Is there an angel sitting on your shoulder?

angel-May17A few years ago I was on holiday in Canada with my partner enjoying a wonderful cruise through the network of small islands along the Inside Passage from Vancouver Island to Alaska.  During the journey the cruise company organised fascinating talks by wildlife experts several times a day.  We spotted bald eagles soaring high above us, white Kermode bears fishing for salmon in the rivers and watched in amazement as the huge tail fins of humpback whales breached the surface of the water with a huge splash.  The staff were very helpful and friendly which made our experience even more enjoyable.

At the end of the cruise I wanted to let the staff know how much we had appreciated the trip.  When I asked a crew member for a feedback form a look of concern replaced the warm smile as she said: “I’m so sorry you have had problems during your cruise! What can I do to help?”  When I looked at the feedback form I noticed all the questions were about problems customers had experienced.  There was no space for positive feedback.

My experience in Canada is mirrored so often in the business world where appraisal conversations centre on ‘weaknesses’, ‘areas for development’ or objectives not met.  No wonder many of the coaching conversations I have with clients about the challenges they are facing at work are focussed on lack of confidence and self-belief.

When this happens I share this personal story about the revelations I experienced after completing an assignment during my coaching training 10 years ago.  The task was to contact five to eight people who knew me well and ask them to describe my ‘unique abilities’. Things that I was particularly good at or special qualities that the person saw in me. I had never done anything like this before so it felt a bit awkward at first.  How many times has someone given you a compliment and you respond with an embarrassed “Oh, it’s really nothing!”? You can’t seem to find the self-confidence or self-belief to reply with a simple “Thank you”. Those familiar gremlins appear on your shoulder telling you that talking to people about what you do well is “blowing your own trumpet” or “arrogant”! If you choose to listen to them it’s easy to shrink back into your shell instead of confidently brushing them off your shoulder.

Returning to my assignment, thankfully, my natural curiosity and passion for self-development gave me the courage to contact eight people in my personal and professional lives to ask about my ‘unique abilities’.   I was delighted and surprised to receive eight replies within a few days.   I remember the wave of emotions that surged through me as I read the many heartfelt, positive messages about the special qualities those eight generous people recognised in me. One of the most insightful responses was from one of my sisters.   Her message touched on qualities she had seen in me from a teenager which was a revelation.

It’s amazing how much you can learn about yourself from other people if you ask the right questions.  As a result of that simple and insightful exercise ten years ago I created my unique abilities ‘angel’.  I conjure up a mental image of her sitting on my shoulder to counteract the gremlins who appear from time to time. Whenever I come up against a challenge or simply want to remind myself about the qualities that other people see in me I call upon my ‘angel’ to give me a boost of self-confidence.

I invite you to contact eight people you know well to discover your ‘unique abilities’ and look forward to hearing about any experiences you would like to share.

If you would like help discovering your unique abilities to boost your self-confidence please get in touch to find out how I can help you. Christine Griffin, Executive Coach –  – +44 (0)7796 147127 –

Be bold for change

CathBishop2-April17I met Cath Bishop, triple Olympian rower, after listening to her inspirational talk at an International Women’s Day event – ‘Be Bold for Change’.  Whilst still competing in the Olympic Games Cath made a bold step to start a new career as a diplomat with postings in Bosnia and Iraq between 2001 and 2013.  She has since turned her talents to a different field and currently works in leadership development as a speaker, facilitator and consultant.  Cath’s other roles include Visiting Professor to the Surrey Business School at Surrey University and an Associate with the Leadership Trust and with the performance consultancy ‘Will it Make the Boat Go Faster?’

In this article Cath shares her experiences of how being bold has played a significant role in the paths she has chosen to follow on her impressive career journey to date.

I always find International Women’s Day such a tantalising glimpse of what the world could be like – you wake up to pictures of successful women everywhere you look and listen, on the radio, TV, in magazines, at talks, panel events, and all over social media.  So many different, previously unheard stories which illuminate, enrich and add vast amounts of colour to our world.

I loved the International Women’s Day motto this year – Be Bold for Change.  I was invited to be part of an event co-hosted by Surrey Business School and Surrey Chambers of Commerce and to give a talk around how boldness for change had played out in my two careers as an Olympic sportswoman and senior diplomat specialising in conflict issues.

For me, boldness is not a static thing but a continuum.  My boldness is constantly ebbing and flowing, developing and taking on a new shape, adapting from experience and to new situations. It’s dynamic, personal and complex!

Boldness is about being prepared to challenge the status quo, to stand out from the crowd and say something different, being willing to think in a different way and voice those thoughts – not just about gender inclusion, but about everything that affects the wider organisational culture of ‘how we do things round here’.  It’s also about finding other bold people and using their voice and influence to help you to take new steps.

I would never have taken up rowing if it hadn’t been for the boldness of some fellow students who wanted to rope me into making up numbers in their novice eight so that they could do the races at the end of the first term.  After a non-sporty background at school and dislike of early mornings, it took some persuasion on their part, and also a willingness on my part to listen but not heed the voice in my head that told me ‘Don’t do it, you’ll look silly, it’ll be embarrassing, you’ll be no good’, and to open myself up to the opportunity that lay with the voice in my head that said, ‘What have you got to lose?  Why don’t you give it a try?’  That was the inauspicious beginning to a life-changing encounter with rowing, a sport I fell in love with, and a sport that over time ended up taking me to compete at 3 Olympic Games.

Boldness was part of a daily mindset as an Olympic athlete, boldness to cope with the demanding, high performance environment, boldness to challenge coaches who were set in their ways, boldness to believe that I was good enough to beat the rest of the world when it came to race day.

When I first joined the Olympic rowing team in 1995-6, the women’s team was very amateur – no paid coaches, borrowed equipment, and most of the rowers working part-time in between training to keep their heads above water, though in the process allowing no time for the quality of training and recovery needed.  Our sporting lives and opportunities were transformed by the arrival of the Lottery funding for sport in 1997, a bold political move that changed the game for British athletes to pursue their Olympic and Paralympic dreams.  In particular, a whole generation of female athletes in minority sports, who would never have had sufficient media coverage to gain sponsorship deals, has been able to shine and reach their potential and play a considerable part in sending Great Britain soaring up the medal table.

