How changing your perspective could change your career

As an executive coach, I get to work with leaders of all levels in organizations across the public and private sectors. I get to really know the issues they face and the successes they realize.

From working on leadership skills, self-perception, career trajectory, responsibilities, promotions through to ego, anxiety, stress, and perfection, I get to support leaders to become stronger and their organizations and teams to thrive.

Of all the issues I’ve heard, of all the challenges that I’ve helped people to navigate through, there is one that rises above the rest in terms of its potential to take people down: interpersonal relationships with colleagues.

Few things challenge us more than when a relationship with a colleague or a supervisor isn’t going well. It seems subtle, but struggling with a colleague or boss can have a huge impact on how happy we are at work and, in fact, how well we perform.

The dangers of confirmation bias in the workplace

Something I often pick up in conversations with my coaching clients is how much we all believe our own perspective – how embedded our own “reality” is for all of us. We often don’t see things from the other person’s perspective, even if we think we do.

That might mean we don’t realize how they’re seeing us, or we don’t realize how we’re being heard, and how that’s affecting the other person.

We get so wrapped up in what we think is right or good or how things should be and it damages our ability to make clear and objective decisions in the workplace. If we’re looking at things through our own lens without taking others into account, how can we see a situation from all sides?

Then, through our narrow view, we find ways to validate our perspective and stick with our vantage point. But, there’s a way around this.

Changing perspective: meet them where they are.

This is a concept that we use in coaching to help our clients consciously shift their perspective. By looking at the situation from the other person’s angle, we can broaden our view.

Let me explain this in a concrete way.

A client of ours, we’ll call him Jeff, is a Manager with a large financial institution. His colleague, we’ll call her Sarah, was recently promoted to Director, which means she’s now Jeff’s boss.

Jeff had noticed that his colleague, who used to be sociable, outgoing and encouraging of him had changed. She seemed to be unhappy with him, avoiding him at the leadership meetings, and almost snapping at him with her responses when they were in a group. Jeff was certain that the “power had gone to her head” and that Sarah was defensive in her new role and trying to assert her newfound authority by “acting like a boss.”

As we talked, Jeff even acknowledged he had started to complain to a couple of his peers and was looking for them to support his view. When one of his colleagues agreed, he felt vindicated.

As we talked I used coaching questions to probe with Jeff what Sarah’s point-of-view might be like. It was challenging for Jeff to step away from his own views and his own beliefs but eventually we got to a point where he started acknowledging where Sarah may be (meeting her where she is).

First, that stepping into the Director’s role would be difficult and that Sarah likely had a lot of pressure on her. Digging deeper he was able to reflect on what Sarah might need to rise to the occasion and feel successful in her new role — and was he providing the support she needed?

As we explored that a bit further, Jeff mentioned a sales report that Sarah had asked him to do. It was a tedious thing that Jeff felt took him away from his clients. He saw little value in the report and had put it to the side a few times. But, Sarah had pushed him for it more than once and he had started resenting that.

As we continued to try to see the world from Sarah’s point of view in her new role, Jeff had a bit of an “a-ha” moment. He realized that Sarah, in her new role, might rely on that report to “manage up.” In other words, that report was likely important for Sarah to demonstrate to the VP that she, and her team, were succeeding with her as Director.

While this wouldn’t explain why Sarah didn’t talk to Jeff about her concerns and explain the importance of the report, or her frustration with him, it nevertheless might explain the rift that was occurring.

While we couldn’t yet be sure this was the cause of the rift, Jeff was able to see it could, quite easily, be a key source. And, his resentment around it might have contributed to furthering the problem.

So while it would have been ideal for Sarah to have a courageous conversation with Jeff about her concerns, Jeff was prepared to start the conversation himself. In trying to look at the world from Sarah’s perspective Jeff viewed things from a different angle and even learned a few things about himself in the process.

If you’re facing a challenging relationship in the workplace, see if these steps help:

Shift your perspective.

Meet them where they are, looking at things entirely from their perspective. Yes, it can be tough. It means resetting every time your hear yourself thinking, “Yah, but…” because that means you’ve shifted back to your own view again.

Acknowledge, and try to accept, different styles.

Each person has their own behavioural style, their own way of looking at the world. They’re not necessarily trying to be difficult and rarely do people behave completely irrationally. When we think something is irrational, we’re probably seeing the world differently than the other person sees it. That’s a good cue to try to meet them where they are.

Think about how you’ve been seen and heard.

When a relationship seems to have shifted, think about exchanges you’ve had with them – email, in person, and phone calls. Is it possible some of your communication could have been misunderstood?  Is it possible you’ve missed something in the communication from them?

Pushing back is a cue.

When you feel yourself getting resentful, or frustrated, and pushing back to someone (especially your new boss!), think about WHY you’re feeling that way. When did it start? What thing(s) generated your response? Try to reflect on those events from the other person’s point of view.

Think about the good times.

Was there a time when your relationship with this person seemed stronger? What was different? How were you showing up differently? How were they?

And finally,

Start the process of fixing things.

That may mean getting the sales reports in on time. It likely also means, have a conversation where you acknowledge the tension or frustration and your desire to find solutions.

As Susan Scott, author of Fierce Conversations, said:

“While no single conversation is guaranteed to change the trajectory of a career, a company, a relationship or a life — any single conversation can.”

The Coach’s Question for this week: What relationship might benefit from a new perspective?

 

Communication breakdown? How does it happen and how to avoid it.

Communication breakdown. It happens all the time.

You know the one – when you think you’ve delegated something to someone on your team and it turns out they misunderstood completely what you were looking for. They show up, deliverable in hand, and it’s so hard to understand how they got it so wrong.

