It was really energising to attend a CPD event organised by the Cabinet Office last week. It was foremost a programme review, for all the coaches who are coaching  the current cohort of  government high potentials.  There were some great speakers their too, with different backgrounds ranging from manufacturing, engineering, fashion, commerce, facilities management and medical services. I had been too busy to attend these meetings before, but it was also a great opportunity to meet some amazing coaches from different  coaching schools with differing coaching diplomas.  The day was interspersed with some  energising talks on different coaching approaches.

All of the above sounds fantastic, but the true power comes from the connections that are made, and the informal dialogue. The coaching community is able to connect with each other very quickly at a high level irrespective of background. Within a couple of hours, I had made connections with  10 or so other fellow coaches (soulmates). This does not mean to sound arrogant or condescending, but in what other walk of life could you do this ? This is why I am encouraging my work colleagues and associates to consider coaching as an option. A colleague in Moscow has recently enrolled on a diploma. He can already see the power of  his initial learning in his day to day work, which in itself is energising.

The founder of my coaching school Bruce Schneider regularly talks about the mantra of “Raising the consciousness of the world one by one”. This could not be more true in the volatile world we live in, which at the moment seems to be changing exponentially. Having a higher level of consciousness allows us to be more focused and stable in this changing world.

We can’t underestimate the importance of connections when we are coaching for transformation, whether it be individuals, teams or groups. We will never achieve sustainable transformation, by only working on one dimension. All successful transformations have key multiple dimensions. As I have mentioned in more detail within the link,  cultural transformation can only  properly delivered if all 3 elements are in place, that is Improved Processes, Shifted Behaviours, and Passion for Change.

 

I just delivered a 3 day module for an eMBA course,  on ” Change Management” and it had me really thinking. Firstly the levels of engagement were really high from all the students. I have talked about  VUCA , and the rate of change numerous times before, but the changing world is real and is high on peoples’ agendas. Being able to deal with  “change”  in an efficient and effective manner is critical to survival . The demand for knowledge and accelerated experience is huge.

We can coach people through change, and of course this is de-facto what coaching is about, as in this environment people have a desire to change. The challenge is to embed the mindset of  being in a world of constant change, and then really embracing it. Within the consulting work I do, clients want to get “Leaner” & “Fitter”. If we think about this for a moment, this is also about constant change. Elite athletes are constantly changing the way that they train and practice, whether it be significant step changes, or micro changes. Their competition are constantly honing their skills through continual change, but driven by the correct mindset  they themselves have to change in order to to compete. A racing car pit crew has to be  constantly changing the way they do things , it’s not just about faster and harder. The coaching element is all about getting people in the right frame of mind such that they can embrace change. As a coachee, one way we can look at this is having your own personal micro culture. This is a culture that you develop yourself, by raising your self awareness. Here we can define self awareness from two perspectives. Firstly we can look at our awareness of our impact on the environment, and then we can look at our environment and how it impacts us.  If we can raise our game in both of these areas, we can work effectively  in a constantly changing environment, as these work in tandem.

Change Management is a broad subject and can be quite daunting. However, we can make the challenge easier by breaking it up into smaller parts. To use the analogy of  “Eating an Elephant”, we can break the elephant up into steaks in order eat it. This is a well understood approach, and reminded me of the mantra espoused by the accomplished coach and founder of iPEC Bruce Schneider who talks about “Raising the Consciousness of the World, One by One”. By raising our individual consciousness, we can create our new own micro culture, and as a group collectively create a larger cultural shift.

 

 

 

I read a recent article from the US. It was written from a “Faith” background and was discussing the thorny subject of marriage failure. There were the usual discussion points around money, sex, at the high levels, and other disagreements further down the order. However it postulated that the main reason for marriage failure was misaligned expectations. At the point people choose to get married they all carry very high expectations of each other and the relationship itself. Quite often these are implicit rather than explicit, and have grown organically over time without any great discussion. Sex and money are just the symptoms of misaligned expectations, and without initial and follow up discussion the perceived and real differences, in all the expectations will just fester and grow.

