I did something today that I haven’t done for a very long time. Walked into a church and prayed. Leicester Cathedral to be precise. I’d just finished a meeting in the City and felt the need for a moment of peace and reflection. It felt like I was being led by instinct.
There is something about the quiet, solitude of a church that manages to strip everything else away. The greeting at the door added to the feeling of being in a place of warmth and welcome. I declined a tour map and wandered around, taking the time to read the inscriptions on the walls telling the tales of dignitaries who had given service to the people of Leicester. It is hard not to appreciate the interconnected nature of life and to consider our own impact on others.
In the chapel set aside for quiet prayer and reflection, a member of the church was listening to a man’s outpourings of personal injustice and confusion. What struck me was the care by which she listened and the sincerity when she asked how she could help the man.
Good deeds rarely make headlines but here was an example of humanity at work. Hidden away from the cameras in the half light of a building that has been a focus of worship for over a thousand years. And it gave me comfort.
This was the opening question in a recent workshop delivered by Richard Nugent, Founder of Leadership Consultancy Twenty One Leadership. Everyone in the room gave various reasons and qualities they looked for in a good leader which Richard then boiled down into this statement:
“Leadership is the ability to get people to do more because they want to.”
It was refreshing to hear someone describe Leadership in a way that implied consent. No top down decrees but a way of positively influencing behaviour towards a shared goal.
He then shared recent research into the key characteristics of successful leadership. The findings on the 4 most influential were as follows:
1. Honesty – an ability to be authentic, for your actions to be a clear demonstration of your values and beliefs.
2. Forward-facing – to generate momentum towards a future vision and associated goals.
3. Inspiring – no need for chest-thumping merely the ability to consistently leave people with more energy than they had before your interactions.
4. Credible and Competent – important to be convincing and possess the right level of knowledge but interestingly this is not the most influential characteristic.
I’m sure many of us have been ‘led’ by someone who is more concerned about being the most knowledgeable, being seen to be right and having authority rather than being considered authentic and inspiring. Some work cultures actually encourage this style.
Leadership still involves making decisions, some of which inevitably will have a negative impact on some but if we keep these 4 characteristics in mind we will be on the right path.
These are the words of the former England Cricketer James Taylor at the recent Professional Cricketers’ Association Rookie Camp; an education and training day for first year county pros. James’ professional sporting career was cruelly cut short at the age of 25 when he was diagnosed with an Arrythmogenic Right Ventricular Arrythmia; a rare heart condition which very nearly cost him his life. During the Q&A session with the young pros, James made a point of highlighting how easy it can be to think life revolves around you and no-one else. He talked about the importance of being kind to those around you and giving people such as supporters and sponsors your time. This appreciation of the people who contributed to his career and the fans who followed him resulted in James receiving over 26million tweets about him once the news of his health had been made known to the public. This number rose to 60million in 24 hours. That is a lot of love in return.
He admitted some of this advice was given to him by his old team mate Paul Nixon, the former England, Leicester and Kent player. Paul, who was also a guest speaker, spoke about how he tried to treat the dressing room attendant with the same respect as the CEO. Being interested in what is going on in other people’s lives and asking sponsors questions about their businesses instead of expecting all the questions to be about your career were also key points.
I am not a religious man but Luke 6:38 popped into my mind “Give and it shall be given unto you.”
What you decide to give is up to you but after listening to James and Paul, Love is a pretty good starter.
Programmes on Radio 4 often provide me with inspiration and moments to reflect. On a recent panel debate, one of the guests said something to the effect of don’t worry about instant perfection just get out there and do it.
She’s spot on. I can remember numerous occasions when I have held back from taking action because the timing hasn’t been quite right or the product hasn’t been quite as good as I’d like it to be. At the time it seems sensible but if I’m honest I recognise there was also an underlying fear of having these ‘imperfections’ or mistakes judged.
Watching my son make mistakes it is clear to see how this is the process of learning and developing.
As adults, we can be experts at confusing fear with wisdom.
“I don’t want to go to nursery!”
