You’ve reached your tipping point – top 5 signs

An athlete’s optimum level of performance involves them having the right balance of the right things in place. In sport ‘perfect’ involves:

  • passion for the activity – enough to motivate you to turn up each day
  • smart scheduling – for maximum exertion plus maximum recovery
  • great nutrition – to give body and mind the highest quality energy to call on
  • quality sleep – good yin, good yang
  • being totally present – fully aware of the task and how you’re going to deliver when the time comes
  • commitment to improvement – learning equally through successes and challenges
  • an excellent support team – coaches, sparring partners, nutritionists and sports therapists

There’s no doubt a person can be talented at more than one thing, but choosing to commit to more because of what other people want, keeping people onside or being seen to be super-capable – these are not good enough long term motivators. And you will speedily reach your tipping point.

A person’s working life has extraordinary parallels to the life of an athlete, so you’ll know you’re at your professional tipping if you notice these 5 main factors:

  • Your motivation has reduced– you’re imgining being somewhere else and you’re no longer stretched by the role
  • Decisions are less clear – when you’re involved in an activity that doesn’t sit inside your sphere of being ‘purposeful’ it’s harder to intuit the next right move
  • You’re getting panicky – the list of ‘to do’s only ever gets longer. You’re getting 8 things ticked off it each day, but 12 things are going on. You’re living with a growing sense of ‘I’m only reacting – there’s nothing strategically though out going on’
  • Relationships are stretched – at work and at home ‘the unspoken’ is getting louder. You haven’t the time to work stuff out so the tension grows as collaborative conversations are replaced with direct requests and instructions.
  • Core value are being compromised – many top execs know that they can high perform only when the fundamentals are in place. Quality sleep, good nutrition, regular exercise, supportive relationships being maintained, clear vision of the benefits of investing their professional time. When you begin to operate in the absence of these things on a regular basis stress and anxiety will increase

The tipping point is a real thing. If these 5 points are present for you then quality conversations focussing on change are required. Speak to your director, HR head, coach, or mentor. Define what ‘best working practice’ for you looks like and take some practical steps to ensure your core values are re-instated and any excesses in what you’ve said ‘yes’ to are edited back to an absolute minimum.

How conflict affects the bottom line

Succeeding through conflict at work can be one of the most valuable skills any leader develops. A team whose differences are respected amongst each other – strengths, work patterns, communication styles, personalities and life choices – is a powerful team. A manager who encourages diversity and is equipped to manage difference skillfully is an asset to any company.

One of the most stressful things in any professional’s life is heading in to work every day knowing that there’s someone they have to interact with that will cause them stress. To do this day-in-day-out, for weeks and months on end is like slow torture and can lead to anxiety, sick days and physical and mental health issues. All too often this is not the result of 2 people in a team who can’t get on, it’s the result of a manager, not being equipped to spot relationship difficulties amongst their people, and if they do spot it, not having the skills to manange the process towards awareness, resolve and active professional development.

I have seen and heard of extraordinary examples of badly managed teams AND badly managed managers. These include:

  • public humiliations of jobs done badly around a table of 14 team leaders – with projects critically picked apart in front of peers ‘why did it happen?! what were you thinking?! this is worse than useless?!’;
  • an manager avoiding a growing conflict situation between 2 members of her team. This escalated into a violent outburst from one team member who was subsequently (understandably) signed off and hospitalised with acute stress. The future investigation focussed on the actions of the 2 employees, and not on the manager as requiring intensive further training and development;
  • a 22-years-in-the-business director whose team turnover was extensive. His managers were constantly fed with non-timely, incomplete information, given little direction, and were used as scapegoats when projects or tasks failed to hit timelines or budget. This director played a very political game within the board of the company (very old school), undermining (over time) his managers, who ultimately took their skills elsewhere. Important to note that the company in this case had invested £0 in the professional development of this director in over 2 decades.

As a corporate and executive coach I mainly deal with high performing, aware professionals who strive to be clear about their strengths and their ability to contribute to the maximum in the roles they’re in (like a formula 1 car receiving fortnightly tuning). However, in at least a third of cases I’m asked to consider, a director or manager want’s me to ‘fix’ a person who reports in to them to ‘make them see’ or ‘get them to understand’.

In these situations I have to explain (sometimes to the point of losing the contract) that if I ‘fix’ this person without having the ability to coach their director to increase his/her skills and awareness it’s a poor time and money investment for the company. It’s like teaching a child to speak clearly then leaving them in a home where the parents mumble – it just increases the child’s frustration that the culture they live in is not evolved enough for them to fully thrive.

