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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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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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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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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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DREAM BIG. THINK SMART

I love synchronicity. And yesterday a few of my worlds collided when I received a mail from a client (and friend) around Seth Godin’s education manifesto. I love Seth Godin. I wish I had written Linchpin. I’ve recommended it to so many Clients. And now I’m going to recommend that you download and read his education manifesto @ www.stopstealingdreams.com

But first, read on and find out why I care so much ….

You see, education and coaching are pretty similar. They both involve potential. And they both involve dreams. Dreams that ignite passion, which result in skills and knowledge. Not dis-empowering, unrealistic pipe dreams, or belittling,  shameful, settling for second best dreams, but dreams that are based on possibility, opportunity, self reliance, self worth – bold dreams where the person has to push themselves to create a new reality.

3 years ago I was invited by my children’s then headmaster to give a talk on self-actualization for children. My presentation was based around the premise contained in one of Dr. Seuss’ less well known books, Diffendoofer Day. The story involves a school where the teachers make up their own rules and teach ‘stuff not taught at other schools’. One day the children have to take an impromptu, external test which could result in the closure of their beloved school if they fail.

As the story tells it :

Miss Bonkers rose “Don’t fret” she said 

‘You’ve learned the things you need

To pass that test and many more –

I’m certain you’ll succeed.

 

We’ve taught you that the earth is round

That red and white make pink,

And something else that matters more –

We’ve taught you how to think !!!

The feedback I got from this talk was interesting. In particular, one of the teachers likened it to a Psych lecture. I think she missed the point … the point was about instilling a love of learning and thinking in our children to create independent, aware, actualized, creative thinkers as opposed to obedient, rote, humanized machines.  How many schools and teachers are still missing the point ? Education is not about testing facts or pushing data, systems and processes down children’s throats – it’s about teaching higher order, creative thinking.

Why do we want to do that? So that our workforce becomes creative, engaged, innovative, solutions-focused and independent. So that we can create industries that never existed 10 years ago. So that we can self-actualize and fulfill our potential. So that we can help grow our economies. So that we can give back. So that we have the worth to dream boldy and the confidence to turn our dreams into a new reality.

Facts are facts – anyone can find facts in what is being called the ‘connection revolution’. Do we really need to spend our childhood memorizing them when we can access any fact in 0.1 seconds ? Facts are no longer a valuable currency. People like me and countless other business owners give away facts, information and literature for free. Why? Because facts on their own mean nothing. It is the interrelation, pattern detection, understanding, synthesis and innovative thinking that come from wrestling with the facts that is valuable

I am currently coaching an amazing young woman who is studying for a law degree. Yesterday she shared with me that knowing the facts was ‘not enough’. She admitted that being able to supply the required data would get her to pass – but in order to excel, to do really well, she realized that she has to interpret the facts, use them to find solutions to problems and create new thinking.

At the same time, I have been working with my children this week on the skill of essay writing. They are going to Vietnam on school camp in a couple of weeks and were required to write an essay on how Communism has shaped the identity of the Vietnamese (This, at 13 years of age – gotta love the IB programme !). And as I worked with them, I repeated one phrase over and over. “So what ?” I wanted to know what those facts meant, why they were relevant, and what new thinking they could result in. That’s called Learning.

So what does all this have to do with coaching – leadership coaching in particular ?

One of the key dimensions of leadership is being a visionary. It’s about going where no-one has gone before. Call it intelligent dreaming. It’s about seeing a new future and having the strength to take others there. Leadership is about many things, but without creativity, innovation and original thought, you’ll always be a follower. Waiting to be told what to do, rather than figuring out new things to do and new ways of doing them.

So if you’re tired of being told what to do, how to do it, and following the same process to ‘do it right each time’, maybe it’s time you started thinking.

And read the manifesto. If not yours, it could change a child’s future.

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