When we think of resilience, authenticity, decision-making, quality questioning, maintaining psychological wellbeing, relationship building, giving feedback, listening… we talk about developing these as skills. Teaching people for them to learn. This is not the most effective way and here’s why…
Last night a group of coaches, HR pros and leaders gathered in the pretty town of Castle Donnington to talk about wellbeing and explore what’s not working, why are the figures going up, what is needed? All facilitated by Debbie Leafe using Nancy Kline’s Thinking Environment.
In the context of the work I do with clients – reconnecting them to their innate ability for connection, clarity and calm – this session was important to me, both to give our delegates an experience of those innate qualities on the day, but also for them to explore what wellbeing really means and what really needs to happen.
Now compare that to the definition of emotional intelligence:
“the capability of individuals to recognize their own emotions and those of others, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one’s goal(s)”
When you were in flow, to what extent were you doing any of the things in that definition?
My guess would be not very much, if at all, and certainly not consciously. Not with intellectual effort.
This is because when we’re in our natural state, we don’t need strategies and tactics. We don’t need breathing and centring, or visualisations of the best version of us, or mantras about listening to understand not to reply.
And this is because, in our natural “flow state”, we aren’t paying attention to the thinking going on in our heads. We’re not grabbing hold of thoughts and believing them. We’re not analysing why someone’s said what they said, or why we ourselves are getting frustrated by something, and crucially we’re not trying to manage ourselves out of an emotional response we think we shouldn’t be having in that moment. We’re keeping our intellectual, egoic, personal thinking out of the way and we’re accessing a much deeper space of wisdom and intuition.
Why aren’t we in flow more?
For years we’ve been teaching people (me included until recently) that we need to intellectually manage what’s going on for us emotionally. That we need to use our brain muscle to fix ourselves, that we need to practice and repeat to build new habits and new neural pathways, all so we can be better versions of ourselves more of the time because we’ve been led to believe there’s some version of us which is not good enough and not acceptable to society right now.
The trouble is, the application of our intellectual capabilities to these emotional management tasks, takes valuable energy away from our ability to generate fresh new thoughts and ideas in any moment, from our ability to listen and hear others, from our ability to connect and collaborate.
Remember that flow state? All those things just happened naturally there because you weren’t stuck, caught, or getting tangled in your thinking. And I’m not saying that in flow everything is about positivity and full agreement, with permanent grins on everyone’s faces – but you and others will have felt able to express any frustration or concerns without it seeming like a big deal. In fact the complete opposite. Any such insights will have been gratefully received and discussed, leading to an even better way forward.
So if we’re not “managing” our state through emotional intelligence tactics, how do we get to this state of flow more of the time?
We understand how our human system really works.
What we’ve been doing with emotional intelligence is explore:
the “what” – the content of our thoughts, labelling the emotions we’re feeling,
the “why” – what’s triggered you to get to that response. Often then examined to be re-framed or replaced with a more helpful thought.
This different approach understands the “how” of our underlying system. Think of making a car go. There is no benefit in commenting on the shape or design of the bodywork (the “what”). And there’s also no benefit in polishing the paintwork to a high shine to make it look nicer (the “why”). Neither of these approaches is going to get the car going. You must first understand “how” all the parts of the engine work and fit together to make the thing move forward.
The exact same here.
So how does our system work?
There are two areas where we can see the system working the way it always has and always will.
|First day in the new job….|
|I’ve never been responsible for so much before.||I wonder what the new boss will be like.|
|Better make a good impression or they’ll think they’ve made the wrong hiring decision.||Better make a good impression or they’ll think I’m no good at my job.|
|Must look like I know what I’m doing and what I’m talking about. I’m meant to be in charge of all this.||Must look like I know what I’m doing and what I’m talking about. I’m meant to be in charge of this department.|
|OK, let’s do this.||OK, let’s do this.|
|[Step into the office, shoulders back, head up, eye contact, confidently greeting people]||[Steps into the office, looking around]
Is he here yet?
