I have just started my Integrative Enneagram training (iEQ9) live from South Africa.
I’m so excited about the prospect of being an Enneagram practitioner and can’t wait to get started. I knew it was for me before I discovered its roots were founded in Pythagorean Geometry and Fractal patterns (objects whose parts at infinite levels of magnification, appear geometrically similar to the whole). I just knew there was a calling to delve deeper – self discovery, coaching and maths!
Here are two beautiful fractal images.
And as to the Enneagram, it’s a law of threes, patterns of threes. More in the coming days….
I have spent two weeks this summer cycling from the north of Vietnam to Hoi Chi Minh City in the south – a long and potentially arduous journey, made more difficult with temperatures exceeding 350C on some days. That said, it was one of the best experiences I’ve had in terms of personal and team resilience, commitment and achievement, all made possible by the incredible leadership of our group leader. I witnessed all aspects of what makes a great leader unfold over the fortnight all of which can be applied to leadership in all we do.
Clarity of Purpose
During our welcome meeting, we were re-introduced to the values of the cycling company and indeed, that of the leader. Why responsible travel was fundamental to our holiday choice, why getting to know the country, it’s culture, history, language was key to our experience and, why enjoyment, fulfilment and achievement was his and our intention. There was absolute clarity in what would be expected from us on a daily basis and an unshakeable belief that all were physically capable of the cycling journey ahead.
The group members were from Europe, US, Australia, New Zealand with an age range of 18-67, all from diverse backgrounds. Some had experienced long bike rides while for others, it was their first; some were focussed on their personal goals while others were ‘just doing it’; some were anxious about their fitness levels while others tackled each day with an awe inspiring confidence. Despite these differences, there was a commitment to a common goal – all were to complete each day with a sense of pride in ourselves and in our team. There was a collaborative spirt fostered by our leader. He created a supportive camaraderie regardless of difference – ‘high fiving’became routine at the end of each day.
Positivity and Reality
Everyone can do this!The leader’s motto regularly heard over breakfast, during our morning briefings, as we mounted our bikes. Always accompanied by the reality of the day – the distance, the terrain, the gradient, the beauty of the landscape, the breaks. We knew exactly what was ahead of us with very few surprises. His experience of the journey fostered a sense of trust and assurance in the team.
Fear and Laughter
Cycling into and out of busy Vietnamese cities was something we just could not imagine – it looked terrifying. The number of possible calamities was too great to count. Our leader’s calm and protective approach soon diminished these fears, so much so, we often found the funny side, screeching hysterically as hundreds of mopeds came towards us. We laughed a lot – even climbing an unrelenting 10km mountain pass, gradient of 8-10%, we laughed. We found humour in extreme situations, each other, with
him and with people we met along the way. The good natured group dynamic enabled us to feel comfortable in laughing at ourselves and each other.
We made it! The sense of achievement was incredible both from an individual and team perspective. As well as organising moments to celebrate, our leader ensured we were able to have opportunities to reflect and share our highs and lows with each other. He was also incredibly keen to hear what he could do better on his future trips. This was one question where we had little to say – he was the best leader we could have possibly hoped for. He made our trip and for that we thank him. As to us……we’re planning to go away together next year – that’s team spirit!
As a leadership coach, I am frequently reminded that leadership is often learned ‘on the job’. No-one prepares you for; the countless decisions you need to make every day, the challenge of time, managing the external and internal pressures, bringing out the best in all, to name but a few.
While looking back to the early days of their leadership, I often hear leaders say, “if only I had said/done this earlier”, “if only I had been clear about this”, “if only I hadn’t said yes”. It’s always about lessons they wished they had learned earlier, the preparation for leadership.
There are repeating themes from most leaders I coach and while the following is not a complete list, it’s a start.
- Know and set out your core values from day 1
Leaders often feel they have been slow in being explicit about what’s important to them. They are often hesitant at being too forthright with this as they believe it’s right to ‘know’ the organisation, its people and its history. Yet none of this knowledge effects what we believe in. If our values are truth, equality, social justice, compassion, ambition for example, what difference would that knowledge make? From the moment we set out our values, people begin to understand us and we can begin to make decisions based on these. We start from a transparent place not from one where there is curiosity or suspicion about our motives.
- Accept that a life balance won’t always exist
There is little point expecting this to be the case when every day brings new unforeseen challenges. Our best laid plans for our evening ahead can be scuppered by 7.30am that morning. If we accept that we can avoid disappointing ourselves or others. What we must do instead is ensure we find pay back. If that evening activity was lost to us, how do we recompense later that week. How can we remove something from our priorities that just isn’t that urgent? Or better still, how can we delegate to others….
