What do you want to do with your one wild & precious life?

What do you want to do with your one wild & precious life?

I was reminded recently of this line from the poem, The Summer Day, by Mary Oliver. We do only have one wild and precious life, which is a big lesson from the last 2 years (don’t worry this isn’t article about the pandemic).

Think back to a time that you amazed yourself. When you surprised yourself with something you could do or something you achieved. Pause here because I’m sure there’s at least one thing, and probably lots of things, where you’ve gone outside your comfort zone or what you thought you were capable of. It might be something you trained or prepared for, it might be something that happened spontaneously. I invite you to stop reading and reflect please – a moment for which you are proud of yourself.

It might be running a race, having given birth (a friend’s contemplating this as her due date looms ever nearer), landed your dream job, created works of art, gone open water swimming in winter (that’s on my weekend’s agenda, crikey) or solved a Wordle in only two tries (I think first try is just a fluke).

For me it’s having written and published my book! I’m acknowledging it because it’s the two-year anniversary of its launch. My how time flies. More time will fly by, what do you want to create for your wild and precious time?

I didn’t set out to write a book. I took a 10-day book proposal writing challenge offered by a book coach to see if my idea for a book had any merit. After 10-days my completed proposal excited me, ignited the possibility of a book, motivated me to think “what if?” The book coach, a brilliant marketer as well, offered me a discounted book writing boot-camp course. I took that and never turned back. In some ways I just followed her process which lead me to the professionally edited, first draft of a book, my book.

Two years later I am an award-winning published author, gobsmacked to write that. I don’t say it to brag. I say it as evidence you too can do something you didn’t plan on or think you could. The next two years are going to pass regardless of whether you create something wild and precious or not, so what if?

Do you ever imagine what if?

Are you wondering is this it or what’s next?

What’s one thing you’d dare to dream of for yourself?

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore how to help set yourself up for greater success and satisfaction next year.

The Emergence of Spring. Change is Coming. How to Adapt?

With the Emergence of Spring, Change is Coming. How to Adapt?

I’ve been interviewing HR leaders for an upcoming talk I am giving to HR professionals about soft skills in the workplace. Many are saying the same thing – office employees have been working longer hours since working from home, some stating employees are working 1.5-2 hours more PER DAY!

As the UK restrictions are easing, facilities are opening. My gym and singing lessons could be face-to-face soon; how will I fit “commuting” to these facilities into an already busy day? How will office workers fit travel time for their activities, shopping and socializing into their back-to-back schedules?

Just as going into lockdowns and adjusting the pandemic necessitated change, so too will emerging from it.

The 4 Reactions to Change – SARA

There are often four stages to change, news or disruption that we navigate at different speeds depending on the situation and our experiences. The acronym is SARA:

Shock and disorientation – we’re knocked off guard.
Anger and other emotions– we don’t want the change, this disrupts our ‘normal.’
Rationalization – we start to process the change (sometimes if we’re in denial we might rationalize away the issue and hence be avoidant). We start seeing the future and not just what we’ve lost.
Accept – we accept the change and determine how best to move forward.

Coping with Change

Here are some ways to cope with the change at work that are coming as restrictions ease (at least here in the UK):

1. Breathe – breathing triggers your parasympathetic nervous system which allows us to “rest and digest” responses to change. In contrast, our sympathetic nervous system leads to “flight, fright, freeze” reactions in the face of stress. This is about being present in the moment, not regretting the past or anticipating the worst in the future.

2. Talk about it – talk to people about the change and how you feel. Share your hopes and fears with those close to you.

3. Find the joy or positives – what are the positives of the change? What would need to shift in you to enjoy the change? Imagine looking in someone’s eyes rather than trying to connect through a video screen. Review all the changes you’ve had in your life and feel the enjoyment because life is just a series of changes.

4. Focus on your goal – what goals do you have for yourself, your work and your life? Focus on moving towards those goals. This will limit the amount factors to consider or be bombarded by. Look at a bigger picture of your life and see how to build that within this change event.