|[Conversations in flow – listening deeply]||[Conversations in flow – speaking passionately]|
|Wow I’m learning loads.||Wow I know more than I realised, and he seems to be really listening. This is going well!|
|I have so many questions.||These questions are really getting me thinking. I love this!|
|These people really know their stuff.||I feel like I know my stuff even better than I did before this conversation!|
|They seem so engaged with what they’re doing and keen to change things for the better.||I love this job and this new boss seems great!|
|I’d better show that I know stuff too [adds knowledgeable stuff to conversation].||And he has insights to add. That’s so useful to have a new perspective.|
|A few months later…..|
|[Amount of knowledgeable stuff added to conversations grows….]||[Amount of knowledgeable stuff added to conversations is dropping, confidence is dropping]|
|Hey, I’m doing great! Look at all this stuff I know now.||I’m not sure I’m as good at this as I thought I was.|
|I can add so much to conversations.||I don’t feel I can share anything he doesn’t already know.|
|I have so many ideas. I’m thriving on sharing them with everyone!||I don’t know where to take this next. I can’t get a word in edgeways anyway.|
|6 months later….|
|I get all this now.||I’ll wait to be told.|
|I’ve got a clear plan of what we need to do and how we’re going to get there.||It’s always his opinion first so no point thinking first.
|Why is this person saying this again? We went over this already?||If he’d only listen he’d hear what I’m really saying. He doesn’t get it. He doesn’t care what I have to say.|
|I asked for that last week. What are they doing?||What’s the point, it won’t be exactly what he wants anyway.|
|I have this amazing idea – I’ll go and tell the people who need to make it happen. It must be done yesterday!||Instructions received. Robotic task-completion mode engaged.|
|Nobody has anything to say around here.||…..|
|I wish people would just get on and do instead of seeking permission from me!||Given he knows it all I need to check this first or it’ll be wrong.|
|Why does nobody interact in our meetings or bring ideas?
It’s like they’ve all just disengaged.
We’re taught our whole lives – from school and through work – to show our brilliance. Have the ideas. Show you know things. Demonstrate capability. Do stuff and do it well and quickly.
All through school, university and work we’re rewarded and praised for knowing and doing.
Then we reach leadership and we keep knowing and doing. And people disengage, switch off their brains, and do the basics or go elsewhere.
We need to just be. To listen. To allow space for others to grow into. And yes to add insight. To provide a broader context or set a vision higher than anyone might believe can be reached. But all the while involving and listening to others.
How are you doing at being?
LEARN new things,
CONNECT with like minded people,
and then go DO something different to make work better!
We’re excited that PKF Cooper Parry are hosting the event at their amazing East Mids offices (check out the image at the end!) and we’d love to see you there. Click here if you already know you want to book. And read on if you’d like to know more…..
P.S. Please make sure you check out the great boat metaphor for self care at the end!
Now, over to Janice…..
I have a little self-care graphic that I keep visible by my desk. It’s a simple hand-drawn graphic that serves as a reminder on those busy days of the things that keep me healthy. It prompts a bit of structure around my self-care and reminds me to keep it high on my agenda. And as you’d expect, the more I engage with activities that nourish my soul, the more rewards I reap. Not only in that short-term joyous time of connection with whatever it is I’m doing but for the long-term too as I continually reinforce those behaviours. Reminding my brain and body what it feels like to be nourished with those feel-good vibes on a regular basis.
And why am I telling you this?
Because hands up! I haven’t always been great at self-care. I know that self-care can be difficult. And so if, by any chance, I can enable your journey to greater self-care to be a little less time-consuming than my own then I’m happy to share my ideas.
So what makes self-care so difficult in the first place?
We live in a forever changing world, where we’re moving at a pace we, perhaps as humans, have never moved at before, constantly driving forward to keep up, take new stuff in and change. Our minds are constantly stimulated. Our mental health continually pushed to its limit whilst we strive to live our lives to their fullest. And with that we are continually challenged to keep everything in check (work and life) AND to deal with whatever has cropped up.
So its no wonder when we live in the world we do that life or work can sometimes ‘get in the way’ and can knock your self-care routine off-balance.
But here’s the thing…
There is ALWAYS going to be something that will get in the way. The experience of life is not one that is always in balance as much as we’d like it to be.
And these days we perhaps find that it’s unusual to get a ‘steady’ moment in work or in life… That is, unless we create one ourselves!
And so to create one we will….
