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Resourcefulness

Eight steps to being a powerfully Resourceful leader

Can you meet whatever situation life and work sends you – and show others how to do the same? Resourceful people can. Resourceful people have the initiative to grasp opportunities and the ingenuity to overcome their challenges. They can make powerful decisions and help their teams and colleagues to do so too.

We have a principle in the kind of coaching I do which is about regarding everybody as resourceful.

This is such an important thing that it’s maybe one of the first points I look for when I’m working with a new client. I ask myself:

How does this person regard themselves and the people who work for them? Do they think of themselves as someone who is able to meet whatever situation arises, and who is ingenious enough to devise ways and means to overcome problems? And do they think the same of their team and their colleagues too?

Perhaps one of the main reasons why regarding yourself and others as ‘resourceful’ is so important, is because the alternative is really awful. The alternative to regarding people as resourceful, is to see yourself and others as somehow fragile and dependent.

Now, it’s true that if you bend anyone hard enough and fast enough then they might break. But that is in no way the same as being ‘fragile’. And what’s more, breaks can be mended. And it’s also true that we are all, in some way, dependent on the people around us – like the poem says, “No man is an island” – but having those kind of human links, having dependencies, is not the same as being dependent, as being unable to function at all without others.


One of the loudest complaints I hear from poor leaders is that their people: “… aren’t resourceful enough”. They wonder why nobody works as hard as them or why their team: “… don’t show more initiative”. The years have taught me that this is a 90% certain sign that this leader doesn’t regard other people as resourceful. And usually, when I get the chance to dig a little more with this kind of leader, we find out pretty quickly that they don’t really feel resourceful themselves either!


All of us have times when we lose sight of our resourcefulness. Perhaps we’ve been stretched too far out of our comfort zones too fast or for too long. Or perhaps we’ve gradually had things pile up on top of us to the point where it’s difficult to remember just what we’re capable of.

It’s taken me a long time and lots of getting it wrong along the way to discover just how important this idea of resourceful actually is. Think of it like this. If it was possible to choose between two alternative points of view, which of these do you feel is likely to be most useful?

  1. In general, me and/or the people around me are easily broken and incapable of overcoming problems
  2. In general, me and/or the people around me are capable of meeting whatever situation arises and are skilled at solving problems.

If you could choose – which of those viewpoints would you have?

Us coaches tend to be very practical people, so we look for what works. And over the years I’ve tried a lot of things that don’t work! Now I’m pretty certain that the best leadership approach is to regard myself and others as fully resourceful.

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The principle in my coaching work is that everybody has a natural ability to resolve the challenges they face and to grasp the opportunities around them.

When we forget that, or when I want to help others reconnect with their own innate resourcefulness, here are the eight steps that I follow:

1. Understand what Resourceful means

Two things are important to grasp in whatever your own or other people’s definition of Resourceful is:

First, that the word itself comes from the Latin ‘Resurgere’ – which means “to rise again”. Right there in the word is an important clue. Being Resourceful does not mean never falling, it’s about getting up again when you do.

Second, being Resourceful is a ‘capability’, something which can and should be developed, learnt and practised.

2. Start looking for Evidence of it

I think we’re predisposed to actually look for evidence of where ourselves and others are not Resourceful. Maybe this is even more prevalent at work. Perhaps it’s because the consequences of not being Resourceful can be (or seem to be) dangerous; and that we need to compensate for them. I’m not bothered by that, it seems a natural thing to want to do. But if we want to experience more occasions of ourselves and others being Resourceful, then we’ve got to start looking for evidence of when it IS happening.

To start looking for that evidence, answer this question:

What would you see, hear, feel or otherwise notice that would let you know when you’re being Resourceful?

3. Figure out what Thought-Patterns are useful to you

Once you know what Resourceful means for you or for others, and you know what evidence would let you see it was happening, two significant thought-patterns are worth exploring further. You can dive into them by answering these questions:

  1. What enables me to be Resourceful?
  2. What is necessary first, in order for me to be Resourceful?
  3. When I am Resourceful, what does it lead to or make possible?
  4. Why is being Resourceful important?

