Failure

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Face the sun

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Creds to my friends at Inspired Lives for spotting this one – they never fail to help me choose to face the light x

Leading by Attraction

Sell your vision, not your soul. How leaders can use the power of attraction at work

For clients who want or need to really improve their leadership game, I sometimes work with the approach of two main groups of leadership styles. This is a great way of introducing people to the idea that there is actually more than one way of doing things. You’ll want to have this flexibility in the way that you lead people because it offers so much possibility.

Think of it this way – which of these approaches describes your typical way of leading others?

  1. Are you typically behind people, exhorting, encouraging or even pushing them to do stuff? Or
  2. Are you typically in front of people, enticing, attracting or even pulling them to where they need to be?

Both of these approaches are useful at times. The kind of positional authority that comes with being the boss might tend to make some leaders adopt the first way – the ‘push’ approach to leadership – slightly too much. I want to balance that by exploring one aspect of the other style – the pull style of leadership. In particular, I want to look at the ways you can entice and attract people forwards.

This is the important question to consider about your own leadership – can you attract and entice people into putting their efforts towards a common goal?

When you can do this, as well as ‘push’ people towards things, it just seems to make your working life a little bit sweeter and a little bit easier. The pull approach to leadership can be a welcome change from the ‘selling your soul’ effort of feeling that you always need to be pushing things along!

I’ve just sketched out a few notes here; things to explore and experiment with yourself if you want to try broadening your range of leadership styles in this way.


You want to get a sense that you’re drawing people into a brighter future of some kind. Somewhere either where the current problems that you’re working on together have been solved, or where you’ve created something important together.


You can learn a lot about the ‘pull’ method from great salespeople. The ones who do this well, are the opposite to what you’d describe as a ‘pushy’ salesperson. Here are some of the things to explore that you can learn from really good salespeople:

First, they’ve got the credibility – a track record of doing what they said they would do, of keeping their promises. Leaders might refer to this as walking their talk.

Second, they’ve got a picture of the future – a description of how things will be once that problem has been solved or that achievement has been created. Leaders might call this a vision. Great leaders are really clear about what the core of their vision is, the part that absolutely must happen. Everything else, including the part about exactly how you will get there, is secondary.

Third, they’ve got a way of letting people hear their message. For a salesperson, this is about how they do their promotion, and there are lots of possible channels. For leaders, just what that method is doesn’t really matter, so long as there is a way for people to find out about your vision. Write about it, vlog about it, tour your business, chat about it over coffee whenever possible, put it on a t-shirt, have it tattooed on your forehead – just get the message out.

Those three areas are good places to start your exploration if you’d like to do more enticing and attracting – to be more like a great salesperson in your leadership. And they are really a start; if you were a salesperson, you could think of those three as being like the stuff that would get you in the door. Once you’re in the door, then the real work can start…

Go back to that ‘push’ approach of leadership for a second, just because the contrast will help us to understand the ‘pull’ approach more. A really good push approach to leading others is about making it uncomfortable not to do what is needed. In my jargon, you’ve trying to:

‘Deepen the pain of staying unchanged’

so that other people find it easier to do what you need than to not do it.

And this ‘deepen the pain’ approach is also something that good salespeople do. It’s often the thing that closes a deal, where they’ll ask something like “What will happen if you don’t do something about Problem X?”

In contrast, when you’re doing a ‘pull’ leadership approach, you’re trying to:

‘Feed the desire to reach even higher’

so that other people will be drawn to do what you need them to do, because they want to.

There are three more interesting areas to consider then, if you’d like to get into this pull approach. They’re about using your Vision of the future to appeal to some of the unconscious ways that people respond to their experiences: Logically, Emotionally via their Senses and through Relationships with others.

Logically

Can you set out the Logic of how your Vision makes sense as something that people would naturally want to do? Does it have diagrams and pictures to appeal to people who process logic visually? Can you tell the story of it, so that people who think in words can get on board? Can you do the numbers – do the figures really stack-up, so that people who think in abstract terms will be attracted by it?

Emotionally and Sensually

As my teenager might put it, can you share the ‘feels’?

My coaching friend Andy Denne describes this approach as selling a peach. You can talk about the great smell of a ripe peach, or its sweet juicy taste, or its lovely bright colour. You can even hand out samples, so people can experience for themselves what it’s like to eat a peach. I’m trying to sell you the idea of using metaphor to entice people into your vision. What will it be like for people to put their efforts towards your common goal – what will the sights, sounds and experiences be like?

Relationship

Can you ‘sell’ your vision by building Relationship with the people around you? How well do you know them and what’s important to them? What keeps them awake at night? What do they long for? Can you listen more than you talk, so that you learn and understand people better? Relationships are the platform from which you can adapt, improvise and overcome on the way towards achieving your vision.