On Thursday 16th March, I’ll be facilitating a session on self-care at the quarterly LearnConnectDo gathering. Learn > Connect > Do was founded by Helen Amery who is passionate about making work better. So if you care about making work better too by being better connected to your own self-care and if you have ‘people’ as the core focus of your work : HR, L&D, OD, coaching, leadership and management, then we’d love to have you along.
I appreciate that it can sometimes be difficult to figure out which meeting, activity or event is the most important for you to attend in any day. It seems we’re forever prioritising. But let’s not forget that “Learning self-care is like building your own lifeboat, plank by plank. Once you’ve got your boat, you’ll still be rocked by the waves of life, but you’ll have a feeling of safety, and a stability that means you can pick other people up on your way.” (Nadia Narain & Katia Narain Philllips)
So if you are ready to build the next plank in your own lifeboat to get to that feeling of safety and stability, book on here…
We look forward to seeing you!
No time to stop. No time to think. Just get on and do, do, do! And make sure others are doing the same.
In this place your brain is in action mode (distinct from reflection mode). You become more concerned about yourself than others. You lose perspective. It’s hard to see the bigger picture. You don’t think with full capacity because you’re verging on threat state and some parts of your brain aren’t deemed important enough for good blood flow when you’re in that place. More things become a competition than necessary. Frustrations are everywhere. And you’re more likely tip from the edge of “healthy pressure” into unhealthy stress and unhelpful reactions. When that happens you damage relationships, often with those you’re relying on to get your “doing” done.
It’s such a waste of human potential.
Because what I also see is that when people do choose to stop and think, either in 1:1 or group sessions, they can then see clearly. They raise their awareness. And from that position of greater clarity they choose different, more effective, more beneficial actions – and get better results.
And we need to choose it. We need to choose to stop.
The predominant culture in business today is “be busy” – because it makes you look/feel important and successful, because it makes you look/feel needed or wanted, because if you don’t your pay rise / bonus / job / career might be at risk….because if there’s a problem or something goes wrong fingers will be pointed at me because I didn’t look like I was doing anything. I looked like I didn’t have everything under control. I wasn’t dotting every i and crossing every t.
Our need for control makes us think that doing stuff and keeping doing stuff – a lot – is our route to success.
When in fact it’s our route to failure.
When we stop, in reflective mode, we feel more relaxed, our thinking broadens, we see connections, we become more empathetic and therefore able to appreciate and be considerate of others’ perspectives, we’re more flexible, adaptable and resilient to the things that inevitably change the plan along the way.
So ironically, even though we think that ploughing on and getting through the work is THE most important thing and the thing that will get us furthest. If we only stopped for 15 minutes and walked round the block, or went to buy a sandwich outside the building, it would help our heads shift into reflective mode, help us process what we’ve just done, and have us ready for the next chunk of the day.
And beyond that there are so many other ways and times and places you can stop and reflect. The key is for it to become a regular habit. You choose which of these sounds right for you. Give it a try, see if it works, and if not, try something else.
How Often and When:
Daily (tiny version) – if you feel you don’t have time to reflect at all – start small – even just reflecting on #3goodthings every day can start to shift how you feel and think. That only takes a few minutes on your journey home.
Daily (slightly bigger version) – 15 minutes before you’re going to leave – what’s gone well today, what hasn’t, what do I want to do differently tomorrow / next time?
Weekly – Friday before you finish – what’s gone well this week, what’s been challenging, what have I learnt, what’s coming up next week?
Monthly – end of the month – what am I proud of, what’s been difficult, what am I learning from that, what do I want to do with that now?
On your own – on paper, spoken out loud, recorded into your phone
With a colleague who’d also like to experiment with this, talk and process out loud while the other listens, then swap
Work with a coach* – protected thinking time with someone who’s entirely on your side, usually up to two hours, for in-depth reflection. Probably focussed on a particular aspect of your life – maybe something that’s showing up as a pattern for you and which is becoming a hindrance.
Ideally outside amongst trees and greenery – nature has a positive effect on how we feel!
If not then somewhere as comfy and relaxing as possible – maybe a coffee shop or quieter work area
Or just at your desk, on the sofa…. you choose.
Try some options. See what works for you. Form a habit you feel you can stick to. Some reflecting is better than none.
