Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The hug that made all the difference

Andre, a 48-year-old manager, head of operations of a large engineering and building company was referred to me for coaching to improve his interpersonal relationships at work. He was a good manager – delivery was on time, deadlines were met, projects handled well. Overcoming challenges typical in the industry was a big priority especially when it came to managing trade union relationships and staff.

His challenge which he wanted to work on in coaching was his relationship with his team. He felt it was good enough on a tactical level but they never went the extra mile, never took complete ownership of their work. They did as they were told and performed well but didn’t come up with their own solutions and ideas about how to deliver even better. He felt he wanted to take his team and his business unit to the next level.

The first time we met, he was stumped. He was doing the right things; his overall performance and ratings were good but he wanted more…

Within the first couple of sessions his story began to unfold. Through exploring more about who he is and what drives him, I noticed that he spoke with such pride and affection about his family. He told me he was particularly proud of a recent achievement of his daughter's in her first year of university. Naturally, I asked him how they celebrated her achievement and he said that he told her how happy and proud he is of her.

The conversation went something like this…

Me: Did you take her out for dinner?

Andre: No…

Me: Did you buy a small gift?

Andre: No…

Me: Did you hug her and tell how much you love her?

Andre: Mmmm… we’re not that kind of family

Me: You don’t hug her every day when she comes home from university?

Andre: Naaa…

Me (still on the same line of questioning…): Do you hug your wife every day?

Andre: I love my wife but we’re just not like that


Can you guess what his coaching assignment was?

"Hug your wife and kids every day until I see you again"

The next time we met, he had done his homework. He said it took some courage to change his mindset and he hugged his wife when he came home from work... every day. As he told me this, his smile lit up the room and something inside him just opened up in that moment.

That daily hug opened something in him that translated into a connection and a level of caring that was projected on to his team at work as well. From this conversation, we went on to design an approach to connect with his team more deeply. He found out what they care about so that the level of care could permeate into their work relationships, style and performance as well.

He now enjoys trust relationships with his team where the kindness and caring translates into openness, ownership and even higher levels of performance.

The daily hugs only happen at home (much to Andre’s relief, I didn’t give him homework to hug his team) but the impact is felt in his team.

If you want to uncover the secret in you to creating trust relationships at work that translate into ownership and high performance, my team is ready to help you figure it out.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Accountability? What the **** does that mean?

I often reflect on accountability and how it shows up (or doesn't) in my coaching engagements. Not without some guilt I might add. Guilt because I know that when my clients decide on an action to take forward from a session, I don’t always follow-up. In fact, I generally don’t follow-up. If a client wants to talk about their "homework" then I leave it to them to bring up any actions that they've taken (or not) in our check-in and we use that conversation to deepen the learning. But if they don’t bring it up, I don’t either. And here comes the guilt... if coaching is about action and getting traction on doing things, shouldn't I be asking about their to-do list?

As I reflect on this question various thoughts come up: clients are adults and can take responsibility for their own actions; they know if they do or don’t do their homework; I’m certainly not a babysitter getting paid to check that they do their work. And then there's the other side of the coin: maybe I'm letting them off the hook; maybe I'm not doing my job; accountability is an important competency for coaches.

And then I had an intro session with a potential client who asked me the dreaded question… 
As a coach, do I hold my clients accountable? 

I ummed a bit while I thought about the question.... and this potential client (who was referred to me by an existing client) proceeded to tell me that she had heard that I do. That piece of feedback took me by surprise because it was the one thing I wasn't sure I was doing such a good job with.

While I hold a regular debate with myself about whether I do a good enough job holding clients accountable, I was given a specific piece of feedback that said that I do. In addition, the potential client (who later became an actual client) added some more info to the feedback and apparently I “don't let clients off the hook and don’t leave them any wriggle room.” Verbatim.

This got me thinking… and that's when I had my own AHA moment.  

Accountability in my work as a coach means holding clients accountable to their best selves, their best thinking and their big vision... and not letting go when it becomes difficult for them to hold themselves to that.

I’m not a babysitter holding people accountable to their to-do list. 

I’m a vision-holder, holding people accountable to their big dreams for themselves.

Even if they don’t know what they are yet, even if they still need to think about it, even if they need to show up differently, even if they are not aware that their big vision is out there and even if they're too afraid to go there. 

This kind of accountability allows them to take responsibility for their own to-do list. As I hold the big picture for them of what they want to achieve and who they want to be, they hold themselves accountable for the actions that will get them there.

I like that… No… I love that! 
That is exactly why I love my work. Because of the accountability.

What is your big dream for yourself?
What do you want to achieve? Who do you need to be to achieve it?

And let's not forget… who is holding you accountable?

