If everyone’s talented, what do you do?

 

I managed to catch an interesting programme on Radio 4 last week on the topic of ‘Talent’.  If you’re in the UK, you can catch it here.  It’s well worth 30 minutes of your time.

Like the presenter, I love the talent development projects we get involved in.  We get to work with a great mix of enthusiastic and committed people.  Highly intelligent.  Highly motivated.

And then they bump up against the filtering mechanisms and outright biases that get littered in their way, like tacks on the road to success.

Whether it’s a burst tyre, or simply a burst ego, their personal mindset can help them overcome most obstacles.

  • For some people these are the normal setbacks and challenges of life, where mistakes are genuinely seen as ways to learn and grow
  • It’s also becoming clearer that peoples’ inner values and emotional intelligence create tenacity, determination and resilience.
  • Then there’s the qualities that get the job done – the grit, hard work, sticking at it and building skill.

So great.  Mindset is important.

But how do you discern the best talent for the people, project or programme leadership roles?

The notion of ‘War for Talent’ results from a scarcity mindset, fuelled by people who profit from the churn in recruitment.  It over-values some people, and writes off others.  Both routes add to the expense of talent development

And there’s another hidden obstacle.  People of the generation that’s worked hard to pass exam hurdles all their lives, are more likely to be biased against the ‘lifelong learning’ mentality.

The good news is that intelligence is improving – as education becomes better and more widespread.

Educators know that people, young and old, in empowering environments, do better than those where no-one believes in them.

  • If we had a parent and a teacher who believed in us, we were doubly fortunate. Either one is better than none.
  • Today, our bosses and the workplace classroom tutors, facilitators and coaches are the teacher/parent substitutes.

The good news is that workplace learning challenges really add value – measurable in IQ and EQ – in our work lifetimes.

So what is the best way to develop talent?

I know that you have a development mindset.  Otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this.  But that development mentality needs to run through your organisation like a stick of rock.

So it’s not enough for the HR or L&D department to identify people with talent.  Their line managers need to believe in them too.

The solution is to develop everyone.  Give everyone challenging things to do and see whether – and how -they succeed.

Just, not only for leadership and management roles.

Everyone can have a Personal Development Plan, and every leader and manager can have the role of developing their people.

The secret is to identify what potential people have, rather than identifying solely for leadership potential.

Some of your people may have a preference for technical excellence alone.  In which case, don’t give them people or projects to organise or lead.

Others may have more general, project management potential.  Great.  Because getting the day to day done is vital.

And some people may just have those crucial leadership qualities that organisations need to succeed beyond the day to day.

Of course, it does require that your organisation stops demanding everyone has to reach the same elevated section of your behavioural or competency framework, and lets people follow the direction that their talent profile points them towards.

In this way you don’t waste the talented resources you do have – you utilise them to their optimum.  Because when you do that, chances are you’ll be tapping into their discretionary effort.  Because they’ll want to take on the challenges that best suit their talents.

And you’ll get better results.

If you want to nurture your team’s talent 2017, just get in touch.

 

Leading highly technical teams

I’ll never forget the presentation delivered by the IT Developer who wanted to share every single piece of her brilliance with the rest of the room.  She lost me after 5 minutes – and I was her boss.  The rest of the room had long given up the will to live by the end of the 30 minute slot.

It’s a common challenge that IT project managers and their customers come to us with increasing regularity: how to lead and develop technical experts.

Leadership is an ever-changing landscape because every situation is different.  And so are human beings.  Yet we need to find ways to lead all kinds of people successfully.

There are common threads however.

  • The IT expert who wants to be acknowledged for their brilliance
  • Introverts who find it hard to pick up the phone
  • Details people who wonder why their five page email doesn’t get a reply

And then there’s the team dynamics.  Often teams are seen as fixed for the life of a project and this can damage the ability of the team to deliver.  The person you need the most to meet your programme deadlines might also be the most disruptive member of the team.

If someone with a highly theoretical mindset is expected to shift roles and be at the forefront of delivery, it can be a recipe for disaster.

And where does ‘leadership’ fit into all this?

Leaders need to have a practical understanding of the different leadership skills required of them.  They need emotionally-intelligent competences.  Not just so that they don’t get frustrated when the IT expert wants to show off their brilliance in the middle of a meeting – but so that they can support and develop that individual to use their skills well.

Leaders need to have a flexible mindset.  Confident in their judgement, so that, if team changes need to be made for the good of the project, the rationale is clearly conveyed.

The Forton Group was built to support people from technical backgrounds to be better leaders.  We’ve worked with scientists, IT and FinTech experts, engineers, medics and more.

What’s common to all these people is a consistent approach to leadership development that they can get their heads around – and apply in the workplace – today.

One that acknowledges their technical leadership and expertise, but helps them develop their relationship and people skills to best effect.

Once we understand, as leaders ourselves, that how we behave, how we model leadership and how we support others to develop – as successful members of the team – has a practical and immediate impact – change becomes much simpler.

Of course, some of them want more letters after their name –which is why we’ve developed a post-graduate level 7 programme in strategic leadership and management.  Others just want to understand the foundations and find ways to apply their leadership skills

So whether you need a taster, a 2 day-workshop or a year-long programme to develop your technical leaders, and you want tangibly better leadership, get in touch.  You’ll find us at +44 (0) 345 077 2980 option 1, or email info@thefortongroup.com.

Donkeys and the language of leadership

donkey and cart

I was stuck in a traffic jam on a dual carriageway when I was overtaken by a donkey and cart travelling in the outside lane. My journey to deliver this particular training programme was a little different – a couple of weeks ago I was delivering leadership and influencing training to a group of managers in Senegal in West Africa. Continue reading

Coach training for experienced coaches: the Forton difference

If, like me, you’re an experienced coach working with executives and leaders in corporate settings, you may be wondering why you need to invest in specific leadership coaching training. Of course, you may be about to renew your credentials, which is a great reason to do this!

Here at The Forton Group, we provide a wide range of flexible ways of getting the CCEUs and supervision hours you require for ICF renewal.

But what’s different about leadership coaching, why should you add it to your kitbag and why The Forton Group? 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

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!”

Leadership and Only Connect

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.

Continue reading

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.