For me, after 7th place in Atlanta, a devastating 9th place performance in Sydney, I had to dig deep and go against most of the advice of those around me to decide to come back to a third Olympic Games in Athens to try and win a medal.  Having started a diplomatic career with the Foreign Office by that point, it seemed bold, verging on rash to many people to put that on pause to go back to rowing – but in my own mind, I knew I had to have another go to try and show how good I could be on the Olympic world stage.

Within a month of winning a silver medal in Athens, I was immersed in my diplomatic career, completing my immersion language training in the beautiful but tragic town of Mostar, before heading to work in Sarajevo to work within the challenging political framework of post-conflict Bosnia.  A few years later, I found myself situated within a conflict in Basra, living on a military base, surrounded by military colleagues and trying to work with our Iraqi counterparts to stop pursuing goals through violent means and to return to a peaceful political process – words that are easy to write on the page, but much harder to turn into reality.  Boldness was required there to listen amongst the chaos, to think of what we had in common, rather than focus on the all too obvious things that stood between us.  Boldness was required to think of new ways of doing things, when all the old ways led to the same bitter path.  It is the central job of the diplomat to find new ways, a new path forward, and I enjoyed that challenge in the face of at times impossible forces heading in the opposite direction.

I was grateful to colleagues and acquaintances from all sides of the conflict who arrived in entrenched positions but were willing to spend just a moment thinking of how there could be a different way forward that might end the conflict.  There are no simple solutions, and individuals must be prepared to think of the long-term, often without any guarantee it will pay off for them in the short-term and a much greater likelihood it won’t.  It often comes back to that most basic of human psychological paradigms, a key challenge within leadership based on the Prisoner’s Dilemma – whether to cooperate or compete to get the best deal for yourself.  We see that played out in conflict and in peace around the world on an almost daily basis.

And so my journey of boldness continues a few years on, working now in leadership development and consultancy, and learning the boldness required in motherhood, firstly to survive, secondly to start to learn to thrive.  The learning continues apace!

If this article has brought to light any challenges you are facing changing the direction of your career please get in touch to find out how I can help you. Christine Griffin, Executive Coach –  – +44 (0)7796 147127 –

Five tips for dealing with challenging behaviour at work

Challenging behaviour2-April17When visiting a friend at the week-end she told me a story about a former colleague who phones her regularly to share her growing anxieties about attending weekly team meetings.  Her manager frequently criticises her and other members of the team for what they have allegedly “failed to do” since the last meeting.  When her manager raises her voice to point out her “failings” in front of her colleagues she feels embarrassed and ashamed even though she believes many of the criticisms are unfounded.   She doesn’t feel confident enough to speak to her manager about the situation and dreads each meeting.  Does this sound familiar?

It reminded me of my experience of working with a colleague with similar behaviours early in my career.  Her regular pattern was demanding my contribution to the weekly report as soon as I walked through the door on a Monday morning before I’d had time to take off my coat.  Another habit was having a loud conversation with me in an open plan office criticising parts of my work.  I also found these situations intensely embarrassing and stressful which didn’t do a lot for my confidence or self-esteem at that early stage of my HR career.

Not being one to roll over easily, I eventually realised that there was a strong correlation between the source of the criticisms and the incomplete information my colleague had chosen to share with me about the work tasks she had given me.   This was a bullying pattern of behaviour other members of the team had also encountered.  With the encouragement of colleagues and friends I finally built up the courage one day to stand my ground, take her to one side and make it crystal clear that I wanted any future discussions about my work performance to be held on a one-to-one basis or in discussion with our joint manager in private.  When I saw the astonished look on the face of my colleague I learnt in that instance how bullying behaviour can suddenly lose its power when you find the inner strength and confidence to challenge it head on.

Ironically, that negative experience in my early career positively influenced the leadership style I developed when I became an HR Manager.  Having personally struggled with the impact of having key information withheld I focussed on sharing as much as possible with my team to help them to succeed and always discussed any performance issues in private.

If you are also experiencing the uncomfortable feeling of being named and shamed at work here are five tips to help you to address these challenging behaviours:

1.  Focus on the behaviour and be specific

Feedback should be timed to be as close as possible to the challenging situation so that you and the other person have the clearest possible memory of what happened. Focus on the person’s behaviour, i.e. “When you raised your voice…” rather than making it personal, i.e. “When you shouted at me…”  Also, be really specific instead of making general comments. This all speaks to being well prepared before having the conversation.

2.  Share what you are feeling when the behaviour take place

Instead of using a common response to challenging behaviour, such as “When you raised your voice and spoke about my “failings” during the team meeting you made me feel embarrassed and anxious” focus on how you felt.  For example, “When you raised your voice and spoke about my “failings” during the team meeting I felt anxious and embarrassed.” This change of emphasis from apportioning blame to sharing your feelings highlights that it is the person’s behaviour that is causing you concern and not them as an individual.  This helps to rebuild and preserve the personal relationship by carefully choosing your words to avoid a defensive reaction.

3.  Clarify what you need

After sharing your feelings, follow up by clarifying what you need.  For example, “… I feel anxious and embarrassed because I need a confidential environment to make it easier for me to discuss any concerns you may have about my performance.”

4.  Secure commitment to change by focusing on a request for action

Follow up with a request for action.  For example, “….Therefore, I would like to make a request that we discuss any issues you may have about my performance in a calm way on a one-to-one basis.  This will provide the confidential environment I need to share my point of view to make it easier to find a solution.”

5.  Nurture and notice the change

Be sure to reinforce the changes you want to see by noticing and mentioning when you’ve seen a shift, linking it to the benefits this has brought to your confidence, performance and relationship.

If you need help dealing with any challenging behaviour you are experiencing at work please get in touch to find out how I can help you. Christine Griffin, Executive Coach  – +44 (0)7796 147127 –

Adding a different perspective to project management

Vanessa Mallett-Jan17In this article Vanessa Mallett, International HR Consultant who specialises in supporting organisations through complex transformational change and mergers and acquisitions integration, shares her thoughts on the importance of gender diversity in ensuring successful change projects.

During Vanessa’s career as an independent consultant and previously as a vice president in large multinational corporations, her expertise developed through involvement in hundreds of global projects of varying scope and value. She has an in depth understanding of the requirements for effective change management and advises clients on how to navigate cultural complexities, manage business risk and enable successful project implementation.