The issues for companies with potential conflicts between employees are:

  • how to justify the investment of time, money and productivity once a conflict situation gains its full momentum (employees, leaders, human resources, knock on effect to team morale)
  • how to skill up staff to ask for help before a situation escalates
  • how to train managers to know the difference between normal creative friction and ongoing, stress-enhancing, detrimental behaviour
  • how to continue to invest in the development of teams and leaders regardless of there being issues and conflict situations (being proactive in keeping professinalism and awareness high)

I’ll lighten it up in the next post and look at the top 5 ways to succeed in managing conflict at work!

Success and simplicity – in 60 minutes a month

Coaching for executives is the best way, bar none, that a company can expand and encourage a leader to be more, do more, contribute more. It positively impacts the individual leader, the team she or he manages and the end user of the companie’s product or service. The corporate knock on effect is repeat business and ongoing recommendations. What’s not to love?

Most CEOs and Human Resource Directors, when considering coaching for their executives and leaders ask these top questions:

  • Q: How do I choose which executives to coach – we can’t fund all of them.
  • A: Pick the most high performing and intuitive executives first. Someone that already has momentum is going to influence change quickly and effectively – and that’s inspiring and encouraging to everyone else. Don’t mistake this for the most dynamic; high performing could equally mean expert in their area with a less outspoken approach.
  • Q: How do I measure return on investment
  • A: You look at a person’s conversation and how clear it is; a leaders openness to new and extrovert ideas; their motivation to complete a project; their ability to inspire their team; their respect and inclusion of others; their commitment to expanding themselves – intellectually, emotionally, consciously. If a leader is ticking all these boxes, business can go only one way …
  • Q: What does it cost
  • A: It costs 30 minutes of an director or senior manager’s time twice per month. Financially that’s going to cost less than £300 per month per leader. That’s less than a travel allowance!!! For a clear, expanding, motivating, practical and talented executive to then make observations about what’s going well in the company and spot right now where there are opportunities for growth or greater impact, you simply can’t buy a more effective business asset than that.

As I’ve said over and over again (so if this is your first time of hearing you’re lucky!) I don’t coach clients with issues; my clients are successful professionals who know that with the right conversation, with a safe, non-judgemental place to voice what they’re thinking, and with a coach who has the ability to tactically ask them to stretch, then they’re going to access more ideas, more courage and more results in a considerably shorter time span.

Clients who have come to me with a goal of ‘moving from regional to national within a year’ continue to work with me 3 years on because they got to national in 6 months and international within 12 months. They’ve experienced first hand that clear thinking, honest communication and courage to step up blasts ordinary performance out of the water.

Extraordinary results are not the exclusive domain of the superstar, high-profile business people you see on tv shows or read about in the newspapers. There are millions of change makers, innovators and customer-centred pioneers out there confidently and quietly changing the world. They’re making companies better places for the people that work there. They’re challenging the status quo and putting passion before profits (which ultimately creates success in both). They’re doing what they can to serve their clients authentically and make their piece of the world more relevant, more inclusive, more simple.

Choosing to work with a conscious executive coach will change your personal and professional life forever. Are you ready?

An executive coach in London: mine your diamonds

There’s something very privileged about the job of an executive coach – especially an executive coach in London. Those coaches that are sought after by executive from around the world all have one thing in common … word’s got round that they get results. When the time comes a leader doesn’t care if an executive coach went to the best coaching school, is accountable to a professional federation, or if they themselves earned multiple-7-figures in banking, media or science before changing careers.

A leader knows this: ‘you got results for my friend/colleague/associate – and I’d like you to do the same for me please’.  Simple. It’s an executive coach’s skill-set that counts. Can that coach make a speedy difference in your personal and professional life, with your mindset, your communication skills, your clarity about what you want in your future, your overall physical, mental and emotional success? Yes? So, hire them … now.

I helped a friend get her CV up to date recently – it was impressive. My only comment was ‘take your school results off your resume; experience has superseded the need for them’. It’s the same with an experienced executive coach – 15 year and 1000s of clients down the line, they have an intuition, a knowing and a set of unique tools that are so deeply entrenched in them getting results with their talented leaders in diverse industries they probably can’t even tell you what some of those tools are … they just ‘be’ coaching all day every day.

I see this in my leadership clients sometimes too. They can be so busy proving to others that they’re worthy – reading the latest leadership books, putting their teams/organisations up for awards, getting the next letters after their names (MA, PHD, MBA) – that they’ve missed the uncut diamonds just waiting to be mined inside of themselves. This is no touchy-feely kind of treasure but a profound, extraordinary sense of what a leader (CEO, MD, board member, senior director – whoever) can contribute to this time and space that no one else on the planet can.

