Category Archives: Leadership

6 things you can do to be taken seriously at work

6 things you can do to be taken seriously at work

enjoying_a_meetingIn my last blog I shared, with her permission, extracts from a coaching conversation with Rachel, a client who doesn’t feel that she’s always taken seriously enough at work. In comparing her own behaviour and attitude with those of Sally, a colleague just a couple of years older who has the credibility Rachel wants, she realised that she had a problem with boundaries, which meant that she was sometimes behaving inappropriately and unprofessionally at work. Having identified the issue Rachel was halfway to solving the problem: she practised thinking before she spoke, catching herself if she was about to be indiscreet about her private life and quickly got into a pattern of more professional behaviour at work. In later sessions we started to look what else Sally, and other senior women Rachel respected, did to earn the respect of their colleagues. Over a few sessions Rachel came up with this list of six things you can do to be taken more seriously at work (shared with her permission):

  • Be professional. In other words turn up on time; do what you tell people you’re going to do; honour your commitments, under-promise and over-deliver.
  • Keep developing your knowledge. ‘Not just the formal stuff, or doing the minimum you have to do for CPD (continuous professional development). Follow industry news, learn about the economy, find out what your clients are interested in. Understand what matters to them and make sure you can talk to them knowledgably.’
  • Take yourself seriously and act like you should be taken seriously in turn. ‘Which isn’t to say that Sally doesn’t have a sense of humour,’ said Rachel, ‘she does, she’s a really good laugh. But she’s not out for a laugh at all costs’ ‘So she uses humour in the right way?’ ‘Yes, she’ll use it to get things moving or defuse difficult situations or even emphasise a point. But it’s never cruel or smutty or irrelevant.’
  • Speak up in meetings, show that you have a good contribution to make. ‘She’ll challenge people, but in a really nice way. It doesn’t come across as point-scoring, she’s just getting them to think’.
  • Don’t get emotional in public: no tears or tantrums. ‘I burst into tears once and everyone treated me weirdly for ages afterwards. At my last appraisal I was told I’m too emotional and need to get it under control. It’s not just me though, one of the guys in the office got really angry about something and threw his phone at the wall, smashed it to bits. Now people avoid him, they won’t ask him to do anything in case he loses his temper.’

What do you think of Rachel’s list? What would you add to it?

* All names have been changed. This story has been told with the permission of ‘Rachel’.

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The one key skill every leader needs

The one key skill every leader needs

Jane came in to my office looking troubled. ‘I think I’m OK as a manager but how do I become a leader?’ she asked. ‘I’ve just had my appraisal and I’ve been told I need to work on my leadership skills’. I’ll cover dodgy appraisals in a later blog, this one is all about which leadership skill I think you need to start developing now.

Although many of my clients worry about their leadership skills (see here for the differences between leadership and management  they sometimes struggle to describe a good leader to me.  I don’t think that’s because there’s a lack of good leaders, rather it’s because leadership is nebulous – it’s hard to describe and get hold of but you definitely know good (and bad) leadership when you see or experience it.  So I often start by getting clients to think about leaders they admire at work, in sport, politics or life.  What do they say and do, how do they act? Why are they good leaders?  It’s an unscientific approach, sure, but the answers my clients give are pretty consistent, in fact Zenger and Folkman’s list in this inc.com article by Peter Economy contains just about all of the attributes of great leaders my clients have identified over the last 5 years: http://www.inc.com/peter-economy/top-10-skills-every-great-leader-needs-to-succeed.html

So where do you start?  Well the good news is that most people are on track already – they are honest and have integrity (#2 on the list).  Most people also display professional and technical expertise, if they didn’t they would not be on the leadership track (#7).  Communication skills (#5 ) and relationship building ability (#6) are vital, that goes without saying and have been the subject of many of my previous blogs, like the last one.

There is one skill I wished I had developed earlier and worked hard on though. Now I see so many business owners, managers and executives struggling with the same problem: displaying a strategic perspective (#8). According to Economy ‘Great leaders have a long-term vision of the future, and they avoid getting bogged down in the here and now. While they can be tactical when necessary, they maintain the strategic outlook necessary to guide their businesses to the best future possible.’

I think this nails it.  Managers tend to focus on the here and now, ‘they do the doing’ as one of my clients calls it; leaders focus more on the future.  Letting go of the day to day, delegating, spending time on activities with a longer-term benefit and thinking ahead are all vital skills for any leader but ones that we seldom develop organically.  We’re all too busy doing the doing.

