Thursday, 26 July 2012

The leadership trilogy

This week I feel like a big shot Hollywood producer as I write my first blog series.  Or to put it another way, a blog and 2 sequels. I’m aiming to reach Godfather II heights of excellence, so do let me know if I’ve managed that or failed woefully!

I’m fascinated by leadership.  Who are the good leaders? What makes them good? What traits do they have? I’ve been pondering this for a while, done a little market research and have come up with my own top 3 leadership traits.  No doubt, you will have your own views on my choices and I invite you to engage with me through the blog.  I haven’t put my choices in any particular order and again, you may chose to rank them differently.  My purpose in writing this blog series is to stimulate a lively discussion about some leadership qualities.
The trait that I want to look at first is charisma.  I love definitions, so I looked up the meaning of the word ‘charisma’.  According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary it means “a personal magic of leadership arousing special, popular loyalty or enthusiasm for a public figure” or “a special magnetic charm or appeal”. In everyday language, it’s referred to as “the X factor”.  I’m sure we all know people who seem to have that indefinable ability to make us feel special, important.  Those people who make an impact everywhere they go.  It’s been said that we may not always remember what people say to us, but we will always remember how they made us feel.  Charismatic people make us feel valued and that’s how they inspire our loyalty and enthusiasm.

My second point is actually a question and it is this: do leaders need to be charismatic? Isn’t it enough to get the job done?  In my opinion, leaders do need to have charisma.  No-one follows someone who doesn’t inspire them in some way.  Jesus Christ, Ghandi, Malcolm X, some of our greatest leaders.  I don’t think they would have had the following they did, if they had not been inspirational.  Charismatic leaders have that ability to persuade or influence people to do what needs to be done, even if it is unpleasant.  They have a knack of being able to share their vision in such a way as to enable people to buy into it and drive it forward.  When an organisation is facing difficult times or there is major change coming up, a little charisma goes a long way towards helping people make the transition. It’s important to state though, that charisma on its own is not enough.  Charisma without integrity for example can lead to serious moral failings.
My last point brings us back full circle to the definition of what charisma is.  Although most people think of it as being something mysterious, that only a select few possess, is that really true?  Researchers have looked into it and have managed to come up with a list of habits or skills that charismatic people have. Typically they are gifted speakers.  Who can forget Barack Obama’s stirring speeches in his run for presidency? They are skilled in reading social situations and other people. They are also very attentive and listen more than they talk.  If researchers have been able to distil these and other skills, then it means that charisma can be learnt to a certain extent.  It may not feel natural at first, but with practice, we could all become a little more charismatic.

Something else that struck me as I read the list was that the skills used by a charismatic leader are very similar to some of the key skills that a good coach uses.  Good listening skills, focusing on the other person and using words carefully are all hallmarks of an effective coach. Does that mean that all coaches are charismatic?  I would say probably not, but the basic building blocks are certainly present. I will certainly be working on upping my charisma levels!
I’ll be continuing the series next week, looking at integrity.  If you have found this interesting or would like to know how coaching could help you, please contact us through the website.

Until next week, go well.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Fake it till you make it?


Fake it till you make it”- a phrase that most of us are familiar with.  It typically means to imitate confidence so that as the confidence produces success, it will generate real confidence.[1]  It’s the stuff of self help manuals, therapy and Hollywood movies and this week I want to explore what we mean by confidence, what boosts our confidence and what reduces it.

When I googled the word ‘confidence’ it came back with 448,000,000 hits.  In this piece, I’ve gone with the definition of confidence as ‘belief in oneself’.

There’s nothing more guaranteed to produce an attack of ‘fake it till you make it’, than when we are in unfamiliar territory.  It’s difficult to believe in oneself if you’re not really sure of what you’re doing.  I remember being told as a young lawyer to always act as if I was sure about my arguments and that people would most likely believe me!  I think I spent most of the early years of my practice panicking that I was going to be exposed as some kind of fraud.  And that leads me to my first point, which is that ‘faking it till you make it’ exacerbates the ‘imposter syndrome’[2] that a lot of successful, professional women struggle with. It can also affect our personal relationships.  Hands up anyone who knows someone who is so unconfident about themself that they become whoever their partner wants them to be?

