How bias colours our world and what we can do about it

“We are far more liable to catch the vices than the virtues of our associates.”
Denis Diderot


What do you see?

It’s human nature to notice the negative, it’s a concept known as negativity dominance to psychologists. This helps explain why, for instance, when we receive a performance evaluation, we sometimes tend to focus on the negative aspects and ignore the positive aspects. In a similar way, all of us have our own biases, we learn them at a young age and many are intertwined with our values and beliefs. On the plus side, many biases are quite useful, they help us to navigate our worlds and deal with the massive amount of information we receive, thereby influencing the decisions we make. On the downside, biases cause us problems when they have a negative impact on our relationships, in the way we process information or the decisions we make.

So how do we control or negate those biases that we naturally tend to have. It’s not simple, however, what we do know is that once we are aware of potential biases we are able to make informed decisions.  The key thing is to begin to understand where they come from, what do they mean, how do they impact our relationships, our decisions etc. Developing an understanding of them and raising them into our conscious awareness allows us to then make conscious choices on how to act on them.

If you are interested in exploring your own biases, Implicit association tests are one way of identifying what biases we may have. Harvard has been running studies on implicit association for the better part of a decade and much of this research has informed work being done on decision-making and diversity issues. At the moment the tests are limited to a few categories, however they begin to give you an understanding of how bias may subtly influence us.

To begin understanding what your biases you may have, take an Implicit Association test here. And give me a shout if you want to understand more about how to counter them or use them to your advantage.

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How do you help your team to succeed?

Over the last few months I’ve been running an exploratory survey asking people to answer the question “what word defines success” for them. And while the results are not entirely surprising it did make me start to think again about how, as leaders, do we help our teams, our employees to succeed.

How do you define success?

Of 294 responses, roughly 25% of the responses related to achievement, accomplishments, delivery, goals  and results. Just over 6% related to money, financial independence and prosperity. And in between were words like happiness, fulfillment, recognition, respect, independence, integrity, influence and impact. The tag cloud generated at right gives an idea of the types of responses. While I haven’t done an in-depth analysis yet, this has thrown up questions on how we manage and lead people.

How often do we try to incentivize and motivate with money, or rewards? When the above suggests that perhaps recognition for good work and helping them to achieve their goals might mean more to them?  It would be naïve to say money is not important, but if our employees define their success through their achievements, how can we help them to achieve more? What systems or processes can we put in place? How can we support them so they can achieve their goals and objectives? What do they need from us to help them succeed? If we’re in doubt, maybe we could ask ….

I’ll be looking at the data a little more in-depth over the coming weeks, so stay tuned for more!

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The end of the year … what do you have left in your tank?

Recently I’ve been seeing the same theme cropping up over and over in various guises with clients and in my day-to-day reading, so I figure it’s time to share.

The theme I’m talking about is leadership burnout, fatigue. I suspect it’s as much about the year drawing to a close and more leaders are casting their eyes over the years successes and failures. But interestingly I am hearing more whispers of just being “tired” and “exhausted”. I even have one client contemplating an early exit from his organisation.

These whisperings seem to tally with a recent blog by Tony Schwartz over at HBR’s blogging site – Fatigue is your enemy .

If you are feeling it – fatigue –  too, maybe it’s time to press pause for a quick check-in with yourself. Here’s a few questions to ask yourself.

1. What’s my impact on my Organisation? Team? Colleagues? My Family, Friends?

2. Is it what I want it to be?

3. If not, what do I need to do change how I am feeling right now.

4. How do I make that happen

It’s not rocket science, and in the normal course of the year you probably already do it, but when you’re fatigued, you may forget.

I also came across this article  by Les McKeown’s that offers a year-end checklist for leaders.

Again, it’s a useful reminder that leading and leadership never stop. I would also hasten to add, that it is just as much about looking after yourself and making sure you have the energy and reserves you will need to keep your ship running.

thanks for visiting!

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What’s your personal brand saying?

I’ve been doing a bit of reading on personal branding recently and came across a really useful interview with branding guru Julia Allinson by Jeff Haden in Inc.  The interview is aimed at owners of small businesses, but the principles hold for individuals as well. Two things stood out for me when you consider building a personal brand,

1. Authenticity is paramount. As in coaching, one of my driving principles is to be authentic with my clients and likewise,  your personal brand needs to be authentic and an extension of you, not something your create. Your brand is already made – now it’s up to you to use what you have.

2.Building a personal brand takes time, but you can begin by knowing what you’d like to be known for and mapping it to what you’ve already got.  Don’t be afraid to make mistakes along the way, graciously acknowledge them and keep moving forward.

I think Julia could make a pretty good coach!

Hope you enjoy the article!