What an interesting day to choose to contribute to Women in Leadership!  Teresa May has just announced the General Election saying that “Britain needs certainty, stability and strong leadership, and since I became Prime Minister the government has delivered precisely that  … we have also delivered on the mandate. Britain is leaving the European Union and there is no turning back… we want a deep and special partnership.”  Nicola Sturgeon is responding as I type. She sees this as an opportunity to drive her project – independence for Scotland. In a recent commentary on Cressida Dick’s approach to her new role as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, the reporter suggested that “she avoided criticising her predecessor yet implied she would be different, support her officers yet implied that policing would need to change – and throughout sounded relaxed and natural, almost impromptu, while walking on eggshells”. I am tempted to bring in Angela Merkel or many of the other women politicians, business leaders, organisational leaders, writers and thought leaders who we are now seeing step forward.  One thing they have in common is approach. They stress the need for collaboration, support and partnership in achieving the changes they desire.

Could there be any larger, more significant, far reaching or complex change project than Brexit, the EU, the police force, the future of the United Kingdom? Christine Lagarde, MD of the IMF, has featured on this blog several times already. Of her many insightful comments, one resonates today – “I have a theory that women are generally given space and appointed to jobs when the situation is tough…women are eventually called upon to sort out the mess, face the difficult issues and be completely focussed on restoring the situation”. This to me is a clear benefit and indication of gender diversity in a traditionally and stereotypically male environment changing before our eyes.

During a recent discussion with a client looking to improve the performance of their change project teams, I was asked to comment on what, in my experience, made a successful project.  Of course, much research and practical work has been done around this topic – but it struck me that there was something in addition to the usual project checklist that seems to have a huge impact.  My view, backed with significant practical experience, is that there are two key elements – leadership and diversity. Clear, purposeful and sensitive leadership where perceptions are managed well and trust is valued. Diversity of thought, approach, culture, background, education and particularly gender provides intuitive, enabling and sustainable difference to both the immediate implementation of tasks and longer term success of change projects. Although these skills and approaches are not gender specific it seems to be the softer, empathetic, engaging approach that women stereotypically demonstrate and use in conjunction with the traditional change leadership skills and techniques that provide the understanding, buy in, collaboration and commitment that consolidate success. Good project management is reliant on balanced leadership. It’s important to secure the fit of appropriate leaders and teams to match the complexity of the project. The project needs to be scoped correctly, planned thoroughly, with costs carefully predicted and control mechanisms established. All that remains are contingency plans to manage uncertainties. Too often I’ve seen the leadership and project team requirement overlooked – using those who are free rather than taking time to establish members with the right strengths and experience for the project.  I can’t generalise broader than my experience but I have seen more women than men take the time and effort to ensure the right team composition up front. I feel they intuitively know that the relationships within the team and amongst stakeholders are critical.

The usual project task orientation defined by data analysis, software tracking and milestone chasing plays to the traditional male stereotypes. I know some women can do this equally well when given the opportunity (just as not all men have the strengths in the above either).  The three requirements of time, cost and quality are, we are told, the key to successful project delivery.  It sounds like common sense – there is a lot of available advice on project management technique. Those of us with long HR careers and change weariness know it’s not that simple! If only human nature were predictable and reliable, I’m sure by now fewer projects would fail and we wouldn’t be discussing how to enable success and minimise risk.

However, there are so many variables and other vital components to consider in addition to traditional project management models. Are the client requirements fully understood? Does the client understand what they want? Does the business leader proposing the restructure/ office closure/new system implementation understand the impact on employees? How will all stakeholders be brought along with the plan and long term engagement secured? Have we considered the impact on other functions/areas of the wider business/employee representation bodies/customers?  Has the communication message and plan been established up front?  In my experience, well developed questioning and listening skills are essential to establish a holistic plan and empathetic approach.  Project teams need to be engaged and aligned so they really understand the project brief and its impact. Leadership skills promote challenge, understanding, purpose and trust to get and keep teams on board – the ability to explain, monitor, delegate and follow up are not gender specific skills but there is a known tendency for women leaders to be more able in building strong collaborative relationships across all affected parties.

Through the continuous review and learning loops used in some organisations that have undergone significant change, we are becoming more and more aware that successful projects treat soft skills as important as hard skills and don’t just pay lip service to them. If gender diversity gives as much emphasis to “soft skills “such as empathy and collaboration as to “hard skills” of planning, data analysis and task completion, then gender diversity in my experience can deliver more successful change project outcomes. Those organisations where the “how “is given equal emphasis during the planning process, as well as during the project delivery stage, should achieve greater success and competitive advantage.

If this article has brought to light any leadership challenges you are facing please get in touch to find out how I can help you. Christine Griffin, Executive Coach –  – +44 (0)7796 147127 –

Is technology helping or hindering your team’s performance?

Technology Blog-Mar17I was relaxing over dinner with my partner in a country pub on Sunday evening after a beautiful walk along the South Downs.  There was a large family party sitting on the table next to us with three generations celebrating Mother’s Day.  What struck me was that all the adults were telling each other stories, laughing, smiling and appeared to be enjoying each other’s company immensely.  By contrast the three teenage daughters were sitting next to each other with their eyes fixed on their smart phones not taking part in any of the conversations around the table unless reluctantly coaxed away from their screens by their father.

It’s not only teenagers who are glued to their devices. It’s a scene I see time and time again in restaurants.  Couples staring at their smartphones rather than at each other, tapping messages to friends in other places rather than speaking to the person they chose to spend the evening with.  Colleagues sharing the same work space sending numerous e-mails to each other about a problem that could be resolved more easily by taking a few paces to have a conversation.  What ties these two very different approaches to human interaction together? The distance between them. Both approaches reflect a new phenomenon of the digital age growing ever more rapidly. It’s called ‘Virtual Distance’.

What is the distance between you and your team?         

Karen Sobel Lojeski, an organisational behaviourist and consultant, holds that there is an inevitable “perceived distance between individuals, groups, or organisations, brought on by the persistent and pervasive use of communications and information technologies to mediate the work we do.”  It is a psychological and emotional sense of detachment that accumulates little by little, at the sub-conscious or unconscious level, as people trade-off time interacting with each other face-to-face for time spent e-mailing, texting, messaging, tweeting and so on.   The greater this virtual separation, the more problems your team will experience.