5. Recognize what’s not changing – building on the previous point, there are many aspects in any situation that remain the same. Identify the things that are not changing both externally and internally. Within yourself, your skills, strengths, values and abilities remain the same despite the circumstances. Lean into those things that aren’t changing for perspective and resources.

Adapting to Change

1. Self-compassion – have compassion for yourself through times of change. Compassion means accepting yourself and your feelings. Change can be hard, especially when it is thrust upon us. We are often harder on ourselves than we would be on another person, expecting us to behave perfectly despite the challenges. Imagine “what would my best friend say to me right now?” and heed that advice.

2. Empathy – have empathy for others. Empathy is the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes and feel what they feel. You might not have gone through the same experience but chances are you can still feel the feeling from one of your own experiences. Empathy creates relatability and makes people feel like they’ve been seen and heard.

3. Make a plan – with the easing of restrictions and the anticipation of this “new normal” what’s a phased-approach that would work for you? Prioritize what needs to happen first, or what you want to happen. Identify ways you’ve gotten through change previously and add those to your plan.

4. Self-care – change is stressful. Ensure that you have balance in your life to counteract the stress. The usual about healthy eating, sleeping, exercise, supportive friends, etc are needed all the time and especially in times of stress.

5. Reframe the change – I hear people say I don’t like change. I then ask if they have children to which they often answer yes. Well, if you don’t like change, don’t have kids. People don’t like change that is thrust on them, for which they don’t have control. People accept change that they initiate. What’s the opportunity that the change presents? What can you control?

What would help you emerge from lockdown and restrictions leading the life you want and being the leader you want to be?

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


What Could You Give Up to be More Effective during Lent?

What Could You Give Up to be More Effective?

This week sees the start of the Christian time of Lent. Of note, this isn’t a religious post. It’s a post about being more effective as a leader and/or person.

What is Lent?

Lent is the 6 weeks leading up to Easter. Lent is observed in many ways depending on someone’s personal beliefs/convictions. Some people give up a luxury/treat item like alcohol, chocolate, meat etc. More traditional observers might follow stricter fasting of giving up meat, fish, eggs and fats. That’s why Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent starts, is celebrated with as Pancake Tuesday – pancakes use up eggs and fats you might have before abstaining.

What to Give Up?

For those who don’t follow the Christian observances, Lent still offers an opportunity of how to be effective, for you to give something up that would help you be more effective.

To get feedback on your performance, one question I suggest in my book, Soft Skills HARD RESULTS, is: What should I stop doing? Often, we get in our own way. This question will invite people to tell you things you are doing that don’t serve you well. As an aside, it’s partnered with two other questions to round out the feedback you get:

What should I start doing?
What should I stop doing?
What should I continue doing?

To declutter your home, I’m giving up an “item” a day for the 40 days of Lent. Each day I will find something in my home that can be thrown out, donated to charity, re-gifted to someone who would love that item. It’s easy to do – when you open a drawer or closet each day just identify something that can go. For me decluttering makes me feel lighter and more spacious. Not sure I’ll go into my wardrobe this time though, as there are many pieces I haven’t worn in almost a year with the various lockdowns.

To clear your head, what are the repetitive thoughts you have that disempower you? Identify the reoccurring thoughts you have about yourself. We all have internal scripts that run underneath the surface that we don’t even realize how often we talk to ourselves. Notice what you say to yourself when something happens, especially things that are disappointing or frustrating. For example, I don’t have time. I’m stressed. I have too much to do. I screwed that up. I’m not good enough. Notice what your self-critical thoughts are and then reframe them. For instance “I don’t have time” becomes “I choose how I spend my time.”

To change a bad habit don’t stop it, change it. It’s hard to stop a bad habit so can be easier to change the habit rather than trying to abolish it. Instead of giving up drinking, substitute a sparkling water in a crystal glass with a slice of lime instead of alcohol. If you bite or pick your nails, chew on a toothpick instead.

