Falling Short….

He’s read another leadership article.. and he falls short.

This time it is about Creating Happiness in the team, last time there was an urge for compassion… or was it the importance of focus? I can’t recall… what I notice is that this reading and observing of things he Should Be Doing is…distracting and sometime debilitating for him.
The article is from a reputable source. It’s backed up with good evidence. It must be right. He falls short. Again. What else is out there?

I’m saying I used to have what I think are comparable feelings when I read lots of women’s magazines (I don’t read them any more)
– Pressure to look amazing (but in a particular frame of amazing).
– Assurances that being yourself is enough (if yourself is more like this incredibly high-achieving glossy person who appears to have it sorted).
– The mind-bending phenomena of both inventing and advising me how to solve an issue I didn’t know I had in one short feature….
Leaving me with mixed messages and a sense of my own massive shortcomings– Wanting to strive to be better, but woefully aware of the impossibility of a large part of the task….helpful-not-helpful stuff.

I’m not sure he’s that impressed with my women’s magazine analogy… but hey, I work with what I have, at times. The invitation to him is to look at what he is being sold here and what he is choosing to take in. What is that doing to him? What are the messages and the subtext to what he is taking on? How helpful is all of this? Why is it so derailing for him, when others might not take it on board so? Where is he in all of this?

It seems like a bit of a theme emerging at the moment with a couple of clients (and friends in informal conversations who have been promoted or moved jobs etc) about Who Am I As A Leader?
Generally, these are friends/ clients who soak themselves in Leadership Stuff…they’ve done courses, read HBR articles, sought out business books and worked hard to keep up that side of their development – but somehow this research is unsatisfying…. For me, it’s because the fundamental question of Who Am I doesn’t get answered… if anything it gets obscured.

The meaningful bit, the part where they get to express with comfort and maturity: THIS is who I am in all of this, as a Leader; THIS is how I can and will contribute, THIS is how I will behave, conduct myself & deliver; THIS is what I won’t do …. that’s the bit there seems to be little time for.

When we design Development interventions, are we really giving people time to hone and articulate their own message? We seem to spend A LOT of time telling people what a leader is or could be or should be…. But what does that mean for an individual? Who ARE they, really as a leader? As a person? What are they bringing? How do they see the world? What culture are they creating around them? And can they get OK with that?

It’s about action and reflection – in whichever order you prefer, but hopefully in never-ending lovely loops – and I can’t help thinking this is the key to much of the behavioural change, confidence and capability building we reach for in our talent programmes and development approaches…. For me, the reflective part – sit down (or wander about) express what happened and why and how and what you chose and what was around you and chew it over a bit and refine it – this is so much more relevant, potent and long-lasting (and less judgemental?) than seeking the answers from an article. He wants to Create Happiness? He can’t do that by reading about it. There has to be action and consideration….and places for that to happen.

So go create spaces virtually and face to face which invite and insist on folk showing up as themselves – where flaws and fears can be thought through, where strengths and successes can be too.
Don’t throw too much content or concept in your programme design – let people bring what they have… it’ll be rich enough.
Work with really good, sorted coaches or facilitators, ones who have done their own reflective work and understand their own stuff enough to be able to sit with others’ fears or brilliance… you’ll know who they are… they’ll be recommended to you by people other than themselves.

And for leaders? Maybe get them to detox from some of the messages that are around. Pick one TED talk a year & mull on that deeply… something like that… it might help them know they are not falling short.

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About me:

I’m a Organisational Consultant, Coach, Facilitator, Speaker, Blogger & Dialogue Guide. Founder of #facilitationShindig Working with people & organisations to improve conversations, relationships & learning – Doing stuff with love.

Find me on Twitter @fuchsia_blue and @Shindiggery1

The Truth About Collaboration

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So the truth is there is a way to work collaboratively, co creatively and constructively with others.
Even with people who have vastly different approaches/ preferences.
And the truth is this way can’t be defined in a top-10-tip list.
And collaboration needs worked at hard for the results to show.
And it’s the less-easy path, because self-interest, self-protection and self-centredness is pretty easy to access.
Including and involving others, trusting, sharing? Ah, now… that’s a lot more complicated.

