Does your energy drain when you think about setting your 2017 goals?

goal-setting-dec16It’s that time of year again!  The festivities are nearly over and as New Year’s Eve approaches your minds shifts to changes you want to make in your personal and professional lives next year.  You may be deciding your New Year’s resolutions and thinking about what you want to stop doing – eating too much chocolate or start doing – going to the gym.   It’s no surprise that fitness clubs’ revenues spike in January when people sign up after making a New Year’s resolution to get fitter. This initial surge of enthusiasm and energy often dwindles and visits to the gym fizzle out leading to disappointment.  You may tell yourself each year “I don’t know why I bother making New Year’s resolutions as I always break them!”  Perhaps this is because your heart isn’t in the commitment you have made to yourself.  New Year’s resolutions are often focussed on what we think we “ought to do” differently rather than changes we feel passionate about making in our lives.  No wonder the ‘ought to’ choices fail.

The same is true for goals you want to achieve in your professional life.  You may get a sinking feeling when thinking about the conversation you are going to have about your 2017 objectives especially when your manager always asks you which areas of development or weaknesses you are going to address.  You may be worried about how on earth you are going to reach yet another ‘stretch’ target and whether or not you will have the resources you need to succeed.  Does that sound familiar?

When clients tell me about goal setting at work I often see the energy drain out of them as it frequently focuses on what didn’t work well last year and the weaknesses they need to “fix”. The thought of having to take time out of an already busy day to attend “endless” meetings to agree business targets and set goals and development plans for each team member darkens their mood in an instant.  They often end their description of the process with a deep sigh saying “I suppose I just have to get on with it!”

Have you considered a strengths-based approach to setting your goals?

What a contrast when discussing a strengths-based approach to goal setting with a client recently and how she could use the ‘Significant 7’ strengths identified in her Strengthscope360 Report – Strengthscope™.

I explained that ‘strengths’ mean those underlying qualities that energise you, contribute to your personal growth and lead to peak performance.  You know when you are using your strengths at work when you achieve a sense of ‘flow’.  You are totally immersed in the task, time seems to fly by and you feel full of energy with a sense of satisfaction and pride in what you are doing.  It’s a joy to see the smiles on clients’ faces when they experience a strengths-based approach for the first time.  “What a refreshing change from focussing on my weaknesses!” is a frequent response.

When clients become more aware of the type of work that energises them they sometimes realise that they are in the wrong job or they need to negotiate significant changes to the content.   The way clients describe their role is a good indicator of how energised they feel by it.  A comment of “I really love my job!” or “It pays the bills!” is the signpost for the direction they need to take during the coaching programme to achieve positive change.

Where is the proof that focussing on your strengths improves goal setting?

One of the best Christmas presents I received was a call from a former coaching client.  He said he wanted to thank me for supporting him through his transition to a leadership role in a new organisation that played to his strengths. “I am really happy and have had a fantastic year in my new job!”   As the 10 year anniversary of setting up my executive coaching business approaches the conversation was a pleasant reminder of the reason I decided to make a significant change in my professional life to focus on what energises me.

For those of you who like to see hard data to back up any assertions about the strengths approach you might find the following research statistics helpful:

  • When an organisation focuses on strengths, employee engagement may increase from a range of 9% to 73% (Rath and Conchie, 2008)
  • Departments that support their teams to use their strengths have:
    • 38% higher probability of greater productivity
    • 44% higher probability of customer loyalty and employee retention (Harter et al, 2002)
  • Focusing on strengths in appraisals leads to a 36% leap of performance versus a 27% decline when focussing on weaknesses (Corporate Leadership Council, 2002)

How can you use your strengths to set your goals for 2017?

When deciding your goals for 2017 firstly ask your manager, colleagues, friends and family for feedback on what you do really well and the strengths they value most.  Then ask yourself the following questions:

  • What value would each goal contribute to my professional development and to the objectives of my team and the organisation?
  • What strengths will I use to help me to achieve my goals?
  • Which colleagues or friends can I call on to help me to maintain my energy levels?

Wishing you success in achieving the changes you want to make to energise your personal and professional lives in the New Year!

If you would like help identifying your strengths at work to energise your 2017 goals please get in touch to find out how I can support you. Christine Griffin, Executive Coach – christine@griffinity.co.uk – +44 (0)7796 147127 – www.griffinity.co.uk.

The Beat of Butterfly Wings

KBryanKerrine Bryan, chartered electrical engineer and co-founder of Butterfly Books, has a passion for inspiring the young and introducing them to the career options available to them.  In 2014 she was listed as one of the UK’s top 35 women in business under the age of 35.  In this article Kerrine will share key stages of her journey to create Butterfly Books including what inspired her and her brother, Jason, to start writing children’s picture books, the challenges of getting the business off the ground, building the team and their aspirations for the future.

The Background

Companies are increasingly worried about the UK’s skills gap. A CBI survey of businesses employing a total of 1.5m people found that 58 per cent were not confident they would have enough highly skilled staff available for their future needs.   So it is concerning that some companies are missing out on the skills available in 50% of the population, due to gender bias within certain industries.  Therefore it is important that these issues are tackled for the benefit of the UK economy.

The Butterfly

Jason and I chose ‘Butterfly Books’ as our company name as the butterfly is a symbol of transformation and, through our picture books, we hope to transform the way youngsters perceive different careers. In addition, The ‘Butterfly Effect’ refers to the theory that a minute localised change in a complex system can have a big impact elsewhere.  This matches exactly our aspirations for Butterfly Books.  By raising awareness of careers from a young age we aim to address the national skills gap problems as well as reduce gender bias in all careers.

How it started

Throughout my career as an electrical engineer I have been passionate about sharing my knowledge of engineering and the career opportunities available with young people.  The reason for this passion is that I fell into engineering by chance and had no idea what it was until I was 17.  Before that, I never imagined engineering was something I would or could do.  Yet it’s a career I have thoroughly enjoyed!

After years of mentoring and giving talks to young people at schools and universities, I decided to start something that might help make a bigger change.  In 2015 I co-founded Butterfly Books with my brother, Jason, creating and publishing career themed children’s picture books.

Having a young daughter, Jason was also concerned that children were not exposed to the full range of opportunities available to them early enough in life and hoped that the books would not only educate, but also inspire them.

