Nick Robinson Executive Coaching - Kindness at Work

Working Kindness

Why aren’t we more kind at work, when kindness really helps?

I write this at the end of a busy month, which has given me another great opportunity to ask people about one of my current themes: kindness.

The reason I’ve been asking about kindness is down to my previous month’s coaching work. This was absolutely packed with situations where I couldn’t help thinking that maybe just a little bit of kindness would have dealt with everything even before I’d arrived!

There’s variety in my work and so it’s good that I also get to work with people in some very successful businesses and organisations where kindness is a way of doing things. In fact, some of the most successful leaders I know are very good indeed at doing kindness and I can’t help feeling that in the long-run, there’s probably a high correlation between the two.

I know there’s an emotional side to this. The sort of world I want to live in and to leave for my son, is driven by kindness. I want there to be room to care for and raise-up others to their full potential. And for me, there’s also a really practical side. I love being able to do things well, and doing them well also means doing them effectively – with efficacy, efficiency and gracefulness. If I genuinely thought that being unkind was more effective in the long run than being kind, I’d probably give it a go! But I just don’t see it. What I do see is opportunity wasted, potential unused and crucial errors being allowed.

Human beings are practically hard-wired to both take care of themselves and to take care of each other because of our evolution as social animals. The basic tools to be kind to each other, and the practical reasons for doing so, are already available to us. So, if we’re not being kind, there must be a reason. And, if there’s a reason, there’s also got to be a way to create the right conditions for more kindness.

Here’s my thoughts so far.

Unchecked self-criticsim vs. useful Purpose

In my experience as a coach, people who are critical of others in a damaging rather than useful way are often unconsciously highly-critical of themselves. With that going on in the back of their minds it’s very hard to be supportive of others. Contrast that with the joy of being around someone who has a genuine sense of Purpose, something meaningful to work on and who will carry you along in their enthusiasm.

Self-doubts and limiting beliefs vs. Connection

Some people let the self-doubts, the “I can’t”s and the “It never works for me”s, take over the focus of their attention. This self-limiting place is one where there’s no spare energy, time or resources to be kind to others. It’s a place where kindness looks dangerous, like a zero-sum game of winners and losers. They say that you become the average of the people you spend time with and it seems true to me that having quality time Connected with people who don’t think like that is a great enabler of kindness

Cultural Norms vs. Opportunities to Serve & Nurture

Perhaps one of the biggest barriers to having more kindness at work is “the way things are done around here”. Just like individuals, organisations have an unconscious set of stories, beliefs and self-criticisms. Left unchecked, Cultural Norms can become very damaging to an organisation’s ability to make the most of its people. As an antidote, creating Opportunities to Serve and Nurture, as many companies are doing with community and volunteering initiatives, is a great way to remind us just how uplifting it is to be kind and caring for others.

Unhealthy Habits vs. Resilience

Setting aside the false criticisms and limiting beliefs, it is probably true that, in the short-term, kindness comes at a cost. Time, money, effort and attention may all be involved. If somebody has habits that don’t help them to be resourceful, that make them unhealthy physically and emotionally, they may well find that the ‘cost’ of being kind is too high for them. What I’ve found is that the most Resilient people are also often the kindest. They work on themselves and that helps them be resourceful enough to help others. If you want to be kinder to others, start with being healthily kind to yourself. As they say,

You can’t pour from an empty cup

Fear vs. Choice

Fear is a very useful mechanism, designed to keep us safe and ensure our survival. People sometimes regard themselves as weak or wrong for being afraid, or for acting badly when they experience fear. When I’m with clients, I celebrate fear as another signal about something important. We can’t not have any fear; it’s part of our whole brain and body system. And without fear, there’s no courage either.

What we need are more behavioural strategies for dealing with our experience of fear. Instead of freezing like a rabbit-in-the-headlights, or lashing-out in fight mode, or running away in flight from our fear, we need Choices about how to behave.

This is especially true in businesses and organisations, which are themselves social systems and quite like the circumstances of our evolution as social animals. What makes us successful in those circumstances is co-operation with others. To co-operate well, we need more and better choices about how we behave. And one of the most important behavioural strategies is kindness.

Dealing with Professional Envy - Nick Robinson Executive Coaching

Envy, Resentment and Fulfilment

Professional Envy at work. Why it’s so bad and my easy four-step cure

I enjoy the chance to coach with ‘negative’ states and emotions. Things like anger, resentment, guilt, anxiety and so on. In fact, if you’ve worked with me personally, you’ll probably know that I’ll often be celebrating those emotions and states as we discover them. This is not because I’m completely weird (no, really, it’s not) but because these are often what I call “signal” states. That is, they’re a great sign that there is some real potential for change and development. So long as you can address what’s causing them.

Take Anger for example. Anger is a great sign that one of your personal boundaries has been crossed, or that something or someone very important to you is at risk.

Envy, resentment and jealousy (and other emotions or feelings in that same group), are also really good signals of some potential opportunity for growth and greater fulfilment.

One of the negative states or emotions that sometimes comes up in my coaching work with leaders and team-members is a sense of what I call “professional envy”.

Professional Envy is where a person is acutely aware of the success that somebody else is enjoying – and really doesn’t like it.

Team members may feel that another person (or team) is getting too much attention from the boss, or receiving too many rewards or accolades for their work. Board Members may feel that another director is getting too much credit, being a bit of a glory boy, “Has it all handed to him on a plate” or already has too big a slice of the pie.

Experts, consultants and qualified people often seem to experience Professional Envy at the apparent ubiquity of somebody they perceive as a rival. I’ll hear things like: “Everywhere I go, there she is, being idolised again!”