When you actively mine those diamonds, no approval or qualifications will have prepared you for what the future can look like. You’ll live on purpose. You’ll progress though life living out of that purpose, speaking from that place, contributing from it and inspiring others. You’ll respect that although your paths are crossing with tens or hundreds of others at this very moment, their destiny isn’t yours and and some point they’ll likely uncover their own diamonds and move on into their own inspired space.

Why am I highlighting London as an executive coaching hub amongst every other international city? Mainly I suppose because that’s where I personally have had the honour of working with the most diverse range of clients I could imagine: young, old, men, women, limited (until I worked with them!), empowered, upscalers, downsizers, solopreneurs, leaders of startups and generations-old corporations.  Each extraordinary. Every one of them with diamonds now well-and-truly mined, designed, polished and sparkling with light.

An executive coach – your ROI

What’s the Return On Investment of working with an Executive Coach? This is such a juicy question. Ten years and over 1000 clients ago, as I tentatively opened my doors to my first incarnation of being an executive coach. I had very little understanding of the value I was bringing to my market. I charged accordingly at £50 to 100 an hour – where I could get that fee and I worked with some middle managers, some junior executives and many small business owners most of whom hired me out of their own salaries.

What happened? My clients thrived. There’s no other way to say it. They were already good at what they did and since most of them had genuinely never had an agenda-free, them-focussed, you-define-your-own-success kind of conversation in their lives, the executive coaching conversations worked to massive effect. My clients were promoted, they got salary increases, some moved to dream jobs, others made huge personal changes and all of them thought thoughts and took actions that they wouldn’t otherwise have known were within their sphere of choices.

How did I measure these results? It just couldn’t be done on monetary terms. How do you measure clarity, reduced anxiety, increased courage, richer conversations and raised awareness? It could only be measured through lives lived out and success stories shared.

After about 50 clients and repeatedly seeing their huge shifts, I had to put my fees up. I continued to work for individuals – authors, publishers, editors, film producers – and then increasingly I go taken on by small then large corporates. I was seeing 2 – 6 clients a day and loving every conversation and every little light-bulb moment – of which there were many.

At this time – about 2004 – I was adding to my executive coach skillset with some further study around metaphysics. Thoughts become things. What we believe is what we see. Limited thinking produces limited results; courageous thinking creates extraordinary & fast-tracked outcomes.

How did I measure the success of this extra service? Again, it couldn’t be done on monetary terms. My clients were loving it though – doubling their sales numbers, launching (and closing) new brands and some even starting families where they’d previously given up hope.

Every year I reviewed my fees and reviewed my client results until I was working with MDs, senior directors and international business owners. At this level the fact that I charged £400 an hour and £2500 a day really wasn’t that relevant to an individual or a company. If a finance president had a breakthrough realisation, his company was the 7-figure beneficiary of that. If a marketing director left a coaching session with a richer strategy, her CEO and shareholders would celebrate those results and bank the bonus.

The money and the sales were never the point – they were the measurable outcomes. The point was (and still is) that a progressive professional could hire an executive coach to expose more of their potential and make their life easier, more meaningful and more successful.

When you hire an executive coach you believe your work life and your personal choices will change for the better. If you pick an experienced executive coach this will undoubtedly be the case. Your results can be measured by the improvements in your own life then and also in the lives of your colleagues, your family & friends, and those you’ll never even know that you’ve touched and change.

A worthwhile return on investment is not just about what’s released in your own experiences, it’s ultimately about what you give back –  your ultimate life’s legacy.

Leadership Development and Usain Bolt

I’ve been gripped with Olympic fever for the past 10 days. What an honour to watch the world’s elite athletes pitting their decades-honed talents against each other. And the physiques on show? … oh my! For me too, as far as getting athletes’ victory-against-all-odds stories to parallel into my leadership development coaching … there’s been gift after gift!

There are obviously the ‘she’s the girl next door but super-disciplined’ stories – like 800m swimmer Rebecca Adlington. Or the ‘parents as part of your success team’ tales – as with Tom Daley (and his late father). However, it was a BBC interview with Usain Bolt about 10 minutes after his 100m final, 9.63-second victory that something gold really stood out for me.

Bolt was asked about his preparation since the last Olympics and also whether his ‘slow start’ off the blocks was a worry. Bolt said ‘Too many people have been talking about the importance of a good start. Races aren’t won at the start – they’re won at the end. I know my business. I know what’s required. I know how to execute. I was never in doubt that I would win tonight. I remain number 1!’