Your answers to those questions are the cornerstones of what some people would call an ‘empowering belief’ (kind of the opposite of a ‘limiting belief’). They’re at the heart of what might motivate you to be Resourceful, and they’re the primary clues to changing your behaviour if you want to be more Resourceful. So spend as much time exploring them as you can!

4. Become consciously aware of your fears

The stuff that we’re (usually unconsciously) afraid of is what most often derails our chance to be Resourceful. Being afraid of getting something wrong stops us from trying. Being afraid of looking stupid stops us from taking a risk. It’s hard to be Resourceful when your unconscious mind is afraid of what might happen if you try!

Other common fears include being afraid of getting hurt, of missing out, of failing, of letting people down, of not being good enough. There’s a lot! I’ve written about this stuff before, so feel free to browse around here. Once you stop and ask yourself honestly, what am I afraid of, or worrying about or being anxious of, it becomes much easier to see what’s going on. Don’t try to get rid of these fears – they serve their purpose – just get to the point where you’re conscious of them, and then…

5. Actively Make Choices

Making choices, intentionally and consciously, is a very powerful (and resourceful) thing to do. Otherwise we let habit, fear and expedience run the whole show.

You can use a structure like this, if you want to help yourself or others to make powerful choices:

  1. In order to be Resourceful, what three things do I choose to say “No” to?
    In particular, what do I choose to say No to being, to say No to doing and to say No to believing?
  2. In order to be Resourceful, what three things do I choose to say “Yes” to?
    In particular, what do I choose to say Yes to being, to say Yes to doing and to say Yes to believing?

6. (Re)Discover what Resourceful feels like in your body

Remember that there’s a dynamic aspect to being Resourceful. It isn’t just a static thing, it’s about rising again when we’ve fallen or when we’re stuck or when we’re faced with another fresh challenge.

What does each part of that dynamic process feel like in your body? What do your muscles feel like? What’s the temperature of it? What feelings do you notice in your gut, in your face, elsewhere in your body? When you get to the most Resourceful part, what does that feel like? And where in your body is the centre of your own version of Resourceful?

Daft as it may sound, getting to know what your own experience of Resourceful is like in this way can be a really helpful and grounding approach.

7. Connect with others

Don’t do all of this stuff on your own. I’m a very independent person and I respect other people who like to do things by their own efforts too and I know that it really helps to be wise enough to share some of it. You can learn from, lean on and bounce stuff around with other people in a way that just isn’t possible by yourself.

8. Experiment, Practice and Adjust

Finally, I said earlier that everybody has that natural ability to resolve the challenges they face. The best way to bring that out in yourself and in others is to experiment with it. Find opportunities to be Resourceful. Get curious about what that’s like. Practice doing it like your favourite sports person would practice their skills. When you notice something isn’t working, adjust part of it, and practice some more.

Please use the click to tweet button below to let people know what your own version of Resourceful is like, and why (or if) it’s important in your work and life?
(Click it and then edit your text)

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Managing or Leading?

Trying to be a great leader without also being a great manager is like an army with loads of generals but no sergeants

Today there’s a lot of emphasis put on being a good leader in organisations of all shapes and sizes. This is only right; leadership is one of the things that can make the difference between a business or an organisation being just OK and being great.

What I think leadership can’t do on it’s own, is to take a business from being new or poor to being OK. Or to sustain greatness once it’s been reached. To do those things, you also need great management.

I sometimes see individuals and organisations making the mistake of thinking that leaders and managers are different people. Maybe it’s an ego thing? Or something sensible to do (at least on an individual, short-run level) because maybe ‘leaders’ are considered more important than or get paid more than managers?


Whatever the reason, I reckon that a better way to think of it is as the way that people in your organisation spend their attention.


