Vulnerable and Teamwork

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Recently, while part of an Executive Coaching assignment at HBS (Harvard Business School), I was struck by how a team of leaders when, once given the space to be vulnerable with each other, the commitment and productivity of the group soared.productivity One of my tasks in working with this group of 8 diverse senior global business leaders was ensuring they work as a cohesive team. Though we focused on understanding cultural differences, agreeing the rules engagement, expectations, etc., it was the exercise where people opened up and were vulnerable, that had the most profound impact on gelling the group together.

This is supported by the work of Patrick Lencioni in the Five Dysfunctions of a Team where he suggests that vulnerability will greatly enhance a trusting environment, which he defines as “the confidence among team members that their peer intentions are good”.   As a result, this team over the course of 8 weeks demonstrated tremendous commitment to each other (not let anyone down mentality), great work ethic, really smart collaborative ideas and, ultimately an environment where they learned so much from each other. Why did this happen?

Firstly, as the old adage goes “you are most likely to tell your darkest secrets to total strangers” plays out because there is minimal risk that of any perceived or otherwise consequence; therefore, it is easy to be vulnerable. Most human beings really do care and when somebody shows some degree of vulnerability, people naturally want to support and help. But surely this can work to some degree with work colleagues also who, for the most part, have no personal affiliation.

Secondly, it puts everybody on a very even keel. Being vulnerable is a great equalizer, it shows you are human and what is really going on beneath that exterior. When people feel that they are among equals, they are more likely to open up and support each other.

Finally, what was clearly apparent with all the leaders at HBS was an individual strength and confidence, which worked perfectly in alignment with vulnerability. Perhaps it was this unique blend of strength and vulnerability (similar to Collins’ resolve and humility) that provided the basis for optimal teamwork based on dependability/reliability (outward strength) as well as trust/believability (inward vulnerability).

It is important to mention that being vulnerable is not about exposing weaknesses, but rather being truthful about who you are – what’s your real story??

Timing of Training

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Billions of dollars are spent annually on a variety of professional development and training initiatives. In an attempt to improve business performance, there is an understandable belief that if you want people to step up, one must provide the necessary skills and capabilities to do so. However, research by Beer, Finnstrom and Schrader provide caution as to the timing and context of the training. In essence what they are saying is, that unless the training fits into where the organization is at in its evolution, money spent on training could be money down the drain.

So in expanding this further, the consideration is to ensure there is a state of readiness for change as Edmondson and Wooley so eloquently put it that “organizations need “fertile soil” in place before the “seeds” of training interventions can grow”. 38617226 - watering can watering young plants in pile of soil A simple example of this would be where a group of people are sent on a training program and, though their manager might have authorized it, he or she pays little attention to it and has little concern about how they might integrate the learning upon their return. In fact, if anything, the pressure is piled on to make sure they catch up on the time they spent away from their daily responsibilities. Consequently, no changes, so why bother in the first place?

Beer, Finnstrom and Schrader have suggested that a context, or the right environment, needs to happen first through clarity around the values and strategic direction of the organization. This then feeds into defining roles and responsibilities which in turn helps to identify any barriers that might exist. Specific coaching is then suggested around finalizing the required context and then and only then, the training necessary to execute effectively. Consequently, everybody will fully appreciate the reason for the training and will be bought into the necessity of providing the space for the integration of the learning.

Therefore, don’t conduct training to keep people happy, because HR suggest it or, to stop some high potential from leaving. All of these reasons, and it does happen, are a waste of time and money. Instead, as a leader, ensure that the environment is created to receive the training and allow it to bloom. And if it’s not, put the training on hold and take a step back to evaluate the actual direction the business is taking first.

Positive Power

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When people get promoted, it is a wonderful thing. It often comes with prestige, more money, exciting challenges and just the general recognition that is associated with it. It also comes with more responsibility and sometimes the added concern that what got you to this position may not necessarily allow you do it. Think of the best sales person becoming sales manager. So how do you bridge that gap? Some might argue that with greater responsibility comes greater power. In simple terms it means that you can exert greater influence on somebody in order to get a task complete. And with most things in life there is a right way and wrong way of doing that.
34482001 - executive businessman accuses one of his employees

Let’s briefly discuss the wrong way, which sadly for some might come very natural. This is where you force your opinion, demand results, berate people in public and, for the most part, the minimum gets done. There is a short term-ism to this approach and results will only be forthcoming if you keep re-enforcing this behavior. However, eventually people will get tired of it and fight back or they will leave. There are countless studies to support the fact that people typically tend to leave their jobs because of the abuse of “power” by a supervisor or manager.

Thankfully there is an alternative use of power bearing in mind that, when you rise to a new position, what you say or do can be viewed very differently. In his study of power and how to use it in a positive way, Dacher Keltner proposes that “practicing empathy, generosity and gratitude” are a much more effective way of getting things done. There’s a novel thought; be a decent person. Sadly, these virtues often do not come easy to people and its requires hard work, or does it really? Interestingly, going back to the sales person who became sales manager, empathy, generosity and gratitude were probably very common with customers, so what not just do the same with your reports? These virtues (or skills) exists within the vast majority of us, therefore all we simply need to is recognize their value and utility within leadership.

This does not pre-suppose either that this type of leader is soft or not willing to hold people accountability. If anything, they can be quite demanding and challenging, but its more about how they go about it, and the appropriate behaviors they demonstrate. They exhibit strong emotional intelligence and, in so doing, not alone possess self-awareness, but also great awareness of others. They see their success as being predicated on the success of others and therefore channel their power in that direction.