Trying to list all the possible confidence boosters and confidence zappers would take all day and I would probably miss out your favourite ones.  My top confidence booster would be other people believing in you.  It seems a bit strange that self confidence should be impacted by others belief in you, but it’s quite true.  People with a positive, strong belief in themself have developed it largely as a result of how others see them, encourage them and believe in them.

Conversely, those with a poor self image, usually have a very strong, inner critic.  That little voice inside your head that says “you’re not good enough”.  It’s been said that the toughest opponent you will ever face is yourself and on a bad day, I think most of us would agree with that. The reason why the inner critic is so dangerous is because it causes one to develop self limiting beliefs, which become self fulfilling prophecies, which validate the critic and it becomes a vicious cycle of low self esteem and possible depression.

There is an exception to this in my view though and that is the damage done by psychological domestic violence. Repeated name calling, verbal abuse and other forms of psychological abuse all have the effect of destroying the confidence of the recipient.  The work of destroying another person’s self esteem and self confidence begins and often ends with abusive words.

In closing, I’d like to offer up my opinion on true confidence.  I think true confidence comes when you know your purpose in life and are walking it out every day.  When you know your purpose, it grounds you; it helps you operate from a place of integrity and gives you the courage to tap into your intuition.  True confidence helps you to excel at being the best you possible.

A couple of questions for you to ponder: what’s your confidence level like? Are you making sure that the boosters outweigh the zappers? Are you challenging that inner critic? Do you need to get out of a toxic relationship that is destroying your self esteem?

If you’d like help with any of the issues raised in this article, contact us through the website.

Until next week, go well.

[1] Fake it till you make it, David Brandt
[2] A syndrome where a person feels like they are an imposter or a fraud because they think their work or accomplishments are nowhere near as good as their peers. See my post of 5 July 2012 for more.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

3 lessons you should learn from a two-year old


Thursday is the best and the worst day of my week.  It’s the best because I offer up my weekly blog to be engaged with and commented upon.  It’s the worst because I offer up my weekly blog to be engaged with and commented upon.  As soon as I’ve posted my blog, I start wondering what I’m going to write about next!  Luckily inspiration comes from the oddest places and this week, it comes in the form of my daughter. I was watching her the other day and it struck me that I could learn a lot from this little person.  This Thursday, I’d like to share the top 3 lessons I’m learning from my daughter.

Ever since my daughter discovered she could move independently of me, it’s been a real eye opener, watching her at play. She balances precariously on chairs, she teeters on the edge of the bed and bounces all over the place!  She laughs all the while, because she is absolutely convinced that someone will catch her- if or when she falls. The lesson she’s teaching me here is fearlessness.  Something that as adults, we could all do with a bit more of.  Whilst the stakes for us are a bit higher than falling off a bed, we could certainly do with taking a few more risks I think.  When I decided to set up my own business, I thought it was a brilliant idea for all of two seconds.  Then I immediately thought of ten reasons why it was a terrible idea.  When you’re afraid to step out of your comfort zone, you have to ask yourself- “what’s the worst that could happen?” Failure? Great, so you’ve learnt one way not to do something.  I bet there are at least 3 ways to succeed next time around.

The second lesson is joy.  My daughter, like most young children has a seemingly infinite capacity for joy.  The way her face lights up when she sees someone she loves.  Her screams of laughter as she discovers something new are truly a sight to behold.  When was the last time you laughed so hard your face hurt and you got a stitch?  Did you know that nothing works faster or more dependably than laughter to re-balance your body?  A good laugh boosts your immune system and protects your heart.  That’s got to be better than popping a pill right?  There is no shortage of joy stealers around at the moment.  The economic crisis, natural disasters and the seemingly endless examples of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man.  Instead of focusing on those things, let’s focus on the things that bring us joy.  What are you passionate about? What brings a smile to your face whenever you think about it? What would you do, even if you weren’t paid for it? What’s stopping you from living a joyful life?

