Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The one where the "Boot" was on the other foot – Part 2 "The way we think"

Last week I was invited to join a demonstration day with TrainersKitbag (@trainerskitbag) and in yesterdays blog here I talked about my reflections from the day focussing on “The Roles we Play”.  In today's blog I’d like to share my reflections regarding Intuition.

Part 2 “The way we think”
I have to say that I had only a rudimentary idea of what the demo day would involve, let alone the outcome or potential business impact.  Yet I knew the day was a great opportunity and I felt that it would be a valuable experience – I just didn’t know how.

If I had to justify the business value of the demo day to a “higher authority” my analytical, cognitive mind probably would have struggled.  However, my intuitive mind knew this was the right thing to do.  As it turned out, it was exactly the right thing to do.

Furthermore, during the demonstration day our team of 3 relied heavily on intuitive thinking with successful results.  At times, we would consciously and methodically solve a problem.  Other times we “just knew the right thing to do next” but couldn’t say why or how we knew it to be correct.  The hunch, instinct or gut reaction was evident throughout the day and in much of our problem solving activity.

The way we think we think
Ever asked yourself how you come to the decisions that you make?  The chances are that if you tried to describe it to someone you’d probably come up with a perfectly rational description of a thought process.  It might even look like a step by step process of “how to think”.

A lot of what we do in the workplace is based on an expectation that there is a rational, cognitive, analytical description of what to do.  We interview to a set of criteria… we make investment decision based on xyz parameters… we work to a set process… you get the idea.

Yet, if you spent time on this you’d probably describe some of your decision making as “if it feels right.. go ahead.”, or “if it smells a bit fishy… leave it alone.”.  How can a decision or thought feel or smell?

The reality is that these are not just colloquialisms – they describe our non-analytical judgement. They describe our instinct or intuition.

The Neuroscience opportunity
The study of neuroscience is bringing our understanding of the brain on leaps and bounds.  Much of this new understanding is relatively recent but is helping to explain how our analytical & intuitive thinking processes work.  Yet management & leadership awareness appears to be relatively low and training & development programmes have not yet caught up.

If intuition is such a part of how we function then isn't it something managers & leaders should take time to understand?

There is a huge business & social opportunity here for those who have the interest in looking at what is coming out of neuroscience.  Personally, I see furthering my understanding as part of my professional development and even adding to my professional practice.

However, I’m not a neuroscientist so I won’t try to be one.  If you are interested in the subject of Neuroscience or specifically intuition then I recommend reading this and this by Matthew Lieberman.  You might also find the NeuroLeadership Institute blog interesting.

If these are too “hefty” or you’d just like to learn in a more experiential environment then drop me a line and I’ll happily put you in touch with Neuroscientists that I’ve been working with.

In the meantime, I'd love to hear your thoughts on intuition and the opportunity Neuroscience can provide business leaders.

Monday, 28 November 2011

The one where the "Boot" was on the other foot – Part 1 "The Roles We Play"

Last week I was invited to join a demonstration day with Trainers Kitbag (@trainerskitbag).  They’re a great organisation providing a range of innovative games, events & simulations.

The day was designed to try out their “Property Trading Game” product and spend quality time with the Trainers Kitbag team and other practitioners.  Although I’ve used games with clients I have to say it’s been around 5 years since I was last in such a situation myself.  So the opportunity to learn more about how I would interact & impact with strangers in such a situation was compelling!

The game itself is very carefully and well designed - you can read more about it here and here.  It's something I'll be using with clients in the new year.

Over the next few days I’d like to share with you my reflections from the day starting with...

Part 1. “The roles we play”
In most game play, the roles that we take or respond to provide learning in terms of both our preferences as well as how we interact with others.  It’s a great way of highlighting norms, blindspots, hidden talents & limitations.  Reflecting on our actions and impacts provides rich learning.

In our team for the demo day, all 3 of us are running our own businesses, each with successful corporate careers and many years experience.  We’d never worked together and had either never met or had only recently become acquainted.  I don’t think any of us had come knowing how to play the game in any sense.  However, we were in it to win!

