The Fun of Producing a New Product!

Penny at the edit suite

Just back from an exhausting day with producer Tim Paine at ECP Video!  Yesterday was an amazing day that went brilliantly well, delivering my Insights on Leadership Day with The Living Leader team at the ICC in Birmingham (incidentally for any of you wanting to run a company event I cannot recommend them highly enough as the service was truly exceptional), and having started the day at 4am and getting to bed at 11pm I was pretty tired before I began this morning.  Tim then put me through my paces filming, filming and then some more filming!  The make-up required considerably more than normal application this morning for sure!

I am lucky in that, as I know my material really well, I can mostly do this without notes and on the first take – not quite so fortunate today.  Just when I thought I had got it right, the pernickety Tim comes up with some excessively irritating comment or question that means I have to do the whole thing again.  Panic very nearly set in when, having already recorded a very acceptable 40 minutes, he told me he might have lost the sound which would have required doing the whole thing again.  The truth is he was just keeping me on my toes while he was trying out a new and very upmarket camera. Phew!

I am actually really excited about doing this as we are working together to get a really great product on the market – well, naturally I think so – and one that I truly believe is very necessary for newly appointed managers.  I mean we all know how most managers are promoted don’t we?  Go home on Friday as an engineer/a salesperson/a technician and come back on Monday as a Manager, with osmosis having occurred over the weekend to give a new manager skill set!  It might be years later before they are given the benefit of any management training.  So – a ‘how to’ product will be hot off the press – or out of the film studio – and will be ready very imminently.  Watch this space!

However, having thought it would be completed today, my hopes were dashed when, after firing countless questions at me and having my head reeling, he threw me out of the door telling me I was definitely slowing down too much and had better return tomorrow for another go!  You can imagine my excitement at yet another session of doing something I most definitely do not enjoy – staring into a camera that gives you no feedback and being totally animated about your subject (which, anyone who knows me can verify to be a truth), with no audience response and fearing the outcome of how you are going to look on screen.  What joy!  I can also live in hope that Tim will be somewhat gentler with me tomorrow and I will not need to wear quite so much make-up!

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Management to Leadership – is it really necessary?

I read with interest the article in HR Magazine by John Adair suggesting that organisations need to become more leadership centered and I just could not agree more and, in working with our clients can truly prove the truth of this.  To become more successful I believe it to be critical and leaders need to be developed at every level – not just the top.

Why is that?  Well, let me first suggest a definition between the two that works very well for me.

“Outstanding managers drive people to perform at the highest level they are capable of – and it is very much about control.

Outstanding leaders inspire them to do it for themselves – and it is more about freedom.”

This indicates that there are many extremely successful managers out there who have delivered great results, may have turned a division or a company around and considerably improved bottom line results.  It may be that the company had lost direction and needed someone strong and very capable to come in and do some things that in the short term were painful – restructure, remove some of the costs, which could include people, and drive people to perform differently.  Based on their own experience and track record of success they knew how to do it, what needed to be done to become more successful.  This, based on the definition above, is very much about ‘management’ as it is based on me and my ideas and pushing them through the organisation.  Great for this situation maybe!

However, to take it to the next stage it is almost certainly necessary to be very different as what is now needed is people to think for themselves – at every level.  To come up with ideas that could continue to improve performance.  Now it is leadership that is necessary so that each and every person is passionate about the company and always looking for ways to do even better.  Think of the people serving the customer, be they an engineer, in the call centre or a sales person – you want them to always be thinking ‘how can I go the extra mile?’  If they are used to being told what to do then they have been educated into not thinking for themselves so are likely to wait until someone tells them to do it differently or the processes and systems structure them in how to behave and they dare not step outside them.