With my technical background and Jason’s creative input we have since published three titles:

  • My Mummy is an Engineer
  • My Mummy is a Plumber
  • My Mummy is a Scientist

Our objective is to raise children’s awareness of the full range of career options available to them.  We don’t want them to miss out on a career ideally suited for them just because they don’t have the information they need or recognise it’s a job they could do.

Setting up the Business

We decided to set up as a publisher rather than submitting the book ideas to large traditional publishers to give us complete control over the content and illustrations.  We work closely with professional industry representatives who review technical and creative content to ensure that the correct message is given in all our books. This requires close coordination between the industry representatives, the illustrator, the editor and the authors.

As it’s a start-up with a small team, we have to get involved in all aspects of running the business including writing, coordinating work with the illustrator and editor, production, sales and distribution, marketing and accounts.

Our illustrator, Marissa Peguinho, is great! She really gains an understanding of the careers before creating her illustrations.  After completing ‘My Mummy is a Plumber’ she was quite clued up on household plumbing!

Apart from our editor, Corey Brotherson, we were all new to the publishing world and it’s been a steep learning curve, through events, conferences, courses and networking!

The team are always looking for inspiration and ideas for new books.  Creatively, we achieve this by speaking with children and educators to identify what would help to get the message across in a fun and effective way.  We also find out what the market needs by speaking with representatives from a variety of organisations and industries to identify careers and professions that need addressing.

The Big Challenge

The biggest challenge for any self-publisher or independent publisher is sales and marketing.  This requires the greatest effort, as it’s very difficult to get books into the mainstream market without the backing of a large traditional publisher.  However, we are passionate about our picture books and the transformation they can inspire in young people so we are willing to put in the extra effort!

The Highlights

The books have been well received by our customers as they open children’s minds to the broad range of career options available to them when they are older.  Also they can be a fun way for parents to explain to their children what they do at work!   In addition ‘My Mummy is an Engineer’ won the 2016 Bronze Wishing Shelf Book award and was a finalist in the 2016 International Book Awards. ‘My Mummy is a Plumber’ was shortlisted for the 2016 Rubery Book Award.

What excites us most when we visit schools with our books is seeing the immediate impact it has on children’s views and perceptions of certain careers.  The original idea of the books stems from my experience as an engineer, and just like engineering, the highlight of our picture books is seeing our work and ideas come to life in order to solve a real life problem.

The Future

Jason and I plan to grow the business and continue to publish books based on other careers that need addressing. This will include “My Daddy is …” titles too as young boys would also benefit from seeing alternative career options available to them!

What role can HR play to increase the number of women at the top of our organisations?

women-on-boards-nov16When interviewing female leaders for a research project into Women in Leadership last year I asked them who they went to for help when they were facing challenges at work.   Having spent the majority of my career as an HR leader before starting my executive coaching business I was surprised that none of the interviewees mentioned HR.  In fact some of them said “HR is the last place I would go!” Their reasons gave me insights into the broad range of perceptions about the role of HR: “They deal with processes and procedures.” “They always seem too busy to talk to.” “They aren’t strategic enough.”  “I hardly ever see my HR Manager.” “I wouldn’t dream of talking to HR about this difficult challenge.  I don’t know them well enough.”

Amongst the list of people they did know well enough were current and former colleagues, themselves, coaches and mentors, their line manager, family (especially their spouse/partner), friends, professional networks and women’s networks.   I was concerned that leadership training was bottom of the list with several interviewees saying they were “thrown in at the deep end!” when promoted to their first senior leadership role.  This generated a very uncomfortable feeling of sink or swim as they floundered in the first few weeks trying to stay afloat.  In conversations with coaching clients, organisations and HR professionals the decline in investment in staff development and leadership training in particular is an increasing source of frustration and concern.  In challenging and uncertain times, especially with Brexit negotiations looming in the UK, it is crucial that organisations invest in developing skilled and inspirational leaders to ensure our future prosperity.   And that means developing all our leaders by embracing difference to help stimulate new ideas, solutions and approaches.

As Margot James MP, Minister for Small Business, Consumers and Corporate Responsibility and the Rt Hon Justine Greening MP, Minister for Women and Equalities said in the Hampton-Alexander Review – FTSE Women Leaders – Improving gender balance in FTSE Leadership – November 2016:  “We see improved female representation, alongside tackling the gender pay gap and other inequalities that exist in the labour market, as vital aspects of building an economy that works for everyone.  Gender diversity in business leadership is good for company performance and productivity; it benefits investors, the wider economy and society as a whole.”

At a Diversity Challenge event I facilitated for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development recently we discussed the review recommendations and the role HR can play to help organisations to increase the number of women at senior executive and board levels.  I hope the following summary of the discussion groups will stimulate ideas you can implement in your organisations:

Organisational Culture, Behaviours and Attitudes – What role can HR play to create an organisational culture to help attract, develop and retain female leaders?

Underpinning our discussions was a shared recognition that the attitude of the CEO to women in leadership positively or negatively shapes the culture and behaviours within the whole organisation.   I was intrigued to see that this discussion group attracted fewer people than the ones dealing with more traditional HR roles – leadership development and recruitment.  Perhaps this is a reflection of how some HR professionals see their role or maybe a lack of confidence to address thorny cultural issues with the CEO.  Here are some of the recommendations highlighted:

  • Name the elephant in the room by challenging the CEO and/or senior managers who do not support improving gender balance at senior level.
  • Communicate the business case and the benefits diverse leadership teams can bring to the organisation.
  • Help develop a culture and values that embrace gender differences. In her excellent book, ‘Time to Think’, Nancy Klein recommends ways in which organisations can create an environment where everyone has an equal voice instead of strong characters dominating discussions.
  • Reframe unconscious bias training using terminology business leaders comprehend e.g. understanding gender differences to build business success.
  • Recommend inclusion of pay gap reporting in annual reports before legislation is implemented to show commitment to gender diversity.
  • Integrate Diversity and Inclusion teams into HR to provide a more integrated approach.

Leadership Development/Succession Planning – What role can HR play to help shape leadership development programmes and succession plans to improve leadership diversity?