“If you want people to build a ship, don’t just drum up people to collect wood, and don’t just assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the sea.”
Antoine de St Exupery


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Getting input and buy-in to key decisions and changes

Seven things your team needs to hear you say if you really want their input and buy-in to decisions and changes

If you’re a good leader and you’ve got an important decision or change coming-up and you want to get people’s buy-in and make sure that all the angles are considered, you’ll ask people what they think about it.

But are you aware that there are some really strong reasons why people can’t or won’t actually tell you what they think and how they feel about a forthcoming change or decision?

Here are seven of the most significant reasons why people can’t or won’t say what they think. And what they need to hear from you as their leader to help:

1. They’re a natural introvert
And you’ve maybe asked them to participate in an open forum of some kind. If you want to get the best input from this person and have them get on-board with the decision, you’ll need to offer them the chance to give you feedback privately, or even in writing.

2. They’re a creative soul, or somebody who likes to tinker with stuff.
They may not know what they think about something until they’ve had a chance to play with it, maybe even ‘touch’ it in some way. Don’t ask these people abstract questions about a possible unknown future. Give them something concrete to play around with or experiment on – and then get their feedback and buy-in.

3. Their preferred communication ‘channel’ may not be the same as yours. You’ve probably heard about this stuff before – people need to either visually See a product or an idea, or they need to Hear an oral presentation, or they need to Do something (see 2, above), or they need to Read something. Make sure you either cover all the bases or, ideally, match your channels to the individuals concerned. Also, try to ‘hear’ what’s being communicated back to you, no matter which channel is being used.

4. They might be someone who operates an extreme ‘away-from’ motivation.
Away-from people find it easier to express negatives, or to foresee problems. Sometimes it’s hard to get these people to tell you what they want or what they prefer, so you need to be prepared to listen carefully to what they don’t want – which for those people is more important. Expressing doubts and concerns is possibly their way of getting on-board with you, so don’t dismiss or worry about that – just make sure you’re telling them that’s OK and that you’re hearing them.

5. They’re someone who’s got great instincts but lacks the ability to express them in a formal setting. I like working with instinct. I think of it as the sum of millions and millions of unconscious data points combined with years of deep experience. We ignore people’s instincts at our peril. But we’re also in a data-driven environment, managing our KPIs and making sure our decisions are supported by evidence. At times, it can be hard to stick your hand up in a board meeting and say that your gut is trying to tell you something vague. Good leaders make sure that people’s instincts are also heard. Tell your team you want to hear about their gut feelings. Coach them on how to express this kind of thing.

6. They’re ‘processors’.
That is, they prefer to mull something over and think about it before expressing an opinion, or even before they understand it or know what they feel about it. These people need time and space to process and they need to hear from their leader that it’s OK, even valuable, to take time to think about stuff.

7. I’ve saved the hardest one for last. People generally operate a set of ‘criteria’ that they use to test whether any decision or change is good, bad or something else. The trouble for leaders is that these criteria are mostly unconscious – people don’t know they’re doing this kind of testing. What you see instead – and what they feel – is the result of that unconscious testing expressed as an emotion of some kind.
There is one easy way to deal with this stuff, and that’s to make sure that your decision-making and change-feedback processes all include some specific work on just what those criteria might be – but it takes time. If I’m facilitating group decision-making or getting input to a change-management programme, I’ll do two things. First, make the criteria by which the business will judge the decision or change as explicit as possible (stuff like profit, timescales, quality etc will come in here). Second, I’ll ask people to evaluate it for themselves using a whole load of other potential criteria which are much more personal to them (will it affect their status, quality of life, prospects etc), and to do this privately. Only when they’ve consciously been through these things can you be sure you’ll get some buy-in and have considered all the issues.


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Leadership Quickies

Four leadership mistakes you probably don’t even know you’re making

1. Not giving one-to-one attention to each of your team members
Leaders should act as a mentor or coach and listen to each person’s concerns, needs and ambitions, giving empathy and support, keeping communications open and setting challenges. This fulfills a deep need for respect and celebrates the individual contribution that people can make to the team. You’ll very quickly lose the right people and bring out the worst in the wrong people if you don’t do this.

2. Being safe and boring
A steady pace is all very well, but people and organisations sometimes need a leader to challenge assumptions, take risks and ask other people for their ideas. This helps stimulate creativity and develop independent thinking. When times become hard, you’ll wish you’d fixed this particular roof when the sun was shining.

3. Not having a Vision
Being able to talk about an inspiring and attractive view of the future position of your team, department or organisation is perhaps the key factor that sets great leaders apart. It isn’t difficult and it doesn’t have to be grand or world-changing (unless it is); but you do need to do it.