We see this in business all the time, and can be quite often the root cause for  failure of projects and initiatives.  However, at work we have systems and processes that can mitigate  against the misalignment. When we embark on something new, we will get together as a team, brainstorm and formulate a plan. We will think about objectives, scope , alignment and communication. Sometimes there will be stresses and we will have to proceed with difficult project discussions. Do we really do that when we plan to spend our future lives with a partner? I would suggest that we get caught up in the emotions, of our impending union, and only think about the good things. We know that the power of emotions is greater than that of processing and logic, so no real surprises with these situations.

In order to get alignment, we need to have trust. Trust would be the key first step in both a personal relationship, but also a business relationship. One would imagine it would be harder to get trust in a business relationship because of business dynamics, complexity and multiple people being involved. However, there are processes, checks and balances that help us along the way. With a personal relationship, trust is implicit at the start, otherwise we would not be getting together or married in the first place. This gives a great start, but there are no real explicit processes that help us along the way, as there would be in business. We have to build these as we go along. That is why it is so important that in relationships we have to check in with each other, recognise each others emotions, ask  the empathetic questions, listen to each other in order to navigate a path, maintain trust, and most importantly be clear on each others expectations. Even if some of those expectations were misaligned at the start of the relationship, it is still possible to get better alignment, but only if we ask the right questions. It feels easier sometimes to say nothing, if we recognise a problem, but “easy” is not the best solution. We need to be brave to face up to the challenges, and ask those “Difficult Questions”

As part of my  regular consulting deliveries on change management and cultural transformation, I am always talking about how to have “Difficult Conversations”, “Performance Dialogues” but using open, fair and empathetic  questions. This applies in life, as well as work.

 

I am currently involved in a large consulting engagement that involves a significant level of coaching at senior levels. It also involves some local coach training, both individual and group.

I thought I would share some reflections on these types of coaching because away from the specific coaching techniques, ethics and confidentiality, there are some  distinct differences, and pitfalls to avoid. Firstly, when a client asks you to get involved in group coaching, you need to lay  down some ground rules. Group or team coaching is clearly different from individual coaching. It is obviously less personal, and less intense.

The purpose of team coaching has to be very clear from the start. Some see it as a more cost effective way to do coaching, but it must not just be seen this way. It’s core purpose should be a number of things. Firstly as a means of getting traction on common themes, or new initiatives. These could include a change of strategic direction or the implementation of new goals. This does not mean you can’t discuss different things with different people, but there should be some core aim the group should be working towards. As eluded to earlier in this post, the appropriate level of intensity is also important. It is important to be highly energetic to get the group going at the start, maybe with a few exercises to get the engagement. You will have to bring the whole group with you and “Work the Room” by making sure nobody is left out with the Q & A. At this stage it is critical to read the body language to ensure everyone is engaged, and you may have to work more intensively with some than others. However it is also important that you don’t push them beyond their “Learning Zones” into their “Fear Zones” . Never intentionally or unintentionally embarrass anyone in the group, as they are in front of their peers. This is particularly important in some of the more hierarchical cultures. Finally, always leave them some homework, written or verbal, to bring back for the next session. Remember to ask them to hold themselves accountable for the results, and that most of the real work is done during the reflection period before the next session. Group coaching can also bring synergies from group discussion and idea generation, which is another key factor.

As a coach remember the principle differences, between individual and group coaching. Always be outcome  focused, and reflect on a statement from one of the great management gurus Steven Covey, “Begin with the end in mind”.

 

I had occasion to think about what “Trust” really meant yesterday. I am working in Russia and it has some significant cultural differences to what I am used to in the UK. We spend a lot of time talking about building trust, as it is important and fundamental in the coaching arena. I experienced what I perceived to be, two totally different levels of trust.

