Posts Tagged ‘senior management’

7 Leadership skills that EVERYONE should develop – number 5: manage stress and maintain wellbeing

July 17, 2011

Inevitably, leaders shoulder a lot of responsibility for the departments, businesses and organisations that they oversee. This does NOT mean, though, that neglecting your own health wellbeing and soldiering on regardless is a viable option: you’re no use to anyone as a stressed out, burnt out wreck who’s running on empty.

So here are 5 things to consider as you manage your own state of mind and wellbeing. And don’t tell me you don’t have time to stop and think about this – if that’s the case, you need to MAKE time!

1) Recognise the signs
Working under pressure is a little bit like the old ‘boiling frog’ metaphor: you gradually become more and more pressured until suddenly you develop a stress related illness.

It’s important to be able to distinguish between what, for you, is an appropriate and productive level of pressure….and what becomes panic or extreme stress where you might be appearing to function, but you know yourself you’re not making quality decisions, and are becoming irritable or obsessive.

Think carefully: when you start to feel stressed – WHERE physically do you feel stressed? Prickly scalp? Knotted stomach? Tense shoulders? Where?

Begin to recognise your own physical symptoms and consciously name them. Recognising and acknowledging these early signs is a key stage in being able to address them.

If you’ve been feeling very pressured, have a look at one of the many stress related websites (like ) to check out the symptoms of stress and compare yourself against them. If you want to be proactive about minimising stress levels within your organisation, have a look at, and speak to Gerard O’ Hanlon there.

Recognise also whether you’re going through a period of short term stress which you can manage and where’s there’s light at the end of the tunnel….or whether the pressures are long term with no end in sight.  The latter requires urgent action.

2) Re-evaluate what’s important
Find a pen and paper and make a list of the ten things that are most important to you. ‘Family’ can count as 1, rather than naming them individually, and the list can be in any order you like.

Be very honest with yourself here. Some of these things might be factors like ‘the need for recognition’ or ‘the need to be wealthier than my peers’ and so on – things that you might not want others to know.

Look at your list, and cross off 3 things which aren’t quite so important as the rest.

Of the remaining things on the list, cross off a further 2 that don’t mean as much to you as the others.

Of the 4 items you have left, pick your top 3.

How well do these 3 life priorities reflect the amount of time you give to them? For example, if your family comes out near the top but your job requires you to be flying all over the world all the time….where’s the balance?

If you look back at your life, it’s unlikely that you’re going to regret not having spent more time at the office.  Consider carefully what the important things in your life actually are, and begin to set yourself some goals around work-life balance.

Define what, to you, a more balanced life with less stress might look and feel like, so that you have a positive situation to work towards and don’t get stuck on a relentless treadmill of pressure, feeling powerless as it grinds you down.

If you’re trapped in a mindset that says ‘I can’t get off the treadmill – I have a family to support, bills to pay’ then give yourself a metaphorical slap in the face. Do your family want you to be a burnt out wreck? Do your creditors want you to become ill and be unable to pay your debts? No. Do yourself a favour and address the stress.

3) Retain perspective
Years ago I worked for a short while on a live, daily TV show. On one occasion, I was working with a TV chef who was assembling a pudding of some sort. Somehow, between the rehearsal and live transmission of the piece, a jug of custard had been moved from one side of the table to another, partially obscuring one of the camera shots.

During the debrief afterwards, some of the directors team were furious about the move of the custard, and went on a considerable length about the problems it had caused. The fact that no-one watching the show at home would have noticed – or even cared – didn’t seem to be a consideration.  Eventually, one senior member of the team brought the argument to a close by saying. “So a jug of custard got moved. Nobody died”.

Refresh your perspective from time to time. Take a step back. In the grand scheme of world events, where does it stand?

4) Don’t be a martyr
Pretending you’re fine and ploughing on is not an option. You might feel for some reason that this is the noble thing to do, but rest assured, it absolutely isn’t.

If you’re stressed, it’s highly likely that you’re irritable or moody and aren’t making quality decisions…which is going to impact on those around you and on your business or career.

Some leaders find themselves taking on too much because they don’t want their staff to feel pressured, working unreasonably long hours themselves whilst ensuring that their team clocks off at 5 pm.

What’s that about?! Learn to delegate, learn to trust the ability of others, and accept that you’re not earning any brownie points by being a martyr and are potentially establishing an unhealthy work ethic.