The Challenge

What could you give up that would improve your effectiveness as a person or leader?

Don’t jump over that question – answer it. This is your chance to let go of something that’s holding you back. This will improve your leadership and potentially your daily life. Sometimes it’s even easier to let something go then to start something entirely new.

The 40 days of Lent gives you the chance to reboot your initiative each day for 40 days. Even if you “fail” one day, you have the next day to try again. Be kind to yourself depending of what you are giving up.

Book a COMPLIMENTARY coaching session with me here to help you identify what you could give up that’s holding you back. What would make you more effective?


Photo by Sydney Troxell from Pexels

Ditch New Year Resolutions. Find fun things to do near ME.

Ditch New Year Resolutions. Find fun things to do near ME.

I don’t do new year resolutions. They often don’t work according to research. They are often punitive (lose weight, exercise more, less alcohol, stop smoking).

This year I’m doing 21-4-21 with a focus on FUN (yes, even during a pandemic). Those who have followed my writing for years might recognize this as I’ve done 49-4-49 and 50-4-50 previously. 49-4-49 was forty-nine fun things between my 49th and 50th birthday. 50-4-50 was fifty acts of kindness to others the 12 months following my 50th birthday.

What’s Next

Christmas, New Year’s and the holidays are now behind us. This year has started out a little turbulent shall I say. We’re half way through the first month. Time is ticking. What’s next for you?

You can set your own direction. You can go with whatever comes along. You could do both or nothing.

Make Lemonade Out of Lemons

So, what are my 21 things you ask? I don’t have a full list yet, that’s part of the fun of this project. My list has to reflect the fact that, for me, this year has started in another lockdown and I want to jump into this project now and not wait for lessening of restrictions.

What I have on my list so far are:

Assemble a colourful puzzle. I’ve chosen a 1000-piece impuzzlble – it’s not a picture or scene, it’s repeatable pattern of 5 colours making it somewhat hard to figure out which of the 200 yellow pieces fit together. Scientific research proves doing puzzles lifts one’s spirit.

Knit a snood. My cousin sent me a kit to do just that! A snood is a loose-fitting collar to keep your neck warm. Research from Harvard Medical School’s Mind and Body Institute proved that knitting induces the relaxation response, lowers the heart rate, and high blood pressure drops. Further research shows it induces relaxation and reduces stress and anxiety as well.

Play in a virtual escape room. I like trying to solve the puzzles with friends that gets you out of an escape room. Apparently, they are offered virtually now so I’ll be finding one to try with some friends.

Cook 21 new recipes. I have 3 on my list for this weekend from Ottolenghi’s new cookbook, Flavour.

Participate in a pub quiz. This could be online or in person when permitted. Love me a pub quiz.

Play Yahtzee with a games group.

Kayak on the Thames when possible (and frankly when warmer and drier in the UK).

Climb at Go-Ape, a tree-top climbing course. I have a gift certificate from my birthday last year to still enjoy.

Do karaoke. This scares my silly and I want to give it a go.

Find some dance-event like when I did the silent disco a few years ago with my friend from Germany.

Visit the winter lights at Kew Gardens at the end of this year. Need to book this now was it’s a very popular event and had to close early this winter due to lockdown.

Walk Hadrian’s Wall. It’s a former defensive fortification of the Roman province of Britannia, begun in AD 122, located in the north of England. It’s 90 miles long, which I’m doing remotely right now, walking that distance over the next 35 days, with the hope to do it in situ later in the year when travel is allowed.

The added benefit of this project is that I’m feeling excited doing the research and planning for the activities themselves. Any ideas you have for me to add to my list would be greatly appreciated, especially for fun things to do early in the year when restrictions will be in place. And if you want to join me for a fun event this year, please reach out and suggest something.

2021 will pass (if you’re lucky; the alternative is not pleasant) like every other year. What would make it fun, satisfying, enjoyable, connecting, exciting, joyful, loving, fulfilling, gratifying for YOU?

