Friday, 29 May 2015

6 Speakers Share Their Thoughts For The Weekend

I have just attended TEDxWhitehallWomen today and although admittedly I was not able to stay for the entire duration, I was there for a great number of interesting and inspirational talks from passionate individuals, women and men.

 Rather than trying to synthesise their content I thought I would provide a summary of some of the most relevant, heart felt, authentic thoughts that resonated greatly with me. 

Lord Holmes of Richmond, Paralympic Gold Medalist Swimmer

'How do you carry on after the sudden permanent loss of your sight?' 

‘It is not about resources but resourcefulness’

‘Let belief blast us into the characters we can be' (borrowed from Shakeaspere)

Sophia Cannon, political commentator & barrister 

'Use the power of 3 in advocacy to put your case forward, to describe, define and develop your advocacy'

'Time is a particularly powerful aspect of advocacy. To make your case use...It was - It is - It will be'

Sue Owen, Permanent secretary, Department of Culture media Sport

'A career is more a tree than a ladder. A tree has many branches, you can choose different ways to climb up'    
'Bring all of your self to work (ladies), including your domestic skills.'

'Have a go and always aim for a branch higher than you had ever expected! Never, ever give up'

Harriet Minter, Editor, Guardian's Women in Leadership

'Adventure, Success and Bravery are all related.'

'Women need a safe place to try and fail.'

'Try failing until you get totally comfortable with it. Success will follow.'  

Lynne Parker, Entrepreneur, Funny Women

'Men use humour to rule - women to build community'

'Women take a lot longer to decide if something is funny. This is because so much is going on in our brain. It is paralysis by analysis'

Carl Konadu, entrepreneur, Commonwealth through Sport 

'Compassion, understanding and patience are the three leadership qualities I have learnt from the women around me' 

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

#TuesdayTRIOS - Is Procrastination Ever Helpful?

For the second feature on this month's Time Management topic, I decided to consider the issue of procrastination, simply because this is something we are all affected by to some extent.

I guess, if there is a number one rule in personal effectiveness, that must be to not put off tasks that need doing, especially if this is in favour of less urgent - even though often a lot more enjoyable! - tasks. Some people are chronic procrastinators and that cannot be a good thing. But is procrastination always SO bad? Do we REALLY need to feel guilty every time we postpone something? It kind of feels that we are being too hard on ourselves, that perhaps it is ok to delay a task occasionally and provided it does not become a habit...but when? Can procrastination ever be ok? Possibly to save my own soul, I have identified three instances when I believe a delay does not mean you are being ineffective:

#1 It is ok to procrastinate when the task is NOT IMPORTANT. 

The task may be urgent however, in which case you need to do it or delegate it quickly!
But sometime, the task is neither urgent nor terribly important...think filing, for example. Well, in that case I think it is ok to postpone it for a while. At some point you will run out of space on your desk, lose a rather helpful document or important number and that will teach you a lesson and so you will eventually do the filing.

#2 It is ok to procrastinate when the task is VERY IMPORTANT.

You may think this is an odd piece of advice, but actually when something really matters and you need to gather resources, display clarity of thinking and consider a strategic issue thoroughly, I believe that postponing any activity is the best thing to do. Not for a very long time, but enough to ensure you have given yourself the time to think through every aspect of it before you actually get into the doing. This can be quite difficult because in general, important but not terribly urgent tasks are quite enjoyable and the temptation is to get on with it without giving it due thinking time. Best not to do so though and ensure you have a clear picture of what you are going to do when you eventually do it.

#3 It is ok to procrastinate when the task has IMPORTANT IMPLICATIONS.

Picture this. Your client has sent you an email complaining about a poor service they have received. Your boss has sent you an upset text message because the project hasn't finished on time. Your staff member has emailed you to say that in your latest meeting you have offended a colleague and should say sorry. In all these cases, picking up the phone or writing an email is what most of us are naturally prone to do. However popular wisdom that 'one should sleep over it' may not be totally unfounded.  Most of what we say or write is likely to sound or feel like 'knee-jerk reaction'. Once again we will have not had the time to consider the serious implications of any of our actions and how we may best address it and indeed resolve it.
In some cases. letting a day or even a night pass by may not be a viable option, but still, in all these cases the best advice is to refrain from doing anything until we have worked through the facts either by ourselves or with a colleague/supporter. In doing so we will gain clarity, understand the details and most likely find the appropriate language to resolve any outstanding issue effectively.

