Football management and leadership behaviours

I’ve been interested recently in the fortunes of a UK football (soccer to our North American readers) team and their manager. Now, I enjoy watching football, and I follow a particular team – Manchester City – however, I can’t be a true fan, because I don’t indulge in the hatred of their traditional rivals. I’m quite geographical in my allegiance, so I’d rather a team from Manchester beat one from London or indeed any northern team succeeded over a southern team. Continue reading

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

Influencing and networking – key skills for leaders

I met up with some old colleagues last week – people I worked with over 10 years ago, some of whom I haven’t seen for at least that long. We shared a few pints and it was great how easy it was to pick up friendships and conversations. I’ve had the pleasure in my life of working in some large and sociable organisations.  I’ve had the opportunity to make some great friends.  And even though they may not be bosom buddies, there’s something about the shared experience that makes it easy to reconnect. 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.

 

It reminded me of a time in my earlier career as a manager when someone I knew came back to work for me. I remembered him especially from his rather drunken 21st birthday party and the image of him from there was still with me. Of course, he had by now matured into a great person, but it took me a while to reset my opinion.  I hear that Facebook has a similar impact when people post ‘the morning after the night before’ pictures and messages today.

The brain stores images in long term memory, including the faces of people we’ve met, along with the opinions we’ve formed – and even opinions of people we’ve never met. Think of a famous person – my guess is you have a view of what they are like, even without ever meeting them.

When you meet someone new, the brain flicks through its folder of images and, if it finds a match, it assigns the same characteristics from the person in memory to the person you’ve just met.

I was talking to the group about the importance of perceptions.  As a leader, people will form opinions about you, often based on the scantest of information. We can influence that perception.

We always have an impact when we walk into a room, especially if we are the leader. Too often, it’s not one we have chosen and people read things into our behaviour.  They extrapolate from the smallest frown assumptions that you are ritually bad tempered.

So it’s important to choose the impact you want to have

Adam Bryant talked about this at our recent Book Club based on his interviews with CEOs for his column in the New York Times, and his book, The Corner Office. He mentions one CEO who has a favourite interview question – “What misperceptions do people have of you?” Interesting enough, but it is just a set up for the next question: “What is the difference between a misperception and a perception?”

I want to say that a misperception is when people are wrong, but of course the truth is there is no difference.

This has also come out in the 360 degree feedback that our participants received.  One person said it wasn’t a fair reflection, because the person giving feedback only met them a few times in a year. It’s true that it may not be an accurate reflection of who you are, but is a very good reflection of how you first show up and the impact you have on new people.

As a leader, you need to be always aware of the image you project.

Another example from Adam’s book was the senior female executive who went into work one day with her scarf tied in a new and unusual way. Within a week, several other people in the office had copied the style

So, back to Panama. I had a great conversation with one of the leaders. He was talking about a briefing he had once on the customs and etiquette in a particular country. “They told me to be careful as in that country, people didn’t like to be seen to lose face. I asked him who in the world actually enjoys losing face?”

Oh, and the people were of course as typical a cross section of personalities as you’d find in any group of 20 people around the world. We spend a lot of time talking about diversity, and of course we all benefit from making the most of the rich variety that is humanity. However, let’s also appreciate the common characteristics we share.

On our leadership development programmes, when we ask for volunteers to demonstrate a skill, in the UK, we get told that this might work in America, where they are “more forward”. My experience is that in the US, there is just as much shuffling of feet and lack of eye contact as in the UK.

The difference is that when someone does finally crack, in the US the rest applaud, whilst in the UK, they wipe their brow and exclaim “Phew!”

So a few insights for me in my recent experiences I’m trying hard to remember to be careful of stereotyping people, and do my best to present the image I choose. I’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts about this

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!”

Leaders and their vision

I had a fun week in Singapore recently. As well as celebrating old friendships and building new business, I saw great examples of the contribution made by leaders and by their visions. We spent a couple of days sightseeing, which was fun.  They took me to Raffles Hotel at 10am – but even I couldn’t bring myself to drink a Singapore Sling at that time of day. Mind you, at $28 a glass, I think I would have managed to resist at any time.

It was fascinating to see the old pictures in the museum there.  I saw the massive change from colonialism to the thriving economy that is Singapore today. I also loved the examples of innovation.  Walking round the marina we saw giant sunshades, fitted with solar powered fans.  They have motion detectors, which kick in as you walk under them, providing much welcomed shade and cool air.

Further on is the Marina Barrage. This is a dam built at the point where 5 rivers run out to the sea. It serves a number of functions; controlling flooding, keeping sea water out and providing a huge reservoir of fresh water.  It’s also a tourist attraction and a place for leisure. Impressive in itself, I was almost more impressed by the vision of the leader who caused it to be built

In 1987, the Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, said  “20 years, it is possible there could be breakthroughs in technology – both anti-pollution and water filtration” The project went ahead and the technology did indeed arrive.  Without that vision, the project would have been far less successful. Now, they have another source of much needed fresh water

So, a reminder of two vital things that organisations need to survive and thrive, especially in challenging economic times: a climate in which innovation can thrive, and a vision to inspire people. Both of these need great leadership; leaders with vision who encourage creativity, and who tolerate mistakes – if learning comes from it. The good news is that all of this can be practised by anyone willing to try.