Posts Tagged ‘career ownership’

Does Curiosity Really Kill The Cat?

March 8th, 2020

“I have no special talents. I am just passionately curious.” – Albert Einstein

The age-old adage, “curiosity killed the cat” seems to suggest that inquisitiveness is a dangerous thing; that it leads us down a path of danger, that it is fraught with hurdles and is an unnecessary use of time.

Curiosity, however, is an essential ingredient to great leadership and all too often, we fall into a pattern of accepting things at face value, perhaps because sometimes it seems easier or more convenient to continue as we do, particularly when nothing in particular may need fixing.

Science fiction author C. J. Cherryh famously said, “ignorance killed the cat; curiosity was framed!” Her statement could not be more accurate. A lack of awareness can mean we begin to accept things as they are and can quickly become stuck in our ways of working and doing business. Momentum is stalled and the ideas and innovation that can help to drive businesses stagnate.

So, it should come as no surprise that truly great leaders are also curious leaders.

They seem to be in possession of an extraordinary curiosity for exploring ‘the new’; for learning and discovery; for the possibility of what could be and not merely what is. They are motivated by the desire to improve and better their own lives, careers and the organisations that they lead. They are not satisfied with maintaining the status quo.

Being curious does not mean being distracted. In our hyper-connected world it is a challenge not to become overwhelmed and distracted with the world of information that is available at your fingertips. The ability to effectively channel your curiosity to the things that matter is what defines a ‘healthy curiosity’ and sets the truly successful people apart.

So why is curiosity important? Many articles highlight the value it brings, including helping us to overcome our fears, to building a greater sense of self-awareness and an ongoing cycle of learning. In thinking with curiosity, doing so also acts as a great source of influence, inspiration and motivation and leads to greater agility, innovation and creativity.  Additionally, it helps us to maintain and gain clarity, relevance and purpose in what we do.

Curiosity showcases your personal brilliance: Asking why or how helps us clarify situations and issues. It encourages us to adopt a proactive solution-oriented style of thinking rather than a reactive problematic view of the world.

With that in mind, how can we actively build curiosity in our own lives each day? What follows are five key actions you can take to help cultivate a greater sense of curiosity.

Commit to an open mind: Not only do we need to commit to learning and embracing the new, but also to unlearning and relearning. Our ability to change our view on the way that things have always been done and embrace new ways can be a continual challenge, however a curious mindset will actively support the embracing not only of new ideas but also new ways to approach things.

Ask questions – lots of them: Your outcomes and direction are greatly determined by the quality of the questions you ask yourself and those around you. Seeking understanding and not merely responses will help create and open up new opportunities, solutions and pathways.

Don’t accept the status quo: Challenge the norm – ask why? How many times have we heard the response ‘because that’s the way we’ve always done it’ or ‘that’s just the way we do things around here’ only to discover that the blind acceptance of the status quo is what is holding us back from achieving great things. Creating a safe environment that encourages exploration of the ‘why’ is a key part of developing critical thinking and action-oriented outcomes.

Adopt a healthy regard for learning: Successful individuals and great leaders are never satisfied with what they know. They advocate the need for lifelong learning and recognise that learning does not stop with the acquisition of a certain role or title. Seeing learning as fun and a source of motivation and knowledge will make you naturally want to dig deeper.

Collaborate: None of us have all the answers. Seeking out new relationships and engaging with those around you will ensure that the ‘ideas bank’ remains a rich resource to tap into. Not only does it make what we do more rewarding, but it also provides you with fresh thinking and different perspectives.

We all need to encourage and celebrate curiosity. We need it for both our own careers and the businesses that we lead. We need to see our organisations filled with people who know how to ask questions and who are experienced in finding answers and creating solutions; people who aren’t’ afraid to fall or fail for they know that they have the ability and confidence to stand and continue seeking out the best possible path forward. People who don’t want to settle for ‘what is’ but want to explore the ‘what if’ moments both for themselves and the organisations they work for.