The way teams often work (or don’t)
So you’d expect some roles or preferences to become apparent wouldn’t you?  Some conflict or robust discussion maybe?  Perhaps a crisis out of a mistake or failure?  That drive to win must come out in some way surely?

With an existing team or with internal peer competition I’m sure this is exactly what would have transpired throughout the day.  The impact of “Joe” taking control but not attending to others perhaps.  The way decisions were handled by “Mary”.  The silence of “Pat” who was always on the periphery but unable to assert the great insight they held.

You can already get a sense of potential issues that might arise and so provide the opportunity for observation, reflection & learning.

The way teams can work
Well our team “BOOT” (yes, it’s inspired by the game Monopoly) challenged those expectations completely!
Throughout the day there was no visible hierarchy, no formal leadership roles and utter teamwork.  OK, so we took turns to hold the map!  We spoke up when we had an idea – see our work profile above!  In some tasks our preferences inevitably showed – whose wouldn’t!

Yet, there was no conflict or dominance or muted participation.  We achieved highly both as a team as well as in terms of the game itself.  Here’s how:
  • We always listened to each other, carefully and with care.
  • We were respectful of each other throughout the day.
  • We welcomed & recognised the strengths each brought to the challenges.
  • None of us tried to act as leader. We all led together.
  • We celebrated when we won.  We moved on when we lost.
  • No one was left behind.
  • We had fun!

I’d be worried about this self-assessment if it wasn’t for the fact that we were so successful and we know where we could improve!

Reinforcing the above, there were also some clear and critical team enabling factors which created the environment for these behaviours:
  • A strong desire and motivation to work together.
  • A shared team objective.
  • Similar ethics & values – although unspoken these came out in our actions.
  • Successful compatibility – through luck or perhaps synchronicity we worked well together

So looking at the "roles we play", I believe these are often the issue.  More to the point the way we choose to exercise those roles and our perceptions of others' roles.

What is critical to success is how we behave and the values that we hold.

What are your thoughts and experiences of successful teams?
What behaviours do they exhibit?
What enables them to succeed?

Wednesday, 23 November 2011


Perusing the “Activity” function last night on Twitter, I noticed that someone I was following had just followed what is best described as a porn tweet account.  I didn’t even know they existed!

Anyway, I don’t know this person but I’m interested in their business.  They are the founder/CEO of a major people change organisation which relates closely to my own work.  Seeing that they actually use Twitter and that we have networks in common we ended up following each other.

Ethics in the moment
What happened next was spontaneous.  I unfollowed them.

Immediately after I found myself questioning whether I was being prudish.  Did it actually matter if this person, like many others, liked pornography?  I’ve not felt the need to unfollow anyone because of an ethical issue.  Yet this felt like one.

On reflection, I’m surprised at their stupidity of publicly following a porn tweet account.  I don’t see a place for this in business or professional circles and I don’t believe such actions build the right type of engagement.  Personally, I don’t want to be associated with people on Twitter who do.

Looking at their client list I think they are playing with fire.  It’s the kind of action that can lose you business with clients who care about their reputation & associations.

A learning experience!
I have my own ethical standards and values but I don’t force these upon others.  I think I’m very much a live and let live kind of person.  This just felt wrong to me.

Yet I have to say I’ve never experienced Twitterethics before.  So I want to share my actions & thoughts for your scrutiny!

What are your thoughts?
What would you have done?
What ethical dilemmas have you faced on Social Media?

Would love to hear from you!

It's a Wonderful Life

By National Telefilm Associates (Screenshot of the movie) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Each Christmas Eve we watch “It’s a Wonderful Life”.  Wonderfully sentimental & full of humanity, it’s a classic film and seems to be a great reflective way to start Christmas and be appreciative for what we have.

The other morning, there was an interview on the radio with Karolyn Grimes who played little “Zuzu” - I think she might be the only surviving cast member from this 1946 film.

