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
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
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
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 email@example.com and we’ll do the rest.
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!”
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.
I had fun earlier this year taking part in a TV quiz show on BBC4, called Only Connect, hosted by Victoria Coren. I formed a team with two old friends of mine and, because it had been my idea, they wanted me to be captain. I’m still not sure if this was a leadership privilege or a curse. The show was broadcast a couple weeks ago and so we are finally allowed to talk about the result. I’ll save you the trouble of watching it and tell you that although we lost, some kind people said that we emerged with some credit.
I’ve had a couple of interesting evenings watching live comedy shows recently and saw what I thought were interesting parallels between the world of comedic performance and leadership – often also a performance. Now, I am sure we all have seen some examples of leadership that are laughable, but that’s not quite what I mean.
The first show was at the Comedy Store in London and featured an evening of improvisation. I love improv – I like the spontaneity and the originality you get from creating in the moment from what is around you. We use improv in our leadership coach training because, however well a leader plans, events change and so the need to react in the moment is a key skill. And we know that humour, pitched at the right level and at the right time, can be really supportive for teams, and is a key element of emotional intelligence.
The Comedy Store Players take ideas from the audience on places or situations or roles or anything that will support them in creating an amusing scenario. They play with the audience, sometimes with rudeness, sometimes with humour, judging in the moment which will have the best outcome. I never saw them being cruel to the audience; they see and engage the audience as part of their team. The success of the evening is due to a blend of the talents and experience on the stage, whilst also taking vital input from the audience – a good way to run any team.
The second show was a classic evening of stand-up comedy with four acts and a compere. I’d gone with my wife, Helen, thinking it would be a fun evening. The compere started the evening, ”warming up” the audience to prepare us for the first act. Bless him, he tried hard, but seemed to lack two skills. Firstly, his timing was just not quite right, and secondly the interaction with the audience was both formulaic and also passive. By that I mean he set the audience up to deliver an essential background to his act, without involving them, consulting them, or trying to play to their strengths. A familiar storyline of poor leadership.
He handed over to the first act, who pitched for the audiences sympathy and then spent the rest of his time dragging out a few tired and stale stories which to me seemed like a rehash of old material, neither funny nor original. 5 minutes into the second act, which, to be fair, was mildly, if only briefly, entertaining we realised we could find more entertainment in each other’s company with a glass of wine in the bar.
We came back for the fourth act, Bill Bailey, the real reason we were at the gig in the first place. The formula was the same – he had a routine he’d been working on, but the delivery and the interaction with the audience were on a different level. The comedy was intelligent and funny, his timing was great, and he showed respect for the audience, using their heckling to create more humour. So a blend of prepared and improv gave this act the edge.
I’m sure by now you have seen the parallels that I saw here for leadership. Here’s some guidance I once read for improv actors:-
The successful ‘improv’ players bag of tricks includes:-
• listening to others without prejudgment
• accepting what is offered by others
• trusting that the group will solve a problem together
• letting go of one’s own needs to control situations or predetermine outcomes
Imagine working for a leader who embodied those principles – imagine being that leader.
In summary then, the successful leader treats their team with respect; consults and involves the team; creates solutions in the moment from all the resources around them, including the team; uses humour to good effect; delivers a great performance.
Oh, and knows when to cut their losses and go to the bar.
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!
What’s the one thing about leadership you need to know? What is it your boss needs to know you know?
It’s got to be said: everything a leader says or does creates an impact. Body language, the way he or she walks into the room; what they say and the way the say it. The leader has the single biggest impact on driving performance: up or down.
Team members are looking for direction from our leaders, explicitly or otherwise; and our leaders hand down that direction in the subtlest of ways. The team will pick up on a vocal nuance, a raised eyebrow, or the way papers are shuffled at the beginning of a meeting. The interpretation they make of these actions will impact upon what happens outside that room as they apply the direction they’ve ‘heard’.