If none of this applies however, chances are you are making excuses! If so, the first step is to recognise this unnecessary procrastination and then put in place practical steps to undertake the task. You can read some tips in my earlier blog if what you need is some help with time management and action -planning!    


Friday, 22 May 2015

It's all in the #planning (and #preparation!)

Gone are the times in which entering a company meant job security and a pension at the end of it. Likewise, more people are abandoning corporate life in favour of self employment.
Whatever side of the fence you are in, the choice is yours and you are ultimately in control. By this I mean, you cannot expect other people to do it for you, make those decisions on your behalf, whether it is about a promotion or putting you forward for the interesting projects or giving you a new opportunity and so on. It is alomost entirely  need to think through what we wish to achieve and make it happen. And happen it will, if we continuously strive for clarity, improvement and self-development.  

People who are in control and achieve their objectives: 

         Understand themselves; their strengths and weaknesses 
         Plan, (self) assess, practice, feedback and review 
         Seek to continuously improve themselves 
         Find a mentor

Here are 4 steps and several questions to help you start the process:  

#1 – Understand Yourself /Get Clarity      

         What are my strengths and weaknesses?
         What are my likes and dislikes?
         What are my most important values?
         What brings me happiness?
         What are the issues I deeply care about?

#2 – Identify Issues / Challenges

         What are the challenges I am facing?
         Which issues matters the most?
         Which are the results I would like to achieve?
         What is the preferred outcome?
         What is my definition of success? 

#3 – Identify Options

         Make a list of all the possible options
         Identify plus and minuses for every option
         Think of long term versus short term
         Rate and then select the most appealing option(s)

#4 – Make an Action Plan!

         Which steps do you need to undertake to achieve your objective?
         What is the time frame?
         Who can help you by acting as mentor?
         Reality check: how much do you actually want this outcome?
         When will you review your action plan and how will you seek feedback?

The steps are apparently simple but a word of warning, if this process is to be done properly it will require time, reflection and calm (as in lack of distractions)…so put away your mobile gadgets now, take a deep breath and get going!  

Friday, 15 May 2015

The most overlooked attribute in leaders

What do you think is the most overlooked attribute in leaders?

As I regularly read blogs and articles about the subject, I hear that leaders must be great, they must be true to themselves, leaders must be credible, leaders must be expert communicators ...and the list goes on.

But one thing that I hardly ever encounter in literature and, even less so, I experience in real life with people who are in leadership positions is the following trait: HUMILITY. 

Why would humility be a trait of a leader and why would a leader expose him/ herself to the world as humble?

I believe that all greatness, all ability, all power is reduced to little more than a facade unless the leader is able to be humble and act humbly in the face of his/ her people. Being humble does not mean being weak or self-doubtful. Quite the opposite, by being and acting humble a leader can show strengths of character and self-confidence.  I really refer to the leader's ability to recognise mistake and apologise on the one hand, but also to extend a hand or indeed step aside in order to let somebody else go first.

This can happen in a variety of contexts but think of this, for example: How many leaders given the opportunity would renounce to centre stage in order to give somebody else the chance to shine? Or how many leaders would actually be prepared to say publicly that some successful initiative was rather somebody's else idea in their team ? 

Giving credit to others, thanking others, admitting to be wrong or even apologising for a mistake are simple acts of everyday life that most of us do as a matter of fact but somehow appear to escape the majority of people in powerful positions. I am not using the word 'leaders' on purpose here, as I believe that being in a powerful position does not automatically make you a leader.

The problem is that the more successful and powerful one is, the more one believes that in order to retain the position, they have to be seen as having all the answers, all the bright ideas, all the time.  I truly believe that in a highly complex world this is no longer possible nor desirable. By practicing humility openly we invite other people to trust us and engage with us, something that can only spell success for a leader.  