4. Forgetting that You’re a 24/7 Role-model
I get that it’s a tough thing to be an always-on role-model. Everybody looking to what you say and do, all the time. It is wearing. And it also just comes with the territory. People will adopt their way of doing things from watching you. Please remember that you need to be a role model for the right behavior, so that this instills pride and gains respect and trust. You don’t need to always be perfect – that isn’t possible for anyone – but you do need to visibly put it right when you haven’t been.


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Persist and Prevail

How to tell if you’ll rise to a challenge – and three simple ways to do so

I’m a big fan of that old saying: “Get knocked down seven times, stand-up eight.” For me, that’s what resilience is mostly about; just the sheer bloody-mindedness to choose not to lie there, but to get up again.


But there’s another kind of persistence isn’t there? The kind where you’re rolling along smoothly, and you’ve not been knocked down, but yet another challenge appears in front of you. Something else that you could choose to rise to.


It’s a bit like when you’re out hiking somewhere with a lot of false peaks. You think you’re nearing the top and that the upwards part of the walk will be over when you crest the next brow you can see in front of you. But when you get there, that new perspective shows you that there’s still more peaks to come. And again, there’s likely to be some new climbs that you can’t even see yet.

I’ve had the good fortune to spend some time around some very pragmatic people just recently and I love how these folks respond to those unexpected challenges. Mostly it seems with a little sigh, some rubbing of the hands and rolling-up of the sleeves and a re-application of the shoulder to the wheel.


You can explore how anybody is likely to respond in those kind of situations, by asking them how they dealt with specific previous stressful experiences.

Describe a situation (at work, or elsewhere) that gave you trouble?
(Pick a specific example, don’t generalise). When that situation first materialised:

  1. What did you notice about your emotional response?
  2. How ‘deep’ into your emotions did you go?
  3. And how long did that last?
  4. Then what happened?

What you might want to be looking for is how someone deals with the emotional ‘whack’ that comes from facing yet another challenge. Can they process those emotions fairly quickly, put them into the bigger perspective of what’s really important to them and then move on, again fairly quickly?

Coaches sometimes use the term:
Going into and coming out of their emotions
to describe this trait.

What’s less useful (in terms of dealing with challenges) is having someone who stays in the emotional stage, so that their ability to act is impaired. That’s a useful trait at other times (lots of creative people do this well, so that they can draw on the power of the emotions in their work), but it isn’t necessarily what you want for getting into action when the next challenge appears.

A small proportion of people don’t go into their emotions at all during times of (to them) normal stress levels. Those people stay calm and cool throughout, but may struggle to express their empathy for others. If they are also someone who experiences but doesn’t process those emotions and instead boxes them up in some way, that could come back and bite you later when you’re least expecting it.

If you want to train yourself to be able to choose whether to go into and come out of emotions, so that you can better respond to challenges, three practical things seem really helpful:

1. Controlling your breathing. Long, deep in-breaths, held for a while and then exhaled slowly will activate your parasympathetic nervous system which is the opposite to the fight/flight system.

2. Preparation, in particular being consciously familiar with your bigger-picture goals and priorities. The more you know about where you want to go long-term, the less likely one more false-peak is to discourage you from continuing your journey.

3. Modelling. Who do you know who’s a bit like those pragmatic, sleeve-rolling-up, shoulder-to-the-wheel people I’ve been hanging around with lately? How would that person react when yet another challenge appears? What’s important to them, when that happens?

Challenges are what make life interesting and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful. –Joshua J. Marine

 


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No-one rises to low expectations

Six little-known leadership tips to raise your people’s performance

I love this saying, because it’s so true. “No-one rises to low expectations.
The standard you set becomes the standard you can expect. Whatever you regard as normal around here becomes the ‘norm’ – the benchmark for people’s behaviours and the outcomes they strive to achieve.

In my experience, people want their leaders to ask for more than this. Otherwise, what’s the point in having a leader at all!

Don’t you feel like this too? Like you want your leaders to see the best in you, even when you yourself don’t? That you want them to inspire you to go beyond the point you’ve always settled for previously, and help you to find out what you’re really capable of?

But some of the best leaders I know can come unstuck when it comes to asking people to rise and be better. Two of the biggest problems I see again and again are these:

  • A pace-setting leader, who sets very high standards for themselves, can come unstuck when faced with someone who doesn’t hold themselves to a high standard, or who doesn’t feel confident about being able to keep up with that leader. Those leaders don’t always know how to help someone bridge that gap.
  • A strong, person-centred leader, someone who is highly-resilient themselves and who knows how to take care of the people around them, can be afraid of ‘breaking’ people. Instead, they try to protect them, to shield them from all the tough stuff that they themselves have to deal with.