Book a COMPLIMENTARY coaching session with me here for support in setting a direction for yourself this year. What would make you more effective and fulfilled at work and/or life?

Photo by Vincent Gerbouin from Pexels

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.

Someone giving contrsuctive feedback to another person in an office setting.

How to Give Constructive Feedback to Empower People

Empowering people is possible with constructive feedback. Cringe is the first reaction of my leadership training participants and executive coaching clients to the notion of feedback. Often the response is “I’m not good at those difficult conversations.” Amazing how feedback is associated with discomfort and difficulty. It’s almost always assumed to be negative, a ‘big’ conversation, and telling someone something that they are doing wrong.

What is Constructive Feedback?

Constructive feedback is feedback that grows an individual either by reinforcing something positive they are doing or by pointing out areas of improvement. Historically it was negative feedback, something they did wrong. Now constructive or developmental feedback reinforces good behaviours or points out behavioural changes a person can make to be more effective, what they could do differently and how to do it differently.

Key Benefits of Effective Feedback

The benefits of giving feedback are almost too obvious to state – and they are the same whether the feedback is positive or negative/constructive.

  1. Your team feels valued and empowered because overall you give noticeably more positive feedback than negative/constructive (research says financially successful companies give positive feedback 5–6 times for every one piece of negative feedback given).
  2. Your co-workers learn what you expect and what success looks like because you point out the positives and illustrate what better looks like when you point out an improvement.
  3. You create a feedback culture in the organization thereby encouraging everyone to contribute to good/better performance.
  4. Colleagues learn to improve ineffective actions or feel you reinforce their existing positive behaviour thereby positively impacting the business.
  5. Company performance improves (see research referenced in #1 above).
  6. You are perceived as observant, engaged and a people-person (by your team and potentially peers and superiors) because you observe and treat your colleagues as individuals.
  7. Expressing concerns openly and honestly when they arise prevents bottling up of resentment and frustration which, if unsaid, could lead to stress, illness, an explosive tirade or damaged relationships

Steps to Giving Effective Feedback

There is a simple four-step model that many people recommend, and I will follow suit. It’s called the C.O.I.N. model¹ by Anna Carroll and can be used for giving both positive and negative/constructive feedback. It’s so simple, so please keep it simple, this is a great case of less words are more effective.

C is for context or circumstances, the when and where of the situation.
O is for what was observed, the action or behaviour exhibited.
I is for the impact it had, on you, the team, another individual, or the business.
N is for next steps, what you expect or encourage the recipient to do next with the feedback.

Examples of Good & Bad Constructive Feedback

Good: When I was walking around this afternoon (Context), I saw you leaning over your sales manager advising him that he could have been more structured when answering the customer’s questions in the customer meeting earlier (Observation). The impact on him could have been embarrassment and intimidation. And because you are a manager, others in the open-plan office might have felt uncomfortable and that you were being disrespectful (Impact). In the future please deliver constructive feedback eye-to-eye and ideally in your office. It’s better be on ‘the same level’ and to punish in private and praise in public (Next step). How would you feel after hearing this?

Good: In today’s project review meeting, I noticed when Marc expressed his concern over the launch timing you paused, nodded your head, asked a couple of open-ended questions and asked, “this sounds important to you, can we set up some separate time to discuss it?” When you listen to people, ask clarifying questions, acknowledge someone, even if junior to you – Marc feels more valued, the idea of raising concerns is encouraged thereby mitigating risks, and others in the meeting respect you even more. Keep up the good work. Thanks for role-modelling those skills to the attendees.

Bad: You hit your sales target last month which is great, well done, but you failed to get a new client meeting. Work on getting new client meetings. How would you feel hearing this?

Tips to Giving Effective Feedback

How you give the feedback is so important for the feedback to be perceived as genuine and constructive and for it to be received positively. You know what it feels like if someone gives you a beautifully wrapped, timely, perfect-for-your birthday present versus someone just tossing you a creased card a day late that they bought at the corner shop.

