Tonight I had a chance exchange on social media DMs. Someone (a medical professional, saving lives in our amazing NHS every day) was “discounting”. By this I mean they were deflecting gratitude and praise, reflecting it back on me … but I suspect it’s a common habit and they reflect and deflect as a default setting. They said I was being kind when I expressed gratitude for their efforts with keeping people healthy. That phrase didn’t sit right with me.
Was it “being kind” … or is it doing what I am here to do? ot purely being a coach, or a leadership consultant, but by being a decent human, surely? Actually, all I was doing was telling the truth.
“Discounting” is such a scourge. Self-deprecatory humour is part of the British psyche – we don’t like to blow our own trumpet and are encouraged to look down on those who do. And yet, we are also encouraged to sell our services as a small business. When you ARE that business and those services, it means you have to sell yourself ever day.
In my experience, when people show leadership, we reward and seek to undermine them in equal measure. That is particularly true, when that is in public in the social media circus, showing leadership means the same as putting your head above the proverbial parapet. By doing so, anyone is seen as fair game, open to justified vitriol.
What happened to “being kind”?
“Being kind” is sometimes seen as code for being mealymouthed, going through the motions of being insincerely generous. If not that, then it can be code for “I appreciate you mean well but I can’t be seen to agree with your words”. I suspect this was the case tonight. Being on social media can mean people have a target on their backs for having the temerity to have an opinion. “Keyboard warriors” are everywhere online these days.
Just imagine having to watch your every word and action and emoji, for fear of the likely criticism. I remember that, having been a bullying victim for years at secondary school. It’s not fun.
What should a coach do?
What should a coach do, in this sort of situation? We are taught to let the client lead, but when someone is not a client (and you’re not keen to look like you’re selling AT anyone … that takes us right back to the 3rd paragraph above – it’s not a good luck) what do we do?
Do we offer suggestions, in the hope they won’t be taken as unsolicited advice?
Do we offer supportive words, but really all we’re offering is platitudes?
Or do we offer an observation, which may help a bit of reflection but which doesn’t amount to an open bit of “work”? I went for the last option.
Coaching isn’t “kindness”
This is important – coaching isn’t about kindness. It’s about being supportive, listening to your coachee and helping them to find the answers they seek, through effective questioning and challenge. Obviously, we don’t seek to be UNkind, but it’s not about the bland unquestioning generosity of spirit that “kind” implies. Perhaps that is where the issue lies, for me. I am inferring a meaning that the other person in the DMs may not have meant. They may have meant “unconditionally positive”, or “supportive” or even “nurturing”. However, my professional discipline took over and I confirmed I was not “being kind” but I was saying it how I saw it. And that’s about – and on – me.
Coaching should never be about the coach. Although I am not in a coaching relationship with the other person in the DMs, and it is unlikely I will be, there is still something wrong with my approach. I am inferring, I am projecting my own meaning onto theirs. Unintentionally, I am discounting too, aren’t I?
“Physician, heal thyself”
There’s lots of fodder for reflection in this small exchange. Indeed, that is what I will be doing tonight – reflecting. I will let their words sit with me. I will reflect on their impact and reflect on what that is about for me. And then I will “allow it” as my daughter says so often – I will go along with the expressed gratitude and appreciate that for what it was, a genuine expression of gratitude, with no angle.
So the next time someone says you’re “being kind”, please don’t put an imagined and unwelcome “just” before it. Accept the gratitude and positivity. And keep being kind. Always. It’s the best medicine for a lot of ills.
If this blog triggers some thoughts for you, and you’d like to discuss them, please do get in touch. I would love to discuss your thoughts and what it all means for your leadership journey.
Charles Darwin’s “theory of evolution” is often misquoted as
“the survival of the fittest”
This is inaccurate and an oversimplification. His theory, together with a contemporary Alfred Russel Wallace, proposed that evolution occurs because of a phenomenon called “natural selection.” This noticed that, in nature, organisms tend to produce more offspring than is required, but some of those offspring do not get to a state in which they can breed. In this way, those which do breed are seen as to have “fitted” their environment best, and so were able to survive, thrive and breed successfully.
In business, this concept has been applied to stigmatise companies which are not wildly successful, arguing they are not “fit” enough for market conditions. This is again a crude oversimplification, applied to business success in a way which often smacks of little other than machismo.
