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The lost art of noticing

I was at a Christmas carol service last night. I arrived in good spirits after a meal with friends. As the service started I found my mind wandering back to the lively conversation we’d had at dinner. My thoughts then moved on to my Christmas shopping list. I suddenly became aware that I hadn’t been paying full attention to the amazing talented choir of young people. From that moment of realisation I put my thoughts aside and concentrated on what was going on in the moment. It felt amazingly relaxing to just soak up the wonderful candlelit atmosphere and beautiful music.

One key element of my coaching model is termed ‘The Art of Noticing’. I work with clients to help them pay more attention, to notice what’s around them, to notice other people and to notice themselves and their behaviours. The first step in any change is to pay attention. How much attention are you really giving to this blog? Do you give your partner your full attention when you arrive home tired and distracted by a tough day at work? How much attention do you pay in meetings, or do you half listen and spend the time catching up on your mails?

Distraction is the scourge of our modern life, exacerbated by the ubiquitous technology around us. It takes practice to improve our skills of noticing, so try this as a practice over the festive season. Make a conscious effort to take note of something about every person you meet. Perhaps the colour of their eyes, something they’re wearing, the way they walk, the way their face wrinkles when they smile, what words they put emphasis on. Paying attention not only improves relationships, it allows you to be more productive and creative. And, bonus, you’ll probably also find that people find you much better company as a result!

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Let’s get Physical

What does our physical self have to do with business? Business today is about bringing the best brains to solve ever more complex problemsPhysical with word and to create more innovative products and services. Whilst most people today recognise that looking after themselves physically also gives them an edge in terms of resilience, stamina and cognitive ability, the reality is that many of us pay lip-service to this notion.

Physical energy is the foundation stone of high performance. When we wake up with a hangover or try to survive on a very few hours sleep, our ability to think well, to show empathy towards others and to put in discretionary effort is severely impaired.

So, over the holiday period, Continue reading

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Breaking the rules of belonging

This Christmas many of us will spend time with the most influential human system we have – our family of origin. We’re shaped by the norms and emotions around us when we grew up. One question worth pondering this Christmas might be this: “Which emotions were allowed in your family of origin and which emotions were not allowed?” As you consider this, you’ll begin to identify the so-called ‘rules of belonging’. One rule might have been ‘never be sad’ or ‘always put a brave face on it’. We bring these (often unspoken) ‘rules’ into our adult life and this is where it gets tricky. As we’re exposed to different human systems such as our partner’s family, university, workplaces, clubs etc, we come across different rules of belonging, some of which conflict with those of our family of origin. In order to grow, thrive and develop strong adult relationships, we must understand how these engrained rules help or hinder us. We can then make choices about whether we are to stay loyal to the original rules, or break the rules. In breaking the rules we risk alienation from the original system, but we also have the promise of new experiences, relationships and growth.

Take attitudes to money as an example. Continue reading

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How to grow without losing your soul

SONY DSCYou’re now established as a successful business. Your reputation is growing beyond your early ‘niche’ customer base and enquiries are flooding in. You’re struggling to keep up with demand, trying to recruit fast but worried about losing what made you special.

Last Winter my husband and I returned to the Dolomites in Italy for a long awaited ski holiday. We’d skied a lot in the past and have experienced some good but also some very bad travel companies. We stumbled upon Mogens and his now wife Alice from Simply Dolomiti a couple of years ago. Having bought this small niche travel company a few years back, they developed their offering based on a very clear principle that travellers were not customers, but their ‘guests’. Everything they did was highly personal – Mogens picked you up personally from the airport, he spent time understanding what was important to you, and created itineraries and activities to suit. He and Alice personally led ski and walking tours, sharing their vast knowledge of the area with us. We enjoyed the personal attention, and the feeling that they enjoyed being with us and actually cared about what we wanted. Their success was in a large part down to their lovely personalities and welcoming approach.

Continue reading

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Creating a strong learning environment

A current client of mine whose leadership team I’m accompanying through a series of workshops has asked me to facilitate a workshop with the theme of ‘How to challenge ourselves to be even better’. This is a high-performing team yet they recognise that to stay ahead they need to continually challenge themselves to improve. It got me thinking about how we learn for high performance. What are the factors that create a strong learning environment that leads to high performance?

 

  1. Stretch people beyond their comfort zone
  2. Give and seek constructive feedback
  3. Allow for failure
  4. Build observational skills and grow curiosity

Stretch beyond your comfort zone.

This Harvard Business review article by Andy Molinsky  reinforces the need to move out of our comfort zone in order to learn. I especially like Molinsky’s first piece of advice: “Be honest with yourself. When you turned down that opportunity to speak at a big industry conference, was it really because you didn’t have the time, or were you scared to step on a stage and present?”. Continue reading

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Favorite How do we learn best?

