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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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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?

 


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FOMO, FOLS and FEAR

FOMO, FOLS and others; 20 common fears that will control your life and work if you let them

Fear is a very powerful motivator, a useful survival trait and a handy source of energy. But if you let your fear run the show entirely by itself and make your decisions for you, it has a nasty habit of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So that you don’t do that, here’s some of the most common fears I see in my coaching with people at work:

  1. FOMO: Fear of Missing Out
  2. FOLB: Fear of Lagging Behind
  3. FOLS: Fear of Looking Stupid
  4. FOMM: Fear of Making Mistakes
  5. FOSO: Fear of Standing Out
  6. FOTO: Fear of Telling Offs
  7. FOBO: Fear of Being Ordinary
  8. FOLD: Fear of Letting Down
  9. FOBI: Fear of Being Inadequate
  10. FOGO: Fear of Getting Overwhelmed
  11. FOBU: Fear of Being Unworthy
  12. FOSH: Fear of Suffering Hurt
  13. FOLC: Fear of Losing Control
  14. FOFI: Fear of Facing Isolation
  15. FOES: Fear of Extreme Success
  16. FOBR: Fear of Being Responsible
  17. FOGP: Fear of Gratuitous Praise
  18. FOSH: Fear of Seeking Help
  19. FOLR: Fear of Lacking Resources
  20. FORD: Fear of Regretting Decisions

Once you can see your fears for what they are – a useful mechanism for keeping you safe – then you can decide for yourself what to do with that information and, crucially, what is the bigger picture of what you actually want to have happen.

Fear is information without the cure
John le Carré

 


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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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Love to Run; Hate to Train

Imagine this: What you love doing takes less than 10 seconds and you rarely get to do it!
Lessons from Bolt

I write this shortly after watching “I am Bolt” – the sports documentary about sprinter Usain Bolt as he prepares for the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Whether you’re a fan of sports documentaries or not, I think you might enjoy this really captivating film about a very charismatic athlete.

There was lots of useful stuff in the film for me, particularly about the joy of doing something you’re great at, and I’ll write more about that in future.

One part of the film that really struck me was Bolt’s hatred of training. He says it again and again: “I love to run, I hate to train”. This from a man whose actual competitive event is over in less than 10 seconds!


Imagine that – the thing you love to do is over in less than 10 seconds, you probably don’t even get to do it competitively more than once a week, maybe much less, and to do it as well as you know you can, you have to do something you hate, again, and again, and again.

And you don’t just have to do this while you’re becoming good at your thing; you have to train and practise all the way through, even when you have multiple Olympic gold medals. Even when you are the best in the world.


I’m quite inspired by this.

I’m looking around seeing if I can re-frame all the stuff I hate doing to be the equivalent of “training”, for the 10 seconds I do love.

Does it help, do you think, this kind of reframing?

I suppose you’ve got to know what the thing you love doing is, so that you can tell which bits (the ones you hate) are just necessary “training”. And then you’ve got to decide if the thing you love doing is worth dedicating yourself to. Not just so that you can be the best in the world – most of us never get the chance to measure that in any meaningful way. But so that you can be the absolute best version of you, doing what you love to the absolute best of your abilities.

I’ll settle for that.

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Re-calibration and Taking Stock of Achievements

How to stop being annoying and demotivating because you focus too much on what hasn’t yet been done

Perhaps you’re one of those people who always sees the potential in something, the great achievements that could be accomplished. Or perhaps you’re someone who knows what a difference could be made for others if only that big weakness, failing or inadequacy could be addressed. Or equally, you might be someone who often has their eye on the next prize, the next hill to be summited, the next mistake to be avoided.

If anything like that is the case for you – excellent! As a leader, you’ll likely be the person who really makes a difference.

However, this focus on how things could be often comes at a price.

From working with lots of driven and focussed leaders in my coaching, I reckon there are two big costs to this attitude. And from time-to-time, it’s worth checking that you’re not paying too much for it. The costs are these:

1. Instead of being fired-up, you yourself become demotivated and frustrated at the apparent lack of progress. You might start looking around for the wrong new opportunity or lose your drive and sense of satisfaction.

2. The people around you, who might not share your drive, start wondering if you’re ever going to let-up for a day, or ever going to stop and look at what they have achieved or solved. You may well have gone from being the inspiring seer of potential, to a thankless pain in the backside!