I used to work with one boss (I was very junior at the time) who pushed himself to unreasonable levels. The company was working on an important project that would impact the entire industry, and the stakes were high. However, he decided to model himself of Gordon Gekko, proclaiming that ‘lunch was for wimps’ and working long hours without a break.

I left before the project was completed, but I did hear that some time afterwards, that man had a breakdown. Was the project worth it? I’m guessing not.

5) Do something different
Make sure you have some out-of-work activities that are absolutely not work related. Golf. Needlepoint. Sky diving. Anything where your brain can have a chance to switch from pressing matters and focus elsewhere.

Simply trying to relax by doing nothing sometimes isn’t enough…the mind just wonders back to the stressful issue. In these cases doing SOMETHING –  mentally taking yourself somewhere else by reading, carrying out an activity, or going somewhere new – is the best approach to take in order to refresh and rebuild your strength.

Make sure that pressure doesn’t turn to stress. Don’t ignore it if it does.

If you look after yourself, you’ll be better able to take care of – and lead – others.


7 Leadership skills that EVERYONE should develop # 3: personal accountability

June 25, 2011

Ego-massaging though it might be to blame your staff, your boss, your company culture, the system, the government, the environment, your cat, your spouse … sometimes, we all have to face the facts and admit “it’s me”.

Several years ago, I went through the corporate equivalent of a ‘messy divorce’, leaving an organisation with what I perceived as a bullying culture, and making a huge fuss as I did so. Whilst I don’t believe that the debacle was entirely my fault, it took me a LONG time (at least two years) to realise … and accept … that I had contributed to my own sorry situation.  “Mea culpa”.  At least in part.

Happily, leaving there was the best career move I ever made. But before looking at some of the factors that contribute to personal accountability, here’s a cautionary tale that illustrates what some leaders will do to avoid it …

Over the last couple of years, the UK’s members of parliament have opened our government up to ridicule and disgust by falsely claiming hundreds of thousands of pounds in expenses. In what can only be described as a national disgrace, our own elected politicians were, in effect, stealing from the public purse.

When the scandal was exposed, did they take personal accountability for their wrong-doing and offer to pay the money back? For the most part, they did these things instead:

Their first instinct was to try to ban investigations into the extent of the false expense claims. They tried to hide the facts.

When this failed, some claimed that the process for claiming expenses was faulty – it allowed too much scope for fraud. They blamed the system.

Some decided to show no remorse for their theft, and carry on as though it was ‘business as usual’. They tried to pretend it didn’t matter.

Some tried to say that their administrative staff had made mistakes. They tried to blame other people.

Others said that they didn’t fully understand the process, it was very complicated and easy to get wrong. They tried to claim ignorance as defence.

Others said that they were only doing what they saw other people doing. They blamed the culture of the organisation.

Some said that the demands of their job meant that they hadn’t been able to keep on top of all their receipts. They claimed that they had had no time.

At the end of the day, this wasn’t down to the system, the culture, other people’s mistakes or anything else: it was down to a group of people with no sense of personal accountability choosing to do the wrong thing – steal. End of.

The system has changed, and the worst culprits have gone from government office to prison. The damage done to the reputation of the British Government, however, and to the public’s perception of Members of Parliament, has been immense.

Personal accountability takes courage, humility and integrity:

Courage to accept the consequences, whether good, bad or indifferent, and to be prepared to make a stand when and where it counts.

Humility to admit that leaders aren’t infallible, and to ask the question “how might I be contributing / have contributed to the problem?”

Integrity to remain true to your own values, and not lose sight  – not just of who you are,  but of the leader that you aspire to become.

It’s not an optional extra for the leader. It’s an essential pre-requisite.

7 Leadership skills that EVERYONE should develop # 2: self awareness

June 18, 2011

To see ourselves as others see us – wouldn’t that be something? Genuine self awareness, and an ability to understand how others see us and the impact that our actions and behaviours have on others, is an important skill for the leader.

As with so many things, though, balance is the key: understanding how we are perceived by others needs to be balanced by our own confidence and sense of self.

Misalignment of that balance – in either direction – can spell trouble for the leader: whilst as individuals we’ll always judge ourselves on the basis of our intentions, we need to remember that others will be judging us on our behaviours.

Why is self awareness so important? Because it’s the beginning of Emotional Intelligence, and as author Daniel Goleman puts it in his bestseller, this “can matter more than IQ”.

In terms of Emotional Intelligence, self awareness is closely followed by four other factors:

·        Managing your emotions

·        Self motivation

·        Understanding the feelings of others

·        Managing relationships

So how, as a leader, can you become more self aware? Here are 5 top tips:

1) Try to objectively assess your impact

Being objective about our own behaviour is exceptionally difficult, because we’ll rationalise and make excuses for ourselves where things are going wrong.