Way back in the early twentieth century, industrialist Henry Fayol wrote that all managers perform five functions: Planning, Organising, Commanding, Coordinating and Controlling. These days people still use Fayol’s definition of Management, but tend to shorten it to:

  • Planning
  • Organising
  • Leading
  • Controlling.

Right there we can see that the very definition of management actually includes leading – that is, leadership is a subset of managing and not a replacement for it.

Think of it this way – and I’ve tried to show this in the graph at the top of this article:

As you get more and more senior in your organisation the focus of your attention should shift away from the “Stuff” that’s involved in doing the Planning, Organising and Controlling that Fayol described. Now you need to give more of your attention to People. And that’s where your skills as a great leader come in.

You have to do this. A lot of my coaching work is about helping people to make this transition, to shift their focus away from managing the stuff and towards inspiring and empowering people.

If this isn’t done, if senior people don’t make this shift, it’s very hard for individuals, teams and whole businesses to rise above ‘OK’. This is why, when you ask someone how they’re doing, and they’re doing alright but not brilliant, they’ll reply: “It’s OK, I’m managing.”


However, this doesn’t mean that you do no management at all as you get more senior.

In fact, I’d argue that the smaller amount of your time and attention that remains available for managing means that you need to be really, really efficient and effective at it.

Your Planning and Organising needs to be spot-on AND to include other people, so that they can contribute to and buy into it. Your ability to Control (monitor, feedback and adjust) has to be light-touch, well-connected to the overall purpose of the business AND flexible and robust enough to adapt to external conditions.

As you make that essential shift and give more of your attention to leading through others, don’t forget how to still be a great manager too.

The sergeant is the army
Dwight Eisenhower


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Overcoming Obstacles

There’s no obstacle that can’t be overcome – the second most important thing that any leader should believe

(click the image above and then right-click it to save or download your copy.)

If you’d like to feel more able to overcome obstacles, and have more confidence that you can tackle anything that life and work throws at you, try working through these easy questions in the order given:

What do you personally mean by “overcoming obstacles”?

What would you see, hear or feel that lets you know you are overcoming obstacles?

When you are overcoming obstacles, what is important to you?
(and write that answer down – I’m going to refer to it as X in the next few questions)

Then answer either both of or whichever of these questions make the most sense:

What enables someone to have X?  Or…
What is necessary for there to be X?

And then answer either both of or whichever of these questions make the most sense:

Why is X important?  Or…
What does X lead to or make possible?

Write down as much of your answers as you can and keep coming back to them to get a deeper feel for what’s important to you around overcoming obstacles.
If you can, explore these questions with other people too.

It’s a great group exercise too, so if you want to lead a session with your team, have them work through those questions in pairs.

Think back to previous times when you’ve overcome something difficult. How many of the factors I’ve asked about in the questions above were present at that time? What else have you learnt from previous experiences when you overcame obstacles? Also, what might you need to Unlearn?

There’s even more you can do to embed these beliefs and empower yourself, including some of the less transformational but more practical things like, what do I actually need to DO. Have an experiment yourself and go overcome stuff!


I said in the heading that this is only the second most important thing that any leader should believe. That’s because you can’t get anything worthwhile done without overcoming obstacles, BUT even a cast-iron belief in doing so only gets you so far. It’s like repaying a debt. Okay, you clear what’s owed, but having overcome that obstacle, now you’re just back at zero. At square one.

As well as believing they can overcome obstacles, great leaders also believe that they are doing something worthwhile, something that makes a difference. Having overcome obstacles, that belief in making a difference of some kind gets you beyond zero and into plus territory. And that’s where the cool stuff is.


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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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Self-Awareness – A Primer

Self-Awareness is the best start for leadership development. But how do you get that? What should you look for; and how?

The ancient Greeks had the phrase “Know thyself” chiselled on the doorway to the temple of Apollo at Delphi. Real knowledge, insight and understanding about important events and people in the world around them wasn’t possible they reckoned, without first having the foundation of self-knowledge.

