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TIME TO JUST BE

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One of the greatest gifts my profession gives me is the opportunity to observe and learn from others. Without fail, one of the most consistent pieces of feedback I get from coachees is the value they get from taking time out to think. It creates the space for reflection, learning and growth.

Information overload, constant change, multiple roles, competing priorities and the rapid pace with which we live our lives mean that unless we intentionally slow down, we are at risk of living unconsciously. It’s certainly not a new idea, but in our complex, uncertain world it’s become more important to slow down to achieve more.

Research tells us the ‘24/7, always on’ world in which we live overloads our neural circuits. It tells us that creative thinking gives way to process and that our empathy and connection to others decreases. (See this great article in the Harvard Business Review)

So I’m taking time out.

It started as a conversation with my sons, as we idly day dreamed around how fantastic it would be for me to be home with them as they prepared for and wrote their final school exams. Idle day dreaming turned into a simple ‘why not?’ and a few conversations later, I find myself typing this as I am about to take time out for 30 days.

Yes, I have a few work things to do whilst I’m away from the office. And a new house to look for. But I’ve zealously guarded and protected the next few weeks because I know how meaningful and valuable this time is. It’s time for me to connect, to think, to support, to breathe, to reflect … and to just be. It’s probably also the last time that my ‘almost men’ will need me for a lengthy period of time.

I can’t wait. I’m off to sit. And possibly bake some cookies.

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GROWTH IS NOT A STRAIGHT LINE

When you open yourself up to a learning journey, professional and personal development is a never-ending quest to actualize, to become more of who you truly are as you offer more of your authentic self to your world.

In leadership training, I often ask leaders to plot their career journey so that they can take a step back from their reality and reflect on their journey. This process of reflection is important because our daily lives are so busy that we often get lost in the maelstrom of busyness and so aren’t able to appreciate the lessons we are learning. And as it so happens, reflection is a critical piece in the learning cycle – read more on Kolb’s model here http://www.simplypsychology.org/learning-kolb.html

I so often hear from the wonderful people I coach that one of the most valuable aspects of coaching is the time devoted to reflection and deepening an understanding of self. Without fail, each one of these leaders have gone through tough times, periods where they doubted themselves, and where they felt like no matter what they did, they got poor results.

The trick is not to get caught up in the spiral, but to step back from it and identify how to move onto the next curve.

The tool I use is really quite simple. And it works not only in a professional context, but is also a tool for personal reflection.

Start by dividing the x axis into segments of time, with the y axis representing your fulfillment / success – however you define it. You then plot your career (or personal) journey over time, which may look something like this …

Career Journey May 2016

The idea is to then take time to reflect on what created the peaks and the troughs. How did the environment contribute / what was it about your boss, the culture, your role that facilitated this ? If you are doing a personal journey, reflect on your stage of life; what was giving you meaning, what were you contributing, what you were learning and who was in your world at the time.

With these insights, it’s onto the real question : “Now that you are consciously aware of what sets you up for success, how can you create the next peak (or indeed extend a peak)?”

You may need to create some change in order to jump to a new curve, or prevent a decline – and that change in itself may create some downward momentum for a while. But the idea is to do it consciously, using the factors for your success and happiness so that you know what you are moving towards and how to create it.

If you are an organizational leader, take some time to look at the success of your organization over time and identify what created success, what role you played and how you can contribute to additional peaks. You can do this for teams, departments, functions, families and relationships.

I’ve placed the basic template in the ‘resources’ section on my website. Please download it, give yourself space and time to reflect and then start planning consciously. I’m really keen to hear what you discover. To your success and happiness !

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WALKING MY TALK

It’s been a long month. resilience

On the 2 March, we were granted permanent residence in Australia, my husband got some tough news at work, and Bendelta were awarded an amazing project (for which I’d put heart and soul into the proposal).

