I need more balance

Needing balance shows up in various guises in clients’ worlds and yet each and every experience of ‘out of balance’ has the same origins.

Stones balanced on top of each other with orange sunset sky in the background
Photo by Bekir Dönmez on Unsplash

I wrote recently about leadership and said I’d write a linked piece about balance because it’s such a common feature of experience and something that was more than a one-liner.

The out-of-balance problems I hear from clients tend to show up as:

Leading the team vs doing my work

Strategic vs operational read more

Leadership for the whole of me and the whole of you

I just listened to this podcast and my reflections were beyond the wordcount of any social media post! I’d love to hear what you think too.

The conversation is an interview with Mike Vacanti on Teresa Quinlan and Rhys Thomas’s podcast TNT ESQ and there were three big themes that jumped out for me.

  1. Whole-listic leadership
  2. Bringing people with you
  3. Healthy attachment

Read on…

  1. I love the concept of ‘whole-istic’ leadership. Confirming Daniel Goleman’s findings all those years ago that the most successful leaders were those who deployed all the categories of leadership that he defined.

What I really see in this is how you can’t ‘do’ flexibility with leadership styles effectively from the intellect. You can’t come to each situation, pause, refer to the boxes and pick which to use for this person in this situation. read more

Emotional intelligence made easy

Think of a time when you were in flow. Either on your own, or in a group or team. One of those times when things just seemed to happen really naturally and easily. When you didn’t have to put much effort in and yet you were making great progress, or getting great results.

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,

and

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.

  • Everything works inside-out. Everything you’ve experienced, ever, in your whole life has been experienced through your thoughts. There is no other way. Nothing on the outside can “do” anything to you or “make” you feel anything. It’s all seen through the movie projector of our experience. “We’re the writer, the director, the producer – and in fact the audience”*.
  • Our system rights itself. Without intervention from us, our thinking moves on, our feelings change and we move to a different state. Automatically. In fact, I might go so far as to use the new word I recently learnt “automagically”! We “think” we’re so clever and we’ve been taught all our lives to be clever: in education, by parents, and in work. The message we’ve received is that intellectual capabilities are THE most important capability we have. And it’s not that intellectual is unimportant, but it’s the fact that this is not all there is. In emphasising our intellectual, we’ve denied and hidden the rest of what makes us whole; the true source of our brilliance and innate wisdom. We’ve been so busy fixing ourselves to be better we forgot that we didn’t need fixing in the first place.
  • read more

    Parrots, Reality and Flow

    This parrot led to tears and upset.

    As my daughter drew it, copying from the video, she burst into tears. The tail looked all wrong, far too wide for the body. “But mummy look, the tail needs to go to under its first toe”.

    Trouble is, of course, my daughter’s parrot’s toes were slightly different to the one in the video so the tail going to there did make it look a bit crazy-wide.

    When we try to copy a pre-prepared plan to the letter, when we expect people to behave in a certain way that matches the movie in our heads, when we think it shouldn’t be raining today because we’ve got that outdoor event, when we think we should be earning more / achieving more….

    This is where our suffering begins: when we believe every single thing we think and see it as a solid, definite truth.

    Once you really see how our minds work, the more you live in the moment working with what is, instead of what you think it “should” be. The more you’re here, the more you stay fluid and flexible, adaptive and agile, adjusting and integrating, and the better you feel.

    All this without having to actively “do” anything. No mind-management techniques, no practicing of new habits. Once you “get” this understanding, the flow just flows.

    It’s hard work swimming upstream against the current of the world around us.

    Jump in and be in the flow.

    Get in touch if you want to know more.

    Self Care for People Professionals @ Learn > Connect > Do

    Today’s post is brought to you by Janice Keyes.  Janice is a wonderful, dedicated HR professional and coach who’s bringing her self care expertise (learned through her own challenges with bringing balance to life!) to Learn > Connect > Do next Thursday (15th March).  All profits from these events go to Twenty:Twenty and when you join us you

    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!

    PKF Cooper Parry Offices, East Mids – this is where we’ll be on the 15th!

     

     

    The Rebel Playbook : A Book Review

    I’ve just finished reading my pre-release copy of the Rebel Playbook and wanted to pen a few words to share my thoughts so that you can choose if you’d like to read it when it’s released on 23rd Feb this year.  You can pre-order it now though – here or (currently at a reduced price) here.  First up, I want to say that I have no association to Debra or Glenn so this review isn’t a “helping mates out” thing.  I bought a pre-order copy, as anyone could do if they spotted the tweets promoting it.  Full disclosure though – they did send me some Haribo!  Which swiftly went to the kids 🙂  And a second book by way of apology because my copy was delayed.

    So, my thoughts….

    My summary view : a fantastic, practical and accessible handbook to shift attitudes to how we work with those we employ and therefore how we can make work more engaging.

