“#Upstream is a place where we can go before we think about the transformation we are being invited to consider.” This quote from Perry’s piece really strikes a chord with me. In three client sessions yesterday when we went upstream, each client came back to the downstream challenges they walked in with and saw a simple and clear way forward and, in some instances, the challenge had all but disappeared into the ether.
On 14th March this year it’s the first LearnConnectDo event of 2019 as these events run into their 4th year now! Wow.
“These are always thought-provoking and useful sessions!”CH, previous delegate.
Huge thanks to everyone who has attended, facilitated and helped us along the way – including PKF Cooper Parry who kindly sponsor us by letting us use their amazing workspace for every event.
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.
This has been a new realisation for me thanks to learning about the Three Principles with Piers Thurston and this particular realisation has helped to settle a paradox that I used to just accept I had to hold both ends of.
That paradox was that I would hear people say “you’re good enough just as you are” but then I would hear and see others doing or saying things – maybe about their own work or feeding back to me – which would suggest I “should” be doing or behaving in a different way. So…I’m good enough as I am…..except when others (or me to myself) lay down a judgement and then I’m not good enough, I’m imperfect in some way and I “should” change and do something different.
Now…..the paradox has dissolved.
One is that I had a deep whole-body realisation that I’m actually, deeply, fundamentally OK. I am already a whole person. Good enough just as I am. I truly “see” that. I don’t just hear the words at an intellectual level.
Two is that I see that everything I have ever experienced has been from the inside out. So all those times when I’ve thought I “should” be doing something because of what someone else is telling me or what I’m enviously seeing others do, have been created by me. Self-imposed “should’s”.
And the result. The paradox is gone. I am deeply, fundamentally, good enough as I am and I know I have an innate capacity to be creative and resourceful which means I will keep moving forward, learning, improving and creating with the goal of making a positive difference. But not because I “should”, instead because it feels like the most natural and obvious thing to do.
[Photo credit : https://unsplash.com/@rohanmakhecha]
|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?
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 –
- don’t be a leader, or
- be a leader who accepts mediocre as the best performance you’ll get from your team.
In those days the cushions on the sofa were always plumped and neat.
You see, I have quite a strong need to control, which is ironic when my favourite work is coaching where I have very little of that. But it’s true. I remember my siblings laughing at me when we went for a weekend at my brother’s uni and I was straight into planning where we’d eat, what time we’d need to leave, etc, etc…. yawn!
So when I was pregnant I went into my usual academic pattern of learning from books, in preparation for being in control of applying the ‘successful parenting’ formula to the new little person. But much like leadership, the books don’t give you all the answers. What I hadn’t accounted for was that – wait for it – all babies are different!! Seems like such an obvious thing now. And not only are they all different to each other, but they’re different in themselves from one day to the next! I struggled massively with the fact I couldn’t follow the same pattern or habits as the day before to get the same results. I had no control! Add to that the fact hubby had a horribly long-hours job at the time, I had undiagnosed anaemia, then full on mastitis, and possibly a touch of PND too. All in all quite a lot of horrible chaos!
However I also look back on that time as the stage of the greatest personal development I ever had. Learning how to stay calm when there’s wee / poo / vomit in various combinations in places it shouldn’t be. Learning how to ask for help when I had no idea what I was doing / whether it was the right thing to do. Learning that in fact there is rarely ever one “right way” to do things.
Learning to not worry about the cushions being wonky on the sofa.
And when baby no. 2 appeared, life continued in that vain with the definition of chaos stepping up another notch. Two small people with wee / poo / vomit stuff going on – and so often at the same time!
Now there are less of the bodily fluids, instead it’s more of the sibling rivalry which results in much verbal and physical combat, and calls for “muuuuuum, he/she’s just……” – an alternative version of parenting chaos.
These days the cushions on the sofa are weapons that are left strewn on the floor for days.
And so familiar are the parallels with the world today. The VUCA clickbait is all around us. This crazy, fast, always-on world that we’ve chosen to create is now the thing that many want to stop. Occasionally there’s a call for a different choice – I especially like this piece from Simon Heath suggesting a choice which is calmer and more serene.
I like the sound of that and I also don’t believe it’s possible.
Us human beings, we’re so complex and ever-changing. Although on the surface we’re more predictable and habitual than a newborn, something (large or small) is changing within or around us all the time, every single day, and that influences our feelings and behaviour. And then add to this that we’re all so different. This was really evident to me when I saw some soon-to-be-published PhD research which showed absolutely no correlation between the individuals in the research and certain learning activities – they are all unique individuals with unique learning needs.
When you collect together a world’s worth of people with differing needs who are in this constant state of flux, and who can communicate with each other across continents at the drop of a hat, chaotic stuff is going to happen. No book is going to have a perfect 2-by-2 model or 5-steps-to-success process that’s going to solve it all and we need to be OK with that. Especially as leaders when our natural human need to control and minimise chaos results in disempowerment and disengagement of the team.