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Come see me on 10 June!

 On 10th June I will be once again hosting a women leadership masterclass as part of the Today's Women- Tomorrow's leaders programme at the University of Hertfordshire!

Never mind if you missed the first one, the masterclasses were designed to be self-standing although you can clearly get a lot out of attending all three. The forthcoming masterclass is about LEADERSHIP AND OTHERS - so we are going to explore how women leaders can impact and influence other people and which skills are most helpful in that regard. More specifically: 

·         Understanding your network
·         Mapping stakeholders
·         Engaging effectively with others through assertive communication
·         Coaching and mentoring skills to get the best out of others

For more information and to attend please contact me or call Bridget French at the University of Hertfordshire on  +44 (0) 1707 285552

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

#TuesdayTRIOS - May is Marvellous (Time) Management Month AKA 3 Reasons why this feature is late...

Hello and welcome to this rather delayed #TuesdayTRIOS ...sorry, I won't hide the fact that I am a week late with the feature this month, but honestly, I was juggling so many balls last week I kind of lost track of time, especially after the long weekend. On the other hand this actually gave me the inspiration to dedicate May's #TuesdayTRIOS to the apparently simple art of Time Management!

We all like to think that we are smart and know how to work 'smart'. But are we really that effective? The fact that we have all been on many time management courses does not actually mean that we fully master the art of being productive. Well, at least I talk for myself! So when I realised that the 'correct' Tuesday had quietly but irreparably slipped away and I would have had to wait a week until I could publish the feature I started to think about why and what had caused me to 'forget' and 'delay' this piece. I have captured three main reasons under the heading of time management which I would like to share with you as you may find them useful.

#1  To flow or not to flow?

I enjoy what I do so much, even if I sound cheesy, it is true! Because I enjoy what I do, I probably take on too much. I get excited about new ideas. I want to pursue opportunities. I want to write and talk and mentor and train all in the same week (or day, sometimes!). I want to chat to people, network and feedback.I also want to deliver excellent services to my clients. Some days I am lucky and I seem to find available hours as if by magic. Some days I cannot and I end up with one or two of the proverbial juggling balls on the floor. This is in itself very interesting, because it means that some days I am so totally in flow, so totally absorbed, concentrated and envrapped in my work that I am capable of completing titan-like activities. How therefore do I ensure that more days are like this, where my focus and drive are 100% there, 100% of the time?
Certainly one of the secrets is in eliminating distractions around me (of which last week I had plenty). For example emails, phones, access to social media channels. If I must remember one thing is to schedule these activities at specific times of the days, so that I can complete them effectively and without feeling guilty about it! And if I must, I need to put my phone and my tablet somewhere high up on a book-shelf or perhaps even in my work bag in a different room so that I cannot reach out to them quickly when I need to be focussed on something else. There are also many tasks that need doing. As well as deciding where they fit in the so-called urgent/important matrix (which of the following 4 criteria does the task actually fulfill : URGENT /not important ; IMPORTANT - not urgent; URGENT - IMPORTANT, NOT urgent - NOT important?) it is often very helpful to think of your own level of productivity throughout the day, to find out when you should best complete them. For example, if you are a morning person, you are more likely to be focussed and in flow in the first few hours of the day and that is when you should complete important + urgent activities. I try to leave email and social media to the early afternoon hours as this is when I am more likely to experience some energy loss and I need something to feel good about.  Also, we know that some activities always require more time than we plan for (for example with me, writing blogs!) so we need to ensure we have an adequate amount of contingency time build in just in case!

#2 Profit v. Pleasure

Let's face it, we all tend to do first what we like and enjoy, secondly what we feel we must do, even though what we must do might actually have a higher return on onvestment (indeed,cash!). I believe that there must be space for both things in a day, even better if you can marry the two! Prioritising activities is important in this context, which can be done by assigning activities according to the matrix described above.But simpler to do lists with tasks numbered according to priority also work well. The trick here in my experence is not to be too hard on yourself. If you know that the number one task tomorrow is something you would rather postpone, make sure you reward yourself for being so disciplined by undertaking something you love immediately after...this may include grabbing a nice cappuccino or going for a refreshing 15 minutes walk in the park, or both!

