Our nose stops smelling when we’ve been sniffing the same thing after a while.
Our ears stop hearing the background noise of traffic and planes.
Our nose stops smelling when we’ve been sniffing the same thing after a while.
Our ears stop hearing the background noise of traffic and planes.
When we think of resilience, authenticity, decision-making, quality questioning, maintaining psychological wellbeing, relationship building, giving feedback, listening… we talk about developing these as skills. Teaching people for them to learn. This is not the most effective way and here’s why…
“I feel like a washing machine – everything’s churning round and yet it’s going nowhere.”
“I feel like I’m sinking in it all.”
“This isn’t sustainable.”
These things I’ve heard from leaders I’ve worked with. Men and women who feel swamped. It could be they’ve stepped up into an MD or CEO role where they’re suddenly in the most exposed position they’ve ever known, without development through their transition. Or budgets are cut in in the “reduce costs to maximise profits” race, removing more people from the structure than there are systems or processes to compensate for. Or businesses that have grown so fast, piling the work on those who are there, without stopping to review what’s actually needed to grow sustainably. And sometimes it’s not even any of that. It’s just that sometimes life throws a load of stuff at us all at once – from home, from work, from relationships… and it can be overwhelming.
These people are usually also incredibly committed to doing a great job. People who really care about delivering – for their team, for the business, for their customers.
We all have a need for achievement and for control in our lives. How much achievement or control I require to ensure these needs are met will differ to how much you need, but they are needs which are present to some extent in all of us.
So if we have a need for achievement and control, and our life feels like a washing machine, that’s a tough place to be. Not achieving much and feeling out of control.
This then starts to impact our confidence, we doubt our abilities – “surely I should be able to do all this”, “maybe I’m not capable”, “if I can’t manage all this I might be out of a job”, “I’m not good enough”.
And if we start dropping in confidence, we start being more risk averse. We find it harder to make decisions. We become less effective with our work – which then self-perpetuates the belief that “I’m not good enough”. Your resilience drops.
In this place, we are the victim of our persecuting circumstances.
And we can change it.
I will always, ALWAYS, be so thankful for being introduced to coaching. It’s such an important route for people to stop and examine where they are, in a safe space where they can be entirely themselves and talk freely without judgement.
Stopping and thinking with a coach helps you raise your awareness to what’s really going on – maybe spotting that there’s been more good stuff happening than you thought, or maybe noticing all the challenges that have been going on and cutting yourself some slack in recognition of the cumulative effect.
And then moving forward from that point – choosing what, if anything, you want to change, exploring what you can take control of amongst all the stuff that feels currently out of reach. Building self-belief, ticking off some achievements, growing a feeling of control, empowerment and resilience.
The Ladder of Accountability is a great model to describe the stages you can go through with situations like this. In the lower stages a growing volume of concerns or problems might have been rumbling away in the background for some time. Then, for whatever reason, they come more sharply into your awareness. At this point you acknowledge reality – you might be saying “this can’t go on, I need some help” and although you might not be entirely clear on everything that’s involved, or how to get to solutions, you’re committed to something changing.
Coaching then helps you untangle the clothes that have been tumbling in the wash for so long, you can hang them up and see clearly what’s there. From that point of clarity you can step through the upper stages of the ladder – into a place where you’re choosing your actions – back in control and achieving.
I care about making work better, and for me that means enabling leaders to navigate all the stuff that goes on for them, and about which they often have very few, if any, people to completely, openly talk to.
We can only help others put on their oxygen masks if we put our own on first.
So where’s your oxygen mask?
Image credits –
Street Wisdom is an amazing way of using your surroundings to help you answer a question you hold. Getting out into the streets either somewhere you know, or somewhere new, looking up, paying attention, and seeing what thoughts appear from what your attention is drawn to.
I first discovered Street Wisdom in November 2014 at the Annual Conference. You can read about my experience here.
Since then I’ve learnt about the brain benefits of getting out and walking, and especially of walking in nature-filled surroundings. When our brain feels well we build our resilience. We think better, process and sort through priorities better and make better decisions. It means we’re focused on the right stuff instead of operating on auto pilot or plodding through a to-do list.