Seeking out the world of possibility and not just accepting the world of ‘what is’ brings so many rich rewards and much fulfillment. Can you think of a recent situation in which your curiosity made a difference, or made a positive impact on your work?

 

Leading With Generosity & Gratitude

December 4th, 2019

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give”

– Winston Churchill

In the giving spirit of the festive season, December is a particularly poignant time of year time to reflect on how we as leaders can demonstrate generosity, not only now, but all year round.

Leading with generosity goes hand in hand with generous leadership principles, and recently, David DeSteno, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University and a visiting fellow at Harvard’s Center for Public Leadership wrote an article that appeared in The New York Times on the positive effect of gratitude during Thanksgiving. His premise could be applied to our life and work all year round, however. While holidays such as Christmas prompt and instill a sense of gratitude he says: “Yet on the other 364 days of the year — the ones when you might feel lonely, stressed at work, tempted to dishonesty or stinginess — pausing to cultivate a sense of gratitude can make a big difference. Gratitude may not be needed on Thanksgiving, but giving thanks on other days can help ensure that in the future, you’ll have many things to be grateful for.

When we think of generosity, we often think of financial giving or involvement in charitable work. It may be exercised regularly through corporate social responsibility initiatives, and your businesses core values. However, we don’t naturally think of it in terms of business dealings or in what we do in our day-to-day jobs. Typically it is equated with what we do outside of business hours rather than what we do in them. What charities, community projects or family and friend endeavours we choose to give to financially or with our time.

Make no mistake, these endeavours are all noble and worthy acts of generosity and ones that we should seek out. However, overlooking the ways we can give generously through what we do and how we lead is not only a missed opportunity to leave our world in a better place but can be self-limiting to our own levels of fulfillment and future growth as well as to those in our teams.

Whilst true generosity is ultimately an altruistic act we more often than not receive things in return – and often abundantly. As leaders, this could transpire in the form of increased cooperation and collaboration, enjoyment in what we do, sheer goodwill and/or the fulfillment of seeing others succeed. Not to mention increased productivity and profitability.

If you were to take a moment to reflect on the colleagues and leaders who have left a positive mark on you and your career there would invariably be a common trait: Generosity of spirit. They are the people who gave freely of their time, knowledge and trust and who helped facilitate opportunities for you.

Adam Grant, author of the best selling book Give and Take looks at how and why our success today is increasingly dependent on the interactions we have with others. In essence, he flips the notion that it is successful people that tend to give generously, to the idea that it is those with a generous spirit who become successful. He believes that in a work environment there are three ways people generally operate: taking, matching or giving. Whilst takers seek to get as much as possible form others and matchers focus on trading evenly, givers are those rare people who genuinely contribute without expectation of receiving anything in return. His research shows that whilst some givers do occasionally burn out they are the group that are most likely to achieve extraordinary results regardless of what field they operate in.

Successful leaders are generous: they give freely and unreservedly and often. In reflecting upon some of the amazing leaders that I have either worked for or with there are some other common acts of generosity. They all:

  1. Give Opportunity: Opportunities to engage in meaningful challenging work and not just a list of tasks. Opportunities that extend and open up new thinking & learning, new networks and offer lasting impact.
  2. Give A Strong Sense of Belonging: They create environments that are safe and supportive, allowing us to bring our whole sense of self to the office and not just our work mask. They help you see the value in what you do and feel an intrinsic part of the team and organisation’s success.
  3. Give Guidance: Generous leaders seek to guide and not control. They offer constructive feedback rather than criticism and empower you to make decisions with strong frameworks of support.
  4. Give Space: Space to explore, create, grow, fail and make mistakes and most importantly to get back up confidently and go again.
  5. Give Information, Knowledge & Experience: Not only do generous leaders offer their insights they encourage others to do so as well. They understand that increased leverage and success comes with purposeful collaboration and open, willing minds not but holding tightly onto things.
  6. Give Credit: By recognising and appreciating the efforts of others the generous leader helps to create a sense of shared success. They understand the power of ‘We’ is much more powerful than ‘I’.
  7. Give Encouragement: Generous leaders encourage you to step out and try different things, take risks and push the boundaries of what you think you are capable of. They offer faith in you and push you to be the best you can be.
  8. Give Trust: Generous leaders understand that high performing cultures are rich in trust. Trust amongst each other, in each other’s talents, capabilities and values.
  9. Give Time and Energy: Generous leaders understand the importance of really listening and engaging. They offer their time, their total attention and interest in you, what you are doing and the outcomes you seek.
  10. Give Time Back To Themselves: The generous leader works hard to ensure that their batteries remain charged so as to enable them to give on an ongoing basis. They invest in time and energy in what reinvigorates them in mind, body and spirit.