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Why feedback is really just a load of tosh and change never happens

This morning I had an interesting email exchange with a client. He sent me an email from his company announcing a new coaching course for leaders. He thought it was ridiculous, long winded and fluffy and that no one really cared or believed in it. 

It reminded me of a conversation I had with a senior MD several years ago when I was extolling the virtues of providing good quality feedback in managing employee performance. His reply … “I get all the feedback I need from the number of 0’s at the end of my bonus check”. And while I was a taken aback initially, I realised he had a good point. All the feedback in the world is only as good as the actions that back it up. If the systems and processes in an organisation don’t back up and support the behaviours we believe are needed to build a strong and profitable business, then all we’re doing is talking. In essence, we can tell people anything we want, but when the words and the actions are incongruous, actions will always win. That MD’s bonus check told him he was doing a good job. Even if he was a tryant and verbally bludgeoned his people. And even more so, everytime he blasted one of his people, he was telling them that was the way to succeed in that organisation.So much for building a coaching culture.

Yes, feedback is a good thing, we need to understand what we need to do differently in order to make changes and succeed. But more than that, we need to see that what we’re being told is valued and will indeed make a difference to our success. As for coaching and feedback, yes, I believe it is a powerful tool in a manager’s toolkit and it can have a huge impact on performance –  if it is truly valued by the organisation.

So if we really believe that coaching or feedback or performance management or anything is a good thing, then we need to role model it. We need to demonstrate that we think it’s important for the business by doing it, not just talking about it. That’s a big ask in a large organisation, but it can be done – one person at a time, starting from the top. It will take time and a determined focus. We may have to overcome lots of setbacks, but it is achievable. And it starts when we do what we say ….


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How ironing has helped me to think ….

Ok, I’ll be honest, I don’t like ironing. It’s boring, monotonous and tedious. But the one thing it gives me that I place a huge value on is quality thinking time.

Why is thinking time important? Humans tend to look for patterns in the world around them. We do this to help make sense of, and to order the massive amount of information that we encounter daily. We use what psychologists refer to as “schematic shortcuts” to solve many of our day to day problems. So for example, you see a cup of brown liquid – looks like coffee, in a mug like coffee, and in a place you would expect to see coffee, a desk … therefore, it must be coffee. You’ve created a schema called “coffee” and you are now filtering in the things that fit into that schema and filtering out the things that don’t. In essence you’ve made an assumption about what is in the cup. But did you notice it was cold? And actually it has a faint smell of acetone? And that it’s actually wood stain? We do the same thing in our jobs, we use schemas to deal with the massive amount of information that we receive. It enables us to quickly assess and make decisions about what to do next. Most of the time, the schema work so we continue to use them – they help us to be more efficient.

But what happens when we encounter something completely different? When our “operating model or schema” no longer reflects the real world or is in some way incomplete? What impact will our decisions based on faulty schema have? Can we deal with them effectively? Is there are better way to approach the problem? What things should we look out for? What are our contingencies? How can we build on the success? What should our priorities be? Has there been a change in our environment? Who are the best people to work on this? Are we still moving on the right path? Are there opportunities we are missing? And so on. This is where thinking time is critical. It gives us the space to think more broadly, to question our assumptions, to challenge convention, to try something new, to generate alternate schema that we can test or action.

The most successful executives I work with, make/find time to think. They recognise the value for themselves and guard that time as sacred. But many others that I work with struggle to make time. They often feel “guilt” about doing anything that doesn’t appear to be work or the feel they are just too busy to prioritise it. I will usually ask what the impact of not taking the time might be. The responses are things like “we spend too much time on just running the day to day”, “we don’t plan for the future”, “we’re always fire-fighting”, “we’re executing on plans that may be outdated”, I’m stagnating and bored”, “I know we can do more/better”, “I don’t have time to develop people” …..

The key is to find quality time that works for you and that fits in with your schedule. Try to choose activities that require little mental processing on your part sothat you can get on with thinking about the important stuff.  In my case I:

  1. Schedule lunch and take it
  2. Go for a 30 minute walk
  3. Weed on the allotment
  4. Take a long bath
  5. Iron / do laundry
  6. Use a thinking partner – varies from another coach to my husband!*

So, where do you do your best thinking?? I’d love to hear from you!

*A quick note on thinking partners, they should challenge you and not agree with you on everything, they should help you question your assumptions and sometimes play devil’s advocate. Coaches are trained to do this, but sometimes colleagues and friends can do this too as long as the above holds true.
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More Coffee, The FTSE 250 and Luck pt 2

Since part 1, I’ve been posing that question (do you control your luck) to every hapless soul who passes my way. So apologies  to everyone I’ve accosted!

