Sunday, 22 October 2017

#Mentoring – an ancient practice for modern day #female #educational #leaders! 

The world of female educational leadership is on fire! Over the last couple of years, thanks to the work of #WomenEd and an increasing recognition that the time for female leadership in education is NOW, women and men alike have been looking at ways in which female leaders can be supported through relevant, on the job support mechanism. Mentoring is one of them and here is why and how organisations and individuals should get involved.  
Mentoring is as old as humankind. The word transports us back to ancient Greek mythology, to the time when Ulysses entrusted his son to his friend Mentor before leaving for a long war. Ulysses asked Mentor to turn his boy into a man, to teach him the rope of life. Ever since mentoring signifies a relationship with an older and wiser person who ‘has been there, got the t-shirt’ and can therefore share his/her wisdom with a less experienced professional.  Mentoring has evolved over time, but its core aspects remain and so does its value. Mentoring and Coaching are not the same thing, although they overlap in some areas, but both types of interventions can be used effectively to develop and support individuals and organisations if qualified practitioners become involved.   Sponsoring is sometime the direct consequence of mentoring however, as senior professionals proactively champions the progression of former mentees they have helped develop.
In organizations, embedding mentoring practices encourages learning and development across all levels through a relationship-based, on-the-job process.  Experience shows that, mentoring is highly effective because:
·         It is a personalised intervention based on effective communication.   
·         It helps managers improve their ability to listen and question and be questioned by their staff.   It helps individuals to develop within the organisation’s framework.
·         It helps improve team-working / working relationships across departments at different levels and between specific individuals. 
·         It helps identify and support talent management and succession planning.
As an individual woman (or man for that matter) one can use a mentor, or more than one, for different personal and professional purposes:
-          To address on-going issues and challenges, in one’s personal and professional life
-          To help you raise self-confidence, self-esteem and self-awareness
-          To help with identifying and pursuing a pathway, whether in relation to work or your private life
-          To start new projects, careers, or indeed a business.
There are almost no limits to what mentoring can do for individuals, because it is meant to be a safe yet energising environment in which to discuss ideas within the fear of being judged or assessed in any way. A mentor is there to support you, stimulate your thinking, and stretch you at times. BUT above everything else a mentor is there to help individuals achieve their potential.
As a senior female educational leader put it to me For me it was about having the right mentor that understood the sector, culture and politics. The process helped me navigate my way through some of the complexity’.
Finding the Right Mentor
Mentors can be found in many context: in work, at a club, within professional associations.
Many mentoring relationships are informal and therefore free. These can work very well and suit individual situations if one has clarity about their objectives and they fully trust the mentor. Often work-placed mentors fall in this category, they take the role of sounding board, they open doors, they help us network but we do not expect them to see us every month or to necessarily help us set the agenda. They are slightly more reactive, responding to our needs as and when we raise an issue.
There are however situations in which it is better for the aspiring ‘mentee’ to put some more structure around the relationship. For example, when clarity is missing or when one needs to quickly identify positive and tangible outcomes. In these cases a ‘professionally trained’ or qualified mentor is a better choice. This when mentoring may demonstrate some overlap with coaching. When a mentor is a third party, paid for its mentoring expertise and contracted for a period of time, the relationship begins to resemble a coaching one. Nevertheless there remains some important differences: for example, while coaching in the work place is often seen as remedial, mentoring is focussed on achieving the greatest potential and on moving from ‘good to great’. That is why people are happy to promote their mentoring relationship, as it is seen as highly aspirational! 
How Does An Effective Mentoring Relationship Work?
Traditionally mentoring is done on a one to one, face to face basis.
Technology has helped us develop different way to deliver mentoring and it is not uncommon to have a remote relationship, taking place over skype or other such media.
Moreover, mentoring can also take place in a group context, can be reversed (a younger person mentoring a more senior professional), it can be focussed on specific areas (supporting and promoting women in the work place, maternity and returners mentoring and so on). Often these approaches are found within companies who have embedded mentoring in the way they operate.
Whichever way may work for you, I encourage you to look around you to see if you can find a mentor to help you grow in different areas of your life. Through mentoring you will discover opportunities and options you did not know you had. 

Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieving their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions. 

Friday, 30 June 2017

Why we can all unleash our inner #WonderWoman

I recently watched the Wonder Woman block buster and, Hollywood clich├ęs notwithstanding, thoroughly enjoyed it. Not only did I go with a female friend who - like me - rejoiced at the opportunity of finally seeing a female hero on screen. More than that, I left the cinema feeling uplifted and empowered having witnessed female leadership of the kind I witness in action almost everyday.

If you are slightly puzzled at the above statement, I do not mean women lifting cars or going around with swords in the back of their dresses. But I do witness on a regular basis in women some of the traits and qualities that make Wonder Woman who she is. The choices she makes in the film are dictated by the female leadership traits that many other, rather more ordinary women display in their every day life, at home and at work.

Here are some of these traits:

#1 Integrity and authenticity above all. Wonder Woman bases all her action on staying true to her self, her principles and what she believes. Wonder Woman holds a very strong set of values and her best decisions are based on those. She fails when she goes astray and so do we. So the message is clear: know who you are and ensure that everything you do is in line with what you hold dear and will be always on track.
#2 Be supportive of other women and ask for help as necessary. Needless to say, as an Amazon Wonder Woman was raised in a matriarchal society where women dominated. She supported other women and asked for or offered help as necessary. Our society is rather more mixed and there is great beauty on that. Yet we can all do more to support other women, build a network and ensure that we facilitate opportunities for other female colleagues at work. In the longer term we will all win.

#3 Be brave. Easy to do in a film you will say, that is what heroes are all about. But no, I don't mean that you need to put your life or career at risk. I mean that you need to love and respect your self enough to recognise your worth, don't hold limiting beliefs and 'go for it' when the opportunity arises. Sometimes there will be scary decisions to be made - but you can rest assured that without fail they hold the best rewards.  If you are brave, the people you lead will stay with you on that path and even greater things will follow.

#4 Use emotions in a positive way. I have written before about the positive power of emotions and how important it is to use them in a positive and constructive way. Emotions are not something to be scared of, they are something to acknowledge and harness  in your self and other. Leading via emotional awareness (or EQ) will enable you to connect with others in a far deeper and authentic way enabling more meaningful relationships to take place as you listen with all your senses and take on board feelings as well as logic and reasons.

#5 Find Your True Call.   Wonder woman finds her true call at the end of the film. She says she finally know why she is in the world for and that gives her determination, passion and strength to act.
What is your true call? If you have not found it, take time to reflect and identify it. Observe yourself and your emotions, ask your self what drives you to wake up every morning. Once you have found your true call and your meaning don't shy away from it and everything will become apparent and easy to do as a consequence.

I know that women have these traits and it is a matter of taking affirmative actions and wanting to use them that will make a difference. You probably already display them albeit perhaps subconsciously. The best thing you can do is to go forth with the confidence and self-awareness that you already are Wonder Woman!    

Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieving their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here. 


Friday, 26 May 2017

Why #Authentic #Leaders Are Not Perfectionists

Do leaders strive for perfection?

I was asking my self this question few days ago after listening on the radio to somebody who - despite having had the top role in the organisation -  talked about how doubts would surface regularly about her ability to lead. Not openly of course, but in rather subtle ways, she was questioning her right to be up there and her ability to achieve the best for the organisation.

It occurred to me that it is possibly because this senior lady had a rather 'fixed' idea of what a CEO looks like that she might be beating herself down. This concept that a perfect CEO should be doing or saying or looking in a specific way may be what is undermining her confidence on the one hand and on the other pushing her away from her #authentic self.

In my opinion it is a whole lot healthier and positive to think not of striving for perfection but rather striving for excellence. The difference is perhaps small but rather important when it comes to its impact!

Excellence is a dynamic concept that may change according to individuals, context, time, technological progress, culture and so on. Excellence is a positive concept inasmuch as it is acknowledged by others but not imposed by others. Most importantly, it also has a 'human' feel to it, inasmuch as it can be achieved, it is worth striving for but it always leaves room for learning and improvement.

Perfection is by definition not wordily.  As such striving for perfection is a self-defeating and negative concept as it can never be conquered! That is why you may notice that...

