Calamine Lotion & Proximity

Calamine lotion & the importance of proximity……

“Mummy Mummy, I’ve got even more chicken spots. They’re everywhere!” 

Having found the first evidence of this particular lurgy on Saturday lunchtime, after unwittingly infecting c.20 preschoolers at gymnastics, we seem to have gone from just one little blister behind the ear, to a gazillion spread head to toe, and all in the blink of an eye. It’s clear to me already that having smugly secured the very last bottle of calamine lotion from the supermarket shelf that I’m going to need an ocean of the stuff between now and the spot-free future I’m already dreaming of.

No nursery for a week means either we leave a 4-year-old home alone with a steady supply of crisps, juice and Cbeebies or we have to pull off a masterclass in juggling, balancing the demands of work and family with the role of paediatric nurse!

Being a good parent has a lot to do with proximity, being there right next to your Little People at exactly the right moment is massively important. But I’ve got a lot of important work stuff that also needs my attention and my to do list is well stacked.

Anyway I’ve made the choice to sit on the sofa with an iPad, a mobile phone and a pile of reading and with one eye on the little person, one on Toy Story 3 and the other…, wait that’s way too many eyes. Anyway, I’m working out ways to get the customer-critical stuff done (and relying on other people in the business to carry on doing their bit) whilst applying aforementioned calamine lotion and administering cuddles on demand to the pink and spotty thing curled up next to me.

Before you think I’ve gone slightly mad by sharing the trials and tribulations of the Holden family with you in this way, I will leap straight to my own defence. Just as proximity matters when you’re trying to be a good parent, it matters when you’re trying to be a good boss.

When my Little People don’t get their own way and are feeling disappointed (a state often accompanied by a hissy fit), I’m there to talk them down and help them get some perspective, and to help them realise that it’s right to keep trying.

When my Little People experience a big change, like starting school or even changing teachers, I’m there to prepare them and to guide them to find a way through it, because I want them to know how to embrace change as a skill for the future.

When my Little People are ready to try something new, I hold their hands at the start, then I encourage them to have a go for themselves, and I stay close enough to cheer them on, to help them if things go wrong and to celebrate when they succeed.

Given my real life lesson in the benefits of proximity, it’s got me wondering….

What do you do to make sure you are in close proximity to your Big People at the times when they need you the most? I’m not naive enough to assume that everyone can be physically in the same room as their people at the drop of a hat. But with super-sophisticated communication methods at your disposal it is possible to be there, in virtual close proximity, even when you’re separated by geography;

Whilst my Little Person fights off a fairly commonplace childhood illness, she needs me to be close by. She’s already developed powerful influencing skills and can command my time and attention with her sad little face, and what can only be described as whimpering. I also know that what she demands is exactly what I should be providing for her, it’s not in any way unreasonable.

A challenge that you might face is that your Big People may not have such obvious symptoms as Chickenpox spots, and they may not make their demands of you in quite the same clear and direct way that a 4-year-old does, (or perhaps they do???), but their needs really aren’t so different.

Proximity is everything. If you’re not close enough to your people when they need you, and close enough to notice the symptoms when they are not as clear and obvious as Chickenpox spots, then how will you have measured up as a boss?

Image credit: Fotolia


The difference between horse meat and beef…..

…..or 3 things you’re probably doing to erode trust

Over the weekend I received four emails from big companies that count me as one of their valued Customers. Even though they didn’t explicitly say so, all four emails were about the same subject – Trust.

Two emails were from businesses that were proud to let me know that they had a trustworthy supply chain and that what they called ‘beef’ was actually beef. The other two emails were from businesses that were being upfront about the mistakes that had been made in their name and were assuring me that they would be doing better from now on.

I read them all and then deleted them from my inbox. I am confident that the story is sufficiently huge that things will change for the better and as a trusting soul I shall hope that this is the case. The jury is still out on how this has changed my relationship with each company, I don’t even know the answer to that yet, but I’m sure that time will tell. What I do appreciate is that fact that they’ve had the good sense to hold their hands up and say, “We made a mistake and we are looking at how we can make amends,” which in my book is a great starting point.

The whole horsemeat palaver has not only created some pretty funny jokes (I’m sure that you’ve seen then circulating on various social media platforms) but it has hopefully been a wake up call to businesses about how trust (a highly valuable commodity that is possibly taken for granted until it is put to test in this fashion) is an integral part of doing business and when it is damaged there’s a whole lot that needs to be done to get things back on track.

