Friday, 26 June 2015

Leadership Lessons from a 13 Year Old

I am very proud of my 13 year old niece who is head girl at her school. A couple of days ago she mentioned to me that in order to be recognised as leaders, pupils at her school need to achieve the '5 A's'. Feeling intrigued, I asked her to explain what the 5 A's stand for and mean. What she told me was so relevant for adults in professional, business  environments that I decided to make it the subject of this blog. I share their meaning and add my own take on it - in no particular order. Please feel free to feedback your own views!

A#1 is for Attitude - Whether you call it attitude, approach or mindset, this to me has to do with the way people behave in different circumstances - particularly the difficult ones - and  behavewith others. Having a positive attitude is an absolute must if you want people to trust you and engage with you as a leader.

A positive attitude is not about being naive or indeed simply about seeing the glass always half full. To me is much more about the way in which one embraces life, in both a personal and professional capacity. More specifically it is about the way in which one embrace challenges, opportunity and change. A positive attitude will enable you to take challenges in your stride, see change as a the chance to make the difference and opportunity as the chance to make an impact.      

A#2 is for Assertiveness - I really like the fact that Assertiveness is being considered an essential aspect of leadership. As leadership is almost inevitably linked to strong communication skills, choosing assertiveness sends a strong message about what style of communication is appropriate for a leader. It is not about alpha-male, testosterone filled communication, nor an aggressive female equivalent. It is actually about a way to communicate that is respectful, two ways, inclusive and win-win inclined, but that does not shy away from 'straight' talking, from telling things as they are: seen, experienced and felt. Developing assertiveness from a younger age is crucial to building sustainable and long lasting relationships and particularly  for teenagers who are preparing themselves for the world of work. Yet I regularly encounter women who worry about being judged as 'bossy' rathen than assertive. Or women who so often deny themselves the right to articulate their views and their feelings that they swing from passive to aggressive communications and inevitably lose out by appearing out of control.

A#3 is for Associates - Who do you hang out with? It is common sense, it is perhaps old-fashion wisdom, but absolutely worth including in the list in my view. As a teenager it is about your friends and peers, later on as adults in a professional environment this is about the people you choose to spend time with, the staff you are able to hire, the colleagues you call upon for an important project.  Great business leaders are known to surround themselves with successful people, who are possibly better than them in many ways and can in turn secure their success. They select people who have the attitude they need to make things happen, motivate and drive others. They also positively seek out diversity, do not feel threatened by others' brilliancy and enjoy seeing young talent develop and fluorish under their positive guidance.These leaders enjoy mentoring but are also open to being mentored as they appreciate that learning can happen at many levels and it is not just linked to seniority or hierarchy.  

A#4 is for Attentiveness - Attentiveness to me has a very extensive meaning and it is overall an incrediby important leadership quality - dare I say perhaps it is the most important? I associate attentiveness to thoughtfulness, kindness and politeness. Just like an attentive host takes care of his/her guests, ensuring their requirements are satified while in his/her care, so an attentive leader takes care of his/her community, staff and people in general, caring for their well being and nurturing their needs.In order to be an attentive leader one must firstly be an emotionally intelligent leader, thus capable of empathising, communicating openly, tapping into people emotions and building rapport.

Secondly, Attentiveness is about being alert, being in the present moment, hence it could be otherwise called mindfulness. This is the key to connect deeply with others and build their trust by enhancing one's ability to focus, achieve clarity and - as suggested in an article published by Harvard Business School - appreciate one's feeling and emotions and how they impact others.     

A#5 is for Appearence - True, one should not judge a book by its cover. However, humans tend to form opinions about people in a matter of seconds and once that opinion has been formed it tends to stick. Therefore, Appearence can have a huge impact on perceived leadership: whether one's look is judged appropriate, whether somebody comes across as tidy, immaculately dressed or otherwise can determine his/her ability to impact others. What is more, Appearence can support your leadership quest by helping you to 'act and think' the leader one wishes to become - in simple terms helping one to ' look the part'.