Giving generously tends to inspire others to do the same. It also helps us create a lasting legacy for what we do, the people we work with and the businesses we have or work for. I would encourage you to explore how you can give generously through your leadership and inspire others to continue to ‘pay it forward’, not only as we race towards the end of the year but into 2020 and beyond.

Can you think of some ways you can integrate greater generosity and gratitude into your day-to-day leadership? As always I would love to hear your thoughts.

The Key to Leadership Vitality

November 6th, 2019

“Managing energy, not time, is the fundamental currency of high performance. Performance is grounded in the skilful management of energy”
– Tony Schwartz

Have you ever noticed how exceptional leaders who consistently deliver exceptional results personify the same traits? They tend to lead by example in the truest sense of this phrase. They not only seem to continue giving and delivering but they do it in a style that personifies confidence, fulfilment and passion.

With the holiday season on the very near horizon, a perfect opportunity presents itself to pause and take stock of both our own energy and vitality, and the effect – positive, negative or neutral – that it has on our teams and colleagues.

The lead up to the end of the calendar year is often one of the busiest, which means it is crucial to preserve energy, and to ensure that precious vitality isn’t swallowed up by the intensity of pre-holiday deadlines. With a new year on the horizon, maintaining your vitality and energy now is also a key step in preparing for a successful start to the new year.

We can begin this process of self-reflection by thinking of the leaders you have worked with who represent what it means to be ‘fully alive’ and brimming with vitality. How did they influence you, inspire you, or make you feel? No doubt you just felt better for being around them – more confident, capable and energetic.

These are the leaders who tend to inspire you and have a way of breathing life and vitality into both people and projects. Conversely if you have ever worked with people who are constantly tired, stressed or drained of energy and enthusiasm they invariably leave you feeling like you’ve had the life sucked right out of you. You walk out of meetings feeling deflated, directionless and unmotivated. One group radiates vitality and the other drains it.

The reality is when an organisation’s leaders and people are running on empty tanks, everything suffers. It is the loss of personal vitality that has a definable cost to the business and heavily impacts on both productivity and profitability. If we want to build and/or lead businesses rich in these things we need to start paying attention to the health and vitality of ourselves as leaders so that we can positively impact our people and our clients and customers.

Business vitality is often referred to as the degree to which an organisation is successful in the eyes of their customers, employees and shareholders. Measures of vitality will include client and employee retention, stock price, profits, revenue growth and operating costs.

Often referred to as the ‘soft measures’ things such as public trust, innovation, collaboration, employee well-being and employee engagement are also critical. More and more organisations though are realising that these so-called ‘soft measures’ are better viewed as the critical measures. For it is these critical measures that determine and drive the hard measures.

As the speed at which we do business continues to accelerate and the market volatility and rate of change remains a constant, vitality is fast becoming recognised as a ‘must have’ leadership trait. This trait become even more pronounced in times of high intensity within organisations – and at this time of year in particular. In a climate where we as leaders are constantly being asked to do ‘more with less’ ­– less resources, less money and less people – we need to ensure that we know how to effectively manage our energy levels and not fall into the all too common trap of responding by simply working longer hours. ‘If I just do more, work harder things will improve and I will get through it’. When we don’t simply ‘get through it’ we start to question our capability, purpose and impact. And our people notice it. It can all too easily become a viscous cycle that if we aren’t careful robs us; our people; and our businesses of vitality, essence and spirit.

Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, authors of The Power of Full Engagement, argue that managing energy and not time is the key to personal and business vitality. They detail how mobilizing our key sources of energy, balancing how we spend it with how renew it and the energy habits we create, is critical to our success. Their recommended practices below for renewing the four sources of energy with the aim of becoming more vital are well worth examining.

Leadership vitality is about developing a critical life force that builds sustainable productivity and profitability. It starts with you. As the year draws to a close, I would encourage you consider how you can preserve your energy tanks to build vitality credits and how you can also begin to renew your sense of vitality over the break. You and your business will thank you for it.

Do you feel you are generating vitality as a leader? What do you notice when you feel your most energised within your business?

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts.

The Bounce Back Factor

February 19th, 2019

Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose.’ – Lyndon B. Johnson

We’ve all experienced times where we feel we’ve blown it. It might be choosing the wrong hire or job, a failure to act, a slip of the tongue, an emotional outburst, or just a dumb decision when you think you should have known better. The reality is we all make mistakes, but they don’t have to signal irreversible damage or the end of our career. It is how we react and what we choose to do after that sickening moment we realise our error that determines just how big it turns out to be.

Understanding how we view these mistakes and failures is critical to if and how high we bounce back.  When societies, businesses and individuals choose to view failure as experience rather than losing they are setting themselves on a course that is rich in new learning, networks and opportunities. They provide themselves and others with the confidence, clarity and energy to move forward and not remain stuck where they are.

Still the memory of our mistakes can sting for a while and recovering from them is neither inconsequential nor unimportant. If it was we would continue to make them with little regard for the consequences they held in both our immediate and long-term futures.

The reality is over the course of our lives and careers we will make mistakes. If we don’t, we are either playing it way too safe or not playing at all. Our bosses, peers and team members will also make mistakes. Again, how we choose to react will play a part in how big they become. As Alexander Pope wrote nearly three centuries ago ‘To err is human, to forgive divine’. Whether it be forgiving ourselves or those around us, we need to ensure that we are focused on the future and not in the messiness of the mistake.

Developing an inner strength and resiliency to move forward is critical. Without it we further compromise our position and opportunity for future success for those associated with our actions and ourselves. Martin Seligman, an American Psychologist who is well regarded for his work on positive psychology and resilience found that people who recover from setbacks and failure often view it as a temporary, localised and changeable event. Conversely those who struggle to move beyond their mistakes and failure learn to accept their scenarios as something they have no control over and consequently develop a ‘learned helplessness’.

Resiliency brings security. In a world that is characterised by constant change and uncertainty our ability to feel comfortable and move with the changing times, recover from setbacks and navigate the unknown is a critical skill for both personal and professional success. Our lives and careers today require us to be nimble, responsive and adaptable in both the good and not so good times. Anticipating risk, limiting fallout and the ability to ‘bounce back’ are essential skills for today’s leaders. Without it we not only risk our own career but also the performance and abilities of our teams by failing to see the opportunities that lie in front of us.

So how do we learn to think and act constructively rather than react in an emotionally destructive manner following a period of failure?

  1. Own It: To move beyond our mistakes we firstly need to own them by admitting to ourselves that it is our error. Denying responsibility holds us back, creates defensiveness and tends to protract the pain and period of time needed to resolve the issue. It also helps us avoid the blame trap.
  2. Acknowledge It: Whilst our first reaction is to want to hide away there will no doubt be some people who will need to know and who are impacted by your mistakes. Acknowledging our mistakes with honesty, integrity and transparency is also a powerful leadership example to set for those around us.
  3. Manage Your Emotions: Don’t sit on them or in them! Supressing them or dwelling on them prohibits any positive forward thinking or movement. Not only does it hold you back, it also drags you back.
  4. Mitigate The Risk: Invariably there are three immediate courses of action to choose from: Undo, Redo or Make Do. Understanding what your options are will help you to focus on what the next best course of action is to take.
  5. Understand Why: To learn from our mistakes we need to understand how and why they have occurred. It will help us to spot the early signs of reoccurrence, what actions we can take to avoid it and if possible what can be done to eliminate it.
  6. Repair It: Where possible we need to take the necessary actions to repair the damage that has arisen from our mistakes – with projects, with brands and with relationships.
  7. Forgive Yourself: More often than not we are our own harshest critics as our failings leave us feeling overwhelmingly disappointed, vulnerable and ashamed. We need to remind ourselves that ‘we did wrong, not we are wrong’. Continuing to berate ourselves keeps us reliving the moment and stops us from moving forward and learning from our mistakes.
  8. Fail Forward: Learning how to acknowledge, recover and learn from them allows us to grow as individuals and leaders. It helps us build and maintain the skills and relevance required for all that we do in life and in our careers.

