Thursday 29 January 2015

Carlisle Ambassadors

Today I went to the Carlisle Ambassadors meeting, to discover what it was all about. After a brief welcome from Katie and Michelle, who had organised the event (very successfully indeed), we had a short talk from Simon Harrison, the co-owner of the Halston Aparthotel, which was hosting the meeting.

He told us a brief version of the story of the hotel: which revealed some of his passion for making Carlisle a more vibrant and positive city. In fact his take-away message was that positive things happen to positive people, so it was up to us to make Carlisle the place we wanted it to be, as it competes with other cities with higher profiles.

Jason Gooding, the CE at the City Council was up next. He reflected on the origins of the Ambassador idea, which started germinating in his mind when he was in Coventry and saw how well they had constructed a narrative for the city, that was consistent, credible and compelling.  He saw that Burnley had done the same thing - so why not Carlisle? The City Council started it, but the politicians were bravely stepping back, to allow others to shape the agenda in a collaborative way. His parting message was that we need to make the place the hero, and to make it more natural to be optimistic and proud of Carlisle.

Fred Story, the Chairman of Story Homes then took the stage. He said that at the heart of the Ambassadors project was the idea of collaboration to deliver projects of real value. There were also all the other benefits of a good business network, such as sharing best practice, using local suppliers, and having a laugh together - but all these would be much richer from the experience of getting to know each other through doing worthwhile projects together. And I loved the fact that he stopped his car, got out, and cleaned the Carlisle sign at the entrance to the city!

Andy King of Carlisle Leisure introduced his new boss, from Greenwich Leisure Ltd, following their merger.  I was pleased to learn that GLL is a social enterprise; and even more so to hear of the ambitious plans to re-fit the Sands Centre.

Finally Jane Meek, the City's Director of Economic Development, told us the headlines of the Local Plan, including the proposal to build 9000 houses, and the benefits of that.

And then there was time to chat with other guests, and enjoy the very good food provided by Simon's team.

All in all, a very interesting and enjoyable meeting; and one which I think holds the seeds of something great for the City and the Region.

Tuesday 27 January 2015

Emotionally Intelligent Leadership Reminder

I have recorded a brief video (5') as a reminder of key points for those who have attended my Emotionally Intelligent Leadership Workshop.

This should remind you of some of the core ideas; for more detail, dig out  your handouts. Don't forget to look at the action plan you made at the back.

As ever, if you have any questions, don't hesitate to get back to me.

If you are reading this on a mobile device, click here for the video.

Stories for Change Reminder

I have recorded a brief video (7') as a reminder of key points for those who have attended my Stories for Personal Change Workshop.

This should remind you of some of the core ideas; for more detail, dig out  your handouts. Don't forget to look at the action plan you made at the back.

As ever, if you have any questions, don't hesitate to get back to me.

If you are reading this on a mobile device, click here for the video.

Managing Email

One of the issues that many of my clients wrestle with is the handling of email...

The problem

The problem is that email is a relatively new technology in organisations, and we have yet to learn and agree the best protocols for its use. People often report that it is a major disruptor of their planned work. It is particularly disruptive of important activities that are not (or not yet) urgent: such as thinking, planning, writing, reflecting - activities which are often difficult to dedicate time to, yet are those which often add most value to the individual and the organisation.

A culture arises in many organisations in which people expect instant responses to emails; or at least, it can feel that way. In reality, when we are unable to attend to emails (eg when making a presentation, or in a meeting) the organisation does not, in fact, grind to a halt. If we constantly interrupt our serious work to deal with emails, many of which are trivial, and many others of which could wait for several hours with no detrimental effect, then we are sabotaging our own productivity and effectiveness.

The solution

The solution is to refuse to collude with the ‘instant response’ culture, and to explain to those who need to know what your email protocols are, and why.

So here's an approach to try:

1 Decide how often in the day you need to attend to your emails (say, twice), and how long you will allocate to them. Don’t have open ended email slots (cf Parkinson’s Law).

2 Decide when in the day you will put these email slots. I recommend, if possible, not doing emails first thing in the day, as you risk getting sucked into urgent trivia. For example, get some serious work done first, then have an email slot just before lunch; and likewise in the afternoon. It is good if your email slots have 'hard' end times (eg meeting someone for lunch, collecting children from school) so that they don't over-run.

3 Communicate this strategy to those who need to know; particularly your boss and anyone who may (legitimately) need you urgently, and tell them how to reach in in such cases (eg by phone).

4 Use your email slot to clear your inbox, every time, using the process below (adapted from Getting Things Done by David Allen). 

5 Set up mail boxes that reflect the main roles of your work (and life): make your e-filing system work for you.

6 Review this strategy after a week or two, to check that it is working and fine tune it. Record the benefits (and communicate them to your boss if appropriate).  Stick to it.

7 You may sometimes need to do an emergency scan (eg if you have a quick gap between meetings) for urgent stuff: don’t use that as a substitute for this discipline.

Monday 26 January 2015

More video fun...

Back in December I made a brief video reminder for people who had attended my Time Management workshops.  I blogged about it here, including some ideas for how to do it better next time.

Well, next time has come around; in fact we now have two more in the can, as I believe the term is.  I only wish that I had read my ideas for how to do it better before making them.

Nonetheless, I remembered most of the things I wanted to do differently, and so, without further ado, here is the first of them, a short (under five minute) video, summarising the workshop I run on Emotionally Intelligent Leadership.