The reaction has been significant and, for example, the frozen burger market has seen a 43% drop in sales since the situation was reported. It’s not difficult to jump to a conclusion that trust has a direct link to the bottom line.

Stephen M.R. Covey, in his book ‘The Speed of Trust: the one thing that changes everything’ says:

‘There is one thing that is common to every individual, relationship, team, family, organisation, nation, economy and civilisation throughout the world – one thing which, if removed, will destroy the most powerful government, the most successful business, the most thriving economy, the most influential leadership, the greatest friendship, the strongest character, the deepest love.

On the one hand, if developed and leveraged, that one thing has the potential to create unparalleled success and prosperity in every dimension of life. Yet, it is the least understood, most neglected, and most underestimated possibility of our time.

That one thing is Trust.’ 

And when you think back over the news stories of recent months I’m sure, like me, you can see far too many examples of how trust is being eroded, typically by people with power over our food, over the legal system, over our money, over the way our country is run, the list goes on…..

When we’re getting on our ‘high horses’ (ahem…excuse the pun) about how these organisations have let us down, it’s useful to turn the tables once in a while and reflect on what each of us might be doing that erodes trust with our people and our customers.

Here are 3 things that you’re probably doing to damage trust:

1. You’re not being clear enough about expectations. 

Perhaps you think you are, but do you know for certain? Your people have an expectation of you as the boss; they want reliability, predictability, dependability and consistency.

But if you’ve never really spelled it out to them, if you’ve never said what they can expect of you, how you will behave around them and what exactly you will do for them, and even more fundamentally, if you’ve never thought it through for yourself, then you may find you are falling short of the expectations your team have created for you, and are secretly harbouring!

2. You’re breaking the promises you have made

You’ve committed to a regular meeting with a team member, but it’s not always at the top of your priority list so it regularly gets bumped for something else.

You wouldn’t have committed to it if it wasn’t important. It’s your opportunity to spend quality time with an important member of your team and to understand how they are progressing against their objectives and how you can support them. It’s also a chance for you to collaborate on the kind of issues that could propel your team to greatness.

But it’s one of those things that is consistently being pushed back and rescheduled to fit around something that you think is more pressing and business critical. When you do keep the meeting you often turn up a few minutes late.

Confidence in you as a boss is shaken by this because the perception you’re creating is that you don’t think the meeting is important, you don’t think they are important, you don’t keep your promises, so why should they? Unwittingly, you begin to create a culture of broken trust and mediocrity.

3. You create a communication vacuum at really crucial moments

Change is afoot; isn’t it always? But communication about the change isn’t forthcoming and it’s from you that it’s expected to come forth!

You inadvertently create a communication vacuum, and it’s a space that your team expertly fills with supposition and speculation. They start to imagine the worst and before you know it, the practicalities of making the change actually happen become a real battle as your people play out their scepticism by throwing up unusual objections, refusing to modify ways of working, and complaining about what’s being done to them. They are no longer sure of your motives or if you are worthy of their trust.

What this means for you……

When there’s not enough trust in a relationship, you can expect progress to slow down, whether you’re trying to keep your people motivated to do the day job, or introducing a change in the workplace with your team or even negotiate a deal with a customer. That slow-down costs you money which makes trust more than just a nice-to-have; it creates motivation and inspiration, making it an essential element of modern business.

The development of trust within your team and organisation has never been so vital. Could it be that the rogue contents of a frozen beef burger that has served as a timely reminder to do something about it?

The very talented Mr Pettigrew

The very talented Mr Pettigrew

The very talented Mr Pettigrew

We work with a carefully chosen team of Associates who share our passion for people development and bring a range of expert skills and operational experience to Clear Thinking. This team is known as The Sticky Thinking Forum.

As well as supporting us to provide bespoke people development services to our clients, the Forum is a “think tank” where members collaborate and continue to develop together by sharing knowledge and expertise with each other.

This month we’ve asked the very talented Ian Pettigrew from Kingfisher Coaching to give us an insight into his work and to share some of his thoughts with you…..some of you may already have met him!

What do you absolutely love about the work you do?

Seeing a sustainable positive difference in people when they realise their strengths and I love the fact that I can act as a catalyst to drive that through playing to my own strengths.

What do you think are the top 3 challenges faced by the leaders you work with?

It is really hard to generalise and I see different challenges in different sectors, but these are some common themes:

1 – Time to do their job, attend to everything that needs attending to, keep on top of email, and still get the best out of people.