How we learn bestOne day a couple of years ago when my son was studying for his A’levels I noticed something I’d not seen before. I’d been encouraging (nagging?!) him to complete his UCAS personal statement. Every time he sat down to do it, he ran out of ideas. In a moment of exasperation, I suggested we do it together. I sat down at my PC and asked him to just talk to me about himself – what he likes doing, what he’s good at, what achievements he’s most proud of etc. I would transcribe what he said and then we could do an edit together once I’d captured the main ideas.
Now, one of his daily tasks in the kitchen is to unload the dishwasher. As I started to ask the questions, he started to unload the dishwasher, moving around the kitchen putting things away (more or less in automatic pilot).

As we continued the conversation I noticed that he continued to move around the kitchen, thinking through his answers to my questions as he moved.Occasionally he paused and leaned on the kitchen worktop, deep in thought, then moving again. It struck me that he seemed at ease, the ideas flowed and there was no restlessness. As a younger child his teachers had always remarked on what a restless child he was, very bright but lacking in focus and concentration. Well, that day as he moved around talking about his ideas, he was highly focused and concentrated in his thinking – he just wasn’t sitting down! It turns out that his best quality and most creative thinking happens when he’s moving.

As an Executive coach, I come across people who learn in many different ways. This means I need to be flexible in my approach to coaching. I need to spot when doing something visual is needed because my client learns well from visual cues. Or, like my son, I need to identify when my client needs to move around to do his or her best thinking. Neuroscientist Lara Boyd in her TEDx talk of 2015 takes the learning from neuroscience and considers how we learn. Boyd encourages us to study how, what and when we learn best and to identify what our own brain requires to be a great learner – what she calls ‘personalised learning’. She explains that everything we do is changing our brain, so we need to study what things change our brain for the better and what changes our brain for the worse. We can then prepare our brains to be effective learners.

Please comment and let us know how you like to learn.

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Become brilliant by creating space for the team

leadership teamsA couple of days ago I was listening to one of the GB rowing coaches at the Rio Olympics speaking about the process for achieving high levels of performance. One thing he said struck me as incredibly relevant to teams in a business setting. He said that they no longer try to mould each rower into one ‘ideal’ model, but tap into the huge diversity of backgrounds, personalities and talents to create a uniquely brilliant team.

 

I come across many teams who are not tapping into their full potential because they fail to take the time and space to connect, discover more about each other and learn together.

I recently facilitated the second of a series of away-days for a leadership team that has struggled with internal conflict. The most powerful part of the session was when I invited each person to develop and then share their ‘leadership lifeline’.

I gave them a loose framework to use and they then each took a piece of A3 paper and were asked to represent their life so far in words and pictures. The emphasis was on how their life experience had shaped their attitudes and approaches to leadership. After some hesitation, and encouraged by seeing my own lifeline as an example, they spent half an hour individually working on theirs, followed by a session during which they shared the key parts of their life that had shaped their approach to leadership. I was humbled by the level of disclosure and honesty, and the respectful reaction to their colleagues’ stories.

During this short session they built a profound new understanding of each other and increased the level of trust significantly. Later on, they were amazed at how quickly they were able to come to agreement on some quite tricky business issues, something they’d never achieved before. Disclosure is an important factor in Continue reading

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How do you freeze courgettes?

I’ve spent much of today working at home catching up on some of the latest articles and blogs on leadership. However this morning I found myself distracted by the glut of courgettes in my garden and ended up on Google looking for tips on how to freeze them.  Coming from a family with a very strong work ethic, I felt a slight sense of guilt for thinking about courgettes in the middle of the working day, even more so when I went out to harvest today’s crop.

In an excellent article in HBR recently, Shawn Anchor and Michelle Gielen refer to the importance of recovery for building personal resilience. They claim that a lack of recovery is costing our companies $62 billion a year in lost productivity. According to them, the key to resilience is trying really hard, then stopping, recovering, and then trying again. They distinguish between the kind of recovery we can do during the working day and the recovery we do outside working hours.

Many people are programmed fom an early age to think that any kind of recovery during the working day makes them a slacker and low performer. But science says otherwise. Taking what I call moments of ‘micro-recovery’ during the day helps us to recharge our batteries, both physically and mentally.

Back to those courgettes….. The few minutes I took to go out into the sunshine and pick a few courgettes was like plugging myself into the ‘charge’ socket, enabling me to spend more time in productive mode when I went back to my desk. So next time you find yourself in endurance mode, telling yourself you’ve got too much to do to take a break, yet finding your mental focus waning, give yourself a break and allow yourself some micro-recovery. It might be a few minutes fresh air (leaving your phone on your desk), it might be listening to your favourite song, it might be going to the other side of the office to say hello to a valued colleague. Switch off for a few minutes at regular intervals during the day and you’ll most likely find that your resilience, performance and creativity benefits.

For support in building your productivity by increasing your personal resilience, contact me on +44 (0)7411 483319 or e’mail me at sarah@sarahhenbrey.co.uk.