If your INTENTION has been one thing, but the results are something different, take a close look at yourself and your behaviours to try to understand how you might be coming across.

I came across a stark example of this quite recently. A very senior executive in a global organisation had said his door was ‘always open’, but wondered how it was that few people ever seemed to cross the threshold, unless they were members of the senior management team.

A short while after this conversation, I relayed to him a concern that had come up in the training room, from a couple of participants who shared the same office. His response was to cut me off mid sentence with the response “what do these people want? They need to be empowered and learn to deal with these things!”

Hmm … let’s see, now. Might there be a possibility that staff are thinking, “He SAYS his door is open, but if you go in he’s likely to bite your head off”?

His intention might have been to encourage people to find their own solutions: his behaviour was very easy to interpret as that of someone whose door might be open, but his mind isn’t. The impact was that people DON’T come through his door – it might as well be closed.

2) Be aware of the little things

Self awareness isn’t just about the impact of overt or obvious behaviours – it’s about the little things too.

Imagine a Chief Executive who gives a stunning performance on the platform at the AGM about his optimistic outlook in the coming year. A couple of days later, he steps into a lift and a junior colleague is already there. The junior colleague asks him how things are going. He shakes his head and says “times are tough”.

What’s the understandable interpretation of this, in terms of the truth of the message AND the integrity of the speaker? What message do you think is going to be discussed in the canteen and around the water coolers of Head Office for the next month?!

Non verbal communications and behaviours that take place on an ongoing daily basis need to be considered in the light of self awareness. And actively managed.

3) Have some humility – listen to feedback

For some leaders, this can be a bit of a stumbling block –particularly if they work in (and perhaps perpetuate and enjoy) a culture where hierarchy is important, and where leaders are deemed to be infallible.

Sometimes, it’s necessary to have the humility to just accept feedback, even if you weren’t expecting it. On a recent training course,I offered some impromptu feedback on delegate presentations. One or two commented during the break that they’d not been expecting individual feedback. So?? Will you ignore it, then?

Norman Vincent Peale said that “Most of us would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism”. Given that feedback helps to build self awareness, it’s necessary to be open to it.

360 degree reports are another case in point: I’ve done a lot of coaching around 360 degree reports (feedback reports gathered from peers and direct reports as well as managers). Occasionally I’ll come across someone who rates their own abilities far higher than anyone else does – more often it’s the other way round.

If your colleagues are saying one thing and you’re saying another, it’s worth considering the possibility that they can’t ALL be wrong.

4) What if you’re right and they’re wrong?

I was delivering a workshop recently, and one of the participants said “I’ve really tried to understand my impact with this person,but the problem’s not with me, it’s with them”.

If you’ve been objective about really considering what’s going on, this is fair enough. As I say, there’s a balance to be struck between your own sense of self, and the other person’s perception. You could well be right and them wrong. They might even have another agenda and are deliberately misunderstanding you or the situation

If this IS the case, what next?

This is where we have to move on, in terms of Emotional Intelligence, because you still have to manage your relationship with that person – influence them or whatever – in as productive a way as possible. And this will mean remaining self aware and confident.

No one should stop being self aware because they think they’re the one in the right.

5) Don’t be paranoid – impostor syndrome

I’ve already said that balance is the key here, and this is just as valid for leaders who LACK confidence on certain issues.

I worked with a senior leader recently who, whilst acknowledging that her colleagues respected her, felt deeply self conscious about her humble ‘working class’ roots. The fact that she had a strong accent, she felt, was betraying to everyone that she was a local girl made good. She saw this as a weak point, as she worked with a number of people at this senior level who had had better educational opportunities than she’d had, and who spoke with what she perceived to be a more refined accent.

The issue about her accent had taken on far more significance than it deserved. She was starting to feel uncomfortable in her role and to doubt her abilities – feeling like an imposter.

It took a considerable amount of coaching for her to arrive at the conclusion that her accent and background might actually be a source of inspiration for those further down the corporate ladder, who’d had a similar start to her own. In this case, what she saw as a weakness could actually be turned into a considerable strength.

Self awareness is NOT about denting our confidence and bringing us down to the level of other people’s perceptions.  It IS about genuinely evaluating our behaviours, how we come across, and the impact that we have on others, and building on this to develop our own abilities, and our relationships with others.

The leader who is not self aware is sticking their head in the sand … leaving their backside dangerously exposed.