Firstly in Russia you cannot just pick up your suitcase at the baggage carousel in the airport without having your luggage tag cross checked against the one on your boarding card. Although this is now a bit more relaxed at the major hubs, it is still evident in the regional airports. This has always struck me as rather odd, and different to what I expect in my own culture. The assumption being that there must be a total lack of trust around bag theft. Then however, I saw the opposite end of the scale. I was taking a taxi from the international airport to downtown Moscow. The organising and payment systems are more sophisticated than when I was last here five years ago. They use tablets book you in, send automated texts on progress, and take payment.  Quite often the payment systems struggle to take my name (with a hyphen) on the Russian keyboard, so they ask me to enter it.  On this occasion, the taxi driver, just handed me the tablet, so I could enter in all my credit card details. I saw this as a totally different level of trust.

My reflection is that trust is deeply personal, and can very from culture to culture, so it is best not to judge.

 

I am back from a very interesting and thoroughly engaging conference. The Future of Work or FOW London last week had a great combination of senior business leaders and high end thinkers.  There was a very wide range of topics from working in the gig economy, impacts of “robotisation” and creative collaboration, to job share at senior level such as Group HR.

There was clearly a common theme, in that VUCA is here to stay, and the working environment is changing exponentially. The Darwin theory keeps on trundling. We have to be agile and adaptable as employees, but also as coaches. Opening speaker Sir Charlie Mayfield, CEO of the John Lewis Partnership was talking about the need for having, those difficult but authentic conversations with employees. The Waitrose supermarket chain has seen an increase from 12 to 30% in its use of self-checkouts. This of course is going to lead to the inevitable job displacement as the tech. revolution marches on. I blogged about this recently  with my lean consulting “hat”, on the German retail chain OTTO who are using sophisticated retail algorithms ( originally developed by CERN) and robotics to predict sales, and pick warehouse products. They were able to  fill shelves with 90% sales prediction accuracy. It is not just manual labour that is being displaced, but it is hitting the professional service sector. At the same conference we heard about the reduction in demand for junior lawyers as AI and software was getting sophisticated enough to do library searches, and pull together complex contracts. Senior lawyers would be required to review and approve. This of course will reduce job demand in the early years, and then that of course raises questions of potential future skills and experience shortages. In Martin Ford’s 2015  book, “The rise of the Robots” , he talks about the technology threat and the potential trigger for mass unemployment. The advances are great, but create huge cultural and physical dilemmas. As part of the recent UK Brexit debate, voters and workers were asked whether they  immigration as a threat. The answer was clear, they saw “Automation” as a bigger threat.

As coaches we have a huge opportunity to help this process by giving support / guidance in times  of uncertainty, but most importantly facilitating change in a positive way with authenticity. We can guide both employees and leaders, and encourage the leaders to have the “Difficult Conversations” , and the employees not to be shy and come forward with their concerns. We also need to look at new and innovative approaches, such as Systemic Team Coaching .

I listened to a brilliant talk by Peter Hawkins yesterday of both Renewal Associates and Henley Business School. His point was clear, we are clearly in the VUCA world now and it is accelerating. He has interviewed CEO’s and business leaders, and they have confirmed VUCA as the new reality. We need some radical thinking around coaching practice. We need to be able to coach systemically, and not just coach the people in teams but the connections between them, and furthermore the connections between teams. The majority of businesses are now SME’s and start-ups, and even collaborations. This also reinforces the requirement for Systemic Team Coaching. I can also see a huge overlap between this, and that we do in the operational excellence space with “Lean” which is all about team engagement and rapid deployment of critical change.

I am looking forward to the 3rd edition of his  book on the subject which will be out on July 11th.