If that’s still true today, how do you actually go about getting self-awareness? What should you look for; and how do you do it?

I think there’s perhaps three or more important areas to consider and I’ve set out some of those below. These are often used as early as the second or third phase in my coaching approach, as they’re so fundamental to the development work we need to do after that.

This is a fairly long post for me, over 1,200 words, because I wanted to give you a rounded sense of where to be looking, what to be listening for and how it feels to be embarking, in a structured way, on this kind of self-knowledge work. What I’ve written here isn’t the only way to go about it, and even at over 1,200 words this is still only a very quick jog around the park. Anyway, I hope you find it helpful in some way.

1. Your Values

These are the things that, at the moment at least, are intrinsically important to you. They can or might change over time or in a different context. Some may be more important than others, and that also can be fluid but, most of the time, they’re fairly consistent. Here’s my own top 5 Values:

  1. Making a difference / Usefulness / Legacy
  2. Excellence / Strive to be the best / Learn-Apply
  3. Congruence / Authenticity / Be true to yourself
  4. Independence / Self-reliance / Go do it
  5. Balance / Harmony / Wholeness

Note that these are in ‘strings’ of words, separated by “/” because often one word by itself isn’t enough to capture everything about a particular value.

A simple way to start to uncover your own values would be to remember a time, at work or at home, when things felt like they were going great, or just right, or were especially poignant in some way. What were the circumstances of that time? What was going on around you, who was present, how did you feel?

The chances are that during that time several of your values were being quite strongly upheld. People can often begin to identify those values by reflecting on that time and getting curious about what made it so great for them.

2. Your Thought Patterns

This is about how your (mostly unconscious) mind filters out what is useful information and what isn’t and how it then represents that information, so that you can make sense of the world around you.

Since this process happens very fast and mostly unconsciously, one of the best ways to uncover your own patterns is by way of a kind of compare and contrast with other people. Look at the way they do things, and see how it compares with your own way.

Here are two examples of the kinds of things to consider:

  1. Are you motivated into action more by (a) the chance to achieve a goal; or (b) the need to solve or avoid a problem?
  2. Do you prefer (a) to have lots of choice and variety, creating different possibilities in the way you go about things, or (b) do you prefer to stick to a tried and tested process?

Another important pattern became obvious to me when I got a new Satnav. My old one used to show me a map of my whole route when it had finished plotting. Only after you’d seen that ‘big picture’ screen, did it let you start navigating. But my new satnav didn’t give you that overview. Once it’d plotted a route, it just went straight to “Turn left”. I really found it difficult to trust the new satnav and would often ask my wife to just check the ‘big picture’ of the route in our tatty old road atlas, which she hated doing. Turns out, I’ve got a strong preference for thinking in big picture terms and, until I’ve done that, it’s really hard for me to get into the detail, even though I’ve trained myself (I’m an ex-accountant!) to work with detail. And my wife is the opposite, she’s fascinated by the detail, so she hated being asked to check the big picture of the route.

Again, these factors are not immutable, they can change and be changed. It’s important to not ‘adopt’ them as fixed determinants and to not use them to pigeonhole yourself or others, or to excuse bad behaviour.

It’s possible, although I don’t think it’s often that necessary, to go through about 20 or so of those key patterns as part of the coaching process in in easy conversational way with me. I don’t often do that, because I’d rather people take responsibility for their own self-knowledge than have me or some anonymous psychometric test do it for them.

As well as the kind of thought patterns I’ve described here, you could also look at key aspects of personality, such as introversion or extraversion. The important thing is to just look, listen, feel and think your way a little more consciously than normal really. The psychologist Carl Jung said “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

3. Your Fears, Doubts and Limiting Beliefs

What holds you back? What doubts do you have about yourself, your abilities, the kind of person you are, the way others might see you?