Lojeski developed the notion of Virtual Distance as a Ph.D. student at the Stevens Institute of Technology in the US, after conducting a series of surveys and interviews with hundreds of large enterprises to analyse the difficulties companies were having in organising successful virtual work teams. She was struck by an unexpected finding: the prevailing view, that teams under perform primarily because they are too widely dispersed geographically or among different organisations, was not quite accurate. Poor performance, Lojeski learned, occurred just as frequently among work teams whose offices or work spaces were on the same floor — people who are virtually, but not physically, distant from each other.

Lojeski discovered three sets of factors that can contribute to Virtual Distance.

Physical Distance —geographical, temporal, and organisational — which has an impact on the success of projects but does not on its own create Virtual Distance.

Operational Distance – which includes the size of the team, how often it meets face-to-face, its degree of multitasking on projects for other teams, and how skilled its members are at using the technological tools at their disposal. These operational elements are the easiest to change, but modifying these alone will not necessarily have a significant long-term influence on team performance if other concerns persist in hampering the group effort.

Affinity Distance – By far the most important factor – involves what Lojeski calls: the degree to which team members share cultural values, similarities in communication style, and attitudes toward work.  Also, how much they feel dependent on one another for their own success, how often they have worked together before or whether they belong to the same social networks. In addition, the degree to which each team member’s status derives from his or her position in the organisational hierarchy and/or contribution to the team or the work effort. Reducing the adverse repercussions of these factors is difficult, but it can have the largest impact on a team’s output.

By examining how teams and organisations measure up to each of these factors, Lojeski says, it is possible to determine the Virtual Distance among group members. If high, the negative consequences can wreak havoc on a project.  According to her research: innovative behaviour dropped by 93%, trust among team members declined by 83%, job satisfaction fell by 80%, team performance dropped by 50%, and the effectiveness of team leaders was off by 30%. Amongst the most dramatic findings was a strong correlation between high levels of multitasking and a decline in innovation.

The ultimate goal, of course, is to reduce Virtual Distance and improve your team’s performance.  One of the ways of addressing this is to review and evaluate the current methods of face-to-face and virtual communication used by your team.  Then create guidelines for more open communication to address any imbalances.  Here are a few tips to help you to improve one-on-one time with your team to get you started:

Be fully present:

Whether spending one-on-one time with a member of your team virtually or face-to-face, focus 100% of your attention on them.  Maintain eye contact and acknowledge you are listening by giving verbal and physical cues.  Switch off your phone and resist the urge to check your computer screen for e-mails while the person is talking. If you appear to be distracted or uninterested, they will sense it and disengage from the conversation and are likely to feel offended and unimportant. The same is true when members of your team are communicating with each other. This is an ideal time for you to role model effective communication and coach them to being good listeners to help reduce the virtual distance between them and their colleagues.

Pay attention to nonverbal signals

When we communicate things that we care about, we do so mainly using nonverbal signals. Nonverbal communication includes facial expressions, body movement and gestures, eye contact, posture, the tone of your voice, and even your muscle tension and breathing. The way you look, listen, move, and react during your one-on-one will tell the team member more about how you are feeling than your words alone ever can.

Developing a better understanding and use of nonverbal communication can help you to connect with your team, navigate challenging situations, and build strong relationships more effectively.

Resolve conflicts face-to-face whenever possible

When a conflict flares up within the team speak to the individuals involved, ideally face-to-face or, if this isn’t possible, using a video link so that you can see the person and read the nonverbal signals.  If the only option you have available is the telephone pay particular attention to your voice tone and the auditory signals during the conversation.  E-mail should be a last resort as, without the verbal and visual cues, messages can easily be misinterpreted and inflame an already sensitive situation.

So next time you arrange a team dinner, I hope the smart phones will be switched to silent so that everyone can relax and fully focus on enjoying your time together to build stronger relationships and reduce the virtual distance between you.

If this article resonates with you and you would like to improve the quality of communications within your team please get in touch to find out how I can help you. Christine Griffin, Executive Coach – – +44 (0)7796 147127 –

Stepping on the leadership rung of the ladder – Are you feeling wobbly?

Mary Rolle2-Feb17Have you suddenly found yourself running a team after steadily progressing up the career ladder? Are you finding it difficult adjusting to getting things done through other people rather than just rolling up your sleeves and doing it yourself?

Marty Rolle, who was a Partner at Bryan Cave, international law firm, for many years, knows the feeling as she has led numerous teams of lawyers in the US and London over the last 30 years and experienced similar leadership challenges earlier in her career. In this article, Marty shares her tips on how she overcame these challenges by asking for help from the team.

Many years ago, when I was a junior lawyer at an international law firm on the path to becoming a partner, I was put in charge of teams of lawyers to run large financing transactions.  I struggled to get other people involved in the deals to really ‘step up to the plate’ and felt let down innumerable times.  I found myself working late night after night, not only doing my own work but also the work of several other members of the ‘so-called’ team.

Don’t try to be ‘superwoman’

It took me years to realise that the problem was not necessarily with the other team members (although they certainly contributed to the problems!).  It was my lack of delegation skills.  It is complicated why I found it hard to delegate when the transaction genuinely needed more staffing.

I did not like asking others for help. I certainly did not like relying on others – they might miss something or they might not complete it on time.  Maybe I did not want to admit to myself that I was not ‘superwoman’.  Although I have always been known for my stamina I could not do everything myself. Also, somewhat crazily, I did not want to impose on others. These deals involved working long hours, including weekends, and I was uncomfortable asking members of the team to take on the same workload I had signed up for!  I still see this reluctance to delegate in many younger women in both England and the US, so I want to share my experiences of developing my leadership skills to address my delegation challenge.

Ensure the project is adequately resourced

I realised that I was doing the client and myself a dis-service by failing to allocate sufficient resources to the deals. Besides sacrificing valuable family time and opportunities to be involved in a wider variety of deals, I was putting myself in the unfortunate position of being seen as a roadblock.  As too much work was being directed through me, this caused a blockage at a critical juncture.  I realised I had to solve this aversion to asking for help to get things moving smoothly again.

Stop asking for ‘help’

One of the changes I made was to stop asking for ‘help’. That may sound like a contradiction but I found (all too often) that for some people if they think they are ‘helping’, it gives them a licence to stop when it becomes inconvenient or a better deal comes along. I had to change my terminology. First, I needed to be honest with myself and with the other person about the support required.  In many cases it was not temporary help I needed at all.  However, it seemed easier to ask for a little help and hope that, once involved in the project, the other person would see the greater need and be willing to take on more responsibility.  I realised I needed to honestly assess the support I needed and communicate this at the outset to the potential new recruit.