If you and those around you could do with these kinds of benefits, join me on the 18th of June when I’m speaking at the annual and very brilliant CIPD Northern Area Partnership event about walking, why it helps us from a brain perspective, and you’ll also get to experiment with walking on the day to see what you discover and can take back to work. It’ll be the perfect way to blow away the cobwebs from the gala dinner the night before!
If you’ve not booked for the event yet you can do that here, and I’d love to see you at my session so that we can do some experimenting together.
It’s the third year in a row that I’ve attended. The first of those I was blown away by some of the content I was hearing, the first insight for me into a big world outside of my day job where great stuff was happening in organisations with inclusive cultures based on the belief that everyone has talent, it’s just about unlocking it.
A year later and a lot had changed. I’d spent nearly that whole year getting clear on what was important to me about work, what I cared about, and connecting via Twitter with a load of fantastic HR and L&D pros who cared about similar things to me – although always with a twist or nuance to bring some fresh challenge.
So by the time #CIPDLDShow 2014 came around I had started my business and had my first opportunity to blog the L&D Show. However I left feeling less inspired than 2013. Maybe my expectations had been too high after the previous show, maybe it was too much ‘sage on the stage’ with not enough of the actual sage, and maybe I had shifted my learning during the year so that my frame of reference was different.
Whatever the situation, the show felt different again this year. There was a wealth of 30 minute sessions in the Exhibition Hall, where Julie Drybrough spent more time, and which she reflected weren’t hard-sell like they used to be, and that they were focussed, on message and providing great insights to their audiences. For free! There were Ignite presentation sessions with canapé-bite-sized injections of learning on a variety of topics. For free! There were of course the exhibitors’ stands with cake / chocolate / sweets / pens / oh, and some learning stuff. For free! And there was my own networking event to help people turn their learning into action while also connecting with some new people. For free!
With the opportunity to attend the seminar sessions and share them more widely I chose to spend my time there. At the end is a list of the ones I attended, so you know where my insights have come from. And here’s a link to Phil Wilcox’s post where he’s collating all the content together.
With my own passion and purpose in mind, you’ll notice a theme around where I went – coaching, leadership, culture, mindfulness, neuroscience.
OK so not every session did exactly what it said on the tin, but it was very much closer than last year, and the sessions felt real, rather than suggesting these organisations were untouchably polished and perfect. They were sharing their ‘we’ve done it, and got the T-shirt, and we’re still wearing it and adjusting it as we go’ stories. So yes, some “look-at-what-we’ve-done-isn’t-it-marvellous” – of course – why else would you have someone on a stage. But it was balanced by some great honesty about ‘and it’s not a destination’, ‘and we’ve not cracked that bit yet’, ‘and we’re not sure about this bit over here’.
Because no individual person is perfect, therefore how can we expect a collection of individuals to be perfect, finished, done?
And yet we do. Isn’t that fascinating?
So from these sessions, I’m going to pull together the common threads I heard which I hope will give some insight into what this could mean for where you work. Many of these examples are large organisations, and there are some which aren’t, but much of the success comes from conversations and human connections which we are all capable of.
To achieve what we want, rather than what we’ve got, requires us to make choices.
Get clear on this.
Why? Because people come to work for more than just money. I know what you’re thinking. You can point to people in your organisation who only come to work for the money.
So here’s my question back to you – do you have a purpose for your organisation?
What difference does your organisation make by existing in this world?
In what way does what you do matter?
When you find that purpose and share it, and start to live and breathe it, you might be surprised to find that money becomes less of a topic of conversation (as long as you’re paying at least minimum wage, and maybe even helping people out with how to manage their money).
So this fabulous session with Unilever was incredibly strong at showing how you can have a purpose beyond profit which is the anchor for everything you do, every decision you make, every supplier you work with. And which enables you to bring together ‘doing business’ and ‘doing the best for people’ in the same breath – “We win because we care” – is their subscript to their purpose of “We will make sustainable living commonplace in the UK and Ireland”.
So no longer are sustainability, employee wellbeing or CSR things you do, initiatives you implement, which sit over there to counteract what you do over here in the main business. They’re engrained and woven into everything you do so, to borrow from the Spice Girls, Two Become One!