Wisdom at work
In the interview, she described how she learnt on the film-set from people like of James Stewart & Frank Capra that it’s OK to make mistakes.  As a 5/6 year old child actress, I think such support and teaching must have had a profound & lasting influence on Karolyn.

She also touched upon the moral outlook of the banker “George Bailey” in the film played by James Stewart.  Karolyn shared these core observations about his character:
  • He cares about the people working and helping the bank to survive
  • He has a heart & a system of ethics
What caught my attention here was a sense of wisdom which has been passed down and has endured despite Karolyn's remarkable & tragic life.  For me I think the following quote from her captures this well:

"There have been adverse things happen in my own life, but there are balances out there. And the movie itself has affected my life so much because I have George Bailey's philosophy … that friendships and caring and loving will carry you through anything ... I really feel like Zuzu is kind of a mission maybe, I don't know. I think that there is a higher power at work and that I had to go through a lot of adverse situations in my life to understand other people's pain."

Wisdom & work
I’m taking a few things from this which I think we can reflect upon in our work:
  1. Our employees, supporters & clients are our true fans.  Care deeply for them and they will reciprocate, sometimes in quite amazing ways.
  2. We are all challenged at some time during our lives.  In adversity, it’s not our commercial acumen that drives our survival it’s our friendship, our caring & our love.  It might sound “soft” but on personal reflection these factors have always been significant for me.
  3. A system of ethics drives our behaviours.  Our true fans probably recognise them already in our actions.  Perhaps we should do more to recognise them ourselves and state them explicitly. 

I think the sentiment here is best described by the angel "Clarence" at the end of the film.  He has left "George Bailey" a copy of the book Tom Sawyer and in it the message reads :

"Dear George: Remember no man is a failure who has friends.
Thanks for the wings! Love Clarence."

Monday, 21 November 2011

Ruthlessly Results-Oriented

What ideas or reactions does the word RUTHLESS concoct for you?  It probably evokes feelings of someone who would trample over you or others to achieve their goal.

So what if I described to you someone who was "ruthlessly results-oriented"?  I recently exchanged tweets with @coachingacademy as follows:
A bit more research and I found the referenced Fast Company article Wanna be a player?  Get a coach!” written by Claire Tristram in 2006.  The actual passage in the article states:

If coaches have one thing in common, it's that they are ruthlessly results-oriented”.

I disagree.  Completely.

A question of Trust
In coaching, the basis of a successful coaching relationship is trust.  With trust established, a skilled coach can create the right degrees of tension and challenge to raise awareness and help facilitate change.  Without change there are no meaningful results.  Without results, coaching has no value.  Results come from trust.

This perhaps defines what good coaches have in common.

Ruthless means to act in a manner which is cruel, merciless or hard-hearted, without pity or compassion.

To me this feels like the antithesis of good coaching.  It feels like it could undermine trust.  It feels like it could drive a client to follow the coaches agenda, not the clients own.

A problem from the past
The article was written 5 years ago and is after all just one article.  There is an increasingly better understanding of coaching and what good practice looks like, especially when working with Executives.  We’ve moved on right?  Well this is where I have the problem…

Try Googling "ruthlessly results-oriented” and you initially get 8,330 results!  Scroll through them and it comes down to 259 results.  Over 40% of these are postings from the last year all of which seem to reference and endorse this phrase used in Fast Company magazine 5 years ago.

So what I take from this is that there are plenty of people out there who still feel that “If coaches have one thing in common, it's that they are ruthlessly results-oriented”.  Most of these people seem to be coaches…

Does it matter?
Those who know me well enough know that I’m passionate about assuring quality practice in both coaching and mentoring.  It’s one of the reasons I’m involved as a volunteer with the EMCC.

The basis for coaching is trust.  The value of coaching is in the results we help our clients achieve.

My concern is not with an article written 5 years ago.  My concern is with the continued use of language which harks back to an era when some coaches were more interested in their own results rather than their clients.  This worries me.  Deeply.

So that's my view but how about you?  Tell me what you think...

  • How would you feel about a coach who was “ruthlessly results-oriented”?
  • What are your concerns about poor coaching practice?