That was the start …

During the next week, a crazy-busy wonderful week spent in Singapore, whilst I was so far way from her, one of my best friends told me that her cancer was back (after an 8 year remission). Back home, after weeks of feeling ill, one of my sons was diagnosed with an awful colon infection, work went into warp speed – and some amazing new opportunities presented themselves. And I’ve just realized that in two week’s time, we’ll be on holiday in South Africa. And the month’s not even over yet.

I feel like I’m living my life inside a washing machine.

And I feel like I’m a walking advertisement (maybe that should read guinea-pig), for the work I’ve been doing over the last few months which has been to integrate neuroscience, resilience and mindfulness. It’s an area of leadership development that our Australian clients are requesting, and we see evidence through our coaching practice what a difference conscious resilience practice makes.

Indeed, whilst in Singapore I had caught up with one of my clients who works at an organization going through tremendous growth, with 3 huge new projects online (one of which is planning for 2026 and is a classic mega-project). With all this change and increase in scope, I asked how they are helping their people develop resilience, and was particularly concerned when it emerged that it was not something they had given thought to. The assumption is that people should ‘just get on and do it’.

But how do you just ‘get on and do it’ when the load becomes too heavy?

To prevent burn out, and maintain effective performance you have to balance the load with lightness. What that lightness is differs from person to person, but the classic model I use for resilience training, The Corporate Athlete, informs us that we have to create rituals in 4 areas of our lives : physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. These rituals and the oscillating effect of load and lightness (stress/de-stress) is what enables us to last the distance .

I am reminded of the value of staying the distance as I watch how my 17 year old sons prepare for their final year of school and year 12 exams. They are fortunate enough to go to a school that offers tremendous support and really encourages the ‘it’s a marathon, not a sprint’ type of preparation. (I’ll let you know how that goes as we get deeper into the year …)

So that’s the resilience piece – what about mindfulness ? Apart from the obvious benefits of quieting your nervous-nelly mind, I find it really helpful to be mindful that all we can do is to work with the hand of cards we’ve been dealt. Sometimes, it’s a really tough hand – one that requires simply putting one foot in front of another until the journey is done. At other times, the hand allows us to live life as nothing more serious than which cocktail to enjoy at sundowners. And if during these times, we fill up with light and gratitude, we’ll have more to sustain us during the heavy times. Because we all get them both … and they’ll both pass.

So, it’s been a long month. We’re all still here. We can all still laugh. We can all still hug.

And we’re going on holiday soon – now there’s something to lighten the load.

Happy almost April everyone !

 

 

 

 

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I’M BACK

It’s been 2 years and 4 months since I wrote my last blog post*

I now live in a different city, on a different continent, in a different culture.

I work in a different organization. Boy is it different !! Like awesome different. I need to tell you all about it. My husband works at a different advertising agency. L-o-n-g story there … one day perhaps I’ll share his journey. And our boys go to a different school. Don’t even get me started on that story …

But I digress … back to my blog … It was my intention when I started writing to share stories, insights and experiences that inspired me.

By applying simple logic, can we assume I’ve been uninspired for almost 2 1/2 years. Am I such a miserable sod ? I don’t think so, in fact I’ve always thought of myself as positive. Not like in an artificially contrived ‘Facebook life’ kind of way (Thanks Lianne for the depth of understanding in that term) but like deep down in my soul.

I guess I’ve questioned that over the last few years. Yes, we’ve left a lot behind – and although there is so much ahead of us, I’ve been pretty pathetic at finding pure happiness in the now. Part of my PNI training involved studying the effect of emotions like guilt and regret (from the past) vs fear and anxiety (for the future) on our neurochemistry and physiology.

I know theoretically what affect not living in the now has on us. And guess what, I’ve fallen right into the trap of wishing … wishing things were different. Instead of finding joy in the now. It’s a sure fire way to be miserable.

So I went back to my iphone. Gotta love technology. I write down random thoughts in ‘Notes’ (Yes, I know I’m weird). Here’s what I found. These notes are totally unedited. My last note as we were waiting to fly out of Singapore after living there for 3 ½ years, and my first note when we arrived in Sydney.

