No, I mean really, how are you today? What is it that you are feeling right now, and why?
According to research by the psychologist Robert Plutchick, there are eight basic human emotions; joy, sadness, trust, disgust, fear, anger, surprise and anticipation. We may sometimes experience a basic emotion in its pure form but most of the time our emotions overlap and mix up to create a wide spectrum of personal feelings within us.
And yet the answer we give to that most ubiquitous of questions “How are you?” rarely reflects the wonderful kaleidoscope of our human emotions. We tend to describe how we are with a simple: “I’m good!” or, if we in a low mood we might say that we are “feeling bad”.
If we want to be more self-aware, we need to be able to understand our own emotions. We may still choose not to share them, depending on who we are with and what the situation is, and that is fine. I am certainly not advocating that we all start pouring our hearts out every time someone offers a polite enquiry after our health. But it is only when we have a good understanding of ourselves and what we are feeling that we can make the best decisions about how to think and act.
The accepted black and white language of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is unhelpful because it implies a self-judgement that can cloud our thinking and get in the way of deeper self-understanding. The danger is that we can end up in a negative spiral, beating ourselves up about the ‘bad’ emotions. Or we might experience the emotional yo-yo effect of trying too hard to hang on to those emotions we label as ‘good’.
So try this. Next time you start to feel an emotion, take a minute to experience it. What is it that you are really feeling and why? Avoid the temptation to label your emotions as either good or bad but instead, try to develop the habit of observing without judgement.
Over time, you’ll find probably find that your emotions will flow more smoothly. As you get to know yourself better, you’ll be able to enjoy the spectrum of your own emotions more fully.
By Nevin Stewart
It may sound like a simple question but for many of us it is a tricky one to answer. Even though we may know a great deal about the world around us, knowledge of ourselves is different. It doesn't automatically come with academic learning or experience, yet it is one of the most powerful attributes for success at work and in life.
In my coaching work with senior executives, how well we understand ourselves (or self-awareness as it is often called), is an issue that comes up again and again in many different guises; communication, leadership, performance, confidence. Self-awareness is what brings out the best in us. It allows us to interact with others in a more genuine and positive way. When we are self aware, we are able to replace emotional reactions with productive responses for richer communication with those around us. Without a high level of self-awareness, we struggle to reach our full potential.
For example, I don't like flying. Just being at an airport used to make me anxious, as my mind automatically went into catastrophe mode, running through all the things that could possibly go wrong. Over the years I have learnt to manage those negative feelings through growing self-awareness and logical argument. By identifying what triggers me to feel anxious I can start to overcome my fear and enjoy my travels.
Do you know someone who always seems to be able to say the right thing, whatever the situation? Someone who connects easily with others and always manages to get the best from the team? When we are comfortable with ourselves, we operate effectively. Rather than allowing events to overwhelm us, we are able to anticipate our reactions and direct our energy towards achieving a useful outcome.
It is easy to judge others against our own value system but how often to we take time out to observe our own patterns of behaviour? Getting to know where your strengths and vulnerabilities lie will help you to recognise the things that can trip you up or trigger your emotions. When you are conscious of the way you act and react, you’ll find it easier to adjust your responses for a more constructive outcome.
By Nevin Stewart
We all have some sort of reaction to conflict. Whether we shy away from it or are confrontational by nature, it can be difficult to navigate in the work place. Yet in this talk, management thinker and TED business veteran Margaret Hefferman discusses the benefits of conflict for businesses.
In her traditionally engaging manner, Hefferman begins with the story of Dr Alice Stewart and her fight in the 1950s to convince the medical community of the sever danger of X-raying pregnant women. Key to Alice’s success was her collogue and thinking partner George. George’s job was to challenge Alice’s findings, creating conflict around her work, and as a result Alice’s conviction in her own findings were strengthened. Together they built constructive conflict.