The solution is simple, with one important thing you might need to do first. Here’s the solution (and, if you’re a future-focussed person, I bet you’re not already doing this):

Start taking stock, on a regular basis, of what has actually been done. Do this in whatever ways suits you. Make sure that other people are also involved in that stock-taking. What have you all achieved together? What problems have been avoided? What difference have you made?

I can hear the little gremlin voice in your head saying something like: “But if I let them start looking back, at the small stuff they have done, they’ll lose momentum and just rest on their laurels not getting the next important outstanding thing done.”

If that’s true rather than just a gremlin trying to sabotage things, do some work on your abilities to inspire. How good are you at making your vision for the future seem so attractive that people are just compelled to march towards it?


In order to do the stock-taking properly, you might need to re-calibrate what gets counted as an achievement. I notice that people who are great at seeing what could be accomplished, often tend to discount the many small steps that they’ve already taken along the way. You might need to reset your meter so that it does actually start taking account of the many things you’ve already achieved or solved – and help others to do the same.


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Choice Not Control

Whether you feel in or out of control, it’s probably an illusion. What you choose is what really counts

 

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Personal Energy, Balance & Priorities

If you’re someone who loves their work, how do you re-energise your personal priorities and keep your sense of balance?

I’ve always got a lot of satisfaction and motivation from the jobs I’ve done.

Yes, some jobs have been way better than others and, no, I haven’t always enjoyed everything but on the whole I feel I’ve been lucky enough to never have a job that I didn’t feel energised by.

Personally, I’m not a big fan of the term “work-life balance” because, for me at least, I don’t really want the two to be as separate as that phrase implies. I don’t want to have to separate “work” from my “life” because I want meaningful work that is an integral part of my everyday existence. I don’t want to have to switch-off part of who I really am when I’m at work and I don’t want to have to put away my dreams and ambitions about work when I’m not in the office.


Thankfully I’m not the only one who wants meaningful work that they can really throw themselves into. I know this is true, because I’ve coached with lots of other people who are like it too.

But how do you sustain this intensity? How do you have work that you can really give yourself to, but also not lose sight of why you’re actually doing that?

The people I’ve coached with who have solved this, do actually go for something you could describe as a kind of “balance”. However, for them it doesn’t seem to be about work-life balance. Instead, I think it’s about two or three different but important kinds of balance:

1. Don’t try to have all your impact in one place.
Whatever the meaning is that you find in your work, whatever it is that you’re here to give to the world, spread it around a bit. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. If all of your life-purpose goes into one workplace, you’re at the mercy of the ebbs and flows of that place. And you also risk your laser focus becoming too bright and hot in one small spot.

2. Think in cycles.
When you step back and take a look, pretty much everything in our world goes in cycles: day-night; Spring-Summer-Autumn-Winter; work-eat-sleep. It’s as if life is all inter-connected sine waves. Nature shows us that there are times to push hard up the slope and there are times to coast easily down the other side. Make sure that your tendency to be always on, always pushing, isn’t getting in the way of your own natural cycle.

3. Raise your head and remember what’s really important.
I’ve written before about how finding purpose is really about finding what we’re good at and doing that (see here). It is possible, however, to get stuck in that virtuous circle of getting even better at what you’re great at, so that you enjoy it and do even more of it. If you’re working really hard because you like being energised by and finding meaning in your work, raise your head from the flywheel long enough to remember that work isn’t the only way to be energised and find meaning. Similarly, if you’re working really hard because you want to give the kids a great future, just remember that working really hard isn’t the only way to do that – and that you might be there just out of habit
 

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Reduced Performance at Work

How to use Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to diagnose and deal with what’s going on when someone’s performance at work takes a nosedive

Maslow’s framework has been around since 1943, when he wrote a paper called “A Theory of Human Motivation”, seeking to describe and explain the behavior and motivation of exemplary individuals, including Albert Einstein. It has some flaws and critics, but since it is so well known and follows an easily remembered structure it’s also a great tool to use when somebody just isn’t delivering anymore, or seems to have become quite ineffective compared to their normal levels of performance. Here’s how to use it that way.

As a point of principle, the approach I’m going to describe here is essentially a ‘pastoral’ one – that is, it’s about looking after people rather than blaming, criticizing or trying to fix them. After writing his 1943 paper, Maslow subsequently extended his ideas to include his observations of human beings’ innate curiosity. If a member of your team is no longer performing, set your own innate curiosity alight. Perhaps by yourself initially but then certainly in partnership with the person concerned, get curious about what might be going on.