Thank you Singapore 22.4.2014 (1)

Thank you Singapore 22.4.2014 (2)

Thank you Singapore 22.4.2014 (3)

The first 24 hours 23.4.2014

Ironically, we started a jar in January to celebrate 2016. Originally it was called the ‘achievement jar’. Then it morphed into a ‘gratitude jar’. Here it is …

The Gratitude Jar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s going to be very full on the 31 December 2016.


 

* can you tell I went to a Catholic school ?

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WE ARE DIFFERENT. NOT BETTER.

east meets west

Western or Eastern ?

I’ve written before on my reflections around the cultural diversity between the West and East .… this article continues the theme hopefully with some new understanding.

Many of you know that I find Singapore a challenging place to live. Whilst it is incredibly efficient and organized, and sheathed in glamorous designer brand names, I battle with Singapore’s distinct lack of emotion.

As an African, a South African, I wear my heart on my sleeve, I like to think that I am warm and welcoming and have an open heart. So imagine my difficulty living in a country where people do not greet each other warmly, avoid eye contact, don’t say thank you when you hold open a door to let them enter, and generally ‘keep face’.

My work puts me in touch with many senior leaders and I find it sad (yes, sad) that so many Asian leaders in this country don’t now how to create relationships. Even worse, they have never thought of it as important. Because they have been taught that what matters is task, outcome, output, and efficiency. Let’s not even get onto the subject of creativity …

Against this background, I was completely taken aback this morning as I arrived at a client (a government ministry) to be greeted by the doormen and security guards. Greeted – as in ‘good morning’. Wow !

Only problem is, the greeting didn’t feel real. No eye contact. No warmth. No smile. And certainly no response when I replied “thank you, you too”. It felt like a consultant (a Western one most likely) had suggested that  greeting people in the morning would create a warmer, more welcoming environment.

And I find that so interesting. Because the longer I live in Asia, the more I realise that we cannot just transpose what we (Westerners) believe is ‘best practice’ onto an Asian culture. How condescending and colonial in the first place. But Asians – and this is a huge generalisation- are mostly introverts. And whilst I know I live in Singapore (which, as I’m constantly told, is Asia for beginners), I am fortunate to work around the region, and without getting into specifics about ethnic groups, I think the generalisation is fair. If you are familiar with the Meyers Briggs Typology, the most prevalent Type in Singapore is ISTJ. Introverts, they make sense of the world through facts, figures and data. They plan, prefer detail, are logical, methodical, analytical and organised. In my world – that’s Singapore in a nutshell.

Me. I’m a bit different. I’m an extrovert (like properly extrovert). I love talking about ideas, concepts, I trust my gut, look at the big picture first, I feel deeply and talk openly about my emotions, and I’m passionate. At times  maybe too honest and when I am fully involved, committed and fulfilled, a definite pain in the ass with my energy.

We’re different right ?

Better ?

No. Just different.

I remember arriving in Singapore and was given feedback by so many well meaning people to ‘tone it down’, to tweak my bio to appeal more to the ISTJ profile. To dress more conservatively. To fit in. And I tried so hard. For over 2 years. Earlier this year, I couldn’t any more. I just had to be me again. I had to be all of me. I had to be real and true and honest.

And that’s what I realised this morning when I watched those poor doormen doing something that was so fake. So false. So not them. They were behaving in accordance with someone else’s set of values. They were so inauthentic that I actually laughed. Out loud.

I’ll say it again. We can’t just transpose western ideas, values and ‘best practice’ onto another culture.

Look at Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In”. As a woman working with female leaders in the corporate world I loved it. I‘ve quoted it, spoken about it, referenced it in programmes  – I completely get it. But, in Asia, her concepts are somewhat unworkable. This is a patriarchal society. One of the primary paradoxes Asian women face (and I’ll write more on this topic soon), is that they are so smart and incredibly well educated – and are expected to be subservient to men and people who are senior to them. “Lean in ?” I don’t think so. It’s about as unlikely as doormen creating a warm, open, connected environment just because they were told to say ‘good morning’.