I will be interested, as ever, in any feedback.

I was hoping to upload the video directly from my laptop; and further hoped that might mean that it would be viewable on mobile phones and tablets as well as laptops and PCs. But Blogger decreed the file too big, so I had to do it via Youtube as before.  Here is the link.

Friday 23 January 2015

More Reflections on Humour

I have blogged about humour before, (here, for example). I think it serves many important purposes, including making things memorable, reducing stress, provoking fresh perspectives, and making life more joyful.

However there are risks attached. One person's joke may be offensive to someone else.

I am in a reflective mood, having just read some feedback about a session I ran in a university. Someone was put off by a joke I had made which he or she found entirely inappropriate. I understand that it provoked a strong response that it took some time to get over, and that was clearly no part of my intention.

I am also keenly aware that if one person gives such feedback, it may well be that others are thinking it. Or they may not be - it is very hard to know.

Humour is risky. The joke under consideration was in the context of talking about time management and Viktor Frankl's work, derived from his experience in a concentration camp. I summarised that he found that the people who survived the camps with their humanity intact were those who had a meaning or purpose in their life, beyond mere brute survival.  I added 'and my hope is that if a sense of purpose makes it possible to hang onto your humanity even in a concentration camp, then maybe it's possible in a University,' or words to that effect.

My intention, of course, was not to belittle the unspeakable evils of the Nazi camps; rather to use humour's capacity for provoking a sharp change of perspective, to help people reflect that however disempowered and frustrated they may feel at work in a University, at times, they have vastly more power and freedom than Frankl had; and along with that, the idea that holding onto a clear sense of purpose is valuable when we do feel disempowered and frustrated.

But clearly, that was not the message received, by at least one person.

I am very sorry for that, and particularly as it detracted from that individual's (and possibly others') learning from, and enjoyment of, the session.

But I am also reluctant to withdraw from taking the risk of making jokes. Maybe that joke was ill-judged (and I'll be interested in others' views on that) but I think that most jokes carry a risk. Yet I would not want to eliminate them all together, as a humourless workplace seems a high price to pay.

I need to think further about this - both the particular joke and the broader principle...

In the meantime, here is Viktor Frankl. I am glad to see he uses humour, though possibly with better taste than I do.

Friday 16 January 2015

Peer Learning

 Much of the work I do is predicated on the importance of people learning from and with their peers. Action Learning and Open Space events, for example, are expressly designed to enable that. Both research and practice suggest that for many people, particularly in senior or complex roles, learning from peers is a very important part of their continuing development.

For me, that is what networking is for (and not the rather uncomfortable marketing/speed dating approach fostered by some professional networking event organisers). 

So I was delighted to join the Cumbria Coaching Network, having discovered it at their Change Fest event in October. I have blogged about a couple of their events before: the workshop on laughter, which was part of the Change Fest and one on Brain-Powered Goal Setting.

Today's meeting was an opportunity both to be coached by someone else, and also to offer another member coaching and receive feedback on that.

Even before the formal start of the session, I benefited from sharing a lift with Andy Hilton, who runs Result CIC - a social enterprise which offers training and coaching to marginalised groups, particularly those disadvantaged by disability. Andy and I had met at a previous CCN event, and had subsequently met for a coffee and conversation, leading to interesting learning and opportunities for both of us.

The meeting today started with a group discussion, which allowed me to get to know a few more people, before we broke into pairs for the coaching practical sessions

I was lucky enough to work with John Wright of Symbiosis and Lake District Adventures. With skilled listening and appropriate questions and challenge, John helped me to clarify and commit to some important goals for the coming year.  He also gave me some positive and helpful feedback on my brief coaching session when I reciprocated.  

This exposure to another coach's style and approach is very valuable as I seek to improve my skills and understanding as a coach. One of the interesting points for both of us was that we each wanted to hear the others' views and advice: we did not want pure non-directive coaching. Yet we are both well aware of the difference between coaching and advising.  I guess the key is that we were both clear about what we wanted from our coach in the session, and each of us (as coaches) checked that, and honoured it. 

And the lunch, at the Strickland Arms, was very good, too.

All in all, a great end to the week!

Friday 9 January 2015

Back in the swing

So, after a fortnight off, for Christmas and the New Year, things have kicked off with a pretty busy week. I had a proposal to write on Monday, and since then have been coaching in Newcastle, running a workshop in Durham, facilitating a programme in Cardiff, meeting old friends (with a new baby) in Shrewsbury, meeting a new contact in Lancaster, sharing experience with a coaching colleague in Cumbria, and talking with my coaching supervisor from the comfort of my own home.

And now I stop to draw breath (before heading off to Winchester on Monday...)

All of which makes me pause and reflect on the importance of planning; and not just planning for all the activity, but also for some inactivity. I have blogged before (here) about the importance of stopping and making time for meditation, and since that post have been pretty successful in doing so on a daily basis. 

And I have to report that the benefits are very clear to me. I think more clearly, engage with tasks in a more focused way, and maintain a healthy sense of perspective. And the busier I get, the more important it seems to be (as well as more difficult). But apparently, Mother Teresa used to say that she would always make an hour for prayer at the start of every day, unless she was really busy. When she was really busy, she raised it to two hours!  I get the point, but have to admit I just give it fifteen minutes: and that really does repay itself.