Shoebox Comic

 

I mean you were pretty clear, weren’t you?

Maybe it only happens when you’re in a hurry or preoccupied (or your team member is). Maybe it’s when things are shifting rapidly and there hasn’t been enough time to adjust to new protocols or processes.

Those types of situations are easier to understand but what can be really frustrating is when it happens over and over again with the same employee or two.

So, you start to avoid giving important tasks to “Bill” because he never seems to get it right. It often feels like you spend more time explaining and fixing a miscommunication than the task itself takes.

Well here’s the tough-to-take news: It might be that Bill isn’t the strongest employee, or it might be you.

Not that you’re a bad leader, or a mumbler, or a poor delegate-er because obviously other members on your team understand your direction.

So, where is the breakdown?

It could be that you’ve got a strong communication style.

Let’s take a look at what that actually means because, at first glance, a strong communication style doesn’t sound like a bad thing (and it’s not, necessarily).

We don’t all understand, process, and hear things the same way. Depending on my experiences (over time and that day!) and the lens through which I view the world, you and I could hear the same sentence and understand it in very different ways.

The problem with a singular strong communication style is that communication, even when delegating and giving direction, must be two-way. The employee receiving the direction must receive and understand the message in the same way you think you’re giving it.

For example, imagine that you’re managing a team and there’s been a big delay on a really important project that has to be addressed today. You decide to ask “Bill” to take care of it right away. But, Bill has been swamped all day and another project lead he reports to has already demanded more of him than he can deliver. But, Bill’s trying so hard to do a good job and doesn’t know how to say no to a superior (to his detriment).

Because your communication style is strong and it didn’t take the receiver of the message into account, the task was given to Bill and Bill is overcommitted.

A receiver-based communication style, in this case, would take Bill’s communication skills into account. As Bill’s manager, you would know that he tends to take on too much. You might recognize he gets intimidated by you, particularly when you are fired up, so you make sure to give him an opportunity to fill you in on what’s currently on his plate before piling on more.

You may have noticed this in other situations.  

When someone is angry, they tend to look at the world resentfully. When someone is joyous and eager, they tend to hear things optimistically. You could give the same message to these two people and they would each hear it differently.

Learning to adapt our leadership to the individual requires a bit of work. It requires observing and listening to the employee to start figuring out their behaviour type, using emotional intelligence to adapt our style when required, and communicating in ways that we can confirm the message is received as intended.

What do you do to adapt your communication to the individual? What more could you do?

Five things to avoid becoming an executive bully

You’re not an executive bully, right?

Surely you’d know if you were. You don’t scream at people or threaten them. You don’t needlessly intimidate them.

And maybe you’re not an executive bully but, once in awhile – maybe under stress – some bully tendencies show up.

Or, maybe you are a total bully, but you have no idea.

Perfectionism, strength and determination can sometimes feel like bullying to those who look up to us.

Even if it’s not how we mean to come across.

Are you inadvertently being an executive bully?

If you want to be certain that you’re not participating in executive bullying, take a moment to reflect on these thoughts. Do they describe you or someone you know?  No scoring needed – you’ll know where you are.

  • You tend to dismiss those who disagree with you or assume that they don’t have the big picture perspective that you do.
  • You fall in love with an idea, position, or deal and have a hard time letting it go or stepping away from it.
  • Your staff doesn’t challenge your point of view very often.
  • There is little disagreement or debate within your leadership team.
  • When your team does debate an issue, there is a clear divide between the points of view and the same people usually end up on sides together.
  • You have success but you’re not sure if your team enjoys working with you.
  • You often feel like you’re the smartest person in the room.
  • Your team rarely reports bad news.
  • You often feel like if you had the time, you’d rather do everything yourself.
  • You don’t consider your contribution when things don’t go to plan.
  • You don’t remember the last time you apologized for something.
  • You find yourself correcting others – a lot.

So what if some of these resonated with you? Or you can see some tendencies of yours in the above? Here are five things you can do make sure you don’t turn into an executive bully.

Set and enforce a “no bullies rule”

How many senior teams have a member who shuts down everyone else’s ideas, is driven to win every argument, never gives credit to the troops and excels at touting his or her own accomplishments. If your company puts up with this, you are enabling executive bullies. If YOU do it, you’re setting the tone. Give team members explicit permission to call out this behaviour — even when you are exhibiting it yourself.

Remember, your instinct may be to react negatively or to deny. Try instead to absorb the feedback while remembering “if I get better at what I do, this whole team will be better in what it does.”

Pass the ball

Business is a team sport. No single leader can be expert at everything. Most of us, in fact, have glaring blind spots. The best executives recognize that and call on others with different strengths to help. Just as executives have content skills, they also have process skills.

If your skill is achieving success or driving a project hard until it succeeds and you’re worried your weakness may be how you engage others in that success — find a colleague who is willing to “speak truth to power.” In other words, they’re willing to call “BS” when they see it and ask them to help you observe yourself and give you feedback regularly.

If it’s too difficult to ask a colleague, engage an executive coach to be your thinking partner.

Welcome contrarian voices

Have you ever considered hiring people because they have a different point of view from you? How about formalizing the role of “Devil’s Advocate?” A high profile investment firm executive, interviewed in the Wall Street Journal put it this way:

“We have formalized the role of the devil’s advocate to force a structured dissenting view in our investment meetings…. By designating another senior member of our team to argue against an idea with the same rigor with which it was researched by the industry specialist, we ensure a balanced argument is not only presented but also heard.”

It reminds everyone that contrarian views can be shared without repercussion.