So I had to look into the research on luck, what do the researchers say. From what I have read so far, it seems very little has been done on luck or the perceptions of it and only Professor Richard Wiseman (read a short article here) at the U of Hertforshire has done some empirical work. Professor Wiseman theorises that luck is something we can help to generate by following four simple principles.

  1. Principle One: Maximise Chance Opportunities
    He found that lucky people do this in various ways, including networking, adopting a relaxed attitude to life and by being open to new experiences.
  2. Principle Two: Listening to Lucky Hunches
    Lucky people make effective decisions by listening to their intuition and gut feelings.
  3. Principle Three: Expect Good Fortune
    These expectations may become self-fulfilling prophecies by helping lucky people persist in the face of failure, and shape their interactions with others in a positive way.
  4. Principle Four: Turn Bad Luck to Good
    Lucky people spontaneously imagine how things could have been worse, do not dwell on ill fortune, and take control of the situation.

As chance or luck would have it, my afternoon meeting was cancelled and as I was near the National Gallery and hadn’t been in years, I decide to take the opportunity. Perhaps it was my frame of mind, but I happened across Cezanne’s “An old woman with a rosary” and it made me pause. After reading the placard next to it I was struck by the darkness of the interpretation, “attempting to glean comfort in absence of any worldly support … clutching her rosary … her dark drab clothes heighten her despair”. Yet when I looked at the painting I saw an old woman, deep in prayer and devotion and with a look of hope, despite the bleakness of her surroundings. I didn’t see the despair. But it did strike me as such an illustration of what I had been reading in the luck research. So I walked out of the National Gallery waiting for my luck to come grab me ……. hmmmmm. Oh well, on the plus side, I snapped the lovely picture of Nelson’s Column silhoutted against the sky (it’s the one you see on part 1 of this post). Ahhhh, perhaps I’ll win a prize for that one …. :o)

So why am I kerfuffling over luck? Simply that our perceptions of situations colour the way we interpret what we experience. One person’s misfortune is another’s opportunity. One side of the world is in light while the other is in darkness. We can’t always see what is on the other side. Our point of view is just that, our point of view. And there are many points of view, ways of looking at a situation, an obect a painting  etc. What is perhaps most important in all this, is to be able to recognise those multiple aspects, multiple points. It may not affect how we act or react (then again it may), but in recognising those multiplicites, perhaps we open ourselves to the possibilities. Perhaps we open ourselves to receive some luck – however you want to describe it. I’ve been incredibly lucky in my life and in my career, but when I think about why .. maybe it wasn’t just luck, maybe I did have a bigger part to play in it after all ….

On a final note … I came across this clip over the weekend. Many of you will have seen it – of a young man driving on the motorway who managed to avoid getting hit by a semi-truck crashing through a barrier directly in front of him.  Amazingly, he swerved and avoided it. Now that’s sheer luck! When interviewed, he said, “”Everything seemed to slow down and I think all those years playing video games as a kid paid-off”. So was he lucky? Or unbeknownst to him, had he spent his childhood training his reflexes for just this emergency? ….

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More coffee, the FTSE 250 and Luck pt1

View from the National Gallery overlooking Trafalgar Square

Nelson, walking in the clouds

So once again I find myself sat at a coffee shop reading over my notes from the past couple of days. It always starts with coffee for some reason … or as my husband says … “best drink of the day..” Anyway, I digress …

I was reading an article on the performance of the FTSE 250 suggesting that its performance is at its 2007 levels again and that the FTSE 100 would be too if you stripped out the performance of the banks – which made me wonder if there were any leadership implications. I had a long and heated debate with my husband, over breakfast, about the different styles of leadership and the different market conditions that breed or at least reinforce certain styles over others … how certain leadership styles are appropriate in certain environments/industries and so forth, but not in others … Churchill is an example, a brilliant war time leader who could inspire and engage with people but who after the war, found his style no longer resonated. It made me wonder if there was any relationship to the recovery of some of the banks as they learn to do business in a new environment. We more or less came down to the stalemate that there are so many variables it would be difficult to pin it down – but definitely the topic of a meta-analysis sometime into the future. Add that to the to-do list …

But then somehow the conversation took a big detour. We started talking about lucky decisions, why was it that some leaders/businesses always seemed to be in the right place at the right time to capitalise on market conditions and then it generalised to people in general. Why is it that some people appear to be lucky and then, what exactly is luck? And can we really make it or is it simply about probabilities, it exists in a finite quantity so that one person’s luck results in another person’s unluckiness. (I’ll remind you that this conversation was happening at 7am).

Wikipedia defines luck as “Luck or fortuity is good or bad fortune in life caused by accident or chance, and attributed by some to reasons of faith or superstition, which happens beyond a person’s control.”