When I want to work collaboratively, it is this:
I need enough clarity, purpose & articulation to make sense.
Know why I’m doing what I’m doing…and ensure folk know that.
State my case.
Why I think what I think & stand within that….
But not stubbornly. Not blindly or narrowly.
I have to be able to give, to yield, to be as wrong as I am right.
To be interested in others.
I have to not be a petulant child.

This is Relational Practice as I understand it.
It is stuff the oils & fuels change in organisations.
The stuff in between the process and procedure and formal mechanisms and rules.
It’s thinking with clients.
It’s working with ambiguity & knowing that not-knowing is transitory, but necessary.
It’s loving the questions.
It’s not fearing new solutions.
It’s not single handedly designing a 24 week organisational solution to be delivered like an Amazon Parcel.
It’s building in consultation, iteration & experimentation.

It’s sharing findings for bigger, more expansive outcomes, rather than tightly holding small fiefdoms.
It’s uncovering answers together… because somehow going slower makes us faster.
It’s pulling existing knowledge into being & building on together that so it’s better and stronger.
It’s getting over yourself to the space beyond you.

It’s encouraging technology for progress and positive outcomes
It’s about quiet time in the crazy.

It’s putting heart and soul in & knowing that cannot be quantified, but seeking the data to explain how it worked & articulate it as best we can & repeat if we can anyway

It’s about power.
The power we think we have.
The power we exert.
The power we deny we have.
The power we are clueless about.
It’s about how kindly or thoughtlessly we use that power.

It’s not dismissing anyone.
It’s not elevating anyone either.
Everyone is important, therefore no-one is
Everyone is different, therefore we are all the same.
It’s about respectful opposition
And about humour in tough circumstances.

It’s about sitting in tough & tender conversations.
If we prefer the tough, it’s facing into the tender.
If we prefer tender, it’s putting yourself in the tough stuff.
It’s about stretch.

And about dignity.
Not denying your femininity / masculinity. Knowing you have both.
I have the capacity to be assertive & strong & directive & agentic.
I have the capacity to yield, to be soft & open & commune.
I can be certain.
I can be afraid
And these are right, proper at times.

And at the heart, it is about love.
Love of self.
Love of others.
Love of the possible & the unknown.
Love of the impossible & the known.
Living with what these give & what they take.

It’s about a hundred stories of hopes crushed & fights fought and getting up and cracking on anyway.
It’s human spirit in all it’s heartbreaking, excruciating beauty.
It’s human nature that tests things of beauty to breaking point.
It’s the terrible things we do to each other to make ourselves feel better & the terrible things we do to ourselves at others’ behest.
We are so clever… we are so dumb…..

And when I look at all of this…. the richness and the depth and the complexity of it all….
I think it is unsurprising that we turn from work that is relational, social, emotional – We go for simple narratives and binary decisions.
and it leads us to a post-truth world, where rational data co-exists with “alternative facts” and “he-said/ She-said” is the basic narrative – a stuck one. An adversarial one.
Here, there is such certainty, it undermines certainty itself.

So how about we sack-off certainty and seek to collaborate, co-create and work through relationships with a little maturity and grace?
Hard work as it is.
Try it. Today. See what happens.

Why You Should Mentor

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Today I’m running a Workshop on Mentoring Skills at the CIPD Regional Steps Ahead Summit in Manchester. With over 4,000 mentees already in the programme, 7 out of 10 young people find employment after engaging with Steps Ahead and the CIPD credit local mentors with this success.

It’s got me thinking about Mentoring again, and why it is one of the most important roles anyone can play, personally, professionally and socially. My first deep-dive into mentoring started in 2008, project managing the internal Mentoring scheme for the Scottish Government. When I first took over, it was a small and fairly exclusive affair, designed for the those who showed high potential to be introduced and mentored by Senior Leaders they might not otherwise get access to. It was an excellent scheme, with good training and careful matching… and it had the potential to be so much more…

By the time we handed the Mentoring Scheme over in 2012, we were working with over 400 matched pairs internally and had established other mentoring relationships across the Public Sector in Scotland. The scope of the Scheme had grown to enable specialist mentoring groups to access and use both the scheme and the training content, from LGBT groups to the General Legal Council.
We achieved this by talking to people and finding out what was needed. To encourage interest & also self-selection, I was running 1 hour briefing sessions, 4 times a day, one day a month. This meant potential Mentors and Mentees could hear what it was all about and meet other mentors and mentees, at a time that suited them, and decide for themselves if this was something useful.
Mentors were trained – full day covering skills, ethics, role of mentor and peer support networks
Mentees were trained – 3 hours on what to expect, what to bring, role of the mentee.
If I had my time again, I’d use video footage, podcasts and other things to get the message out, but it was 8 years ago and we are in a different time….