Take a look in the mirror

Try your best to honestly see yourself as others see you, and then ask, “Is that the way I want to be perceived?” One great way to learn how others see you is to have a coach conduct a 360° exercise — so your peers, staff and boss can all share input for you. It can also be helpful to make video recordings of yourself during meetings and watch them with an outside observer who has no stake in the game — perhaps an executive coach. Or, ask your coach to sit in on a couple of meetings to assess.

Are you willing to accept harsh realities and confront the problems that your direct reports bring to your attention? Did you respect the ideas of others? Did you encourage thoughtful debate, or did you squelch it?

Create and enforce a charter

This one can be a challenge, but well worth it.

Creating a charter isn’t the hard part — getting input from all levels of the organization to define what is acceptable behaviour can be a great exercise. But, who enforces it? Who calls out, and coaches, the senior leader who isn’t living up to it? How do you build a commitment to the charter in your day to day work?

In other words, when the stakes get high and the going gets tough, how do you make sure you’re still living up to the charter? If you can answer those questions, you’re well on your way to a solid charter.

Most leaders want to do the right thing for their companies, their people, and their communities. They don’t set out to be bullies. It’s doubtful that even the worst offenders think of themselves that way but, they may become executive bullies anyway.

Is there someone in your organization who could be an even stronger contributor if they were less of a bully? Are you willing to do everything you can to make that happen – even if it’s you?

What makes the holiday season so challenging?

One reason the holidays can be challenging is that for many, they are a HUGE departure from normal routines. There are large gatherings to prepare for, vacations to plan, planes to catch, gifts to decide upon, buy, wrap, give and receive, houses to decorate, children to care for, work to catch up on, traffic and crowds to navigate.

And don’t forget the many healthy and unhealthy relationships with living and departed loved ones rekindled during this special time.

What did I miss?

Oh yes, I almost left out that many of us cast ourselves into award-worthy roles: the perfect host, child, parent, partner, citizen….

From a cognitive perspective, the holidays are equivalent to Santa using his wish list as kindling, sending his elves, reindeer and Mrs. Claus on vacation, having the sleigh break down, and then trying to pull it all off without a hitch.

The result: Santa argues with your dad. He snaps at the children. He shouts obscenities at a mall Santa. He gives the everyone the wrong gift and when they let him know, he tells them how unappreciative they are.

In short, Santa finds himself in many more interpersonal conflicts than he’d like to.

When it’s all over he goes back to the North Pole to unpack his many mixed emotions, and then he starts writing his new year’s resolutions list.

How does this happen to us (and Santa)?

Harvard Negotiation Project cofounder and bestselling author William Ury has examined this question. Ury explains that when faced with interpersonal conflict, we rely on ineffective strategies: “we attack, we accommodate (in other words, give in), or we avoid altogether…. Or we use a combination of all three approaches.”

Normally, like in the workplace, the fact that these strategies are ineffective isn’t a problem – everyone knows and plays their part – e.g., boss and subordinate – and the show goes on. But during the holidays, as with solo Santa above, we are under more stress, and have less to lose. After all, we’re going back to the North Pole (until next year when we can make up for it all or threaten to cancel the holiday season altogether).

Would you like to keep yourself off of the naughty list this year? Me too. To that end I invite you to join me in sleighing through a short process framed by three key questions and one challenge (and informed by the wisdom of William Ury, mutual-gains negotiation pioneer, and Marshall Rosenberg, creator of Nonviolent Communication) that will increase the chances you bring holiday cheer to those around you.

First, ask yourself:

What is happening?

The ability to observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence.

Jiddu Krishnamurti

Language like this is so common you may not even think twice about using it:

“He cut me off.”

“You make me so mad sometimes.”

“She ruined my holiday.”

“You’re always such a….”

“She should stop complaining.”

But language like this is where interpersonal conflict starts.

Why?

Notice how full of judgment it is. Also notice how it implies that someone has done something to someone else.

And when we have judged someone to have done something (to us) worthy of punishment, what follows both logically and practically is that we punish them. We have also given power over our emotions to someone else.

And then we honk the horn at the ‘idiot’ who has cut us off. We scold the unappreciative child. We lash out at our critical parent. As many of us have seen it can get much worse.

This holiday season, instead of using judgmental language, do what William Ury, author of Getting to Yes with Yourself and Other Worthy Opponents calls Going to the balcony, or observing without judgment.

I’m a Star Trek fan so I think of it as channeling my inner Vulcan.

So, when the kids ‘complain’ that the Wi-Fi at grandma and grandpa’s house ‘sucks’, or that driver ‘cuts you off’, or your uncle ‘interrupts’ you, try describing the situation as Dr. Spock might:

“About 10 seconds after I began speaking, Uncle Kirk began speaking too and then we were both speaking at the same time.”

Then, once you and your inner Vulcan get comfy on the balcony, ask yourself the next question.

What, specifically, are you feeling?

Luckily, you’re not really a Vulcan, and have the benefit of experiencing a vast array of emotions.

So try to notice what you are feeling. Is it anger? Disappointment? Frustration? Irritation?

Many of us are unable to label our feelings because we haven’t had much practice, or have yet to learn how. According to Marc Brackett, director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and co-creator of the Mood Meter app, perceiving and labeling emotions is one of the five critical components of emotional intelligence, and doing so increases our chances of success across a wide range of personal and professional settings…. like the holiday season!

So here’s a practice for you as you prepare for the holidays:

When [something happens – neutral observation – channel inner Spock], I feel [emotion].

