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
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
“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
Last Saturday I was taking a cheetah for a walk. For me it was a profound, once in a lifetime experience. It’s led me to pondering on the idyllic life of their minders, and thinking about how perfect it can be when the job you do really plays to your strengths.
I was in Zambia, running a development centre. We had a day off, and visited the Chaminuka game reserve. The highlight for me was the chance to interact with two 6 month old cheetah cubs. I had no idea how kindly they would feel towards humans and began to run through my list of strengths to see if any would be of use to me.
The team were trying to reintroduce cheetahs to the wild. At the same time, they are using the cubs as part of an education programme. They take them to schools, to inspire the next generation to value these endangered species. The worst predators for cheetahs are, unsurprisingly, men. It was clear the handlers loved their job, had a passion for nature and also revelled in showing us humans how to respect these elegant creatures.
When working with leaders, we use the Clifton Strengthsfinder, a great tool for assessing key talents and strengths. It’s based on research around how our brains evolve in the first 13 or so years of our life. Pathways determined by our genes are strengthened through our experience and lead us to build talents. For example, some people acquire a thirst for learning; others may be driven to maximise their efforts in any walk of life. Or, you may love working one to one with people, or be a great communicator. All of these traits start early in life. Understanding them is key to finding the role that really suits you. When we play to our strengths, we quickly find ourselves in the zone, where time passes, and we achieve at our best.
One of my top 5 is a thing called ‘WOO’ – Winning Others Over. It means I love the challenge of meeting new people and winning them over. I derive satisfaction from breaking the ice and making a connection with another person. I wondered if this would extend to winning over cheetahs. I got on well enough – the cheetah I was stroking was purring in much the same way as a domestic cat, so I must have been doing something right.
The rest of the week was another fun event, working with leaders with potential who were discovering for themselves what strengths they had and planning how best to build on them to make the biggest contribution to their organisation and at the same time, create the best jobs and build their careers.
We left Zambia with the good wishes of our hosts and a warm satisfaction of having supported leaders to discover and deploy their strengths. What I really wanted to leave with was a cheetah cub.
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
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 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.
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.