It’s a common question on first meeting someone: What do you do? More often than not the answer you get is someone’s job title. Yet that doesn’t really tell me what you do, create, experience or bring to the world. The same job title in different companies can mean different things. Or the assumption I make about your job title might be based on my perception of how that ‘job’ role was done years ago and not reflective of how it works in today’s environment. In other words it can end up a quite meaningless conversation. I was inspired by this article where the CEO of the British restaurant chain Weatherspoons says he never says he’s the CEO – and prefers to say ‘he runs pubs’. That’s what he actually does every day. He’s known for being a very visible leader, regularly visiting and interacting with all his businesses. Coincidentally (or perhaps not) one of my clients this week had a breakthrough along similar lines. She suddenly got an insight that what lies behind her rather uninspiring job title (Senior Manager – doh!) is a more exciting purpose. She realised that what excites her is to ‘lead this business to international success’. That’s what gets her up in the morning, unleashes her creativity and drives her energy every day. And it sounds much more intriguing to me as well. Saying ‘I’m a Senior Manager’ doesn’t stir my interest much. Saying she is leading a business to international success is much more interesting and I’m completed to ask her ‘tell me more about how you’re doing that.”
Your Turn : What lies behind your job title? Can you describe in one sentence, the essence of what you do/create/contribute in a more exciting and inspiring sentence? How does it feel different to you? What do you notice when you use this sentence when meeting new people? I’m curious to hear how it shifts your conversation. #Lead Boldly.
One of the most common comments I hear in coaching conversations is “I don’t have time” or “when I get time”. We’ve all said it at some point. It’s a habit. It’s easy to convince ourselves it’s about time we don’t have.
I’ve been pondering this all week. What if it’s more about your choice of priorities and focus? Time isn’t in control of your choices. You are in charge of how you use your time. So in a way it’s about ownership of what you say is important to you. It’s about how much effort and focus you put into what’s going to make the difference. You know that in a crisis you make time for what’s most important. You’ll say you don’t have any other choice. Yet you do, its just that the context for taking action has changed. So what if, rather than say you don’t have time, you pause to contemplate the context in which you’re making that statement. Often it’s that you are caught up in the day to day rush of doing, doing, doing, the immediate tasks.
I’ve spoken with two clients in the past week who could see the longer-term benefits of investing effort in improving the systems they work with. One is even sitting with the knowledge that their computer system (in which they’ve invested considerably) has many functions that they aren’t yet using. If only, he said, we had time to work out what it could do for us. It’s so easy to fool ourselves into thinking the immediate tasks keep us from investing effort in longer-term improvements and changes. I spoke to another client who estimated that it would take him only 30 minutes to make a change to a work process that over time could save hours of inefficiency and emotional frustration to boot. In both cases, we coached through the mindset shifts and the next layers of conversation needed to create the changes that would pay off in the longer term. It really was only about how they were looking at their situation.
One of my own examples was when working on my last book, I kept saying to my editor that I hadn’t made time to create the list of references and sources. I’d made up in my head that it would take me ages. It will take you 20 minutes Aileen, he said, if you just sit down and do it. In fact it took me 12 minutes to write it up. I laughed at how much effort I’d been wasting making up the excuses for why I wasn’t getting it done. I learned from this. My new book has taken me less than three months to get to draft manuscript – compared with three years for my last one! I feel so much better about it too.
It reminded me of the old video from Steven Covey on how the big rocks in life are the most important ones to make time for (to remind yourself it’s here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zV3gMTOEWt8).
Your turn: What idea, intention or possible change are you quietly aware would make a big difference to your life or work in the longer term, yet you keep telling yourself or your team there’s not enough time for it? What will it take to make it happen? What if you’re only focus was that one thing? I know from experience that it will take much less time than you think it will – yet the pay off will give you more time and energy for weeks or months – maybe years – to come. #Live Fully #Lead Boldly
What better to do on a rainy Saturday afternoon that tidy out my office. I started with my books and made slow progress as I found book after book that I wanted to read (some for the first time). One such gem I came across was the fable of Jonathan Livingston Seagull. I remember getting it from my first coach.I sat down and got absorbed in it for the thirty minutes it takes to fly through this lovely story. I appreciated the many layers of insight it offers – if the reader choses to hear them. Yes it’s about a seagull who wants to live a fuller life than the rest of the flock who are content to fly in order to find food each day. That’s the norm. Jonathan, however, wants to stretch the limits of his full potential, to learn how far his flying can take him. He tries, tries and tries again and eventually breaks free from the perceived limitations and discovers how far he can go. By the end, he has inspired thousands of seagulls to join him in learning what’s possible for each of them. No more normal. You can see why I enjoyed re-reading Jonathan’s story. I’m always asking what’s possible? I always believe there must be another way, whenever we’re faced with a perceived limitation. And I love that he explores the concept of what it means to live free. Jonathan gets labelled as a rebellious outcast by the rest of the flock. He’s condemned for not being like everyone else and for trying to go beyond the norm. It strikes me how often we are perhaps like Jonathan: knowing there’s more to our potential, and striving to reach for it. It takes courage and self-belief to go beyond the everyday, ordinary of the flock.
