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’.

Setting up in business – 3 essential character traits from an executive coach

Since being a teenager I’d imagined I would own my own company at some point in my life. I’d come from an entrepreneurial family – but still at 30 years old had no idea how I was going to make the move from my comfortable London corporate job into the grit and fast-tracked hustle of entrepreneurial life.

Ultimately the decision was made for me (as often happens when we hold a vision that we’re not taking sufficient action to realise!). In a challenging 12-month period in the second year of the new millenium, I left my marriage (an empowered choice), bought a new home (an inspiring space), had my first child (an eternal blessing), took a short maternity leave (14 weeks) and returned to my Commercial Director role … where 3 months later I was made redundant (with a healthy pay off – a lovely silver lining!).

As a single mother it made sense to invest in the flexibility of running my own business. It took a full 6 weeks of conversations and meditations to work out what product or service would most inspire me. There were no executive coaching schools in the UK in 2002 so I did a post graduate degree out of the US – that was a juggle!

I took on my first executive contracts while I was still studying and within 5 years had clients from some of the biggest media companies in the world – directors, editors, publishers, actors, authors – what a delight. The next 5 years I expanded to coach leaders in finance, medicine and new energy – CEOs, MDs, marketeers and financiers. From there I began to work with business owners of small and medium sized companies who themselves had made their own leaps into entrepreneurship and were conscious to keep aware and ahead of their game – thus their seeking out an executive coach in London.

There are people who will be driven at some point to go into business on their own. There are others who enjoy the cultures and routines found in most salaried jobs. If you think you’re one of the former, here are the top 3 character traits that got me beyond decade one:

  •  A healthy relationship to risk: there are points when you ask, borrow or say ‘yes’ for something way beyond what you think you can deliver. Growing pains are an essential part of expansion. The wisdom lies in defining healthy risk: too cautious or too gung ho and you may not make it through to your crucial year-3 tipping point (where it often gets easier – extra confidence and experience perhaps)
  • A strong support network: this could be family (although they’re often not the best people to help you stretch beyond your comfort zones) or could equally be other business owners who’re a few (or many) steps ahead. I’ve found that mentors, business coaches and mastermind groups have all enriched my journey to date – and I continue to invest in an executive coach for my own ongoing best performance.
  • A philosophical mindset: there’s just no way you can foresee the challenges or the opportunities that show up month to month. What helps though is to define and hold a clear vision of where you’re heading. What difference is your product or service going to make to each person who encounters it? And then, what difference is delivering that service seamlessly year after year going to make to your quality of life and your ability to give back?

As an executive coach in London and now increasingly in Scotland, I see people every day who’re choosing to make extraordinary changes to their life – personally and professionally. If you want the same … consider the leap!

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.

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”.

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?

Business leadership – getting easier?

It’s a question I’ve been pondering for the past few years – is business leadership getting easier? I read articles and work in businesses that say change is occurring faster and markets are ever more complex, my experience however just doesn’t bear that out (and I appreciate it may be because I’m privileged to work with the most focussed and motivated leaders).

Last week I was working with a long-standing client whose progress within her company has been off-the-chart over the past 12 months. The expectations she set herself 18 months ago were a stretch for her to imagine (I had a hunch she could raise them even further but even successful business leaders can’t see from the outset how breathtakingly talented and inspiring they are).

We worked on thoughts and she held clear intentions. For 3 months we refined her intuitive thinking habits and everywhere possible she held intentions for the outcome of meetings, the agreement of teams and the impromptu opportunities that would spotlight her experience and contribution to the national company decision makers. Moment by moment she was prepared.

We worked on thoughts and she held clear intentions. Within 6 months the opportunity to shift from regional to national occurred. This had been her expectation and one of the reasons she’d committed to working with me as her executive coach. With a set of new processes, communication tools and thought habits she was actually more than equipped than she’d expected for the national position – it wasn’t so much of a stretch.