Another tool I find helpful is to ensure that  I have clear objectives and milestones set up for the week, the month and the year. They all need to allign with each other as part of my business plan and it gives me tremendous satisfaction and motivation when at the end of the week I can see that my activities are getting me closer to achieve what I set out to do for the month or the year. If you do not have these objectives clearly laid out go do it now as they are critical to your success at work and in life!

#3 Silence that ego!

If you are reading this, chances are you are a small entrepreneur, a manager in an organisation, a professional person. Like me, you enjoy what you do and have a tendency to do it all yourself for the usual reasons..'I can do it better, faster, more effectively'. Well. Guess what, NO you cannot... That is why this feature is late! Even if the temptation is to do it all yourself, even if you think you will be faster or better at it, do not fall into this trap and call upon others to help...empower others to come up with ideas or complete tasks, delegate activities from which they can learn, share bigger projects or simply call for the help of experts/mentors/advisors. If the finances do not allow it, be creative as there are many ways to circumvent a budget type constraint... students, graduates, placements, traineeship, virtual assistants, retired professionals and the likes all come with bags of enthusiasm and a smaller bill attached!

Always remind yourself of what you do best and stick with it. However good at multi-tasking one might be, it is simply best to do what you do best! If necessary complete a personal SWOT analysis to remind yourself of your strenghts and weaknesses and ensure you focus on the former when it comes to completing work. You can use this analysis to plan for future activities too, to see what you should do yourself and what you can plan to delegate/outsource to others right from the beginning.

Last but not least - if you keep on postponing a task, why is that? What is about that task you find so hard to embrace? The reason for procrastination may well reside in something more complex than 'time-management' and it may well be far more 'deep-rooted'. First however you need to recognise it and that in itself can be a daunting prospect. be discussed when I next have the time!    



Friday, 8 May 2015

Insights into Leadership #1

On Tuesday this week I run a leadership masterclass with a group of ten women from different background, including finance, academia, the National Health Service, telecommunications, marketing services and manufacturing. A great mix really to discuss what being a female leader means in today’s society and how women can pursue their leadership aspirations. As facilitator, I  felt really inspired and truly blessed with the level of engagement I experienced and furthermore the willingness to share and learn from each other I encountered in the room!

The theme of this first day (out of a total of 3) was ‘Leadership and ME’. Participants were introduced to relevant leadership theories but also asked to reflect on their leadership qualities,as well as the values, motivations and strengths they associate with leadership, whether reflecting on themselves but also when discussing  publicly acknowledged, male and female ‘leaders’. It was interesting to see that leadership traits as defined by the group were completely detached from sectors or industry background in favour of a more universally applicable definition!

I gained a number of insights throughout the day but some resonated and stuck with so much, that I feel it would be worthwhile sharing them here:

#1 Female leadership is transformational leadership 'at heart'  

The concept of 'transformational leadership' was introduced in the 1980's and for the first time identified 'emotional intelligence' as a crucial component of leadership. according to this theory, the leader:
  • has integrity 
  • set clear goals 
  • communicates openly and often
  • encorages and motivates others
  • provides supports and recognition 
  • develop teams and meaningful relationships
  • taps into people's emotions
  • inspires people to reach for the sky

All participants identified these traits in public female leaders and also said that they were striving to maintain and nurture these traits in themselves. So, we agreed that when women act authentically and remain true to themselves they are actually capable of the most effective leadership. Equally, women who disregard their emotional intelligence in favour of what they perceive as the winning male traits they actually end up losing their effectiveness and their ability to impact others in a powerful, 'transformational' way.

#2 Leadership happens everywhere, whether you are the CEO, you aspire to be one or not.

We often associate the image of a CEO to that of a leader, but that cannot be more far from the truth. Wherever you are in your professional life, a manager in a corporate structure, a sole-trader, an entrepreneur or a stay-at-home-mum you can be a leader in your own right! 