    The book’s based on Debra and Glenn’s Engagement Bridge model and so it’s structured around the ten elements of that model.  These elements are essentially the elements you’d see in any decent people strategy but with the nice Bridge metaphor – the foundational rocks for the bridge are Workspace, Wellbeing and Pay & Benefits.  Above that, the more “planks of wood” you lay, the stronger your bridge and the more people you can safely get across the river.

    The ten elements provide the chapters for the book – but in a flexible way.  There isn’t a prescriptive “work on this, then this, then this”.  They invite readers to jump in where it feels right for them.  So you could read the whole book and then decide your priorities, but equally, if you know where your opportunities are you could go straight to those sections.  I also like that at the end there’s an acknowledgement that there can be huge overlap and interconnection between these ten elements.  So many books try to keep the boxes of a model (falsely) separate so I like the honesty about the fact these elements are operating as a whole system.

    Each chapter begins with insights or knowledge-sharing about the topic, then how Rebels do these things differently – the outcomes they’re striving for and the behaviours they deploy, before sharing case studies or “plays” from a huge variety of organisations – varied both in terms of type and size of business but all consistent in being led by people who have a passion and the courage to do things differently to make work better.

    In terms of the Plays, I don’t believe for a second that all these organisations have engagement perfectly nailed in every way, but the examples of what they’ve done give great ideas to get thoughts stimulated and minds broadened to possibilities.  Again Debra and Glenn are honest about this work of improving engagement being an ongoing journey.  There is no quick fix, no silver bullet.  It takes commitment for the long term and continued effort to keep practices fresh and still engaging.  And also (yay!!) they discredit the idea of best practice – read the examples, consider them in your context, and do what’s right for your organisation, your values and your uniqueness.

    I found some chapters more interesting, sparky and hope-inducing than others – even though some of principles and Plays are ones I’m aware of.  The one I found least engaging was the Learning & Development one, but maybe that’s because it’s the area I know best.  The Plays in it just seemed to be things we were doing in Boots a number of years back and not especially innovative.  Or does it mean that L&D are ahead of the curve in doing things differently?  That would make a nice change to the usual narrative around L&D holding things back!

    Counter to that, HR and Legal teams get the raw deal in here.  Held responsible for the dreadful employee handbooks, rules and policies which punish the many for the misdemeanours of the few.  However, that approach has grown up from the management practices of the 19th Century and the belief of the need to control the lazy workforce so I don’t think HR and Legal can be held solely accountable here.  A key message is about starting from a place of trust and believing that people are at work to do a good job – and that if you treat people that way that’s likely what you’ll get.  And if you don’t, you deal with that on an individual basis, treating it as the exception to the rule that it really is rather than writing a while new policy paragraph.  @HRGem would be proud!

    Of course with one book and ten topics to cover, these are relatively topline insights into each, but definitely giving enough information and ideas of “what” you can do.  There’s a gap in terms of the “how to” but maybe that will be for future books – or at the very least for you to research more and/or seek support from relevant experts.

    One thing I struggled with, and am still grappling with now, is one part of the definition of engagement where Debra and Glenn say that engaged employees “genuinely want the organisation to succeed” which means “They will often put the organisation’s needs ahead of their own.”.  I just don’t agree with this.  I believe we have enough people who attach their self-worth to how well they do in a job (which can lead to burnout and mental illness) and I don’t think a human and responsible employer should use how much people put the org before themselves as a measure of success – further increasing the pressure to be “good enough” by going the extra mile.  In fact that to me this is counter-intuitive to the arguments later in the book about wellbeing.  If we’re truly going to help people be well we need to be OK with employees putting their own, their friends and their families needs ahead of the org.  Not only that, if we believe that putting the org first is a measure of good engagement then you automatically exclude a large and diverse proportion of the workforce from being on the “engaged” list because they may just not physically be able to make that kind of commitment – whether due to caring responsibilities, for their own health or because of a disability which limits how much they can work.

    Overall I think this book is fantastic, easy to read and containing loads of top tips and ideas.  I’ve already recommended it to a number of my clients to help them and their leadership teams with their own cultural shifts.

    Strangely I’m going to finish on a worry I have.  Not one that I think Debra and Glenn should have covered, nor are responsible for but…..

    I have a more fundamental grapple about engagement and the purpose of the org towards which people are being engaged.  If these practices are intended to improve productivity towards a positive purpose then that’s all good.  But I fear that too many orgs continue to operate with profit as the primary pursuit, and engage in work which damages the local community / the environment / people further down the supply chain.  I appreciate this isn’t the concern of this book but it is something that concerns me about the world of work; that orgs will do the engagement thing like they might do the CSR thing – make themselves look good on the surface to hide the unspeakables that are under the rug.  My hope is that nobody can be that good at hiding….

    And in the meantime I’m going to be focusing on the ones who have a positive purpose to do good in the world and who really mean it!