Here’s my top tips for setting high expectations in a really effective way:

1. Be exemplary yourself
Not just in the outputs you achieve, or the pace of your work, but in your leadership style, your emotional intelligence and your own behaviours too.

As Socrates said: “Know thyself, Control thyself, Give thyself.”

2. Build your understanding of others
Different folks need different strokes.
Learn what makes the individuals in your care tick. Learn their fears, learn their ambitions. Modify your approach to suit their needs.

3. Relationships, Relationships, Relationships
Relationships are the oil in the engine, the glue that binds a team together (and any number of other mixed metaphors). Build relationships. That means a two-way flow of attention, care and trust. You can set high expectations for people without having a great relationship. And it’ll work for a while (especially if they’re afraid enough and if the task is simple enough). But in the long-run, great relationships are a must-have for getting people to raise their game.

4. Show people it’s OK to fail
So long as you manage the risks and learn from the outcomes.
I often quote Batman to leaders who are worried about people failing. Of falling down and hurting themselves.

“Why do we fall down Bruce?
So we can learn to get up.”
Thomas Wayne, Batman’s father

If you never ask someone to risk falling, they’ll never learn to rise up.

5. Ask for what you need
Sometimes we forget the simple stage of asking. And then we get annoyed that people can’t mind-read. Ask people to raise their game. Tell them what you need from them.

6. Coach the Learning
I don’t know about you, but I’m not a big fan of ‘feedback’. “Oh, I’ve got some feedback for you.” Go away, I know what went wrong. What I need, is someone who cares enough to coach the learning out of me. “What did you notice while that was happening?” “What else did you need?” “What would you do differently next time?”

 


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Leadership by Enablement

The four R’s of leading by enabling others: resources, reputation, resilience and range

I’m a big fan of leaders who make it their primary purpose to help other people get stuff done.

Download your copy of the image above (click and then right-click to save it) to see the big four R’s of leading by enabling others, together with some of my suggestions for how you might actually set about doing that.


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We’ll Deal With it

What should leaders do in times of trouble?

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Snowplough Leadership and Volunteers

A few ideas to kick around if you lead volunteers, or just want to play with Snowplough Leadership

I’ve recently taken a step-up in an organisation I volunteer with, so that I’m now leading other volunteers and we had a great time at the weekend, introducing some much-needed new people to the programme. It’s also mid-winter here now and is snowing heavily and I’m a little concerned about the journey my first coaching client is making to get here today. What a great time then, to have a brief rethink about one of my favourite leadership concepts – Snowplough Leadership – and how that might relate to leading volunteers.

Snowplough leadership is the simple idea that, as a leader, your main job is to:

  1. Shovel stuff out of the way of your team, so that they can get on and do what they need to do; and
  2. Make sure they’ve got enough grip on the road to move safely and swiftly to where they need to get to.

When it comes to leading volunteers, my experience is that these simple leadership functions become even more important. Time, motivation, skills and experience become even more of a juggling act when you’re working with people who are there entirely because they choose to be. It’s a real gift to receive the effort and attention of people in this way, something I’ve always felt quite humbled by and would always want to be deeply respectful of.

Here’s a few ideas to be kicking around, if you’re in a leadership position involving volunteers, or just want to play with the idea of Snowplough Leadership a bit more. One caveat – even though I’ve done this kind of thing a fair bit myself, and coached others to do so, I notice that I’m a long way from feeling like I know all the answers. So take these more as things to explore, than some kind of definitive guide:

1. Do your volunteers have a clear line-of-sight through to what you need them to be doing? Have you metaphorically cleared enough of the snow (confusion, unfamiliarity, etc) out of the way, so that they can completely ‘see’ the destination?

2. What are you doing to get rid of the obstructions in their way? If your volunteering is anything like mine, you’ll be working with limited resources and very limited time. What do you need to take care of, so that your volunteers can just push on without getting stopped?

3. How slippery is the surface you’re asking them to work on? Are they equipped to move forwards? Can you see which individuals are accelerating too fast, and might come unstuck at the first corner? Which of your volunteers have their wheels spinning and might need a push to get going in the right direction?

4. And how about you? When you’re in a volunteer leadership position, it’s (relatively) easy to ask for help with simple tasks; much less easy to ask for help with things that you don’t know the answer to, that you’re not clear about. It can also be a bit of a thankless job and you may even face some hostility when you get things wrong; issues that people in a ‘normal’ working environment would have been less forthright about. It’s maybe a good idea to ask for help for you personally, whenever you can, as well as for the cause you’re working towards.

5. What else? What else is different about leading volunteers? Is there another important leadership function that this snowplough metaphor doesn’t really capture? In your experience, when does snowplough leadership fail, and why?


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