Change your perspective

Second, I had to re-frame how I was looking at the issue.  Rather than seeing it as ‘I need help’, I had to focus on the fact that it was the client’s demands I was trying to address.  It was amazing what a positive difference that change of perspective made.  Once I concluded that the deal required more work than I could handle in the allocated time-frame, it was no longer personal.  I did not need help; our client’s project needed a larger team and I could enlist others to meet the client’s needs without apology.

Demonstrate confidence in your needs analysis

Many women (including me at that time) seem to have a need to apologise to their work colleagues for their personal commitments.  If you have decided that your upcoming personal commitments are important and need to be honoured, then trust your judgement and factor them into the workload needs analysis and do not try to justify your commitments.  Demonstrate confidence in your needs analysis unless and until someone presents you with new facts.  You can reassess the staffing needs at that time.  If you explain every detail that went into your decision making process you may be seen as seeking approval. However, to be an effective leader, even of a small deal team, at some point you need to have confidence in your decisions.  Being decisive, and being seen as decisive, is important to building your leadership skills and credibility.

Learn how to get things done through others

As you rise up the career ladder, you need to learn how to get things done through others if you want to step onto and remain on the leadership ladder. That includes honing your delegation skills and learning how to be a great team leader, not just a great worker or employee.  If you do not develop your delegation skills you will always be time-limited, and the ladder will feel wobbly.  There are only 24 hours in a day but if you enlist other people and build a strong team with a shared goal, you will leverage your time x-fold.  This will give you more time to excel in other areas by the same factor.  Therefore, it is well worth building your leadership skills and confidence to achieve results through others.

If you are suffering from work overload and need help developing your delegation skills please get in touch to find out how I can help you. Christine Griffin, Executive Coach –  – +44 (0)7796 147127 –

Are you thriving or surviving at work?

Surviving at work-Feb17Do you ever feel like a square pin in a round hole, especially after a particularly challenging day at work?  Do you ever get frustrated or stressed because your needs aren’t being taken into consideration when your manager allocates work?  Do you ever feel under constant pressure because you are being asked to make important decisions quickly without the time you need to think?  Are you fed up with the sarcastic remarks from colleagues when you leave work on time? Do you ever ask yourself “Is this really the right organisation for me?”  If the answer to any of these questions is “Yes” the chances are you are working in an environment that doesn’t match your needs.  No wonder you feel like you are surviving rather than thriving!

When assessing the suitability of a new role with clients I support during career transition they often start by ticking off a list of their strengths against the job requirements to make sure there is a good match.  When I ask them if they also carried out a similar matching exercise to find out if the role provides the type of work environment they need to perform at their best – they frequently pause.  And yet getting our needs met at work is one of the most important elements of job satisfaction that enables us to thrive.

During coaching conversations many clients tell me they find it very challenging asking for what they need at work.  Their coping strategy is to put it in the ‘too difficult to handle’ category and file it at the bottom on their ‘to do’ list.  If you are facing a similar challenge what is stopping you from discussing your needs with your boss to help you decide whether or not you are working in the right place?  Is it lack of confidence? Is it lack of clarity about what you really need?  Is it fear of being seen as not able to cope?

Finding the right job in the right place is a two-way process.  A prospective employer assesses whether or not you have the skills, experience and attitude they need.  You decide if they are offering a role that will give you the opportunity to use your strengths, skills and experience AND provide an environment that will enable you to thrive.  After all, if you are thriving at work, undoubtedly, this will be reflected in the level of contribution you are making to the success of the organisation.   A win-win situation.

When helping a client with an application for a senior role he was very excited because the job responsibilities seemed to match exactly what he was looking for.   However, during his second interview the attitude and behaviours of the CEO, his potential manager, raised alarm bells.  The CEO arrived 45 minutes late without apologising, carried out a hurried and unstructured interview over lunch, dominated the conversation, didn’t appear to be listening to what my client had to say and talked about the chaotic office environment.   After reflecting on this stressful experience, my client had one of those ‘aha’ moments.  The CEO’s challenging behaviours and conversation during the interview had provided valuable insights into the type of leadership style and work environment he might face.  After going through the following exercise using a personalised strengths and needs report he decided to turn down the offer and focus his energy on finding a more suitable role.

Here is a high level version of the exercise we went through to help you to assess whether or not your current work environment – or the one you are considering moving to – matches your needs:

Working independently or as part of a team

Do you enjoy working for long periods on your own or do you prefer to spend the majority of your time working with others or as part of a team?


Do you perform best in a structured environment with defined systems and procedures or do you prefer a more informal setting with the freedom to be creative and spontaneous?

Direction and control

Do you prefer clear lines of direction and control or a more ‘lead by example’ environment free from direct supervision?

Teamwork and individual competitiveness

Do you thrive in a competitive environment with individual targets and financial incentives or do you prefer a culture that promotes more team work and non-tangible benefits?

Preferred pace for action

Do you like working in a fast-paced environment where you can make quick decisions and think on your feet or do you need time to reflect before taking action and the freedom to set your own pace?

Demands of the work

Do you perform best if you can set achievable targets or do you thrive in an environment where you are continually stretched and challenged?

Involvement of feelings

Do you like working in an environment that is genuinely sensitive to the feelings of others or one where applying, practical, logical solutions to problems ranks higher than the impact on other people?

Dealing with change

Do you like frequent change, variety and shifting priorities or prefer finishing important tasks once you have started without interruption?

Personal independence

Do you like working in a predictable environment with familiar, well-established processes and procedures or one that offers plenty of opportunity for personal freedom to create your own way of working?

Action or reflection

Do you need plenty of time to consider all possible alternatives before making important decisions or the freedom to test new ideas quickly and change as needed?

Once you have been through the above exercise you will be in a better position to decide whether or not you want to change your current work environment or ask the right questions about the one you are considering moving to.   If there are too many mismatches in your current role, perhaps it’s time for a change of scene or a conversation with your boss to share your needs and agree how you can redress the balance to enable you to thrive.

If you would like to go through an in-depth assessment of your strengths, interests and needs to help you to find a work environment that will enable you to thrive rather than survive please get in touch. Christine Griffin, Executive Coach –  – +44 (0)7796 147127 –





Why is meaningful work important for leaders?