What things are you so unconsciously afraid of, that you’ll automatically come out fighting, even when that isn’t the best way to do things?

In what way do you sell yourself short? Or sabotage your own efforts?

What unwritten rules have you made up about how you have to “be” (e.g. a favourite of mine: “I have to be strong”)?

What shame or hurt are you carrying around about past experiences that made you feel inadequate?

I love working with fears, doubts and limiting beliefs because I see them not as ‘bad’ things, but as really useful data about what’s important to people and about how they might really shine, if they want to.

If you’re ready now to start uncovering some of your own possible fears, doubts and limiting beliefs, try completing some of the sentences below. Do it fast and without too much conscious thought:

I’m often too …………………

I need to be more …………………

I can’t seem to …………………

I should stop (or start) …………………

I mustn’t keep …………………

I shouldn’t always …………………

I must be less …………………

Every time I try to do ………….…….,   ……………. happens

I want to …………………, but that’s just the way things are

I don’t deserve to …………………

I ought to …………………

If you find anything at all, start celebrating, because that just might be the bit of self-knowledge that opens all the other doors. And if completing the sentences didn’t uncover anything for you, just try going back to those questions I’ve posed at the start of section 3 above and become curious about how any of those might apply to you.


After working through those three key areas, the next level of self-knowledge is to get really clear about what’s even more important to you than your patterns of thinking and your doubts and fears and about how you might apply your values to your life and your work.


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Thanks

How to lead like a boss in five minutes

I’m just back from a weekend’s volunteering, leading one of my favourite activities. It’s a really energising and rewarding thing to be involved with and there’s a lot to get organised. What makes it work are the other people who volunteer their time, effort and experience, at the weekends and elsewhere.

Therefore, what’s the most important thing to do when you’re back? (apart from sleep for nearly 10 hours!)

Easy – thank the other volunteers!

If you’ve only got five minutes and you want to make a real impact in your leadership why not try this. Think of somebody whose spirits would be lifted by a simple thank you, write a card, by hand, and post it.

Don’t do it just because it works as a leadership technique (it does); do it because people deserve it.

Do keep a stock of cards in your top drawer for when you’ve got those five minutes. Just about every brilliant leader I know does this.

Don’t be put off by the fact that for everything people do right, there’s often something you wish they’d done differently. There are other techniques for dealing with those things.

Do be authentic. If your style is naturally reticent, then a simple “thanks for doing that job” is fine.

Don’t worry that people you haven’t thanked this week will in some way be aggrieved (they won’t); but do be mindful that teams and groups are usually sensitive to ‘fairness’. They want to hear “thank you” and they also want poor performance dealt with – regardless of who that’s directed at.

Do take a moment to notice what impact it has on yourself as you search for things to say thank you about and for people to say thank you to. There’s research to suggest that gratitude improves physical and mental health, facilitates relationships, strengthens self-esteem and increases resilience!

 


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Ring my Bell

If you want to inspire others, you’d better wake-up and hear what you need to hear

At this time of year I once took a trip to the Kurama-dera Mountain Temple, a day out from Kyoto, up on the shoulder of Mt Kurama. It was one of the best parts of that visit to Japan. You can either take the funicular railway up from the Kurama side, and hike down to the amazing village of Kibune, or do it the other way around. The whole place is quite a beautiful, inspiring experience.

I must have been ready for some deep discovery, because it felt like lots of things shifted for me that day. Here’s one of my highlights.

As I’m hiking up the mountainside, through alternate bright spring sunshine and then dark cool forest, I can hear this deep, booming noise. It sounds like someone is using explosives to mine away somewhere in the mountain.

I start to get very angry that they would do this in such a beautiful, natural environment. I’m on my way to the Buddhist temple at the top, and getting more and more annoyed at how complacent and supine the Buddhists must be to allow this. If you’ve been to Japan you’ll know how the cities can sometimes look, with cables strung everywhere and rough, raw concrete a popular building material. I was very ready to believe that the mountainside and temple would soon be the same.