And see what impact is has on you and those around you.
*Different coaches are different. Talk to a few and choose the one you think will work for you. Coaches are used to this choosing process and good ones will have no problem with you not choosing them.
This one is with Sandra Nixon of QVC and Rhonda Howarth from Nestle who are talking about how to develop line managers to have effective coaching conversations. A coaching leadership style is essential to operate effectively in today’s world and for a line manager it can’t always be about sitting for hours having in-depth coaching sessions but about making it a fluid part of your everyday way of working. I’m interested to see what QVC’s and Nestle’s takes are on it.
First up is Sandra from QVC who’ve been going through a 10 year programme including investment in line manager skills which are being delivered in a sustainable way. She’s going to talk about embedding a coaching environment, some of their lessons and how they’ve made it sustainable to keep it alive.
They’ve followed the McKkinsey 7S change model and at the centre has been the focus on shared values. they believe in investing in their people for success. They bring their values into performance management, reward, recognition, a 2-day culture programme that everyone attends. They believe in creating a great employee experience to deliver a great customer experience – woop!!!
When they started the change they were getting good feedback from employees and customers, sales were in growth, new tech was being introduced, things were feeling very positive so to take the next step they started thinking about the future. They had a lot of senior people who’d been promoted from technical roles without any development and without clarity of what leadership means in QVC. They started to shape leadership as a role where you’re there for your team to help support, develop and grow them – woop again!
They did their first employee survey in 2007 which cemented an opportunity to focus on skills of frontline leaders. they has about a third of responses sitting around neutral they could see moving to positive.
They decided they wanted to move to a coaching culture to improve employee experience – although without any idea what their strategy might be – except that they saw it as enabling a great relationship and a skill that transfers across any employee-manager conversation – absence, performance, career….
So they thought about what they wanted to achieve – what does it look like if we have a coaching culture, what will be different, how will we know we’ve got there, what will we see, hear & feel, what do we want to keep hold of and what are we not doing. Then what do we want to achieve in Year 1 and by Year 3?
Sandra’s using the analogy of white water rafting to explain the start of the journey. That was how she felt and also that’s how their managers approached it. Do I have the skills? What if I fall out the boat? What if I lose my job? And others were raring to get in the boat – give me the paddle, I’ll give anything a go. they recognised they needed everyone on board before they started out so the business was clear about what the expectations were of the future and that their opportunity would be to learn towards that and make mistakes along the way without losing their jobs.
There were lots who already thought they did coaching – what they were actually doing was giving them feedback (this is a common experience of mine too) so they needed to first of all be clear about coaching, mentoring and giving & receiving feedback – with constant reiteration of the definitions to be clear what they were talking about as an organisation and to shift mindsets.
They developed coaching skills (see photo) – first of all doing this with the HR team so they could be ambassadors and role models. Senior leaders were involved to set the scene at the start of the learning programme to set expectations of the learners and emphasise this wasn’t going to be a fad or the latest thing. some leaders chose to leave – which is fine. It wasn’t for them.
They found that leaders weren’t aware of their skills gaps or weren’t prepared to be vulnerable and admit they had gaps. this led them to move into developing leaders into emotional intelligence, self awareness, self regulation, liming beliefs….Refer back to earlier session. the depth and quality of coaching is enhanced by the strength of relationship and so this work really needed to be done first.
Sustainability – workshops, e-learning, have used every opportunity to reinforce.
They wondered how they could assess how effective their leaders were being. They decided to get Ops Mgrs to observe Team Leaders when they’re coaching their team members to see in real time the way they’re behaving together. Scary but a great way to get real feedback, raise awareness, learn and improve. (Our best learning comes from discomfort.)
They had feedback that they had too many models so they decided to become masters of 1 or 2 models. Giving too much was clouding things for them.
They introduced Lean 6 Sigma – another opportunity to use coaching to say How do you do things on a day to day basis, how could you improve that.
ROI – employee survey – improvements year on year, improvements in attrition, in business results.
When they started in 2007 they were QVC UK and other countries operated separately but now they’re a global, matrix org so looking to how to be more effective and productive in that new world. Many of the leaders chosen to lead the matrix org have come from the UK and you can see a significant difference in their capability compared to their global colleagues because of their greater emotional intelligence. So now they’re back to strategy – how can we influence the global agenda and how will that look?