The kind of conflict Hefferman is referring to in her talk is the collaborative kind. For her, conflict is a form of thinking, and a driver of change. Yet this kind of collaboration is something that is notably absent from our businesses, with 85% of executives in the USA and Europe afraid of conflict. If we are to get the most out of our people, and allow them to develop the skills they need, we have got to encourage and engage in constrictive conflict. What’s more, as Hefferman rightly states, ‘we have to get really good at it’.
By Laura Stewart
At the start of any facilitation or training session it can be very helpful to both the facilitator and the delegates to see how much experience is in the room. By asking people to introduce themselves and tell the group how long they have been working in a particular role or field you can add up how many years of experience you have in the room. It usually averages somewhere between 200 to 600 years of experience depending on the number of delegates in the room!
Imagine for a moment if you were able to tap into all the knowledge and experience within your organisation…this highlights the power of mentoring and why growing mentors in an organisation should be high on the ‘To Do’ list.
Mentoring is an essential leadership skill as it enables others to grow and become more effective in their jobs. In a recent article in the Sunday times Luke Johnson who is chairman of the Risk Capital Partners and the Centre for Entrepreneurs wrote that Mentors in organisations are seen as an increasingly valuable resource. They act as sounding boards and offer trusted feedback on the challenges that face any individual or business owner. He also states that having an expert available to consult with can really help contribute to someone’s career and personal development.
By growing mentors in your organisation there are benefits to both the Mentor and the Mentee. The mentor will benefit by building his / her leadership skills, improve their communication skills, learn new and different perspectives, possible career advancement and gain personal satisfaction from knowing that you have personally contributed to someone’s growth and development.
The mentee will benefit by gaining invaluable advice, developing their knowledge and skills, learning new perspectives, building networks as well as hopefully advancing their career within the organisation.
Mentoring can be a powerful mutually beneficial and rewarding partnership in any organisation and by growing mentoring in an organisation it ensures that all the knowledge, skills and experience is shared amongst its employees as well as creating a culture of knowledge sharing and on-going learning.
Recommended further reading;
· The Mentoring Manual – Step by Step Guide to being a better Mentor by Julie Starr
· Getting There: A Book of Mentors by Gillian Zoe Segal
· This is Where to Start: Find Superstar Mentors, Master All They Know and Get Ahead in Your Career by Edward Druce
I’m sure you may be familiar with the phrase ‘Feedback is a Gift’. This is a metaphor for something that is given to you which you want to receive. Like most gifts it can be wanted or unwanted. Expected or unexpected and it can of course be wrapped well or awful.
Most of us at some stage of our working careers have been given feedback and we will remember the feedback that had the biggest impact on us for both the right and the wrong reasons.
One of the many feedback models used fairly frequently by both experienced and inexperienced leaders was the ‘feedback sandwich’ where you started by giving the individual a positive piece of feedback, you then sandwiched a negative piece followed by another positive feedback. Sadly, as some of you may have experienced the danger of giving feedback this way is that the negative / change piece of feedback got lost when being sandwiched between 2 positive pieces of bread!
The best feedback model I have come across to date is the E2C2 model of giving feedback (it’s pronounced E squared / C squared) and it has a big impact when giving feedback in a way that helps the person receiving it to grow.
Example / Effect
When giving feedback you must always give an example but what’s really powerful in this model is that you then tell the person the effect it had on you.
For example; Claire, you managed that meeting really well and answered some tough questions from the audience. I believe the effect it had on the audience was really powerful and enhanced your credibility as a Project Manager within the business.
For example; Peter, You were very abrupt and short in our team meeting. The impact this had on your team was very demotivating and the energy levels in the room dropped significantly as the meeting progressed.
Change / Continue
After giving the person the Example and Effect (either positive or negative) you then need to complete the feedback conversation by asking them to continue to do what they were doing well and psychologically reinforcing to the person what you would like them to do more of or asking them to make a change.
For example; Claire, you managed that meeting really well and answered some tough questions from the audience. I believe the effect it had on the audience was really powerful and enhanced your credibility as a Project Manager within the business. Please can you continue to work hard on this project and keep growing both your business and product knowledge as this is working well in all aspects of your work, and not just in meetings.
