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

England v Algeria – A lesson in leadership and coaching

Watching the England v. Algeria game in the World Cup has brought to mind a number of questions about the role of a manager. Arguably, England is the better team populated with A-players, all stars in their own right. But as a team, so far we’ve seen a rather lack-luster performance. They have not been able to execute on their game strategy with any degree of success. So the question comes to mind …. why? Why are a group of enormously talented individuals failing to deliver on a promise?

In a similar, but opposite vein, watching the USA v Slovenia game today was almost inspirational. Two – nil down at the half. It was all but over, yet they came out for the second half and within minutes scored a goal and then proceeded to score two more (ok, one was dis-allowed in a somewhat questionable call). What did their manager say or do to change the game so dramatically?

And here’s where the role of a manager becomes so important. When I ask employees to describe the best managers they’ve ever worked for the top responses are usually something like this:
1.They know my strengths and how to get the best from me
2.They trust me and clear the way so I can do my job
3.They inspire me and value me.
4.They take time to develop me and find ways to help me succeed
5.They respect me and the organisation we work in
6.They listen and are honest and open
7.They are consistent and communicate frequently so that I know what is expected of me (and they get out of the way and let me do it)

Now, I’m no football expert (though you might assume otherwise if you listened to me during the World Cup!), but I wonder how many of these things ring true for the England and American teams.

Interestingly, many of the things mentioned above are held as true by executive coaches as well. We work with our clients to help them achieve their potential. But we let them do it for themselves. We trust them to know what to do, we value them for being themselves, we are open, honest and sometimes very direct, but most importantly we listen.

So what am I trying to say? Simply this, Managers are Coaches, they have to be if they want to get the best from their teams – sport or business, it’s all the same. Mr. Capello, are you listening??


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Should I focus only on strengths when managing my team?

There are a lot of debates on whether focusing on strengths or focusing on weaknesses is the best way to manage employees. And on either side of the debate are solid arguments. From my experience, you have to do both. But it also depends on the individual and the context. Focusing on one to the exclusion of the other can be career limiting to your employees. I once coached an individual who had become difficult to manage, was not a team player, only did what was necessary and was disruptive to the rest of the team. They were sent to me to “fix” or they were “out”. After doing a bit of background on the individual, it became clear that they had once been a good performer, not outstanding, but a safe pair of hands. They had been contributing well and were well-respected. What changed? Looking at their past 360 evaluations, it was evident that the performance issues had been around from the beginning, however they had never been communicated to the employee. The employee only ever received excellent feedback about their strengths. Weaknesses were washed over. When it came time for remuneration and promotion the employee was overlooked. As a result and over time, their behaviour on the job deteriorated, they felt cheated and betrayed and they started focusing on the weaknesses of others to justify their own behaviours. When we finally sat down and had an honest discussion, the person was almost relieved to have the feedback. It was difficult for them to accept initially and we spent a fair amount of time rebuilding their confidence and trust in their manager and the organization, but we managed it. In the end their behavior and, most of all, their performance improved and they were supporting the team. It was then I turned my attention to the manager(s) …..

At the end of the day it is about balance. Focusing on strengths is a great way to build relationships and trust in your teams. It helps people build confidence and enables a manager to deliver difficult messages more effectively because the messages are perceived as constructive not personal. It is also a good way to help people focus on how they can leverage what they’re good at to do even more. Equally, helping employees to identify and recognise weak areas gives them the information they need to make changes. You can’t fix it if you don’t know it’s broke. In many cases, strengths can compensate for weak areas and in many cases, it is an overused strength that has become a weakness e.g. confidence has become arrogance. As always it’s about finding balance.

Thanks for reading!!

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How do I motivate my team?

It’s a question I am asked frequently when working with managers. The research into motivation runs far and deep and every business school, journal and magazine has focused on it. So, needless to say, theories aren’t in short supply. From my own experience, motivation is not something you can “train” into people. It’s not a skill or a competency. Motivation is an internal process, driven by our intrinsic values and beliefs – the things we hold most dear. When you begin to understand those values and beliefs, you then begin to understand what you can do to motivate your people.

One way is by incorporating motivating behaviours into your management style. The managers I’ve met that are good at this are not only good managers, but good leaders as well.

