When everything moved online this past year, I thought it would be easy. My one-to-one coaching conversations have been on video for over five years and are as impactful as when in person. Now, I deliver leadership learning online. A year on, I may just be getting the hang of it (kinda).
Technology aside, (most applications are pretty-user friendly and intuitive these days and I learn by trying things out), my real learning is to make an online group session as ‘human’ an experience as I can. My key insights so far are:
To stop ‘trying’ so hard to make it work perfectly. When I shifted from feeling responsible for making the technology work correctly, I could admit that things might be a bit clunky. Then I relaxed more, slowed down and took my time. I’d explain exactly what I was doing, which buttons I was clicking and why and I’d ask aloud if they could indeed see the screen I thought I was sharing. I’d warn people I was likely to get some things wrong. I felt much more ‘me’. By default, I was modelling vulnerability, being ok with failure, and showing resilience in how to bounce back from what are, at the end of the day, non-life-threatening errors. My sessions became more real. Everyone can empathise with encountering similar glitches. And of course, those glitches become rarer when I’m more grounded and relaxed about everything.
To adopt a ‘less is more’ approach to each learning session. My first attempts had too much content to get through in the limited time online. Despite my best intentions to give people breaks from the screen to stretch, breathe and re-hydrate, I found myself cramming too much in and talking ‘at’ the screen too much. Smaller group sizes and less, more focussed content, meant I could listen more intently, could pick up on questions and comments and be more engaged and facilitative with my participants. Less rushed conversations, lead to more impactful learning.
To open sessions with more ‘human’ activities. I don’t rush into the lesson now. Just like I would if I was sitting in circle with people on a learning retreat, I open with a question on a personal topic and invite everyone to take a few moments to answer it. It’s amazing how one small question often gives surprising insights into people’s life stories. It’s priceless in these virtual times for people to hear each other in this way. Teams are constantly finding out small titbits about each other and this replaces those informal coffee-room chats we’re missing by not being in the same office space together.
And lastly to pay attention to the closing of the learning session. I’ll close the session on a light note with a fun activity (such as inviting people to share a story of a ‘nick-name’ they’ve had at some point in their life) and it brings forward fun stories and further glimpses into our real lives. People leave the session with a good feeling and a lighter heart around the deeper learning we’ve also covered in the session.
These small, subtle techniques are, in themselves, examples of how to create engaged and inspiring leadership and learning cultures. The experience we have when we’re learning about ways to stretch, learn and enhance our working life, can be replicated outside the ‘virtual class-room’ and practiced in every meeting, conversation, planning or strategising session in our work.
Your Turn: How are you opening your virtual or your real meetings to create human connection? What are you listening for in your meetings? How are you creating a positive experience for all your participants? How tense, relaxed or ‘ trying to be perfect’ are you as the meeting leader? What might you let go of, in order to share a more collaborative, inspiring experience for everyone? #Lead Boldly #Live Fully
Are you taking time to pee? I ask it all the time. Now, more than ever, I hear constantly “my day is jammed”, “I’m in back-to-back meetings all day”, “and my days are getting longer”. For everyone’s sake, could we just STOP IT? Just STOP IT please! Talking this situation through with a client recently who, as a conscientious and caring leader, was expressing her real concern for her team’s health. She recognised it’s neither efficient or effective for people to sit at their screens all day, clicking from one zoom meeting to the next with barely the opportunity to stand up, grab a coffee, or – yes – even go for a pee! So we talked through many well-tested and well-proven strategies to change this habit of feeling stuck, helpless and imprisoned in meeting after meeting. We covered several possible ways to change this habit: shorten all meetings to 30 or 45 minutes and actively create transition time between for people to catch their breath, stretch, get a refreshment or a comfort break; give people permission to say no to meetings that are nice to attend rather than of high value to attend (don’t attend unless you’re an active participant); declare ‘no email’ and/or ‘no meetings’ days or at least half days so that people can feel they get on with important work; don’t invite people or take people with you to a meeting ‘just in case’ they are needed (you can call them in if it’s essential can’t you?), and on and on.
So we can see the sense in many of these different approaches. Why, then do we persist with our habituated and ineffective ways? Really it takes one person to change the habit and show others they have permission to act differently. It’s too easy for people to be subsumed into the ‘collective’ – even if it’s something we constantly moan about.