This stood out miles for me – the confidence, the clarity, the ‘I know my business.’ And it got me thinking that as a world-number-one athlete Bolt has a skill set that even his coaches and advisers can’t teach him. As much as they know their science, statistics and disciplined training programs they’re not the race runners. There’s only one world’s fastest man and by definition he knows his business to a height, breadth, depth and detail that only he can –  and some of it comes straight from his soul and can’t be taught.

There are huge commonalities in what it takes to be a ‘world’s greatest’ at a sport – vision, discipline, success team (coaches, therapists, nutritionists, physios, sponsors), supportive family, pain tolerance, persistence and patience. There are also huge differences between the crafts of swimming, gymnastics and athletics, not to mention the differences between individual athletes themselves.

In leadership development, the parallels between sporting triumphs and professional excellence are many. The commonalities to drive a company, brand or team to victory also include vision, discipline, a success team, share-holder support, risk taking, persistence and patience. However, success in retail has it’s own refinements when compared to success in media. Likewise, the elite in corporate banking  have a knowledge base entirely different to a multi-billion pound, started-from-scratch entrepreneur.

The 5 rings of olympian-success for leadership, in my opinion, are:

  • learn from those who’ve gone before and those with specialist expertise. Read, train, be mentored, listen and apply. Knowledge sharing is fast-tracking.
  • keep a clear vision in your mind in every meeting, every conversation , every choice you make – when you’re convinced your convincing and we all need a fan base. If you’re not 100% clear, hire a coach and get clear.
  • determinedly invest the hours. Success is about building experience, refining skill sets and showing up for the next challenge. There’s no short cut, no magic want, no quick fix – so, no excuses, get on with it.
  • be kind to yourself. Every ‘failure’ is an opportunity to learn – and when we’re transparent about our oversights we realise that everyone’s been there, everyone’s got scars and stories … and that’s a good thing.
  • be patient and trust for the reward. I know you want to be CEO, or have your multiple-7-figure business right now. It’s coming. You’re closer today than yesterday. Relax about it and enjoy the journey.

Take a lesson in confidence and clarity from Bolt and remind yourself: ‘I know my business!’

Executive Leadership – It’s Different Now …

When I took my first job in the corporate publishing industry over twenty years ago the culture was very different to what I know from the various corporates I deliver executive leadership coaching to now. In the 90s there was still a sense of having to do your time. You most likely had to have a university degree before you worked your way up from assistant to manager and from there to director and onward (if you hadn’t keeled over) to the board of the company. Normal was for that process to take decades! Super-dullsville!!

Move forward to 2012 and there’s a different type of leadership developing. It give less weight to who you know and what’s your background and more to meritocracy, personal passion, drive and accountability. With the right education – and that doesn’t have to  mean university –  relevant experience and, most importantly, strong personal and professional skills, leaders in corporates can achieve recognition and directorships in their late 20s and early 30s.

A few (but an increasing number) are going out on their own and leading multi-million (and billion) pound operations before their thirtieth birthday. Here’s an important question though: is it more impressive to be a CEO at 35 than it is at 55 years old?

My answer … ‘no’.

Heres’ what’s truly impressive: any person – young, middle aged, pensioner, male, female, any culture, any socio-economic background – investing in themselves to a point where they recognise the keys of a true leader: vision, integrity, collaboration, transparency, enablement, compassion and gratitude.

The most frequent challenge I see in delivering executive leadership coaching is when a leader has forgotten that their role is to serve. A product or service will only thrive when customers, clients, readers, listeners, viewers have a happy experience of it. And the company itself can only deliver that when their designers, writers, developers, marketeers, sales agents and operations directors are bought into a vision and empowered to deliver.

It’s always about people, it’s always about evolving (an idea, a brand, a way of distributing), it’s always about a mindset of adventuring and seeing new opportunities. If courage and clarity are modeled in a CEO that spirit will filter out to the directors and their management teams as will honesty, respect and ego-lessness.

My 20 years ago experience was so much based around a fear & lack model too (what’s in it for me) – you had to do as instructed by your manager because she was following a mandate from her director. It was like an extension of school.

Today though, the most dynamic companies out there use a model of respect and abundance – CEOs acknowledging that they don’t hold all the solutions but they do know how to hire creative thinkers and dynamic communicators and invest in their expansion over a given term.

My greatest satisfaction in executive leadership coaching is to have a corporate decision maker remember his or her own talents, creativity and courage. To get clear once again about changes and choices; because when they’re inspired they’re inspiring.