2 – Time and headspace to drive strategic change.

3 – Driving a more agile and innovative organisation.

What do you think is their biggest opportunity?

To take control and make bold moves on all three fronts.

What do you do when your work with a client doesn’t go the way you planned? What enables you to get back on track?

A crystal clear focus on what success looks like and the desire to use feedback to move (sometimes flexibly) towards that successful outcome. All key skills that are useful for my clients as well.

Describe the journey that has brought you to the Sticky Thinking Forum? What do you value about it?

The journey started with meeting Kate on a course and then getting to know Bev and Kate a lot better. What I value about the Sticky Thinking Forum is time with people who I like, respect, and trust.

If you could invent something that could rock your client’s world, what would it be, and how would it work?

An App that would prompt people to stop and think about the past week, to reflect on it and learn from feedback and experiences and then help them plan the week ahead and create time in their schedules for the important things.

When you’re not helping people realise their strengths how do you like to spend your time?

I’m married with two step-children and a Border Collie. I’m into sport (Liverpool FC & Formula 1), I’m a lay minister (‘Reader’) in the Church of England, and I’m a trustee of a charity called Retrak who work with street children across Africa.

When I’m not doing anything connected with these, I really enjoy reading and watching reality TV (not Big Brother; anything medical or police-related and things like ‘The Hotel’, ‘The Hotel Inspector’, and ‘The Apprentice’).

A quick word from Bev and Kate!

We love working with Ian as his passion, energy and enthusiasm shines through in everything he does. He asks great questions and is happy to challenge our thinking to stretch our outlook and perspective. You can find out even more about Ian on his website.

Should you ask a fish to climb a tree?

There is an orchid in my bathroom. So what? It’s not a hugely unusual thing to have in a bathroom, it’s a bright, beautiful and gracious plant and I’m sure that many of its relations live in bathrooms all around the country.

My ‘so what?’ is that we’ve had that beautiful orchid more than 18 months now and I don’t do anything very special with it (a bit of watering now and again is about all that happens) but it is still looking beautiful (as orchids tend to do) and it is even sporting not one, but two new stems with flowers and even more buds. Given that in the past I’ve been pretty adept at killing them, I think that this is pretty impressive.

So, what’s the secret? As I have seen off a multitude of orchids in the past, I don’t think that I can claim it’s something that I’m doing differently, it’s not magic, or new-found skill that’s responsible for its flourishing. The only thing that I can claim is that I’ve accidentally found just the right conditions for an orchid to not only survive, but flourish and thrive.

Albert Einstein said this…

“Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid”

And I think that we are on the same lines with our thinking. Find the right conditions for someone (or something) to succeed and you will help them to unlock their ‘genius potential.’

In the recently published CIPD HR Outlook for Winter 2012- 2013 it asserts that businesses need flexible and agile people to achieve higher or similar with a smaller number of employees. The pressure is on to do more with less and the study suggests that employees need to work out of their comfort zone more of the time. But is this like asking that fish to climb the tree again?

Businesses want to achieve long-term sustainability, and leadership development and employee engagement are recognised as being pivotal in driving the business agenda.

How can we really help people to flourish, find their natural genius and be the best that they can be?

Is it by stretching them far out of their comfort zone, into a situation where they have little or no experience and feel ill-equipped and slightly out of control?

Or is it by helping them to recognise the conditions in which they flourish and helping them to recreate these conditions more and more often in their working environment?

Image Credit: microsoft

What kind of leader am I?

Kate  Hargreaves, Director at Clear Thinking, shares her thoughts and practical advice about uncovering your Leadership Qualities.

Recently I was talking to a friend who was sharing her thoughts about a job interview that she had endured/enjoyed/experienced (delete as appropriate!).

One particular question that she had found difficult to answer had been about her Leadership Qualities (as it’s something that she never really thinks about) and she was quizzing me on how best to answer this question in the future.

Given that Leadership is something that we have the opportunity to reflect on and talk about during the course of our work at Clear Thinking, it was quite easy for me to rattle off a few things that I thought might be relevant. But if it’s not something you think about often then what follows will help you just as it did my friend when we discussed her situation and explored her Leadership Qualities.

Leadership qualities – what are they?