- perfectionists can be very dissatisfied people
- perfectionists can focus on one thing at a time
- perfectionists can be very self-absorbed
- perfectionists have the tendency to procrastinate.
- perfectionists are so fixed on the destination that they will often miss out on the joy of the journey!

So rather than concerning ourselves with being perfect I suggest that we focus on being on a path to excellence.

Authenticity and excellence walk hand in hand: the answer to 'what is excellence?' requires me to connect with my authentic self in order to align with my most important values and beliefs. Quite the opposite, wanting to be perfect may compromise who you truly are in favour of some preconceived idea that is impressed upon us.

As authentic leaders we choose to enjoy the journey as well as a destination. We are also grateful and learn from the mistakes that happen on that pathway.

Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieving their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here. 



Sunday, 14 May 2017

Why #Soft #Skills Are Top of Employers Lists (And Why We should call them #Leadership Skills!)

I was very pleased to see that in a recent report cited by the World Economic Forum non cognitive skills are reported to be increasingly important to employers.

More specifically it is being said that 'non-cognitive skills are also integral to educational performance and success at work – and are becoming increasingly so. Non-cognitive skills are your “soft skills”: things like how well you can communicate, how well you work with others, how well you lead a team and how self-motivated you are.'

It goes on to say that While fewer than 20% of hiring managers said that recent graduates lacked the math skills needed for the work, more than half said that recent graduates lacked attention to detail. About equal shares of hiring managers saw deficiencies in writing proficiency and communication—the cognitive and non-cognitive aspects, respectively, of a single skill. About a third of hiring managers said recent college graduates lacked data analysis and teamwork skills,” 

This is a US based report, but in my experience, it could be easily extended to the UK and possibly Europe, if not the rest of the world! For years and years all we have focussed education on has been academics and they are important, indeed essential! BUT - and it is a big BUT - as the world becomes more complex, as the pattern of change increases, as diversity enriches our workplace, so called soft skills are coming into their own and those who are able to display them end up in a much better position...not only do they get ahead in employment, they actually stay EMPLOYABLE. And this is a much more important area in a society where 'secure jobs' and 'jobs for life' are a distant memory.   

Actually, in my opinion, 'soft' or 'non-cognitive skills' is not the appropriate terminology. Communication, Self Motivation, Team Working and the likes should really be identified as Leadership Skills.  Ultimately, what makes leaders if not their capacity to engage others through their vision and be a role model to the people surrounding them? And are these attributes not derived by great communication skills, team work, self awareness and motivation?

The point is this: Leadership is necessary at all levels in the workplace. Leadership skills are seldom dictated by technical knowledge alone. More likely technical knowledge provides the stepping stone for self-confidence,  but this alone does not make one a leader. A true leader - at whatever the level in an organisation or community - will add to this communication, empathy, listening and more broadly coaching skills, setting and pursuing objectives, to mention but a handful.

Thus, it is absolutely critical to add so-called soft skills to any education and it is never too early too start. Some people are getting the message loud and clear , which is why I am now being asked to deliver workshops around these topics not only to undergraduates but actually to 15-17 year old students...those schools / organisations are the trailblazers but we need others to follow to ensure that society can truly create 21st century ready professionals.

Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieving their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here. 

Friday, 21 April 2017

The Power of Silent #Leadership

In this age of noise pollution and information overload I have found myself longing for moments of silence, away from everyday clatter. With silence comes mindfulness, reflection and learning as we take the time to stop and consider what is happening around us and within us.

Silence has indeed many benefits, not least because it can enable personal grow as well as growth in others when used well.  

- Silence can help you develop your other senses - in particular your intuition - as it enables you to focus on your internal thoughts and feelings;

- Silence can help you grow your own self awareness as it enables you to pay attention to and understand your emotions;

-Silence enables you develop deeper active listening skills and in so doing it encourages you to interact with others at a deeper level.

When we are engaged in a meaningful conversation and we allow silence to happen, instead of rushing to fill the space between sentences, we find ourselves able to explore a topic in greater depth by allowing the other person to develop their thinking on the topic.