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Four Questions

I subscribe to Daniel Pink’s newsletter. He sends out newsletters so infrequently that he managed to escape my “unsubscribe” frenzy and besides, I happen to really like his work so that when his most recent newsletter entered my inbox I actually opened it and read it. In his newsletter, he described his idea of interviewing authors (in writing) of books he enjoyed reading by asking them 4 questions about their book – always the same 4 questions. So, since I can’t see Daniel Pink approaching me to interview me about the book I wrote anytime in the near future (even though I would totally love it… Dan, where are you?), I really liked his questions. They made me think I should have tried to answer the questions before I wrote my book but it is already written and published, I thought I’d take a stab at answering them anyway. Here goes…

My book – Courage to Lead: Leadership lessons from Kilimanjaro – emanates from my experience of climbing this magnificent mountain, the tallest in Africa. I share short stories of my climb and draw leadership lessons from each. Each chapter is a quick read (15 minutes on average) and takes the reader through the story, the leadership lesson and some practical exercises to apply the lessons themselves.

So now for the 4 questions:

Q1       What’s the big idea?

Ordinary people can do extraordinary things by paying attention to who they are and what they truly care about.

Climbing Kilimanjaro was an example of that in my life. I’m not sporty, not physically adventurous and definitely get a thrill out of life’s luxuries. For me, the ideal trip is a 5 star hotel in an exotic destination. Climbing Kili was so far out of my comfort zone that it felt truly extraordinary for me to have accomplished that. I came out of the experience with the belief that if I could do that, I can do anything. I wanted to share the gift of that belief with my readers.

Every story contains a metaphor for how we can lead our lives, whether at work or life in general. We can draw on every day experiences to learn and grow ourselves every day.

Q2       How do you know?

My work as an executive leadership coach affords me a glimpse into ordinary people’s stories. I’m often struck by the fact that first impressions lack so much of the depth that exists in a person’s life story. Once I get working with a client I’m always moved by the depth of experience, story and learning that each one of us has access to from our own lives. This led me to research people’s catalytic experiences (defining moments) and how they’ve been shaped by them. My book was my own story of a catalytic experience in my life that resulted in a shift for me.

Q3       Why should we care?

When we recognise our ability as ordinary people to do extraordinary things, we realise that the possibilities are endless.

At the moment, we are bombarded with stories about famous people, media messages about celebrities achieving amazing things and using their fame and resources to contribute to the greater good. But you don’t have to be rich a famous to make a difference in the world. If you do something extraordinary that can inspire one other person to change, you impacted a whole world in itself. By living out our stories, making meaning of them and using them to make a difference, we are already doing extraordinary things.

Every person has that ability and that’s significant enough to care about.

Q4       What should I do?

Start with self-awareness by asking yourself the questions:
·      Who am I?
·      What do I stand for?
·      What do I care about?

Think about how happy you are with your life at the moment (on a scale of 1-10). Are you where you thought you would be at this age, doing the work you thought you’d be doing, surrounded by people you love and who love you?

And for some additional exercises:
Go buy yourself a copy of Courage to Lead, pick a chapter and read it. Then do the exercises and see what you learn about yourself.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

You're invited to... unsubscribe

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks furiously unsubscribing from every newsletter that has landed in my inbox. My peak email count was an average of 160 emails a day. My inbox was out of control. Going on a business trip for 3-4 days meant that I came back to more than 600 emails to slog through. I even calculated that even if it takes only 1 second to press delete per email, that’s a full 10 minutes of hitting delete to get rid of the rubbish. But the menial task of binary prioritisation takes longer than 1 second per mail and I’m still left with a substantial amount of emails that actually do need to be addressed.

As I went through the task of unsubscribing, I recognised that I had signed up to some newsletters but many seemed to have just arrived on their own. Then there are the emails that are plain spam with no option to unsubscribe. You’d hope your junk mail filters would take care of them, although mine doesn’t seem to be doing such a good job. Of the 160 per day, there are maybe only 30 that actually need my attention.

I was reluctant to embark on this unsubscribe exercise since I’d done it once before and found that somehow the number of spam emails I received had increased rather than decreased. I also tried creating rules for emails I didn’t want, so that they’d get filtered directly to my Junk folder and when my Mail programme decided to run an update, all my rules were lost. Besides, I began to notice that many newsletters from the same place use different email addresses to send from, perhaps to avoid exactly this kind of filtering system.

Emails are an issue for many of us. I don’t know anyone who complains about getting too few emails. They take up focus, time, energy and headspace. As they arrive, their ping, banner and announcement distract us from our work which makes us lose more focus, energy, time and headspace.

Nonetheless, I decided to allocate some time and go through the exercise of unsubscribing once again and here is what I did:

1.     I chose 5 newsletters that I actually do read every time they land up in my inbox – and I mean every time – no compromises. Those get to stay.

2.     Once the process began an interesting thing happened. I started to feel bad… for the people I know personally who send emails and I’d now unsubscribe – would they know that I had unsubscribed, would they be upset? Regardless, the war on emails continued.