Executive_thinking_strategicallyMoving on in your career can change what we define as doing however.  I was really bored when I was first made MD, all the stuff I used to do was getting done by my highly competent team.  What happened?  Yes, I refused to let go, micromanaged and generally interfered in whatever the team was doing.  I mentioned this to a former boss who’s still a mentor of mine. He shook his head, appalled, and said ‘But that’s not your job any more, your job is to think now’. That comment completely changed my outlook. Getting paid to think? Wow! That’s what leaders do. So if you want to develop your leadership skills try cuttingdown on the doing and start thinking.

Source: Peter Economy, ‘Top Ten Skills Every Great Leader Needs to Succeed’ ,http://www.inc.com/, 29 December 2014

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Getting things done: 8 rules for effective delegation

Getting things done: 8 rules for effective delegation

Many years ago I shared an assistant with three of the other managers in the department. Sally was enthusiastic and very pleasant but she made a lot of mistakes (and I mean a lot). Because of the mistakes I tended not to give her anything too complicated to do, it was quicker and easier just to get on and do it myself. It meant I had more to do but at least things got done the way I wanted them done and to my standards. The fact that I had to stay late sometimes and do Sally’s job for her used to really annoy me but it was easier to say nothing. One day I asked Sally to do something and as I walked away I heard her tell a colleague that she hated working for me, I asked her to do nothing but ‘crap’, I never gave her anything interesting to work on and was never clear about what I needed or when I needed it. She wondered how she was supposed to learn anything working for me. I was furious! I didn’t give her stuff to do because she messed it up! And of course I was clear about what I needed and when. Wasn’t I? I thought I was a good manager but overhearing Sally’s comments shocked but ultmately helped me (although I would have preferred it if she had spoken to me directly of course). The fact is that many of us find delegating really, really tricky. If that includes you here are my 8 rules for effective delegation:

1. Be direct and clear about what you want people to do.

2. Know the answers to any questions they might ask before you go to them with the task. Questions might include: Why do you want it doing? By when? To what standard? Who’s it for? What’s it for? What happens if I get it wrong? Is it a standalone task or part of something bigger? What’s the context or background? What are the stages I have to go through with it? Who else should I involve? If they don’t ask relevant questions themselves make sure that you cover the answers in your briefing anyway.

3. If you want things doing in a particular way, style or sequence tell them how you want it doing and explain why you want it doing that way.

4. Accept that they’re unlikely to do it exactly the way you would do it. Does that matter? If the end result is OK, how important is the way they got there? If how they do it does matter tell them, perhaps even provide a checklist, flowchart or crib-sheet they can follow.Lady_using_a_checklist

Lady_using_a_checklist5. Provide the right resources to do the job well. This might be time, it might be information or equipment or tools or money. It might be additional training or help, or an introduction to someone who can help in some way.

6. Use good management. Let them get on with it but check in to see how things are going. Never, ever micro-manage or hover. Ask for updates and feedback, see if they need any help, guidance or support but be sure to use open questions here. Examples might be:

  • What are you finding hard or challenging?
  • What do you need?
  • How can I help you?
  • What can I do to support you?

7. Give your team work that is challenging but not totally beyond their capabilities and experience.

8. Remember that time spent training someone is never wasted: you’re developing a team member and freeing up your time in the end.

If delegation is something you find difficult why not have a coaching session on us to find out why you’re struggling and look at what you can do about it?

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Alchemy A-Z of being in business: M is for management

Alchemy A-Z of being in business: M is for management

i_stock_managementA lot of people make a distinction between leadership and management. You’ll often hear that leadership is about setting the vision, the big picture stuff, inspiring and motivating people while management is about getting things done. I am not so sure that you can separate them so cleanly. Leadership isn’t always glamorous, management isn’t always drudgery. In fact the best managers are able to get things done by inspiring and motivating people; the best leaders of course deliver on what they have promised.

For me the distinction lies in the focus, leaders are looking further ahead; managers are closer to the action and make sure that things get done on time. If a leader is thinking strategically, managers tend to think operationally: how will we actually execute those grand plans?

I have read hundreds of management books and very few deal with getting things done well, on time and on budget so here are my 6 top tips for being a good manager.