This is a particularly important point to acknowledge in my view and especially for women, because often women have too many balls to juggle to focus on a wholly consuming idea such as becoming the CEO! The other side of the coin is that women have the opportunity to meet, nurture and impact so many people from so many different walks of life that they have just as much opportunity to show leadership skills. The key thing is recognising your strengths and applying them to making the difference to whatever you are doing and passionate about.          
At a corporate level, I think all organisations need leaders in order to nurture talent, foster innovation, bring
much needed entrepreneurship skills and ultimately thrive in highly competitive, ever changing times! So 
organisations need to empower their staff - and particularly the women - to feel and act like leaders.

#3 Knowing Me - Knowing You

We spent a great deal of this first day reflecting on ourselves, investigating own values and even having some fun creating using old magazine and other 'arts and craft ' items to create picture of ourselves. The group felt that the exercise was thought provoking and valuable in more than one way:

- We hardly spend any time investigating and reflecting on ourselves (see my previous blog on the power of reflection!). Yet there cannot be leadership unless there is self-awareness! Even as
adult women and grown up managers we must give ourselves thinking time, reflection time, taking stock time. This is not a luxury, it is a necessity.      

- Self-Confidence continues to 'bug us'...although it gets better as we gain more expertise, knowledge and experience throughout life. But as women we need to reinforce it by reminding ourselves of our achievements and skills...and we are not good at recognising those in the first place! 

Participants went home with a positive mindset and a to-do list and action plan to implement which we will review at the next masterclass. 

I cannot wait to hear what happens next... 

Friday, 1 May 2015

The Power Of Reflecting Skills (and why reflecting on it matters!)

I love blogging because it gives me the opportunity to think through issues that matter to me, to reflect on something I have read, or heard or experienced. I would as a matter of fact love to blog even more often...if only I had the time, of course. This makes for an interesting parallel with the topic of my blog today: reflecting on reflection!

I believe that we could all do with reflecting a lot more and yet I know that many of us (me included) spend too little doing so. Why reflection and in particular self-reflection matters is of course because it is through self reflection that we understand, learn and improve. Feedback from others helps with that too, but once again unless we reflect on the feedback and take it on board, it will hardly change anything at all. The thing is, reflecting skills are hardly taught to us: possibly by parents, sometimes by others. It is worth while asking ourselves whether we - as parents, educators, carers, managers, colleagues and friends - take time to encourage and facilitate reflections in others. Ultimately, unless we make reflection a positive and fruitful 'daily' habit we will really miss out on an enormous amount of learning opportunities.

Interestingly, reflecting skills are also 'employability' skills. There is plenty of evidence that reflecting practitioners are highly sought after by employers, because the people who can reflect are also the people that can think through an issue and come back with a solution; they are also more likely to take action and innovate.

But in practice, how and when can we reflect? A reflection needn't be a very lengthy process and if done 'just in time' it can take place just about everywhere, on a train journey to work as much as during a lunch break on a park bench. The important thing in my view is our willingness to do it and our desire to place it in the 'experience library' so that it can be fished out again and used at a suitable, future occasion.

It helps to use a 'reflection' model to structure our thinking, but whilst there are many out there I find that simple ones are often the best. You may want to try this (developed by Rolfe, 2001):

This simply asks the question, what happened?Which situation did I find myself in?Which event am I going to reflect on? What did I read that was meaningful and impactful?

So What?
This is about understanding the consequences. What is the meaning of that event or situation? What value does it actually have? Positive ? Negative? How do I feel about it and why?  

Now What?
This concludes the reflecting cycle by helping us reflect on the impact of the 'experience/event' and its consquences. The steps we are going to take as a result, the things we are going to do differently. This is really where the personal learning takes place, which we can apply to our own specific work and personal context. Hopefully through step 2 we will have identified a number of 'lessons' and so in step 3 we will be able to identify one or more actions that will enable us to address those 'lessons' in a positive way.

This whole reflecting exercise can tale 3, 30 or 300 minutes (possibly) and it will depend on the complexity of the 'what' and on whether one or more of us are involved in the thinking. The point is we can do it on a personal level and we can do it for professional reasons, as long as we do it and we make it a positive and empowering habit to capture and more importantly retain and act upon precious learning.