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.

Top 5 ways to manage conflict at work

Conflict at work is the number 1 biggest stress factor for those signed off from their work. I covered those stresses in my last post. So here’s my top 5 ways to keep conflict to a minimum at work:

1. Be generous with information

It’s a challenge to stay in relationship with a colleague when they can’t do their job as effectively because they don’t have all the information. When projects, teams, schedules or leadership change make sure everyone who needs to know – bosses, peers, direct report, PAs – has the information and the context. If at all possible inform your network before the decision is done and dusted because there may be knowledge around that, if shared in a timely way, could influence a richer outcome for all.

2. Name the challenge

If I had a pound (or a dollar) for the number of times I heard a professional not take accountability for something not going 100% to plan I’d be … well, richer than I am right now. Here’s how to name a challenge: ‘I would be more effective next time if I:

  • develop my communication skills’
  • shared more information before the meeting
  • ask for contributions from the board, the team, our customers in time to influence the outcome
  • learned how to use that software more efficiently
  • was completely prepared around the numbers before I make a decision
  • listened more and talked less
  • let go of a bit more control and perhaps delegated some of the tasks to other departments who’re better informed

When you’re in the business of taking responsibility for your contribution you’re in the business of successfully being able to refine your skills to get a better result next time. Blame is exhausting, demoralising and  part of ‘the old game’.

3. Respect difference

It’s comfortable to surround yourself with people who agree with your style and those who affirm to each other how right they are. It’s also a sure sign that the business you’re in will have a shorter life-cycle than a competitor with a healthy culture of challenging, debating, refining processes, and exploring new markets, clients, systems, team mixes and partnerships. It’s not necessarily about having a mix of age, gender, culture, belief, sexual orientation, mental & physical ability or faith groups among your employees (although that’s a good start), it’s more about having an openness to feedback and new suggestions whether from employees or from customer.

What worked historically may not be a guaranteed formula for the product or marketplace to come. Developing a culture of many right ways is a formula for reducing conflict. Stepping away from black and white thinking and embracing infinite shades of grey!

4. Use time as a tool

It’s tempting to want to have a conversation or a decision concluded in a first meeting or by the close of play today. Information or conversations that make you uncomfortable are often pointing to areas that you many not have considered or may not be as familiar with as your professional norm. Ask yourself ‘where is there value in further considering this point’; ‘how can I test to see if what’s being said makes business sense’; ‘how can I learn to listen more un-judgementally’. And then give it a day or two – everything softens. Just because a conversation had a difficult outcome last time doesn’t mean that’ll be the case next time you try. Ultimately everyone finds conflict stressful, so use time to allow all parties to find a peaceful way forward.

5. Take nothing personally

Most people don’t mean to offend or challenge. Communicating with tact and being good with change and difference are skill sets; they can take years to develop and even then they’re constantly in need of refinement because business, diversity and social acceptability are moving, changing entities. Developing a mindset of ‘allowing’ is part of the process of mastery in leadership and professionalism. It’s not reasonable to go through life or work expecting never to be offended. When the times do come (and they will)  this STOP method is often a good prompt:

  • Stop for a moment before you speak
  • Take 3 deep breaths and smile (if you can)
  • Observe what’s just been said; ask ‘why am I reacting to that’
  • Proceed with compassion

Mastery in handling conflict is not about doing it better than other people, it’s about doing it better than you did last time.

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.

Successful leadership – genuinely be yourself

‘What does it take to be successful in top leadership?’, I’m asked by a client about to step up to an MD-on-the-board role. And I found my usual coach approach of ’empower the client to discover’ went right out the window. ‘If you really want to lead with style’, I said, ‘then genuinely be yourself’.

 

My experience has often been that by the time you, as a senior executive, are invited to be part of the elite leadership team that make up the board of a large corporate, it’s your character, experience and intuitive creativity that are really being called on.

You’ve done the journeying; the one that starts in the first years learning the formulas for acceptance which allow you to integrate into the company structure. As a team member you had to learn how to get on with colleagues, how to keep time, meet deadlines, produce results and communicate clearly, respectfully and using the language of the organisation.

Then you moved up to management; you learned the skills that allowed you to communicate clear goals, to motivate, to listen well, to spot your team member’s strengths and to influence their thinking as well as that of peers, directors and clients. You met deadlines and achieved results.

As a director, you felt the pressure and responded. You developed to know how to champion your business sector within the overall company vision. You inspired those around you to think more creatively, you knew which were the quick wins and which opportunities were best played out over a longer, more strategic time period. You worked out that to consciously invest in your own development at this point meant you could work less (yet smarter) and earn more. You hired teams knowledgeably and inspired with wisdom.

So now you’ve done your time, you’re ready for board level and your role from here is to oversee the business of a whole country or the negotiating of billion-pound contracts.

You’re part of a leadership team that together steers a healthy course of growth for products, services, customers and employees alike. What’s different from here is that there’s less instead of more structure because the market isn’t defined by past results it’s created by honoring the future. It’s time to downplay some of the rigidity that got you there and up-play some of the true you.

Successful leaders, over time, learn how to trust their  intellect, their emotional intelligence and their intuition. The investment of time and personal & professional development has been focussed for the boardroom for a decade or more. From here your ability to create and to influence from a place of integrity and uniquely you-ness is massively leveraged. Competitors, customers and the rest of the company are watching and learning from your style. You may not know it yet, but in your part of the corporate world … you’re already a super-star!