  1. Understand the requirements. What is the purpose of the activity or project? What are the timescales and budget you’re working to? What sort of quality is expected? What are the consequences of it going wrong? What are the benefits of getting it right?
  2. Be clear in communicating all of the above to whoever is involved in the activity or project. As I said in my last post, set the overall context as well as the specific requirement so that the team understands where what they’re working on fits in. Make sure people know why they’re being asked to do something. If there isn’t a good reason think about whether you really do need them to do it.
  3. Get buy-in early on in the project. This is closely linked to item 2. If people don’t see the point of what they’re being asked to do, don’t understand it or think it’s a waste of time then guess what? It won’t get done. A good way to get buy-in is to involve people as early as you can, give them a reasonable say in how things will be done and get their advice on the best way of proceeding. It’s those at the sharp end who can quickly identify the flaws in the grand strategy and come up with ways of addressing them.
  4. Have a clear, shared plan. Identify everything that needs to be done, assign the appropriate people to perform the given tasks, make sure they have all of the tools and resources they need and set a clear, realistic deadline by when the given tasks are to be achieved. Everyone involved should come together at key project milestones to review progress, revisit the plan and make sure that everything is still on track. If not, the plan can and should be altered to bring everything back in line.
  5. Leave people to get on with it. Never, ever micro-manage BUT make sure you check in from time to time to make sure that everything is OK. Use open questions when you check in. ‘Is everything OK?’ will usually get a yes, ‘How are you doing?’ or ‘What problems are you having?’ will usually lead to a useful discussion about the issues.
  6. Acknowledge achievement and celebrate success. Completing a project, winning a piece of business, hitting targets, finding the perfect person to fill a vacancy and other , perhaps everyday, business milestones are worthy of note. Take the time to thank everyone involved for a job well done and mark the occasion somehow – even making the coffee or bringing in a box of cakes can make the team feel that you appreciate them.

Managing people and getting things done can be tricky, especially if you’re new to it or have never been managed well yourself.  It can be hepful to get a third-party view so why not try one of our free coaching sessions? Just  click on the link below and we’ll be in touch.

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Alchemy A-Z of being in business: L is for leadership

Alchemy A-Z of being in business: L is for leadership

ChefOne of my clients is struggling with her team, she can’t seem to get them to do what she needs them to do and to be honest they are running rings around her, costing her clients, money, time and stressing her out. In one of our sessions I asked when she was going to step up and be a leader. She rolled her eyes and told me that leaders are born not made, and she was not born to lead. I rolled my eyes right back at her and asked her why she was bothering to run her own business then; if she was born to follow (a safe assumption if she was not born to lead) then surely she should go and get a low level job and be told what to do all day every day? There followed a really interesting conversation on who leaders are, why people want to follow them and what great leaders do and she’s now working hard on being a good leader. The truth is that anyone trying to run anything (e.g. a business, a department, a team) is by definition in a leadership role. And it’s also true that while some people are better, more natural leaders than others everyone can become a leader in some way; we can all improve our leadership skills.

I would go so far as to argue that if you’re in charge of anything you are obliged to improve your leadership skills – you owe it to yourself, your team and the project. If your team aren’t doing a good job then it’s safe to assume that you’re doing a lousy job of leading them. There are countless books and articles on becoming a better leader (my current favourite is The Servant Leader by James A. Autry) but here are my top tips:

  • Accept that not everyone will like you. They won’t all like you whether you’re in charge or not so you might as well have their respect if nothing else.
  • Remember that respect is earned through expertise, track record, reputation and the way we treat others. You might still be working on your expertise or track record but we can all treat those around us with kindness and respect.
  • Treating people well doesn’t mean you have to be a pushover. Remember some of the great teachers you had at school? They probably set clear boundaries and expectations, the class knew exactly how far they could go and what was expected of them. The best teachers at my school dealt kindly but firmly with any bad behaviour or poor performance but knew when to relax and let us have some fun.   We did well in their classes and enjoyed being taught by them. That approach works well in business too.
  • Become a great communicator. Be clear about what you want, when you want it and why you want it. Set the overall context as well as the specific requirement so that the team understands where what they’re working on fits in. Make sure people know why they’re being asked to do something. If there isn’t a good reason think about whether you do need them to do it.
  • Delegate don’t abdicate. Whatever your team is working on is still your overall responsibility so check in with them regularly and make sure that they’re on track – help them out whenever you can; give them what they need to do a great job for you.
  • Be consistent, there’s nothing worse than a leader who blows hot and cold.

How’s my client doing? Well she’s getting there and her business is reaping the benefit.

For more information on how coaching can help you be a better leader please get in touch for a no-obligation chat. You can do this by calling me on 01235 861 311 or emailing me at info@alchemybusinesscoaching.biz.   I look forward to hearing from you.

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