I said the wrong thing

This week’s experience of what could be counted as ‘saying the wrong thing’ gained alot of interest in my weekly newsletter. Have a read and see what you think. And if you want to subscribe to get this kind of content each week, the link’s at the bottom.

In a world where you can be anything, be kind read more

The cult of busy

When we’re lost in the story of what we think “busy” means we find ourselves in judgement of others or being judged. Frustration, upset, anger, suffering. When we see through it, we’re free to act from love.

Photo by José Martín Ramírez C on Unsplash

I laughed yesterday at the synchronicity of life. I’d just finished recording another podcast episode* with Gary Bridgeman & Natalie Nuttall and went on a call with Andrew Smith.

Andrew told me he’d been working with a group in business recently about ‘the cult of busy’ and how they’d told him being busy was like a ‘badge of honour’. I burst out laughing! These words were literally the title of the just-recorded podcast. Word. For. Word! read more

Some Guest Bloggage – including that mis-posted one!

I’ve been really enjoying having some space to blog recently and I’ve written for a couple of people I guest blog for.

This one for The HR Director magazine which is about how we can get stuck in our emotions and thoughts, and how we can move out of that place.

And this one (the one I mis-posted a draft of the other week!) for Bray and Bray Solicitors about the challenging world of workplace relationships, and shifting those from the playground to an adult world.

I hope you or someone you know finds them useful.

This is me……….www.wildfigsolutions.co.uk

WFS Tree

Ignore Poor Performance at your Peril!

How often have you seen or heard this?

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.

head-in-hand -kg

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

WFS Tree

What’s Shaped Me

Tony Jackson has started a great experiment, inviting people to Tony’s Post in their life and to share that with #whatshapedme

It’s a way to bring real life conversations into the social media space, to get to know a lot more about each other in a fairly quick and easy way, like we would if we were colleagues working together in a joined physical space, and like we do sometimes with individuals and teams when developing them – sharing more of ourselves builds trust as people connect emotionally together by seeing we’re a flawed individual with interesting, unusual, familiar life stories, just like them.

In deciding what to write I had the conversation with Tony that some of the stories I could tell might be a bit heavy for this place – if you want to know those then we’ll be doing that as good friends, in a pub or restaurant with a glass of wine. We all have layers to who we are and what we choose to share with those around us. The more we trust and feel safe, the more we share.

Also, when I first started thinking about this, I noticed that most of the things that came to mind were the more ‘negative’, challenging or difficult periods of my life. Which I guess is to be expected as we learn the most from our mistakes, and the mistakes of others. That trait to focus on what’s gone wrong is, afterall, what’s kept us alive and reproducing for millions of years, so it can be helpful. But with that in mind I’ve purposefully started with the happier experiences that have shaped me, because hooking our mind into what’s good is incredibly helpful to broaden our thinking – it just takes a bit more effort.

So my story…..

My boss, Kellee. She was the best boss I ever had. No question. Hands down. I feel so fortunate to have had the pleasure of working with her, and delighted that we’re still in touch. She cared about all of me – yes my work – and my family and home life. She knew that she could help me be at my best if the personal noise in my head was downloaded every now and then. And it enabled her to foresee any challenges to the team in delivering what was needed. She was the first manager I had who challenged my thinking through a coaching approach, and began my journey to where I am today with that profession. She was also the first manager to ask me how I felt about things at work. ‘Felt?’ Really? I know what I think… I’m not sure how I feel! But through that question and through encouraging me to notice what was going on in meetings with other people – rather than focussing on an agenda – she enabled me to significantly develop my emotional intelligence and my ability to facilitate groups. There was much, much more that was great about her, but suffice to say, she is the person I call to mind when I think of people who’ve inspired me, and who demonstrated the kind of leadership skills I hope to show myself.

Being 16. I have great memories of this age. My friends and I loved the Crystal Maze, we loved the Rocky Horror Picture Show, I loved listening to Crowded House (Woodface) in my room, sitting on my woven cloth rug alongside my hat stand and rocking chair – yes I know, a bit weird eh! But I distinctly remember my desire as a 16 year old to have a wicker rocking chair (which incidentally I rarely sat in) and a hat stand. I think this time stands out for me because it felt like I was starting to grow up, become independent and create a world around me that I chose and to develop my own tastes. Before this I think I had mostly just wanted to do whatever my big sister did!

Having kids. If you read my last post you’ll relate to why I’ve chosen to put this in the middle – because my kids are both awesome and immensely challenging and so they’re bringing the gap between these two sections.

When my first baby was born 8 years ago I was kind of in shock. I’d spent much of my pregnancy continuing to be busy at work, travelling to my regional patch around the North West and West Mids, we were moving house from Nottingham to reduce my husband’s commute and I generally hadn’t spent much time emotionally connecting with the fact I had a small person in my belly. If I’m honest I still find that concept sort of weird! A bit like the Alien movie!! Anyway, when he arrived nearly three weeks early before we’d moved house – not the plan! – I was, well, shocked. Labour all went well – I’m good at pregnancy and labour – but then I had this small person to be responsible for. I had (undetected) low iron levels which left me even more knackered than I could have been, feeding did not go well resulting in seriously bad mastitis on both sides (not great for bonding with baby) and I believe I was also suffering from low level PND. I was aware of not being honest when the midwife asked me if I was crying more than usual because I was scared they’d take my baby away from me. I hang on to the fact I must have had a connection to him at that point or else I wouldn’t have had that fear.