Next up, Rhonda from Nestle who’s going to talk about the role of a manager in their business and how they’ve supported leadership development through coaching networks.
Nestle already has a global approach to coaching and a strategy. Rhonda & her team’s job is to make sure managers are equipped to coach to ensure a coaching culture throughout. They’re a business created by lots of separate businesses that have been acquired but they’re looking to standardise expectations and standards across.
Expectations are that they engage and inspire their people, grow and develop their people, support their career. Variety of ways people join the programme : Apprenticeship, Graduate programme, Existing workforce, Direct entry – so leaders need to flex to different needs and priorities.
Their anchor for leadership programme:
As an individual – Know yourself
As a line manager – Coach and Develop
Senior leader – Develop org capability
They also have NCE – about driving improvement, consistency, quality, safety, lean – done lots here around coaching to engage operators in solution finding.
They’re about to launch Purpose and Values. Their new global CEO wants to anchor people to this. Purpose “Enhancing quality of life and contributing to the future.” Sso now with coaching they want to bring people back to these and to the values.
People Development and Performance – in Nestle they’ve fine tuned their appraisal process rather than removing it – but they have made it more frequent so people have check ins through the year. They have a holistic assessment at year end – the overall goals & performance of day job – and feed that into reward. Coaching is essential in check ins so people are having quality conversations which feeds satisfaction with end of year outcomes around reward – they intend this at least as they’ve not come to the end of the first year of this new cycle yet.
Their coaching is based on GROW supported by skill development in listening, questions, giving feedback, providing challenge. they’re also helping leaders with mindset so they go into conversations with employees clear about how they want to be and therefore the impact they want to have.
The senior leadership have also taken coaching on board, have developed their skills and are co-coaching each other as well as using a coaching approach more in day to day.
Nestle have a Global Coaching Network, Peer to Peer Coaching that can happen on factory floors and in the next level of supervisors, Coaching Groups connected to the Accreditation Pathway so they learn to be a coach and alongside that are these groups to continue learning. They’ve gone with ICF Accreditation for their formal qualifications.
How does being a coach marry with them delivering their operational job? > In Nestle it’s been a behavioural shift by helping them stand back from problems, find a different way of solving by enabling the team to learn and self-solve through coaching so next time they self-solve with more confidence next time. Creates more time / less pressure for the long term.
QVC have learnt that leaders need to recognise when they need to coach, when to mentor, when to give feedback. You can’t coach all the time as a line manager. Also needed to help with how to performance manage with this coaching approach – it didn’t mean we aren’t doing that now, it’s just we’re doing it with a different style. And it takes time and practice because when the pressure’s on we revert to control and tell.
This post has been live blogged from a session at CIPD Learning & Development Show. I’ve shared as I’ve heard it so there may be typos and I won’t have captured the whole thing but the intention is to give you a good sense of what was shared.
The CIPD use some of Jeremy’s models and approaches in their L&D qualification.
Jeremy’s big failure on the cricket pitch raised the question for him about what it is that means people thrive or fall in those situations when the pressure’s on. This led him to study sports psychology at Loughborough Uni (great university! #biased!). Reminds me of Kim Morgan’s piece for the #blogcarnival about the conditions needed for learning to occur. In addition to psychology he’s spoken to neuroscientists to get a rounded view.
Jeremy sees the problem being that orgs think coaching is a ‘thing to do’ instead of seeing it as a ‘way of being’. This is so so true. Coaching is a mindset and a skill. An art and a science.
So we can put a new skill into an org – e.g. to coach – but if stress levels rise then we’ll revert to our previous behaviours. Neuroscience has shown that these 3 factors cause stress: novelty, uncertainty and uncontrollability.
When our perceived coping skills are in balance with the perceived challenge around us we work in flow and at our best. But if the balance tips with challenge outweighing our perceived coping skills we go into threat state and we become stressed, fearful and our capacity for creativity and awareness of others decreases.
Jeremy showed a video of Matthew Pinsent from the gold medal winning race – the coach was working with what he could see and what the team were telling him directly. The coach took Steve Redgrave to one side who was ‘staring down the barrel of the pressure of his 5th gold medal win’ and asked him to speak to James to help him feel OK because it was his first Olympic race. The purpose wasn’t about James – James was fine – but it took Steve’s attention away from his own concerns and gave him something to keep occupied as they waited for the race.