The Changing Landscape of Work

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workWith the advent of technology and globalization the manner in which business is conducted has dramatically changed over the last 20 years. Dan Pink, in A Whole New Mind refers to the transition from Agricultural to Industrial to Information and now to what he describes as the Innovative or Creative Revolution. The advent of technology and globalization has very much driven this changing landscape, particularly here in the US, and this can be somewhat illustrated by considering the following shifts:

From Repetitive to Creative

Whether its automation or outsourcing, the traditional blue collar work is in decline. In a recent USA Today article it was reported that 80% of new jobs in the US are now created in white collar positions. Even within this work category the traditional financial and analytical jobs are also leaving our shores. What’s left is a melting pot for innovation and having an ability to be continuously improving and looking for the next generation product. We have truly transitioned from the physical (repetitive) to the intellectual (creative).

From Directive to Autonomous

Primarily driven by this “new” type of work, leadership styles and how business operates from a people perspective has had to change. A repetitive, mass production environment might be more conducive to a directive style of management but when you are trying to motivate and manage creativity it just does not work like that. The new approach is based on supporting the autonomy of the individual in executing the task but ensuring that they are still accountable for results.

From Tactical to Strategic

Work is also becoming ever more complex. To support the creative mind and autonomous worker there is also a greater need to understand the bigger picture. Even though individuality is valued it must be in the context of a greater purpose; one that connects with the strategic intent of the business. Organizations need to provide appropriate training, develop open communications and engage employees like never before in order to optimize performance and retain their key people.

Quite apart from the social implications of all this what does it mean for the employee of today? Certainly they have to be more adaptable and flexible in their working arrangements. Interestingly what can be quite a challenge for the boomers is an expectation of the Gen X people. The later are growing up in this “changing” landscape and will clearly ensure its continuity and sustainability.

True Strategy

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Much has been written about the pros and cons of business planning and when you throw in the word strategic, it supposedly adds a degree of credibility to the process.  But, as we all well know, this can be more often about the exercise and, sadly, less about the execution.

21999187_blogThe reality is we cannot predict the future nor can we drive a car looking through the rear view mirror.  So why do planning at all?  Roger L Martin in his HBR article “The Lie about Strategic Planning” contends that most businesses are stuck in what he terms a “Comfort Zone”; this is simply the process where it’s easy to talk and put it to paper.  However “True Strategy” is about execution; where discomfort and apprehension prevails; placing bets and making hard choices. Here the objective is not to eliminate risk but to increase the odds of success.

Many view strategy as being only for large corporations and perhaps this is so because these are the large bastions of bureaucracy where the so called “Comfort Zone” can operate undetected.  However when it comes to lean organizations and entrepreneurial endeavors, “True Strategy” is the only option.  Martin goes further to emphasize the three elements of this type of strategic thinking:

1. Keep it simple
2. Don’t look for perfection
3. Be very clear on what needs to change

These are simple yet valuable insights for small business owners, whether your own coaching practice or some other venture.  By being clear on these, the execution becomes less daunting, flexibility and adaptability is part of the natural order and, most importantly, change is seen as the ally to success.

So rather than get consumed by the text book process of strategic planning, simply answer the following and keep on reviewing / revising.

  • What is your business?
  • Who are your clients?
  • How will you satisfy your client needs?
  • What do you need to do to achieve this?
  • What do you need to change to achieve this?
  • What is your timeline for implementation?

Fundamentals of Running a Business

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Quite often organizations either spend an inordinate amount of time on strategic planning or absolutely none at all. Which is correct? Inevitably the answer lies somewhere in between. However you choose to proceed, there are some fundamentals that must always be considered; then put the energy into ensuring execution. So what are these fundamentals?

1. Articulate the Vision

What is the desired destination? Start off with the end in mind by creating a goal or intended outcome. This may seem difficult and full of unknowns but give it your best guess; you must commit.

2. Identify Key Strategic Initiatives

List the primary drivers of the business that will allow you reach this destination. This requires some honest debate, consensus and then loyalty once agreement is reached. Read more

Managing Your Social Media Time

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Rachel O’h-Uiginn, Undercurrent Coaching

Part V of a series of articles focusing on the integration of social media in a coaching practice.

Technology has enormous benefits, but there is always a cost associated with any endeavor. Perhaps you’ve caught yourself saying Did I really just spend THAT much time on Facebook? There is so much to engage in – how can I possibly make an impact?

That’s a perfectly likely response because we all share the value of time well spent. Whether for personal or business purposes, here are some tips on how you can best use your time in the social-space.

There is no “right” or “wrong” way to be engaged online – only options.

Engagement is better than non-engagement, so as long as you’re participating in some way online, you’re naturally going to build your network, skills and confidence around it. It’s OK to feel like you’re not making any waves in the social-world, but start challenging that assumption because it will help your approach become one of experience and opportunity.

Know when you work best Read more

Pillars of a Successful Social Media Strategy

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By Rachel O’h-Uiginn, Undercurrent Coaching

Part II of a series of articles focusing on the integration of social media in a coaching practice.

Implementing a social media strategy in your coaching practice will increase your online visibility and help enhance the relationship between current and potential clients. Like any successful endeavor, it helps to have a plan of action. Consider these four pillars of an effective communication strategy: mission, message, medium & management.

Mission: What is the purpose of your coaching practice? How is this being expressed to current/potential clients? A mission statement is a crucial part of any business as it sums up what your work is about. In social media, your online content should always pay respect to your unique mission statement because it’s the focal point of your business and what people will identify most with.

Message: What are you trying to convey and how are you sharing it? Once you have a clear understanding of your mission, messaging needs to be on target with it. Diluting your message with non-relevant information, such as something totally outside your niche, will confuse people and actually diminish their trust that you’re talking to their needs. Messages may take the form of blog posts, status updates, Tweets or any other content you’re creating. Read more