Katie Bailey 2017Katie Bailey is Professor of Management at the University of Sussex. Her research focuses on what makes work meaningful or meaningless, and she runs the website ‘Meaningful Work’. In this article, Katie considers why meaningful work matters, and what leaders can do to support their employees through the process of finding meaningful work.

Everyone would like their work to be meaningful, purposeful and worthwhile. According to philosophers, human beings have an innate drive to find meaning in what they do. Given that we spend so much of our time at work, our jobs are a prime site for experiencing meaningfulness. Research has shown that when we find our work meaningful, we experience a host of positive benefits including increased job satisfaction and fulfilment, a sense of connection with those around us, improved engagement, and lower levels of stress and depression.

Although meaningfulness is very important to us as individuals, sadly many employers and line managers do more to destroy people’s sense of meaningfulness than they do to nurture and support it.  Yet, creating an environment where employees can find meaning in their work is potentially one of the greatest contributions that leaders can make to improve their employees’ lives.

Things that some leaders do that undermine meaningfulness include:


Promoting a set of values or a culture that claims to be one thing but in fact is something else. A prime example of this would be a company that ostensibly values diversity and inclusion but where all the senior management team are white males.

Treating employees unfairly

If people feel that they can’t trust their leaders to be fair, open and equitable, then they are unlikely to find much meaning in their work.

Taking people away from the work they want to do, and are trained to do

Over time, jobs can shift away from their core purpose as people get promoted or move sideways into other roles. Due to this drift, employees can find themselves doing less and less of the work they really find worthwhile and rewarding, and more of the work they find dull and meaningless.

Lack of voice

In our research, lack of voice emerged as a prime driver of meaninglessness. Examples include nurses who were required by senior staff to perform procedures they knew were incorrect, and shop assistants who were told by head office to reorganise the store in a way they knew would deter customers.

What our research shows is that line managers and organisations are often implicated at times people find their work meaningless.  Interestingly, this is not so much the case at times people find their work meaningful. Talking to people, it becomes clear that meaningfulness is something that we find for ourselves in the work we do, but that meaninglessness usually emerges in response to negative experiences in the workplace.

Where do we find meaningfulness in our work?

Our research shows that everyone finds their work meaningful some of the time, but no-one finds it meaningful all the time. It might be exhausting if they did! Generally, people find meaningfulness in the following ways:

They feel they are contributing to others

This may include helping others in need, supporting others to grow, or making the world a better place. These may sound idealistic, but most jobs can offer at least some opportunities to do this. Refuse collectors talked about their contribution to a clean and safe environment. Shop assistants talked about providing companionship to elderly customers. Actors and musicians talked about bringing emotional enrichment to audiences.

They are challenged in some way

Meaningful work is not easy work.  It is work that stretches the individual, is difficult to achieve, or, in some cases, emotionally charged. Nurses talked about using their professional expertise to help very ill patients. Priests talked about providing comfort to bereaved families.  Academics talked about years of painstaking research that finally bore fruit.

They can find a resonance between their work and something that matters to them personally

What is particularly interesting about meaningful work is that people often talk about their work in the wider context of their life.  One entrepreneur baker talked about setting up her business to make her grandfather, who was also a baker, proud. A solicitor talked about finding his work meaningful when friends or family recommended him to others. A soldier talked about how she found her work meaningful during the traditional ‘dining out’ ceremony when her family were present to hear about her achievements in the army.

It is in large part because of this highly personal and individual dimension of meaningfulness that it is elusive, hard to manage, and impossible to generalise.  Organisations that do best at managing meaningfulness are those that create a safe space – or an ecosystem – that enables employees to find their own meaning, rather than imposing meaning on them.

Important factors for organisations to consider to enable employees to find their own meaning:

The organisation as a whole and what it stands for

What is the organisation’s purpose, what are its values, and how can these be shared in an authentic way throughout the organisation?

Relationships within the organisation or between employees and customers or clients

Meaningfulness often arises in the context of positive relationships that offer the opportunity for people to witness first-hand how they impact on others, or to experience camaraderie with their colleagues.

The jobs that people do

Together with the opportunities these offer for people to experience growth, challenge and development as well as contribute to the wider whole.

The individual tasks that people undertake within their job

Are people able to use their skills and talents, or are they being asked to do a disproportionate amount of ‘drudge’ work? Employees accept that, inevitably, there will be parts of their job that are not particularly rewarding (form-filling, bureaucracy and paperwork are most often mentioned!).  However, when these parts become overwhelming, the balance is tipped towards meaninglessness.

In focusing on employees’ experience of meaningful work, it is important for leaders not to lose sight of their own meaningfulness. It’s a bit like putting your own life jacket on first before you can help others. Leaders who understand what makes their own work meaningful are best placed to support their employees to find meaning in theirs.

If you want to find ways of making your work more meaningful please get in touch to find out how I can help you. Christine Griffin, Executive Coach –  – +44 (0)7796 147127 –

Are you feeling overwhelmed at work?

Work Overwhelm-Jan17You are working yet another late night trying to finish the third item on your ‘to do’ list.  You feel a sense of panic rise in your throat as you read the other seven tasks you need to complete by tomorrow evening.   You wonder how on earth you are going to get through them all especially as the CEO is visiting tomorrow and you will probably have to drop everything to go to his talk.   Does this sound familiar?

These are some of the anxieties shared during coaching conversations with clients who are feeling under increasing pressure in cost-cutting working environments to achieve more with less.  In 2015/16 the Labour Force Survey carried out by the Health and Safety Executive reported that stress accounted for 37% of all work related ill health cases in the UK and 45% of all working days lost due to ill health.  The main factors cited by respondents as causing work related stress, depression or anxiety were workload pressures (including tight deadlines and too much responsibility) and a lack of managerial support.  In a corporate 24/7 culture where pressure has become the norm, how can you empower yourself to change your behaviours to avoid getting bogged down by overwhelm?

Here are nine strategies for you to choose from that have worked for my clients:

1.  Step back to look at the big picture?

When we are feeling under pressure our bodies go into survival mode and we concentrate on what is causing us the most pain.  We narrow our focus to all the things we don’t have time to do and start to panic.   One client described this experience as “being caught up in the weeds”.