- Be confident about delegating
Some leaders see delegation as a form of weakness, offloading because they can’t cope. For some, only they can do the job well enough. Others are able to delegate to the point of abdication.
I ask my clients to remember when they were entrusted to carry out something by their leader. Then, how did this make them feel, what did they learn, how did they grow, what responsibility went with it? Words repeated back at me were; trusted, empowered, privileged,excited. Perhaps it’s time to flip the term delegate into something much more positive; entrust, empower, develop, invest.
- It’s okay to take time to make decisions, providing…
…you make them.
The most frustrating thing for those awaiting decisions is not necessarily the outcome but the knowing it will take place and when. As leaders become more experienced they are able to make quick decisions especially on recurring issues, and especially when they are clearly values based. The difficult ones may need longer to accomplish.
Rather than ruminate over the pros and cons of the decision in the first instance, focus on the information you will need to know to make it, who do you need to speak to, what do you need to read, what advice do you seek? And then, set a deadline for when you are able to do this. Communicate this deadline to offset any frustration for those who wait.
- How we lead other leaders
Setting out expectations for how we want our leaders to lead is something to consider before day 1. Bad habits are difficult to break so ensuring this is clear and explicit and, more crucially, modelled from the off. Picture the best leader you had…what was it about their leadership that inspired you, how did they model leadership, how did they bring out the best in you?
- It’s okay to make mistakes
Of course it is. If you are committed to perfection, it’s not going to work. We learn and grow from mistakes and if we model failure, we allow others to do so too. We give them space and confidence to take risks and if it doesn’t work ask ourselves the question, what would we do differently next time? Most organisations expect their people to take risks and make mistakes – if they were ‘perfect’ on appointment, how will they develop in the organisation?
While it would be wonderful to have thought through all these, we must acknowledge that we too are not ‘fully formed’ leaders when we step into our new role. And, like our teams, we will mistakes and learn from them. We then find the courage and determination to reset, to draw a line in the sand and put our lessons learned into practice.
As a leadership coach, I am often asked to visit organisations to coach individuals or sometimes a whole tier of leadership in order to support them becoming more advanced leaders.
As part of the completion session of the 1:1 coaching, I explicitly frame the skills I have used through the relationship and encourage each client to use those they believe would be beneficial while leading others. Ultimately, I am trying to develop a coaching culture within and across the organisation, attempting to enable individuals to become coaches themselves.
However, this alone does not achieve it. Studies across organisations show the following must take place to truly embed the culture:
- There is a desire for it at the heart of the organisation. It is a philosophy, a set of values in the way in which everybody is encouraged and expected to work. There are key objectives linked to its integration
- It is modelled from the top. Line management meetings in the main are coaching conversations where a coaching skillset is evident for example;
- great listening and paying attention
- great speaking with clarity and intention
- empowering, supporting and encouraging
- openness and honesty
- powerful questioning and curiosity
- goal/action focussed
- commitment and responsibility
- It is part of a learning and development plan for all while formal training is available for key leaders. This is properly funded and is part of the strategic plan
- There is access for all to a mixture of internal and external coaching
- There are key measurable objectives linked to the benefits of it. For example, the improvement of;
- working relationships
- leadership development
- self-esteem and confidence
- individual and team performance and subsequent outcomes
- retention and recruitment
- resilience, emotional intelligence and self-awareness
- well-being and life balance
- The impact is measured transparently and relates to the goals set by the organisation in its strategic plan. This might involve before and after surveys, 360-degree reviews etc.
There is an increasing trend for organisations to place coaching at the core of their ethos. The undeniable benefits can be abundant and extensive and can make a radical difference for the development of individuals and the success of the organisation.
This question posed by Talking Heads in their huge hit single, ‘Once in a Lifetime’, is the same question many highly successful people ask themselves at various stages in their career, more frequently as they move towards or reach the top of their profession. For some the voice gets louder, with a heightened sense of judgement, possible disapproval, leading to feelings of self-doubt, anxiety and an overwhelming dread of ‘being found out’. This is termed ‘the Imposter Syndrome’. Far from being a realistic self-assessment, the syndrome stops people believing in themselves.
“I have written eleven books but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find me out now, I’ve run a game on everybody and they’re going to find me out’” Maya Angelou
As an executive leadership coach, nearly all my clients have experienced this sense of fraud at some point in their lives. They exhibit an inability to move forward, feel blocked, stuck and, at its worst, become paralysed with fear. They may have sleepless nights, intensified stress, anxiety, depression. There is an immediate sense of relief when they learn that 70% of successful people feel this at some point in their career or at regular intervals throughout their lives. Some have this inner critic voice with them at all times and have learned how to engage with it and have found strategies that help them to function and continue to be successful. Through becoming familiar with the critical voice, they start to use this ‘checking’ system to their advantage. They recognise when the inner critic is there and have internal conversations to reflect on decisions and to develop a sense of security and assurance of their position in the world.