So what, in very practical terms, needs to change to make this transition?  Very simply, the majority of the change needs to be in how we communicate.  Most of us want to be helpful and, when someone comes to us for advice about how to do something or what decision they should make we leap into helping by telling them our thoughts and ideas.  The message we have just sent, albeit inadvertently, is ‘you are not up to doing this without me’.  I am quite sure that this is not the message we wanted to send but regretfully that is what we have just done, all by being ‘helpful’.  I absolutely know that I learnt this the hard way because when bringing up my six children I did this all the time and did my very best to unknowingly educate them into not thinking for themselves – I was truly addicted to giving advice, albeit lovingly!  Our communicating style needs to change from ‘this is what I think’, to ‘what do you think?’

I truly believe that leadership is actually quite easy once we ‘get it’ – it is about doing some very simple things consistently.  It is more about ‘being’ than ‘doing’, more about ‘listening’ than ‘telling’, more about ‘giving’ than ‘getting’ and is always about recognising that leadership is about changing me and not about changing others.

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Learning from Lola

Thursday was a good day!  As many of you know I rescued a second dog – Lola – from Turkey and brought her to England last September.  She is definitely a Disney dog and utterly gorgeous although still showing signs of having had to fight for survival and every scrap of food for the first twelve months of her life.  This manifests itself by madly barking at every new dog she meets, obviously doing her best to show how fierce and brave she is so that they are not inclined to attack her.  She is very fearful, until she knows them well, that they are going to hurt her and drive her away.

Well, on Thursday she took her Bronze test, with 5 other dogs who she had more or less got used to.  On one of the exercises one of the other dogs, quite a large and exuberant German Shepherd, who had behaved impeccably in class, decided to throw a wobbler, rush around the training arena and leap straight on to Lola – well, not quite as I was doing my best to hold one dog between my legs and the other one out of the way!  Not good news, shot her confidence to pieces and sent her into a panic so that she did not meet the requirements of the next exercise through not wanting to move away from me.   I was calmly and repeatedly stroking her and telling her how good she was and how clever she had been to handle a difficult situation.  The assessor was excellent and, knowing her background, came over himself to give her reassurance and, when she had calmed down, give her a second chance. She did it and passed the rest of the test with flying colours.  Together we are now proud owners of a framed certificate and a rosette.  Next week she starts training for her Silver!

bronze cert

This happened in front of our wonderful trainer (Peter Branch of Newbury Lodge Kennels in case any of you want to know the best dog trainer in the UK!), the assessor and the rest of the class, so we all knew what had happened to upset her and cause her to nearly fail.  Obviously I don’t know too much of what happened to her in the first year of her life and most of it is hearsay.  I do know the state she was in when she was found and from what I have seen out there can guess the rest – it would not have been pretty.  Rebuilding her confidence will take time, lots of time, with consistent positive reinforcement on all her good behaviour and endless patience when she gets it wrong. Every single bit of training done with love and kindness, telling her endlessly when she gets it right and not criticising her when she gets it wrong – just calmly telling her ‘no’.

Penny Lola

This experience made me think.  How different are some of our human reactions due to things that might have happened to us in our past, creating very un-useful beliefs about what could happen to us in certain circumstances?  Stop for one moment and think about all the people in your life who are not quite living up to your expectations of them and ask yourself if you really know why that is.  Could they have had an experience, that you know nothing about, that has badly knocked their confidence and caused some negative assumptions to creep in.  In Lola’s case it is almost certainly ‘all dogs are going to attack me’.  In the work place it could be ‘I will lose my job if I get it wrong’, ‘my boss will tell me off in front of everyone if I make a mistake’, ‘failure is not acceptable’, and so on.

What set of assumptions might the assessor have made about Lola if he had not known of her past?  For sure he would have judged her in the moment, believed her to be a dog ‘not in control’ and failed her.  In that very short space of time, she was handled with care, gentleness and loving reassurance that she was OK so she found the courage to still deliver.

How do we typically treat people who we see as not stepping up to their capabilities?  I know that my approach in the past was to judge them, criticise them (hopefully supportively) and keep telling them what they could do to be better.  Was my approach the most useful?  With hindsight and with what I now know about leadership, almost certainly not.  Had I had the wisdom those years ago I could have learnt a lot about leadership by working with Peter and understanding how to get the most out of my dogs.

