Effective Coaching and Collaboration

The extraordinary changes to most organisations’ working patterns triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic have identified, accelerated and amplified many challenges, not least to our leadership practices. In our work as professional coaches, we have found one issue above all others has been brought to the fore: leadership is a collaborative activity – and leaders who coach do this best.
This article was originally published in The Treasurer magazine. Please follow the link to read more.

Being Present: How to stop multi-tasking

Research has shown for years that multi-tasking has a detrimental effect on learning outcomes and task completion (Dönmez & Akbulut, 2021). These poorer results are explained because often tasks are rushed or never completed. So how do we stop multi-tasking and get in the zone?

We all know attention is super important, e.g. think of an airline safety briefing. Yet attention is often scattered as we juggle too many tasks and don’t concentrate on any one thing. Here are four of our favourite tools to help you get focused.

1.       Whether or not you’re a team leader, you’re a role model. So act now and demonstrate you are resisting to the pull of multi-tasking. When you’re asked a question, put your phone down, close your laptop or say that you’re putting your phone on silent. And be clear – ‘give me 3 minutes to finish what I’m doing and then we can talk for 5 minutes’, for example. In many cases leaders continue with the very behaviour they ask others to stop.

2.       Use other simple tools. Turn off notifications on your phone, set ‘do not disturb’ times so the phone automatically switches off. Ask others to remind us when we automatically lapse into multi-tasking. Take action!

3.       You can start conversations by naming it: ‘we know multi-tasking has poorer outcomes so can we turn off and put away our phones? Let me explain the specific purpose of this meeting. Let’s focus.’

4.       Find out how to give feedback effectively and start practicing. As people get comfortable with this, you can talk to those who continue to multi-task and coach them to become more focused on the matter at hand.  

You will always have multiple things to do. That does not mean you complete them at the same time. Being in the zone feels great because you actually get quality work completed – practice these simple steps together and you’ll be there more often.

What's fear got to do with it

(With apologies to Tina Turner). Last week, Phil Renshaw and Jenny Robinson talked with colleagues about how fear triggers a shut down in the body. Specifically, according to Polyvagal theory, hearing. Set a context of a global pandemic, businesses closing, workloads that are insurmountable; add in a dose of technology and dodgy wifi; kids, pets and partners nearby and guess what happens? Your hearing literally shuts down.

Next conversation with a colleague.... pause.... breathe.... allow yourselves to relax. You will both hear better and listen deeper.

What can skeletons teach us about leadership

Someone suggested to me that this picture demonstrates that deep down we are all the same, when we bother to reach beyond the external labels that we give each other. These memes are eye-catching and headline-grabbing. Yet they sucker us into even more assumptions and bias.

Of course, we agree that difference is only skin-deep. Underneath we are all flesh and blood and skeletons. Forget difference, look at the common humanity that binds us all. Everyone has the same hopes, fears, desires: to be loved, to be happy, to be respected. This guides us to treat people equally, with compassion, with understanding and with respect.

But hang on. We are different, diverse and no two humans are the same. In organisational life we should harness this uniqueness, work in teams and collaborate. Not pretend we’re all the same. Diversity promotes productivity (multiple studies report this). This is what true leadership is all about. Others can see what you can’t. Their background, skills and cognitive abilities provide variation that is good for teams and organisations. So we need to pay attention.

And that’s how mindfulness helps leaders. It increases our awareness. We notice things differently. Similarities and variations. And both are important to us. And to your effectiveness. If you think mindfulness sounds like some soft pappy nonsense, you’re listening to the wrong people – ironically, you’re not noticing! Living in your world of assumptions. Check out the science.

We are all worker bees in the hive of life

Deep inside you, do you have a small voice that says, I won’t play their games? Do you hold a belief that due to your strong moral compass and your personal integrity you won’t engage in something that you are calling “games” or “manoeuvring”? Is this limiting your career achievements?

As leaders, we heard this often when helping team-mates with their personal development plans. Inevitably, someone might have received feedback that they had “big ideas but didn’t know how to get them implemented” or, that they were “kinda blunt” or, ”you’re three steps ahead of the rest of us”. Gently, we would begin to unpack what this might mean and how to use it to motivate a personal pivot point.

But now it’s our turn to be blunt. That “game playing” that you won’t engage in, there’s no such thing. There is only ONE THING, as Prince said, it’s called LIFE. And not playing means you’re not living. Really.

We are all worker bees in the hive of life. There maybe a Queen Bee, who knows, but unless you’re the queen bee, you’re a worker bee and you have to rub along side with all the others.

Here’s one thing you can try, today, building on our book Coaching on the Go:

  • Take any animal metaphor that strikes you as interesting;
  • Consider how the animals within that group rub along together - e.g. mutual grooming of chimps; or the dance of the honey bee; or the female lions who hunt for the entire pride;
  • Overlay this metaphor on your organisation and consider, not what games are being played, but how the organism is organising. How does it all hang together peaceably and as a unit?
  • Now consider what mutual grooming or dancing you might choose to embark on.

Your alternative, unless you’re in a position to change the whole organisation, is to go join another one and hope that game is more to your liking!

Helping a winner to win

"In a race, (see picture), athlete Abel Mutai representing Kenya, was just a few feet from the finish line, but he was confused with the signage & stopped thinking he had completed the race. The Spanish athlete, Ivan Fernandez was right behind him & realizing what was happening, he started shouting at the Kenyan for him to continue running; but Mutai didn't know Spanish didn't understand. Then the Spanish pushed him to victory.” [more on the story at: https://lnkd.in/dZiMmZm]

Today, I want to reflect on what it took for Fernandez to think and act in this way. Let’s consider the following. Any athlete has trained relentlessly to WIN. They have their focus on a goal and they work their guts out to get there. That single mindedness is revered by society and by business alike. But in this story we learn that something else might be much more important: mindfulness. Or, put simply, having your wits about you. That means having a focus (crossing the finish line) but also awareness (what is the context, what other data might I take into consideration). Think for a moment how these two ideas have a natural balance: focus plus awareness, not too much of one at the detriment of the other.

In our book Coaching on the Go, we introduce the idea of PausePoints which is a small tool you can integrate into every day to help you develop focus and awareness.

#coachingonthego #mindfulnessonthego

Playing politics, but now it is online

Politicking comes in many shapes: you may think you’re being side-lined as you are left off an email chain, or conversations happen on Zoom/Teams/Lync without you, decisions happen and you’re the last to know. Recently, a colleague of ours took our idea and sold it as her own: we were dumbfounded. That’s bad, but at the more pernicious end of the spectrum, sometimes colleagues can misrepresent your views or advice or implicate you in activities that you’re unaware of. Drawing from the playbook of coaching as a leadership skill, here’s our advice.

Our new blog is published on the Cranfield University Knowledge Hub.
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