As Bob Newhart says in the famous, often parodied ‘coaching’ sketch here, just STOP IT. Stop behaving in a way that doesn’t help you to be your best, to achieve your best and to feel your best. Find one small step – leave the meeting if you’re not contributing, leave the meeting 10 minutes early, change your google calendar so that it doesn’t default to one hour meetings and control you.
Your Turn: So it starts with each and every person. Have a conversation as a team and make a conscious decision to change your habit. To take control of your own time and attendance – which in turn means taking charge of your own health and well being. You are in charge of YOU. Be the disrupter. Do something different. People will love you for it. #lead boldly, #live fully
I’m writing on a pretty momentous day. This week, the UK registered over 100,000 deaths due to Coronavirus. I’m listening to the lunchtime talk show and just heard an interesting piece in response to the question: was the UK prepared for such a pandemic. I’ve watched through a leadership lens as the world has struggled to navigate this past year. Today I heard a key insight from a Senior UK Government Minister. He said the UK and USA had invested heavily in pandemic response – BUT they were prepared for a flu pandemic and not a SARS type pandemic. He admitted they had been running the assumption that because they had never experienced a SARS type episode, they didn’t think to prepare for it. If only, I thought, someone had asked the WHAT IF? question. I wonder whether the story of these times would be different — and whether many lives might have been saved? Of course I can’t say for sure. However, in leadership terms, it does highlight the challenge of questioning the assumptions from the past on which you base your actions.
Your turn: What questions are you not asking? Are you using What If thinking? What assumptions are you relying on that may not serve your possible future? What future scenarios have you yet to envision? #Lead Boldly
I’m getting ready to publish the third of a series of three books. Talking with a dear friend and colleague, I found myself pondering what role these books might play in the world. The content is not that unique. The ideas and concepts have all been written about elsewhere, albeit without ‘my spin’ on them. So why create and publish them? I’m not into pursuing (or paying for) a huge marketing campaign to get the books out there. What, asked my friend, was my intention with these books? It was a good question. And she answered it for me: reminding me that my books are a perfect complement to the virtual word of digital communication we find ourselves in. We bemoan the constant video calls and the lack of in-person connection with our friends, family and colleagues. So all the more need for simple, easy to use, practical daily prompts, tips and practices to hone our conversation and connection skills and make those zoom moments more personal, caring, curious and connected. YES – these are all themes in my books and several of my clients have told me they’ve turned to these useful pages for a quick prompt, reminder or insight to created meaningful connections and conversations. YES – that’s why my books are beautifully designed, not as heavy tomes to be read cover to cover, but as table/desk-top references that you can pick up for insight and inspiration to move you through those sticky, tired, zoomed-out moments and bring your conversations alive again.
Your Turn: What are you noticing about conversations in your virtual world? What tires you out? What peps you up? What stirs your curiosity? What brings you alive? What’s the best moment of conversation you’ve had throughout these times? #livefully #leadboldly
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.
“You’re right, Aileen”. I like to joke a little whenever anyone says that to me in conversation. After all, it’s usually just a throw away comment. A verbal tic. It’s not meant as a deeply considered judgement of what I’ve said or what I think or even who I am. So my light-hearted response is “I’m always right.” Of course, I know I’m not.
Yet it’s easier to say I’m right, than it is to say “I’m wrong”. Much easier.
As the early years of my sixtieth decade fly past (and they do), I often find myself contemplating all the times in my life when it might have benefited me to just say “I’m wrong”. Not that it’s a case of proving who’s right and who is wrong, since that’s never wholly the case either way. It’s simply that we are coming from different perspectives, judgements or experiences. Oh that there might be no judgement or fear when exclaiming “I’m wrong”. I wonder how our conversations might shift when, as opposed to investing energy in trying to prove things one way or the other, you might just say aloud, ‘I’m wrong’. Try it now – I have a sense that as soon as I don’t need to prove my perspective, and I say I’m wrong – even silently inside myself – I feel a release of energy. My whole body relaxes. It subtly stops fighting and struggling. It says I’m OK.
In my heart and mind I can now go back over time and admit ‘I was wrong’ on all of those occasions which ended up in tension, debate, argument or even breakdown. It’s a healing feeling – and I don’t often use that word. I’m reminded of the famous Rumi quote:
“Out beyond the ideas of right-doing and wrongdoing, there is a field I will meet you there. It’s the world full of things to talk about.”
Your turn: where might it bring relief to you to simply admit, to yourself or to others, that you are wrong? what do you notice when you do so? what pulls you into trying to prove you are right? what opens up beyond that idea for you? #Live Fully