For example, “When I am driving and someone enters the lane I’m traveling in at a distance less than 5 meters from my car, I feel angry (frustrated, frightened, etc.).”

You can do this any time. Try starting small with the everyday occurrences that stir up unpleasant feelings in you. Just be careful. As Rosenberg points out, we often use “the word feel without actually expressing a feeling.” Think of sentences like “I feel like you’re trying to provoke me.” or “I feel I am being attacked.” or “I feel she is too aggressive.”

In paying attention to my own feelings I have noticed myself becoming more familiar with my emotions, and the situations that can bring them to the surface. What I appreciate about this is that without any effort I have become much less reactive. And, although it is highly illogical, I’ve had a lot of fun mentally emulating Dr. Spock.

So, once you’ve gained a bit of proficiency in these two skills, try moving on to the next question:

Which needs of yours are not being met?

You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf.

Jon Kabat Zinn

William Ury would like us to think of emotions as “the language that your needs use to communicate with you.” So, when you’re feeling frustration, for example, it could be a sign that your need to feel a sense of control or proficiency isn’t being met.

But think back to the way we commonly express ourselves in situations of interpersonal conflict. Everyday statements, like “He insulted me,” suggest that we are quite accustomed to holding others accountable for how we are feeling.

To build the competency of owning how you feel, here’s another ‘simple, but not easy’ challenge: practice expressing what you feel through Marshall Rosenberg’s template:

“I feel… because I….”

So, when Uncle Kirk begins speaking shortly after I have begun speaking, I would say or think:

“I feel agitated because I was enjoying having everyone’s attention.” (need for appreciation, acceptance, etc.)

Be careful! It’s very easy to fall back into old habits by handing responsibility for our feelings and needs over to others, so stay on the lookout for statements like “I feel upset because I feel attacked.”

I have to admit, I was initially uncomfortable with the idea of dwelling in the neighbourhood of feelings and needs because it wasn’t something I grew up doing, and I hadn’t received any guidance on how to do it. But when I thought about how many other needs and emotions I was comfortable thinking and talking about – like rest, exercise, water, inspiration, celebration, etc. – it became a lot easier to accept that these were just part of the gift that is me!

After you’ve had some time to build some skill in this area, move on to the final challenge:

Make a specific request to have your needs met.

Once we have observed non-judgmentally, identified what we are feeling, uncovered what need that feeling points to, Rosenberg would say it is time for “Requesting That Which Would Enrich Life”. In other words, we invite another to do something for us that would meet one of our needs.

There are three key elements to this practice.

First, use what Rosenberg calls “positive action language” and avoid “vague, abstract, or ambiguous phrasing.” In other words, telling someone (or yourself) what you’d like them to do, rather than what you would like them not to do is much more likely to lead to a positive outcome, and less likely to result in defensiveness. I recognize that doing this puts you at risk of rejection, but as we have seen defending what is ‘right’ (i.e. your judgments of yourself and others) often leads to more interpersonal conflict, and isn’t that just a different form of rejection? So why not ask? Rosenberg implores us to imagine ourselves in asking that our needs be met as Santa – have a jolly, cheerful disposition, one that reflects the belief that needs are precious, universal sources of joy and connection: “Ho ho ho!! Let me give you the gift of my needs with you!”

So with Uncle Kirk, I might say something like this “Uncle Kirk, I’m noticing that when I started speaking that you started speaking about 10 seconds after me. Well I wanted to share with you that I’m feeling frustrated because I was really enjoying being listened to. I would like to know if you would be willing to listen to me too?”

Nervous? Me too! I can think of many ways in which Uncle Kirk might attack me, defend himself, withdraw, or accommodate that would lead straight back to the North Pole and my new year’s resolutions list.

But don’t give up yet!

Try this instead: Ask Uncle Kirk to reflected back what he heard you say. “Uncle Kirk, could you share with me what you just heard me say?” In William Ury’s estimation doing this has the potential to “change the cycle of mutual rejection into a cycle of mutual respect.” Appreciating his willingness to do so, and then clarifying any misunderstanding and empathizing with him if he doesn’t want to share demonstrate your commitment to keeping the conversation out of the interpersonal conflict zones of attack, withdraw and accommodate. Here’s an example from Rosenberg:

“I’m grateful to you for telling me what you heard. I can see that I didn’t make myself as clear as I’d have liked, so let me try again.”

And then try again! You can do it.

The last step in this process is, as Rosenberg puts it, to “help others trust that we are requesting, not demanding, by indicating our desire for them to comply only if they can do so willingly.” Rosenberg also shares his method of testing whether we’re making a request or a demand: ask yourself what you would like the person’s reasons for doing what you’ve asked to be? For this to work you must be ready to accept a ‘no’ with empathy, instead of judgment.

So with Uncle Kirk, you can use this process to clarify his feelings and needs, and then respect his decision to do what would meet his needs.

Something like this might work:

“Uncle Kirk, am I getting this right? You’re feeling a bit overwhelmed and are needing a bit of support from all of us right now.”

Of course life can be very unpredictable and this process presents many challenges of its own. As a simplified blend of two approaches, there is much more depth and breadth than I have been able to cover, so please read the books! But, what I appreciate about this process is that steps 1-3 can be done at any time in any place, and by themselves could be life changing. How many of us wouldn’t benefit from gaining more clarity around our own feelings and needs, while at the same time increasing our ability to meet those needs ourselves.

How might you benefit if you tried this, this holiday season? What might the wins be?

Why not nourish the Vulcan within, and give yourself the gift of self-awareness, self-satisfaction, and maybe even connect with those you’ve previously found impossible to please.

And please let me know how it’s going!