Groups are now talking about:
- What was the coach’s mindset on the finals day? 2. What skills did he use? 3. What impact did it have?
1. Mindset – My job is to help my team perform at it’s best. How can the most senior person take responsibility for the team? How can they do that together without me being involved? I’m not getting in the boat so how can I stay out of the boat / outside of the team to distance from the pressure and emotion of the situation? > Usually when under pressure, leaders grab hold and control the living daylight out of things. Being an effective coach requires you to take all emotional attachment off the outcome the team are going to achieve, or not. Your work as a leader, developing your team should be done before it gets to any crunch points.
2. Skills – Getting the team to support each other. It’s a few words or a question all the time – it’s not an end of year review approach when you bring out your coaching skills.
3. Impact – On James – it would have boosted and inspired him that he was being valued, that the most senior was giving something to him. It also takes the emotional attachment for James away from the outcome, he encouraged him to focus on the process – focus on your stroke, focus on your rhythm. It wouldn’t have had the same effect if Steve had said “come on, you can do this, we have to win this” – that just increases the emotion and pressure.
Video of a great dance coach – her view is that great coaches display : Extraordinary respect for detail, Inspiring for their passion, A core desire to see the person they’re coaching get better, Acknowledgement that it’s exhilarating for you as a coach to see others succeed, Allow others to discover for themselves, Calmness, Simplicity, Create the environment so the dancers learn for themselves.
Sharing a performance curve from research that shows the best results are achieved in a context of High Challenge and High Support. The worst performance is when there’s High Challenge and Low Support – the environment when threat state is most highly triggered and people will shut down, they won’t experiment, they won’t be creative or find new solutions, they won’t say if they think a decision is missing critical information that they hold. And people will leave – either physically or mentally.
Coaching is the root to achieving this because as a coach you believe in your coachee’s ability to learn and succeed for themselves, they talk as if the person’s already two steps of where they currently are, they feedback changes they’re observing in the coachee.
Empathy is the critical skill because you need to understand different needs and preferences, and as a coach you have to identify them and anticipate and work with those strengths and weakness, their sensitivities and preferences, and to their ability to handle challenge or provide extra support if that’s what they need at that time. Don’t just sit down and start with the G of GROW. Think about this person, what they prefer, what’s going on for them just now, what might they most need from me just now? This is an intuitive place to operate from. And you can ask them too – how are you today? What do you most need from me in the conversation? You don’t need to always guess.
Boris Becker video – notice the person, when they need to be in the gym, when they’re OK for a conversation – be on your toes the whole time and sense when the time is right to disrupt, to interfere, to make an observation. Not a stale meeting – be in the moment, be aware, respond to the needs of your team.
Where’s the coaching in your org just now? Structured and formal or Unstructured and informal? Regular or Occasional? Where do you want or need it to be?
Coaching Indian players and he’d wait for these informal moments to happen so that you drop questions at informal times – ask a question just before they’re about to get on a coach or plane so they can reflect on the journey. Then ask them what they think at the end of the journey.
Video of Baroness Sue Campbell – you can’t change someone’s desire to succeed unless you create the environment – the coach isn’t the centre of attention. You’re the enabler. She had feedback years before – she was very “tell”, fast paced, she was in a show-off mode. the person who’d fed back to her asked her “where are you when the game starts” – on the sidelines – “who’s in charge when the games happening” – the team – and “when do they get the chance to practice that skill if you’re always telling them” – oh. You’ve got to help them do it for themselves and not take over. Otherwise you create people who need constant spoon-feeding in the short term because they have no ability to figure things out and make decisions over complex situations that will create a successful business for the long term.
Respect the power of silence to let people think and do the inner work that they need to hear the question, process, reflect. This is where the most powerful coaching moments happen.
Create the environment where failure is supported – otherwise people won’t try, they won’t stretch themselves out of their comfort zone. Set experiments where people can fail safely and learn about the gaps they have in their abilities or knowledge.