Beyond a person’s control, chance. Is it really chance? Does that imply that we have no control over our fates and are just moving through time hoping to be hit by the luck molecule? *Ping* way hey, got that job I’ve been working hard for …. oh wait, I worked hard for that. Hmmmmmm …

Well since this post is becoming rather long and I have to scurry off to a meeting, I’m going to end here for the moment. I’m interested in what you think … is luck just chance? do we influence it? can we change it? are we stuck with our lot in life??

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Musing from the Cafe … Networking and Coffee …

In between meetings I will often find a cafe to sit down and catch-up on work. It’s a relaxing atmosphere and normally there is the buzz of networking and business going on all around me .. not that I’m eavesdropping! But recently I’ve become increasingly aware of the people I see around me .. or more specifially the people I don’t see … women. And it’s made me wonder, where are all the women networkers? It’s possible they’re networking elsewhere during the day, maybe over lunch, or at the gym. But a worrying thought has crossed my mind, what if they aren’t?

And then a couple of days ago a friend and I, over a cup of coffee incidentally, were asking ourselves, why is it that there are women’s networks? Why do women have networks just for them? You don’t often hear of men’s networks – aside from the non-pc -ness of them, why not?. Men certainly are networking, I see them everytime I’m at the coffee shop. I know they meet after work in the pub, meet eachother on the golf course – ok I might be stereotyping a bit. The key is that they’re naturally incorporating it into their daily routine. Men are more likely to poke their heads into their bosses office for an “unofficial” catch-up, of perhaps nothing in particular, but they’re networking and raising profile. Women are more like to keep their heads down and work harder, hoping someone will notice.

I’m not saying that women’s networks aren’t useful as I do believe they are. But I am suggesting that given women are, typically, quite natural communicators, why don’t we see them doing it more often? So ladies, here’s a question … where do you network? And where do you find you are most successful at it?

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Gone Plotty: 10 things my allotment taught me about Networking and Being an Entrepreneur

Networking is one of those things that your either take to like a fish to water or it’s something you have to work at, more like a bunny in scuba gear. I’m more of the latter and even though I quite enjoy networking, sometimes it feels like hard work.

Being a small business entrepreneur, networking is an incredibly important part of my business. So when I recently started to feel like it was too much like hard work, a good friend and excellent coach (Thanks Barbara!) really helped me to reframe all of my networking activity.

I thought I’d share a few things I’ve learned about networking from the allotment. I’ve got a bit plotty, but here goes …. Networking is like growing veggies on the allotment because …..

1. The more you put into it, the more you’ll get out – usually. So what’s your end goal? Like the allotment, the quality of the output is equivalent to the quality of what you put into it. You start by giving your time and energy and heap on loads of goodness. Whether that’s poo or information and services. You have to give before you receive.

2. Some seeds take longer to germinate than others. Some relationships take longer to get going than others, you just need to keep nurturing them and eventually they will start to grow. Mind you, sometimes seeds fail and so do relationships. But then you can always replant and start again.

3. You have to thin out your seedlings to produce the strongest plants. You can’t build strong relationships with absolutely everyone. There isn’t enough time in the day. So choose which ones you want to foster, which ones have the best potential and focus on them.

4. Not everything grows well in freshly manured soil. Listen to your network, get to know what they need, what are their challenges and how can you help. Once you know this, then find ways to give them what they need.

5. During drought periods you have to keep everything watered – You can’t control the weather, and sometimes you have to go the extra mile to keep your relationships in good shape.

6. There will always be pests, learn to deal with them effectively and your crops won’t suffer. Changes in business structures, competition, you name it, just when you think you’re making real progress, something gets in the way. Learn to recognise those pests early and be ready to spring into action.

7. Sometimes crops fail, it doesn’t mean you did. Not every relationship will work or will last. And sometimes despite everything you’ve done, it goes nowhere. That’s just part of the process, expect a few failed crops and focus on the successful ones.

8. Peas v. Curly Kale – Like different crops, relationships will be ready for harvest at different times. Some will be ready within weeks others will take a year or more. The important thing is to not forget them and to continue to give them what they need.

9. Don’t forget to celebrate your work – periodically stop and take stock of everything you have achieved. Look at how your relationships have grown. It’s sometimes easy to forget everything we have achieved.

10. If you want to keep growing, you have to keep giving. There will always be more to do. Look for ways to enjoy the process. Chances are you’ll find something worth being excited about.

There are a lot of other lessons I’ve learned, but I’ll stop there! Networking, like growing can be hard work, and in general, you reap what you sow. However, rest assured that given time and a bit of TLC, you will find your hard work pays off. There are never any guarantees but try to enjoy the process and before you know it, you’ll be reaping the rewards!

Posted in coaching, entrepreneur, entrepreneurialism, networking, relationships | 2 Comments