Are you running yourself into the ground?

When people are smart, high achieving, wonderful people who care about doing a good job, in and out of work, it’s very easy to reach a crunch point.

I often see it where clients are doing exactly what Bill describes in this quote.

Things are busy at work, it’s all go, glued to screens and phones and meetings for hours. Lots of coffee, lots of sitting and maybe some sugary, processed, quick-and-easy food chucked in for good measure.

In the presence of this, it can make sense to try and balance. With all this unhealthiness at work I must make sure I go running or to the gym, I must make sure I eat well at home, I must make sure our family time is full of maximum-quality experiences. read more

The start of my waking up journey

There was nothing fundamentally wrong with my life, in fact I thought it was good. I only started this exploration for the benefit of my clients. Little did I know what I would discover and uncover for myself.

Photo credit: Mark Gilroy

In 2017 I read a book called Buddhism Plain and Simple and it had a profound impact on me. I saw that the essence of Buddhism that the book described was like coaching plus plus plus! Like coaching beliefs on steroids. I knew that, if leaders saw this for themselves, they and their teams would be off and running. read more

Psychological safety : we have a choice

Psychological safety was researched for many years before it hit the headlines with Google’s Project Aristotle. In asking “what makes an effective team?” the key enabling factor was psychological safety. But we have a choice — we can create psychologically safe environments with or without effort. What do you choose?


HT for the image : https://coetichr.com/psychological-safety-people-science/

Definition : Psychological safety is “a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.”

I’m sure you’ll have been in a conversation or a meeting at some point in your life where you wondered whether to speak up, whether to ask the question, whether to offer the idea you had, whether to say I don’t know, or whether to say it didn’t work. 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.

Break the habit of busy

I’m seeing it everywhere I go.

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?

Who With:

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.

Where:

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.

Confessions of a recovering Type A

I’m a recovering Type A, maybe with a bit of Type C chucked in!

Like alcoholics, I’m not sure my treatment will ever be entirely complete, but I’m on the right track.


I’ve always strived to achieve. To achieve with the hope of being ‘good enough’ for the parental figures in my life – be they at home or work.  Having always found good grades fairly easy to come by at school I expected the trend to continue in work, sometimes sorely disappointed by the different type of race being run there with politics and relationships suddenly part of the game – not just working hard to deliver ‘the work’.

And some Type A is good, it gets stuff done, it pushes boundaries, it challenges beyond what we first thought possible. But, as with most things, too much and it becomes a weakness. Its downsides begin to outweight the up.

When I look back on my days in HR I see a me who was shoulder to shoulder with the tough-minded commercial leader : “Well, if they can’t cut it this might not be the right place for them.”  “If their caring responsibilities are going to take priority over their job then this isn’t going to work.”  “10% growth again this year? Of course we can do it! *collective leadership battle cries* Are you in or out?”

Some of this was because their Type A matched mine – deliver more, more, more, with less, less, less.

And this behaviour was underpinned by an unkindness, a lack of care, a lack of empathy.  I was so fixed on (supposedly) doing the right thing for the business, so aligned with these focussed, driven leaders – who were meant to be the role models to follow – that it didn’t occur to me that anything else was an option.  I thought it made me a “commercial” HR person – what all the books said you’re meant to be.


I did change my attitude and approach to my role in HR in later years, seeing the importance of holding that space of challenge and providing balance to the Type A leadership style, reminding leaders of the human beings involved – my kids played a big part in that development for me.  And my attitude and approach have definitely changed again since leaving corporate life.

But the biggest shifts have come through working with my own coach, that this unkindness I showed towards others started from an unkindness towards myself.  That I believed I was only good enough, only deserved praise / attention / love if I was tough and resilient, if I showed I could deliver the results – be they A grades in exams or improved sales and profit, only good enough if I worked hard.

These messages we get as kids, they reverberate through the years.

And so although I know I’ve come a long way in my journey from that version of me back there, I also know there is still more to do to keep myself grounded in believing I’m  good enough as I am.  From that self care comes a genuine care for others and the ability to make the right choices for the human beings in this world around me, more than the business results and hours worked.

Last week I had another realisation in this journey of mine and this little phrase that came to me resonated strongly – “I think if I’m a high achiever it makes me better, but it only makes me worse.”

If you’re on a similar journey you’re definitely not alone and I’d encourage you to keep going, keep exploring, keep understanding and empathising with yourself because from there comes understanding and empathy for others.  

With levels of mental health concerns rising things aren’t going to improve unless we start here.

And for my own latest exploring on this journey?  It’s brought me to Buddhism which has put a whole new mind-blowing spin on it.  I’m still processing a lot to be able to write on that.  But maybe for another post…

[Photo credits : http://members.cogwa.org/man-blog/do-you-have-to-be-a-tough-guy-to-be-a-man/ ; https://www.surrey.ac.uk/quality-enhancement-standards/collaborative-provision

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 did you last check under your carpet?

Bansky street cleaner – Chalk Farm, London

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.

 

[Photo credit :https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bansky_street_cleaner_-_Chalk_Farm_(1205714884).jpg]

The power of imagination

I’ve been making more use of visualisation and metaphor in my one-to-one Exec Coaching work recently. It’s something that’s been in my toolkit for a couple of years but I’ve had a recent flurry of successes with it and so I thought I’d share them in case it could be helpful or interesting to you.

I’ve used images myself to prepare for coaching sessions. When I’m with a client I want to be calm, relaxed, focused on them not me, and feeling in an open and curious place. So the other day, while preparing for a session I decided to visualise what calm is for me – I have this image that sits right in my middle, around my diaphragm. A sense of deep calm and relaxation, yet at the same time feeling completely awake. If you’ve ever been to Ragdale Hall Spa, they have a relaxation room there, so in that space in my middle I can see me lying on one of the comfy beds with one of their amazing heavy duvets over the top of me. But unlike when I go there and nod off, in this image I’m completely alert.

Then in my mind, I can see me as a child – except it’s not really me because I have a straight bob and a fringe, which I’ve never had – but anyway. This is me. I have a skipping rope and I’m beside a beautiful calm lake. It’s daytime, the sun’s shining and I can feel its warmth. I’m skipping along beside the lake, stopping every now and then to look under rocks and dig into the earth to see what I can find. When I bring this image to mind I can’t help but feel happy and find myself smiling – the curious child in me.

Imagination

As well as this for myself, I’ve helped a few clients to create images in the last few months.

One has an image of a board table in his head with all the different aspects of who he is as a leader being represented by different characters. He can use this to notice whether one character is unhelpfully taking over in any given situation when another would be more useful.

A second client now has an image of herself as the assertive version of her, right down to the detail of what her spectacles are made from. She’s already seen that she’s able to have a different – and still positive – impact with colleagues.

And a third client has identified a symbol for the version of her that she wants to be more of the time which she can call to mind when she needs to reconnect with her natural self – the self which is most at ease and therefore which does the best thinking, and helps her feel more congruent and settled – being who she really is.

I also have clients for whom images don’t work, and that’s fine too. We’re all different. That’s why I place such a high value on my eclectic toolkit – as my coach educators Barefoot would say – beware the man of one tool!

What about you?

Where in your work could you benefit from being a different version of you?

What does that “different” look and feel like?

If that was an image, what would it be?

 

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

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[Photo credit –  https://www.flickr.com/photos/hellosarah/5161068210]