As we start the week that is “Mental Health Awareness Week“, there have already been great recent initiatives on this. Princes Harry and William with their openness and support for recent UK events like the London Marathon. Raising awareness is the first step of the journey. It is more prevalent than ever in this VUCA world we live in. More stresses and strains for individuals then ever before, and the environment is only going to get tougher. I remember listening to a psychologist on the radio talking about “Executive Stress”.  In reality our executives are probably less stressed than people lower down the hierarchy, and also in the close contact professions like medicine and teaching. The theory is simple, those further up the chain have more control of their respective environments, time to plan, and the bandwidth i.e teams to help them. This is another great example of where science and particularly physics overlaps with emotions and psychology. In physics we have the equation stress(pressure)=force/area. The same applies in life, we can reduce our stress by having broader shoulders.

So that is easy said, but not necessarily easily done.  We can increase the size of our shoulders, by taking accountability for our behaviour, our demeanour, and influencing as best we can our personal environment. Again easily said, but not so easily done.  One of the concepts I have discussed before is that of energy “Energy Leadership“. Knowing how we show up in the world “energetically” can significantly help our self awareness, mindfulness and personal performance. If you want to know more on how you can do this please contact us, or visit our move forward page.

 

There is significant discussion about “Transformation“, specifically  cultural transformation. I regularly go into  consulting clients, and they ask for the “Cultural Transformation” magic bullet.  I politely remind them that there is no magic bullet. Firstly. I tell them that I can facilitate the transformation, but they have to do it themselves. If they don’t own it, the changes won’t be sustainable.

There are three key elements to transformation, Passion, Behavioural Shift and Process Improvement. I liken these to a 3-legged stool, you break one leg and the stool falls over. The change will not happen unless you have all three elements working in harmony. So if we talk about the first element, Passion, what does it take to get this ? One might assume that if people or persons want some change, the passion is already there. This could be true, but If people have been told by others they must initiate a transformation, then they may not necessarily have the passion for it. However we can improve peoples’ passion through better  understanding, authenticity and coaching their Energy. Leaders with greater energy, will be more powerful and passionate about what they do.

So what about Behavioural Shift. This can also be easily coached, assuming the people want to be coached on it. The great global coaching guru Marshall  C Goldsmith is a master at this. This is amply covered in a number of his books including the most famous one “What got you here, won’t get you there” However clients must want to be coached in this area. Coaching is about “Pull” not “Push”. Clients must desire to be coached and “Pull” the coaching. This is particularly pertinent in the area of behavioural shift. Nobody with inappropriate behaviour wants to be judged.

Finally we need to think about the third leg of the stool . This is about the “Process Improvement”, whether it be a business process or a physical process. We can have all the passion and behavioural shifts in the world, but with out a shift in our processes, we will not transform ourselves or organisations. This is the tangible or visible work, which is sometimes characterised as, or attributed to the processing and logical part of our brain. So, how do we coach for this ? This is where we engage, raise the awareness of the individual or team, and guide them down a path to process improvement. We can guide them in the value of process improvement. This is where coaching and consulting and coaching overlap. I quite often find that my “Lean” approach helps a lot here. However if I am coaching, I do ask for permission to “consult” so as not to devalue the coaching in any way.

If we are able to help clients achieve this, it is a major step forward and involves a lot of work. I also use a lot of metaphors in this process, and use this process to help clients build connections between ideas and concepts. This is extremely powerful because it aids self facilitation, and plants “seeds” within clients. Seed planting is also very powerful because it triggers self reflection.  My most successful clients are capable of building bridges and connections. I liken it to cross or strut bracing in construction. The more connections or braces a bridge has, the stronger and ultimately more sustainable a bridge will be. Conversely the less connections, the more likelihood of failure.  I talked about energy earlier, but not only does improved energy help create passion, but it helps us see links and connections, that otherwise we would not have seen.

If things are working properly, we will have left and right “brains” working in total harmony. Ultimately everything needs to be connected

I recently came across a great quotation, “Successful People work on the skill set and don’t rely on their talent”. This is directly linked to coaching because in order to truly work on our skill set, we need to be both driven, and self-aware. These are two key elements that coaching clients have in abundance. The quotation is founded on the principle that we can improve continuously if we have the desire to do so. The self-awareness facilitates the desire. For people who are already on that journey, effective coaching can be an “accelerator”. For those that have a sense that working on their skill set is what they need to do, then coaching  can be an “enabler”.

