Category Archives: Leaders

Leaders laughs

Leaders and a laugh out loud moment

You may wonder why leaders and managers resist coaching their teams, when the financial and personal benefits of coaching are so well known.

We regularly hear some great ‘reasons’ from individuals within some client organisations, so I laughed out loud when I read an article on the five myths that prevent leaders from coaching their team members.

In summary these are:

  • “My team don’t want my questions, they just want me to give them the answer.”
  • “I’ll coach them when they ask for it. They can ask for help.”
  • “No one is complaining, so everything is fine.”
  • “Good people self-correct when something goes wrong.”
  • “Our best team members want to be left alone to get on with their jobs.”

I’ll leave you to read the full article by Marcia Reynolds PhD, and I’d be interested to know whether any of these resonate with your experience (you can email me on helen.caton@thefortongroup.com to let me know.)

The solution we offer is to integrate coaching into organisations at two levels:

  1. Leadership coaching methods as part of a consistent, ongoing, development programme

This means that the language of coaching is organisation-wide; peer learning supports the less confident to develop and the more experienced to mentor others.  This is the ‘manager as coach’ level.

  1. Accredited coaching qualifications for a core group who will create an in-house coaching team

These people can provide formal 1-1 coaching; for example, to support career progression; to help establish new teams and projects; or to address challenges and nip them in the bud.

And independently-verified Case Study Evidence demonstrates the benefits of these two approaches.  It’s not us saying this, it’s organisations like Gallup, the University of Queensland and a world-class NHS hospital group.

And if you want to know more about how the Forton Group maximises better leadership and management through coaching skills, get in touch.

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

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

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.

The comedy of leadership

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.