Flourish or fail?

flourish

Working in the field that I do, an analogy has often been used comparing the success and development of people to the growth of a plant or tree  (yes, yes I know it sounds a bit ‘hippy’ but stay with me 🙂 ). That is to say, within certain conditions we will thrive and flourish and in others we shrivel up and shrink away. The idea of ‘greenhouse organisations’ in which staff are provided with the right conditions for growth, development and expansion is not a new one but I am reminded recently of how rarely our leaders and managers try to understand our individual level ‘greenhouse conditions’. The tragedy that subsequently results, is the shrinking and confinement of otherwise excellent staff.

As ever, I’ll start with a little context and perhaps a personal anecdote or two. Usually I choose to write about topics outside of a work environment but as I started thinking about this, it struck me that ‘greenhouse conditions’ and ‘nurturers’ are just as relevant to our personal lives as they are to work. We are talking about understanding our conditions for success and the people who support and encourage that.

I have been fortunate in my life (or unfortunate depending upon how you look at it!) to experience a very wide range of people, personalities and styles – most of them incredibly positive and inspiring but a fair few I have to admit unfortunately fall into the ‘soul shrinking’ category. As my experiences grow and I talk more and more with people of similar-ish life circumstances, ambition and outlooks it is becoming less and less the case that I hear somebody say ‘I love my job. My team are great, the work is interesting and fulfilling and my manager is fantastic. I feel valued and recognised for my contributions and I can see myself staying here for a long time. Better still, I look up to and admire our leadership and I’d like to aspire to be like that some day”.

Some people may look at that statement and say “huh? that’s idealistic thinking right there – no job is like that” but I can tell you, I have been lucky enough to live that job and thrive in that environment – it does exist! Perhaps I am now ‘spoiled’ forever more as a result 😉 One of the main issues is, we’ve all become accustomed to just ‘putting up with’ the quite frankly mediocre (and in some cases toxic) environments we find ourselves in – in many cases even thinking ‘perhaps it’s my own fault, I expect too much’. So what (in my humble opinion) is at the heart of this outbreak of unfulfilled, down-trodden, unheard staff? Bad management and bad leadership. And linked to this, an idea I am calling the ‘enemy within’ for many organisations of today. That is, a glut of bad managers and leaders who are poisoning the organisations from the inside out and bringing down many bright, passionate staff with them.

One of many issues with the ‘enemy within’ is that people are unaware it’s there and / or are unwilling to accept it’s existence. Bad managers and leaders are allowed to crush and shrink their staff like the proverbial plant shoved into a dark corner. This can be for a number of reasons – it might be because those people are good at ‘politic-ing’ and maneuvering away from scrutiny or that the organisation doesn’t care enough to honestly reflect in on and challenge itself. The most common thing I’ve heard (and seen) a lot of is the genuine belief of some leaders and managers that they are great at what they do, but the reality is a far cry from their perception.

This situation I think raises so many questions for the modern day workplace (and could be extended out to our personal lives too) about how we understand our people, value them and ensure the very best performance that comes from the heart.

I can’t (and wouldn’t want to) tell others what to do, as I am far from perfect and have much still to learn. But as usual I will share my thoughts on what works – as a manager and leader and as someone who has been managed and led. These are the killer questions I ask of myself:

  1. Have you sat down in a relaxed environment and asked your people about themselves, their interests and ambitions? This sounds basic and common sense but I believe this is where many managers and leaders are going wrong – they haven’t really invested time in getting to know their people so how can they genuinely care for and understand them.
  2. How clear are your expectations? Do your people know what you expect of them in terms of delivering specific things and the kinds of behaviours you would hope to see? This is another important thing for me, as a manager or leader there is no getting away from the fact that you will have expectations of your people – for me I think it’s about clearly articulating these but then allowing people the space to decide for themselves about the approach they take to meeting them. Goal and objective setting together is a great way to understand each others’ expectations and aims.
  3. Have you developed trust and openess with your people? This doesn’t just happen because you say it does. Actions speak louder than words so how do you really show people that you are to be trusted and that you truly welcome honesty.
  4. Do you regularly ask for feedback with a genuinely open approach? Are you prepared to hear the ‘bad’ things as well as the good? Nobody is perfect and hardly anyone gets things right first time. When someone is new to your team (or wider life) how do you find out how you’re doing and whether you’re hitting the right note? It’s by asking regularly and being prepared to listen to ways in which you can do better.
  5. Have you spent time reflecting on what things might feel like / be like for that person? Empathy is a hugely important part of connecting with someone, so being able to think about how you might feel if you were in their shoes goes a long way to helping them to feel understood and supported.