Penny Ferguson

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A Habit too Easily Forgotten

When I first started running my programme there was always the same homework that we asked people to do between days two and three – a gap of about two weeks. We asked them to write down a list of 50 things that they were grateful for – every day. Yes, every day! You can imagine the typical reaction, “50 things every day, you have to be joking!”, “can it be the same things each day?”, “but I won’t be able to find 10 let alone 50” ………… and so on.

I know that it is too easy to go through life taking all the wonderful things that we have in our life for granted and to end up putting all our attention on the things that are going wrong, irritating us or just driving us mad – well, it can be for me! When ‘The Secret’ written by Rhonda Byrne first came out it was a really good reminder and I clearly remember her saying that if there was only one thing that you were going to do, start a gratitude book. So, I do it – most of the time. It is a part of my life that keeps me on track and the more I remind myself of all the wonderful things in my life the better my life is.

The last few months have been really challenging for me – a family issue with one of my children. I found myself in a position where all of my attention was going there, very negative attention, and one would certainly say, deservedly so. Guess what went out of the window – my gratitude book! Rather than keeping it up and directing my thoughts on all my other fabulous children and grandchildren I allowed myself to go in a downward spiral of worry, hurt and unhappiness. Despite everything I know and teach I found myself on the slippery slope of forgetting it all.

So, gratitude book back to the fore – daily! There is no question in my mind that what you put your attention on expands and what you take your attention away from withers and dies. I truly believe that by changing your thinking you can change your life and having a habit of a gratitude book really does powerfully impact the way your life unfolds. For me it is remembering the little things that I can so easily take for granted – a great night’s sleep in a really comfortable bed, a hot shower, an easy drive to a client meeting, a dramatic sky as the dawn breaks, a car that is comfortable and never let’s me down, an unexpected little gift from my eldest daughter and so many, many other little things that happen each and every day.

image When I keep this habit up there is absolutely no question – I create a better day, a better week and a rosier future and above all, I am so much happier. I would recommend it to everyone and starting it young. When you kiss your children goodnight ask them “tell me three things that went well for you today?” If they know you are always going to ask them that they will start to think of them earlier in the day so they can proudly tell you – and – guess what? You will be setting them up to create a great life!

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Today’s Challenges

At the recent HRD Conference at the ICC in Birmingham my colleagues spent a considerable amount of time doing a straw poll to find out what senior HR people were finding their biggest challenges in the current economic times.

Their answers mainly came down to two things – how do you get people to be proactively involved in the business and how do you increase employee engagement. What strikes me when I hear this is that leaders need to inspire people more so that they become more passionate about the business. This will have a huge impact on both of these issues.

However, frequently we confuse inspiring people with needing to motivate them and in my experience, the people in the higher echelons of the organisation feel the constant pressure on them to get people more highly motivated. I would question whether that is a useful way to think.

Let me ask a question that I frequently ask my clients. ‘Do you think it is your role to motivate the people who work for you?’ Nearly always when I ask this the majority of people put their hands up saying that they think it is critical. I fear this is a dodgy assumption as, if you have that as a belief, what ever are these people going to do when you are not there? I would suggest a subtle and yet powerfully different way of thinking – you are there to inspire them to motivate themselves.

Once we begin to truly understand this and then think in a different way it usually becomes patently obvious that our behaviours need to change considerably. We move away from communicating from the ‘I think…’, ‘I suggest….’, ‘I don’t agree…..’. Instead we will be encouraging them and supporting them to think for themselves so our communication will be more about ‘what do you think….’, ‘how might you approach that….’, ‘what are your ideas to improve…..’. If ideas and ways of thinking and being come from the individual then they are many, many times more likely to take ownership, to feel more determined to make something work, to find new and different ways to achieve their goals. They now own the idea and feel more passionate about it. This is the first really simple step to encouraging proactive involvement and raising the levels of employee engagement.

More to follow shortly ………………..

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