Today’s Coach’s Questions Column was written by Tyler Wier, Certified Executive Coach and Padraig Associate.

Want some help improving your conversations at work? Contact Tyler at tyler.wier@padraig.ca or call Tyler’s direct line at (855) 818-0600 x 108

To hear Tyler talk about this post on CBC Morning Radio:
Dec 23 Information Radio Hour 1
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Works Referenced:

Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. New York: Hyperion.

Rosenberg, M. (2003). Nonviolent communication a language of life (2nd ed.). Encinitas, CA: PuddleDancer Press.

Ury, W. (2015). Getting to yes with yourself: (and other worthy opponents) (First edition ed.). New York, NY: HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins.

The Golden Rule is Wrong

At some point in time you’ve, no doubt, learned the Golden Rule, or a version of it:

DO UNTO OTHERS AS YOU WOULD HAVE THEM DO UNTO YOU.

Or, in other words,

TREAT OTHERS THE WAY YOU WISH TO BE TREATED.

Seems like reasonable advice, doesn’t it? Few of us would argue with the idea of “Don’t punch someone in the nose, if you don’t like being punched in the nose.” But, what if our relationships and our work-life are a little more nuanced than that?

Patrick’s TEDx Talk highlights some of those nuances, and the adverse effect we are having on our work lives, our careers, our companies and even our family lives, by living too rigidly to The Golden Rule. Perhaps most importantly, he also talks about what we can do about it and how it will change our workplaces for the better – whether you’re a junior employee starting your career, or a senior leader with thousands following your lead – we can all change our lives, and the lives around us, if we consider tweaking this “Golden Rule!”

Please take a few moments to watch the talk and let us know what you think by commenting below or on YouTube.

Patrick’s TEDx Talk:


 

thank-you-word-cloudThankful for a Special Honour:

Last week was an extra-special week for us at Padraig when Patrick received a wonderful honour. Ace Burpee, the much-loved media personality and community volunteer named Patrick to his 2015 list of the 100 Most Fascinating Manitobans.

Please check out the full list, Patrick is in the tremendous company of some extraordinary people.

 


Looking for a Speaker?
If you’re interested in having Patrick speak at your event or conference, please contact us toll-free at (855) 818-0600 x101 or by email at coach@padraig.ca or visit our website.


Adapting to Others
In his TEDx Talk, Patrick talks about adapting to others’ needs, by paying attention and observing their behaviour and their approach to issues. To explore this topic in more depth, and to learn about the assessments and workshops we have on this, please visit the programs on our website.


Executive Coaches and Leadership Coaches help leaders see things from a new angle and increase their own success. If you are interested in how a Coach can help you think bigger, see things differently and find new routes to even greater success, give us a call toll free at (855) 818-0600 x 101.

Your Career…Your Responsibility

Recently I was having coffee with a young man (well, young to me) whom I met a few years ago on a project. He sought me out to chat about my career and navigating the corporate ladder. Flattered though I was, I quickly turned the tables on him and, like any good coach, made the conversation about him and his aspirations.

I knew I’d hit a few nerves when we got up to leave, as he was a bit tongue-tied with swirling thoughts and ideas. I was happy to hit those nerves. That is what I do. That is part of the process in helping people become unstuck.

The details of our conversation shall stay between him and me. What I was reminded of as we talked are two concepts that are critical if you have aspirations to move ahead, manage and lead. They are the things so many young career-minded people don’t typically get:

  • the responsibility for your career is yours alone, and
  • the best leaders I know make it a priority to develop their personal and professional character

Let’s tackle the first concept. I can’t tell you the number of staff I’ve met who bemoan the fact they can’t seem to get ahead, and why isn’t the organization seeing their greatness and promoting them? I admit there were times early in my career that I thought that way. It didn’t take me long to figure out that no one was going to miraculously pluck me from a cast of thousands and give me my dream job. Moving ahead needs to be backed up with a strategic plan designed by and put into action by you.

The second concept is about investing in you. I don’t necessarily mean monetarily; this is about self-reflection, asking and receiving feedback, mentoring, coaching, reading, training and whatever else it takes to develop your self-knowledge. I call this your “practice”. This is about developing your private and public self-awareness. The private awareness is about knowing how you react internally to things, like the tight chest you might feel when you run into an old flame, or perhaps the pit in your stomach when you have to confront someone about their behaviour at work.

Public awareness is knowing how others see you and the effects – positive and negative – you may have on them. Having this self-awareness helps you navigate situations and adhere to social standards of behavior. This doesn’t mean trying to completely change yourself to fit the context; it means understanding how you show up in the world and your ability to adjust to the situation appropriately. If you think about a leader you know who is able to read a room and say the right thing at the right time, chances are their self-awareness is highly developed.

Your professional character also needs the ability to see things from multiple perspectives. It starts with lifting your head and developing organizational awareness. You’ve become an expert, or you have a bag full of relevant operational skills –it’s now time to learn about formal and informal structures, culture and climate, relationships and organizational issues. Understanding the bigger picture is critical and developing this part of your practice may be the single most important step toward the C-Suite.

As my young coffee guest walked away, I remembered how, when I was his age, I had an imaginary playbook that I would refer to as my road-map for moving ahead in my career. My playbook was rewritten many times as I navigated up various ladders. The most important thing I learned from it was that the only way to move ahead was by taking personal responsibility for my career and my personal and professional development.

If you were taking full responsibility for your career, how would you be doing things differently? How focused are you on your own development? What would it take for you create your practice?

Today’s Coach’s Questions Column was written by Eve Gaudet, Certified Executive Coach and Padraig Associate.