  • Use a best-practice succession planning process (e.g. 9 box grid) to effectively measure potential versus performance of all high potential candidates in the organisation.
  • Ensure the CEO is fully committed to the process to break long-established habits of managers recruiting externally before the internal talent pool has been fully researched.
  • Implement a communication strategy to ensure that everyone in the organisation appreciates the importance and value of effective succession planning.
  • Help managers to take ownership of succession planning, rather than paying lip service to what they may perceive as an “HR process”.
  • Include ‘experience’ as well as ‘development’ in succession plans to ensure high potential men and women are offered the same types of job postings required for some leadership roles.
  • Ensure high potential female candidates are included in the talent pipeline.
  • Include a gender diversity target as a KPI for managers to provide an incentive to address any imbalances.
  • Identify male sponsors from senior executive teams for women’s support networks when women are under-represented at senior level.

Recruitment and Selection – What role can HR play to attract a more diverse pool of candidates?

Framing

  • Identify the reasons why specific groups would be interested in working for the organisation and clearly articulate this so that recipients hear the message.
  • Show live examples of women in action – doing the job.

Culture

  • Be aware that in some cultures, it is not just the jobseeker that is involved in a decision to apply for roles, it is their families too.
  • Any job adverts or web media needs to involve real examples of women and ethnic groups doing the job and talking about their ‘why’.

Job Adverts

  • Review the language used so that job adverts attract women as well as men avoiding the use of male orientated language (i.e. strong, robust).
  • Look at the imagery – do you have men is suits and women in short skirts? Is it appropriate?
  • Be aware that men tend to apply for roles when they have a 70% fit, whereas women generally apply when they are confident they have a 100% fit.
  • Adjust the Essential and Desirable criteria – ask yourself, is it really essential or should it be desirable?

Individual Choice versus Pressure

  • Be aware of your own judgement which can often be made on appearance as demonstrated by the highly publicised story of the receptionist who was sent home for not wearing high heels.
  • Recognise that much of the leadership research is based upon a 1950’s “norm” group – male, middle class, middle aged, white. HR needs to encourage those who are recruiting for leadership roles to look wider, outside the ‘old boys’ network and find leaders with the right attributes and qualities.
  • Develop fair assessment techniques – use an independent advisory group to assess competency frameworks, job descriptions and person specifications to attract wider than the traditional 1950’s norm group.

Widen the Recruitment Pool

  • Challenge the ‘way we do it here’ mind-set. Where do you usually advertise for leadership roles? For example do you always advertise in The Guardian for your senior leaders? What does that tell you about the type of applicants who are likely to apply? Where else can you widen your reach to attract female leaders?
  • Create a ‘customer avatar’ – who are they, what are their hobbies, where do they live, what do they read, which social media channels are they likely to engage in? And so on…
  • Men are more likely to ‘blow their own trumpet’ on their CV’s, application forms and LinkedIn profiles. Consider developing female staff to be more assertive and confident as part of a career development programme.
  • Be aware that most women want to be recognised for their profession and not as a woman. “I do not want to be defined as a woman, I want to be defined as an engineer”.

Role model the change you want to see

  • If you are a female HR leader, avoid falling into traditional servitude behaviour. Don’t be the person who automatically volunteers to take notes in a senior leadership team meeting or make tea for the recruitment panel.
  • Take steps to learn and develop yourself.

If you would like me to facilitate a Diversity Challenge event to help your organisation to increase the number of women at senior executive and board levels please get in touch to find out how I can help you. Christine Griffin, Executive Coach – christine@griffinity.co.uk  – +44 (0)7796 147127 – www.griffinity.co.uk.

 

 

 

Watch your language – Do you find the office ‘banter’ amusing or offensive?

sneha-khilayI invited Snéha Khilay, Managing Director of Blue Tulip Training, to share her observations of how sexist language patterns can sometimes be used in subtle ways in organisations.  She explores the damaging and detrimental effect these kinds of every day ‘drip drip’ subtleties can have on women’s confidence and how their colleagues perceive them.

I was running a training session on unconscious bias recently and asked the participants to categorise a list of statements frequently used at work as ‘acceptable’ or ‘unacceptable’.  When I revealed that statements such as ‘I am going through a blond moment’* or referring to women as ‘girls’ are generally considered ‘unacceptable’ I was surprised at the level of indignation expressed by some people – “This is PC gone mad!”, “We are in a walking on eggshells culture!”, “It looks like I can’t say anything now!”

Over the years ‘overt’ sexism at work – negative, hostile behaviour towards women – has been progressively viewed as unacceptable behaviour.  However, the subtle and no less insidious sexism – including the types of statements cited above – continues to fester in the background. These comments and behaviours, made by both sexes, devalue women and have a detrimental impact on the way in which they are treated at work.

When working with various organisations I’ve noticed how sexist language patterns can sometimes be used in subtle ways.  These patterns develop either out of habit or because they have become unconsciously ingrained into office culture and banter and considered acceptable.  People are sometimes unawareness of the negative impact of this kind of language pattern and believe that no one should be offended if no harm was intended.  However, these kinds of every day subtleties, with their ‘drip drip’ effect, are damaging and detrimental to women.

When women make comments such as “I must have gone through a blond moment!” it re-enforces negative stereotypes about women in general.  Some men view this as permission to make disparaging – what they would view as ‘humorous’ comments – about their female colleagues such as “That was good work… for a woman”, “Can you be Mummy and organise lunch for the next Senior Management Team meeting?”,I am surprised that you managed to do the project given your child care responsibilities….”, “Here comes the handbag brigade!” – The list goes on…!  When challenged they often dismiss the criticism with a wave of the hand and “Can’t you take a joke?”

What they may not realise is that this type of sexist humour denigrates women and trivialises the unpleasant reality of sex discrimination behind a smokescreen of ‘harmless’ banter.  This implies that if someone uses sexist language in ‘jest’, their colleagues should consider it an acceptable bonding ritual.

I recently participated at the board meeting of a public sector organisation when two new members were being appointed. I noted with wry interest that the male Chair of the Board introduced the new female board member by giving a detailed background about her family – she had three daughters, is a PTA member and belongs to a book club, etc. In contrast, he highlighted the professional qualifications and accomplishments of the male board member. It was also telling that the Chair introduced his new female colleague with “I would like to welcome the beautiful Jackie to the Board”.