 

I have to say the Friday Feeling is particularly good today. My son has turned 18, and we will be celebrating tonight. At these times, we talk about physical and emotional maturity, however collaboration is critical to everything we do. One element that exists in families is “unconditional collaboration”. We underestimate the power of unconditional collaboration which can enable the development of things way beyond our individual imaginations. With openness and collaboration we can create the most amazing things. This is founded on trust and authenticity which is the cornerstone of family life. I am very fortunate that this exists in my family, but even more fortunate that it exists with my work partners, which will in turn allow us to create things beyond our initial imagination, and have a positive impact on the world around us. Watch this space…..

I have been reflecting on “Energy” recently mainly in the context  of Leadership. The ELI or Energy Leadership Index Assessment is one of the powerful tools the iPEC trained coaches can use as a pre-cursor to a powerful coaching relationship.

The process involves understanding how we show up in the world relative to our ARL or Average Resonating Level of Energy. Those with higher ARL’s or E-Factors generally have a more fulfilling life. However, our energy at any one time does vary depending on our personal self-awareness and situation.  I can relate a very personal story to this concept. Unfortunately before the recent Christmas break, I picked up a medical condition out of the blue. It hit me hard, and I spent some time in hospital. Fortunately my medical team are now working hard to reduce the physical symptoms, and I am now stable. I went through every energy level from level 1 (playing the victim) to Level 2 (conflict), I can fight this.  I am now at levels 4 and 5 , “serving” and “win-win”. Being able to recognise this is immensely powerful, and helped me through the journey quicker, certainly through the lower catabolic levels (1&2).  If you want to know more, please click the links  and/or even take the ELI assessment by clicking the Take Action button.

 

Being able to challenge in a respectful way is an underrated and under utilised skill. It is interesting to see how social media is developing. Its intent to let everyone publish, is having some positive effects. There are of course some of the obvious adverse affects such as “Public Ranting” , and “Jingoistic Language”. However I see another  less obvious side effect. For those involved in social media because they enjoy it, but have not yet turned off, I see  two emerging camps. There are those that seem to become more and more politicised and enjoy sharing more and more, but worryingly there are those who are drawing away and shutting down for fear of retribution and the adverse publicity based on their opinions. This has been much publicised in the context of trolling and free speech. The whole trend for “Fake News” is also exacerbating the problem. I see a subtle and more concerning trend. The more presentations and workshops I go to, the less people I see challenging the speaker or presenter. I am still unsure what is driving this, but I fear people are losing the skills to challenge in a positive and respectful way. If I see something that is blatantly incorrect, I will challenge. Challenging with knowledge and confidence edifies the debate, and helps others understand better. This is about confidence, and skill in the language, both verbal and body, that we use.

I can see to a certain extent why people won’t challenge in large arenas or on social media, but there is no reason why we should not challenge in forums and presentations. This is another area where coaching can help. Coaching can help remove these confidence or skill blockers so please contact us.

 

Having a strong network in coaching is as as important as any part of your personal or business life. We all know that networks have become increasingly more important, especially with remote working, and the reduction in direct social contact on a daily basis. So how do we maintain an effective network ?

The key word here is “effective”. Firstly the network needs to be “Authentic” , which we have covered earlier https://wp.me/p74y6m-93 .  Authentic in this context means that all those within the network not only trust each other, but buy into the overall mission/vision of the network . The network does not need to have a formal vision or mission, but it needs to know what it stands for, and what it is going to support or publish. The individuals need to contribute equally as best they can and help each other out when required. Even-though the group will have similar values, the members should have differing and complimentary skills.

This is how we can maintain a strong network. The network is more powerful than the sum of the individual parts, and stronger for being tighter. A strong network, will deliver better results with the right ethos and framework.

