I have been silent in recent months, other than an occasional, cathartic rant on Twitter. If you are from the UK, you may have gone through a similar grieving process, for things that until recently you didn’t realise you had. Things like freedom of movement or the belief that the silent majority is usually moderate and everything will be alright in the end.
Recently, I have been trying to learn from what is happening. I profess no expertise in politics, other than an informal, almost daily, diet of selected information grazing. I occasionally dip my toe into the muddy waters of the extremists to avoid being in an echo chamber of similar views, but I confess I don’t enjoy it. Today, when I look through the lenses of managing change and leadership, my view is that the UK is showing little ability in either to the world.
Imagine you run a company and there is some discontent within. Something is wrong and there could be many reasons for it. What do you do? I don’t think I have ever read a change model that suggests you start by asking your employees two opposing questions, ‘do you want to do this or that?’ with no commonly agreed explanation of what this or that really mean, or the impact of doing either of them. You are more likely to investigate where the discontent stemmed from and what the ‘pain’ really is. Armed with this information, you would build a clear view of current reality and why things need to change. Simon Sinek said neatly in a different context ‘Start with Why’.
Kotter’s Change model suggests you Create a Sense of Urgency around the need for change and find key people who have a common understanding of what needs to happen to Build a Guiding Coalition. Theresa May, as the new leader following the referendum, created a sense of urgency by triggering Article 50 and beginning the 2-year clock but as it is proving, there was no understanding of the reasons necessitating the change; the causes of the people’s unhappiness. She also had difficulty forming a stable, guiding coalition as there was, and is, no common vision. Kotter’s third step is to Form a Strategic Vision and where Brexit is concerned, I have struggled to see one. What are the clear advantages of leaving? What will our new world be like?
As I write, there have been various, fevered attempts to develop a common vision as the negotiated ‘deal’ has been voted down twice and the Speaker (the indomitable John Bercow) has warned it cannot come back without substantive change. One reason it has been voted down is that there is no detail of the future relationship, other than a few pages of joint aspiration.
And what about leadership? After two sizable defeats, a change in leadership or even government are increasingly likely but only a fool would predict anything. We are trying to put the cart before the horse by trying to create a vision – a way forward - with no visible leader of the resulting compromise, although there are a few people building visibility and credibility in recent debates.
John Maxwell’s talks about a link between the leader and the vision in his Law of Buy-In from the 21 Laws of Leadership. He says that you cannot have a vision without a leader and when CEOs ask him ‘will my people buy into my vision?’ he asks whether the people have bought into them first. He puts it like this: “The leader finds the dream and then the people. The people find the leader and then the dream.”
Has the UK bought into its current leader? She seems to have a vision based on her own interpretation of the referendum result, but is it shared? As the latest series of votes has shown, we are good at saying what we don’t want but not articulating what we do. Any views from the people wanting to leave have harked back to an imaginary time gone by when we were all better off. Nostalgia is not a vision.
What I am waiting to see, bubbling up from the soup of options and possibilities debated in the House, is not just a vision of the way forward, but a leader to take us there.
GOOD LUCK TO EVERYONE ON THE MARCH TODAY IN LONDON!!!
Does the language that we use affect the way we think?
I only have to think about how the words people have said to me over the years have had an impact to know that words matter. My grandmother used to say to me that ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’ but even though I recited it over and over, the fact was that words did hurt me. I am sure that many of you have felt the same way.
And it is not just the words other people have said that hurt us. Sometimes, the way we speak to ourselves can have just as much impact, if not more because it can be constant.
First female firefighters in Abu Dhabi
Image Credit: Aghaddir Ali/Gulf News
The words that we use to describe things often indicates how we were brought up; what environments we have enjoyed …… or endured. And today I want to stand up and be counted and say words matter.
This morning, I heard on the news that Dany Cotton, the first woman to be Commissioner of the London Fire Brigade, said that one small change we could make would be re-naming Fireman Sam Firefighter Sam. She said this first some time ago and I don’t need to read the savage responses she had at the time to know the usual words that are used to put women down when we dare to say something like this. Disparaging remarks – unkind words - can make many of us keep our heads down. We don’t want to be labelled one of those ‘bra burning’ feminists! We keep our distance.
Now I can almost hear people saying that this is just a character in a children’s book and she is being sensitive. And I would say, you are right. It is a character in a children’s book and thousands of kids read these books and both girls and boys need role models. And if girls and boys can have a role model with one easy word change ... why wouldn't you do that?