Start at the bottom of the pyramid.

Physiological needs are the physical requirements for human survival – food, water, air, sleep, clothing, shelter – and the sexual instinct (according to Maslow). Check that your team member is looking after themselves physically: just basic stuff like are they taking lunch, is there water to drink?

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to point out to often very senior clients that they are driving and flying big distances and working very long hours and that the reason their performance is suffering is because they are simply really tired. Do they have opportunities for rest? Can they work from home? Can they stay over one or two nights a week instead of commuting?

Can you mention the sex issue with a colleague? I would argue “yes” if you have a pastoral responsibility to them. But how you do so is likely to be determined by your organisational culture. Just be aware that it isn’t only younger employees who may be staying out late and/or drinking more alcohol than usual in response to their basic sexual instincts.

Safety needs are about feeling secure and free from actual (and the threat of) physical and emotional harm. Does this person feel safe? Is their physical, emotional and economic security currently threatened by anything? Perhaps there are some basic issues that need to be addressed. If you can, ask them how they’d like you support them in feeling safer.

Since change is now just about the only constant we experience at work, I’ve yet to find a workplace that doesn’t include some anxiety. Either about job security if there are threats or even concern over the unknown caused by positive opportunities for growth and change. Often, all of this is left unspoken. Commercial sensitivities can mean that it’s hard to tell people exactly what changes are afoot.

To the extent that you can, talk through these things:

“I wonder if you’re concerned at all about X? I can’t give you all the exact details of what we’re doing, but here’s what I can tell you. When we’ve been though this kind of change before, there have been costs but positive aspects too.”

Tell them what your intention is during this next phase of change with regards to them personally, even if it’s just in principle for now rather than full practical details. Fear of the unknown is usually greater than fear of known risks.

Love and belonging. The third level of human needs is interpersonal and involves feelings of friendship and intimacy. People need to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance among their social groups and a large part of that takes place at work. Many people become susceptible to loneliness, social anxiety, and clinical depression if their need for love and belonging is not satisfied.

My experience has been that the needs around social interaction and group-belonging are exceptionally strong drivers of behavior at work. Other psychologists since Maslow have written about things like Group Norms and how peer-pressure drives performance.

Is this individual getting on well with their peers and staff and other colleagues? Are they accepted for who they are? Are there any factors which might be isolating them or leaving them feeling disconnected? Do they have a mentor or confidant in the workplace?

Esteem is the need for respect from others and oneself. Needs for respect from others may include those for status, recognition and attention. The need for self-respect may include needs for independence, competence, mastery and self-confidence.

If someone’s performance has dropped markedly, has there been a change in what they might perceive as respect from others – for example, a change in their status or in the attention they get from bosses or peers? Are they getting appropriate recognition for who they are and what they bring?

Or perhaps their self-belief has taken a knock and for some reason they no longer respect themselves in a healthy way or their self-confidence is not what it was?

If you suspect that their self-respect might need a boost, now is a good time for you to adopt a coaching leadership style. Help them to see the situation for what it really is (probably just a bump in the road) and to set out a plan to deal with it, including some achievable goals and some learning, reflection and development.

Self-actualisation. Maslow describes this level as the desire to accomplish everything that one can, to become the most that one can be. People may perceive or focus on this need very individually, so that what is self-actualisation to me or you may be very different for somebody else.

Experience suggests that a drop-off in someone’s performance or demeanour at work can be related to their self-actualisation. Consciously or unconsciously, they may have re-appraised what they want from their life or career. Or they may have re-assessed their own ability or the resources required to achieve an important life or career goal.

This is a time for some fairly in-depth conversations with the person concerned and you may need to take it step-by-step, ensuring that you first have the depth and quality of relationship with them to trust and respect each other enough.

Can you help them relate what they want from their career and life with what is available from their current job? Can you help them plot a course to enhance their abilities and develop the right resources to maximise what their current role offers? Is there space for them to self-actualise somewhere in the organization, if not in their current role? Can you help them exit in a positive and useful way, if that is the best solution?

Motivating Teams and Businesses

How to re-energise your team and rediscover momentum

Over the last couple of years I’ve worked with several teams, businesses and organisations who felt that they’d become stuck and had lost a large part of the passion and hunger for what they do. As a result, they were grinding along, with every step seeming to cost a huge amount of effort, losing out on opportunities and not really addressing the problems they were facing.