But actually there is more to be said on this. In my opinion, Appearence is by extension about your Personal Branding, a much broader combination of one's look, communication style, natural impact, behaviour, mannerism, expertise, knowledge and more. With leadership, integrity and authenticity must be at the core of this Personal Branding. Having the right look but not 'walking the talk' will forever undermine one's personal branding and any perceived or achieved leadership position.

It is impressive to think that, young teenagers are capable of achieving these standards and even more that, as young leaders, they are judged on such stringent criterias by their teachers and peers. I am not sure as to how many so called business leaders today would actually pass the 5A's test!
This notwithstanding, I believe that this relatively short list includes almost all attributes and qualities we would wish to see in our leaders and would love to develop for ourselves. The fact that current young generations may have worked through this list will hopefully bode well for future generations of CEOs, entrepreneurs and senior professionals.                

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


Tuesday, 23 June 2015

#TuesdayTRIOS - 3 Steps To a New Career

This Tuesday I am continuing the career and self-discovery theme started at the beginning of the month by providing you with some ideas - more precisely three key steps - to identifying and evaluating new career possibilities.

I start from the premise that you have completed the process I suggested in my earlier blog  (if you have not, well, just click on the link as you are still in time!) just because that process will provide you with the necessary understanding about your priorities, your values and what motivates you. As a coach I know by experience that is almost impossible to start discussing career options when you do not have absolute clarity about who you are!

#1 Engage in Career Brainstorming

Whether alone or with a friend, colleague or partner try to come up with all of kind of possible ideas around career. These ideas must remain fairly general, but can also be totally ' off the wall' because for this first steps you are not going to reject anything that can remotely interest you, motivate you and meet your identified values (partially or fully).

If you decide to engage in this brainstorming alone, make sure you do not stop at the obvious, but challenge yourself to think 'out of the box'.

If you are asking somebody else to join you for this exercise (which I would recommend), then you must make sure that your relationship with the person in question is good enough for you not to feel judged or uncomfortable in any way. If you think that the person may somehow limit your ability to think differently, change the person!

While you want to make sure that your early list contains options that are diverse and challenging, always make sure that any idea you generate for a new career is attractive enough for you to think that - at least in principle - it would be a viable outcome. Thus, disregard career options that would have an obvious negative impact on your values and your drivers. Instead, think about and built upon your perceived strengths especially if you feel that they currently not being maximised.    

#2 Get Feedback on Your List

For this second step you need the support of at least another person that will act as your challenger and feedback provider. The purpose is to run through the newly created list of options and explain each one in turn.

The person providing feedback is tasked with questioning the options - one way of doing this could be to repeatedly ask the question '...And if you achieved this (new career) what would it mean for you?' but also its opposite formulation '...And if you did not achieve this (new career) what would it mean for you? In so doing helping you understand the pros and cons of each career option and whether it is a viable one for you.

Once again here, a note of caution. If the person providing feedback knows you well the risk is that he/she may be biased in whichever way. Thus, make sure you keep an objective view of yourself and really try to stick to your identified strengths, motivations, values, drivers etc. when it comes to challenging or supporting an option. If the person is relatively removed from you, make sure you do not underestimate your skills and attributes as this could mean losing out on viable options.

#3 Score Options and Select Priorities for further Investigation

Once step 2 is completed, the next step is to score each option on your list from 1 to 10 (1 being least interesting/attractive and 10 being most interesting/attractive). When scoring, think about matching options to values and motivations. Next think about the practicalities. For example, one of your values can be to travel internationally, but if the job in question requires you to be on a plane 3 out of 4 weeks how realistic, feasible and attractive doe that become?  Another example could be around the financial aspect of an option, thus, could you viably start a new career in an area that did not pay enough even if all other values were met?

Once the asssessment is complete you will be able to identify your top 5 or top 3 options for further investigations.this will require a greater and more in depth understanding of these options, what is involved and what is required. For this investigation internet, books, websites, friends and family, former colleagues and broader networks can all be helpful. Once enough information has been gathered and anyalysed you will be in a good place to identify your top scorer and hopefully begin to put in place the practical next steps to make it happen.