For example; Peter, You were very abrupt and short in our team meeting. The impact this had on your team was very demotivating and the energy levels in the room dropped significantly as the meeting progressed. Please can you think about how you can change your mindset if you are feeling low before a team meeting so that when you chair the next team meeting you engage the team and they feel good about contributing new ideas.
So, next time you have to give feedback try the E2C2 model and hopefully see the positive impact this model can have on both the receiver and you as the present giver!
Team working – its Rocket Science!
We’ve all heard of the term ‘rocket science’ which leads us to believe that something is extremely complicated. However when you break down the ideas behind it, it’s really pretty simple. What is perhaps even more interesting for us as leaders is the parallels we can draw from Rocket Science in order to achieve high performing teams.
Firing rockets into space is all about overcoming the force of gravity. Imagine for one moment that in this instance your rocket is the team and gravity is the apathy/morale/culture/resistance that we as leaders face into when trying to implement change.
In order to get the rocket (team) into the air, we need to overcome gravity (resistance to change) like everything on Earth, a rocket will remain motionless until a force acts on it to get it moving. The rocket’s engine size supplies this in the form of thrust (effective team working)
Usually when a rocket takes off we see an explosion as the rocket blasts off, but actually it’s not the explosion that makes the spacecraft leave Earth. Most rocket engines work in this way – An oxidiser (clear short term goals /achievements/successes) and a fuel (inclusion/engagement/ recognition/acknowledgement) are mixed within a combustion chamber at high pressure (the workplace) Hot gas (an engaged team) produced by the chemical reaction then escapes through the bottom of the rocket, creating a thrust to burst into the sky (team momentum)
Further reading / Watching
· Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Partrick Lencioni
· Ted Talks – How to Start a Movement by Derek Sivers https://www.ted.com/talks/derek_sivers_how_to_start_a_movement
Positive Politicking – Lessons in Leadership
Unless you have been living under a stone for the past few weeks you will of course be aware that a General Election is pending and on May 7th 2015 there may a new government in place and the UK may have a new leader or leaders depending on which way the vote goes.
There is a statement which can be referred to quite frequently when talking about party political leaders or just leaders in general which is ‘whilst perception might not be reality it is what people use to make decisions about you’ never more is this statement more true when we come to put our cross on the ballot paper in less than 3 weeks’ time.
So, what can we learn about positive politicking and leadership based on the last month of political campaigning from the party leaders? Here are just a few of observations;
· When you make a bold statement state the Why first, then the how and finally the what. This is what Simon Sinek in his book ‘Starting with the Why’ refers to as the Golden Circle. This is known as communicating from the inside out and by starting with the why we are talking to the part of the brain that controls decision making (limbic brain)
· Present your authentic self – The more authentic you are, the more likely people will listen to what you have to say. Any message that is given with passion and personal belief has a greater chance of engaging the listener and perhaps getting them to think differently
· Charisma will only get you so far. Know the detail and think about the type of difficult questions you might be asked. Avoidance may make people question your leadership credibility
· There is a saying that ‘elections aren’t won; it’s for governments to lose’ in his book 8 steps to implementing successful change John Kotter states that the first step in any change is to create a sense of urgency, followed by building guiding teams, get the vision right, communicate for buy-in, enable action, short term wins, don’t let up and the final step - make it stick. The first 4 are pre-election actions and the remaining follow once you have been voted in perhaps?
Whether you are running for election or a leader in an organisation it’s always worth thinking and reflecting on what I call ‘the shadow of the leader’ and the shadow you cast? After all it’s this perception that people will use to make decisions about you.
Generally speaking, shame is a topic we like to keep out of sight and out of mind.
If we choose to acknowledge it’s presence at all, we keep it as far away from our public lives as possible. However, researcher Brené Brown argues that our personal, and by extension our professional, development cannot flourish unless we choose to confront the issue of shame.