Jazz great Miles Davis once said ‘When you hit the wrong note, it’s the next note that makes it good or bad’. When we as individuals and leaders know how to play those next notes and manage our responses to mistakes and failure, we can in turn support the mistakes and failures of those we lead. When we do this we are building and empowering a strong, bright and resilient future for both ourselves and the teams and businesses we lead.

As always I would love to hear your thoughts.

The Value of Trust

January 22nd, 2019

“Position and authority will give you followers, but trust will make you a leader.” – Aubrey McGowan

No matter where we turn, trust seems to be on the decline. Barely a day goes by where we don’t hear of a broken promise, contract or principle. Trust, which is widely regarded as the glue to any relationship, appears to be at crisis levels for many individuals and organisations today. In fact, recent statistics suggest that only 47% of employees trust senior management and only 32% believe CEO’s to be a credible source of information, according to the Centre for Organisational Excellence.

This lack of trust represents a leadership crisis of monumental proportions. When we don’t believe those around us it not only sets in motion a tidal wave of negative attitudes and emotions, it actually significantly impacts our ways of thinking and behaving. So much so that it can easily become the biggest blocker to us achieving our goals.

On a more positive note, it provides you as a leader with a brilliant opportunity to stand out by building solid foundations of trust with your teams, your clients and your networks in a landscape that clearly seems to be both lacking in it and craving more of it.

Stephen Covey’s analogy of trust as a tax or a dividend is a highly powerful one: When there is a lack of trust in a relationship or organization, it is like a hidden tax that is placed on every transaction, piece of communication, decision and strategy, which brings speed down and sends costs up. By contrast, individuals and companies that operate with high levels of trust reap the benefits of a dividend that enables them to succeed by multiplying performance, productivity and capability.

Lack of trust therefore has the capacity to literally double the cost of doing business and triple the delivery timeframes; where as high trust has the capacity to not only significantly save time, money and angst but also deepen relationships, build greater collaboration, career fulfillment and success for all involved.

For leaders, trust is two fold. You need to be able to engender it and you need to be able to give it. Without both, true success cannot be achieved. The most successful leaders recognise this and focus on creating it as a core objective. They make it a priority to build confidence in their:

  1. Capability – to deliver and build a solid track record of results; and
  2. Character – by acting with authenticity, integrity and clear intent;

Employees, customers and clients are simply asking the question – Can I trust you to deliver what you set out to promise and in a way that is honest and ethical?

Successful leaders understand that to gain trust you must also give it. They recognise that there is always a risk when giving trust and don’t deny the past or ignore the possibility of future results. They weigh up the risks and benefits before giving it and when they do, they ensure that they have established the right environment and frameworks to support and manage successful outcomes. They know when to step in and when to step away – and most importantly how to do it.

So how do the most successful leaders build trust?

  1. Establish purpose and commitment: from individuals and between individuals
  2. Communicate honestly and transparently: by talking straight and keeping it real!
  3. Ensure actions match words: remove ambiguity and take the guess work out of situations
  4. Deliver results: that offer lasting and meaningful value
  5. Listen and observe: Not just to those that shout the loudest but to all members of a team
  6. Demonstrate consistency: If you do what you say and say what you do, people will trust you
  7. Remove the ‘landmines’: the hidden agendas, the vagueness and doubt
  8. Clarify expectations, purpose and commitment: contributions, behaviours and attitudes
  9. Value accountability: both for themselves and the team’s that they lead
  10. Remain engaged: with individuals, objectives, processes and outcomes
  11. Acknowledge and give credit where credit is due: both individually and publicly
  12. They not only earn trust, they extend it to others.