3.     I noticed the newsletters offering the fabulous course or retreat that I would so love to attend… one day. What if I missed out on getting to know about that one retreat that I would actually attend? A bit of FOMO crept in but I continued on.

4.     I noticed the newsletters that I never did subscribe to and wondered how they ever landed up in my inbox.

5.     I noticed the emails that didn’t have an unsubscribe option at all. I created an email rule to filter to junk for these.

Unrelenting, I continued on my mission and realised that there are other ways to stay in touch. For example, you can like Facebook pages instead of subscribing to emails so that if you want to know what is going on, you can actually go to the page and check it out – on your own terms, at your own time

Now that I’m not constantly bombarded with exciting events and promises, I actually feel more focused, happier. I now know that I don’t need to hear about all the events and outings I’m clearly not going to attend, even if they sound wonderful.

While there are definitely newsletters that I’ve unsubscribed from that keep popping back into my inbox, I’ve noticed my daily emails have now reduced to somewhere around 80 and that the number of spam emails has also reduced.

I feel clearer, cleaner and don’t need to get bogged down with facing that dreaded inbox, spending 10 minutes a day hitting the delete button.

I’ve also created a second email address for those times I do want to read an article that requires a sign-in. That inbox can get as full as it likes. I never look at it and no-one else gets that email address.

In the meantime… I invite you to unsubscribe, with these strategies:

1.     Choose 5 to keep
2.     For the rest, unsubscribe
3.     Create a second email address for sign-ups
4.     Sign up on social media to check-in intentionally
5.     Create an email rule to filter spam to junk
6.     Unsubscribe some more

What strategies have worked for you in managing your inbox?

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

How to revive a habit? 7 blogs in 7 days

I decided to set myself a challenge: write 7 blog articles in 7 days. One per day.

The reason for this challenge was to get myself going with writing again. Writing is something I love doing, I have ideas for blog pieces running around in my head every day and yet, the last blog I wrote was two years ago… 2 years ago!

Its funny how quickly you can get out of a habit and stay out of it.

After publishing my book, Courage to Lead (Jacana 2014), I seem to have just stopped writing. As any author will know, writing a book is a gruelling exercise. The deadlines, revisions, rethinking what you want to say and going over every sentence at least ten times before its given the final okay takes time, energy and commitment. In the process you lose loads of sleep and somewhere down the line you can lose enthusiasm for writing and lose some of the passion for your message. In fact, I have a confession to make. I haven’t read my book in its entirety after the final go-ahead to print. It’s something I have really wanted to do but I’ve just lost the energy. With the birth of my book, the launch, the PR, the excitement and sense of achievement something got lost in that I just stopped writing. No blogs, no articles. Just silence…

I’ve been thinking about this over the last months and wondering how to get started again. What will give me that kickstart to launch back into the writing habit?

And two things happened.

Thing 1

I read an article about writing, by Martha Beck, who said that her first draft is always really, really bad. In fact, to get herself going on an article (usually with a deadline) she gives herself the challenge and permission to write the crappiest first draft ever, as long as she puts pen to paper. I decided to use this idea and give myself the challenge and permission to write really bad first drafts, as long as it gets me writing again.

With multiple revisions, you can always fix it, change it, reduce it – but just getting the first draft done is the most powerful step to getting going.

Thing 2

I started having ideas of what to write about rolling around in my head and I began writing down my blog titles, as these ideas came up. The excitement to write began to awaken within me as I realised that each article didn’t need to be very long. It could be a short comment about something that I had noticed in my day or an idea that I wanted to share. A blog piece found its way into my inbox and I decided to do a word count on it. 400 words – that’s how short it was. That’s pretty doable.

But I still wasn’t writing…

This is where the idea of 7 blogs in 7 days came to me. First, it reminded me of the Sting song ‘7 brides for 7 brothers’ and Sting’s music makes me happy. Second, to get a blog article written every day, you have to know that you will only manage really bad first drafts and nothing more. The aim was to spill the ideas on to the page and get my mind working in the direction of writing.

The 7-day challenge was not about posting the blogs. In fact, they would not be ready for posting after 7 days. And there are advantages to this approach besides unblocking my writer’s block. If I wrote 7 blogs and posted one per week, I would have 7 weeks of material taken care of and could continue to write at a much less frenetic pace with a buffer in place. It would get me out of the stuckness and back into the arena. The blogs don’t need to be perfect, just really bad first drafts. I could work on the revisions when I was ready to post them. And finally, a great advantage would be even more material since I’m already planning my 7th blog which will be what I learnt from the experience.

So here goes… This is Day 1 of 7 blogs in 7 days. Blog 1 is now written. In fact all 7 are written and are filed away as really bad first drafts so stay tuned as I unleash them one at a time.

