Pressure at work: caffeinate or meditate?

Executive coaches are hired for senior directors to ensure they continue to be as clear thinking as possible. Ideally they’ll lead a business onwards and upwards and inspire and motivate (all going well) their colleagues and teams. Realistically though, not every company offers the exec coach benefit to every principal in their leadership line-up. And even in businesses that do – there’s no guarantee that those executives will be noticebly calmer and more strategic.

Most professionals at some time or another will have to manage pressure at work leading to increased stress. The most common factors for this are:

  • the content of work – do other people or departments depend on your work being accurate and timely
  • workload – the amount or the speed of a product or service being delivered is just too much for a contracted 40-hour per week team
  • clashing personalities – it’s great when everyone gets on and puts in equal effort. It’s super-tough when personalities clash and still have to work together week after month
  • a difficult boss – people rarely leave companies, they leave bad managers
  • no clear route to progress
  • expectations not met – by not being clearly defined and well managed
  • limited financial reward for the effort invested or the results produced

So when stress occurs what are some ways of dealing with it?

Lots of workers at all levels of seniority manage stress on a regular basis. It might be work related (as in the list above) or it might be that we’re bringing personal stress (family, finances, fitness, relationships, health) in to work with us – which is pretty normal.

Communication is a decent first step and in an ideal world we’d all be collaborators with clear shared visions, putting maximum effort in to get there as quickly as possible with the most benefit for the most people – customers & company. In reality though … that’s rare!

My question about caffeinating or mediating is based around whether speeding up our brains(caffeinating) or slowing down our minds (meditating) is a more effective way of increasing productivity.

Coffee has become an increasingly acceptable stimulant over the past 50 years. It used to be that instant blends were the norm however now more and more of us are choosing the strength of that stimulant (1 – 5 from weak to super-strong). Coffee can help to integrate a home life with a work life. A late night watching tv or a few glasses of wine with friends don’t leave such obvious footprints on our work day once the 2nd cafetierre’s been gulped down.

And then there’s the late nights of emergency meetings or perfecting pitch presentations. Coffee’s a normal part of squeezing more awakeness out of a flagging work force. Sounds like – in moderation – it’s all good.

Mediation on the other hand works by slowing the mind down. When a person invests 10-15 minute a couple of times a day focussing on their breathing, paying attention to their physical body and the life-force that flows through it, the results they produce stand out over time. Meditation delivers clarity (on many levels – personal & professional) and that clarity makes decisions simpler and solutions more creative.

Looking at these 2 choices, caffeination or mediation, I’m reminded of a very wise executive coach in London I worked with for 2 years. When stuck with a decision of which of 2 excellent virtual assistants to hire she asked, ‘do you have to choose between them?’ – the answer turned out to be ‘no’ and so I hired them both. This I’m sensing is the answer to the caffienation or meditation question: if they both get result in different ways ‘do you have to choose’?

Flower power – diverse workplaces are more profitable long term

In nearly 15 years of working as an executive coach in London, Scotland and around the UK, it’s clearer than ever to me that when employees are accepted equally for their usual and unusual traits, you’ll get a healthier, more productive and successful work culture.

In 1800 the world population was just under 1 billion (stay with me on this!). It took over 120 years for that number of people to double to 2 billion in the 1920s. And in the subsequent 100 years, the earth’s population has more than tripled. Presently our fragile planet is supporting nearly 7.3 billion souls. So … what do these statistics have to do with workplace productivity?

With an increase in population comes and increase in diversity – intercultural & interfaith relationships; nuclear, extended and blended families; longer life spans where people to do more, see more, think more, consume more and change more; greater access to travel, education and information, all of which are mind and idea expanding.

As quickly as the population grows, alongside grows the demand for the essentials required for each person’s physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs to be met. Change is happening faster than ever because as a species we require solutions to feed, clothe, house, educate, inform, support, entertain and inspire an ever-expanding marketplace.

Why do companies need to embrace the diversity of it’s employees? It comes back to increased population because demand for, well everything, is increasing which in turn drives global change and change, which in turn requires quickly-evolving new ideas and solutions.

It is no longer possible as a company director to fix on a ‘right way to be within this company’ and to expect thereafter to have employees be routine and formulaic in the delivery of a brand’s product or service; nor would it be reasonable to expect to be in business in 10 years time with this being the leading mindset.

Healthy, forward-focussed companies have a process where the creative and intellectual differences within their workforce are harnessed and encouraged. It’s a tough process to manage initially – especially for leaders who are wedded to full control – however the pay-backs for getting this culture right are priceless.