If your aim is to uncover your personal Leadership Qualities, then the first place to start is to understand what could sit under that descriptive heading. A quick Google search will uncover a myriad of words / qualities / traits that are commonly associated with Leadership including:

Visionary I Forward-Looking I Clear Communicator I Action Orientated I Shows Integrity I Dedicated I Humble I Open I Magnanimous I Creative I Fair I Assertive I Honest I Broad-Minded I Courageous I Straight Forward I  and plenty more……

Which words resonate with you? If you were to think of your own personal examples that built a story around these Leadership words, to describe you and how you lead, what themes and trends would emerge?

How does Leadership present itself in your Business or Organisation?

The words above are pretty relevant to most Leadership situations, but it’s also worth reflecting on the positive examples of Leadership that you see in your own organisation. How do they differ to the norm? What are the special Leadership traits that support the unique culture in your business or organisation? What does this enable your organisation to do well? What does your organisation seek to achieve and how does this influence the Leadership style? What can you learn from this?

What about you? How else can you start to recognise and rate your Leadership Qualities?

Sometimes the toughest challenge when talking about Leadership is the ability to recognise where your strengths lie. Luckily there are some simple activities that might help:

  1. Review the common Leadership terms above and use them as a starting point to inspire your thinking. What examples and personal success stories do you have that link to these words.
  2. Once you have started to identify your own personal Leadership stories, pick out the recurring themes.
  3. Consider other people’s opinions as they will have fresh insight and perspective on your Leadership skills. Ask your team for examples of what they see you do well, and ask them about what you could do differently. A simple structure to use is STOP I START I CONTINUE, jot your thoughts under each heading.
  4. Seek out the opportunity to complete a psychometric instrument like the Team Management Profile™  that will help you to understand your natural leadership preferences
  5. Complete a Leadership based 360 Feedback to elicit well-rounded feedback from across your peer group, team and line manager.
  6. Look out for examples of different styles of Leadership in the media and reflect on what resonates with you

Leadership is a personal thing

Ultimately, everyone evolves their own personal brand of Leadership based on a whole range of things including experience, learning, observation and trial & error. It is something that can be tweaked and adjusted as little or as often as you choose.

These are some questions that might help you identify your personal brand of Leadership:

  • What do you ultimately want to achieve?
  • What works for you?
  • What do you want to be remembered for?
  • What do you want people to say about you?

It is possible that the legacy of your Leadership will remain with those that it touches long after you have moved on, so spending time reflecting on what it is and what it could be is perhaps time well spent.

The Power Of Appreciation

This week I’ve been collating a series of 360 feedbacks for one of our clients as part of a Management Development Programme and one of the things that I’ve noticed is the great care and attention that some people have taken in order to provide high quality feedback for their colleagues.

If you’ve ever had your own 360 Feedback experience, getting really specific, relevant feedback is the thing that makes a huge difference and so when people take the time out from their busy schedules to make a contribution; it has a really positive impact and I think that it deserves some appreciation.

With this in mind, today I have singled out a handful of feedback ‘stars’ and have contacted them with a quick personal email to say that it has been noticed and greatly appreciated, and I’ve been surprised and delighted by the responses that I’ve had. These are some of the comments:

“Thanks, but no need to thank me at all I am just glad that my feedback can hopefully be of some use”

“Thanks very much for the lovely email, much appreciated”

“That’s really kind of you so thank you. I know how much it helped me last year and wanted Chris to benefit as much as I did”

“No problem – glad to be of some help”

“No worries and thank you for your kind words”

Given the positive reaction, I’ve no doubt that these individuals will take just as much care and attention the next time they are asked to offer their opinions and observations about a colleague. It does make me wonder how many opportunities to reinforce positive behaviour, that should be recognised, encouraged and celebrated, are actually missed. Our work lives are fast paced and intense so sometimes I suspect there’s not much room left for meaningful appreciation.

It perhaps seems that heartfelt appreciation is something that can be easily overlooked and undervalued, but it is simple to do and can have a hugely positive impact. I hope that by taking the time to notice and value outstanding contribution, we can all encourage others to continue to contribute at a higher level of performance, and allow them to bask a rosy glow of satisfaction, recognition and appreciation once in a while.

Some questions to get you thinking….

  1. When was the last time that you took time out to properly appreciate someone’s contribution with something more than a quick Thank you? What specifically did you say? How did the recipient respond? And how did it make you feel?
  2. If you reflect on your week, who is the person that stands out in your mind for their contribution, and could benefit from your heartfelt appreciation? What did they do and what would you say about it?
  3. How has appreciation affected your personal performance? What did someone say and how did it make a difference to you?
  4. What are your tips for making people feel appreciated?

We’d love to hear your appreciation stories