It was an astonishing thing to watch as it grew. The skill and the will of the Mentors, the questions and hunger of the mentees. The tricky issues they faced together, the championing of mentees, the respect for mentors… not all the relationships worked. We put guidance and clarity in for what happens if you are stuck, or it’s done… and sometimes the issues weren’t mentoring ones and these needed to be worked through by mentors and mentees

And as ever, when I became aware I was espousing the good stuff about mentoring, but wasn’t ACTUALLY doing it myself, I started looking at where I could Mentor.

Napier University runs a Mentoring programme for students from Non-traditional background who are about to Graduate. They researched the correlation between successful Graduate Employability and if, for instance, you are the first in your family to go to University, or in a minority group.

 I’m about to do the research a horrible disservice and I can’t find it on Google – so if anyone knows better, please comment below- but broadly the research said: Students from non-traditional backgrounds often see their degree as the goal and stumble slightly at the Employability stage – in other words, if you come from a family who have already done the degree thing, your parents, siblings etc are already pushing you think about the job-at-the-end.. whereas if you are the first ever to go to uni, that alone can be seen as the pinnacle for a while… add on to that if you are from a minority group, all the known barriers to entry and the current difficulties around social mobility in the UK… and these Graduates need a helping hand.

I had the privilege of working with two young women. Each for a year. Each with very different needs and backgrounds. My mentorship involved many coffees, working through application forms, challenging lots of “no. I can’t. that is too audacious” type thinking. I set up a mock panel interview. I help organise a visit to local businesses and got them talking to other Graduates. It was tough at times, figuring out what the right thing to do might be and not getting involved in some of the family dramas that played out in these young womens’ lives… I’m eternally thankful to Claire Bee at Napier University, who was boundlessly positive and supportive in times of doubt.

What I brought was experience, a different perspective, a belief in my mentees, the willingness to listen and offer thoughts and views…. I brought action-orientation, I pushed them to go explore.. Practical stuff like the interview was great… the fall-out learning from it was harder than expected for the mentee and there was a lot of work around confidence and determination….but that’s part of any journey.

What I learned was probably as much as I offered. Applying my coaching training… but also bringing myself in a different way. The actual difficulty of getting a job at the start was brought back home to me, and then add the barriers they faced and I have nothing nothing nothing but respect and awe for these young women. I learned what it’s like to be invested in someone’s future in a different way to friends or family. And how there is nothing quite like the moment your mentee texts you to say: I got it.

Think about what you have to offer someone – someone younger or older, someone in the same field as you or in a different situation… and if you can find a way to offer your time, your skills and your energy? Do it.

More information on the CIPD Steps Ahead programme here:

Introducing….The Facilitation Shindig

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Earlier this year I spent a day in a room with a group of people I respect beyond measure as we walked through the process and methods we were going to use to facilitate teams of leaders in a FTSE 250 over a period of months.

The purpose of these leadership sessions is the good stuff – the simple, yet not easy, good stuff – that thing of getting highly skilled, smart, experienced folk to let down their guards a bit, to know each other and to work together in different ways to their current ways of being. Looking to shift intractable issues through building relationships, by thinking and working together, by equipping these leaders with alternative methods for talking and acting… it’s stuff that takes time and care and tenacity and skill.

Some things struck me on our walk-through day.
I was struck by the sheer pleasure of being in a room with really good facilitators, hearing others’ thought processes and learning from each other. We worked hard. We laughed. We pushed each other. We questioned. We developed the process together. It was like the best rehearsal ever.