Your turn: What would it mean for you to really fly in your life or work? What perceived limitation might be holding you back (like Jonathan it’s often, what will people think)? What are you willing to strive for? Where might your hidden potential lie? #Live Fully
There’s an underlying assumption that we need things to continue to make leaps and bounds of change in order to be successful. Thinking of the ‘next big thing’ can be exciting and inspiring. A grand vision. And indeed, especially in this world of technological and scientific advances there are indeed many big things that surprise and excite us. In my lifetime these have included the laptop computer (I learned to type on a manual typewriter and made copies on double backed carbon paper which I had to manually roll around a drum), the cellphone, and we went from my gran’s wind-up gramophone to vinyl records, cassettes, CD’s, stereo players and now online streaming. And that’s just the obvious stuff. We’re seeing electric vehicles become very real, personal voice assistants like Siri and Alexa and fully automated homes. So what’s next in your life or business? We can all want to be the one who discovers that next big thing. However, I suspect that in doing so we might miss the many small innovative things that lead to improvements and to making a difference too. I heard a story from a shop floor employee who had an idea for one small improvement that would increase the efficiency of the work flow. She raised it with her leader. Yet it wasn’t heard as something important enough to make a difference. It might take less than an hour to make the change. Yet no-one was willing to give it a try. Leaders need to listen for the small things as well as the big things that could make a difference. That small idea, left unappreciated, leaves the team frustrated and powerless. It might deter them from making any future suggestions for small changes that would make their job easier. Why bother?
Your turn: what are you listening for in your team daily? what ideas are not being heard? what small changes could lead to bigger changes by encouraging people to think creatively and know their ideas are valued? what conversations or questions might open up your mind and your team’s innovative thinking? Are you set on one big thing or do you see the progress in many small things? #Lead Boldly
For some time now I notice a physical reaction in my body whenever I hear the term “to get the best out of our people”. It’s been bugging me for a while so I was contemplating it on my walk this morning. I think it goes to the heart of the employer/employee relationship – and I might be being a bit provocative here – and to the psychological foundation for that relationship. I believe the words we use are really important and for a long time, I’ve realised that the alternative meaning of the word ’employed’ is something that is ‘used’. This may still be the unconscious foundation for many work relationships. Even those companies who have worked to establish fair and equal cultures of diversity and inclusion, still battle the unspoken status bias and assumed power plays that go back to the start of the industrial revolution (or before) when people were treated as resources to be ‘used’ to reach profit and efficiency goals. Oh my, did I not realise what Frederick Winslow Taylor was teaching in scientific management in my university days! Then it sounded like de-humanising production processes was a good thing because it made ‘companies more efficient’ and so could make more money more easily. Today we are waking up to the fact that it’s not ok to treat any human being as inferior to another. So even in power structures within organisations, I feel we need to really look into our hearts and ask how we might be ‘using’ people at their personal expense in pursuit of results. There’s just been a feature about clothes factories in mid-England where people are working for much less than minimum wage (£2.50 per hour) in unsafe conditions, all in the pursuit of cheap consumer goods. These employees are being ‘used’. No question about it. It’s not too extreme to say they are modern-day slaves. It’s inhumane and it’s happening in our own towns and cities. Most of us are not directly involved in those types of organisations. Yet our words carry weight wherever we are. I heard a high-level coach recently use those same words: that teaching leaders to be more coach like, would help to ‘get more out of your employees’. This coach showed no awareness of how contradictory that language is to the underlying intention of shifting the leader/team member relationship to a more human-respecting level. Really listening to the needs of people and building cultures and structures to support and inspire people as human beings seems to me more important than ever. Like Corona, our language can be another unseen or unheard virus that spreads with unfathomable impact and outcomes. It invites us to listen deeply to the words we use and to get rid of many of the cliches that we’ve inherited from earlier forms of business and organisation. I know we can change our world by changing our language. I see it all the time in coaching conversations – how one word can make a difference to what someone believes about themselves and to how they then choose to behave.
Your turn: what phrases do you hear yourself say automatically without thinking what they really mean? Please listen out for anything along the lines of “to get the most or best out of our employees” and reconsider what you really mean. A new world demands new language. What words would you change to honour people as human beings rather than used as ’employees”? #Lead Boldly
To me, coaching and leadership are a form of questing: going in search of the future life, work, relationships, goals, possibilities and success you truly want for yourself, your business and your family.
The original root of both words – coach and leader – means to step forward, to go forth and to travel into the future. In essence, to go on a quest, often into the unknown, to discover more of who you are and who you might become in this world.
I’m known for asking the questions that support you on your quest. I hear the possibilities in you. Our conversations inspire you to discover the small steps and the exciting leaps to bring your future into being.