I have written about authenticity before. I am writing this post in the context of balance. There seems to be significant copy in social media about the positives and negatives of coaching. Some are extremely positive, with very positive and life changing experiences. Some bloggers are less happy, thinking that the coaching industry, and they use the word industry, is a “sham”. Their particular point is around the almost evangelical business like approach that some coaches use. Furthermore they believe that some of the coaches, are using their NLP skills to sell coaching in a cynical way. This of course may be true, but I can say categorically the coaches in my network do not use this approach. Yes we are in business, as it is our livelihood, but we intend to help facilitate genuine life changes that will ultimately sustainable by the client. This is all about personal values and “Authenticity” Ultimately this will be down to the individuals involved, but I would guide any perspective client to have a face 2 face with the coach, or at least a Skype /Call to check them out. Strong and experienced coaches, will have no problem with this at all, and would welcome it.

It is funny what a major life changing event can do. Since setting up on my own, I have had numerous dialogues with friends, associates, ex-colleagues who wanted to understand my decision making process, because they are considering it too. I enjoy working at what I call the “Helicopter” level, where you look down from above at everything and take a strategic view, but we also have to get into the “Weeds” or the detail, in order to check and calibrate. I see this as loosely analogous to “Heart vs.Head” , where quite often the “Heart” is the strategic piece. In any significant decision making process, it is important that we get the balance right, between heart and head. There is no quick fix or magic formula. It comes with self-awareness and experience. We sometimes think that gaining experience is obvious, but we have to be open-minded enough to learn from our experiences for it to be a true experience. This is where the self-awareness can help. These two are inexorably linked. N.L.P. and coaching techniques, such as anchors, triggers and metaphors can help with our self-awareness. Finally, it is OK to get it wrong, because we sometimes need to play and experiment, that all builds on our experience.

The festive break is always a time for reflection. Quite often we ask the question what we are doing, or are we in the right job ? This is good, but we also need to be careful of the “lemming effect”, where we are considering a move because others are considering it. This is sometimes known as “group-think” or a cognitive bias. This is where we need to use all areas of our brain, the processing and logic side, as well as the emotional side. This should not prevent us from doing what is right, but ensures balance, and all options are considered. It  sounds very simple, but make list of the positives and negatives, and more importantly have a plan. Ensure that you are working on a plan, before you jump ship to avoid using the life belt. Some plans can take weeks, some years depending on  what you want to do, and the magnitude of the change. If you have financial commitments, make sure you can protect your financial security, or at least have an interim solution.  Many people jump for emotional reasons, and land into trouble. It is difficult to stay focused on your new endeavours with financial worries. Again, all these elements should not stop you, but are there to ease the transition. Everyones personal circumstances are different.

Follow your passion, but use that passion to good effect.

We are now at the time where most of us will be gearing up for a fresh start in 2017. Some have said that with changing geopolitical landscape that 2016 was a bad year. I think this is very difficult to calibrate or judge, and is totally dependent on the “Minds Eye” or the lens we look at things through. With the right mindset our years will always be strong. However we need to ramp up wisely and follow our intended paths. Sometimes we feel the need to dive in at full pace, but if we go too fast we can lose our peripheral vision. Our peripheral vision allows us to monitor the ever changing landscape, and adjust accordingly without deviating from our path. I heard a great quote a few years back, “We need to be one step ahead, but not two”. This really resonated with me as it means that by staying just ahead of the curve, we don’t lose sight of what is changing around us. The danger being that our path is not corrected accordingly, thus allowing us to follow our fundamental goals in away that embraces what is around us.

We know that Xmas can be a time of festivity and fun, but it can also be stressful for some. The whole occasion creates massive expectations  for those involved, and emotions can run high. If you feel getting into this zone, take a time out. I find listening to relaxing music or meditation, or going for a walk can help a lot. Remember if you see it happening to somebody else, don’t judge but use your coaching and observation skills wisely and carefully.

Have a great one everyone.