This type of subtle sexism leaves some observers feeling uncomfortable but not entirely sure what is causing this emotion.  The real danger lies in the comments being seen as normal and acceptable. Further, the Chair could even argue that he was complimenting his new female colleague. I later learned that Jackie had similar professional qualifications and accomplishments to those of her male counterpart which the Chair had chosen not to mention.

Various studies** reveal that sexist jokes and gender stereotypes are some of the main factors holding women back from thriving at work. The hard-to-detect comments can have an insidious effect, which over time is profound enough for women to start conforming to the stereotypes instead of focusing on their career advancement. Research findings show some common subtle incidents occurring on average 2-5 times a week. These include:

  • Comments that women are not as good as men at certain activities (maths, sports, leadership);
  • Comments that women are too easily offended or that they exaggerate problems;
  • Seemingly benign comments about women, that they are naturally better at cooking, shopping or child care;
  • Choosing women for stereotypical assignments;
  • Making comments about women’s clothing.

The studies show that in response to the subtle sexist comments and attitudes, women have been known to perform poorly on cognitive tests. Further, they express feelings of incompetence and even greater dissatisfaction with their work-related performance.

Therefore, it is important to appreciate that whilst we have made huge strides in moving away from explicitly negative and sexually inappropriate behaviour, subtle comments and remarks – often considered innocuous – are damaging and helping to maintain the ripple effect of discrimination against women.   Watching our language at work more closely and increasing our awareness of subtle sexism will help us to move away from stereotypes and shift our focus to treating all our colleagues as individuals rather than pinning gender labels on them.

* ‘I am going through a blond moment’ – phrase usually used by a woman to imply that she had forgotten to do something, is a scatterbrain or is being silly or stupid (from the stereotypical perception of blonde-haired women as unintelligent).

** Melbourne Business School, Australia, Pennsylvania State University USA and Philipps University Germany

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 – christine@griffinity.co.uk  – +44 (0)7796 147127 – www.griffinity.co.uk.

 

Are you spoilt for choice?

lisaI invited Dr Lisa Lilley, Global Solutions Delivery Manager, B2B Fuels Technology at Shell, to share her thoughts on how trying to make the right choice in life can seem easy or trigger anxiety. In this article Lisa gives examples of challenges she has experienced when facing choices in her personal and professional life and how she overcame them.

Every day, the average adult makes about 35,000 choices!  Whilst many of these are processed without thinking, there are always those “big ticket items” which can lead to hours, days or even months of contemplation and consideration… “What if I make the wrong choice?”

When I agreed to write this I was asked to “choose a snappy eye-catching title”. If I’m honest, this task alone has taken me longer than writing the rest of the article! As you may have guessed, I am not a decisive person but I have learned some valuable lessons about choices that I would like to share with you.

I can date my anxiety about making choices back to my childhood.  I remember being in a shop with my mum and sister having to choose a packet of crisps. Oh, how I would agonise over the decision between salt and vinegar chip-sticks and cheese balls (this was the 80’s!). My decision would be made even harder by trying to see what my sister was choosing out of the corner of my eye! Then I would feel pressure from my mum to “rush” my decision and I would inevitably end up unhappy with my choice and desperately wanting what my sister had!

Interestingly, when I look around me today I still see these types of behaviours, with colleagues comparing their choices to those of others and feeling “hard done by” (the grass is always greener) even if they don’t know the reality. I see many younger colleagues wanting it all today, rushing their choices without a second thought for consequences and expecting they can have it all, right now, and being disappointed when they can’t.

Some choices have come easily to me. I always knew that I loved Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths so studying STEM subjects, and moving into a STEM related job with Shell, all seemed natural choices to me, and ones that played to my strengths.

But whilst those choices themselves seemed easy, sometimes the consequences turned out to be more challenging. Even from school age my choices put me in a male-dominated environment which, as a very shy young girl, wasn’t easy for me. I had no female role models and it was only my extremely determined temperament (my parents would probably say “stubborn”) that kept me going through some tough years. This is why I now choose to act as a STEM ambassador to encourage and be a role model for young people, especially girls, to help them consider their options and make their choices a bit easier.

Later in my career I was offered the opportunity to travel the world as Shell’s Technical Manager for Ferrari – attending most F1 races, and having responsibility for their fuels and oils. I appreciate many people would give their right arm for that job, but for me it was a difficult choice. The role involved being away from home for more than 200 nights a year so I knew one consequence would be an impact on my personal life. I also faced the most male-dominated environment I have ever come across.  When I first started you could count the number of technical females (out of 1,000 males) on one hand. If I went to get myself a coffee I was occasionally passed empty glasses and dirty plates.  For guests and members of the media it was inconceivable that a woman wearing the Ferrari uniform could be anything other than a hospitality girl. It took a good sense of humour, the support of some wonderful colleagues, and my usual determined attitude to simply let those stereotypes wash over me.

After that I chose to move to London – perhaps one of the hardest decisions of my life both personally and professionally. Not only did I leave behind family and friends, but I also opted for a career change by taking on a marketing role. I realised early on that this was not the direction I wanted my longer-term career to follow.  I also recognised that as I had been in that role for 4 years I had a further choice to make. I could regret my decision every day until it was over… but instead I chose to embrace the opportunity to learn something new (and even studied to get a Marketing Diploma). In the end it was a valuable broadening experience.  I’d made the wrong choice taking on a role my heart wasn’t in and that didn’t play to my strengths.  However, it didn’t mean I had to be miserable for 4 years. I leveraged the opportunity, worked hard, learned about the business, and now I am a much stronger technical person for it. I went through some tough and lonely years immediately after the move – but, despite being such a hard choice initially, I can honestly say now that it has turned out to be one of the best things I have ever done both personally and professionally. Sometimes taking a chance with our choices pays off.

Today, more than ever, we face an increasingly changing world and, to be successful in what we do, we need to be flexible and sufficiently adaptable to make choices faster than ever and embrace what those changes bring. I still face my ‘choice anxiety’ on a daily basis. Some are quite difficult, others easier – but what I have learned is this …

  • Choices are a very personal thing. The consequences of those choices are equally as personal. Make choices that are right for you. Don’t worry about the choices of others.
  • You are more likely to excel and be happy if your choices play to your strengths and things you enjoy. Don’t try to be something that you’re not.
  • Be prepared to change and respond quickly to changes around you.
  • Once you’ve made a choice, embrace it and live positively with the consequences. If you’re unhappy then make another change as soon as you can.
  • You can have anything you want in life, but you can’t have everything. Life may not always seem fair, but – more often than not – it is within the control of your own choices.