Now, over to you…

What habit have you let go of that you would like to revive?
How can you create your own 7 xxx (fill in the blank) in 7 days to get you going?

Remember the principles:
1.     Give yourself permission to do a really bad job as a starting point
2.     Just get started – keep it short, keep it simple
3.     Do this really badly for 7 days
4.     See what happens… what needs revision, fixing, publishing, more commitment?
5.     Share your journey in the comments below – I’d love to hear

Thursday, February 6, 2014

It's Complicated!

Last week I found myself chatting to my sister about a situation I’ve been dealing with, a complex one. Many times through our discussion, I caught myself saying, “It’s complicated.” After a while she responded, “It’s really not complicated, you’re making it complicated. It’s simple.”

I’ve been pondering that thought for a while. What makes us see things as complicated and what makes them simple? In this example, we clearly had two opposing viewpoints about the same issue. My viewpoint – complicated. My sister’s viewpoint – simple.

And that’s when I had an AHA moment.

What is the opposite of complexity? I had always thought of it as simplicity… Yet, on second thought, I now realise that it is clarity.

When we have clarity, we can cut through complexity and know exactly what we need to do or not do.

Our clarity often gets overtaken by the clutter of our thoughts; by the bombardment of information (some true and some less so) on us; and by the thoughts and expectations of others as we go around asking for advice. This is what gets complicated. Trying to please others. Trying to meet expectations. Trying to do the right thing (according to who?). And not trusting our own inner voice.

When we get clear on who we are, what we want, what would work for us and where we want to get to, the complexity dies down. When we listen to our inner wisdom, we know what we value, what is important and what is significant. We know our own truth. That is clarity. Clarity of thought, emotions and purpose.

Now… it’s not always so simple and definitely not always easy. But when we get clear, we know ourselves and we understand what to do. When we have clarity, we make perfect choices.

It is no surprise then, that when I decided to pick a card for the day today, the one that came up for me was clarity. In the words of Diana Cooper and Greg Stuart (creators of Wisdom Cards),

“Notice the simplicity of truth
and the limitations that complexity places
on your ability to see what is of value.”

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Apology

Today I heard something incredibly moving. It’s not something we hear often and it is probably something that we should hear a lot more. It was an apology. And it moved me to write this blog.

A man, Fernando, called in to the radio this afternoon because he had done something that he was not proud of.

He began by telling the story of his friend’s funeral yesterday. His friend had died in a motorbike accident because he was run off the road by a driver who was talking on his cellphone while driving. Fernando’s friend was riding with his son when he was knocked down. The son survived but his Dad suffered extensive brain damage and died. Fernando’s voice shook with emotion as he described how much his friend had meant to him and how this senseless loss had impacted him. His grief was palpable.

As I listened to Fernando speak, I was thinking – in his emotional state, surely it could be understandable that he had done something he now regrets?

He continued his story by telling us listeners that after the funeral, on his way home, another driver nearly drove into him while she was chatting on her cell phone. His emotions – grief, anger and frustration – just got the better of him. At the next robot, both cars landed up stopping next to each other. He got out of his car and starting screaming at the other driver. He banged on her window and shouted profanities. This was the moment he was not proud of. Through his cloud of grief, he noticed the panicked look on the woman’s face and immediately felt bad for what he had done. At that stage she had driven off leaving him feeling that he needed to find a way to make amends for his behaviour. Remembering that he heard her radio playing the same music that his radio was playing at the time, he called into that same radio station and asked for forgiveness. His voice was filled with regret. He understood that no matter what he was going through, his behaviour was unjustified. Feeling sorry for what he had done was not enough of an action for Fernando. He actually phoned in to the radio station and asked forgiveness of this lady, hoping she would be listening to the same radio station today.

I was moved to tears listening to Fernando’s story. It is a story filled with sadness, grief and courage. Fernando was able to admit his mistake in public, to many listeners, in the hope that he would connect with the one person who needed to hear it. That is power beyond description and its impact is far-reaching.

As I listened to this call, I thought of the many times where I had the thought – let me just make this one quick call even when my car kit hadn’t yet connect to my phone. Or while idling at a robot, sending off a quick text message. How often does it happen that we don’t quite finish typing that message when the robot turns green and just “quickly” finish as we pull off? How often do we hear the beep of a message coming in and say to ourselves “let me quickly read it in case it’s urgent?”

In Fernando’s words… what can be more urgent than someone’s life? Pull over and do what you need to do. Then, drive on.

Fernando, your message was one of absolute courage and power. First to admit your mistake and then to apologise for it. With your act of courage, you also impacted many listeners that day, me included, who will think twice about puling out our phones while we’re driving. We’ve also learnt the power and value of a heartfelt apology.

Thank you for your strong message and for your courage. We can all learn from you. My condolences for your loss. May you find peace and joy again soon.