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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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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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READY TO CHANGE YOUR MIND?

How much thought do you give to the way you think ?  Have you always thought the same way, or has your thinking changed as you have changed ?

I coach a large number of leaders; a lot of them are what I call ‘new’ leaders : people who are new to a leadership position, new to a business, new to a country, or new to a department within an existing organisation.

They often come to coaching with some fear. They’re not 100% confident in their skills, they know they need to cement vital relationships quickly, they need to achieve some ‘quick wins’ and vitally, they may not yet have learnt the difference between the skill sets of managing and leading.

Which brings me back to thinking about the way we think …

You see leaders and managers need different thinking styles. Now, neither role is ‘better’, and both roles can be successfully coached, but managers tend to need meaning-based coaching which results in optimal performance (because the role is about the ‘doing’) and leaders perform at their peak when they experience transformational coaching. Because a lot of leadership is about Being.

And when leaders are being genuine, creative, collaborative, fair, and congruent, there is every possibility that people will follow them.

What distinguishes a leader from a manager is the ability to envision a new future and empower those around them to turn it into reality. I worked for a boss like that over 15 years ago. She empowered an entire team of women to believe in themselves and their ability, and rewarded us handsomely when we lived up to her expectations. She did her job so well that we ran her company for her. She set the vision, communicated it to us. And we did the rest. She empowered us so well that she was my last boss. Brava !

 

Leadership is the ability to do big picture thinking. It’s necessary to be able to delve into the detail when you are managing a project, but when you need to conceive a project, the skill you need is vision and creativity. Leaders break new ground because they have developed the ability to think globally; to go places no one has been before. They do not follow established procedures but look for new ways of doing things. Visionaries ‘envision’ a different way. That’s an important word for leaders – difference. It’s about looking for the gaps, not the similarities that will give them a competitive advantage.

Great leaders have developed the skill of reflection. They do not necessarily plunge straight into action but will think about the challenge, trying on different angles, different solutions until they know which way they want to proceed.

 

And they’re ok to be wrong. They listen to their inner voice and trust it because they trust themselves. If they are wrong, they use the feedback to correct the course. – without taking it personally. They do not need permission or buy-in from anyone to know what is right for them. Leaders understand that there is only one way of winning, and that is to control their own mind and the way they think and act. They know that they certainly cannot control anyone or anything else.

So what does all of this have to do with coaching ? Simple. A great coach can help you develop flexibility of thought. He or she can help you change the way you think.

I recently coached a senior executive who believed she had to prove her worth by constantly being busy, running (yes running !) around the office, and generally growing impatient with those that weren’t ‘up to her speed’. Empowering ? Absolutely not. She was initially given feedback that she was ‘tough’ which she took as a compliment, but in effect she was scared. So scared that she did more and more and made her staff feel like what they did counted less and less. Through coaching she realized that her job was no longer ‘to do the technical work’, but to BE a leader. The result is a calm, more productive team who feel like their leader is on their side and no longer in competition with them, but is there to support them.

And in turn, she has the breathing space to reflect, relook, envision, strategise and empower. And as a result, revenue is up 30% this quarter. Not bad in these times, and all because she decided to change her mind.

Let me know when YOU are ready – janine.daniels@lead.com.co

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TAKE THAT STEP

You know that thing you want do ? That habit you’d like to change ? That goal you’d like to achieve ?

 They all start off the same way. You take the first step. And then you take the next step, and so on.

 So where do you get stuck ? On the first step, the second, the fifth, the twentieth ?

It may be that the steps along the path seem trivial, or they may be difficult or frustrating. Rather than focus on the hardship, it might be worthwhile to step back and look at your motivation for achieving your goal. Ask yourself what it means to you to achieve x. And when you know what it means, ask yourself why that is important to you. When you know why it is important to you, then ask yourself what is valuable about that. What does that value open for you? What becomes possible ? And what does that mean to you ?

 When you understand these higher levels of meaning, and become aware just how valuable, important and meaningful your goal is, then apply those meanings to that one step you need help with.

 I recently coached someone who wanted to compete in this year’s Iron Man. He is not a competitive athlete and had up until recently, not done any serious training. When we started uncovering his meaning it was clear that finishing the Iron Man wasn’t about the race, but that it was a metaphor for his life.

 His life up until now, had been a story around lack of preparation and completion. About getting flustered and panicked.  Today, this man is an Iron Man. He competed and finished strong – laughing at the finish line as he realised that anything is possible if you just do it step by step. His self belief has grown enormously and he now has the confidence to know that things aren’t bigger than him. He is able to do more than he ever thought – all it requires is motivation and meaning and the discipline to follow each step.

 He is proof that we are all capable of achieving our biggest goals. Know what it means to you. And use that to keep taking the next step ….

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 For ease of reference, I have outlined the pattern below so that you can follow it step by step …..

I want to do (start/stop/achieve/be) __a__

What does it mean to you to achieve a ? __b___

What is important to you about b  ? __c__

How is having c of value to you ?__d__

What does having d open for you ? __e__

When you have e what becomes possible ? __f__

And what does that mean to you ? __g__

 

When you are aware of your highest meaning, notice how the difficult becomes possible

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