’t just what you do; it’s also how you do things and how you interact with people to get the work done. The lists should include skills, behaviours, attributes, characteristics, qualities and mindsets and can be things you were born with or things for which you received training. Often my clients ‘forget’ some of the things they do well because they are so habitual to them. As I say, a fish doesn’t know fish swim in water. If you want to delve into yourself even deeper, do my exercise, A Development Activity to Learn, to identify more ingrained, sometimes subtler, aspects of yourself.

Personal Strengths – Use Them More

While every leader should have an understanding of their weaknesses, sometimes called development areas, in order to grow their leadership, I often focus on strengths. This view is rooted in positive psychology theory.

What strengths can you use more often? The benefit of doing so is that you’re good at those strengths already and you probably enjoy using them too. I start every coaching session asking my client to identify the strengths that have contributed to their accomplishments since the last coaching session. This reminds them of their good qualities rather than always focusing on the development or deficit.

How do you leverage your strengths to address a weakness? For example, if you are great at listening however, you avoid dealing with poor performance issues in your team, how can you apply your strength of listening to understand the performance issue and then address the issues?

Don’t overuse a strength as you could enter the ‘shadow’ side of that strength. If you have a strength of driving action to timely completion and that’s all you do, ignoring how you interact with the team doing those actions, you might demotivate them or cause burnout. Not every building project is solved with a hammer, you need a saw and wrench in your toolkit too.

Personal Strengths Test

There are a variety of strengths tests that help people identify their strengths and preferences including those they aren’t aware of, aka their blind spots. Examples are: Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), DiSC Workplace Profile, Discovery Insights, The Leadership Circle, Hogan, Belbin Team Roles Assessment, Point Positive, Realize Strengths, Gallup Strengths Finder, Enneagram, Princeton MCG Leadership Blindspot, 16Personalities, etc.

If you don’t have many of these types of assessments, you can find some of them online with free or inexpensive versions to complete now. It’s often best to review the learnings from these assessments with a coach certified in it to understand the results and get support to leverage the assessment’s full potential.

Where could you benefit from an objective view of your strengths and weaknesses?

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore your strengths and weaknesses and identify some tangible actions for moving forward.

People skills hands together

10 Tactics to Instantly Improve Your People Skills

Yes, you can instantly improve your people skills! And sometimes it’s as easy as reminding yourself what effective people skills are. We often get caught up in our to-do’s, in our perspectives, in our worlds that we forget to consider others more often.

People Skills Definition

People skills are often called soft skills (as opposed to hard or technical skills like accountancy, building a house, assembling a manufacturing line, merchandising a product display in a retail shop). If you are running a project to build a piece of infrastructure or design a new car, you’ll need hard skills: engineering, planning, cost-estimating, scheduling. These are the skills that will enable delivery of some kind of output. But the skills associated with whether what you produce, and the process of producing it, is successful are largely soft: working with the client or managing your supply chain; negotiating changes to the scope of the project; agreeing solutions to address unanticipated risk; managing any conflict; motivating people and keeping everyone committed to the project.

They are the behaviours we use when interacting with other people. You might not think of them as skills though (yet). You might feel they are just what you do to communicate and relate with others, be it your family, friends or work colleagues.

Good People Skills for Instant Impact

These skills (outlined below) might seem obvious and it’s amazing how often we forget to use them to improve our effectiveness as communicators and leaders.

Smile sincerely. Many people respond in kind and do what we do so make eye contact and smile when appropriate before even saying anything. Go a step further and smile with your eyes too. Saying ‘cheese’ as cheesy as that sounds does evoke a smile.

Position things in terms of the other person, not yourself. Use the word ‘YOU’ more often then ‘I, me, my, mine.’ Remember someone’s primary interest is in themselves and their world, not in yours. Put yourself in their shoes to try and understand what they might be thinking and feeling.

Make people feel important, genuinely. Notice their achievements, their unique qualities or characteristics. For example, instead of saying well done, say you do that well or even better say you did the report on time and with great attention to detail. Praise behaviours and qualities, not the person or their identity. Do it often, 4-5 positive pieces of feedback for every one negative.