I was struck also by how lonely it can be in the work….Sometimes facilitation is you. In a room. With a whole bunch of strangers/ near strangers, trying to achieve a thing – and whilst it’s one of my favourite places, it’s also… kinda nerve wracking (especially if you are doing it properly, I’d argue).

I also was struck by something I’m currently mulling on as “Genuine Practice”– the importance of folk who reflect and learn and experiment and in order to improve their craft. Those who diligently show up in life and in rooms with groups and who work with care and consideration to create outcomes and change. Practitioners who can drop everything planned and knit something utterly unique and needed in the moment, because they have taken the time to build their skill and personal capability – the ones who are doing their 10,000 hours to get to mastery…. And how deeply I value that Genuine Practice.

And how I’m becoming increasingly intolerant of Shiny, Showy Post-Truth Change Gurus taking up airspace without ever proving themselves or their theories. I need my Emperors Clothed these days. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

And I was struck by the increased importance of well designed face-to-face work to generate conversations and change.. that our work future means there are likely to be fewer and fewer chances for folk in organisations to convene.. and when they do, that time is precious….and brilliant facilitators are what will make that time purposeful and useful and productive and thought-provoking and behaviour-shifting….

And so a beginning idea came into being – Rather than being wistful, how about I created time and a place for those of us who facilitate to gather? To celebrate and work on Genuine Practice? And how about it was a joyful thing – something about the love of the work and learning from others?

And so after much doodling and deliberating and asking folk stuff, the Facilitation Shindig has arrived.

The first gathering was on 19th January 2017 in Manchester….
Beyond this there will be 5 more in Manchester throughout 2017. In March, May, July, September and November… With a bonus social Winter gathering in December or beyond.
The intention is to run more, in other cities or internally in businesses…but one step at a time.

Each Shindig this year will be themed around a word.
The words for Manchester 2017 are: Writing, Movement, Outside Emotion and Closing.
What we do together within those words will depend on who attends the Shindig and how they interpret that word.

You can buy Season tickets for all 5 events, or Pay-as-you-go single event tickets here

Find out more here: www.facilitationShindig.com

The intention is to work with care and challenge, to practice and experiment and learn from each other. If you are interested in the Shindig in any way shape or form, please do get in touch – I’d love for this grow and to have a thriving community of practice.

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Just Do The Thing.

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I got tagged in Sam Roger’s tweet (see pic above) by Marco Faccini the other day and it made me grin – because sometimes, despite my oodly-moodly tendencies to reflect and pause, for me, change work really is all about doing The Thing. Taking action or avidly holding to inaction – working with and against grains. Doing what it takes to get things moving, shifting, starting, stopping… doing The Thing. Not thinking about it. Not going on stage and talking about it. Not finding a perfect definition of it. Doing it.

There is a beguiling sense for me about the undefined notion of The Thing – it could be Any Thing… or NoThing (though, this isn’t really a thing, for me – unless, after asking: Why are you doing this? The answer seems a bit lame or overly-blah….Then The Thing might be: stop and do NoThing ..but arguably that option usually still means Listen or ReGroup or SomeThing….ok. I’ll stop now )

My interpretation of The Thing in fuchsiablue work is that it is important to understand established territory .. and then find new ways to see it, or travel through it or live in it…for me, it’s about being in service to clients and folk around me where I can be… taking and encouraging steps toward something differently useful. It’s about rolling up my sleeves, asking puzzling questions and designing stuff that’s acceptable enough to keep people alongside you, but counter-cultural enough to evoke a frisson. It’s less about permission, more about possibility. It’s about kind impact – what’s working already?… do more of that Thing then…and more again…

I know others whose The Thing is way bigger than this – provocative, challenging, bold colourful- and I like to peek over those fences, sometimes perturbed, sometimes breathless at the audacity, sometimes scathing of the certainty and showmanship… and I’m frequently impressed by the impact they have…and I never really learn what happens beyond that impact….and I’m curious about how the Big Thing leads to action and application.

I know others whose The Thing is quieter, less bold, less provocative, thoughtful, differently beautiful, more contained, not showy or world-wide, but nevertheless potent. It is often here I see the work happening – the action, the gatherings, the challenge to the norms, the collective practice, the agreement and disagreements, the subversion and the revision…..