If you are having a similar experience take 15 minutes break in a place where you won’t be interrupted.  Some clients find this works best if they go for a walk or run or ask a trusted colleague to join them for a coffee.  Then ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are the two or three most important objectives I’ve agreed with my manager?
  • Which ones need to be completed by the end of this week/month?
  • What tasks do I have on my ‘to do’ list at the moment?
  • Which two or three match the most important objectives agreed with my manager for this week/month?
  • Which colleagues can I call on to help me to achieve these objectives?
  • Which less important tasks on my ‘to do’ list can I delegate or postpone?

A client I went through this exercise with recently suddenly had one of those ‘aha’ moments when she realised, with a great sense of relief, that only two actions on her long list were both urgent and important.  The rest could be delegated or postponed.   However, as she had been feeling overwhelmed she had followed a familiar pattern of tackling several non-urgent tasks that didn’t take much time because it gave her a sense of achievement.   Once she discovered that there were only two plates she had to keep spinning over the next two weeks the fog cleared.

2.  Talk to your manager

Once you have the most important and urgent actions clear in your mind arrange a meeting with your manager to express how you are feeling and discuss the ideas you have come up with to reduce the pressure.  Being open about the challenges you are facing is the only way your manager can help you to find a solution.  Some clients find it helpful to arrange a meeting with their boss as soon as they start feeling overwhelmed.  You are in the best position to decide what will work best for you.

3.  Learn to say ‘no’

One of the most insightful questions (edited from the original colourful language!) a manager asked me early in my career was “Why didn’t you tell me during our first meeting that the objectives I gave you were totally unrealistic and we could have agreed priorities and new timeframes?”  It’s easy to slip into “Yes, of course” mode especially when trying to impress a new boss.  You want to make a good impression and fit in with the team.   However, agreeing to objectives before fully understanding the time and physical resources you will need to achieve them is putting yourself under undue pressure especially if other people have demands on your time.

4. Develop your delegating skills

Are you one of those people who finds it difficult to delegate?  A senior manager I was speaking to a few months ago said she was struggling with a heavy workload.  When we went through her actions list we discovered she was spending hours each month inputting her expenses into the new company system.  She hated dealing with detail, especially spreadsheets, and found it a time-consuming and energy draining task.  I asked her if there was anyone in her team she could reach out to who enjoyed this kind of work.    The next time we met her face lit up as she told me that a team member had enthusiastically responded to her request as she loved working with spreadsheets and was happy to help out her boss.

5.  Find out what is ‘good enough’

Do you spend hours tweaking a report until it is ‘perfect’?  If so one of your key drivers may be striving for perfection which can be very time-consuming.  I can certainly identify with this one as I am aware of the perfectionist gremlin who sometimes sits on my shoulder.   If I listen too much I can spend hours tweaking proposals or blogs until I achieve that illusive ‘perfection’.   A client recently told me he had spent days preparing a detailed report for his boss and making sure everything was “100%”.  In focussing exclusively on the report he was worried that all the other important actions he had put on the backburner were boiling dry.   When he eventually presented the report to his boss he went straight to the executive summary and ignored the rest.   The lesson he learnt was to check what is ‘good enough’ for your boss, client or user before investing time working on what you think they need.

6.  Phone a friend

Do you like to work things out for yourself if you have a problem?  Are you reluctant to ask for help when you have too much to do in case your manager thinks you can’t cope?  One of my clients was feeling exhausted by his heavy workload.  During the conversation he mentioned a colleague in the US had offered to come to the UK to show him how to simplify a financial reporting system.  He had declined the offer as he didn’t want to put his colleague to any “trouble”.   Once the client realised that simplifying the system would increase accuracy and create more time for other important tasks he decided to accept the offer of help.

7.  Take frequent breaks to recharge your batteries

Do you keep going until you have completed a task without taking any breaks?  Do you arrange ‘working lunches’ so that you can keep the team meeting going all day to ‘make the most of the day’?  Neuroscience is a wonderful thing and it’s worth investing time to find out more about how our brains work.  (I would highly recommend ‘You Brain at Work – Strategies for overcoming distraction, regaining focus and working smarter all day long’ by David Rock.)

When we work continuously without a break or take on too many complex tasks at the same time our pre-frontal cortex, which plays an important role in regulating our complex cognitive, emotional, and behavioural functioning, reacts like a toy helicopter.  The battery drains if you use it for too long without recharging it and the helicopter crashes to the ground.   So it’s no wonder you feel drained when sitting in those all day meetings and find it difficult to concentrate.   Taking regular breaks and doing one complex task at a time gives your brain time to re-energise, thus improving performance and reducing stress levels.   One of my clients noticed her energy levels and productivity rise when she started taking regular short breaks and got into the habit of going to the gym three times a week.

8.  Increase your self-awareness

When working in a stressful environment you can easily get sucked into negativity.  Raising your self-awareness to better understand your strengths, motivations and needs will enable you to manage your emotions (and workload) in a more constructive way and avoid overwhelm.   As a results of going through this exercise with a client using an assessment tool he decided to move to a new role in a company with a culture and working environment that more closely matched his strengths and needs.  He phoned me up just before Christmas to tell me how happy he was in his new role where he is flourishing.

Here are three short exercises to help raise your awareness of your strengths and needs to avoid tipping into the panic zone: ­

Strengths – Think about all the work you have done that you are great at and find enjoyable and energising.

Needs – Take stock of how you want to be treated, supported and motivated at work to enable you to perform at your best.

Stress ­– Listen to your body to recognise the early signs of stress behaviours and take action to ensure your needs are being met.

9.  Look after yourself

Finally, make sure you are looking after yourself.  It’s easy to forget about the rest of your life and what’s important to you when you are feeling overwhelmed at work.  Treat looking after yourself as an essential part of your project or work plan to achieve a healthy balance.  Ensure you make time for activities outside work that you find energising and relaxing.  Recognise when you need the additional support of a counsellor, mentor or coach to help you to get back onto an even keel.  As one client whose heavy workload had affected her health told me “One day it dawned on me that it’s only a job and not worth making myself ill over.  No-one is going to die if I don’t complete my ‘to do’ list today.  Instead of constantly complaining about my workload I’ve decided to take more control of my life, reassess my options and change course to achieve a better work/life balance.”

If you are feeling overwhelmed at work and want to find out how to achieve a healthier work/life balance please get in touch to find out how I can help you. Christine Griffin, Executive Coach –  – +44 (0)7796 147127 –






Achieving gender equality in engineering teams – Like nailing jelly to a tree!

