Come As You Are

An empty Johari window, with the "rooms&q...

An empty Johari window, with the “rooms” arranged clockwise, starting with Room 1 at the top left (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If my friends working in the public and private sectors are to be believed, there is a crying need for some coaching for key leaders so they are better equipped to win the hearts, minds and commitment of their staff at every level in their organisations.


Seemingly there are key leaders out there who think that – despite headcount reductions and pay freezes – X per cent fewer staff will remain motivated when pressed to produce ever greater outputs.


Looking back at some old material on inspired leadership I was struck by the attitude shown by Frank Douglas, in charge of Human Resources in Transport for London (TfL).  Interviewed in July 2010 by People Management magazine the African-American ex-pat noted:


“In an age of austerity, when you can’t pay people more you have to focus on career development


He goes on to make the point that the first winner of television series ‘The Apprentice’, Tim Campbell, used to be a marketing manager at TfL.  The organisation should therefore be asking “How many more Tim Campbell’s do we have out there?”


Interestingly, Frank’s career trajectory also neatly illustrates the principle that the drive for development comes from within.  He says:


“The US is a highly mobile society, where people vote with their feet…I’ve had a self-managed career.  I aspired to be head of HR and took the jobs that would give me experience towards that goal’.  He adds towards, the end of the article, ‘the challenge of diversity is about understanding people and managing conflict”.


He might have added that people are complex, and that the issues of diversity affecting them may not be immediately obvious (for instance a disability may not be observable; their religion might also not be noticeable).  The principles behind the Johari Window (in which some aspects of an individual’s identity are not visible to others) are applicable here.


Coincidentally, in July 2011 People Management magazine took a look at sexual orientation in the context of diversity leadership.  David Shield’s, the director of workplace programmes for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy organisation Stonewall notes that:


Organisations have generally become more diverse, but you don’t often see gay people in senior teams, just like you don’t see gender or ethnicity in diversity at top levels …Women or ethnic minority men may fear a double dose of prejudice…which means that lesbians or black gay men are more inhibited about coming out than white, gay men”.


If that trend is indicative then there is still some way to go towards establishing fully equal and diverse workplaces.


I suspect that ensuring the employment environment has little or no scope for inequality establishes a foundation that is good-for-business.  In that climate a coaching strategy that encourages staff to develop their careers in fulfilling directions would deliver productivity benefits to the organisation and self-esteem benefits to the individual.  Happy staff are productive staff.


Underpinning the positive environment and the development strategy should be recognition of the value of the whole person, regardless of their age, disability, ethnicity, gender, orientation, or religion.


Organisations are missing a trick if they do not recognise the distinctive contributions that their diverse workforce already makes.  Those employees have real potential to develop further, in a supportive environment.   If more managers were keen to acquire coaching skills they might just be the catalyst to speed that development up.

Shiny Happy People?

Cover of "How to Be Happy: Seven Steps to...

I have just seen reports of new research from University College, London
which indicates happy people live longer.  Professor Andrew Steptoe who led the research said to the BBC that longevity might be an outcome experienced by ‘the kind of people who are happy [as they] are the kind who take care of themselves and are therefore quite healthy’.

I can see why that would be the case.  It seems common sense to me if you are fulfilled – in personal, professional, or emotional terms – you are in all likelihood less stressed.  Carry that unstressed feeling over into an active retirement and you are looking at part of the recipe for many golden years.

In terms of coaching I think ‘I want to live life in a way which makes me happy’ could be developed into a workable goal.  I’m not sure living longer could realistically be built into that.  Benjamin Fry‘s book, ‘How to Be Happy’ may be a useful background reference.

Equally interesting is research from Dr John Eastwood of York University, Toronto.  This shows that boredom can amount to ‘the aversive experience of wanting, but being unable, to engage in satisfying activity’.

The research, discussed in a Guardian article, notes that ‘frustrated dreamers who haven’t realised their goals can expend all their emotional energy on hating themselves or the world, and find they have no attention left for anything else’.

Of course it wouldn’t be feasible to coach someone whose goal was ‘not to be bored by their life’.  They would need to phrase their aim positively, saying what they wanted to move toward, rather than what they wanted to move away from.

Thinking about it perhaps there is a link between the two pieces of research.  The trick for those experiencing boredom might be to get coached.  That would provide the opportunity for those who are motivated, to stop, reflect, and change course.  It might even give them the chance to start pursuing a goal of living an interesting and happier life…in the longer term.

GROWing Pains

English: An artist's depiction of the rat race...

English: An artist’s depiction of the rat race in reference to the work and life balance. See Made with following images: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve received some useful performance coaching recently, to help me successfully suggest how the future contributions of a voluntary project group I belong to could be improved, improving my work-life balance.

It was good quality coaching, following the GROW – Goal, Reality, Options, and Will – formula championed by Sir John Whitmore amongst others.  It left me holding a clear set of actions for two, cards-on-the-table, meetings about the project.  I was going to influence greater participation from group at the first, grass roots meeting.  I was then going to suggest changes to the project vision in the second high-level event.

Of course reality doesn’t work like that.  In the first meeting no one wanted to participate more than they were already doing.  In the second meeting the request for help with the vision went up the line, and came firmly back down again.   The issue with the vision thing was ours to address, not anyone else’s.

Which goes to show that, where you can coach with improvements in your own performance in mind, you cannot expect your actions to produce specific outcomes in others.  After all, others haven’t been coached to ‘participate more’ or to ‘change their vision’.

All this possibly means my next coaching goal may have to be: ‘to successfully document my contribution to the outcomes of this project, so I can use my skills in another context  this year’.

(More information about Sir John Whitmore is  available on this website )

In Cyberspace Not Everyone ‘Likes’ You

Image representing LinkedIn as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

I tried explaining social networking to an older relative recently.  It’s based on identifying yourself on the internet, I said.


There was a sharp intake of breath from across the table.


My relative wasn’t sure about the risks of putting information about yourself out into the ether, for others to see.  He asked, ‘Won’t people know too much about you’?


On reflection I, sort of, see his point, although if you don’t put yourself out there the potential for changing your situation is pretty limited.


These days for work, or professional reasons it is sensible to have a Linked In profile.  If a portfolio career appeals it might even be the key to researching new opportunities, which may mean you can develop your future by trading on existing skills.


The online edition of American magazine Ebony has an interesting article, with something to say about that subject.  In particular I like their idea that You Can See What You Need to Get What You Want’.


If you set store by finding out more about people who have been there and done that (actually used social media to their advantage), you might want to look at Rich Jones web site concerning professional steps in the virtual world.


Blogging is an option too.  Finding a topic about which you are passionate and writing about it via WordPress, Blogger, or another platform.  It is always nice to have people read and even follow what you write, but it may take some time to get your readership beyond single figures.


Twitter is a third avenue, creating a small you-shaped virtual niche.  It also makes for concise communication as a limit of 140 or fewer characters applies.


It is a very quick way of getting your message distributed too.  Although recent events involving Ashley Cole and Rio Ferdinand, illustrate why speed isn’t always helpful.  Frankly it is idea to think first and tweet later.


There are a billion users on Facebook too, so that might be a harder arena in which to get your voice heard.


Whichever route appeals it is also worth remembering something friends working in Human Resources have mentioned to me.  Some employers do keep tabs on identifiable social media accounts.


Even if they do not have an official policy about employees’ media usage, or even if you are not yet working for them, they may be very interested in what you have to say and the way you say it.


That is worth thinking about if you are used to frank speaking online and you don’t want something you said ages ago, concerning a topic about which you are passionate, counting against long after you had forgotten saying it.