The problem with Professional Envy, from an individual point of view, is that it sucks all of the energy out of getting things done and spoils the chance for enjoying what is happening. From an organisational point of view, Professional Envy can lead to a deterioration of effective working relationships, to passive resistance towards other people’s initiatives or even to outright sabotage of important projects.

If you or someone you know is exhibiting signs of professional envy, here’s my easy four-step cure.

The first step is to recognise professional envy as one of my ‘signal emotions’.

Take a moment to get some clarity around who is the object of your professional envy, and notice what you’re experiencing and how that feels. Then begin to label that experience as a sign that there’s an opportunity here for you to grow and develop towards much more fulfilment for you personally.

Second, you need to know that professional envy is a sign that you are not achieving all that you want to achieve.

Deep down, you probably already know this. You may have found yourself blocked from achieving what you originally set out to achieve. Circumstances may not have been in your favour. You may have experienced set-backs, failures or a crisis of confidence. In a way, it doesn’t really matter what your current circumstances are. The most important thing is just to recognise that – right now – you are not doing all that you want to be doing.

The third step is to shift your focus away from the object of your professional envy, and back onto you and what you want for yourself.

Don’t be saying stuff like: “Oh, I want them to fall flat on their face.” It’s understandable to want that, and it might be funny to see, but it won’t really help you any.

Instead, put your attention onto what you do want, for you. Allow yourself to dream big again.

There’s a couple of possible outcomes from this step, which fall broadly into these two categories:

  1. You realise that there is some really ambitious stuff that you’d like to be working towards;
  2. You realise that you’re actually reasonably happy not bothering to be achievement-focussed and quite like things as they are.

The fourth step is to take the outputs from step 3 and begin working on them.

This is the most powerful part of the process. Even if you’re not entirely clear what it is that you’re ambitious about. Or if you’re not entirely sure how to be content just as you are. Just start working on it.

It’s a bit like what Buddhists call “entering the stream”. You’ve taken a decision to drop the things that were not helping you. Instead, you’re dipping your foot into the wider current of potential energy that now starts to ripple and become available to you as a flowing force.

Experience with clients suggests that these four steps alone are not enough to achieve that big thing nor to re-discover that contentment. They are however, almost always enough in themselves to completely vanish that sense of Professional Envy.

Good luck, and let me know how you get on.

Defining Planning Timescales Using the Rules of Threes

Productivity, Prioritisation and the Rule of Threes

Using the rule of threes to be productive, prioritise effectively and stay focussed

Over the last few years I’ve been finding the Rule of Threes to be really helpful in being productive and setting priorities. And it’s often a tool I’ll reach for if I’m coaching someone who feels they’re struggling to be productive or who would like to achieve more important stuff.

The Rule of Threes itself is really simple – things feels more stable, more rounded and more dynamic when presented in threes. Just as a three-legged stool doesn’t wobble, so the rule of threes is usually a good platform to build on.

Here’s how I use the Rule of Threes to be more productive, to help set priorities and to stay focussed along the way.

First, I use it to help define my planning timescales.

I’ll look at Long-term, Medium-Term and Short-Term priorities for me, my work and my family. For each of my timescales, I’ll set-out what I want to achieve, what I don’t want to do, and how I want the experience to be along the way.

Here are the timescales I use – you should define your own. If you click the main picture at the top of this post, you can download a pictorial version.

1. Long-term

  • Ten years
  • Five years
  • Two years

2. Medium-term

  • This year
  • Six months
  • Two months

3. Short-term

  • This month
  • This week
  • Today

Second, I’ll use the Rule of Threes to help decide the scope of what I’m planning.

For me, that often looks something like the sketch below, and for each of my timescales, it includes:

  1. What do I want to achieve? (which for me is different from what I need to get done)
  2. What do I choose not to do? (this is one of the keys to staying focussed, and demands as much attention as your achievements)
  3. How do I want to BE? (which is about the quality of existence I want to experience)

Scope of Rules of Three in Productivity

Third, I’ll use the Rule of Threes to focus my efforts.

For each of my timescales, I’ll set-out the top three priorities that I want to cover. For example, each day I write out the top three things I want to achieve that day. (Sometimes I’ll even go mad and add three things I’m not going to do that day and three qualities I’d like to experience).

Here’s what the first bit of writing in your daily planner needs to look like – it really is this simple. If you want to stay focussed and achieve more important things, please, please try this:

  1. First important thing I want to achieve today
  2. Second important thing I want to achieve today
  3. Third important thing I want to achieve today

It doesn’t mean I can’t do other things that day. Nor does it mean (as some people suggest) that you have to do those three things first. I often find that there are some priority items that just have to wait until later in the day. For me, the top three priority items are just those things that are most important to me that day and in the context of my longer-term plans.

And that would be a good place to finish, since I’ve given you three ways to use the Rule of Threes in being productive. Instead though, I’m going to break that rule and suggest another area where it’s helpful in terms of productivity, prioritisation and fulfilment, which is:

Fourth: Reflecting, using the rule of threes to embed learning and boost change.

It can be useful, in all of this planning ahead, to take stock of things as you go. To make sure that it doesn’t all feel like the dead-weight of obligation, and to ensure that you’re being flexible. Being productive is about keeping focussed on the straight and narrow. But it’s also about making timely corrective actions; just trimming the sails as you go. Here’s my framework for that:

  1. Review – How did I do? You can do this for each of your timescales (see First Step, above)
  2. Refresh – what would revitalise me?
  3. Revise – what priorities do I need to change?

So, I might have broken the rule of three with that fourth section, but at least they all start with an R – I do try to think of this stuff…