    Diversity and Inclusion comes to Learn > Connect > Do

    It’s going to be big!! On 30th November Learn > Connect > Do is back with something a bit different. It’s our Christmas event – nice and early to avoid bumping into the partying and quality time with friends and family – and we’re bringing you four – yes four!! – experts to join our learning conversation about Diversity and Inclusion.  If you already know you need this learning jump straight to the booking page on Eventbrite!

    (Thanks to Gabriella Driver for sharing this great image from the recent CRF Conference.)

    On the back of National Inclusion Week (#NIW2017) last week, and research conducted by PM Insight, this is an essential topic for organisations to engage with. Whether you believe we live in a VUCA world or not, creativity and innovation are essential in work and those qualities will only come through bringing and genuinely including different perspectives and approaches into the workplace’s thinking.

    LEARN

    So in November we’re inviting four experts to come and share their knowledge and experience on some of the hot topics in the world of Diversity:

    > Disadvantaged young people

    > LGBT

    > Menopause

    > Mental Health

    Make sure you read about Joanna, Sean, Deborah and Karen at the end of the post.

    At Learn > Connect > Do we believe in an adult approach to learning and we like to do things informally so, for this event, the experts will be available around the room much like a conference exhibition hall – but without any hard sell! So you’ll get to choose which experts you spend your time with – whether that’s 1, 2, 3 or all 4 of them. It’ll be about relaxed conversations – learning, asking and exchanging ideas.

    CONNECT

    But this event isn’t just about gaining knowledge. We’re also going to explore the barriers to diversity – what stops us when it comes to Inclusion. As a species, we’ve been scared of difference in others for many years – just check out this video if you need evidence for that (thanks to Janice Keyes for the vid). And recent events prove this fear is still prevalent all around us. So we’ll be talking about this barrier and any others you encounter, understanding them and sharing ideas together for how to overcome them.

    DO

    If we keep doing the same things we’ll keep getting the same results. This is a chance for you to choose to do things differently, to make work better.

    It’s going to be a bumper event with mince pies and, of course, chocoloate included! And as usual, all profits will be going to TwentyTwenty so they can continue to do their great work. All this for less than £27!

    We’d love to see you there!

     

    Book here now!

    Email me to go on the mailing list for this and future events.

    For now, here’s an introduction to our experts…..

    Disadvantaged Young People – Joanna Burrows from TwentyTwenty

    To represent the perspective of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, Joanna Burrows from TwentyTwenty (Learn > Connect > Do’s charity partner) will be joining us. TwentyTwenty is an award-winning employment support charity specialising in supporting and empowering disadvantaged 11-24 year olds who are disengaged from education or not in education, employment or training (NEET). We break cycles of hopelessness, worklessness and dependency in the most deprived areas of the East Midlands, operating through Lifeskills Centres in Loughborough, Leicester and Derby.

    We aim to consistently put the right people, places and opportunities around each young person, to counterbalance some of their persistently difficult home, educational and social experiences. We support young people to develop self-belief and motivation, achieve in education, learn work-ready skills and attitudes and find and keep a good job.

     

    LGBT – Sean Russell from Get Out Stay Out

    Sean Russell is passionate about LGBT and enabling employment. He’s the founder of the website:

    www.getoutstayout.org.uk read more

    Humans vs Bots – how a human team can gain competitive edge over the bots

    We’ve all seen the headlines.  The bots are coming for our jobs.

    In recent research*, the skills managers reported they need in the next 5 years significantly underestimate the importance of people.  But people skills are exactly what we need to differentiate ourselves from AI.  The top 3 skills the managers reported needing were:

    1.       Digital and technological expertise (42%)

    2.       Creative thinking and experimentation (33%)

    3.       Data analysis and interpretation (31%)

    …..

    And the people skills came in at 6th place.

    The thing that sets us apart as humans is that we have vast capacities to be creative and experiment – but this stops when we’re in an environment where we don’t feel safe or valued.

    It’s easier to feel safe when we’re surrounded by people like us but this isn’t where the strongest teams operate and it isn’t where the best ideas come from.

    So flip that, surround yourself with a diverse team – some reflective people, some who drive the agenda, some who have creative flair, some who pay attention to the practical details.  This is when interpersonal problems arise because opposing styles trigger fear in us.  We don’t understand them.

    The paradox is that these differences are exactly what you need for creativity, agility and innovation.

    So as a leader, how do you maximise the full potential of your team?  How can you be stronger as a team than you are apart?

    Leaders we talk to know that this is what they want to achieve but don’t know how to go about it.  They want the business to grow and evolve but fear losing their original vision and entrepreneurial edge.

    A critical way to embrace this paradox and benefit from it is to fully understand each member of your team – what their strengths are, what energises them, what frustrates them – developing their ability to talk about this in an open and conscious way, growing mutual appreciation for what each person brings.