Not sure where to start with your own career plan? Contact Eve at eve.gaudet@padraig.ca or call Eve’s direct line at (855) 818-0600 x 105

Employee Engagement – What does that mean?!?

How many times have you heard the phrase, employee engagement?

“We want our employees to be engaged.”

We’ve all heard a manager or executive say it, we’ve likely heard it from Human Resources, and we’ve maybe even said it ourselves a few times.

Employee engagement is not only one of the key management buzzwords these days, it seems to have become the holy grail for team leaders and HR managers.

Is it possible to keep employee engagement from becoming just another business cliché?

I really like how www.EngageforSuccess.com defines employee engagement as, “a workplace approach designed to ensure that employees are committed to their organization’s goals and values, motivated to contribute to organizational success, and are able at the same time to enhance their own sense of well-being.”

The end goals include such things as reduced turnover, increased productivity, improved relationships and greater innovation.

In other words, employee engagement is about shaping attitudes and behaviours to achieve outcomes. That sounds great! But with so few workplaces scoring high on engagement in employee surveys and the numbers actually decreasing in North America†, what can we do to improve the situation?

Here are some tips our clients have found helpful:

Create opportunities for buy-in – when you’re getting ready to change something bring people together and ask for their input. More importantly, listen to their suggestions and viewpoints. Be open to challenges about your ideas and your processes. Dig a little deeper by asking curiosity-based questions to uncover what is risky about your ideas — and staff will buy-in when they see you listening to their input.

Let others solve problems – even better then bringing the group together to test your ideas is bringing them together to create the ideas. Be clear that many ideas may get passed over for now, but asking your team to help you brainstorm how to solve the problem, rather than just implementing your own solution leads to incredible engagement.

Hire for attitude – start building a culture of engagement by hiring the right people. Look for people who exemplify a positive attitude, strong character and who know why they want to work for you. (Hint: If it’s about the salary, they won’t be engaged).

Throw away the carrot and stick – Following up on our last point above, and our previous blog post, cash bonuses and good salary are a nice foundation for building a capable workforce, but they don’t get people engaged. In fact, they can backfire and the financial rewards simply become an expectation and will not drive passion.

Catch them in the act – Listen closely, walk around and ask questions when things go well and you’ll soon know who the unsung heroes are in your workplace. Thank them for their contributions, let them know you recognize them and tell them you appreciate them.

Cautionary tip: Before you jump to recognize your valued team members, remember that not everyone likes to be acknowledged publicly.

Try to get a sense of your team members and tailor your praise for them. If they appreciate recognition and look happy when acknowledged in team meetings, then use that technique.

If they look uncomfortable, embarrassed or overly modest with public praise, they are likely more appreciative when the praise is personal and provided privately.

Coach people – use curiosity-based questions to help people find their own solutions and implement their best work; try to reduce how often you direct them and increase how often you help them find their own way. The goal stays the same, but the path to it leads to much greater engagement.

Build relationships – take a moment every now and then to stop, let go of your fast pace, and ask individuals on your team, “what’s new?” and “how are you doing?” or “how was your weekend?” Show a genuine interest in your team members and you will not only develop trust, you’ll likely also get a better understanding of peoples’ opportunities and barriers.

Grow leaders – a great way to build engagement is to invest in strengthening leadership skills in every employee. A company of leaders is really what engagement is all about. Remember this all–too-true anecdote:

  • CFO asks CEO: “What happens if we invest in developing our people and then they leave us?”
  • CEO: “What happens if we don’t, and they stay?”

Our Padraig coaching questions for you today are: How would a team of fully engaged staff improve your success? What are you prepared to tackle first? When are you going to start?

Care to share your thoughts on employee engagement? Have you had a great story to share? Why not share them with us and our readers in the comment box below!


† http://www.aon.com/attachments/human-capital-consulting/2013_Trends_Global_Engagement_Report.pdf

Motivation – Throwing Away the Carrots and Sticks

I’ve managed people most of my career, and I’ve worked in teams all my life. If you had asked me early in my leadership career what motivates someone at work I would have probably told you either having a good salary or maybe having a spiffy title. And of course who doesn’t think a big bonus is motivating?

To effectively lead people, I thought you needed carrots and sticks in the right balance for motivation to work. Somehow in my gut I knew that it was too simplistic, and soon my own experience managing people started to disprove that theory.

My anecdotal experience and observations about trying to motivate with financial rewards, promotions and titles: Rewards became an expectation for baseline performance instead of improving performance! I’ve lost count of the number of times I have heard people complain about their bonus payments.

Now, some of you may have read a book called Drive, The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. The author Daniel Pink, a bit of a leadership guru, has helped me see what really motivates people.

In his book Pink talks about the evolution of motivation from survival instincts, to the carrot and stick methodology, to what he calls Motivation 3.0. This latest notion replaces carrots and sticks with values and purpose.

What I found most interesting is how convincing Pink is in proving that the carrot and stick approach to motivation doesn’t work, especially in work that is complex, requires creativity or involves problem solving. Pink demonstrates that these traditional short-term motivators actually reduce creativity, and foster very short-term thinking at the expense of long-term results.

What really motivates people?

Pink argues:

  • Autonomy – the desire to direct your own life;
  • Mastery – the urge to get better and better at something that matters; and
  • Purpose – to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

Since I left the world of government and big corporations to start my own business working with talented leaders to help them reach greater success, I’ve had a chance to further test this theory. By diving in with my clients, exploring with them what really gets them going and works with staff I’ve come to believe that Pink has it right.