‘Self-doubt undermines the process of finding our gifts and sharing them with the world’ Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
For those who struggle to do this alone, the following are some of the strategies my clients and I have co-created to overcome these moments of self-doubt.
Start with acknowledging it. Recognise the disapproving voices and call them so. Consciously name or even write down the negative thoughts as they occur. “I can’t speak in public, others are far more articulate” or “I can’t work with this client, they are so much more successful than me”. Once you begin to identify the imposter, you will be ready to overcome it.
Practise positive affirmation. Here you develop mantras like “I am meant to be here”. Instead of “why me”, reframe your thinking to “why not me?”. Say these to yourself every time the negative voices crop up. Even though this may feel daunting at first, focused attention and deliberate practice can help rewire our neural pathways.
Focus on your successes and achievements. Remember, you have got to where you are because you have accomplished some amazing things in your career. You deserve to be there. Some of my clients find it easier to focus on the achievements of others in a similar role to them. This helps remind them of their own. Celebrate these as often as you can, spend 5 minutes at the end of every day focussing on the great things about your day. Who were you in those moments. In what way did you help make the moment great.
Acknowledge you are not perfect. Have the courage to lean into your imperfection and accept good enough can still be successful imperfection. Keep to your goal – make progress, not perfection.
Lastly, remember you are not alone. You are in good company. There is a large proportion of successful people out there harbouring the same feelings of ‘why me?’.
With determination and reprogramming, you can overcome your doubt and more easily celebrate your achievements. You will begin to feel liberated and an imposter no more. In the words of Talking Heads, “And you may ask yourself, Am I right? Am I wrong?” You will find the answer.
Our Vision Statement:
“As the London Coaching Group, we inspire our members to grow and deliver a positive impact on the coaching profession.
With integrity and openness, we create a supportive environment for experiential learning, innovation, and the development of coaching excellence”
Our Guiding Principles:
We are committed to Providing Professional and Personal Development for all our members which includes:
- New ideas, approaches and research including those around neuroscience
- Practical, participative, experiential and innovative learning models
- Reflective, growth practices employing new tools and skills
- Group and team coaching
- Knowledge and experience sharing
- Developing and marketing our niche and business
Last week as January moved into February, I was cheered by what felt like the first Spring, sun-filled day. Walking through the park, I realised as the daffodils starting to show themselves, that I too wanted to burst into life and stop hiding behind the winter dampness.
During a coaching session later that day, I had an opportunity to do just that – get outside into the fresh air and see what came up.
I actively incorporate movement into my sessions when I feel my client is stuck and unable to look at their challenge from a different perspective. Movement around a room, a building but mainly around indoor spaces. I had integrated talking and walking less often but knew from all the research that our clients open up more as their hearts and minds mirror their physical freedom. Walking side-by-side with someone releases a possible tension and brightens the conversation often leading the client to a lightness and clarity about their topic and what they are trying to achieve.
My client felt she was going around in circles. She is on the verge of making a big change in her life but was pulling back from this because of a guilt of ‘leaving’. She was becoming increasingly entangled in this guilt. Knowing she loves the outdoors, I suggested we walked. I immediately noticed her paying attention to her surroundings, becoming more motivated, more inspired. She began to use the path ahead as a metaphor for the journey she knew she wanted to be on, how she wanted to move forward and keep up the momentum of this and how the ‘inside’, her place of work was a metaphor for the obstacles she was putting in her way. By shifting her place and space, she became more reflective, thoughtful and at times, silent – an easy, contented silence. And the conversations seemed more natural.
There are often restrictions when there is a desire to be outside. We may believe the outside environment is no better than inside; it is built up with seemingly no obvious connection to nature. In those circumstances, I take our attention upwards, to the sky, the trees, birds. We see what we can see. This can have an equally calming, de-stressing effect on our clients.
If your client loves the outdoors or not, give it a try. I’ll certainly be doing more of it as the Spring finally arrives.
This is the time of year where we all seem to be encouraged to set goals for ourselves for the year ahead – our new year resolutions. These are often new goals, things we want to achieve which are new to us.
The goals I want to set are based on what I already do and want to do better. I ask myself what it would look like if it was 10% better this year? 20%? 50%? What percentage is good enough for me? What would success feel like when I look back at the end of 2018?
The year ahead doesn’t always have to bring new achievements – just achieving some things better.