I’m starting to read and learn more about Gestalt. I know bits and pieces, including going on a course this year about Polarity Thinking, which originated from Gestalt and which has echoes of Yin and Yang. It centres on the belief that to be happy and satisfied in life we need to maximise both ends of a spectrum – both the chaos and the calm. This is what I believe in and am starting to practice. That sometimes life is serene and that’s great. Sometimes it’s chaotic – and that’s great too. Our natural reaction to chaos is to shut it out, to get away from it, to get angry that it’s there. The uncomfortable feelings it generates in us are the kind that make us want it to stop or go away. And yet with my first baby, where the only option was to carry on and do the best I could, I gained more than I could possibly have imagined.
It might not be easy but the rewards are great.
And the more chaos there is, the more it needs to be balanced with choosing to make space for calm.
I’m reminding myself of this every time a new favourite celebrity from childhood passes away. I’m reminding myself of this as we look ahead with questions over what happens next with us and the EU. I’m reminding myself of this every time I’m in the middle of cooking tea and a new war breaks out in the front room – this one is the hardest though!
My goal: leave the cushions on the floor for a few days and see what happens.
Embrace the chaos, maximise the calm, and it might work out even more than just OK.
Start with the business. Know your business. Know the strategy.
Be confident in your profession and the value, insights and knowledge you bring. Yes, see yourself as a business leader, and at the same time know that in the same way Finance are business leaders with a deep ability with numbers and commercials, you’re a business leader with a deep ability in human behaviour and the impact of learning. Nobody can be great at everything and the business will only succeed in its strategy if you’re being great at what you do.
Use data. Prove ROI.
Make it context relevant. Use %’s not just straight numbers. Make best friends with the right person in Finance who can help you. Use ‘subjective’ insights. I saw a beauty product the other day telling me that 80% of people find their skin feels softer and smoother after 4 weeks. That’s not a ‘hard metric’, that’s their opinion, but it gives confidence and helps people buy into it.
Don’t get so lost in this that you forget the purpose of what you’re doing.
Use technology for bite sized, always-on learning.
This feeds the need to always be on, working and learning in a Just in Time world that operates at pace. We also have a responsibility to help people slow down and see the value in space and thought. Street Wisdom is a perfect opportunity for that. Hey, even Google turn to a colleague first instead of tech when they’re stuck on something.
Create an environment to learn.
Actually, for me, this is the key stuff. Build a coaching culture by bringing it to everybody in the organisation so it’s just the normal kind of conversation people have (except not all conversations would be coaching, because that would be weird). Create learning communities who come together to learn together, in a safe environment, through discussion and debate. Don’t assume or judge what others need to learn (separate this from performance management). There might be some stuff they have to know, but you can’t MAKE someone learn anything. Invite people in. See what they discover. Create advocates by giving them a learning experience they want to be part of. And go deeper. Change your thoughts, change your results. Connected to our responsibility for space and reflection to be valued, if we keep doing the same stuff we’re going to keep getting the same results. We need to stop, look at what we’re doing, figure out what’s getting in the way, and do something else. Often the stuff in the way is the limiting organisational beliefs about what can or can’t be done. Want lasting learning and change? Go there.
Ian Pettigrew did an amazing roundup of the event here. And check out #cipdldshow for more tweets and blogs from the delegates, exhibitors and #blogsquad.
Till next year! 10th & 11th May 2017.
Already, Jo, Ian and Jonathan have written some great pre-event pieces. I’ve been meaning to write for a while and was wondering what might be most useful to share. Then this weekend, inspiration came in the form of this TED Talk via a good colleague Garry Turner.
I recently learnt a new approach to problem solving called Polarity Thinking which is about solving the challenges we often come across, and which we believe are a choice of A OR B, but which are in fact something which we need to solve through A AND B.
The talk from Knut Haanaes highlights one of those such challenges – keep doing what we’ve always been good at OR be innovative?
To be at our best this isn’t an OR challenge to solve. It’s an AND. For individuals, as for organisations, we’ll achieve the best results by recognising and keeping our strengths (Exploitation as Haanaes calls it) AND by always pushing , always seeking, always discovering – staying at our learning edge (Exploration).
Haanaes refers to the quote from Bill Gates “Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces us into thinking we cannot fail.” Very true if we allow success to go to our heads and swell our ego we can believe we’re invincible with no fear of failure. And, what Haanaes doesn’t talk about, is that success can also increase our fear of failing. If we start to look like we might know what we’re doing then we don’t want to rock that boat and let anybody see we might not actually be “all that” which they think we are. So we stay safe and keep doing what we’ve always done because that’s what got us success. Minimise the risk. Protect ourselves. A safe and comfy life where we’re good, but not great. Where we might just lack some excitement, interest or motiativation. So whether success grows or shrinks your fear of failure, both reduce your levels of exploration.
So, I invite you to ask yourself now. How comfy are you? How close to your learning edge are you? How is your balance between exploiting your strengths AND continuing to explore?
If you’re noticing you’re more on the comfy, exploitation side of that continuum then why not book on and join the conversations next week with an open mind to see what might light a fire for you and start some exploration.