Don’t take my word for it — give this a try: Grab a sheet of paper and make two columns. Label the first one “What I Liked” and the second one “How I Felt.” The first thing I’m going to ask you to do is to think of a leader you liked. Go ahead and close your eyes for just a moment and think about that great leader, the one you really admired.

This leader could be a mentor in your business, a former boss, or maybe even a teacher or professor who once taught you. Now take a minute to jot down in the first column what you liked about this leader. Now, in the next column, take a moment to write how they made you feel. Go ahead, take a moment and reflect on what you’ve written before you continue.

Okay, now let’s think of the opposite. On the back of your sheet of paper again put two columns, only this time label them “What I Didn’t Like” and “How I Felt.”

Think back to a time where you’ve had a leader in your life – again could be a former employer, manager, professor or even a colleague. The kind of person no matter what they were paid, it was too much.

Think of someone you wanted to help find a new job – in a competing firm! In the first column jot down what you didn’t like about this person. Take a moment to be very descriptive.

Now think about how it felt to be around this person. Try to remember how you felt inside, and record these feelings in the second column.

Now, when you look at those lists you know in your heart what great leadership is. For the good leader you’ve likely written down things like “inspiring,” “really challenged me” or “helped me find my way.”

Maybe you mentioned “respect” or that this leader “gave good feedback.” Chances are you didn’t write “paid me well” or “gave big bonuses.”

In the case of your example of “that other guy” you may have written things like “made me feel small,” “criticized,” “didn’t help,” or even “they were a bully.”

When I’ve done this exercise with clients I’ve had many respond with “I was bored working for him,” “she micromanaged me” or they said the leader was a “perfectionist.”

There are two key points to consider when we look at the lists under our two types of leaders: We know in our hearts what great leadership looks like and we get a sense of the motivators we need to provide to be a good leader.

An effective leader motivates by building relationships. How does a good leader build relationships? Not with carrots and sticks, but by one conversation at a time.

Our coaching question for you today is: How can you change the motivators for your team, to inspire them — and you — to greatness?

Care to share your thoughts on motivating your team? Have you had a great experience with motivating a team? Why not share them with us and our readers in the comment box below!

2014

Are You Preparing for an Even Better Year?

Have you ever been looking forward to grabbing a coffee with a friend only to end up listening to him or her complain about work? Or, maybe you’ve been the one dominating the conversation with work issues?

How did the conversation go? Did it help either of you, or did it just feel better for a while without changing anything?

Sometimes it’s great to just vent a little with a friend, get a few things off the chest. Maybe you weren’t even complaining; maybe you were just musing about “how great it would be if….” Often though, a coffee chat with a friend doesn’t solve the problem. It feels better for a bit, but eventually reality is still there.

At this time of year many of us make resolutions — we’re going to hit the gym, we’re going to eat a little better, drink a little less, find a little more time for ourselves or we’re going to tackle those challenges that are holding us back at work. Unfortunately, often sometime in January many of us succumb to habit and go back to our old ways.

If you’ve decided this New Year’s your going to tackle a work or career challenge, a coach can help you solve the problem or achieve the win that you’ve been looking for. A coach will help you figure out how you’re going to do things differently this year, and get you through that danger period when most of us fall back on old habits — and you won’t have to burden your friends over coffee!

Whether you want to score a promotion, reengage a team, find your inspiration again, increase sales or launch a new product, a coach will help you get it done.

So, how do you choose the right coach for you?

At Padraig we recommend you talk to several coaches, to get a sense of their approach and personality. First though, you should ensure they are a certified coach. There are, regrettably many people who call themselves a coach who have neither the academic training, nor the certification. At Padraig all of our coaches have masters level education specifically in executive coaching, and all are certified by the International Coach Federation (ICF). Whether you work with us, or anyone else, we strongly encourage you to only work with a certified coach.

As you talk with a few certified coaches, we suggest you start by thinking about the kind of coach you want. Ask yourself whether you want a coach who will help you:

  • Brainstorm strategies;
  • Support, encourage and validate yourself;
  • Gain insight into who you are and your potential;
  • Paint a vision of what you can accomplish (and then get there);
  • Remain accountable to yourself, checking in on your goals;
  • Explore and remove blocks to your success; Identify or design action steps;
  • Work through self-improvement programs together;
  • Take 360˚ Assessments (what your peers and staff see), or
  • Something else?

Remember it’s OK to have more than one of these goals but it’s not OK to keep them to yourself! Share what you want with your prospective coach, and you’ll more likely find the right coach for you.

Next, ask your chosen few coaches about their experience. Have they had their own leadership experience? Have they worked with leaders at your level before? At Padraig some of our team have great experience working with senior level C-suite executives (and Deputy Ministers or Assistant Deputy Ministers in government) while others have tremendous experience working with new leaders who are starting their first role as a leader of people.

Ask a few more questions of the coaches:

  • Do they have a strong confidentiality policy?
  • Do they have other coaches who mentor them?
  • Do they have their own coach? (IE. Do they practice their own approach?)
  • Do they occasionally have their coaching audited to ensure they are doing their best?
  • Are they results oriented? Do they insist on identifying goals before beginning and then measuring progress against those goals?

You might also want to discuss whether the coach has experience in your field but we offer a caution on this one! Consider whether a coach without experience in your specific field might be a better thinking partner for you than someone who has “grown up in” your field. For example, we currently have numerous clients in the healthcare sector and several of our coaches are trained in “LEADS” (a leadership program that was created in Canada and has been implemented in healthcare organizations across the country), yet only one of our coaches has actually worked in healthcare. A number of our individual healthcare clients chose us specifically because we are able to bring a fresh perspective to their thinking, we can challenge them with different points of view and help them become more creative in their problem solving.