Listen. Listen. Listen. Listen to understand rather than respond. Listen for what’s said and what’s not said. Sense mood and feelings. The term active listening is often used to refer to listening in an engaged manner. Look at the person who is talking (on videos this means looking at the camera lens, not the person’s face on the screen), lean forward, nod your head when you agree, don’t interrupt, take notes. This is also another way of making people feel important.

Ask questions. Be curious. Ask questions to understand things from the other person’s perspective. Stop yourself from making assumptions by asking questions. Ask open questions which require more than a yes/no answer. The best open questions start with WHAT and HOW. Avoid WHY as that has people justify what they said or did.

Find out their motivations and needs. This can be done by listening to what they talk about, by watching what they do and how they do it or by asking (which is the fastest). Common motivators at work are: money, power, autonomy, creativity, avoiding stress or risk, structure, group identification, not working alone, recognition or personal growth. Most people have a combination of some of these.

“Yes, and”. This is a comedy improvisation technique to find something in what the other person said that you can agree with and then name that and build on it. Even if you don’t agree with anything they say find something you can align with like their intention. For example, you can agree with someone who supports an opposing political party to you by aligning on the fact they want the best for the country.

Replace the word ‘BUT’ with ‘AND.’ IT will sound funny at first as we are used to using and hearing BUT a lot. Using BUT often eradicates everything that was said before it. For example, you did a great presentation, but you were confusing in the Q&A. What will people remember? The poor Q&A.

Admit when you are wrong or made a mistake. This builds trust with other people, makes it a safe place for them to fail as well and makes you human and relatable.

Say thank you and mean it. Say it slowly and clearly, not mumbling or as you are walking away. Look at them. Say their name.

How to Improve People Skills

The best way to improve any skill is to practice it. Which of the above ideas do you want to practice? Think of the situations or people with whom you want to practice. How are you going to remember to practice? We need reminders when we are trying something new as it’s so easy to fall into old habits and just do what you’ve always done. Set a reminder for yourself – it can be a post-it note on your computer, it can be a task entered into your calendar, it can be a picture posted on your office wall (of an ear for example if you want to listen more).

Books on People Skills

The right book on people skills for you depends on what your specific development area is around people skills – whether it’s your self-talk, how to have ‘difficult’ conversations, listening or talking. Here is a proven selection from the archives and more recently:

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High by Kerry Patterson

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

The Leader’s Guide to Influence by Mike Brent and Fiona Elsa Dent

Emotional Intelligence Quick Book: Everything You Need to Know to Put Your EQ to Work by Travis Bradberry & Jean Greaves

Soft Skills Hard Results by Anne Taylor (yes, me!)

What impact would better people skills have on your leadership?

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore your people skills and leadership development opportunities.

Empathy in Leadership Directions Coaching

“Why does Empathy in Leadership Deliver Results?” asked a new client of mine.

A client recently asked why does empathy deliver results? My first thought was that it doesn’t. And then after reflecting on the discussion I thought it would be good to share the rationale of why it doesn’t, on its own, and what does.

Meaning of Empathy

Empathy means 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 as defined by Wikipedia which I think is a very explanative definition.

Empathy is helpful in leadership, when building and interacting with others and is just one tiny part of Emotional Intelligence that will deliver business results. Empathy is great when a team member tells you their partner has cancer (we all know the feeling of fear and sadness of illness). Empathy is not helpful when you are making someone redundant, compassion and respect are better, so you keep your emotional stability as they will understandably feel sad and scared. My article on emotions at work explains more about this.

Empathy does build trust and helps leaders understand what others might be thinking and feeling. This helps a leader understand how someone might react in different situations, what their needs and motives might be. Empathy is the bridge between human interactions.

Emotional Intelligence and Leadership

Emotional Intelligence or EI is defined by the English Oxford Living Dictionary as: “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically”. In leadership terms, it is the skill of building productive and fulfilling relationships authentically. The concept was popularized in the 1996 book Emotional intelligence by Daniel Goleman¹.