I’m hearing this feedback from the leaders I coach and members of their teams, as well as from directing my own teams. The good news is that their experience is backed up by organisational research evidence. To remind myself of these sources, I turned to the work of Daniel Goleman, the ‘emotional intelligence’ expert, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee, who together wrote a book published in the US under the title ‘Primal Leadership*’ and in the UK as ‘The New Leaders’.
Their focus is on the ‘resonant leader’ and they used a “global database of 3,871 executives in which several factors that influenced the working environment were assessed”. Two key findings were that “leadership styles affected financial results, such as return on sales, revenue growth, efficiency, and profitability”; and “leaders who used styles with a positive emotional impact saw decidedly better returns than those that did not”.
What this tells us, regardless of whether you work for the private, public or not-for-profit sector, is that your bottom line – however measured – is impacted on by your leaders.
Cutting to the chase, what’s the one thing we can do as leaders to improve our bottom line (however measured)? Find out what motivates the people who work for us – one by one – and play to their strengths. Leadership isn’t all about us; it’s about a successful team and we unlock that success when we know what their strengths are and what really motivates people.
Watching the Australia/England cricket highlights this week I heard a great line which I’m paraphrasing here: ‘play to your team’s strengths, not to the opposition’s weaknesses’. We can only do this when we truly get to know the people who work with and for us.
So if you’re having a tough week at work and the signals you’re getting from your boss are driving down your motivation and performance, print this out and leave it in a prominent place. Your boss needs to know how to unlock your success and he/she needs to know that you know it too.
*Quoted from: “Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence”, Goleman D., Boyatzis R., McKee A., Harvard Business School Press, 2002, pp53/54. The reference to the original database is set out on p.265.
It’s been a great week discussing leadership with participants at our Foundation Course in Leadership Coaching – a diverse mix of people from small businesses, the NHS and leadership development organisations.
What I find important is to remember that it’s people who create leadership, rather than organisations, which is why coaching is such a personal process. Sure it can be a ‘one-to-many’ activity, where groups of people work with a coach to achieve a common goal, but it’s always personal: it’s about making human connections and building leadership from those connections, not the performance targets or statistics.
I was reminded this evening that even when people achieve high office, such as getting onto a Board of Directors, it’s not the position that’s important, it’s having a voice on that board: being heard, being influential and making a difference in the situation in which leaders find themselves in. This is what people call ‘situational leadership’ – apparently in the military it’s known as ‘point leadership’ – the ability to step up and lead from wherever you are.
Leadership is also about getting across one key message: “there’s a better way”. If the way we’re currently doing something is ok, why change? People with leadership qualities see the better way, they gather up their courage to speak out and gain allies when they put their ideas across.
My husband Bob had a great opportunity to demonstrate situational leadership on the national news this evening. We were thrilled when we bought an 18th century house and had the opportunity to mix 21st century solar panels and green technologies with traditional building materials. Our roof has a marvellous pattern in tiles, lovingly restored by the builders. On the back of the house is a set of glistening, photo-voltaic cells, which look like large black mirror tiles, generating between a third and a half of our daily energy needs.
We were called to participate in the debate on the BBC, on the Government’s plans to announce the ‘feed-in’ tariffs, which pay small-scale generators like us for the contribution we make back to the national grid. Bob has enjoyed working with our suppliers, Solar Century http://www.solarcentury.co.uk/, partly because we share their vision to have solar systems on the roof of every building in the UK. Of course this will need to be backed up by other micro-renewables, and the aim is to create clean power and achieve deep cuts in carbon emissions.
So Bob showed leadership by having the courage to be interviewed live by BBC News 24, from a studio in Birmingham and Solar Century, the organisation, show leadership in pioneering this technology. Of course, it’s not an organisation, it’s people like Founder Jeremy Leggett , who established Solarcentury to address the threat of climate change, who really make the difference. Leaders inspire their teams to succeed, and they communicate a vision of what they want to achieve. We may admire the brands created by successful companies, but it’s the people behind them who matter.
So here’s my manifesto for leadership: it’s about people who see that there’s a better way, they step up and they speak out, gaining allies as they do so. In today’s environment – economic and ecological – we can’t keep doing what we’ve always done before; we need people to show us ‘the better way’.