In her follow up Ted Talk to ‘The Power of Vulnerability’, Brown explores the extent to which shame affects our lives. In this engaging and frank talk, she argues that we cannot talk about creativity, if we do not talk about vulnerability, and we cannot talk about vulnerability without discussing shame. To talk about shame, is to confront our own failings and our own privileges. Shame is the voice that says ‘you are not good enough’.
Brown’s shame research led her to recognize the broad extent of shame, and how it marks all areas of society. Yet one of her overarching messages, is about the relationship between shame, failure and success. For Brown, shame is the gremlin that stops us reaching for new opportunity. Unless we confront and accept the possibility of failure, we will unable to take on new challenges. In her humorous way, Brown’s talk calls on us to fail ‘whilst daring greatly’.
By Laura Stewart
There is good reason why Amy Cuddy’s talk on the power of body language is the second most viewed Ted Talk. The Harvard social psychologist shares her evidence about how the positioning of our bodies not only affects how others perceive us, but more importantly how we perceive ourselves.
Cuddy highlights our society’s obsession with body language. We analyse it across politics and the media. We use it to instantly form judgments about others, in both work and social situations. That being the case, she points out that in any situation people who are powerful, either in that moment or those who have power chronically, exhibit certain kinds of body language. By examining these ‘power poses’, Cuddy recognizes the well-known fact that our minds change our bodies. Yet the question she examines is how do our non-verbal change our mindsIn this talk, Cuddy shows that how we think about ourselves affects how we act, and how others perceive us. This change is not just psychological but hormonal. She draws on her own personal experiences to illustrate her research, giving an engaging and informative talk. The small changes she suggests, could have a huge effect on your personal and business life. It’s an essential watch.
By Laura Stewart
If you have ever bought a Dyson vacuum cleaner then you may be aware of the story of James Dyson. A local sawmill caught James’ eye and under the cover of dark he sketched the timber yard’s giant cyclone. It spun saw dust out of the air, collecting it in a chamber. James wondered if the same principle could be applied to vacuum cleaners and put an end to clogging vacuum cleaner bags?
It took James 5 years and 5,127 prototypes later to produce a machine that had no bag and no loss of suction. This is a great example of personal resilience and never giving up in the face of adversity and rejection.
Resilient people seem to have an approach to life that is characterised by a realistic optimism, self-confidence, a sense of humour and finding meaning in every negative experience.
So how can we become more resilient in our working environment where on occasions both our physical and mental boundaries are pushed to their limits?
Change your inner dialogue - Work at putting a positive spin on a negative experience. Resilient people know and understand that there are 2 possible scripts that can play out in the mind in the face of a setback. The quote “what’s meant for you won’t go past you” is a great example of rationalising and dealing with a setback and then learning to move forward positively. If you have ever had a setback always consider what you learnt or took away from the experience that then enabled you to move on.
Take time out - Sometimes the best thing to do is to take yourself out of the situation you are in for a moment to get clarity and perspective. Go for a walk, sit in a coffee shop and pause for reflection. It is much better for you to take the required space then perhaps lose it with colleagues or your boss. This is especially pertinent if you spend a lot of time in meetings as most senior leaders do. Even just going to the toilet or leaving the room to get a drink can just break the negative space you were previously occupying.
Ask for help - According to John Lees, author of Secrets of Resilient People you don’t need to be a different person to be resilient. He states that sometimes it is about owning up to what you are not good at and then asking others who are good at it for their help. Sometimes as leaders we can put a huge amount of pressure on ourselves believing we have to be good at everything. If you are able to declare what you are not good at then you can honestly turn to others and ask for help.
Reframe the fear - Psychologist Emma Barrett states that if you control your thoughts, your physiology will be better able to cope with the situation. When symptoms of fear kick in try reinterpreting them. For example when speaking in public tell yourself that its ok to feel like this because I am hyped up and it’s exciting to be asked to speak at such an event.
Further Reading and watching….
Extreme: Why some people thrive at the limits – Emma Barrett & Paul Martin
Secrets of resilient people – John Lees
By Nevin Stewart