Next, be sure to ask for references. Good coaches will have current and previous clients who will be willing to share their experience with you so you can choose the right coach for you. Ask the references whether the coach digs in deep and gets to the root of struggles and challenges. Is the coach naturally talented in encouraging ideas and deeper thinking, or do they follow a scripted approach?

Ask about prices. Obviously, you want to be sure you can afford your coach. You should expect to pay $300 to $500 per hour (or $600 to $1000 per month) for a good leadership coach or executive coach. Many coaches will bill by the hour, some will bill by the month or by the contract. You should expect to see many times return on your investment.

Padraig Coaching & Consulting Inc. provides Executive Coaching and Leadership Coaching on a retainer basis, we do not charge by the hour. That means we don’t charge for each meeting but rather we charge a flat fee for a fixed period of time (for example a 6 month, 9 month or 12 month contract). During that time we will meet with you in person or by phone or videoconference for one-to-one coaching sessions once every two weeks, on average. If an extra session is required, that’s no problem — we don’t add to your billing — it’s all part of our retainer. In addition, you may contact your coach at any time during the retainer period, to ask follow up questions, seek “laser-focused coaching” for a few minutes by phone for a new issue, or to simply engage around a challenge. Again, it’s all included in our flat fee. We will often leave clients with questions to ponder between sessions, sometimes we might recommend a reading or a challenge. It’s all included in our fee. We don’t bill you for time here and time there. Our goal is to ensure you have the full support you need from your coach, with certainty up front on the cost.

Finally, ask for a short introduction to their coaching style. At Padraig we are happy to provide a complimentary 30 minute coaching session by phone to prospective clients. You won’t necessarily solve the world’s problems in half an hour, but you will get a good sense of the coach’s focus and their ability to help you zero-in on your goals and challenges.

So, what’s the coach’s question for today — the last day of 2013? We have two of them and they’re simply this — what do you want to achieve in 2014? And, what are you willing to do to get it?

Executive Coaches and Leadership Coaches help leaders see things from a new angle and increase their own success. If you are interested in how a Coach can help you think bigger, see things differently and find new routes to even greater success, give us a call toll free at (855) 818-0600. All six of our internationally certified executive coaches are happy to take inquiries and we offer a 30 minute complimentary, no obligation coaching session by telephone, if you want to try it out.

Click here to schedule your complimentary session.

Care to share your resolutions for 2014? Do you have some good questions to ask a prospective coach that have helped you select the best coach for you? Why not share them with us and our readers by commenting below!

Is perfection preventing progress?

Have you ever avoided doing something, because you figured you wouldn’t be good at it? Is perfection preventing progress?

For many years my mantra was “If I’m going to look bad doing it, I’m not going to do it.” That seemed to serve me well — I had a successful career, people admired my abilities and my confidence.

Unfortunately it also made me seem intimidating (people rarely saw me mess-up) and it made me uptight and it prevented me from finding joy in new things (which is one solid reason why I still have never tried downhill skiing)!

It seemed like a good mantra at the time, after all who wants to be seen doing something badly? It has only been in the last few years that I’ve come to realize the answer to that seemingly rhetorical question is — “people who accomplish great things.”

You may be familiar with Brené Brown — she was, until relatively recently, an unknown Ph.D. at the University of Houston studying shame and vulnerability. She is an engaging speaker who put herself out there, just a little bit, and gave a local TEDx talk in Houston about those two topics – vulnerability and shame.

She explained that her years of research had shown her very clearly that those who allow themselves to be vulnerable, those who don’t allow shame to hold them back are those same people who live whole heartedly.

They are the people who achieve things they didn’t know they could achieve, because they allowed themselves to try.

I’m paraphrasing here but essentially they didn’t seek perfection, they simply sought to try. They went for it. It was only after learning her own message, and coming to terms with it, that Brown shared her message in a tiny, regional, TEDx talk. That talk has become the fourth most watched Ted Talk of all time with nearly 12,000,000 views. That’s right twelve million.

If you haven’t seen it, I encourage you to check it out (the link is at the bottom of this message).

The reason I’m telling you this is because I suspect I’m not alone in allowing my desire for perfection to prevent me from achieving things. Sure, I increasingly try new things.

Some things I try are pretty big things – I started a business after 20 years as a public servant and one year ago today I incorporated that business and engaged five exceptional coaches to join me on this journey.

And some things I try are relatively small things – I respond to government proposals when that little voice inside my head tells me I’m not as good as the big guys, I walk into giant rooms at conferences and networking events, alone, and start meeting people.

But, there are still days where

Perfection Prevents Progress.

It took me six months of talking about it, before I hit “send” on the first of these blog e-mails. I was frozen, thinking, “what if people don’t appreciate what I have to say?”

I’ve spent the last four months “thinking about” a webinar series I’m planning to launch – but not quite doing it – because I worry it won’t be perfect, because I balk at allowing myself to be vulnerable and try something new.

You’ve probably heard someone ask, “If you could succeed at anything, what would you try?” I think that question is a cop-out. If I knew I would succeed, I would try everything! The question should be “even if you weren’t sure of success, what would you be willing to try?”

So our coaching questions for today are: “what are you putting off that could be worth trying, even if you might not succeed? What is preventing you from trying it?” and “What would it take to let go of your vulnerability and dive into it?”

Here’s the link to Brené’s TedTalk: CLICK HERE

At Padraig we use engaging, curiosity based questions in all of our coached programs.

If some of this resonated for you, I would LOVE to hear about it. Please share a few comments below.