So I’m curious….what’s your Thing?

If you were to Just Do The Thing… what would yours be? Your contribution? Your action? Your most useful part in making things change?

The Heart of Leadership

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My audible groan is not appreciated. They are looking at me without warmth.
I slightly surprise myself – oh, bugger. Did I make that noise out loud?

What is on the table at this particular design meeting is the integration of a case study. This case study, or variations of it, has been used for the past 4 years with great success. It enables a venerated Professor type from London School of Harvard Tech or wherever to join the programme and work with the leaders. He talks them through something about growth in emerging markets. It’s interesting. They do stuff on it. They discuss and puzzle. They learn.

I really like the Prof – he’s looks good for his age (I’m guessing 60?) and has been doing this leadership stuff for over 30 years all over the world. We have this amazing conversation about a recent Desert Walk he undertook. I totally get why we want to work with him. He’s charming and experienced and avuncular – a natural mentor for the guys trying to create growth in emerging markets. A foil for the raw ambition 70-hours-a-week behaviours that are happening.

And I’m groaning because to the depths of my soul I believe that what would be most in service to this group of leaders, is not another technical, building mind-muscle challenge. They’ve got this. They are a smart, committed, fairly hungry ( if a little knackered) group. They can think their way through complex, VUCA whatever conditions. Demonstrably? They are all OVER that stuff.

What this group of leaders is lacking is joined-upness and trust in each other. The emotional maturity to share without churlishness. The empathy to understand how their behaviour impacts on their team and the grace to accept that sometimes, it’s not great.
The willingness to admit they are scared to let something go, because their need to be perfect and capable and strong means failure is not an option….even though that need is waking them up at 3am and they are a shell the next day, ergo more like to fail.
The recognition that their deep need to always be right and clever means someone else has to be wrong and stupid – and that sometimes, that’s a shitty choice.

The ones who have emotional maturity have been doing the hard graft for ages – building relationships, sorting out issues, oiling wheels, making things work by getting under the egos. Where what is valued is mental dexterity and logical outcomes, this emotional work goes unrecognised, unsung and those who undertake it often don’t value it themselves/ are slightly embarrassed about it – but an engine without oil grinds to a halt…

What the group of leaders we are designing for is lacking is a language to express this stuff – a means of articulating the fear or the joy, the disappointment, the paranoia, the impatience, the shame – and if you can’t talk about it or write about it, draw it or walk with it… if it is nebulous and shadowy and can’t be named, how can you ever work with it?

This can be gnarly work – coming face to face with your nasty, with the bits of you that haven’t contributed to your high-flying career thus far – the Case Study is a breeze in comparison. An easy option. The lovely comfort zone.

For some, emotional, relational stuff is literally learning a new language – something unspoken before, something they don’t understand – it can take a long time… your accent might always be terrible….how embarrassing.
Some folk find working with this stuff overwhelming – they feel the absence of something they “ought” to have and equate that to failure – so run madly from it, muttering about Fluffy crap, no place in business…only to be faced at some point in their lives with the inevitability of lifestuff – death, divorce, illness, change….and then it can all come crashing down.

So why ask leaders to look inward and build their emotional capacity? Easier to stay cerebral and crack on….

Because work without heart leads to heartless outcomes – and we need leadership who operate with compassion and care more than ever. This is not a platitude, it’s a thing – an actual thing. We talk about the future of work, of improving working lives – but a good future requires leaders who can access empathy, compassion, generosity, failure-as-learning and make decisions about their people, resources, markets etc with some ethical and emotional intelligence. A case study in emerging markets kind of bypasses that bit.

I say some of this at the design meeting – not all of it, because me on a soapbox isn’t anything particularly useful at this stage… and we talk about how to get the connection part, the relationship part more front and centre…. and slowly something more heart-felt & human emerges and I’m glad…..

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When they arrive they are polite, slightly scared or bored and the conversations involve a lot of comparisons and competitive niggles. Fast movements, rapid talk. Status games, power games, jostling, laughing….