If you are finding it difficult to make career choices that play to your strengths please get in touch to find out how I can help you. Christine Griffin, Executive Coach – christine@griffinity.co.uk – +44 (0)7796 147127 – www.griffinity.co.uk.

Are you getting enough rest?

p1030431I listened to a fascinating programme on BBC Radio 4 this morning about The Rest Test – an online survey of rest which is part of a ground breaking collaboration of artists, scientists and historians known as Hubbub, looking at the elusive quality of rest in our modern world. This was particularly timely as I have just returned from a two week holiday walking in the beautiful mountains of Monte Negro and Croatia which I found both energising and restful.

For the last two years Hubbub has been exploring the dynamics of rest, noise, activity and work in the arts, everyday life, neuroscience and mental health. BBC Radio 4, BBC World Service and Hubbub launched the Rest Test in autumn last year and more than 18,000 people from 134 countries took part. It’s the biggest survey of what rest means both in Britain and globally.

Here are a few questions to ponder about your attitude towards rest:

  • Do you feel you have to be doing something all the time?
  • Do you feel guilty about taking time out to relax?
  • Do you make moral judgements about people who take breaks from work during the day?
  • Do you feel the need to tell friends and colleagues how busy you are?
  • Do you think you aren’t getting enough rest?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions you may share the views of 70% of survey participants who would like more rest.  Here are the top five activities people found most restful in descending order:

5. Doing Nothing

If you have a demanding job and spend a lot of time chasing goals and seeking approval for your actions, you may find taking time out to enjoy the present moment and switching off the internal chatter very restful.   Some of my clients talk about having a very strong work ethic and feeling guilty if they take time out to relax or leave work on time.  “Doing nothing” is still judged as “laziness” by some people who believe you have to be busy all the time to be  a fully functioning and productive individual.   I have seen this type of work ethic lead to overload and burnout.

4. Listening to Music

The fourth most restful activity in the survey was listening to music which enables people to tune into another world to give their mind a rest.  One of the contributors to the Radio 4 programme this morning, ‘All in the Mind’, plays music to people with dementia in care homes.  Even though many of the residents can’t remember their own name, he said it’s remarkable how easily they remember the words to old songs as they start to join in with the singing.   So music can be a healing force and contribute to our well-being.

3. Solitude

The existentialist philosopher, Jean-Paul Satre, famously quoted “Hell is other people”.  The survey surprisingly revealed that both extroverts and introverts find spending time alone restful.  With a huge rise in communication via social media we are exposed to increasing levels of criticism, via comments to our postings, which many individuals, especially young people, find very stressful.  Spending time alone provides the opportunity to stop worrying about other people’s judgement and focus on what you enjoy doing, whether reading a book or going for a walk.

2. Being out in Nature

I can really identify with being in nature as a restful activity as focussing on the natural world gives me a strong feeling of well-being.  Having switched off all social media for the duration of my holiday it was easy to totally focus on soaking up my surroundings using all my senses as we walked through stunning scenery.  Feeling the warm sun on my face, feasting my eyes on the beautiful views and breathing in the spicy fragrance of the wild herbs.

1. Reading

The survey revealed that reading was way ahead of restful activities in every age group.  People expressed the joy of immersing themselves in the imagination of others.   I also find reading an absorbing book very restful.  I read mainly in bed at night and, even if I am very tired, reading just a few pages seems to switch my brain into sleep mode.  Some of the respondents found reading put them into a restful trance – a kind of third dimension – and talked about “being lost in a book”.

What does this tell us about rest?

What I found interesting about the results was that all five restful activities involve spending time alone providing space for people to do their own thing. The survey also revealed that rest is subjectively defined and it challenges the assumption that it is simply doing yoga or particular kinds of activities that are seen to be instilled in culture today.  It also challenges the association some people make between rest and laziness.  So take a few minutes by yourself to ask the following questions to discover your attitude to restfulness:

  • What does rest mean to you?
  • How much rest do you get each day?
  • How much rest do you need each day?
  • What are you going to do differently to ensure you get the rest you need?

If this article has resonated with you and you would like help creating more time for restful activities please get in touch. Christine Griffin, Executive Coach – christine@griffinity.co.uk – +44 (0)7796 147127 – www.griffinity.co.uk.

Are you in your ‘dream’ career?

Madelon v300I invited Madelon Schamarella, Gestalt Psychologist and Coach, to share her thoughts on how to find your ‘dream career’.  In this article Madelon explores the factors that influence our choice of career and creative ways of finding our ‘authentic’ selves.

Through my work experience as a psychologist, I have seen many people question their jobs as they seek more authenticity and connection with their vocations. One of the reasons for this disconnection is the fact that most people don`t really know what their vocation is. And they often don`t know how to find their authentic selves.

One contributing factor to the lack of self-awareness around vocation starts at school. School tells us two important things.  Firstly, that you need to study to be “someone” – so it seems that your identity is tied to your level of education. Consequently, some clues to your vocation could come from what you enjoy studying or what you do well in. It may be a controversial idea but if you don`t have a good level of education it is likely you will face challenges in discovering who you are.

The second thing is that there are two places at school to be yourself: a) the classroom – where you need to respect the rules, pay attention, take part, and where your performance is measured by a score; b) the playground – where you have time in the fresh air to connect with people, have fun, and explore new ways of learning using all your senses. Your performance is measured by the clear sense of fulfilment you get from doing your favourite activities well.  If, in your free time as an adult you could explore the same creative elements from the playground, clues about your vocation would come from a place where you had more ownership of yourself.

