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.

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!

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.

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!

Executives of the new world …

As a corporate coach, and particularly as an executive coach in London and other commercial-centric cities, I’m beginning to ask myself whether business change isn’t occurring faster that ever before in history.

What makes a leadership team, and by extension an entire company, equipped to manage such significant changes as:

  • outsourcing production to global hubs
  • launching new brands when the traditional ones are clearly in decline
  • embracing new business models without damaging present essential revenue streams
  • attracting talented staff who’ll contribute immensely whilst putting home-life first. They have no interested in working overtime or ‘mad’ hours
  • letting go of a company culture that thrived through the past 2 decades but will fold in the next one unless flexibility, meritocracy, transparency and diversity are fully embraced
  • keeping ahead of technological advancements, shifts in product delivery and customer sophistication

There are incredible opportunities opening up for small & medium businesses and for the corporate giants too. These are the strategies I’m noticing the front runners utilising:

  • Active investment in the personal & professional development of a company’s c-levels, directors and executives – it keeps them on form and permanently innovating – and when they’re convinced, they’re convincing
  • Do less – that is, get supremely focussed on the specific activities required to get results. Everything else is a non-priority
  • Keep alert: just because a product or promotion worked last year, there are no guarantees that the same results can be achieved by repeating it 12  months later. Re-review product, market and process, and tweak where necessary
  • Create a clear succession plan for top talent, and purposefully open doors for high performers to progress. Retaining great employees takes know how and active expectation management
  • Buy knowledge & expertise where they’re not already present within the organisation. An external provider is often exposed to a spectrum of examples that can’t be seen from within a culture

There will come a point where the speed of change reaches maximum velocity. At that time the heart of what individuals and tribes want will return to basics: simplicity, community & meaning. There are glimpses of those values already in expansion across the globe. We’re not there yet though, so to all you leaders sensing the stretch – breathe deeply, get resourced and enjoy the ride.

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.”

CEO coaching … leaders who lifelong learn

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard it asked by corporate leaders from directors, to board members to CEOs  “but why would I need coaching … I’m doing everything right”. To which I reply “you wouldn’t be at your level of success if you weren’t doing everything right. And I work with achievers not because there are issues, but because there’s always unreleased potential”.

A founding father of the US, Benjamin Franklin said, “Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.”

A noted polymath was old Franklin which means he had a great deal of knowledge about a wide range of topics. He was known for his considered opinion, his wisdom, his diplomacy and his natural ability to lead and to inspire others. I’m guessing he meant it then, when he also said, “When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.”

In metaphysics there’s a law called ‘the law of perpetual transmutation’. It means that all things physical and non-physical exist in a constantly state of change – expanding, reducing, evolving. There’s never nothing happening. Nothing stays the same. The universe’s default is transformation.

The most successful leaders, managing directors, CEOs on the planet know all about this law. You’d never hear them say ‘I’m complete; all the things on my list are ticked; we’ve reached every goal I ever had for myself, the company, the customers, the systems, the employees and the products & services… so, yeah. We’re done’.

Because, too right they’d be ‘done’! Done gathering new ideas; done sensing what’s next for the marketplace; done navigating the company’s best talent towards unearthing new opportunities.

There IS no ‘done’ in the life-cycle of successful leaders within progressive organisations. Personal growth & progress = greater team achievements = product & service improvements  = ongoing business success; just like Franklin said it would.

Every individual leader is called to be creative and to lead and expand themselves and their business in a way that’s unique to them. There are no co-incidences in any man or woman’s rise to the helm of a notable corporate company to pioneer a new chapter for its tribe. Directors who actively develop integrity, respect, wisdom, a sense of themselves, and a healthy relationship with risk will thrive.

Lifelong learning is a commitment. There are no right or wrong ways to go about it – study a formal course, hire an executive coach, read, listen, watch, blog, join a mastermind – your style, your choice. But it is a conscious decision to walk this path – you cannot inherit leadership success. The results show in each of us to a depth and effectiveness equal to the hours invested in developing the craft.

I leave you with an Irish saying which is up there, in my opinion, with the wisdom of Mr Franklin: “You’ve got to do your own growing, no matter how tall your grandfather was.”

‘I Wanted to Design; Now I Lead’ …

What happens when the thing you loved doing the most – the reason you stepped up for your chosen career – is no longer present in your job?

I’ve spoken to directors who were designers, managers who were mechanics, and leaders who were lifeguards – all of whom have progressed far enough in their careers that the activity that made them stand out  in the first place has been downsized to almost zero and replaced with leadership responsibilities primarily comprising of strategy and motivating others.