EI also known as People Skills

Many organizations capture the concept of EI in performance reviews/appraisals as a person’s degree of self-awareness; or HOW they do their job (versus WHAT they do); or how they achieve the results they achieve through their interaction with others. This is often called people skills or soft skills – the way of influencing and working with others. When I first started my career at P&G the performance review was split 50% on the person’s achievements and 50% on how they grew the organization in terms of people (training, coaching, mentoring, enabling). Skilful emotional intelligence by a leader does deliver results.

Proof about Emotional Intelligence and Leadership

What’s the proof that good EI in leadership is necessary to achieve business outcomes? Here is the answer from business, academia, sociology, neurology and financially:

  1. The Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence In Organizations (yes, there is such a body) highlights 19 studies over the last 3 decades from different companies and organizations (American Express and L’Oréal to name two) and 9 research and academic studies from the last 9 years all identifying how EI delivers results².
  2. Leadership is about relationships; it’s about unleashing the potential of your team by motivating and inspiring them to do the work to deliver the results. Leadership is also about removing barriers which often involves influencing others or resolving conflict. Relationships are about interacting with people, people are human beings not human doings so understanding and adeptness with regards to emotions is key. Additionally, most people leave a job because of their manager, not because of the organization³. That means the relationship (intellectually and emotionally) with the manager is pivotal.
  3. Brain evolution and structure dictates that all the information from our 5 senses enters our brain through the brain stem and hits the limbic part of our brain first which is the place of emotions and feelings before reaching the neocortex near our forehead which is the place of rational thought. The emotional part of our brain is stimulated first with any piece of information before the executive functioning or reasoning part of our brain! Hence, emotions are always ‘present’ first when we take in stimuli – often the stimuli at work isn’t overly provoking so we don’t notice the emotional part, or we suppress it, or we have high EI to manage our own emotions and influence others’ emotions much more consciously.
  4. Humans are herd animals or more politely, social creatures from a sociology point of view. We thrive in well-coordinated groups (hence some of the complication of working from home). Employees want to feel as if they belong to the work group. As such, skilful leadership fosters this feeling of belonging and inclusion.
  5. Company investment in measuring employee engagement is huge! This isn’t about employee happiness or satisfaction. Forbes describes employee engagement as the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals⁴. An effective leader builds that emotional commitment through understanding and managing their own emotions and recognizing emotions in others and handing relationships and interactions with others, thereby, having employees bring their heads, hands and hearts to their work.
    There is a financial cost to poor people skills in terms of lost productivity. FACT. Imagine you have a manager who is in an open-plan office criticizing one of their team for a few minutes. How long do you think that employee is demotivated or unproductive? How long do you think the others in the office are unproductive (trying to console the berated employee or criticizing the manager’s actions)? Imagine the manager does this often. The cost is thousands of pounds over time. The incidences of berating managers are few for my clients. The incidences of empathetic and inspiring managers are few too. The big opportunity to positively increase productivity is the managers who simply do nothing about engaging or inspiring because they don’t know what to do.
  6. Although people skills don’t have a line on the P&L, they do impact each line – salespeople have to have good relationship-building skills to generate sustainable income, customer service needs good people skills to resolve issues and protect reputation, employees who feel valued and are engaged are less likely to quit, saving recruitment costs and less likely to demand extreme compensation (assuming their basic need is met), purchasers with high EI skills relative to their suppliers can result in discounts, advantageous payment terms, and quicker exposure to new initiatives.

Where could you benefit from more empathy and emotional intelligence?

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore how you could develop your emotional intelligence further to motivate and inspire your teams to achieve.

Endnotes:
1 Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman (London: Bloomsbury Publishing 1996)
2 http://eiconsortium.org/
3 https://www.forbes.com/sites/victorlipman/2015/08/04/people-leave-managers-not-companies/#12eaf30847a9
4 https://www.forbes.com/sites/kevinkruse/2012/06/22/employee-engagement-what-and-why/#794d90357f37

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