I applaud the initiatives. I honour the intention. Not just the one I have written about here. But all the work that is being done by so many well meaning people to make a change. Yet, I think it would be so much more respectful and so much more impactful for us all to become familiar with the culture and to ensure that the work we do is relevant. Be yourself. And please, let other people be themselves. Let’s use our diversity to create more. Not less.

 

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PS – If you like the visual accompanying this post, it’s by Yang Liu, a Chinese artist born in Beijing who has lived in Germany since 1990. Her graphics depict with startling simplicity the difference between East & West – click here for a few more    

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ARE ALL SKILLS EQUAL ?

I was working with a creative, innovative leader yesterday, who knowing that I write fairly regularly, asked me for feedback on an article she had written, as she felt unsure of her writing skills.Strengths

As I reflected on her request, it got me thinking about the relative value of skills. In the leadership development space, most of us have at some stage, made use of or referred to Gallup’s StrengthsFinder. This was the theory (and assessment tool) that was developed after 30 years of research that for the first time allowed individuals to identify and leverage their innate skills based on how they naturally think, feel and behave. Not surprisingly, it evolved to include inherent leadership strengths and practices, which led to the concept of Strength Based Leadership. Likewise, the recent Multiplier Leader theory also encompasses the concept of harnessing the genius of natural talent. Even Howard Gardner with his model of Multiple Intelligence in 1983 made the case for difference and the value that diverse talents bring.

But – as with so many models, the application is sorely lacking.

I have coached countless leaders who do not believe they have the skill of x or y, and that they are somehow ‘less than’ a peer who has it. I have even coached an enormously successful (think many million USD’s) Director of a public corporation who believed he was not intelligent in the conventional IQ sense.

Yet all these leaders and executives are ok when they lack creative intelligence – when they can’t draw or paint. (How about innovate?) They’re even ok if they can’t play a musical instrument – musical intelligence. But for some reason “I can’t draw” gets judged very differently to “maths isn’t my strength”. Likewise, having verbal ability is often judged as being less valuable than having writing skills.

Even emotional intelligence (EQ), which is so critical to leadership (and in my opinion, is the most critical competency) often pales into relative insignificance when leaders compare this ability to their mathematical or accounting prowess.

As I see it, there are 2 solutions here. The first is identifying what you’re good at, and doing that consistently until you build an undeniable expertise in the area.

The second is to really believe that no one skill is better. You can do some things better than me. I can do some things better than you. We’re not better than each other. We complement each other. (Which is why diversity is so critical. More on that another day). But until YOU believe it, you’ll never feel equal.

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OK, WE GET IT …

Female LeadersLast night I had the pleasure of having dinner with an old friend and coachee.

She regaled me with hilarious tales of her latest (female) boss, and reminded me how important it is for leaders to be aware of a couple of things

Ladies, you are not men. You do not need to put ‘it’ on the table. Even, and especially, if you are in the minority, working alongside a bunch of men, you do not need to act like them. If you do, your staff will laugh at you. Period. You look like an ass.

Harvard Business Review’s September 2013 edition, leads with the headline “ Emotional, Bossy, Too Nice – the biases that still hold female leaders back”

Other than the word “emotional”, which does rankle a bit (probably because there’s an element of truth) in it, the other two words can be applied to all leaders.

I’m currently coaching a phenomenal young leader. He made partner at a really young age, and is leading a global team. He’s smart, articulate, considered – did I say smart ?  As part of my Executive Coaching Programmes, I request key stakeholder feedback – this is what one of his direct reports had to say : “ He likes to be the boss. That is fine. But he is already the boss”.

We get that you have arrived. Everyone can see you are the boss. Stop showing off and trying to prove it.