Let’s look at evolution in a business context
What can we gain from revisiting Darwin’s theoretical approach and re-applying it to a business? Here are three ways in which “natural selection” could be useful, if applied with a lighter touch
- It makes sense to check the trading environment. If that changes, then a company’s ability to continue to thrive may change. The pandemic taught us this all over again, at a global scale. So, we need to monitor our marketplace and check our company, or at least its offer, is relevant and has a real potential to thrive.
- Whilst not actually breeding, a company may be able to diversify better in a marketplace where it knows it already belongs. It makes sense to find a range of ways to generate revenue, so long as they fit within your company’s overall business direction. You could use Ansoff’s Matrix to do this. It will give you an exercise to focus your thinking. In this way, you are giving your business a wider customer base, which may help you protect against changes in customer demand.
- In addition to checking the trading environment, it makes sense to check your own company. Are you doing what you set out to do? If so, do you want to still do this? If you are not doing what you set out to do, are you happy about that? You may not be happy about it. If you’re not, what will you do about this? Regular reflective practice by the Board of any company is crucial, to keep the company on track. It may be making money hand-over-fist. However, if it is moving away from, for instance, its original ethical stance, then your company will lose customers. It could also find it more and more difficult to recruit the talent you need to grow. Checking in with your company and its purpose is a crucial way to make sure your company is still fit for purpose. You need to know what your company is for, to know whether it’s successful, after all.
So what am I doing, giving business advice here? It’s not my core purpose in my company – I work with making leaders even more effective through improved Board relationships, behaviours and performance.
The answer is simple. My company is evolving. It no longer focuses on 1:1 personal performance coaching. Instead, we now focus on teams coaching and meeting facilitation. 1:1 executive coaching is a fun by-product of this work, but it is no longer the focal point.
This evolution feels massive from within the business, but in truth it probably seems incidental (or even largely irrelevant) to anyone reading this. A bit self-indulgent perhaps? Maybe. The issue is, however, that as a leadership consultant I need to demonstrate self-leadership. If I know that my business has shifted focus, and the business model as a whole needs to follow suit, I really must take actions that I would expect of any client. I must take action, full stop.
My next steps, therefore, are to complete a review of my company’s business model. Once I have tested this with trusted members of my network (in business, the value of your network will always exceed the value of your business!) I will make the necessary changes. What will these changes be? Marketing (website, social media) will feature for certain. Ways of working will too. Maybe the clientele will shift. Maybe I will even attract a whole range of new clients, because my offer is clearer and more targeted, thus making it MUCH easier to understand! A trusted advisor said to me recently, “Make yourself easy to buy from” having had a look over my online presence. Lots on what I do, little on how my help will solve your problems. Rookie error 101.
I will report back once I have taken actions,. Part of this will be for accountability and part will be through shameless marketing content! I hope that the changes, and me having walked my talk about business evolution, will make sense.
If this has struck a chord and you are considering a similar evolutionary process, do please let me know. I would be interested to learn from you, so please comment or get in touch.
These days, “values” are everything in business. Or at least that is what we are told. The way forward is to be a “purpose-driven business”. It’s all about how much we love to do what we do and how much we convey that to our customers, so they love us more. When your values align with your customers’, that’s when the magic happens.
Or so we’re told.
I run an ethical business. I pride myself on my values being at the core of every single thing I do in my business. In truth, I am probably rather smug about this. It’s the right way to be, after all … isn’t it?
So, imagine my surprise when one of my social media channels was followed by a membership organisation which chooses to feature controversial free-market libertarian thinking (which is different from my personal value and belief systems).
What does this say about “values”?
“Each to their own” you are probably thinking. Or, more bluntly, “Get over yourself”. Either or both is true. However, I was surprised because my feed is pretty transparent on how my values manifest. For example, I do not hide my opposition to continuous and remorseless depletion of natural resources at a global scale. I am also pretty clear that I oppose corruption in public office at the local, national or again global level in any and all forms. While neither of these is inextricably linked to free-market ideology, sadly at least in the Global North there is often a strong intersect. This is regrettable and not part of the ideology, but it does co-incide with the implementation of the ideology and those related to it.