Leaders are often expected to be vocal - not to mention 'loud' - about their wishes but in some contexts greater impact can be achieved when silence is used in role modelling desired behaviours.
It is often said that 'actions speak louder than words'   therefore if in doubt opt for silent leadership, role modelling rather than preaching about the behaviours that you wish to see happening amongst the people you are surrounded by.

Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieving their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here. 

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

#IWD17 Is Upon Us...So What Can I Do About It?

#IWD17 is upon us and this year more than ever is important to celebrate yes, but to also do something about it! The theme in 2017 is  #beboldforchange… so especially (but – be warned - not exclusively! ) if you are a senior professional, whether a woman or a man, here are few ideas that you can implement at an individual level to support and encourage women to thrive in thein the work environment:

Support female colleagues through mentoring. Mentoring is a very powerful development tool and can be done informally as much as formally at a pace that suits the mentee as much as the mentor. Within a mentoring relationship many different issues can be addressed from promotion and career, to work-life balance and skills development that may not be otherwise freely discussed. As mentoring conversations are totally confidential and based on trust the relationship can be extremely beneficial and long lasting and may also raise the mentor’s awareness of otherwise unknown challenges the mentees are encountering.

Give them visibility by showcasing their good work and in so doing raising their confidence. Research shows that women often lack the confidence to ‘blow their own trumpets’ and therefore are more likely to be bypassed when it comes to allocating important new projects. 
Encourage them to network internally and externally; even more importantly, take them to a networking event and ‘show them the rope’. Women are often quoted to find networking difficult, citing lack of time as the main reason. Often however confidence is the real hurdle. So give them the chance to ‘test’ networking and ‘break the ice’ in a room full of strangers by inviting them to attend with you. Eventually they will feel confident enough to do it on their own!
Ask questions and give them a voice. If you manage women in in junior or middle positions, ask the question: What does success look like for you? What matters? What bothers you? What works or doesn’t? Too often women in more junior positions feel they cannot raise their concerns or ideas unless they are given ‘permission’. Chances are if it matters to them it will matter to others too.
Be a positive role model and inspire them with your behaviour. If you do one or more or the things above you are likely to be already a role model. Young women need to know that there are senior figures in the industry who are women and men they wish to emulate in their behaviour and in their thinking. Make sure to point out these people to young people when you meet them, make sure their success stories are described together with the mindset and behaviours that enabled that success.

Happy IWD 2017!
Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieving their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here. 

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

The Trouble With Empowerment

Online female magazine Broadsheet reported a couple of weeks ago that in her latest column for Fortune, Ellevest co-founder and CEO Sallie Krawcheck writes about why she's over so-called women's empowerment. "The term has always bothered me," she writes. "I thought it was because it was so widely used, or that I've been involved in too many toothless women's 'empowerment initiatives,'" writes Krawcheck. "But then I looked up the meaning: Empower (verb): to give power or authority to. That’s it. That’s the issue: to give power or authority. To give. So, to empower women, power must be given to them. Presumably by an entity that already has it.'  She then goes on to say that  instead of hanging our hopes on empowerment the conversation must be about "power—using and growing the power we women already have."

I want to share my thoughts on this, because I actually disagree with Sally. Personally I believe that the term 'empowerment' is absolutely correct, precisely because of its definition. Women need to be given power. But - and here is the 'hard nut to crack' - not by the 'patriarchy' as Sally puts it or by the establishments. I actually believe that women need to give themselves that permission, to hold that power and make s*** happen! 

Unfortunately women often deny themselves that power, take away the permission to feel that they can and must pursue their dreams, their mission, their opportunities. As a coach and as somebody who works with women on a regular basis I see this happening again and again: even women who are already in position of power can be ridden with self-doubt and impostor syndrome and deny themselves the chance to grab that power with both hands.

To be empowered we first of all must think that we can and we must hold and use the power that's within us. We must give ourselves permission to aspire to powerful roles, positions and opportunities or simply aspire to identify and use power in whatever way we choose and see fit.

The fact that often other people think they can withdraw power from us is often a reflection of our own self esteem and self-belief. The 'patriarchy' picks up on the vibes in the room... If we don't believe in ourselves, if we don't believe we can why should anyone else?

Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieving their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here.