This is the phrase my son greets me with almost every Monday morning. It appears the ‘Monday blues’ are also experienced by the under 3s. Rice Krispies appears to cure his. If only it could be so easy for the rest of us.
So, what are they exactly?
To help make sense of them, I have categorised them into 3 types:
1. “The conversation starter”.
My friend Tony fits into this category. Rather like the weather, Brexit or Executive Orders, Monday blues is often his opening gambit (on a Monday). Generally this is harmless but on bad days his Monday moans can be a great way to really sap others’ energy and will to live.
2. “The Inhibitor”.
The negative feelings associated with Monday mornings can mask deeper misgivings about a job and dent our confidence in our ability to change course. Are you genuinely unhappy in your role or work environment? Are your skills and experience not being used effectively? Do you dream about a career change? Sometimes this feeling of dread can be so debilitating just battling through the day can be hard enough let alone having the time and energy to work on a plan B.
3. “The Catalyst”.
In some circumstances, the thought of experiencing this anxiety every Monday morning (often starting on Sunday evening) forces us to take action. It drives us to believe change is not only possible but it is the only option.
What can be done?
These feelings are telling us something. We can try to suppress them, make light of them or we can take time to work out what they might mean. What we do next is very personal.
For some, leaving a job is the right answer. I did this once without a job to go to and it was the right decision at that time. Discussing your feelings with the people closest to you and then with people at work who might be able to reshape your role could be another option. I’ve heard of some people who’ve approached their Mondays with a totally different mindset. They’ve given more of themselves, gone the extra mile for colleagues and clients. This doesn’t guarantee solving genuine issues concerning your work but it can change your perspective and open your thinking to new ideas. It can also make you better company.
The important thing is to do something.
Or trust in the wisdom of toddlers and reach for the cereal…
On Wednesday, I had the pleasure and privilege of sitting in front of 6 current and former professional cricketers as they each presented on the changes they had experienced by investing time in their own personal development. They spoke about the intensity of professional cricket and the increasing levels of expectation they felt within the cricket bubble. They shared personal stories, the highs and especially the lows, describing the times when just ‘hitting more balls’ was actually making their situation worse instead of better.
There was often a tipping point. A moment when doing something different was the only option. Taking themselves outside of their usual environment by enrolling in courses, learning a new skill, mixing with non-sporting people during work placements, reconnecting with old friends and/or spending more time with family all helped to open their eyes to what else is out there.
The joy was seeing the excitement and possibility in their eyes as they described the steps they had taken. You could see individuals who had possibly previously defined themselves by their skill in a sport realising they had plenty more to offer and that cricket could be a stepping stone rather than a tombstone in their career.
And if that wasn’t enough, their cricket performance improved as a result.
Happier individuals, with increased levels of self-confidence and resilience, bringing skills and experiences from outside their sport back into the dressing room? Now, that sounds like a pretty professional approach to me.
My last posting ‘Improve understanding by irritating people’ prompted this response from my friend Tony.
“I’ve followed your advice at work and colleagues have said I’ve become an expert in irritating people but they didn’t mention anything about their improved levels of self-understanding as a result. Do I need to be even more irritating?”
This caused me to question whether resurrecting My Minute Mentor was possibly a bad idea but to be fair to Tony he had raised a good point. It’s all very well talking in ambiguous terms about communicating with others but how the hell do we actually do it? Tony was clearly sharper than I had initially given him credit for.
After much deliberation, I replied as follows,
“Well done on mastering the irritating bit. It’s now time to work on a new skill of just listening. And by listening, I mean really taking care to notice the different words people use, the way they use them and start to notice their patterns of behaviour. Develop a sharper eye for the cues in their body language especially when they show signs of approval or disapproval towards what’s being said. Start to build up a library of information for each person and see whether you can start to predict how they’ll react in certain circumstances. Once you can do this, experiment by adapting your style of communication for each person and see what happens.”
I sat back, glowing in the satisfaction of a job well done until Tony followed up as follows,
“Thanks for the advice. However, trying to fathom what on earth you were going on about made me experience a new level of irritation far beyond my own so I’m sticking with my original plan. I’ll keep you posted.”
I’m hoping Tony has an early spring holiday planned.