Now, where does this leave me? Confused, is where. The membership organisation is a slick operation, with great imagery and branding, a focus on smart venues and a comfortable lifestyle, inspired by brilliant minds and inspiring huge commercial success. Who wouldn’t be pleased – even a tiny bit – that such a glossy organisation has chosen to follow a company which is, quite purposefully, anything but. There must be something which is hitting home in my messaging and content.
On the other hand, however, I was dismayed that my messaging and content might have been so unclear that an organisation fostering views very different from my own – and in many ways opposite to my own – should consider me a membership target. What was the message that I was putting out ?
Wait a minute …
Let’s be real for a moment. They probably looked up #leadership and followed every account that appeared on the search. It is highly unlikely that I was singled out in any way at all (“Get over yourself” is winning here, isn’t it?!). So, does that make it all OK? I don’t now have to worry?
Not exactly. There is still something very unsettling for me about being followed by any membership organisation. It makes me feel as if I trigger a “fresh meat” response in such outfits. And that is an uncomfortable place for me to be. It takes me out of my comfort zone of content provider and into the domain of the predatory social media hunter-organisations. This is somewhere that I don’t want to be, because it doesn’t really fit with my value systems. My values centre around integrity. It’s clear that such organisations don’t act with integrity. Or is it?
Operating with a value system is a brilliant starting point. Operating with a value system which focuses on doing the right thing, for the right reasons, sounds great. It is, however, full of judgementalism and, again, smugness. I would argue, therefore, that a value system alone is not helpful, because it leads us into unwelcome territory – a divisive “Us Vs Them” mindset. “We” are doing things “right” (whatever that means to individuals – the “each to their own” argument again). Whereas “they” are doing things “wrong” according to our judgements. Our judgements will be based on myriad components, but upbringing and learned behaviour, aspiration and, yes, values, will all feature.
“Values-based” – what does this mean to you?
So the next time you describe your organisation as “values-based” or “purpose-driven”, maybe review the language you use. What judgements does that imply? To what extent are you putting yourself above others, in a fit of judgemental self-righteousness? How else could you communicate your values, without them sounding like a shopping list of marketing-speak?
I for one will be reviewing how I describe my company and our work. It is so important, when working in the leadership space, to avoid taking a particular stance which opposes that of your client.
If we work on the neuroscience presupposition that everyone acts with positive intentions, we MUST believe that others’ values are as valid as our own. The role of anyone in leadership is to enable our teams to do the best they can. Sometimes that may involve uncomfortable discussions, where our personal value systems may not align with those of our clients. It is then that we have to understand our own values. It is up to us to decide whether the mis-alignment is tolerable or intolerable. If it is intolerable, we must continue to behave toward our clients in line with our own values, as well as keeping firmly within professional ethical boundaries. Authenticity is not an excuse for poor behaviour.
I will be considering this as part of reviewing my company during 2023. I intend to report back in some form. If this has raised some issues for you, I would be very happy to discuss them. Perhaps we can share experiences and use our shared perspectives to inform both of our organisations. What would you do in my shoes? Please get in touch and let me know.
Photo by Walls.io on Unsplash
Perfectionism is a common trait among leaders. It’s the near-uncontrollable drive to achieve excellence in everything we do. However, when taken to the extreme, perfectionism can become a real problem, rather than an asset. In fact, it can wreck careers, relationships and even lives. The poor head teacher who took her own life earlier this year in response to what appears a partial and ill-expressed Ofsted review of her school is a tragic example of how perfectionism can really damage us.
In January 2023 I led two workshops on this topic at the Academy of Women’s Leadership conference in London. To be honest, I chose the topic because many of my clients struggle with perfectionism – and so do I!
“Hello, my name is Astrid, I am 57 and I am a recovering workaholic perfectionist”.
I get the challenges. I really do.
We were able to have a great discussion in both sessions, where I shared some simple hints and hacks to shift the perfectionist mindset and allow in a little self-tolerance, or “self-tenderness” as one of my lovely audience termed it. I love that!