Watch out over the next couple of weeks for the 3rd leadership skill that EVERYONE should develop: personal accountability.

Three leadership truths that EVERY business leader must know

March 3, 2011

I have Sam Gibson (about whom, more in a moment) to thank for the three key points in this blog, and I want to start by asking you a question – especially if you’re in a position of senior management.

What’s your attitude to learning and development? Is it something you used to do while you were on your way up the corporate ladder, but don’t have the time for now? Is it something that senior managers don’t really have to do any more – you’ve learned what you need to know, and it’s something for those further down the organisation, to develop the skills and attributes that you now have? Or are you one of those rare creatures who genuinely continues to learn, challenge themselves and do something different?

Leadership truth # 1: as long as you believe yourself to be on your journey, you continue to learn. As soon as you think you’ve “arrived”… growth, learning and development stop.

Sound familiar? If growth and development stop because you’ve “arrived”, what sets in to take their place? Apathy, arrogance… or something worse?

I’ve worked with some amazing senior leaders who have the humility and self awareness to realise that we’re all on some sort of journey, and no-one ever truly “arrives”. When they reach a particular point, they quickly discover that there’s more to learn over the next horizon.

These are the ones who lead by example, who continue to learn and develop themselves and encourage others to do the same, who gain the admiration and respect of their colleagues and peers, and whose businesses and organisations thrive and grow.

I’ve also worked with some people who appear to think that the plaque on the door of their 6th floor corner office means that they have nothing more to learn.  I can’t help feeling that, not only have they missed the point, they’re missing out.

Have they actually reached the point of omniscience…or ignorance? 

Leadership truth # 2: if you stay too “me-focussed”, you’ll miss the bigger picture.

Hey! What are you looking at?! Yeah you!

I remember my first driving lesson. I was so terrified I drove at about 10 miles an hour, and kept my eyes firmly focussed on the road about a foot in front of the bonnet. I thought that if I looked up at the road in front of me… well, I don’t know WHAT I thought; I was just too scared to take my eyes off that patch of tarmac immediately in front of my car.

Where’s your focus? On the tiny little patch of whatever’s within arm’s reach… or the bigger vista on the horizon?

Perhaps the question is more to the point in a leadership context… where’s your focus? On YOU climbing the greasy corporate ladder, come what may, and getting to that board position / corner office / chauffeur-driven Roller… or on providing an exemplar of leadership that others will want to follow and emulate, that genuinely makes a difference?

And if your focus is on your own navel… what AREN’T you seeing?

Leadership truth # 3: If you have to fight, manoeuvre or politick to get into or maintain a position of leadership, something is seriously wrong.

Surely, one has only to look at the current situation in Libya to recognise the truth in this.

How did you get where you are? Through your abilities, dedication and people management skills…or by lobbying the chairman on the golf course, because it was your turn, or by trampling your peers to get to first place?

People WANT to follow the best leaders, they don’t have to be forced. They respect them; they might not always love their decisions, but they trust them. The worst leaders face the stress of constant fire-fighting to maintain their precarious positions.

Which have you become… and which would you rather be?
So (I hear you ask) who is this Sam Gibson, and wherefore the pearls of wisdom?  A groundbreaking entrepreneur? A personal development guru? An organisational development expert?

Actually no. He’s a preacher and on the senior leadership team of GLO (Gospel Literature Outreach). And the source of these observations? The stories of King David in the Old Testament of the Bible.

Why am I telling you this? Because it’s part of the Yara philosophy of having the humility to learn from everything… including the unexpected.

Change without difference

February 28, 2011

Is there such a thing as change without difference? No. Of course not.

I can’t help feeling, though, that many organisations around the world rather wish that this WAS the case. Mediocre and even fairly well-performing companies look with envious eyes at the truly innovative, and wish they could enjoy a similar success… but seem unwilling to go through the necessary shake up to make it happen.

 How many organisations do you know or have you worked for where the clarion cry is for creativity, innovation, doing things differently, challenging the status quo, improving products and services… only to find that, once you scratch beneath the surface, what’s actually wanted is stability, familiarity, maintenance?

What if more organisations opened themselves up – even tentatively – to genuinely doing things differently: not inviting chaos and disruption, but encouraging facilitated innovation and change, and carefully monitoring the results to ensure and capture the benefits?

How much more productive could we be?

Are there any organisations out there prepared to do something different  (that’s ‘different’ and not ‘recycled’ or ‘reinvented’) …without coming up with a string of excuses as to why it can’t be done?