I’ve used the tools and techniques described here to help the top teams in those organisations and businesses to re-energise themselves and find their own momentum to carry them along.

It’s Not Just About Strategy

Some people will tell you that, in those grinding circumstances, your organisation, team or business needs to re-asses its strategic priorities. And I think there’s sometimes some truth in that. BUT – you’ve got to do one or two other things first. Otherwise, when that strategic re-assessment is required, that also just becomes another ineffective part of the soulless grind.

It’s Not Just About ‘Why’

There’s also been a lot of interest recently in Finding Your ‘Why’.
People say, “Always start with your why” – Why did you go into that business, in that segment? – Why does your organisation or your particular team exist?

And this is a good exercise to do when you already have momentum and want to have a coherent marketing message. In fact, the WHY is one of the most powerful marketing messages there is. BUT – my experience has been, when it comes to re-energising your own business and finding that momentum that will carry your team forwards, asking “Why” can stop you dead in your tracks.

It Can Be a Virtuous Circle

I don’t know about you, but I started doing what I do because I felt I might be able to become good at it. Along the way, I had to overcome quite a few obstacles. And as I started to get better at doing it, I liked it more and more. I believe this virtuous circle is the key to re-energising your team and finding momentum, and it’s the one I’ve used successfully with those teams and businesses over the last couple of years.


At its simplest, I think people enjoy doing what they’re good at and that this enjoyment carries them over any obstacles to becoming even better at it. And that overcoming those obstacles is itself a way of getting even better.

Motivating Teams and Businesses


If you want to re-energise your team, business or organisation, and find the momentum to carry them forward, you need to remind people how they’ve already lived this virtuous circle.

I’ve used lots of different tools and techniques to do this. First, because I like experimenting, finding out what works. And second, because I like to take an approach that is tailored specifically to a particular team or business, so that it is really effective and is just for them and they can own it as theirs.

Tools, Techniques and Guiding Principles

Amongst these tools and techniques, there are three guiding principles that I think should always be present:

1. Time

It’s so easy when you’re in the busy day-to-day of running things to forget your story. We tend to focus on what needs to come next and forget to look back, at what’s already happened. As Bob Marley sang:

If you know your history, then you will know where you’re comin’ from…

I’ll always include some way of representing the journey of that team and business from the past through the present. And along the way they’ll also get a chance to remember what they had to overcome to get there and what they had to become good at doing.

There are many different ways to anchor that journey over time, so that the exercise can breathe some life into their experience, but the best ways usually seem to…

2. Play to Their Strengths

For example, if this is a team who are good at thinking in logical steps, I’ll use a ‘spatial anchoring’ technique, marking the timeline of their business along the floor and re-tracing their steps from the past to the present. If they’re a team who listens well, I might have different members represent key points along the timeline, and tell the story of that point as the group moves along. I’ve asked video production companies to make a visual vignettes of their business’s journey. One organisation I visited used bright colours and diagrams everywhere, so I asked them to colour-code and map-out the obstacles they’d had to overcome and the things they’d enjoyed along the way. Another business, good at summarising and explaining to each other, were asked to peg out cards to an impromptu washing-line, each card briefly describing their experiences over the 15 years since their business was founded.

Once you’ve got the timeline represented in some way, with a good recollection of the obstacles they’ve had to overcome and the things they’ve become good at doing, you need to make sure there is…

3. Space for the Future

I don’t know about you, but I want room to grow into. I want to know that there is space and potential in my future. Not too much space, because I don’t want to be rattling around not knowing where to go, but enough space to house my ambitions.

I think teams and businesses are the same. The people that breathe life into those teams and businesses unconsciously need to see, feel and understand that there is a supporting structure that has enough space for an enjoyable future.
This is the key to the second part of what you’re trying to achieve – as well as re-energising them, you need keep them going. To create momentum to carry this team into the future.

Whatever technique you’ve used to represent their journey so far, make sure that it can also extend easily and spaciously into the future. So, for example, if you use the ‘spatial anchoring’ technique described above, make sure there’s also room along the floor to include the future without cramming it into a corner.


Recreate that virtuous circle for your team, business or organisation. Help them to re-live the overcoming of obstacles that got to where you are now, to reconnect with the things you’ve become good at along the way. If you can do that, then I think you are most of the way there to re-energising and rediscovering that enjoyment. If you can do it in a way which deploys those three principles of: Time, Playing to your Strengths and creating Space for the Future, then I believe you will also find the momentum you want.


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