Andrea Hosey - blurred bg (002)Andrea Hosey, General Manager for Victoria at thyssenkrupp Industrial Solutions (Australia) is a chartered engineer with nearly 30 years’ experience in the oil and gas industry. Last year she won the Fluor Engineering Excellence award for Leadership and in 2007 presented a paper on ‘Women in Engineering – the Challenges of Part Time Working in Engineering Design’ at Chemeca (the annual conference for the ANZAC community of chemical engineers and industrial chemists to learn and share industry knowledge).

 Andrea seems to have a natural ability for achieving gender balance in all the engineering teams she has led. In a traditionally male-dominated discipline and industry this is no mean feat! In this article Andrea talks about her personal contribution to making this happen and the reasons female engineers are so enthusiastic about working in her team.

What can we do to get more women in engineering and leadership? 

What can we do to get more women in engineering?  What can we do to get more women in leadership?  Over the last 30 years I have heard these questions too many times to recount and in many different forums from chats with small peer groups to conferences and work events.  There’s lots of talk, emotion, publicity and statistics but I always leave with the depressing feeling that, despite the extreme measures leading to initial change, the progress has been so slow it could be stalled.  There’s a metaphorical throwing of hands in the air that this is too hard and we don’t know how to fix it.  It feels like nailing jelly to a tree.

You’ve got to keep the fire but lose the anger! 

For a long time while I was growing up I was blissfully ignorant of the gender divide.  My role models prompted a belief that women naturally chose to be at home and were happy with the role of mother and home builder.  It was only later in my teens, when the anger years began, that I wanted the right to choose my own profession.  I chose chemical engineering mainly because I was told I couldn’t as girls were too delicate.  Good technical marks didn’t stop the “but you’re not emotionally strong or assertive enough” comments and I struggled with the “When are you planning a baby?” interview question.  I was fired up and personally determined to prove them all wrong.  This powerful motivation was initially effective when I focussed on myself but as a leader the anger stalled my career progression.  I blamed others and justified myself based on inequality issues outside of my control or responsibility.   My career only advanced when I changed my own attitude.  You’ve got to keep the fire but lose the anger!  Fake the calm if you have to but the only person you can truly change is yourself.

Achieving balance

Despite words such as ‘fire’ and ‘anger’ I don’t see myself as a female rights activist.  The image of burning underwear makes me shudder!  I believe in equality and diversity.  Therefore, I was surprised at my husband’s comments at a work’s Christmas party a few years ago when I introduced him to a graduate I had recently recruited.  He said “You won’t last long working for Andrea as you’re a man and she only recruits and promotes women!”  Although I found his comments challenging they helped me to reflect on how true I was being to my beliefs.   My husband had also highlighted that I had achieved an equal balance of men and women in my teams.  This was consistent across a number of countries and companies and above the norms for engineering groups.  Putting aside some natural bias I must be doing something that has made a positive difference.

Where do you start to encourage women to stay in the work force?

To retain women you need to make it easier for them to work through all stages of their career. I joined my current company when I was pregnant and returned to work on a part time basis.  Part time working is not a new idea but applying it effectively for professionals requires strategies that work and continuous management.  I was inspired by this idea and co-authored a paper on part time working which was presented at an engineering conference nearly ten years ago.  I haven’t let go of the ideas generated and looking back realise that my organisation has implemented most of the recommendations.  These include a common work day, use of technology to work from home and stay connected, convenient parking for pregnant women, and maternity leave transition planning.  These were not all my own ideas.  By encouraging other women to participate we increased the effectiveness of retaining and motivating more women in the company.  This benefited their partners by giving them more shared parenting options and relieving them of the burden of being the primary bread winner.  It also enabled them to take more risk with their job choices or to stay at home to look after the children.  This flexible working option was also offered to all skilled personnel near retirement to encourage them to remain with the company.

Tipping the balance too far

Interestingly an example of how gender balance can sometimes tip too much the other way was when I worked with a department in Thailand.  I was busy and asked two local male engineers to conduct the graduate interviews anticipating this would be more comfortable for the interviewees.  The interviewers’ bias for selecting attractive women became apparent and I felt the respect for our group diminished slightly.   I’m more careful with recruitment and restructuring processes now.  I make sure there is a gender balance both in the selection team and the candidates recruited.  I also consider the skill set of the overall team as well as the skills of the candidate.

Once you have retained women in the work place the challenge is to get them in to leadership roles

A colleague recently participated in an Australian business survey on the gender gap.  He consulted with me before providing his feedback so I was very interested in the outcome.  The main conclusion of the article was that as women take career breaks for up to 10 years during the critical skill building period they could never bridge the gender gap.  This outraged me as I believe these ideas are outdated.  In my team I had women in Lead Engineering roles who had returned to work after long career breaks.  More recent mothers tended to return earlier on a part time basis as they benefited from the transition management and improved communication during maternity leave.  This helped maintain their visibility in the workforce and gave them confidence to develop leadership skills.  They are generally better delegators – because working fewer hours means they have to be!

It is important to offer the same flexibility to men and women

When I worked in Asia part time working wasn’t an option available to me.  Even in Australia the published views indicate that my expectation of accepted practices isn’t the global norm.  This increased my sense of responsibility to share and communicate my experiences more widely.   I would also encourage others to improve on the strategies I have championed. The initial draft of my article on part time working included the advantages of part time/flexible working for men and the family unit as a whole.  For example, it enables men and women to share parenting, pursue sporting aspirations and retain skills leading to retirement.  During editing I was asked to remove this as the paper was for a “special” women’s session and needed to be more “focused”.  I wished I’d been firmer in sticking to my original draft.  The consistency in achieving gender balance in engineering teams isn’t maintained solely by making it easier for women to remain in the workforce.   It is important to offer flexibility to both men and women to ensure harmony across the whole team.

In summary, although achieving gender equality in engineering teams has sometimes felt like nailing jelly to a tree, the benefits gained by team members, their families and the company has been well worth the time and energy invested.   Finally, I accept that some women exercise their choice not to lead or not to return to work after having children. These are equally valid and rewarding choices.

If this article has brought to light any challenges you are facing to achieve gender balance in your teams please get in touch to find out how I can help you. Christine Griffin, Executive Coach –  – +44 (0)7796 147127 –