We worked on thoughts and she held clear intentions. It didn’t take long for her to get up to speed with the national picture, the leadership team and a plan for where the brands could be expanded and refined to make a meaningful difference for the company.

Then … we worked on thoughts and she held clear intentions. Unexpectedly and in within 6 more months an international position was offered to my cleint. This was the expectation I’d been holding for her (quietly) – I could see she had a healthy relationships with risk, I could  hear how well connected she was, I could feel how passionately she wanted to contribute and how committed she was to put the hours in for a fast-tracking career push (I suspect she’s no where near finished either).

The speed of change was somewhat to do with her thoughts and her intentions and perfecting something simple; the real breakthrough however, came when her habit of conscious thinking and intending turned into genuine belief. When she saw time after time that refined thinking and clear intention holding got results (underpinned by a philosophy of ‘more for all, no exceptions’), she honed that tool until she became unconsciously competent with it. Once that occurred she was destined to rise and rise.

So to the original question, ‘is business leadership getting easier?’, my conclusion is ‘yes, if you’re willing upskill body, head and heart together’. When business leadership gets committed to perpetual change and equips themselves with advanced tools that connect them with ‘more for all’, they can’t help but make business simpler.  Simplicity, as we see again and again (Apple, Innocent, Blinkbox), is the hallmark of all successful brands, products and services.

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.

Keeping it simple

As an executive coach, I’m sometimes called on when a leader, manager or company has too much going on – people, projects, development, deadlines, decisions – and they’ve passed the tipping point of working to full effectiveness. It’s not a weakness to have said ‘yes’ to so many things (or, more likely, for additional responsibilities to have been given to you because there was no one else to take them on) but too much complexity never delivers effective business results.

A call for your executive coach is a call to streamline and to simplify.

Earlier this week I had a conversation with a writer and film director. There were about 8 projects he could easily invest time in – networking, event organising, putting together his next creative team – there’s always so much going on. I asked him – why do you do what you do? He said ‘I love to write. And I love to create.’ I asked him – knowing that, what are your priorities today? He said ‘To finish this script. To get the movie made.’ And even simpler than that? … ‘To finish this script’.

Sometimes there’s a really obvious right next move; often it’s one that only you can do. That’s why it’s on your list and no-one else’s.Everything else you’re investing time in is a distraction, or a subconscious procrastination because it knows that the things only you can do will create the biggest ripple effects – and that in turn will change your world.

There’s a classic story (which is worth repeating …) about a professor who held up to his students an empty glass jar. Into it he placed some large rocks up to the rim. He then help up the jar and said ‘is it full?’. The students nodded ‘yes’. Next the professor took out a bag of pebbles and poured them into the jar. The pebbles found their way in around the spaces of the large rocks. ‘Is it full now?’ he asked. The students nodded ‘yes’. The professor then took out a bag of sand. He poured the sand into the jar and it filled in the spaces around the pebbles. He held up the jar, ‘Is it full now?’. The students nodded ‘yes’. The professor took out a beaker of water, he slowly poured it into the glass jar. The water meandered its way around the spaces of the rocks, the pebbles and the sand until it reached the rim of the jar. ‘Ok, so now it’s full’, said the professor, ‘So, what’s the lesson’?

One student raised her hand and said ‘Is it that we can achieve more than we think – but sometimes have to find new ways to do so?’. ‘A good answer, anyone else?’ said the professor. Another student put up his hand, ‘Could it be that if we assume a question means ‘more of the same’ we’re missing an opportunity?’. ‘Another good answer’ said the professor, ‘And here’s the lesson I want you to take away from today: I could only put as much into this glass jar if I started with the big stuff. In any other order, this quantity of rocks, pebbles, sand and water could not be contained. Prioritise the big things into your life – health, fitness, a vision, connection – and all the rest will fall into place around it’.

As an executive coach, I couldn’t have put it better myself!

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Leonardo da Vinci