I know much of the above sounds simple and common place but having recently seen too many fantastic, intelligent and ambitious people be adversely affected by bad managers and leaders it struck me that perhaps more sharing of experiences and ideas wouldn’t go amiss. More challenge aimed at organisations to really assess whether they are good at leadership and managing their people.

So in finishing, here is my question to everyone out there…What will be your choice for 2016 and beyond? Do you choose to support people to flourish and grow or will you knowingly or unknowingly fail them, leaving them to shrivel in a world of disengagement and frustration? Will you choose to help your people to thrive and innovate or are you going to thwart ambition and change in favour of comfort and control?

An organisation is only ever as good and successful as the people working there and in investing time, effort and care in your people (much as that may require a cost to you in the short term) you will be successful beyond your greatest dreams.

“Success is a team sport. It requires dedication, inspiration, and passion; and one can never get that without cultivating the culture of trust, mutual respect, and empowerment.” Forbes 

 

What’s new pussycat?

What's new

Happy 2014 one and all! This officially marks a year and a half of blogging for me so I’m starting the year feeling good for persevering…when I started this, I didn’t even know if I’d make it past post one but clearly I’m a gal with a lot to talk about 😉

I am also a gal starting the New Year feeling different, something has changed.

Let me begin with tackling the ever contentious topic of New Year resolutions since it sets the context of this post nicely. The range of responses to this topic can be (generally speaking) summarised into two camps – those who don’t DO NY resolutions and those who use it to kick start something they’ve been putting off doing for a while. Personally (just to be difficult some might say 😉 ) I like to approach it slightly differently. I set myself NY aims with the understanding that although I want to have a goal(s) for the year ahead, if for some reason I don’t quite reach it or I let it go, I won’t waste time giving myself a hard time over it. For example, my aim this year is to do at least 12 hikes of varying difficulty and length (starting at 8 miles and working up to 18). I’ve already begun positively but if I get distracted and don’t reach my goal I won’t be too hard on myself. As a result of this, the pressure is immediately lifted and my goal becomes something I WANT to do rather than something I feel obligated to do.

This way of seeing things is a new perspective for me…I used to fall into the ‘all or nothing’ camps above. Each year December 31st would come around and I’d do my usual reflective thing and wonder why I felt a bit rubbish, even when the year had been full of achievements. After reading some excellent and insightful books, I realised that when I didn’t set any NY goals I felt as though I hadn’t strived to achieve anything for the year. But, when I did set the goals, I had set the wrong goals and therefore set myself up for failure…resulting in constantly giving myself a hard time for not achieving what I’d set out to achieve! Basically a ‘lose-lose’ situation. This is when I arrived at the small (but significant!) idea to set goals but to make them guilt free and fun to do.

But why is this significant enough to be writing about I hear you ask (or more accurately, I imagine you ask because hearing voices would just be plain disturbing at 10 o’clock on a Sunday eve!:) ). Well it’s significant because it’s part of a whole new way of approaching things for me and as ever, when I have these changes I like to share them for my own clarity and also in the hope that it might help / stimulate ideas for someone else in the world too 🙂