  • Give the feedback as close to the action/behaviour observed as possible.
  • Give positive and constructive feedback daily, don’t wait for performance reviews or “extreme situations that require attention”.
  • Give positive feedback in public if appropriate and the recipient likes that attention (or at least can tolerate the attention).
  • Give constructive feedback in private to avoid being perceived as critical or causing embarrassment or shame (there’s a common expression: praise in public, punish in private).
  • Speak slowly and clearly, being as specific as possible. Pause slightly after saying the observation and impact and then stop talking after stating the next step.
  • Use the minimum number of words possible. More detracts from the clarity of the message.
  • Check for comprehension, that they understand what you said. Ask them “what clarification can I provide?” or “what would you like me to repeat to ensure I’ve been clear?” or “what’s your understanding of what I said?”
  • Look them in the eye (softly, not laser-like) and smile (just look pleasant, not a creepy smiley-face).
  • Be patient with yourself and the recipient.
  • Have the intention of being of service to that person, of giving them a gift, of wanting them to grow and develop. Dare I say, have it come from your heart rather than just your head.
  • If it is difficult feedback, give the person some time and space to digest it. Say “I sense you might need time to process/digest/think about what I said. Let’s meet tomorrow to talk about it again.”
  • Remember, just as you are free to give feedback, so the person to whom you are giving it is free to listen (or not), adopt, adapt or reject what you have said.

What feedback have you received that would be beneficial to work through?

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore how you could be better at giving feedback or actioning feedback you’ve received.

¹ COIN Model Executive coach and author Anna Carroll, MSSW “The Feedback Imperative: How to Give Feedback to Speed Up Your Team’s Success. 2003

Leadership Affects Behaviour and Culture – A Note to Boris

This statement that leadership affects behaviour and culture might seem basic or obvious. It is and it is hard to do well as we’ve seen earlier this week in the UK with Boris Johnson’s address to the public on the next phase of coronavirus lockdown. I’m not doing to get into the politics and media analysis rather I’ll stay focused on the leadership behaviours.

What is Leadership?

Leadership, by definition, is about directing or guiding people towards a vision, behaviour or decision to achieve a desired end goal. It’s about influencing others in a way that empowers them and makes them feel good, not through force or coercion. It’s about taking people from where they are now to a different place, one they might not have imagined or been to before.

Some executive coaching clients I work with ask “isn’t this manipulation?” The Oxford English Dictionary defines manipulate as: “handle or control (a tool, mechanism, information, etc.) in a skilful manner. Control or influence (a person or situation) cleverly or unscrupulously.” So, yes, it is manipulation. And, so what? If you get what you want while being yourself AND the other person gets what they want, is treated well, and is bought into it with full permission to say ‘yes’ and ‘no’, what does it matter? The word manipulation often has bad connotations as unscrupulous indicates above. The issue is the intention behind the interaction; if it’s to influence for good reasons (like saving lives, protecting the NHS), then OK; if it’s to influence for unscrupulous, evil, bad reasons, then it’s not.

Politicians are leaders, albeit some better than others; they do influence the behaviour of their people and create a culture or climate for the population.

The Two Levers of Leadership

Leaders have essentially two levers to use when communicating and interacting with their people to affect behaviour and hence results. The first is THE WHAT, what they say, the message, what needs to be done or the task at hand. The second is THE HOW, how they say it, how do they interact with the person or people to get the work done, ideally to build the relationship (or at least maintain the relationship).

Unfortunately, the latest polls indicate that Boris Johnson does not have the majority of people following him. In my opinion people are split about the latest changes because he did neither the WHAT or HOW well. And certainly, people are confused about what they should be doing,

The What – The Behaviour

The key for any leader is to be clear about what GOOD looks like, what behaviours, tasks or actions are necessary for the job to be done well and in keeping with the organization’s values. Boris failed on describing the behaviours that are acceptable now given where the country is with the pandemic.