Finding your vocation is not only a personal conflict but a social and cultural dilemma in our society where job, career and vocation are divided in a distorted perspective of fulfilment and success. This breeds even more fear and insecurity in those who are planning to switch their careers in the direction of their vocations. According to research published in 2014 in UK, only 25% of workers in London feel that they are working in their “dream careers”. Switching careers was also a trending topic with 68% of workers in the UK who said they would change jobs to improve their career opportunities. (Ref.: Randstad UK Fulfillment Report 2014)

One of the people who inspires me when thinking about a “dream career” is the American artist Nathan Sawaya. He was a lawyer who was passionate about Lego. Nathan became an artist who sculpts with Lego after years of conflict with his true vocation. I had the opportunity to see his exhibition called “The Art of Bricks” in London in 2015. On the wall near one of his first sculptures he wrote an inspiring testimony:

“When I was a lawyer I quickly come to realize I was more comfortable sitting on the floor creating sculptures than I was sitting in a boardroom negotiating contracts. My own personal conflicts and fears, coupled with a deep desire for overall happiness, paved the way to becoming a full-time working artist”. (Nathan Sawaya)

I can’t say what happened to Nathan in the exact moment that he realized he was comfortable in the art world, but I can say that the experience of being in contact with his feelings about creating sculpture, gave him a powerful awareness of where his true vocation lay. The amazing sense of accomplishment empowered him to move towards a new professional identity and bring the career dilemma in his life to an end.

“My favourite subject is the human form. A lot of my work suggests a figure in transition. It represents the metamorphosis I am experiencing in my own life. My pieces grow out of my fears and accomplishments, as a lawyer and as an artist, as a boy and as a man”. (Nathan Sawaya)

Most people have a vague idea about their “dream career” which they keep at the back of their minds without being aware of how to actualise their career objectives. Consciousness is the starting point for change, and being aware requires one’s mind to be open to previously unconsidered perspectives.

Using some Gestalt techniques I help people to find their true vocation by challenging them to look inside themselves in a cycle of creative experiences. I invite you to reflect on your career now and imagine that you have been asked the question Are you in your ‘dream career’?

Approach that question with an open mind. Think about yourself in diverse contexts and be aware of different influences on your identity: family values, cultural and educational background and so on. What kind of feelings, memories and insights come into your mind? What is the difference between the person/professional you feel you are now and the one you want to be?

Through your reflections identify the way you learn best. Do you prefer to take notes of your thoughts, or do you usually learn using visual images and symbols, or even feeling other sensations like taste and smell. Understanding your learning style will give you more familiarity with your senses and a high level of awareness to move forward to a different level of self-knowledge.

Be aware of what happens in the boundary between you and your reflections. Some powerful thoughts can come up through this experience. Notice any fears and resistance you feel and any limited perceptions that stop you seeing new possibilities. Being aware will empower you to explore a range of new meanings, creating a clear sense of action for change.

Mobilize energy to transform thoughts into actions (internal and external) moving forward in small steps – quick wins and experimenting with new things. The more you experience achievements in the short term the more confidence you will have to set higher goals. Test yourself in different roles – it could be successfully carrying out a specific activity you’ve never tried before or even chatting with someone who is comfortable in their career and can share their experiences with you. The benefit of testing yourself is that you have the opportunity to experience how you feel when you are wearing different “hats”.

Develop Ownership of You and get rid of boundaries to move your career to who you really are. Create new meanings for career, success and reward based on your own values and beliefs.

The ‘Dream Career’ is a topic that has been explained from different perspectives: psychological, social, cultural, anthropological, economic and political. All of these are important reference points, but yours is the only reference point which can explain your interests, aspirations and motivations in choosing your career.  Having a ‘dream career’ is building your differential and it`s about being authentic with yourself and others.  It`s also about being ready for a metamorphosis in your life.  Are you ready?

If you would like help choosing your next career direction please get in touch to find out how I can help you. Christine Griffin, Executive Coach – christine@griffinity.co.uk – +44 (0)7796 147127 – www.griffinity.co.uk.

 

 

Do you find it difficult to celebrate your achievements?

celebrate-successWhat a joy watching the TV coverage of sportsmen and women from around the world realising their dreams and celebrating success during the Rio Olympics.  It was even more exciting seeing GB rise up the medals table to achieve second place with an outstanding total of 67 medals.  I was totally immersed in the emotions of the moment, cheering enthusiastically – half expecting the athletes to hear me – jumping for joy when they won Gold, Silver or Bronze and sharing their tears when they didn’t quite make it.   After two weeks of focussing on success, celebration and positivity I felt totally revitalised – both mentally and physically.

I was reflecting on the impact these two weeks had on my mood and energy levels when watching the news during the Olympics.  The usual predominance of reporting what is going wrong in the world was turned on its head.  Stories of achievement and success dominated the news coverage often taking up at least half of the time.    What a refreshing change of emphasis!

Discussions about the factors that influence our mind set and the impact of focussing on the positive or negative often come up during coaching conversations.  Clients sometimes describe themselves as a “glass half full” or “glass half empty” person.  They regard this tendency as a fundamental part of who they are and, therefore, difficult to change.  When I ask clients about challenges they are facing they are quick to list what is giving them a headache.  By contrast a common reaction to questions about their achievements is to pause for a few seconds.   It can take several questions and gentle prompts to encourage them to talk about their successes.  What is the reason for this bias towards the negative?

The capacity to emphasise the negative rather than the positive has probably been an evolutionary phenomenon. From our earliest beginnings, being aware of and avoiding danger has been a critical survival skill.

The concept of Negativity Bias is not new. Early research has led to theories such as The Prospect Theory, which evaluates the way people make choices when there is a known risk. So Negativity Bias and the Prospect Theory advance the idea that people are more likely to choose things based on their need to avoid negative experiences, rather than their desire to get positive experiences.

Research by Paul Rozin and Edward Royzman showed that the negative perspective is more contagious than the positive perspective.  A study by John Cacioppo and his colleagues revealed that our attitudes are more heavily influenced by bad news than good news.  Other researchers analysed language to study Negativity Bias.  For example, there are more negative emotional words (62%) than positive words (32%) in the English dictionary.

In our brains, there are two different systems for negative and positive stimuli. The amygdala uses approximately two thirds of its neurons to detect negative experiences.  Once the brain starts looking for bad news, it is stored into long-term memory quickly. Positive experiences have to be held in our awareness for more than 12 seconds to complete the transfer from short-term to long-term memory.

A recent study by Jason Moser and his colleagues at Michigan State University found brain markers that distinguish negative thinkers from positive thinkers. Their research suggests that there are positive and negative people in the world.  In their experiments they found that people who tend to worry showed a paradoxical backfiring effect in their brains when asked to decrease their negative emotions.  Moser said, “This suggests they have a really hard time putting a positive spin on difficult situations and actually make their negative emotions worse even when they are asked to think positively.”