It’s not entirely a bad thing. And it could easily be called ‘natural career progression’. If it describes you then know this; stepping forward into leadership is best when:

  • you’re still involved with people who are doing the thing you loved – and you can inspire them
  • the knowledge you acquired developing the skill-set of your passion can continue to be shared
  • by doing so, you discover something more about yourself that you couldn’t have aspired to at the outset of your career journey

I don’t know any career newbees who when asked ‘what would you like to be’, they answer ‘A leader’, ‘A CEO’, or ‘A board director’. Instead they aspire to be architects, clothes designers, marine engineers, environmental scientist, flower importers – you know? Things that directly link them to the product or service they want to offer to others.

My question is this: if leadership is naturally what we all progress towards then how come we don’t:

  • talk about it to our students and new starts to prepare them for going beyond their ‘first stage’ career
  • equip our directors with a full leadership skill set in as much detail as we would a doctor
  • support leaders constantly so that in their rising to the top of our organisations, they continue to exude the creativity and innovation that we know they inherently own because we saw it displayed in their ‘stage 1’ passion

When a company’s leaders are disciplined and successful, but not 100% passionate about the role they’ve progressed to, not only does the organisation lose their return on investment in that person, they also haemorrhage possibility, opportunity and competitive edge.

No one would drive a car with a leak in the petrol tank – it limits the speed and potential of you getting from A to B. So why do we accept a reduced performance in our most valued and invested-in employees?

To get way out in front in 2012, here’s where I believe the treasure lies:

  • FOCUS on your key 10-20 performers and, especially if they’re outstanding, invest further in them (coaching, mentoring, enabling)
  • CREATE (or access) a platform which brings together leaders from different, non-competitive disciplines and companies to share stories that inspire and prompt radical, new thinking and stimulating possibilities (the TED.com theory: ideas worth sharing)
  • TALK! If you’re an HR Director or Talent Manager, get out there and do the rounds with your board members and fellow directors – find out the development they’d most value.
  • TALK! If you’re a director or leader in your business, go and find your Learning & Development contact and ask them what the possibilities are for you to actively evolve yourself and your results this year
  • TALK! If you’re from an organisation where you know there’s a valuable conversation to be had with a counterpart in a non-competitive organisations, pick up the phone, call him/her and get the revolution started.

Wow, December Already … Now What?

If I were to knock on your office door tomorrow and say this:  ’Knowing that you’re guaranteed to succeed, what is your plan – personal & professional – for 2012?

  • Would you know your answer?
  • Would you smile with excitement and be able to rattle off the details?
  • And are the people who’re going to support you in those changes already briefed and onside?

If the answer to those 3 points is ‘yes’, then congratulations, you can save yourself 2 minutes by skipping the rest of this blog and going back to your joyous state of clarity & attracting the dream!

For those who aren’t clear about what you’d like to see manifest before December 2012, that’s ok, welcome to the tribe!

Forward planning doesn’t have to be a laborious, drawn out kind of process, however, if you want a significantly improved version of this year though, trust me the 30 minutes you invest in this little exercise will be the most precious time you’ve spent … ever. Here’s the strategy:

  • Book a 30 minute meeting with yourself within the next 7 days and write it into your diary (because if it’s in there and you treat yourself with the respect you treat other people, you’ll stick to it!)
  • Go somewhere quiet whether it’s in the office or in the house, or out to a favorite hide away in a library or a coffee shop (and put your I’m-serious-don’t-bother-me face on so that people know to keep their distance)
  • Ask What Do I Want? …. and with your blank paper and pen at the ready, let this simplest and most powerful question in the world sink beyond your intellect and into your heart & soul … just wait … then
  • Write your thoughts down, and if it helps use these 8 headings: Career; Finances; Relationship; Friends & Family; Health; Recreation; Personal Growth; Service to Others (if you’re not that structured, just let all the ideas in your mind find their own words and form on the page)
  • Hold the mindset of ‘I’m guaranteed to succeed’ – and write from that place of trusting (because for sure your sub-conscious has a field day during these tasks with ‘but … well you can’t because … what will people say … how are you qualified … who’s going to listen … it’s never been done’). Be courageous with the intentions of your future.

When you’re finished the excercise – that’s round 1 done. Congratulations!

Round 2 happens over the next 5 days, when once a day for 10 minutes you re-read your vision and check in with yourself how that feels. Picture yourself living the reality that you’ve created for yourself and remind yourself ‘I’m guaranteed to succeed!’.

The trick with all of this mindset mastery is to keep away from the ‘how’. It’s counter-intuitive I know, but when we learn the skill of holding intentions without limiting the outcomes by leading with our intellect, that’s when we tap into ‘success with soul’, infinite possibility and extraordinary & speedy results.

Round 3 happens by paying attention to how the thoughts you think and the actions you take over the rest of this month are subtly reframed and purposeful. Regularly read and meditate on your 2012 plan throughout December and on through the beginning of the new year. Relax about how it’s going to play out.

It IS going to play out.