And so began the challenge of parenthood. He quickly taught me that everything in life doesn’t need a plan. That everything isn’t logical and predictable. That it’s a good thing to share with others and seek help. That it’s great to be honest and show vulnerability to build relationships. That you really can stay calm and say ‘there, there, it’s OK’ even though your baby has just vomited all over your face and it’s dripping off you onto the floor. I could go on!

And then baby number 2 arrived two years later. A completely different bonding and feeding experience. With what I know now I wonder how much my different psychological states influenced those different physical experiences. And so my development continued as I learned to deal with spilt milk over there and crying baby here. Or one weeing in a corner while the others’ poo spilled out their nappy. Management of emotions was definitely a big part of my development here. One of the senior leaders I worked with at the time commented on how they valued my ability to stay calm in a crisis. There’s always something good from every challenge.

Really! Parenthood is a joyous time! And it is – all the good stuff they bring – the smiles; the laughter; the fun; the crazy, gorgeous and insightful things they say; the perspective on life. I’m so much richer because of them.

Arthritic hip. I’ve also posted about this a while back and very much in a positive light. I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis around age 25. I think this was caused by landing badly from a tandem skydive, catching my heel on the ground and jolting my leg. Gradually over the years my movement reduced and pain increased. Being pregnant actually helped because of the relaxin hormone loosening everything up. But once that had firmly left my system it all felt a lot worse than before, which led to my replacement in June 2013. I was scared I might die in theatre and leave my lovely kids without a mum. I was scared it might not be as good as my old one. I was scared. And the recovery was tough – and at the same time it was very positive because my discomfort improved – something I hadn’t experienced for a long time. Exercise helped things hurt less – something else I hadn’t experienced in a long time. By the time I was going back to work I was fitter and more toned than I’d been for about ten years! And psychologically I’d been freed from this pain which I hadn’t noticed had gradually pulled me down and into myself. So thanks to my hip I had a new lease of life, a ‘what’s the worst that could happen’ attitude – which (along with support from some awesome tweeps and some 1:1 coaching) gave me the belief and confidence to start my business and to choose to do work that makes a difference to others. I haven’t looked back.

In writing this it’s reinforced something I already believed; that from any situation, no matter how awful or difficult it seems at the time, something good will come from it.  Sitting with our discomfort or difficulty is a skill we can practice, to ride that wave of emotion until we get to the other side and drier shores.

So there’s a few of the things that have shaped me. I hope that in sharing this we can continue some real life conversations with greater connection next time we meet.

And for now, what about you? What’s shaped who you are today? What are your stories? If you share them here, or with others elsewhere, what difference could that make to your relationship?

Childhood Truths

So does this ring any bells from childhood?

Child 1 – “You’re a big smelly poo”

Child 2 – [say this part in a sing-song ‘nah nah nah nah’ child’s voice for maximum effect] “What you say is what you are”

Child 1 – Urgh no fair!

But it occurred to me the kids are actually onto the truth here!  [Note my use of ‘the’ kids – you really have no evidence that it was my own kids having this high brow discussion during a boring, rainy half term!]

Anyway, it’s not that we want to be going round calling people big fat smelly poos – well, we could but it might not get us very far.  It’s more the fact that they hit on the nugget of truth that is ‘what you say is what you are’.

In my lead-up to resigning from the corporate world I had high self belief in starting my own business to coach and develop leaders.  Much of this belief had come from the coaching I received from my own coach, but also from the incredible support of wonderful people in my new world, many of whom I met on Twitter (kudos to those generous folks – Perry Timms, Ian Pettigrew, David D’Souza, Alex Moyle, Noel Gray).  Through challenge and support all of these people helped me to get clear on what I wanted to do so that when it came to the point of resigning I knew that it was absolutely the right thing.

And then, once I’d resigned, I of course had lots of conversations with lots of people in work that involved them saying things like “you’re leaving?”, “you’re very brave”, “I can’t believe you’re doing this”.

This was all fine for as long as my responses were true to everything I believed that had led me to that point, and in fact that they were true responses.  Where it started to take a downward turn was when I began jovially responding to the question of “so have you got lots of work lined up” with “no, it’s a bit crazy isn’t it” or “no, I’m hoping that’ll come”.  Neither of which were actually true because a) I’m good at what I do and I love being able to help people make a difference (not so crazy) and b) I’d planned my approach to build my work (no need to hope).

But these jokey responses of ‘craziness’ and ‘hope’ started to niggle at my self belief and undermine my confidence in what I was doing.

So what?  I spotted this, I switched my language, I re-focussed on what I believe and the purpose of what I’m doing.

And I started to regain my positivity and confidence.

Whatever we see and hear from people – the positive and the less positive – there’s a whole load of stuff going on beneath the surface linked to our beliefs, our values, our past experiences, our memories, our emotions.  These influence the thoughts we have.  And then these influence the stuff we see on the surface – how we behave, how we respond to situations, how we react, the words we use.  And ultimately this influences the results we get in life, the outcomes.

And this connected chain reaction works the other way too – the words we use will impact what we think, which will impact how we feel.  And which was why my words of ‘craziness’ and ‘hope’ had started to feed thoughts of ‘I can’t do this’ and feelings of depleting confidence.

And what’s more, some of these sub-surface beliefs aren’t even actually factually true!  And yet they have a massive impact on our lives.

The best part though is that this stuff can be changed and the power of it is incredible!  Our beliefs can be discovered, and built on if they’re working OK for us, or changed completely if they’re working against us.

And this is exactly why I’m doing what I’m doing – and why I love it!!

So next time you’re saying something that’s impacting how you feel – stop and ask yourself what would be a more helpful thing to say.  What would you say instead that’s true?

Because what you say really is what you are.