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentimihalyi contends that unless we are occupied with other thoughts, worrying is the brain’s default position. This is why, he says, “We must constantly strive to escape such ‘psychic entropy’ by learning to control our consciousness and direct our attention to ‘flow’ activities which give positive feedback and strengthen our sense of purpose and achievement.” His views echo those of Martin Seligman and Rick Hanson who both make the point that while negative emotion always has the ability to “trump” positive emotion, we have to learn how to keep negative emotion in check by amplifying positive emotions.

If you tend to focus more on the negative and find it difficult to celebrate your achievements here is a simple exercise that has helped clients with a similar outlook to shift to a more positive mind set.

  • Set time aside each week for a walk in one of your favourite places.
  • As you walk focus your mind on work you have really enjoyed in your current and previous roles. Think about occasions when you felt energised and in the ‘flow’.
  • Recall what you were seeing, hearing and feeling at the time.
  • Think about the strengths you were using in each of the roles.
  • Recall positive feedback and praise you received from managers, colleagues and clients.
  • Decide any changes you are going to make to help you to create a more positive mind set.
  • Record your thoughts and reflections during the walk or make a few notes at the end as a reminder.

If you would like help focussing on your strengths and creating a habit of celebrating your achievements please get in touch. Christine Griffin, Executive Coach – christine@griffinity.co.uk – +44 (0)7796 147127 – www.griffinity.co.uk.

Emotional intelligence – The key ingredient women add to help businesses to achieve outstanding results

L_11_IMG_0909 (2)Letitia Davis is a globally experienced CFO, International M&A Lead and Intercultural Business Consultant.  Following many years living and working in Europe, the Middle East and Far East, she is currently based in London and Kuala Lumpur assisting European companies to move into Asian markets, whether through export or establishing/acquiring new ventures.  In this article, Letitia shares her first-hand experience of how global business leaders can achieve outstanding results by overcoming unconscious gender bias and applying their emotional intelligence to address complex business challenges. 

A Case Study

A few years ago, a former colleague was appointed CEO of a UK listed group and he asked me to rejoin him as Group Commercial Director.  The Group that we had just joined had a £35m turnover overseas subsidiary that had been acquired 5 years previously but which had performed poorly since acquisition.  There was an offer on the table to acquire the company for a price that represented a significant loss on the original acquisition price.  The Group Board was unanimous in pressing the new CEO to accept the offer and sell the company.  With his feet hardly under the table, the CEO asked me to go over to the subsidiary and evaluate whether a sale was the only available option.

When I returned, I reported that the company was fundamentally sound and that there were options for taking it forward.  I was then asked to go back and come up with a plan to reverse the downward trend.  With the local management, I facilitated a series of strategic workshops, investigated new markets, explored initiatives to improve performance, and moved management into new roles where they could look at problems with fresh eyes.  We created a strategy and I coached the senior management in how to articulate their plans and projections in presentations to the Group Board.

The Board approved the plans and gave the subsidiary a year to make it work with me providing oversight.  In the next few months, they improved efficiency in the plants and started winning business in the new markets that they had identified in the strategy.  Six months after starting to implement the plan, with major new contracts won and coming on stream, the competitor came back to the CEO and made a new offer for the subsidiary which was too good to turn down.  So I returned to the company and managed its divestment.

Effectively I had turned the subsidiary around and added £10m on to the value of the Group in 9 months.  I did this by listening to the concerns and new ideas of the local management (empathy), gaining trust to become part of their team (collaboration), facilitating strategic reviews using techniques they weren’t familiar with (coaching & nurturing), exploring new initiatives (diverse thinking) and coming up with short and long term plans to return the business to full profitability (long term perspective).

Now this will come across as an unremarkable story and a fairly straightforward business turnaround.  However there are two important points:

  • The Group Board that had wanted to accept the previous offer for the poor performing subsidiary was all-male, and
  • I was male at that time (I completed gender transition to female a few years later). Although, more accurately, I was male with a female perspective and characteristically female approach to business leadership and management.

I relate this story in an article about unconscious gender bias and emotional intelligence because it highlights how a strong and consistent bias towards doing things in a characteristically masculine way does not always produce the best outcome.  The group that I had joined had been around a long time and was successful.  However it had not managed an overseas acquisition well at all, and needed a fresh approach outside its comfort zone to get the best value out of the acquisition.

What I want this story to highlight is that there was basically a decision between two options – to be tough and uncompromising and dispose of the subsidiary which had performed poorly, or to coach and manage the business to improve its performance and take a longer term view.  The more characteristically female approach in the latter case produced results – a £10m gain – so the right decision prevailed.

While other attributes and skills were brought to bear – analytical, planning, forecasting, modelling, etc. – these are taken as given.   The attributes and skills that made the difference in engineering the turnaround were empathy, collaboration, influencing, conflict management, flexibility, long-term perspective, nurturing and coaching.  Had I told the Board that I intended to turn around the business by tapping in to these characteristics, then I doubt they would have agreed to me doing the work.  However I was male at the time and so there was no reason they would expect that of me.

Earlier in my career, I found myself in very similar situations, particularly overseas, where male colleagues would often suggest that I take a more aggressive and dominant course of action.  My approach instead was to naturally apply some of those aforementioned more female characteristics to take a longer term view, nurture better relationships and be culturally sensitive, and my approach succeeded and added value.  No one questioned my approach as being ‘too female’ – I was male to the world around me – and as long as I was successful, it really didn’t matter how I got there.

These experiences have perhaps made me more aware of the differences between male and female styles of leadership, and how female styles can be successful in a lot more circumstances than are currently perceived.  Traditionally male characteristics of competitiveness, dominance, control, decisiveness, short term perspective and results driven aren’t effective in many circumstances, and yet they are often taken as standard characteristics of good leadership.  The background to differences between male and female leadership perhaps lies in emotional intelligence.

Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

New research by the Korn Ferry Hay Group finds that women outperform men in 11 of 12 key emotional intelligence competencies, ‘showing that women are better at using soft skills that are crucial for effective leadership and superior business performance’.  The report concludes ‘If more men acted like women in employing their emotional and social competencies, they could be substantially and distinctively more effective in their work’.