It is quite possible that this process will be iterative, thus it may well take you sometimes before you can reach the stage of assessment and decision-making. If you encounter resistence within yourself it is possibly because the analysis has not been fully undertaken or you are not convinced of an option or its attractivenesss. If that is the case, either park the option or go back to step 2 to identify the extent to which it meets your needs and values. Repeating the process is likely to provide new insights into this option but also in yourself, which ultimately will empower you to make more informed choices.

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

Friday, 19 June 2015

In Honour of Dad

I normally write about and celebrate women, but as we approach Father's Day this Sunday I would like to celebrate all dads with my favourite, inspirational quotes. Mummy is the word, but Dads can change our lives forever!

'This is the price you pay for having a great father. You get the wonder, the joy, the tender moments - and you get the tears at the end, too.'
Harlan Coben .

'It is a wise father that knows his own child.'
William Shakespeare

'My dad was my best friend and greatest role model. He was an amazing dad, coach, mentor, soldier, husband and friend.'
Tiger Wood

'The older I get, the smarter my father seems to get.'
Mark Twain

'My father used to say that it's never too late to do anything you wanted to do. And he said, 'You never know what you can accomplish until you try.'
Michael Jourdan

'The thrill of being a great father is not seeing your children go on to become successful adults. The thrill ofa great father is the journey, experiencing your child's successes along the pathway to their greatness.'
Reed Markham

'One father is more than a hundred schoolmasters.'
English proverb

'Children who are in families left to run their own show run into problems. Every child needs a father who provides action, direction, motivation, and love.'
Reed Markham 

'Becoming a father isn't difficult, But it's very difficult to be a father'
Wilhelm Busch

'The quality of a father can be seen in the goals, dreams and aspirations he sets not only for himself, but for his family.'
Reed Markham 

Happy Father's Day! 

Friday, 12 June 2015

Insights Into Leadership #2

This week I facilitated the second meeting of Today's Women Today's Leaders. Once again the group of women I first met in May came together to discuss leadership from a female perspective.

The topic of the day was 'Leadership and OTHERS' and the main aim was to explore how women can create a leadership presence for themselves and impact and influence those important others too.

Once again it was interesting to see how the discussion totally overcome any potential obstacle in the shape of different sectors, background or industry. The women continued to enjoy the discussion and jelled even more, so much that by the end of the morning they had a agreed to create a whatsapp group!

Once again as their facilitator I gained a number of interesting insights, which I share below:

#1 There is no leadership without strategy

Several commented upon their need to become more strategic, to take the next step having become very good at operational work. But strategy requires time to think and time to reflect and that seems to be a common 'missing link'. Also strategy requires more than 'hard work', it reques a game plan. This is something that attendees recognised to be not very good at. I am not sure this can be generalised but the point here is that women are more likely to just 'get on with the work' and if you are faced down buried into your work, you have hardly the chance to stick your head above the parapet !

#2 Authentic leadership requires mindfulness and a clear heart

We started the morning with a little mindfulness meditation following a five minutes prerecorded tape. I am only an 'amateur' when it comes to meditation but I totally acknowledge its value and help when it comes to clearing your mind and starting the day with the necessary calm. Yet some of the female participants seemed somewhat fidgety and in one case totally uncomfortable about it. There is no doubt that for many of us, males and females, the thought of 'just being', reconnecting and being present in the moment is still relatively alien and positively out of our comfort zone. We discussed this and the need to break through the comfort zone in order to enter the learning area - a concept relatively intuitive but actually difficult to implement.

#3 To increase your leadership presence you have to clearly understand power and who holds it

During the morning we run a stakeholders exercise, discussing the various aspects of mapping, analysis and managing stakeholders. I think it is fair to say that for many of the attendees it was the first time they had done this exercise and you could see that 'light bulb' moment happening when they actually began to think through who mattered, and why, and how they could communicate to them.
This in my view goes back to the point of being strategic and approaching leadership not just through hard work but also through a more systematic approach that includes networking and navigating the corridors and actually negotiation ( win - win being the ideal outcome) in order to win the minds as well as the hearts of people who matter.