So, what’s new? Over Christmas in particular and through some of 2013 I decided to read more – I love psychology and therefore I picked out books that specifically look at exploring and changing ways of thinking. I am currently about a quarter of the way through a book on how to bring about positive change. What this book (and some great ‘Psychologies’ magazine articles) has changed for me is my ability to understand the things that drive and motivate me. In doing this, it has changed both my ability to bring more positive things into my life and has also taught me how to deal with the negative a little better. Let me give two examples to illustrate my point:

  • The positive – I used to bounce between fitness drive after fitness drive, never understanding why I would keep flaking out after a matter of months. The reason, I discovered, is because I focussed on the wrong motivation – outward physical benefit rather than inner mental well-being benefits. Once I decided that the way it made me feel emotionally was more important than a physical reward, it changed what I wanted to do in order to achieve it…hence my switch to hiking rather than gym. Hiking gets me outdoors and I feel great after every walk completed – better still, it’s free, I can do it independently and I can do it whenever I feel the need day or night. And guess what? I can already see some physical benefit too! Bonus!
  • Dealing with the negative – when someone let me down I used to find it all-consuming. I’d keep thinking about all the things that could have gone better, all the things I blamed myself for and ultimately, tie myself up in knots working out why things went wrong. The worst part was, I beat myself up for even having these thoughts! The trick to dealing with it now is simple. I allow myself to feel whatever naturally comes to me, acknowledge the way I feel and then consciously decide whether I have the power to change it. If I can’t change it, I tell myself to put it to the back of my mind and think of something else. I’ve cut out the self-criticism and just accepted that sometimes you can’t control your thoughts but you CAN control what you do with them next.

Because this is a relatively new way of seeing things, I am yet to be really tested on it and so I can’t say whether it’s something that can be maintained through the toughest moments and times of greatest ‘wobble’ – I guess we shall see! The bottom line I suppose I’m getting to, is that from what I’ve learnt, it is entirely possible to change your thought patterns and way of seeing things – the key is mostly about understanding yourself, and in particular, understanding what motivates you. We all strive to be happy in life and to me, that’s about how you maximise the positive and limit the negative.

So, top tips of what I’ve learnt thus far (and I’m sure there’ll be plenty more to share as I read and grow!):

Start with the basics and get to know yourself. Strip back things to the absolute basics and ask yourself what motivates you. What gets you out of bed in the morning? Think of a time when you really persevered with something or achieved something great, what was it that sustained you and gave you the drive to keep going? I bet if you look at a few of these times in your life, you’ll see a theme start to emerge.

Don’t be unkind to yourself. If you don’t achieve a goal or have a thought cross your mind that you don’t like, don’t beat yourself up about it. If you beat yourself up, you are only doubling the pain – something has happened that you don’t like AND you’re giving yourself an ear bashing!! By all means acknowledge and reflect but just accept that whatever it is has happened and it’s time to focus on something else more positive. Trust me, the conscious acknowledgment of a thought or a situation is half the battle – upon acknowledging you then have control of the decision to either dwell or ‘put it away’.

Be determined to feel positive. Yes I know this is easier said than done, particularly in some really crappy situations, but you really ARE in control of your own feelings and so you can decide to find something (or better still a few things!) in a day to feel good about. More importantly, never go to sleep feeling bad – do something before bed to clear the mind and replace it with the good thoughts. You might laugh, but I even have a book of mantras I like to read when I feel rubbish – just positive sayings I’ve noted down to help me smile about things 🙂

As I say, there is still so much to learn but these are the three things I currently use to feel good and it’s working. Just as the saying goes that you ‘count the pennies and the pounds look after themselves’, I like to think that you make small steps and have mini epiphanies and the bigger picture will fall into place!

My final thought to end on before I hit the hay to get some beauty sleep, therefore is this… I am hoping so much that the new perspective lasts and by putting it into writing it also rubs off on some of you lovely people. It has really helped me to stress less and be kinder to myself. But do you know what? Even if it doesn’t last and you all think I’ve gone slightly mad, I’m not worrying as I’ll dust myself down and I’ll just start again…that’s the beauty of what I’ve learned, you can always try again and you can keep striving for happiness however many shots it may take to get there 🙂