    This process enables the team to establish conscious team “norms” – norms are habits or codes of behaviour that become the accepted way to do things.  All teams have norms but they’re usually unconscious and aren’t always helpful for creating the safety for brilliance.

    Sometimes an agreed norm can be as simple as allowing everybody the chance at the start of a meeting to say how they’re feeling and what’s going on, or it might be agreeing to co-create agendas in advance.  Whatever your agreed norms, the part which often gets lost is the continued practice of them.  The norms slip from the helpful and conscious back to the unhelpful and nonconscious, especially when the pressure’s on, and the team’s success slips with it.  Regular team reviews are essential.

    Our top tips for establishing helpful and conscious team norms:

    1.       Everybody inputs into what’s working and what’s not

    2.       Agree norms that address what’s not working

    3.       Each member takes responsibility for maintaining them

    4.       Regularly check how they’re working

    5.       Celebrate the successes that come from them

    6.       Adjust them if you’ve experimented and they’re not working

    Do this in your team and you’ll maintain your competitive edge over the best bots in town!

     

    ————————————————

    Zoe and Helen work with top teams enabling them to harness their collective power. Get in touch to find out how we can help you maximise the differences in your team.

    @aligningteams

    helen@aligningteams.co.uk

    Read more about what we do here.

     

    *(Accenture Survey reported in HBR Mar/Apr 17)

    When teams really thrive

    I read this article tonight.

    Possibly the most common situation at any level of leadership : Overloaded leaders because half their time is spent solving problems that aren’t theirs to solve. Resulting in teams who don’t believe they’re capable because every time the leader solves for them it tells the team they can’t.

    And with the best of intentions : to be helpful to the person in need, to get the thing resolved quickly to help the business be successful.

    But instead it helps the business be unsuccessful.

    As the leader your time is spent on issues which don’t belong to you. Your time is sucked into being the parent in the childrens’ squabbles. You aren’t adding the value you should be with the role you’re employed to do. And neither you nor your team are working as effectively as you could be. Which leads to everyone feeling deflated; lacking motivation through lack of achievement; energy-sapped from feeling stuck in the weeds, underdeveloped because all the challenging stuff is whisked away instead of being trained or coached through.

    And it stems from a need for control.

    We all have a need for control – some have it more than others but we all have it. Your ability to control (plan, manage, organise) is likely what got you success and into a leadership position in the first place. But what got you to here isn’t what you need now. It’s not what’s going to move you or your team forward.

    But this is REALLY hard to let go of. Shifting to deliver through others rather than through your own fair hands takes you a step away from the action. And if you’re not in control of the action does that mean you won’t be seen to be doing a good job – because you’ve learnt in previous roles that being in control is what’s had you do a good job and led to your promotions. And it’s all around you.  It seems to be the thing that people get paid, promoted and recognised for.  You don’t hear leaders being praised for creating an amazing team to deliver a project – you hear of leaders who delivered the project.

    You’ve not tested this “deliver through others” way before and you likely don’t have many role models around you.  What if you don’t do a good job and the work fails.  What does that mean for how your performance will be seen?  What does that mean for your performance review and pay rise and bonus and ultimately your ongoing career? These are the kind of fear-based thoughts which keep people stuck in the control loop.  

    Or you might have ego-fuelled thoughts because you’ve done this job for years, you know all there is to know, you can show these newbies how it’s done. Look at me showing how I know it all and can do it all!  And by showing this knowledge and expertise I get recognised by those above me because that’s what gets valued.

    Either way, this is the story that plays in your head:

    I keep control – I perform – I’m safe

    But in the meantime, what’s actually happening:

    I keep control – my team don’t learn – their confidence drops – they feel disempowered and like they add little value – they disengage and turn off their brains – the work standard and ideas generated drop – so you take more control to counter this – which feeds the ever-decreasing spiral….

    So instead focus your control on controlling the development and progress of your team. Become obsessed by the satisfaction of seeing them take another step towards being empowered, confident and capable individuals. Be the leader who coaches, facilitates and mentors.  Be the leader of the team that everyone wants to work in because they know they’ll be given clarity of purpose, and space, and care for their development.

    All the while holding the image of the place you’re heading to – because this way of leading is playing the long game. Anyone can take control and get short-term wins. It’s the truly successful who see how things could be and who behave consistently in a way that they know is going to get them there.

    In the words of David Marquet – drop the authority to the level of information. If you never do, there’ll always be something to solve for someone somewhere and you’ll never be able to go home and eat dinner.

    And if the thought of working like this doesn’t light your fire you have two choices –

    1. don’t be a leader, or
    2. be a leader who accepts mediocre as the best performance you’ll get from your team.

     

    If your organisation is struggling to make this shift I work with CEOs, MD and Directors in 1:1 coaching and team coaching.