Your Ceiling of Success

You know how sometimes it takes an intensity of the same thing to occur multiple times before the penny drops? Like 5 super-valuable executives leave the company within a 3 month period before a CEO recognises that they’ve all been reporting to the same undeveloped senior director. Or targets go unmet over 6 terms in a sales department although the training’s great, before the issue is pinpointed that the client relationship management software has glitches and requires an investment and update.

Recently I had an influx of  senior executives, from a range of companies and backgrounds but who had all excelled in their roles early in their careers. It took me a while to recognise the pattern –   each of them was in his or her early 40s; they were directing their business sectors, if not MDing the entire company; they were effective in their role and respected within the company; each was happy personally, in a committed partnership with children; and crucially … each had come to a point where their apparent personal & professional success was no longer fully satisfying.

There’s a program that I work on with senior executives called The 7 Steps to Personal & Professional Freedom (you can get the simple version in my book of the same title – available on Amazon.co.uk), and the first step is always Clear & Courageous Thinking. It’s what we do, consciously or otherwise, when we imagine the outcome we want for our lives. Many people picture a version of what they’ve seen their parents achieve (so doctor’s children become doctors, teacher’s children go into teaching)  and expand on it a little. Others have dreams as children with no model present in their family or social groups (the daughter of a miner becomes a entrepreneur, or the son of a plumber becomes a lawyer).

Wherever I see high achievement in executives in their late 30s and early 40s, there’s been a clear thinking process since childhood, which has often involved bigger-than-average risk and action taking to get there – that’s the courageous part –  (so they might have moved country with small children whilst in their 30s in order to say ‘yes’ to the next corporate step up; or they might have taken a temporary salary cut at a key point in their career in order to shift from an creative path to a commercial path because it looked as though there might be more longevity and opportunity there in the long run).

Here’s the challenge though – those who have held a clear and courageous vision since childhood often achieve the outcome within 10-15 years of their post-university career. And that doesn’t fit with the historic story of ‘work until your 60, then retire rich and happy’. They’re already rich and happy and they’re only 42 years old! These executive are managing a ceiling of success because they had no clue to imaging bigger, brighter or more purposeful.

Breaking through the ceiling is where a successful director will ask ‘so what does ‘more’ look like?’, or ‘how do I add meaning to my ambition?’, or ‘what if I took all my transferable skills and knowledge and started again from ground up?’. It’s a beautiful piece of new, clear and courageous thinking; the next step of expansion. And, similar to when they were children, the adventure’s just beginning and the sky’s no limit!

A CEO’s legacy

Leaders define success in any number of ways – increasing turnover, launching innovative products, hiring world-class teams, going global, changing lives.

Some CEOs are credentialed and experienced to the hilt; others are risk takers and their own best PR machine. Some step in to lead a share-held company; others start from the ground up turning millions into billions in a single decade. Whatever their style and character, every CEO holds the intention that they leave a company and its people – employees and clients – healthier, happier and richer for them having been involved.

How do you train for leadership though? What are the lessons? Can anyone make it to the top of a medium or large company? Is it about qualifications, contacts, networking, character, good-fortune, divine-interventions? Who knows … in reality a heady mix of all of it probably.

The skills of a good CEO include:

  • awareness – what attracts a customer to their brand and how do we provide more of that
  • advanced people skills – spotting talent and influencing and motivating with sincerity
  • a vision for the future of the organisation – its products & services, its people and its customers & clients

Exceptional skills would be:

  • servant leadership – a proactive empathy with each person involved in the business cycle and an full-time investment in empowering their greater expression personally & professionally
  • active life-long learning – where personal development is ongoing and equally sought out in times of challenge and of success
  • collaborative mindset – where it’s not about ‘more for us’ it’s about ‘more for all’ – where knowledge, resources and route-to-market are shared in order that financial and environmental benefits further reward the customer  as well as the companies’ involved

And those leaders who move forward the fastest and surest:

  • have an exceptional leadership team supporting the shared company vision
  • actively expand their ceiling of understanding – intellectually (where are the next technical and people innovations coming from), inspirationally (how do I manage this newest team dynamic to continue to sustain high performance in my directors), intuitively (how do we best respond to the rapidly changing market place, purchasing styles and global clientelle) – and put in place stimulus that keep them thinking at the edge of their comfort zones (mentors, executive coaches, what-if hubs, mastermind groups)
  • cultivate a culture of creativity, diversity, authenticity and integrity – which cascades from the CEO through the leadership team to the mangers, teams, collaborating companies and out to a market which responds in kind by repeatedly investing in the products and services of that brand.

More for all and less to none – that’s an overall winning CEO legacy!