So all in all another very beneficial morning for all those attending, including me. As one of the participants said ' The exercises you gave us in the first session really scared me because they required so much introspection' but a month later she was back for part 2.

Hopefully that means we are on a journey and there is no looking back?

Alessandra is a mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieveing their potential. You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here. 

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

#TuesdayTRIOS - Is Understanding Yourself Your Missing Link?

As a mentor and coach whenever I hear - as I have this week  - clients complain about their jobs - thus, being stuck in a job, not enjoying their job, not finding the right job and all other variations on the theme -  I always begin by asking the same question: how well do you understand yourself?

The funny thing is that on many occasions the person (often, the woman) I am asking the question to is a mid level executive in their thirties. A fully fledged adult in short, who should really know and understand her self by this stage in life. Yet - the answer I get is often a puzzled look followed by a rather embarassed "Why?'.

Can you see - why?

In all honesty, busy executives in their mid-thirties can be excused for not finding enough 'me' time to ask some pretty important questions about their life and career. This is true for both men and women, but let's face it, if you add a mix of childcare, home chores and general family and caring duties to an already busy work schedule you will be quite hard pushed to find any reflecting time whatsoever.

However, it is extraordinarily important that we all spend time exploring who we are (as we are work in progress after all!) to avoid misrepresenting ourselves, getting the wrong idea about why our jobs or our life are not going where they should and what we can do about it. The time we spend investigating who we really are, what matters to us, what we value and are deeply passionate and motivated by will undoubtedly help us make more informed decisions about our careers by providing us with a more complete and diverse picture of who we are and the opportunities open to us.

Which areas should we first investigate in our quest for greater self-understanding?

In general starting the process by gaining an overview of patterns, trends and common threads in your life can help you identify 'obvious' like and dislikes, mistakes and interests. By taking a deeper look at events in your life you may indeed be able to join a few dots!

After this introductory step, I offer you three further areas to examine:

#1 Focus on strengths, successes and relevant skills 

Yes, a personal analysis of your strengths and weaknesses  is always a good idea and should be done regularly, perhaps every six months or so. It should include not just 'work related stuff' but all relevant skills because, as I have quoted recently, you do need to take 'all of your self' to work as employers desperately need all of your qualities to succeed.

Reminding your self of your successes and most importantly understand what success means to you is equally important - especially to women who - as research shows - regularly underestimate their achievements. First of all, because in bad days it will give you the confidence you need to pull through. But secondly, because by understanding what success means to you, you will also appreciate what motivates you and kicks you out of bed in the morning!

#2 Identify what rocks your world...

This is about motivation and it is linked to #1 above. What drives you, what are you passionate about? Answering these questions with honesty will provide you with a strong indication of the things you realy enjoy and thrives on. But it is also about the situations and conditions in which you have felt at your best...those projects that have flown by, those hours you have worked uninterrupted, forgetting to even eat and drink as you were simply too immersed, too absorbed to notice. There is something about 'content', but also something about the colleagues you were surrounded by, the workspace, the feelings, the smells, the colours...

#3 Clarify what you stand for

This is REALLY important. It is about your values, your non-negotiable, critical guiding principles, the ones you are not prapared to compromise on.  Values are about the way we lead our life and so have an immense bearing on our work.  Very often conflict at work emerge when our values are not met or are only met to a very small extent. However, it may be a little naive to think that all our values can be met by one employer or within our workplace as values are strongly linked to our own culture and background as well the wider society/community in which we were brought up.

Please also bear in mind that values don't necessarily need to be only ethical/moral in approach. Indeed, honesty, integrity, friendship are values that most of us share and endorse. But one's values could also include doing plenty of physical exercise and taking long holidays. Ultimately, they are about what matters to you!