Something which Unilever acknowledged is that, when people are connected to the purpose of the organisation, their resilience is greater.
There’s something in this about being focussed on achieving something bigger, rather than getting stuck in the day-to-day weeds of work. And that, even when those weeds get a bit tangled around you, the purpose – your purpose – is what helps you find a way out. Because to create this link of organisational purpose improving resilience, you as an employee need to also believe in that purpose. So as a business, if you want to attract and retain people who believe in what you believe in, you have to be clear and able to communicate that purpose to others.
Resilience was a topic that came up again later with Tesco who, in the VUCA world we live in – maybe especially in the VUCA world Tesco’s live in – people need to be able to manage themselves and their emotions, so they can make choices to balance work and life. This is especially true when you run a 24/7 operation which takes its toll on people physically and emotionally.
Different organisations are, and will, take different steps to enable resilience – and in fact wellbeing.
Some examples that came out were –
Unilever – a click, call or conversation away from support (which they’ve implemented for £40 a head)
Tesco – a positive psychology basis to their development programme, in partnership with Nuffield Health, and which has resonance with Steve Radcliffe’s Future, Engage, Deliver work (see image below of the Tesco Vitality Framework).
NHS Ambulance Service – using mindfulness, physical activity (even if just a short burst of 15-20 mins), being outdoors and music – all to develop helpful brain wiring.
One theme was that organisations are using evidence and academic research to choose what they do in this area. This is great! And one challenge over the coming years, I believe, will be keeping pace with the new insights coming from neuroscience and ensuring that it’s ‘proper’ validated insight. Knowing people who are more expert than me in this area means I can be guided to the helpful and away from the ‘Daily Mail’ neuroscience. Who do you know that could connect you to the good stuff?
At this point I feel the story naturally tips into coaching because of all the psychological disciplines, Positive Psychology is the most relevant to a professional coaching practice.
Based on what I know right now, coaching is the best form of development to achieve lasting, sustainable success and change.
But before I dive into what’s going on out there which confirms my belief, I want to be clear what this version of coaching is because coaching is (currently) an unregulated market where anybody can call themselves a coach and which can therefore cause some confusion for buyers of this service.
So when people say they’re a coach, they may use some initial coaching questions or a coaching approach, and then fairly quickly tip into consultancy, mentoring or training. And these may be what you need. And that’s not good or bad – your needs and your organisation’s needs are unique. Just be clear about what you need.
The coaching we’re talking about here is non-directive coaching where you draw insight from the person or people in front of you through skilful listening, sharing observations without judgement, and curious questioning – sounds simple, and yet the simplest things are so often the hardest.
The definition the BBC use is that of Myles Downey; “The art and science of facilitating the performance, learning and development of another”.
So “facilitating” that stuff, enabling it. Not enforcing or telling.
Because when we are enabled or facilitated to find our own way and our own solutions we grab hold of our decisions and actions with both hands and run with them – achieving that sense of empowerment, ownership and capability – which breeds confidence and resilience.
What’s clear is that an increasing number of organisations are recognising that the world is fast and constantly changing (VUCA if you will), emphasising the need to work smarter not harder (which Tesco picked up on) and that employees are looking for more from work than to come in, be told what and how to do their day job and go home.
And managers, given that context, are no longer able to be the heroic, all-controlling, all-seeing-eye. They will, and are, literally falling over, be it mentally or physically.
So bringing coaching into an organisation is a way to shift that manager-employee relationship into a more adult-adult place, away from the historical master-servant or parent-child.
Developing yourself as a coach involves developing your self-awareness and emotional intelligence because you can’t be at your best to enable others unless you know how to get yourself in the best place to do so – put your own oxygen mask on first.
There were four great examples of creating a coaching culture shared at the event. These came from the BBC, Visa, Freebridge Housing and BT.
Each of these are different sizes of business, with different contexts, different structures, different geographical spreads – we are all unique.
I’d invite you to read more of what they’re up to – both Ian Pettigrew and David Goddin bogged about both of these sessions, see the link to Phil’s collation post above – because these examples may give you some idea of the variety of approaches that can be taken.
But all having some common themes –