All it shows us, and what both examples have in common, is a lack of self-confidence. Ladies (and guys), please remember that when viewed from the outside, all others can do is guess the motives for your behavior.

At best they may guess that you’re trying to prove yourself. At worst, they may guess that you’re in over your head; that you lack confidence and thus need to throw your weight around to ‘stamp your authority’ on those whom you don’t really know how to lead.

And because they don’t really know what the truth is, they’ll test you until they get you or until you get real.

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BACK TO BASICS

Having just returned from a 12 day trip to Bali, where I assisted as a Team Leader on the Meta-Coach Mastery Training, I find I have renewed appreciation for the basics.

As in any profession, coaches define their skills (their ‘how to’) in concrete terms. We need to know what to do, why, when, where, with whom and how. It’s not a random conversation – but a fierce one that is structured to really get to the heart of the matter. And so, like in any profession, continuing education is vital to maintaining our edge and skill level.

And I have just had a skill fest. Not only was there a requirement to model the skills, competencies and attitude of a coach, but as a team leader, I had the opportunity to step up and lead a strong group of leaders in their field. People who are used to leading, not following. And then I got to benchmark their skills, looking at the structure of their coaching sessions, stretching their skill level and supporting them as best I could. And in return, they taught me.

In so many different ways, every person I interacted with taught me about disclosure and reminded me how vital emotional connection is.

For a few months, I have been aware of a discontent deep with in me. Not for anything material – but for the return of my essence. I have taken myself and what I do so seriously that it’s given me a hard edge.  So whilst my intention to contribute as much as I am able has been good, it has resulted in a dis-ease at my core.

I realised this week that I could sum up in one word how I’ve been feeling. And that word would be ‘impatient’. It stops me from living in the present as I continually focus on ‘what else’ I need to or want to do.  It sets my body on edge and stops me from connecting lovingly and joyfully with my world and the people in it.

I remarked last night to Michael Hall (co-founder of the Meta-Coach Training system, and trainer of the program in Bali), that the Indonesian people leave me humbled at their ability to connect and live life wholeheartedly. Time after time this week, I observed people jumping into each other’s photographs, dancing without inhibition, hugging each other with full embraces, and laughing from their toes. I felt so welcomed into a community of people that I’d never met before and received gifts of love from so many special people, that I leave this beautiful island filled with a sense of peace and love. I leave with special memories as to how precious our hearts are, and the value that truly suspending time and connecting with another human being brings.

And yes, I also leave with coaching skills that have deepened and sharpened – and I’m ready for some serious action.

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INTEGRITY. UNDERSTANDING YOUR HEAD TO LEAD FROM YOUR HEART.

A few days ago I was telling some friends that research is currently being conducted on the neuroscience of integrity. Which initiated a discussion around whether integrity can be ‘acquired’. The prevailing view was that someone is either ‘integrous’ (not a real word, I know), or they’re not.

That’s a bit black and white for me. It’s like saying someone is either born a leader. Or they’re not.

Working in the field of human development, that view would negate my very raison d’etre.

So it got me thinking …. And what I thought about was what I do and how I do it.

Most people enlist a coach because they want to change something. Or someone has suggested they change something. And that something is generally speaking, a behaviour – to listen better / be more assertive / treat people with respect / be more collaborative / be more trusting / be more authentic … it could be any number of behavioural skills.

So that’s what I do.

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HOW BEHAVIOURAL CHANGE HAPPENS

How I do it is best described by enlisting the little man in the accompanying visual.

The change people want to see can generally be measured by a change in behaviour – because it’s the only part of the system that is external. But what I don’t do is work on the behaviour. You read that right.  The reason for this is that behaviour is simply the last visible sign in a series of thoughts and attitudes. Behaviour (what we say and what we do) is preceded by the way we think (and what we feel). And changing behaviour without changing thinking is only going to generate short-term change. So it would seem to make sense to work at the level of thought.