So what does this mean? Here are a few simple questions to ask yourself.

  1. Be a manager your people can trust and respect – This seems like an obvious one, but it takes time to build and can be lost in an instant. Trust and respect are earned through your actions. How consistent are you? Do you follow through on the promises you make? Do you avoid making promises you can’t keep? Do you stand up for your people? Are you part of the team or do you stand apart? Do you give your team credit for their achievements?
  2. Know your team – This is about how well you know your people. What do they like? Dislike? What do they value? Not value? What hidden talents might they have that you can tap into and recognize? The best managers I’ve worked with have figured this out. They really understand what makes their people tick. They make time to get to know them whether it’s over a cup of coffee, or at the pub after work. And they use their knowledge to get the best performance out of their people while at the same time meeting their people’s needs.
  3. Challenge your team – Give them the opportunity to do work that is interesting and challenging. Smart and ambitious people like stimulating work and having a say in what or how things get done. How often do you engage your people in decisions? How good are you at delegating work. Do you dump work or micromanage it? Do you give them projects that will stretch them and help them learn? Do you support them as they learn?
  4. Be honest with your feedback – Employees want feedback, even feedback that is uncomfortable. How often do you provide feedback (outside of performance reviews)? Do you sugar-coat messages? Do you focus on the limiting behaviours and praise the person? Do you coach your people? Honest feedback especially when there are performance problems is difficult, but if done well, can be a powerful motivator. A corollary here is, how often do ask for feedback from your people?
  5. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate – Communication is one of your most powerful motivating tools, especially true during times of change. How well do your people understand the bigger picture – the goals, the strategy? How well do they understand how they fit into it? How can you help them understand their fit? Don’t assume if you’ve said it once, the message was heard. People hear through the “lens” of their values and beliefs. Use multiple modes of communication, and again, don’t forget actions do speak louder than words.

Motivating behaviours won’t guarantee a motivated team, and sometimes there are organizational challenges that fall outside of a mangers control. But focusing on the things you can control (and influencing the things you can’t) can go a long way in building motivation, loyalty and productivity in your people.

So come on all your fabulous managers, how do you motivate your teams?! Share your knowledge!

Thanks for reading!

Posted in coaching, communicate, communication, leadership, manager, managers, motivate, motivation, team, teams | Leave a comment

It’s strange times we’re living in …. re-thinking your career choices

“It’s strange times we’re living in” a colleague recently said to me. Strange indeed. But in the midst of all the “strangeness”, I’ve seen a great deal of hope. It’s no surprise, given the current economic climate, that quite a lot of the coaching I have been involved in lately has revolved around people re-thinking their careers and planning their career strategies. Interestingly, it’s not only people who have lost their jobs, but executives transitioning into bigger or indeed new roles, graduates coming into one of the toughest job markets in recent history and all sorts of people in between.

What has struck me has been the common thread in all of them. It has revolved around their values and what makes them tick. What of themselves will they take with them to work and how will that influence their successes and failures. How do their values align to those of their organisation, what happens when they don’t, how to identify them in themselves and so on.

Again, it is not surprising that values have such an impact on us. They form the cornerstone of our lives and act as the filters for they way we behave, interpret, evaluate, choose, live and so on. Our values stay with us for most, if not all of our lives and they are one of the most consistent aspects of us. Our best friends tend to be people who share our values and our beliefs. We feel most appreciated ( and consequently motivated) when our values are appreciated. We feel most conflicted when our values are stepped on.

So I would suggest when thinking about your career, think about what your values are. And then think about your job or intended career path and ask yourself, how they fit together. Are you bringing your values to work with you, or are you keeping them tucked away somewhere, when you are happiest, what are you doing? Who are the people you align with most? With least? How do these relationships impact your potential for success?

Losing your job can be one of the biggest life changing events that people face sitting alongside, marriage, birth, death and moving house. And it is no surprise that people who do lose their jobs go through a typical grieving cycle of shock, anger, denial, acceptance and moving forward.

It is also one of the best opportunities to hit the pause button, reflect on what is really important to us, then move forward with new purpose. I won’t pretend and say it’s as simple as that, it will take work and focus, but you may be pleasantly surprised by what you discover!

Posted in career strategy, career transition, values | Leave a comment