The greatest difference between men and women is in emotional self-awareness and in demonstrating empathy consistently.  Other competencies in which women outperform men include coaching and mentoring, influencing, conflict management, adaptability, and inspirational leadership.  The only attribute in which men and women showed equal competence is in emotional self-control.

As these competencies positively impact business performance, men have a great opportunity to learn from women in the workplace how to apply these social and emotional competencies to become more effective leaders.  Men so often adopt a monocultural response to leadership challenges that reverts to the competitive and dominance characteristics mentioned above.  Indeed both men and women can boost performance if they tap into their emotional intelligence and the optimum approach is to demonstrate balance and an application of skills that are most appropriate for a given situation.

In my former FD career, I occasionally had to deal with ‘non-standard’ business practices in challenging environments in the Middle East and Asia, and empathy and collaboration were definitely not the primary attributes to resolve those problems.  Dominance, control and decisiveness were far more important, and the key EQ attributes of flexibility and self awareness led to tapping in to emotional energy and using it in the most appropriate manner that benefited the circumstances.

The output of the research from 55,000 professionals across 90 countries using the Emotional and Social Competency Inventory found that women more effectively employ their emotional and social competencies in effective leadership than men.  As with so many aspects of life, gender differences are on a broad spectrum and we are all somewhere along that spectrum.  It doesn’t imply that men don’t have emotional intelligence – it’s all relative – they just need to be comfortable using it more often and not rely on traditionally male responses as the solution to everything.

In the example of the aforementioned foreign subsidiary, when I was divesting the business I asked the company’s MD what it was that led to the rapid turnaround in performance and he replied that I had taken time to understand the company’s culture and while I was clearly leading them through the transition, I had also ‘become one of them’ – part of their team.  This was fundamental to my success on the project but differentiated me from the Group management who had taken a very hierarchical stance and distanced themselves from the subsidiary.

As with all strands of diversity, we have to emphasise the beneficial outcomes of more women in leadership and not so much on the simple principle of equality and diversity of perspective.  The latter will follow as a consequence, but first we have to point the way for men standing on the metaphorical glass floor to look through and open the door for women to come up and join them and lead through challenges together.

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 – christine@griffinity.co.uk  – +44 (0)7796 147127 – www.griffinity.co.uk.

 

Celebrating the qualities women bring to leadership

Christine Griffin-Sept13-105kbIn 2015 I carried out fascinating research into Women in Leadership interviewing over 50  women in a diverse range of leadership roles and organisations in the UK, Europe, China and Singapore.   The main purpose of my research was to find out the biggest challenges facing women in leadership and the strategies they use to address them.  During the interviews we also discussed other aspects of their leadership experiences that had impacted their careers including:

– Changing attitudes to women in leadership

– The biggest opportunities for women in leadership

– The main qualities women bring to leadership

– The main qualities men bring to leadership

– Barriers to women climbing the corporate ladder

– Inspirational female leaders

My conversations about the qualities women bring to leadership sprung to mind when Theresa May became the UK’s second female Prime Minister a few weeks’ ago.   Interestingly she was in the top three most inspirational female leaders identified during my research.  Margaret Thatcher was top of the list closely followed by Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund.

Everyone who chose Margaret Thatcher, qualified their choice first by saying “Leaving the politics to one side…!”   As the UK’s first female Prime Minister, they saw her as a trail blazer for women trying to break through the glass ceiling for senior leadership roles previously dominated by men.  Other qualities they admired included having a strong vision, being courageous, standing up for what she believed in, sticking to her decisions, making an impact, being focussed and getting things done.   Interestingly, some of these qualities, such as courage and making an impact, were seen as male leadership attributes by many of the women I interviewed.  Perhaps this is an indication of the ‘masculine’ leadership traits women felt they had to adopt in order to be taken seriously during the 1980’s.

When Margaret Thatcher’s colleagues wanted to help improve her image, Laurence Olivier – the famous actor – suggested that she work with a tutor at the National Theatre. Her lessons there included humming exercises, directed at lowering her pitch.  Studies of her before-and-after voice reveal she had successfully lowered her pitch by 46 Hz. According to Max Atkinson, author of Our Masters’ Voices, that made her results “almost half the average difference in pitch between male and female voices.” By changing her voice, to speak with a lower pitch and slowing down her speech, Margaret Thatcher achieved greater credibility and impact.

By contrast, research participants saw very different qualities in Christine Lagarde, French lawyer and politician who has been the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund since 2011.  They were inspired by her strong presence and authentic and rounded ‘feminine’ leadership style.  Other qualities they valued included, approachability, clear thinking, depth and talking sense.

During an interview in 2013 with Lillian Cunningham of the Washington Post, Christine Lagarde gave the following definition of leadership: “To me, leadership is about encouraging people. It’s about stimulating them. It’s about enabling them to achieve what they can achieve — and to do that with a purpose. Others would call it a “vision” but I’d rather use “purpose” because I think that everybody has a purpose in life and that when collectively people work together or practice sport together, they have a joint purpose.”

Her answer to a question about how she dealt with an IMF internal crisis reflects views expressed during my research:  “It was a question of making sure that everybody was on deck, prepared to deal with the issues and completely motivated by the mission of the fund — which is to make sure that we put all our expertise, our money, our technical assistance and our ability to advise together to fight the crisis and to procure some stability. I have a theory that women are generally given space and appointed to jobs when the situation is tough. I’ve observed that in many instances.  In times of crisis women eventually are called upon to sort out the mess, face the difficult issues and be completely focused on restoring the situation.”

The qualities admired in Theresa May, who was Home Secretary at the time, focused on the strength of her leadership – doing a difficult job, standing up to people in the face of challenges, making tough decisions.  If Christine Lagarde’s theory about “women being called upon to sort out the mess” is right the above attributes will be required in abundance for the tough Brexit negotiations Theresa May and her colleagues will face over the next few years.  Perhaps adding the key female leadership attributes identified during my research of empathy, relationship building and collaboration will help oil the wheels of change to ensure they run smoothly for the benefit of all parties in the negotiation.

If you would like to find out more about my Women in Leadership research findings and how they could support women’s leadership programmes and diversity initiatives within your organisation please get in touch. Christine Griffin, Executive Coach – christine@griffinity.co.uk – +44 (0)7796 147127 – www.griffinity.co.uk.