Then I turn a corner out of the forest and approach the temple properly for the first time. There’s a huge bell hanging in a shrine. I mean, a really big thing. There aren’t too many people around, and they’re mostly Japanese people, and all of them are either waiting in line to ring the bell, or waiting for their companions to do the same. Then I realise for the first time that I’m looking at the source of the booming explosions I’d been hearing and had been getting so angry about.

I join the short line to ring the bell and then stay around for a while to watch and listen to other people do it. The sound of the ‘explosions’ now having quite a different meaning.

It was a great lesson. How I could hear one thing and imagine something quite different. Of how important the nature was to me, that I’d been so ready to accuse others of letting it be destroyed.

That bell was also a wake-up call. My anger can be very energising. I’d used it to put right all kinds of things at work, fixing broken processes, championing how things could be better for customers. And I was ready for something more. Part of me knowing that anger wasn’t quite enough for the next step I wanted to take at work. That I’d need to learn how to call people up towards something inspiring and beautiful as well.

 


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How far can you ask people to go?

How far can you ask people to go at work – balancing Ambition and Reality

I’m having an interesting experience of this at the moment, planning some expeditions for kids, the first of which goes out a week or so after I write this post.

I’d set “Watersinks Car Park” (see picture) as the finish point. In my memory, this was a lovely spot and I had enjoyed walking there. So I was quite surprised to discover, when I drove there last weekend for a final reconnoitre of our routes, that it is really quite some distance out of the way for cars!

The significant of this is that although it’d be fine, even a fun exploration, for the kids to hike there, for their parents coming to pick them-up by road, it might be tricky. There’s no mobile signal, it’s not on most satnavs and it’s a lot smaller than I remembered!

It made me think about the assumptions I was having to make about those parents’ capabilities. How good might they be at navigating by map and driving? How they might feel about driving for quite some distance, with a significant height gain (and down again) along narrow, single-track lanes, especially if the weather is bad or the car park gets full? How long might the other volunteers and I spend waiting there for people to collect their kids, with no mobile signal, no refreshments and no toilets!?

In the end, I decided to move the finishing point to somewhere (slightly) more practical. But that doesn’t come without a price. It’ll mean the kids (and potentially us adult volunteer leaders) having to trek for a couple of extra kilometres and add another 80/90 metres of ascending for them. I chatted it through with a couple of people who know their stuff, and they agreed this was better, but it’s still my decision, my responsibility. And I know that I’ll still get some people (parents and kids) moaning about or struggling with the revised finish point.

How do you decide how far you can ask people to go, in a work context?

Is your way anything like mine – which tends to be like this:

  • Start very ambitious and expect a lot of everybody involved
  • Reflect on it
  • Compromise a bit
  • Be prepared to deal with some complaints and give a hand to those who need it.

How do you know how much to compromise – and what kind of price is worth paying to get most people to the finish line, even if you don’t quite meet all of your initial ambitions?

I have some previous experience with some (although by no means all) of the parents involved. So I think my assessment of their capabilities and attitudes, on average, is probably about right. At work, do you have enough understanding of people’s capabilities and of their current state of mind, to be able to judge how much you can ask of them?

One of my first thoughts, when I realised where this car park was, was to take the parents out of the equation altogether and use a couple of mini-buses instead to transport the kids ourselves. And I might do that if we want to get further off of the beaten track next year. But, for now, the mini-bus solution didn’t quite sit right with me. It’d mean me and one or more of the other volunteers doing even more work. And it’d mean less responsibility for parents, who (mostly) really enjoy getting involved.

When you’re asking people to go some way for you at work, how do you balance those kind of involvement and workload issues?

I say, let’s be as ambitious as possible AND balance out as many other factors as we can.
Perhaps the only way to get this dreadfully wrong is to not think about it intentionally in the first place!

How about you?

 


Great One-on-One Meetings for Busy Managers