Where do the best ideas come from?

We are fortunate to live in a lovely village in the heart of England, close to the centre of the UK motor industry. Not so much a mass-manufacturing area these days, instead there are specialist ‘advanced engineering’ firms.  They support projects like the Formula 1 teams in nearby Silverstone.  Our neighbours in the village include several engineers, some retired.

There’s an admirable perfectionism about these people, though it makes for a very competitive environment sometimes. They also demonstrate very well the notion of transferable skills. Continue reading

The best leaders have a hinterland

“Hinterland?”  You’re probably wondering what on earth I’m talking about. Denis Healey, a retired politician from the UK, and his wife Edna, first used the word about Margaret Thatcher. Their view was that she lacked a real connection with people because she had no interests outside of politics.

Denis and Edna firmly believed that people had to have a breadth and depth of knowledge on other matters, be that sport, religion, art, culture or learning – Denis was a keen photographer. Continue reading

What can leaders learn from dogs barking at a postal carrier?

I had the great pleasure of running one of our Leadership Coaching Programs in Toronto last month.  Sunshine; great location; good company – what more could I want?

I was staying with our friends and colleagues, Cyndi and Ross, who have two delightful Golden Labradors. This has to be one of the friendliest breeds of dog. They love being around people, and are very enthusiastic and expressive. Continue reading

How leaders can build empathy

This is a good news/bad news story. The good news was having the fun of working in Accra, in Ghana, for a week, running development centres to focus on leadership behaviours. The fact that it was in the midst of the worst weather in England for a long time was a bonus. The bad news was coping with an infected foot, which left me only able to limp along very slowly and for short distances. Continue reading

Our Man in Panama

I’ve just finished a week of working in Panama.  We’ve been running career development workshops for an international charity. It’s a fascinating country, whose recent history is dominated by the canal.  It’s a visionary project, still a vital lifeline for trade, operating 24 hours a day. The city is the headquarters for many charities.

I’d set off with a few pre-conceptions about what the people would be like.  They came from across South America, a continent I’ve never visited. I suspect that subconsciously, I was looking for proof to reinforce my stereotypes. I began to think about how often we do this, at many times in our life. Continue reading

What do HR Directors really look for in professional leadership development services?

There’s a lot of debate around what HR professionals are looking for from suppliers of leadership development services.  I was reminded of this when I came across some copies a PWC study* for the ICF (International Coach Federation) looking at purchasing decisions from a client perspective

Some people get technical – looking at profiling tools and tests such as MBTI, Firo-B (relationship behaviours) or DISC (Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Compliance)

Others want to tailor products and services to their company.  Many invest in defining leadership competences or behaviours.

All of which is fine.  These approaches provide benchmark against which people can develop themselves and others in their team.

What PWC did is look at important attributes in the selection process and identify the most important aspects, under

  • Personal Attributes
  • Background
  • Experience
  • Reputation
  • Methodology

Under the topic of Personal Attributes, confidence, rapport and personal compatibility were deemed as most important by far of all the attributes.  And no surprise that effectiveness was the most important attribute under methodology. These four attributes were the most important to PWC’s respondents – by far.

The finding that ‘Personal referrals’ were more important than client references under Reputation was intriguing.  And it is revealing was that relevant professional experience was perceived as more important that ‘years as a coach’ under Experience.  I was also pleased to see that the level of ‘coach-specific training’ was most important in Background.

(source: *ICF Global Coaching Client Study, Association Resource Centre and PriceWaterhouseCoopers, 2009)

Our evaluation of professional Associates (Consultants, Coaches and Trainers) is that its’ this combination that matters and these are the questions we ask:

  • What leadership experience do you have?
  • What technical and skill areas do you have (outside of leadership development)?
  • What coach-specific training and qualifications do you have?
  • What learning do you have around the topic of developing leaders?

Rapport and personality come through when we meet with them – it’s key for their relationship with clients and we much prefer to do business with likeable people.  We also make sure that we personally hear each of them coach – so that we can really stand behind the quality of the professionals we work with.

So why does this matter?

I’m intrigued by organisations buying leadership coaching services and coaching skills training, without really thinking through what they need.  For example, one company were seeking recently seeking training with two accreditation options in mind – one at a low skills level and the other for an academic qualification.

My personal view is that the academic qualifications in coaching are for professionals with existing coach-specific training to explore the academic side of the profession – not for leaders and managers in the workplace who will only have time to dip into the theory.  At the other end of the scale, if an organisation wants to build an in-house coaching competency, then the training should be at a suitable level – with the option of a meaningful qualification.

One of the reasons we support the global standards of the ICF is that they transcend culture and diversity – whilst acknowledging local and regional difference.  Their accreditation process isn’t a walk-over either – as I’m experiencing first hand at the moment.