Some practical ways to encouraging diversity and difference include:

  • Having highly-astute, people-orientated leaders present at board level educating on diversity and inclusion from the top down on an ongoing basis
  • Creating a bi-annual CPD requirement specifically for senior directors to be updated on re-framing a team’s differences (and similarities) as being an asset
  • Designing a process where new ideas from all tiers of a company, on products, services and processes can be aired and put to the senior team for consideration and action
  • Encouraging personalisation of a work space (within reason)
  • Educating all team members on advanced communication – non-judgemental, inquisitive, respectful, possibility-orientated language
  • Encouraging hires that as a manager you know will stir things up a little (requires a leader to commit to ongoing development and constant reviewing of assumptions themselves)
  • Stay aware where assumptions may be being made around the big 7: gender, age, race, religion, sexual orientation, disability and culture; and also stay aware of subtle assumptions around: body shape, dress sense, tattoos, where a person was educated, accent, car-type, capability and desire to progress.

It takes effort and awareness to spot your own assumptions. As an executive coach in the UK, this is one of the varied number of conversations I have with C-levels and senior directors in many business sectors. Remember, what our planet and its people now require to thrive is such a fast-changing formula, never be ashamed to raise your hand to say ‘here’s where my experience and knowledge remains priceless; and here’s where I could do with a new perspective’.

Phone coaching – get with the program

In 2014 it’s all change. My UK clients are in London, Manchester, Glasgow & Aberdeen … and even one in a cottage industry on a remote Hebridean island. My overseas clients are in Ireland, US, India and Hong Kong. All bar 2 are phone or skype clients; and 8 out of 10 of my clients these days I’ll never meet in person for the weeks, months or years we’re in partnership.

The change in the perception of trusted, remote-location relationships has been hugely influenced by the last decade of social media culture. The population’s skill set to edit out people we don’t trust and filter in the genuine is evolving. We practice this with dating, with the websites we buy our clothes from, or the hotels we choose blind for our hot summer holiday.

Do we make mistakes with trusting online providers? Sometimes. But not as much as we benefit from having increased choices.

So how does it work when a client’s checking out my coaching services versus any other executive coach in the UK (or the world)?

Initial contact with me is almost always made by email followed by a quick, scheduled 15 minute phone call. Most execs are hungry for change so the faster the better.

On the initial call a prospective client will outline what he or she would like to see as result of hiring an executive coach – more money, more time, a promotion, a relationship, a career change, new leadership skills, a greater ability to influence, better fitness, more meaning and balance in their life.

I then brief them on my coaching style, how phone coaching works, explain the prep forms I’ll email out and the mindset required for an effective session. I book no more than 2 sessions in the first instance (because if you don’t see quantifiable results in that short a time, it’s possible I’m not the coach for (to be fair – this is rare)).

Phone sessions are 30 or 60 minutes, weekly or fortnightly. A review on the quality of a coaching conversation happens every session (takes about 30 seconds) because if it’s not 100% delivering, I want to change that.

With phone coaching anyone can access a great executive coach now whether that coach is in London, Liverpool or a sea-view barn conversion on the Cote d’Azur. It’s more affordable because I can work with many clients in a single working day, which brings my rate down.

If you haven’t already hired your executive coach in Aberdeen (or wherever). Get on with a decent Google search, fire some enquiry emails off and get fast-tracking to where you really want to be.

The no-frills HRD formula for finding an executive coach in London

There are excellent executive coaches in London (or anywhere) who are less than skilled marketeers. Conversely there are unskilled exec coaches who are highly skilled marketeers (be alert for these).

If you’re an HR head looking for the highest-skilled coach how do you edit out the diamonds from the dummies – especially when time is so valuable and you perhaps haven’t the resources to go through a huge tender, assessment, contracting process?

Here’s my Quintuple-Ask formula that’s economical, timely & effective:

  • Ask your LinkedIn network: ask for recommendations of coaches they’ve had good experiences with, AND those they would recommend you steer clear of. NB. Ensure they private message the info back to you – obviously!
  • Ask the senior tier of your company: HR teams many not know all the exec coaches presently working with their senior team. I get contacted more often by company directors who’ve been recommended to call by friends or someone in their professional network. Most senior execs inform their HRD after we’ve contracted, however not all, so you might get some new names out of this exercise.
  • Ask online: googling ‘executive coach London’, ‘CEO coach UK’, ‘leadership coaching Aberdeen’ (or wherever) will deliver coaches who are invested in their overall marketing and are active in keeping their website information fresh and relevant. How are they representing themselves? Who’s their target market? What’s their experience? Are they still in business 2 years or 20 years after having started? Are they qualified as coaches? Or are they ex-corporate leaders, trainers, or mentors – all of whom have value, yet none of whom are executive coaches – just know the skills you’re buying.
  • Ask coaches by phone: when you have a top 20 list (or just 10 perhaps), it’s easily whittled down to a top 5 in a single 15 minute first conversation. With a key half dozen questions you’ll know who makes sense to meet face to face and who doesn’t.
  • Ask coaches direclty: schedule a single day where all 5 coaches will come in and rotate every 45 minutes through a selected 5 executive who’ll coach and talk with them. There’s no hiding in a face-to-face service sampling. You can choose for your execs to give number or comment feedback – or a mixture of both. The stats and opinions will indicate to you which of the coaching tribe are right for your organisation – perhaps 2 or 3. Perhaps all 5.