They leave, days later, quieter, less scared. Less bored. They know each other better. They know themselves better. For some, this is still not right or good – the world seems altered and that’s uncomfortable as all hell – they will very quickly try to recreate their status quo. For others, and the people they lead, it is the beginning of, or the next steps to master, this new language, with all that can bring.

Wild Mind Writing Revisited– Discipline & Grit

 

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So having tried a little Wild Writing recently, I wanted to know more. I bought Natalie Goldberg’s book and have been trying some of the exercises and experiments. It’s bloody hard!!!! And I’m slightly laughing to myself, because the tough-ness of it has come as a surprise.

What is the “it”? I think I mean the discipline – here on the FB blog, I choose what to write – I’m moved by some magical muse thing and I batter down thoughts and share – in many ways I’m lucky because I don’t really craft too much or worry too much anymore. Which is kind of an indulgence. The wall gets hit when asked to write to a set topic… or go deep, to write about something hugely painful or personal…or when asked to experiment outwith that to which I’ve become accustomed. Then? Oh Holy Hell!!! It all goes awry and I’m rambling, shambling, wordless, frustrated……

This week I had the deep joy of watching Stephanie Davies, Founder of Laughology do her thing with a group of managers in Manchester. I’m only beginning to get to know Steph – she has been generous in the extreme with sharing her knowledge, her stuff and her experiences – and I hope we get to do pretty much any kind of work together in the future…not just because she properly makes me laugh, but also because there is some real potency to the work she does… Steph was, in her time, a stand up comedian, with all the knocks and the bravery that it takes to stand up in public and be funny (which is, by the way, my idea of HELL) Subsequently, she undertook a deep-dive into researching and understanding the psychology behind humour, happiness and motivation. Her workshops are based on deep cognitive and behavioural models to help other folk understand and develop themselves…. you can learn to be more humorous, more happy and you can understand motivation, make choices differently and grow, personally, professionally, socially, cognatively..… Steph takes the business of happiness and humour very seriously …it’s good stuff.

What we talked about that resonated deeply is the notion of the need to have some Grit. Grit is the thing – the tenacious, determined, Bugger-That-Didn’t-work-what-if-I-tried-this-instead-not-bloody-giving-up thing – the sort of secret sauce in the seeming ease and effortlessness of mastery. She talks of finding the joy in struggle. That giving up can feel good… but pushing on and pushing through leads to someplace… potentially even better… (and of course, there is a place for both persistence and for yielding – I’m an advocate of NOT just banging your head off brick walls repeatedly for no reward – that’s not the joy of struggle – that’s the route to madness).

A large part of developing oneself is about practice (look also at  Carol Dweck’s work on Mindset , Angela Duckworth’s work on Grit , Matthew Syed’s work on Continuous Improvement or Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, ). Through practice, through trying different things, different variants, through trial and error, experiment and fail, we develop – our thinking, our actions, our maturity, our resilience, our tolerance. Interestingly enough we don’t just learn new, we also let go of old stuff that’s not working for us anymore – synapses in the brain that are unused kind of atrophy and die – making space for new synapses at any given point in your life.

This is the type of work and thinking which gives me hope – talking to managers about working with a growth mindset, about not being fixed – showing the science and the reasoning behind it all – keep up your management practice – try it, study it, work with it and you will be a bigger, better person and encourage those around you to be bigger better people…

And as much as I love the science… I am wired ( have wired myself?) to be more artful…

So it is as I find myself in struggle with writing wild practice and the exercises Goldberg suggests.. as I face a sense of failure and frustration when the silences and word-flow stops, as my synapses reach toward each other and mostly fail to grasp each other – I’m beginning to understand that this is the discipline that will take my writing to a different place. When I feel myself unsure and stuttering – clumsy and bambi-legged – here is the edge of my competence and control – can I push on? If I just keep going, keep paying attention, keep on experimenting with different tones and words and structures and rhythms and exercises – I know I’ll find myself in a different place… ah well – back to the notebook.

I know I’m learning. I can grit my teeth and find joy in the struggle… ish.

 

NB: I find I’m reluctant to share some of the wild writing here on the blog – all sorts of interesting learning right there about public/ private/ persona stuff. And so I especially want to thank everyone who sent me their Wild Writing, following the last blog – your courage in sharing, your trust and your insights have me humbled.