When working with clients they say I want my team member to show more leadership. “Great. What does that mean?” What would you be seeing and hearing differently than what they are doing now? The specificity is needed as peoples’ versions of what’s acceptable differ. Many leadership trainers say the hardest part of running any workshop is the instructions – you need to be so clear as to how to do an exercise so that a group of individuals hear and understand the same thing. For the most part the UK population understood what STAY HOME meant. The feedback says the majority of people don’t understand what STAY ALERT means. What are the behaviours we’d be seeing if we were STAYING ALERT? “Go to work if you can’t do it at home but try and avoid using public transport.” So, people went to work Monday morning and for those that only had public transport as an option used it resulting in NO social distancing on the tubes in London at morning rush hour. When trade-offs need to be made, be clear which is the highest priority especially when they are about public health. Words like BUT and TRY are not helpful when directing people.

Some key behaviours to define the WHAT are:

  • Dictating the methodology of how to do it, directing
  • Defining accountability
  • Monitoring progress
  • Setting KPIs (key performance indicators), goals, objectives, targets
  • Having timelines/deadlines
  • Evaluating, analysing
  • Making decisions
  • Following up, control
  • Identifying road blocks and barriers
  • Delegating
  • Reporting status, updates, facts
  • Managing risk
  • Measuring, allocating
  • Taking corrective action

The key is to be as specific as necessary to achieve the outcome. And if you show a chart or graph, please label the axes and explain what it says.

The How – The Culture

Otherwise known as relationship-building behaviours, these also build trust which leaders and politicians need. It’s the followers that make a leader a leader, not the title. Boris talked about having consulted with a variety of people prior to this announcement and then swiftly thereafter the leaders in the other UK countries and political parties voiced their disagreement. It’s one thing to talk to others, it’s another thing to get them onside and moving in the same direction.

Leaders can use these skills to manage people well and build the relationship with them hence creating the culture you want in the organization (or country):

  • Trying to understand
  • Being interested
  • Having empathy
  • Collaborating
  • Looking after people
  • Giving and taking feedback
  • Celebrating success, appreciating
  • Learning from mistakes
  • Coaching
  • Sharing the purpose, the why
  • Listening, really listening
  • Inspiring, engaging
  • Creating and communicating vision
    • Joking, laughing, humour when appropriate
    • Showing yourself, being vulnerable
    • Talking about feelings and emotions
    • Being present, taking time with people
    • Supporting and defending people, having their back
    • Including others
    • Sensing, guiding, trusting in others
    • Empowering

Now What?

Leaders don’t always get it right. They make mistakes. The key is how they recover. When course correction is needed leaders should do the analysis to define the corrective action, the WHAT, and then use the HOW to get people on board again and moving in the better direction.

My suggestion to Boris would be to acknowledge the feedback, admit he got it wrong or at least that there is disagreement, talk about the anger and confusion, talk to the other leaders to ask what would it take to get them onside, and if getting them to agree is not possible clearly articulate who should be going back to work, how they should do that and then give them the parameters to do that, explain why there are differences, take questions to listen to the concerns of the public, provide details of how each element like testing and tracking intersects with specific timelines and figures. Visibility and communication are important in a crisis and when there’s confusion so recover in order to move forward.

More on this topic in Principle 7 in my book, Soft Skills Hard Results. I’ve volunteered to coach NHS staff given what they are facing on the front lines. I never thought to volunteer my services to Boris Johnson?

A Developmental Activity To Learn During Quarantine

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

The Activity to Learn

Personal and Professional Identity Narrative

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

2 Simple Steps for the PPIN Activity

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

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

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

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

Dynamic Learning About Yourself Now

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

Reflect on what you’ve written:

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

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

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

How to Cope with the Weight of Responsibility in a Crisis

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

Your Responsibility

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

Tips to Cope with the Responsibility

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

Support Systems You Should Tap Into

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

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