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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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HOWZIT!

Sometimes inspiration for this blog comes from the most unlikely of places. Last Friday night my husband and I were talking about the joy of understanding colloquial language. I had just finished a coaching session via Skype to a Client in South Africa, and the Client mentioned that if he didn’t do the self-awareness work that was staring him in the face, that the ‘tokoloshe’ would still be ‘under the bed’. OMG, how to explain that to non South-Africans … basically it means that the fear / danger would still be present. My insight when recounting the story was that if I had not understood the colloquialism, it would have taken quite a bit of explanation on my Client’s part to explain the concept. And our rapport and shared experience would have been lost. I would have been ‘different’ to him, having ‘not got’ what he was saying.

And so my husband proceeded to tell me a great story about his arrival in Singapore. For those of you who have not had the pleasure of meeting James, let me just say that he is not known for his introverted nature. The man is loud ! And as is his way, he greets people effusively with a big smile in the morning. But when he started work at Ogilvy Singapore, no-one greeted him back. He initially figured that people were a bit more conservative than his Saffa counterparts, until one day he said ‘good morning’ to someone – and was greeted with a big smile and a ‘good morning James’ in return. And then the penny dropped …. Our custom is to say ‘howzit’ when we greet someone, irrespective of the time of day. It means ‘hi, how are you, I hope you have / or have had a good day, what’s up?’. But if no-one understands your colloquialism, you’re not communicating.

And that is why multi-cultural awareness is so important. I’ve just read a report by Korn/Ferry stating that one way for leaders to broaden their skills base is to work overseas. Last year, The Journal of NeuroLeadership published research on how the culturally intelligent brain not only detects – but can bridge cultural differences. And with the world becoming smaller – and business challenges more complex, I think it is critical not only for leaders, but for all global citizens to understand how to operate effectively in a globalized world.

I see it on a daily basis in my practice, as I coach leaders who are French, British, American, Swiss, Australian – and how one of their primary challenges when coming to Asia is not only understanding the Asian context and environment, but that of the myriad nationalities who live and work in Singapore. My guess is that it would be no different in New York, London or Abuja.

I hear it in my children’s voices when they easily say hello in Mandarin, French, Zulu, English or Japanese. Even if they don’t know what to say after ‘hello’, they are immersed, without knowing it, in a polyglot of cultural differences – and my wish is that they assimilate an intuitive understanding of all of them. My wish is that it makes them better global citizens, and that the lesson of multi-cultural acceptance and understanding that was born in South Africa, continues and serves them in whatever journeys they take.

This exposure to difference – different culture, different values, different food, different languages – this difference make us all so much more. There IS strength in diversity, in flexibility and in being comfortable with the new.

And life of course is so serendipitous – today I saw the great pic that ends off this post on Feel Good Lifestyle’s facebook page. Not all of us can experience working and studying abroad; not all of us want that experience. But we can all travel. If not you – encourage your children to.

And if you ever meet me and I say ‘howzit’, know that I’m simply saying ‘hello & I care about you’ in another language.

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WHY ALL THE FUSS?

You know how when you’re not in an industry it can be bemusing, sometimes even ridiculous how people go on about what they do and why it’s so important / fascinating / special ???

Well, why the fuss around Leadership ? What’s so special about Leaders ?

Surely they’ve got to the top, they get paid a fortune – do they really need any more attention ?

Well, actually – yes, they do. Because the more effective your leaders are, the more successful your organization is going to be.

So, I hear you say, I am an entrepreneur …. Yeah, well …the more effective your leadership skills, the more successful your business is going to be.  I am a manager – let’s say it again ….. the more effective your leadership skills are, the more successful your team is going to be. ¹

So, for me, this is a fuss worth getting.

If you’re really serious about being successful (however you define that is up to you), then look at your leadership skills. Skills like relating to others – your interpersonal skills. Do you get on with people ?  Do you develop them ? Just because you are a technical expert, doesn’t mean you are a people expert .

Are you self-aware ? Or are you oblivious to your strengths and your shortcomings ? Do you have a healthy understanding of the system in which you operate, the big picture and the causes – not just the symptoms of the challenges you face? Do you collaborate – or compete ?

Most importantly, are you Authentic ?

One of the leadership effectiveness skills most highly correlated with business performance is … not ambition, not control, not perfection … but Authenticity. ²

When you know who you are and you know what you stand for, you demonstrate integrity. You walk your talk, you can be trusted to do what you say. You’re willing to take a stand, have the tough conversation, not duck the issues. Why ? Because you know what matters to you. And a leader without an internal compass has no hope of setting a direction or vision for his or her team. And whether it be crystal clear, or smudgy and blurred, your results will be a direct reflection of your vision.

So in whichever context you lead … as a manager, as a manager of managers, as an Executive, as a parent – start by leading yourself. Start by aligning who you are with what you do and say – and then humbly give gratitude for the success that comes your way.

(If you’d like to know more, and are curious as to how developed your Leadership skills and competencies are, as well as gain insight into your habits and behaviour patterns, drop me a line – I’ve got a phenomenal process to share with you)

¹ http://www.theleadershipcircle.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/12_OrgPerformance.pdf

² Figure 3. http://www.theleadershipcircle.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/13_TLC_profile.pdf

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