My final lesson is persistence.  The “terrible two’s” are about independence and the mismatch between what a toddler wants to do and what they are actually able to do.  Watching my daughter learning new skills is a salutary lesson.  She will try and keep trying, until she masters the skill.  There are tears, frustrations and tantrums along the way, but she doesn’t give up.  And the satisfaction of achieving what she set out to, seems to outweigh all of that.  As grown-ups we could learn a thing or two from her on that front.  How many of us have given up on our dreams, because they seem to be too hard to achieve or are taking too long to come true?  How many of us have taken an easier route, because we felt we couldn’t persevere? How many of us regret, not following our dreams and envying those who seem to have it all?  The truth is that there will be obstacles along the way but if we really want to make our dreams come true, we’ve got to persevere.  We’ve got to allow our passion to sustain us, when we want to give up or even when other people say we should give up.

There are lots of questions in this week’s post and I’m asking them of myself as well.  Here are some more: what lesson resonates with you the most? What are you going to do differently as a result of reading this post?  Luckily for me, I’ve got the inspiration for this week’s blog with me all the time.  She acts as a constant reminder to me, to be more fearless, more joyful and more persistent.

If you feel like you’re stuck and could do with some inspiration, contact us through the website, to see how coaching could help.

Until next week, go well.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Never knowingly undersold


I had to write 2 biographies for myself a little while ago for my business.  I ran them past a few friends and they told me that I had ‘undersold’ myself.  As I worked on them again, it got me thinking: why do we as women, routinely ‘undersell ourselves?

According to Kelley Keehn[1], women leave around $500,000 US on the table by the time they are 60, if they don’t negotiate an equitable first salary.  Apparently men are much more likely to negotiate a higher starting salary than women and so the wage gap between men and women gets off to an early start.

In this week’s blog, I’d like to put forward 3 reasons for why women ‘undersell’ themselves.

The first reason in my view is that women fear being characterised as being aggressive, bossy or unfeminine in some way.  We’ve all heard the derogatory comments made about a female boss who seems to behave like a man.  Terms such as ‘bitch’ and ‘ball breaker’ abound and have the effect of silencing other women or cause them to modify their behaviour.  Women become a lot more diffident in their speech and putting forward their ideas in meetings, for fear of being labelled as aggressive or difficult.  Strangely the same behaviour that is criticised in a woman is more than likely to be applauded in a man.

The second reason is very closely linked to the first.  In my opinion women are socialised to be amenable and non threatening. Gender stereotyping unfortunately begins very early. A lot of emphasis is placed on girls being ‘nice’.  This usually translates to a lot of caring, sharing and helping others to promote themselves!  I remember being told as young woman that I should be less argumentative because men don’t like argumentative women. I baulked at that suggestion then and baulk at it even more, as an adult woman. A dear aunt of mine is one of the feistiest women I know and I plan to be just like her-when I finally grow up!

My final reason goes by the name ‘imposter syndrome’.  This is where a person feels like they are an imposter or a fraud because they think their work or accomplishments are nowhere near as good as their peers.  Oddly enough it affects highly successful, professional women the most.  These clever and accomplished women routinely discount their success and attribute it to luck or a fluke. They live with the constant fear that they will be found out and run out of town by their peers.  Men on the other hand are quite comfortable attributing their success to their own internal traits and are therefore better at showcasing themselves.

The truth is that when women routinely undersell themselves, it impacts negatively on their careers and their confidence.  When women constantly attribute their success to external factors, it engenders a sense of mistrust because their superiors may begin to feel that they don’t have the necessary skills for the job, in spite of their competence.

As I end this week’s post, I reflect on the fact that although there is still some way to go, there are women out there who don’t seem to be underselling themselves.  Women who are excelling in fields usually reserved for men.   Women like Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the President of Liberia, Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor and Christine Lagarde, the Managing Director of the IMF.

As you read this week’s blog, I’d like you to think about areas where you might be underselling yourself.  Areas where you have discounted your abilities.  Then, try something new, something radical- take credit for what you have done, for what you have achieved.

If you would like to know how coaching can help you with any of these issues, please contact us via the website.

Until next week, go well.