But it’s not enough. You see, what is needed is to go up even higher – to where we form our values, beliefs, attitudes, our cultural norms – our frames of meaning.  Because they determine our thinking. So if you wanted to exhibit integrity … to be more authentic, your behaviour would have to be congruent with your frames of meaning.

As a first step, you would need to unpack your head in order to examine your beliefs and values –to determine if they’re really yours. Secondly, to choose whether they’re really right for you. And if they’re not, to decide what your optimal beliefs are. This is the process of truly understanding yourself, of building self-awareness.

Then when you understand who you are, and you know what you really believe in, it becomes easier to think about things and take a stand. So often it is hard to act with integrity because we espouse values that are not really our own. And because we do things that we have been instructed to do – without really believing in the course of action.

On reflection, whilst integrity may be classified as a combination of cognitive and perceptual skills, and  by definition can thus be learned, I think more importantly, it is a consequence of having what the Dalai Lama calls ‘a solid sense of self’. As coaches, what we do is facilitate the discovery of that knowledge of self. What we ask of our clients is that they have the courage to go there and unpack their heads, examine what’s inside, decide whether it’s really meaningful – and if it’s not, change it. Or face the risk of behaving in accordance with someone else’s beliefs.

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STARTERS – OR THE MAIN COURSE?

Choosing from the Menu of Life

A long, long time ago in a previous life I was a doormat. I know it’s hard to believe. But I was raised to be polite, respectful and helpful and put the needs of others before mine. Somehow I muddled up those messages and mistook them for a need to say ‘yes’; to please and comply.

Things have changed somewhat over the last 25 years or so. First I got comfortable with the fact that it was ok to look after my needs, I started standing up for myself, and then I got comfortable to say ‘no’. Like, very comfortable.

For those of you who know me well and read my blog, you’ll know that I found it tough leaving an established coaching practice in South Africa & starting up all over again in Singapore. Ok, tough is a euphemism. But of course, I have been coached to within an inch of my life. So I really know what drives me. I’m incredibly conscious of my beliefs, values, goals and strategies. And I do my best to make sure my personal and professional behaviour reflect that. In fact I’m so conscious of who I am and what I want that over the past few months, I found myself desperately wanting to say ‘yes’ – just for a change.

Hence I’ve turned down 3 job offers this year. One of which would be my dream job if I ever wanted to move back into permanent corporate employment. Excuse me whilst I shudder  ….  Which is why I said no. The other two ? Well let’s just say that the growth/value/freedom/innovation /remuneration equation didn’t quite balance the way I would have liked it to. There were bits missing. And I just don’t do missing bits anymore.

Just like I don’t coach someone with whom I don’t have rapport. Just like I have also turned down work this year that was cleverly disguised as coaching, but in reality was probably counselling dressed in a beautiful Armani suit.

So, I really, really wanted to say ‘yes’ for a change. I wanted more business. I wanted the right business.  I also really wanted to say ‘yes’ to a few organizations in particular. It happened one Friday afternoon a couple of weeks ago – I got to say ‘yes’ five times in one afternoon.

Looking back, what did I learn ? Sure, it reinforced the principle that sometimes you have to say no to say yes.

But … there was something else …

I know that when something is completely aligned to my values and goals, it’s easy for me to say yes. It just slips out. No analytical thought, discussion or consideration is necessary. I just know !

Here’s something else I know – I’m going to have to keep saying ‘no’ to say ‘yes’, because I love saying yes. It’s no longer even a shadow from my past. It is the result of having done so much self-awareness work, and so much professional work that acting out of integrity and courageous authenticity is the only way I can make decisions.

So, if you find yourself vacillating , going round and round with decisions, not knowing if you really want something, my advice would be to return to your core. Figure out who you are, what is meaningful for you and what you really, really want. Then start practicing how to say ‘no’ to the iffy things life offers you – so that one day you can say ‘yes’ to the items on the menu of life that really matter to you.

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