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.

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!

Leadership Success: clarity, passion, teamwork

The great thing about coaching leadership success is that it naturally has a positive ripple effect throughout the rest of the company. Directors get clear, they speak with expectation and inspiration to their managers and in turn those managers create a culture of unlimited possibilities within their teams –  a win for productivity, for the organisation and for its customers.

So what does it take for a business leader to motivate a team to operate at peak potential? Clarity, enthusiasm and motivation all contribute – that takes body, mind and heart know-how. The ‘x-factor’ for limitless results is always the same …  add soul to the equation. Here’s some of what I know about that:

Energy organises around what is most articulate in your system. When your predominant resonance is one of expectation, you attract excitement, when it’s one of progress you attract action, one of confusion you attract mixed messages, one of conflict you attract aggression, one of expansion you attract opportunities.

It’s important to equip yourself with a colourful vocabulary around the subject you’re passionate about. Practice speaking out how great it’s going to be to achieve that promotion, build that team, launch that new product line, expand into that region or sell that millionth unit.  Everything is achieved with less effort when your predominant vibration is one of already having achieved the result you’re dreaming of.

As a leader:

  • Everything you do influences others: your words, your attitude, your humour, your discipline.
  • Be clear (and if you’re not, get a coach and get clear) – because directors and managers will model your message. There’s got to be a sense that a team know how their contribution fits into the big picture, and how that’s valued overall by the organisation. Clarity will cut through timelines like nothing else in business.
  • Get to know the human capital available to you.  You may have  an Einstein on your payroll; she may know how to deliver a process or a product that’s unlike anything anyone’s see before. If that’s the case you really want to have access to that genius.

Coaching leadership success is all about placing the success of a leader’s results squarely in the realms of their own responsibility. The more you invest in yourself the more limitless the possibilities you create for yourself and for those around you – personally and professionally!

Coaching conscious leaders

It takes an aware and bold leader to continue to step into areas of discomfort as they stretch themselves in the name of personal & professional development. They know already the link between self development and higher results – and they make conscious decisions to commit the time and effort to the ongoing refinement of thoughts, words, actions, skills.

Most leaders I’ve worked with are:

  • Clear thinkers – the conversations they’re having in the moment have a ‘how is this contributing to the biggest future’ slant on them
  • Resilient – they don’t take knock-backs personally. They learn, adjust, get up and approach again from a different angle
  • Risk takers – the next steps are calculated and when the key people are in the position they’re going

Beyond this awareness are servant leaders who in addition:

  • Engage their heart – they consider the individuals, they go beyond ‘biggest future’ to ‘legacy’
  • Emit authenticity – they’re healthy, disciplined, inspired and conscious that ‘all of it’ (people, attitude, ethos, standards, respect …) contributes to ultimate success and results
  • Live accountably – there’s no blaming; just the highest personal standards of clarity, impeccable speech & motivation and they ‘be the change they want to see’

In a recent conversation I heard this: ‘most of the adults I work with use the same emotional  strategies they were using in their teens’. Thankfully that’s not my own experience with my clients, but I get what he meant in saying that.

If you take 100% responsibility for evolving into the sort of person who can be, do, have and achieve the things you dream about, you can experience the freedom that goes with it; because then everything’s something you can do something about.

Coaching conscious leadership is tough head, heart & soul work. Persistence in strengthening those skill-sets though brings with it unparalleled results, extraordinary rewards and individuals who literally become beacons in their lifetime.

Say it like it is … the ‘whole’ truth

I can talk about leadership development and companies can hire me as an executive coach to encourage more advanced and successful leadership but I may as well be a lorry driver (a secret fantasy of mine since the Yorkie advert era) and they may as well torch their people-investment spend if we can’t talk about the truth. The WHOLE truth. Here’s some of what I’ve been processing with various executives this week:

  • We’re definitely committed to your part in the company’s succession planning – but we are making a round of redundancies and it’s unconfirmed as to who’s in that mix
  • We value your experience and your results are unparalleled – however, we can’t invest further in your team to free you up to do what only you can do
  • It’s just the culture of the company – the systems are established and can’t be changed. It’s too big a conversation over too long a period to take advantage of the opportunity that’s presenting itself right in this moment

Here’s why change takes SO long to put in place in some large corporates … because even the finest leaders find it challenging to support a concept that may result in them losing their job!

I’m not saying that leaders, MDs, board members and directors don’t have exceptionally valuable experience to offer to the corporate mix … in the majority of cases, of course they do! But if you keep telling the story that ‘the next stage of how this company can serve its clients (readers, listeners, customers, patients, subscribers) has to be designed to keep me in the picture’ you may be limiting your service to the company, making decisions from a place of fear and lack as opposed to freedom and abundance.

The truth will set you free means that:

  • when you sense something is right and purposeful – trust that you will be respected and rewarded by speaking it out and boldly enabling the most enlightened solutions to come to pass
  • you may have to learn to communicate at a much higher level – and trust that chaos and ‘pruning’ are part of the process of developing a healthier, more flexible, transparent and authentic way of doing future business
  • you stand up and take action with 100% integrity – even when speaking out the tough parts requires humility – and by doing so, in today’s world of corporate leadership you will set yourself apart

I leave you with some word from one of the biggest rule breakers and new thinkers of our recent corporate business heritage, Steve Jobs:

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”