There are many debates about removing gender labels to words to show inclusion - Chair not Chairman is just one. I know women who say it doesn't matter or that they would rather be called Chairman. There may be many reasons for adopting a male gender label; it may feel that we have more credibility, or we don't want to be seen to rock the boat by highlighting the fact that we are women or maybe we say that it shouldn't matter….and there is truth is all of these.
But for me, particularly on International Women’s Day, WORDS MATTER. How the world chooses to speak about people and issues affects thoughts and mindsets. I want to follow the example of the children speaking out for change against the powerful NRA and say, enough is enough. We may upset some people with uncomfortable truths but we will also win hearts and minds.
So today, as the incredible firefighter in chief Dany Cotton is quoted once again calling to change the name of Fireman Sam to Firefighter Sam, do not just dismiss it and turn your back on her. Men and women need to show that we are all in this together!
I am doing a lot of work on communication at the moment and a quote that keeps me in a more open-minded space when hearing a view that I disagree with (and there are a few at the moment) is:
‘It is well to remember that the entire universe,
with one trifling exception,
is composed of others.’
John A. Holmes
Depending on your opinions and beliefs, 2016 could well have been an excellent year or an ‘annus horribilis’. Either way, you’ve probably had many conversations with people who had different, seemingly opposite, opinions and beliefs to you; people who you previously thought were perfectly reasonable and well-intentioned. The thing is that they also thought that you were a reasonable, well-intentioned person and now you and they are confused.
It is hard to have a calm discussion when feelings are surfacing and tensions are rising and I am practising every day to try to see the world from the other person’s perspective. One great image that helps me and my clients is from the book ‘Fierce Conversations’ in which Susan Scott talks about a beach ball.
If you imagine that the beach ball represents the topic under discussion, or the problem requiring a solution, and you are standing on one side of it, what you see is not the whole beach ball. What you see is your side of the beach ball – your perspective. And your perspective is true for you.
Now imagine that you are talking to someone who cannot see your side of the beach ball. They see an entirely different side, a different ‘reality’. This is no less valid but of course you cannot see it.
The key is to want to see it so that you are more informed. You need to be curious and ask questions until you understand what the other side of the beach ball looks like and hope that the other person, or people is or are interested in doing the same. This has the advantage of stopping you become entrenched in your view and trying to convince other people that you are ‘right’. Wanting to be right is one of the biggest blocks to finding the best solution or making the best decision based on understanding the whole of the beach ball.
I remember John Maxwell talking about new leaders going into an organisation. Everyone is watching to see what they will do and the new person feels pressure to make an impact; to prove themselves. Too often they begin to change things without taking some time to understand how they came to be like that in the first place. It may take a little longer but it shows respect for the people and their experience – we have all worked for people who do not – and it is better that doing something quickly and having to undo it!
So when you next read an article or a social media post or talk to someone who does not see your side of the beach ball, don’t try to convince them of what you see. Begin with finding out what you cannot see and remember that the relationship is more important that being ‘right’.
Jill Saville is an Executive Coach, trainer, speaker and writer on the subjects of leadership and communication. She is also the chair of the British Chamber of Commerce People and Leadership Group which in 2017 is running Breakfast Meetings on the Art & Science of Communications. The first on is 15 March at Badenoch & Clark
I talk to many people as I travel around and find some great examples of leadership and culture in organisations and also some that are frankly dire.
There are two main reasons for good leadership, one is to have a thriving, efficient business and the other is for the people who work there. Some of us begin with one or the other but they are both important.
When I find a process that doesn’t seem to benefit people, I try to find the reasons behind the it – there is usually some good intent and if you find it you can start to change things from there. However, there are times when I can find no reason for something other than it is easier to; it appears to save time and therefore money. But does it?
I was talking to some great young people recently who have gone into big organisations with the knowledge and expectation of being used …. exploited …for 3 years and then they escape. I feel they are being let down. These are intelligent people – some top of their class – who want to gain qualifications so they take a job that offers the qualification plus a good salary. The organisation will look good on the person’s CV, although maybe it just proves survival in a hostile workplace rather than the prestige working for a good organisation.
As well as completing projects, the main measurement of a good job was the perception of the number of hours they were glued to a seat. Staying until 10.30 was accepted and even encouraged – so these young people know they have to stay late at night to be visible. I could go into all the reasons why long hours are not sustainable and Parkinson’s Law (work expands to fit the time available) kicks in very quickly but I will just mention one clear inefficient use of people.