This selection process could be implemented in under a month – and by one person. It’s intensive, but cost and time effective. A diverse range of qualified, experienced executive coaches make all the difference to a company’s evolution.

Executive coaching in the UK: happiness + satisfaction = profits

I’ve noticed recently that certain UK business cultures are more open to investing in their people’s ‘soft’ skills; the mental and emotional skills that enrich a corporate environment. They include the ability to effectively communicate, openly negotiate, embrace change, respect diversity and have active and versatile team dynamics.

The 2 company types most likely to encourage maximum release of potential in their teams are:

  • small businesses (50 people or less) with fast decision making abilities, ambitions expansion plans and the founder still at the helm; and
  • super-large corporates (1000 +) with products and services in demand in most countries on the planet.

Executive coaching makes sense for leaders in these 2 categories because:

  • it provides a confidential space to talk through the possibilities and to test how convinced an MD might be about the next 12 months of growth – and when they’re convinced, they’re convincing (streamlining buy-in from group heads and inspiring collaborative action taking)
  • the more aware their leaders are the more likely they’ll make a smart decision first time round – saving time and money
  • directors who are coached are generally more satisfied with work and life; and a business that invests in its talent is more likely to retain it
  • coaching creates clarity which in turn creates confidence – and confident people inspire others to question the status quo and to push the boundaries beyond those of the competition
  • it encourages leaders to question their assumptions and limiting beliefs and replace them with innovative thinking
  • a regular conversation about what’s going well and what could be going better means that issues aren’t left unattended long enough to gather momentum
  • there’s never a moment where a leader knows it all. Lifelong learning, with an aware and conscious coach, will expand knowledge, enrich communication skills and contribute to bringing out the best in colleagues and clients alike

You may notice that not one of these points directly has a dollar sign directly against it. And that’s because there’s an emerging new era for what defines corporate success. People come first. The money flows afterwards.

Executive coaching contributes to happy employees, who in turn do extraordinary work every day to satisfy clients and customers.

The knock on reward from happiness and satisfaction is repeat business and multiple customer recommendations. There’s genuinely no more effective a marketing strategy. From that starting point, you can (in the simplest terms) leave the financial bottom line to take care of itself.

Corporate risk – how big is too big?

Corporate risk is a tricky subject. Too little risk and the competitors will be steaming ahead. Too much risk and it scares the shareholders (and the accountants!) – unless of course it all plays out perfectly … in which case you’re the hero (for today at least)!

A certain amount of risk is essential for organisation to break new ground, put together more creative teams and stay ahead in their sector.

I recently worked with an Managing Director client where the foyer of his house (where he also has an office) was bigger than the total meterage of my own home. I was hired by the company to support this MD’s high performance as of one of the most valuable leaders in the organisation. He is super-bright, inspired, motivated and people at all levels of the company like to be in his company.

Normally my conversations with directors are quick-paced, colourful in exploring the possibilities, clear about what a best way forward would be and what ultimate outcomes would benefit the most people. This MD was known for forging forward with fresh ideas and smart hires. He’d had super-positive results in his past 2 companies. On a scale of 1-10 I’d say he was an 8.5 when it came to risk and he had a highly developed sense of this market sector, his clients needs, what the next generation of products & services was going to look like.

Here’s the top 3 things I think are worth knowing about risk having coached this MD and other leaders like him:

  • Measurement makes risk less risky: if you know the skill set of your teams, the value of your service, and the needs of your clients; if you have a deep sense of your brand, a handle on company finances and cash flow, and a sense of what you’d be willing to lose in order to gain, then the decisions that others may perceive as risky may instead feel exciting to you.
  • Discomfort can be motivating: stretching your leaders to get new systems, new schedules and new numbers out of their teams may well increase tension (and perhaps even a reaction from comfort-zone lovers), but it’s worth it if the alternative is sameness and the stretch ultimately keeps a company thriving, employing talent (who are supporting families) and increasing their client service.
  • Change & expansion cultures are healthy: all future-embracing companies would be smart to actively skill up their managers and directors to systemise the present, then invest in asking ‘so what could be next’? ‘What does more look like’? ‘How can we further meet the needs of our clients and customers’?

We’ve all heard the ‘no risk no reward’ line. It makes sense more so in today’s fast-paced markets than ever.

Or I can leave you to ponder Albert Einstein’s take on risk; he said: “A ship is always safe at shore – but that’s not what it’s built for”.