To explain a little about this, I thought I would share three simple ways to tackle perfectionism and find ways you can accept things being OK as a leader. Here they are (but remember, they are just the tip of the iceberg):
- Recognize that perfection is unattainable. The first step in overcoming perfectionism is to recognize that it’s an unrealistic goal. You’re not a unicorn. No one is perfect. In fact, constant striving for perfection leads to stress and burnout. Instead of aiming for perfection, focus on doing your best and being proud of what you achieve. It will be enough.
- Set realistic standards. We perfectionists often set impossibly high standards for ourselves. That often means we set them for others too. In turn, this can lead to frustration and disappointment when those standards aren’t met. Instead of setting unattainable goals, set realistic standards that challenge you but are still achievable.
- Learn to let go. As you probably recognise, perfectionists often have a hard time letting go. Undeniably, ceding control and delegating tasks to others is a challenge. Nevertheless, as a leader it’s important to trust your team and delegate responsibilities. This not only helps you avoid burnout but also empowers your team members to grow and develop their skills.
So, we can see there are actually some pretty simple ways to find balance as leaders and avoid the pitfalls of perfectionism. By recognizing that perfection is actually unattainable, setting realistic standards, and learning to let go, you can achieve success while maintaining your well-being. No-one will think less of you if you let them know you’re not a unicorn after all.
Remember: your idea of OK is most other people’s idea of perfection. OK really is OK.
If this has struck a chord with you and you would like to know more about my work in this area, please get in touch and let’s have a chat about how I could help you and your team.
Image courtesy of Unsplash.
One of my clients was chatting with me the other day. “Being a CFO (Chief Financial Officer) is THE loneliest place”. It got me thinking.
Being part of The Top Team is lonely?
Leading a crack team of accountants, risk analysts and project managers is lonely?
How can that be?
What makes your place the loneliest place?
It is about how you perceive your role. Specifically, it’s about how you feel while you are performing your role. It’s how you feel about how you do what you do.
And there’s the rub. When you are the leaders of change in organisations, that puts you out there on a limb in some way or another. You are the people who are “doing” change to people. This is true even in the dire economic circumstances of the current time. You’re responsible for altering the fine balance of the status quo – and that means people will have to get used to new ways of doing things AS WELL AS just doing the do, every day. They don’t see the financial implications of what is happening out there in the economy. That means they don’t understand why you have to do the things you do. This means your actions are setting you apart from the rest.
And THAT’s why it’s lonely.
No-one but you is responsible for the outcomes the change will bring about.
No-one can possibly understand what it is like to have to push improvements through your organisation, to make it sustainable.
Everyone expects you to be a miracle-worker with the finances.
How can you change this?
You may be able to change situations and even your entire organisation’s financial systems and approaches. In fact, you’re probably having to do that while you’re also scrolling and came across this blog in your feed!
However, what you can’t change is people’s innate responses to change.
What you CAN do, is show them the benefits and help them to change their way of thinking. Actually, that’s the most important thing you can change – how your people understand your thinking and reasons for doing what you need to do, the way you need to do it.
As a matter of fact, that’s not entirely true.
Not only is it important to help others change their thinking, but it is also important to check in with your own. The most important thing you may need to change is HOW you do what you do. Even if the financial changes are crucial to your organisation’s survival, you can’t be overly directive and curt with your colleagues. You still will need to win them round. There’s lots of persuasion ahead for you on this change path. The key is to be self-aware, open and transparent. Do what you say you will do. Explain patiently to your people why you are doing it. And be ready to explain it again. And again.
Certainly, it’s important to build advocacy for your changes, so that people can change their minds without losing face. Everyone needs a way out from any corner, into which their reservations had boxed them.
How does this stop this being the loneliest place?
- If you have supporters, you’re not alone
- If you have people who really understand your “why?”, you’re not alone.
- And if there’s a group of people sharing your urgency for change, you can’t be alone because there’s pressure building for change from a variety of angles.
These alliances and relationships may not be easy to manage. No-one’s pretending that organisational change is simple! Nevertheless, focusing on your people skills and building alliances and alignments will be crucial to you not feeling too alone in your role. And that’s got to be change you can buy into.
This situation may have rung some bells for you. Is it a familiar landscape? Maybe you’ve given this approach a try and it worked, but you feel there was something missing still? If that’s the case, please get in touch and let’s have a chat. I can probably help with that.
Image credit: Matthew Henry via Unsplash