These young employees said that occasionally there was nothing much to do and then something came in from a client at 4pm and they have to stay till 10pm or even later to respond to it. To me this doesn't sound organised or efficient. What about relationship building with clients to know what they expect and what is reasonable on both sides? A win- win? Why not show that an organisation respects and values its staff? Why not let some employees come in early and others work from noon rather than sit and be visible? They had also signed away their rights to get any overtime over the maximum working week and what looked like a good salary on paper lost its appeal when they had to work double the hours for the same money.
Now it takes some times, effort and planning to use resources wisely and just because you have a captive audience that has signed away its rights you need to show a duty of care. And for me a leader who does not care about people has no business leading them.
A good leader enables and empowers people and reduces illness and turnover in the process. A good leader doesn’t rely on position, title or contract to get the job done. A good leader can get people to stay and go the extra mile when required, without making them sign away their rights.
Which is why I have coined a new phrase – Idle Leadership – and defined it as ‘treating people as expendable commodities’. Maybe there is a book in this…
What do you think?
Jill Saville is an Executive Coach, trainer and speaker
The other day I talked about listening to each other and being tolerant and yesterday I was tested by a neighbour.
One of the most vitriolic kinds of legal action in the UK is neighbourhood disputes and I understand why. We like to think our home is our castle - we escape to it - and when we cannot enjoy that space because of an intrusion, perceived or otherwise, we become emotional.
The neighbour to our right was working outside on his shed and felt the need to have heavy metal music blaring as he did it. I should say first that this is someone who we have not connected to very well and I knew that any action I took was not going to be welcomed.
The reason I am writing is that I went through many scenarios in my head before doing anything, all ending with him ignoring me or turning the radio up. And most of those scenarios involved me giving him some kind of 'good reason' why he should comply with my request such as:
- we have guests (we did but she was out)
- my partner is on nights and trying to sleep (he could have been but not this week)
- someone is ill and needs to sleep (not true either)
I wondered why I was making up these lies when actually the person upset by it was ME. It was a mix of being unassertive in general and not feeling as important as other people I was bringing into the mix - the same thing I suppose. I also considered doing nothing and putting up with it. What I realised was that I could put up with it after trying something and failing so why start with that option...? That could be option 2.
So what did I do in the end? I shouted across the trees and fence ...... 's'il vous plait?' He turned and glared at me. I continued in my best French something about 'moins fort' and he continued to glare at me. I wondered if he had understood but if my French was not clear, my gesticulation should have been (miming turning down a radio, nothing else!). He walked over to the shed and for a few minutes nothing happened. I retreated into the house to take option 2 - try to put up with it. I told myself that on a different day and maybe with a different neighbour I could have appreciated Bon Jovi but on this day I was just in need of peace and quiet.
So what happened? After about 1 long minute he turned it down. Not massively but he turned it down to a level that was bearable and in about 10 minutes he turned it off altogether. Today it is on again but at the lower level.
What I learned was that it is worth saying politely what you want and that usually people will change their behaviour if they think it is reasonable. But they will never change anything if you do not tell them.
This is the same at work when we give feedback. Not always pleasant, but how can we expect the person to change if we do not show them our perspective and the impact they have?
So I am trying to be reasonable whilst making sure I have good boundaries. Hope that is useful to someone.
I am worried for France as it seems to have lost its way with the best of intentions. Banning outward displays of any religion rather than have tolerance for religion has brought them to this burkini decision. When you look around at other women who prefer more modest attire than the almost nude look of the west, it seems an ill thought through decision. Do we really want to encourage our young women to bare all?
Look at what the UK was wearing in 1910 or what Indian women bathe in. You could argue that it is progress and for the liberation of women but also there are definite disadvantages of going too far the other way. Is it really liberation to impose our idea of what is acceptable on women? In this heat and the threat of skin cancer, aren't there arguments for covering up?
I was pleased to see that we had allowed muslim women wear what they wanted to in order to compete in beach volley ball at the Olympics and look at the fabulous Ibtihaj Muhammad fencing in her hijab. She does not appear subjugated - in fact she has had to be really strong not to conform to how other people think she should look.
This is such a difficult, sensitive area because my opinion on the burka - covering a woman's face - is different. I cannot find an argument that has persuaded me it is a good thing.
For true progress though, we need to move forward with a listening ear, a non judgmental heart and stop using blanket, one size fits all laws.
As John Maxwell says, 'when the only tool you have in your toolbox is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.'