See you there!
They’re just no good at their job, I keep having to pick up the slack? I haven’t got time to do my own work because they’re incapable of doing their’s. If only they could sort it out we’d all be better off. I don’t even know why they’re still here – they don’t contribute anything.
Back in April and May it was #FeedbackCarnival time where the culmination of many brains showed just how challenging giving honest feedback can be and some ideas for how we can start to change that. Ian Pettigrew built on this with a great model for where helpful feedback sits – the top right of this 3-by-2 – where what you’re saying to the person is true, and it’s said with a positive intent to help the individual, as well as and the team or organisation around them.
Trouble is, that’s not generally what’s happening. What I see is people pointing the finger at ‘those people over there’ – They’re the problem. If it wasn’t for them we’d all be ok.
This feels to us like the best (easiest) option because it avoids us having to look at ourselves as a potential contributor to the problem – and therefore a potential solution. Looking at ourselves can be uncomfortable. And, if we don’t feel safe and supported to do that, we’ll just avoid it.
But not only are we pointing to those people over there and saying they’re the problem, we’re even giving them financial rewards (or positive feedback) that they’re doing the job we need them to do. You can read about it in here, a piece shared by a fellow colleague who also cares about great leadership, Kay Buckby. My reaction to it was (a very eloquent) “Bonkers!”.
So when people aren’t performing in their jobs.
We point the finger of blame at them for all the ills of the world.
And we reward them for it, to make sure we draw an even thicker veil over the whole unsightly problem.
If doing the same things and expecting different results is a sign of madness then I’m not quite sure how to articulate this as anything other than Bonkers!!
Not surprisingly, underlying all of this, a seam of frustration bubbles away within the team, within the manager – and most importantly – within the customers on the receiving end of the poor service. The customers just won’t stick around. They’ll vote with their feet. The manager and team might eventually take evasive action from this person (if the person doesn’t leave first) but, to begin with, their stress responses will be triggered.
This stress response narrows their perspective on the situation and drops their cognitive abilities, reducing the possible solutions they can see for solving it. It reduces their feelings of emotional generosity towards ‘that person’. It causes them to look for evidence to back up their belief that they’re useless. And, given that our thoughts and feelings show up in how we behave, their stress and frustration will leak out through their body language, their words and their actions.
One paradoxical result of this is that, despite their poor performance, the manager doesn’t feel they can do without this person – better the devil you know, what if we get someone else and they’re worse, how would we cope with a vacancy if we can’t find a replacement?
All of these are fear-driven responses (and stress is triggered again).
So, what’s the alternative?…….
…….A world of high emotional intelligence*.
I believe in a world where people are treated and behave like adults. Adults who can make informed choices and who can take responsibility for their own situation.
I also believe we all want to do a great job, but sometimes things get in the way of that which means our performance can dip. And if those things have been in the way for a long time it can be hard for us to remember what it was like to come to work and feel good about it. This means that, as adults, we still need support, guidance and feedback from others to keep us on-track. And we still appreciate a reward (verbal acknowledgement is often enough) for when things are going well.
In this world when a leader has someone in their team who’s under-performing, the first thing they do is ask what’s going on, then they listen and they ask questions. Partly to inform themselves of the situation, and also to let the person vent about what’s going on. They aren’t afraid of this venting. They know that emotions are the things that motivate us to make changes in life, and when they’re swirling inside us they can’t take us in any productive direction. The simple act of verbalising what’s going on straightens these emotions out and gives us a clearer sense of which way to go.
From this listening and asking, the result is often that the individual will spot a way forward for themselves. If not, the leader will have learnt enough about the situation to offer advice, guidance or training that will actually be helpful and relevant. Or they may be able to offer relevant feedback based on what they’re seeing of this person and in the wider team context.
All of these things help the person become unstuck and their performance improves.
And even if it doesn’t improve, the leader can look themselves in the mirror with the belief that they did what they could to help, and that perhaps this just isn’t the right job, or right business for them. Which means a parting of company on good terms, with dignity and respect – and without the need to pay out bonuses to hide a problem! All of which maintains great relationships with the rest of the team, and their trust in you – which means they’ll also feel safe to share what’s going on for them. Creating a virtuous circle!
And I know what you’re thinking.
When could I ever get the time to have these conversations?
Well, they don’t actually take that long. If we’re given the space to think and speak with someone who really cares and who really listens, our brain can be pretty effective at getting to the crux of what’s going on.
And remember, in having these conversations – maybe weekly – we get into good habits of processing what’s going on for us, and they mean the team’s performance will never get to the place of you compensating for the stuff they let drop, which automatically gives you back a load of time.
And if you really believe that your team are the key to your collective success then you’ll prioritise these conversations over anything else.
*You can find out more about the difference emotional intelligence makes to a business here.
Photo credit – http://redsarmy.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/kg-head-in-hand.jpg
This is me…………… www.wildfigsolutions.co.uk
Executive Coaching and Leadership Development