I had this manager, early in my career, who always got the best out of me. I didn’t realise how rare this was at the time, but I actually looked forward to her emails. I didn’t quite get why I worked so well for her and struggled with other managers until she gave me some advice: don’t ask a question unless you are genuinely interested in the answer. Suddenly I realised why I always looked forward to our interactions – because I felt my expertise and opinion were valued. Importantly, I also never felt like she was testing me or trying to ‘catch me out’ These days we call that psychological safety and it’s one of the few research-backed ways to create a high performing team.
Creating psychological safety formed the foundation of my management and leadership philosophy. I was 100% confident that I was executing it until an offhand comment from a member of my team. He told me that when I asked a difficult question he felt I was looking for a particular answer, and judging him until he got it right. Shocked, I interrogated everyone.
It turned out I was making a face. A face known to my team as “the Melissa face” or “The Eyebrow”, which intimidated my team into talking until they got the answer they thought I wanted. I was oblivious to something completely obvious to everyone around me and I was driving behaviour completely counter to my intentions.
So, I asked for help. I told them to let me know every time they saw the Melissa face.
Turns out there was some psychological safety on my team, because the next time I did it I had fingers pointing at me in triumph and shouts of “there it is.” And because I had real time feedback I had an epiphany – this face was my thinking face. I made it when someone challenged the way I thought about things. Ironically, the moment I was most impressed with someone’s input and wanted them to continue…they were reading as negative feedback and shutting down in response.
This shook me to the core but also thankfully helped me correct something very important to me.
Critically, it made me realise the importance of 1) creating an environment where critical feedback is given and taken in good humour 2) asking the right question – people have no idea what you are trying to do and can’t tell you whether you’re successful unless you ask and 3) always asking the follow-up questions – have I become better?
My unsolicited advice? There is no shortage of learning to be had – it comes at us through a fire hose of well meaning vendors, personal learning networks, social networks and the publications we follow. But the most valuable learning happens when you ask the people around you for feedback on the things that are most important to you. Do it daily.
[Image credit : www.fastdecals.com]
It’s not that unusual for people to cry when they work with me. Stopping the daily busy-ness and task-focused activities to pause, reflect and to think well can often bring things to the surface that people hadn’t noticed were there. Our always-on and busy lives lead us to sweep things under the carpet and carry on with an “it’s all fine” and “I’m fine” face on. Sometimes a client’s upset is “normal level” upset, sometimes it’s a symptom of medically-recognisable anxiety for which they need different help than I can provide. And when I say anxiety, don’t picture “jibbering mess, barely able to function”. Instead picture the reality which is genuinely what’s in front of me – capable, confident leaders who are very skilled at what they do and who are able to hide their anxious turmoil REALLY well.
It happened to me too. Not anxiety but definitely the surfacing of a collection of stuff which I’d been sweeping under my carpet for about a year. For me it was starting yoga that brought my tears to the surface and my yoga teacher tells me I’m most definitely not the only one. Taking time out to spend an hour in my own headspace while doing gentle yoga poses, flows and meditation gave me that non-task-focused space to allow my hidden stuff to come to the surface.
Since then yoga has become a weekly class and I don’t cry. Doesn’t mean I never will, nobody and no life is perfect, but for now I’m not. I’m also going to seasonally-timed yoga & art retreats for 5 Sundays this year. They’re amazing, luxurious time out from everything. I’ve worked with a fantastic therapeutic coach who helped me look deeply into myself and my past to reconcile some things and help me feel OK as I move forward, which has also helped with some relationships around me. Still some work in progress but a definite, significant shift, and lots of learning about me as coach.
And so what? Well, all this reflection was prompted by reading some good news in the world of mental health – that organisations are starting to make talking about mental health OK and that they’re providing solutions. The fact that The IOD are talking about it and not just The CIPD is a significant step in the right direction. Being able to help people consider a range of support options is brilliant to meet different people’s needs. Yoga doesn’t work for everyone, and neither will coaching, but an Employee Assistance Programme might, or counselling, or medical support, staff networks or buddying, and more.
For me, coaching on its own provides fantastic headspace to reflect, and I’ve also expanded what I offer to clients, making walking coaching and yoga + coaching definite options for those who want to give them a try.
Whatever’s right for you, the more you can address the causes and check under your carpet more regularly the better.
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