Spend some times investigating these three areas and you will find it becomes a lot easier to identify what is right for you in your work and in your life. As most soul-searching activities this may appear challenging at first, but ultimately it will deliver truly sustainable 'next steps' for your career and your life...  And if a solitary jorney appears too daunting, that is where the support of a coach and mentor can truly help to lift the load.

Friday, 5 June 2015

A Brave New World of Leadership: Female and Over 50!

PwC - the 'Big4' advisory firm - has recently published a research about leadership, more specifically about the chronic shortage of 'strategist leadership' talent readily available to organisations.  
Less than 10% of leaders today have the right skills to lead successful transformational change, according to the report. And this is because ‘the attributes required to manage a transformation change are not the same competencies as those exhibited by leaders who cope well with day-to-day issues, or even by those who excel in a crisis.’ he report goes on to define a 'strategist leader' as someone who is likely to have wider experience of settings, people, and also of failure, which engenders humility of perspective and resilience, so that they know what to do when things don’t work. 
6000 European professionals were surveyed for this research and the largest proportions of strategist leaders were found to be female and over the age of 55, an area of talent often “overlooked,” according to the firm (more like ‘ignored’, if you ask me). The research proves that these females are more likely to be able to see situations from multiple perspectives, use a positive language and exercise power in a courageous yet authentic way.
I think it is great that PwC has researched this area and come up with some really valuable findings, but surprised I am not.
Let’s think about this. Professional women over 55 are likely to have worked for at least 20-30 years, give or take a couple of years.
They will have in those decades built on whatever skills they started their professional life with, honed in on some and developed others. Their expertise will have grown. Most importantly, their self-confidence, assertiveness and ability to navigate the corridors of powers will have been nurtured considerably. This is because by 55 of so, most women will have come to accept themselves for who they really are – no compromise. They will have done away with their ego – too much real-life experience for that! And they will have learnt to play to their strengths and value some of those inherently feminine qualities: nourishing relationships; collaborate with and include others; see things from a variety of perspectives (professional woman but also home-maker, mother, carer of older parents, friend, peer, to mention but a few).
This is not due to some extraordinary power, but the simple realities of everyday life!
Scenario 1: she is a woman in her 30’s and she is at work. The phone rings and is her child’s school saying the toddler is sick and can she please pick him up. Except, she is in a meeting at a client’s office, couple of hours away from the nursery. What is she going to do but call upon friends and other mums? And will she not return the favour when the opportunity comes?   
Scenario 2: by now the same woman has teens. She is dealing with puberty and hormonal changes; she is the taxi –driver, chef to an ever hungry mob (not just her teens but the whole gang of friends), the cool or un-cool mum (cool when it comes to taxi-driving and purse-opening, un-cool the rest of the time) negotiating bed times and parties, GSCE’s and holidays, mobile phones’ bills and x-box rules.   And as any good negotiator knows, be prepared for plenty of compromise and some failure!  
I won’t bore you with scenarios 3 and 4 and 5, but they may include elderly parents care, perhaps some charity work, I am sure you get the picture, however simplified. These circumstances will increase her need for a supportive network, people she can trust, delegate to and even empower to free herself for other tasks or priorities.
As a result of all women in and around 50 have experienced in- but possibly even more so outside the workplace, they are likely to easily empathise; support colleagues through a mentoring and coaching approach; surround themselves with a community of diverse and all-enriching people and be totally comfortable with it.    They are likely to bring all of these experience and all of themselves in the workplace because they understand that many colleagues,  women and men, are probably going through similar circumstances, similar patterns.
Now - guess what? – the attributes/competences highlighted above are very similar to the ones the report suggests will be required to create transformational, strategist leaders!  
So in summary, I am really not surprised that 50+ women provide a source of greatly untapped talent. The variety of roles they take on board throughout their life – personally as much or more than professionally – means that by then, most of what business life throws at them will have to some extent been experienced and tackled before…. And that can only spell trust and resilience for organisational leadership.