Trust is not just a nice-to-have. It is a critical component of personal, team and organizational performance. It is a clear enabler of success and one that underpins your leadership skill set and true capability.

The logic is pretty simple: if people trust you and that trust is reciprocated, they will give you their all.

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts.

Avoiding the Energy Crisis

November 21st, 2018

“Your energy is a valuable resource, distribute it wisely.” – Jay Samit

None of us are surprised to hear that when your energy levels are low, your work suffers. In fact most things suffer. Motivation wanes, productivity falls and efficiencies slow. Equally, failing to channel your energies in the right direction can also be just as problematic – distractions and frustrations abound with lots of energy expended for very little result.

As a consequence we often find ourselves facing mounting pressures and increasing demands – to which many of us typically respond by simply working longer hours. If I just do more, work harder, things will improve and I will get ‘through it’. When we don’t just simply ‘get through it’ we start to question our capability, purpose and impact. And, so begins a vicious cycle that if we aren’t careful can have severe ramifications for our health, career and relationships.

The problem with simply working longer hours is that you can still run out of them because there are only a fixed number in each day, week or year. Unlike time, energy though is a renewable resource that can be topped up when we know how. Knowing what depletes our energy and what refuels it is the key to developing healthy, sustainable work habits and supporting ongoing success.

As we race towards the end of the year, I would encourage you to think about how you manage and distribute your energy reserves. In doing so, you will not only enhance your opportunity to engage in meaningful work, you will maximise your efficiency.

Take a moment to consider where you sit on the above graph. Regardless of which quadrant you sit in, you need to understand why you are in that position.

If you are fortunate enough to sit in the ‘Fulfilled’ quadrant, you need to be clear about why you feel that way, what has helped you get there and what you need in order to stay there.

Conversely if you find yourself in one of the other three quadrants you need to determine why and what actionable steps you can immediately take to help you maximise both energy and productivity. Taking the time to critically reflect on the position you find yourself in opens up the pathway to higher level learning, deeper engagement and provides the platform for informed and confident decision making. It is also a critical exercise if you are to create a career and business you love.

Start by asking yourself these five simple questions:

What do I do and why? Nothing is more empowering than feeling aligned to your core purpose, talents and capabilities. The reality is that when you are inspired by what you do you are more actively engaged in your work and your business and you produce better results. Your purpose becomes your generator.

What daily habits fuel my energy? Of equal importance, is the ability to recognise those everyday habits that generate or rob us of our energy. Am I looking after myself physically, mentally and emotionally? Have I created healthy sustainable habits that will last beyond January and support optimal health in all areas of my life?

Am I bored or stuck in a rut? There is no doubt that routine kills energy. We all have things that we need to do but understanding how we can shake things up is important. Pushing the boundaries of our comfort zone more often than not also brings new knowledge, new networks, new opportunities and lessons that light a spark and fuels a passion for what we do.

Do I understand how my role and my skills add value to the business? We all like to know that our contribution is valued and how it impacts the overall success of our team and business. Initiating a conversation to understand what your value is or ways to increase it demonstrates a strong sense of accountability and desire to play an active role in both your own direction and that of the business you work for.

What relationships do I need to dedicate time and energy to? Too often one of our major blockers or causes of angst is between our key stakeholders and / or team members. Taking the time to understand individual work and communication styles is a critical part of not only developing our influencing and leadership skills but also to ensuring timely and effective outcomes.

As leaders, we face never ending pressures to do ‘more with less’ – less resources, less money and less people. Even with these ongoing pressures, most of us recognise the need to invest in our own and our employee’s knowledge and skillsets. However we also need to consider how we build and sustain capacity for ourselves and our people. Healthy behaviours and productive practices start with us.

As always I would love to hear your thoughts.

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