The ICF also recognise successful coaching programmes through their ‘PRISM’ award.  I was involved in the recent ICF Global Conference in London and was very impressed by the quality of the winners – especially by the evidence they put forward that showed the difference coaching was making in their organisations.

Recent PRISM award winners include

  • Genentech: considered the founder of the biotechnology industry, using human genetic information to discover, develop, manufacture and commercialise medicines to treat patients with serious or life-threatening medical conditions.  The company sees coaching as increasing their capacity for change.
  • TINE Group: NOrways most important contributor to value creation and the country’s leading supplier of food products – TINE provides a health and positive food experience.  The company sees coaching as a leadership skill.

Some resources for you

We’ve got spare copies of the Case Studies and the PWC report (only 12 copies – so first come, first served) here in the office.

If you’d like to receive a copy of either the report or the case studies, simply drop us an email at info@thefortongroup.com and we’ll do the rest.

Leadership and listening beyond the words

Last week, we launched our flagship leadership coach training product, Ignite, in Italy. I had the great pleasure of spending time with our partners in Rome.  They ran the course for a dozen leaders and coaches keen to learn our model.  My job was to listen, observe and support – and my biggest challenge was the listening.

I think it would be fair to say that learning new languages has never been one of my strengths – although I’m happy to be convinced this is merely a belief, and look forward to some offers of great coaching on this topic! Over the years, about the furthest I have got is to learn how to order a beer and ask for the bill. I’m proud to say I can now do this in eight different languages.

However, this limited vocabulary was going to be of little use to me as I observed my colleagues run the program. I had also promised to say a few words to kick the thing off, and thought it might be a bit early in the day for a beer, so I added another phrase to my vocabulary – “Mi dispiace, non parlo italiano” which ( I hope) means “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Italian”.

They were very tolerant of me and, after I’d finished, I sat quietly at the back of the room and watched the experts get on with running the course. As I was listening, I saw what a great practical example this was of what we always knew about learning – that it is about more than just the words.

It is often said that only 7% of the success of our communications is down to the words we use. Albert Mehrabian published research in 1981 where the 7-38-55 rule first appeared – 7% of the message is conveyed by words, 38% by tone of voice, and 55% by body language. In fact, his research was much narrower, about how we convey and interpret feelings – the rule determines how much we like someone when they’re talking about their feelings. It’s been incorrectly applied more widely over the years.

However, other studies have come up with a range of different ratios showing the importance of words versus the non-verbal elements and there clearly is a contribution to the success of our communication from both. When we deliver our leadership coach training programme, we are always flexing our style between trainer, facilitator and coach. My inability to understand Italian became less important as I could clearly see my colleagues using these different styles.

It was a great reminder about some core lessons about listening. It’s a vital skill for coaches to have and, of course, for leaders too. There are many reasons why this is so. For example, how often do we hear about major disasters that have ruined the reputation of companies where somebody in the organisation could see it was going to happen but nobody listened to them.

Also, when you think back to the great bosses, that you have had, my guess is that one quality they all share was that you felt listened to, and that builds loyalty and engagement.

The good news is that it’s possible to build this muscle – and the bad news is it needs constant practice. If you’d like to look at slightly different approach to improving your listening, then I’d recommend  “The Listening Book” by W.A. Mathieu.

I’d be really interested to hear your tips on building the skill of listening; how it impacts on your leadership, and any books you’d recommend. Buon ascolto!”

The Golden Rules of Leadership Coaching

I really enjoy the work we do training leaders and business owners to be more coach- like in their leadership and management styles.  Some of them go on to take professional coaching qualifications with us.  This means we attract some of the brightest thinkers in leadership around the world, and the debates we have are rich and interesting.

On the first day of last week’s course, I said “If there’s one rule in coaching….” I said the same on day two, and the group began to wonder how many more “One rules” there might be!

In fact, I’ve probably got five ‘rules’ that I’d like to share with you; and I’d really welcome your feedback

  • Golden Rule #1: Coach the person, not the ‘problem’

It doesn’t matter what you call it: the challenge, the topic or the ‘issue’; we coach people, not problems.  We might be able to help our client solve the problem – once. But the real power comes from working deeper, to bring sustainable change.

  • Golden Rule #2: Everything the Coach does is in service of the client

The questions, the silences and listening; even the interrupting, being direct, being supportive – and sometimes being quite playful or ‘rude’: only in service of the client, not our egos!

  • Golden Rule #3: Leadership coaching is about choice

We have far more control over our lives than we think – the choices we make, the things we say and do, even (especially!) our emotions. Coaching opens our clients up to see they are resourceful and have resources around them that can help them achieve their vision, objectives or goals.  They see possibility.

  • Golden Rule #4: If it’s hard going, is it really coaching?

Use humour and lightness to move your clients into the creative side of their brains: and use stillness and playfulness to get your own focus too.

Which leads me to…

  • Golden Rule #5: there are no rules!