Monday, October 13, 2014

5 Songs to Boost Your Resilience


Stress is a natural part of our lives, just like sleeping, breathing and wasting time in traffic. It's even good in small doses, as it increases our performance. When there is too much stress, there is anxiety, burnout and problems. That's bad stress. There is also a ton of information on the internet of how to recognise when you are stressed and what to do to avoid and/or cope with it. I will talk only about one small but powerful technique: music.

Music engages the right-hand side of your brain and works on levels that we do not consciously control or maybe even have awareness of. Right now, there is a lot of neuroscience research coming out about the different chemicals that get released when certain things happen. I am certain there is a paper somewhere proving that listening to some type of music releases those chemicals that help you cope with stress and boost your resilience.
Resilience - the ability to bounce off, not to give in to your stressors, overcome difficulties without overspending your emotional resources.
Those of you who are familiar with the concept of anchoring in NLP, may see these songs as powerful anchors: they activate the same brain areas as when you felt on top of the world, loved, strong, resilient - and make you re-live those moments, giving you the boost that you need.

Music is a very intimate experience. So, the list below is only me sharing with you a few songs that mean something to me personally: take it as an idea, but for everyone this list will be different.

Here we go, starting from number 5 on the list...


#5 Alaska (Fangoria) - A Quien Le Importa

Not very well-known outside of Spain and sung only in Spanish, this is basically a version of "I Am What I Am" (from the great La Cage Aux Folles), and if we translate the title literally, it would be something along the lines of "Who cares?" A celebration of individuality and beating your own drum.



#4 Bon Jovi - Livin' On A Prayer

An all-time karaoke favourite, this is a rock answer by John Bon Jovi to Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" and similar we'll-make-it-happen hit songs.



#3 Shirley Bassey - This Is My Life

Of course, it's Dame Shirley Bassey. The unmistakable voice of so many James Bond soundtracks, this is one of her earlier songs, the one that she Shirley brought along with her through her entire stage life.



#2 David Guetta - Titanium

It just gives you that extra kick in your step when you need it. A presentation? A tough conversation? First date? A must-have on your playlist.



#1 Cher - You Haven't Seen the Last of Me

The epitome of resilience... coming from the latest movie with Cher "Burlesque":




Now it's your turn. Post your top resilience song in the comments ---------->

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Failures as Opportunities to Grow


I got inspired by the Brazil-Germany game in the 2014 world cup. The images of the Brazilian fans and the players brought home more thoughts and reflections than any commentary or analysis that followed. Those people were devastated. The game with the Netherlands did not make it better.

What are your associations with words "losing" or "failure"? Take a moment to reflect on the last time that you or your team missed a target, came in at the bottom of the list on the scorecard, someone special broke up with you in a way you did not see coming, you lost your job... Chances to hit the rock bottom are plentiful and nobody is guaranteed success. Success is a function of hard determined work and luck, so (provided that luck is a domain of divine providence), each and every one of us faces numerous situations when the odds are not in our favour. We lose. We fail. It's natural.

So, coming back to my original question - what associations arise in your mind when you hear or face situations of losing and/or failure? Despair, anger, denial, insignificance, misery, betrayal, vengeance, wrath, unworthiness... There many ways to fail - big and small - and obviously all of us deal with losing differently, so this associative list will be different for all of us. One thing, however, will be true: few people take it in a positive manner.

There is a danger in wrapping oneself in negative emotions: they significantly reduce creativity and innovation - attributes critical to recover quickly and get back on track. I started wondering, who would recover faster from the 7-1 score: the Brazilian players or their fans. Doing a quick search on Google and reading through the materials, I was surprised at my conclusion that most likely it was much more dramatic for the fans than for the players themselves. When you do competitive sports, you are primed to the idea of losing: it is inevitable, and you will lose thousands of times before you actually get that goal in or put the ace through that will win you your first Wimbledon. This video below mentions also that some companies prefer to hire ex-professional sportsmen just because they are comfortable with losing and learn more from failure than those who are only accustomed to winning:


Failures are and should be regarded as opportunities to grow:

  • they make us stop and reconsider. Successes give us wings and push forward, but do not give enough impetus to pause and understand what it is that made us succeed. Self-reflection and self-awareness are key to effective leadership.
  • it is when it's most dark that you start to see the light. Often failures are those moments in life, when it really starts getting better, because it just can't get worse. Do not lose your faith in yourself, and then failure will be the catalyst for setting yourself straight again. These are the Stanley Kubrick moments that teach you about human frailty and key personal values.
  • you are most authentic when you have lost. Losing makes you more human: you are likely to let your emotions show, you are seen vulnerable, you turn to others for support - this is normal and authentic. Do not hide this - demonstrating your real self, your true thoughts and feelings, admitting publicly that you are not invincible are the key pre-requisites for vulnerability-based trust.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Forget a Mentor?


Sylvia Ann Hewlett has kindly posed the question about the critical role that mentors play in our life right on the cover page of her book. OK, it's in brackets and shaded, but it's there. The key area she focuses on is, of course, sponsorship and tactics to land and leverage a powerful sponsor. But is the era of mentoring over?

Mrs. Hewlett argues that careers depend on sponsors, and surrounding oneself with mentors, who give advice and groom you but don't have the power over your promotions or plum assignments, is a losing strategy. She does point out the benefits of mentoring, while writing it off as an asymmetrical, one-way type of relationship, where the energy and benefits flow only towards the mentee. Sponsorship, says Hewlett, is a balanced relationship where the "protégée" pays back with loyalty and stellar performance. I wish to settle somewhere in the middle. The idea of seeking someone mighty to advance one's career means that you actually care about your career more than your own development. The book is full of real stories and practical advice --- my only question is what's the key audience.

My biggest frustration with the book was that I cannot buy x number of copies of "Forget a Mentor. Find a Sponsor" and bring it to a general training on personal branding, career management or organizational behavior. It's too heavily skewed towards women, and I am afraid it won't talk to men. It does include a few stories about men, racial and LGBT minorities, but it more feels like cole slaw next to a burger: you haven't asked for it, but look - there it is. On the other hand, next time I am organizing a female issues event, I am definitely using it as a resource: easy-to-read, actual, witty, lots of reflection questions and tools. But back to the matter of mentoring.

I was lucky to have a few really great mentors in my life. I was not looking for them - it sort of happened naturally. That's the best - when mentors come into your life when you need them and leave when the relationship is organically over. My first serious mentor was a social affairs officer at the regional administration office; a woman who knew how to leverage relationships, had an extensive network of outrageously useful contacts, loved guitar ballads over a camp fire and took an interest in my development. There was very little I could offer in return - we did not even work for the same organizations: actually, I was a student. What I could offer was my personality and enthusiasm.

While working at Shell, I got my first official mentor. It was sort of match-making: one day my big VP boss came to me and said that she'd found me a great mentor: a business development director, in charge of joint venture relations at the time. A jovial guy, he told me a lot about the business side of what we were doing, but the relationship never developed: we were too different and there was little that bound us together.

My personal relations with my mentors made me squint when I read "Forget the Mentor" in the title. The author says that affinity is not really required in your sponsorship relations. Then it starts feeling a bit too manipulative and calculative for my liking. Maybe it's just me not being so career-oriented. Or me having had sponsors who were my mentors at the same time? I have to agree that corporate-sponsored mentoring programs don't work but natural mentors have your best interests in mind and can bat for you when needed. Isn't that what we should be striving for?

Resume: a nice-to-read book, I stick to my opinion of the value of natural mentors that I would prefer to the over-engineered tactics of landing a sponsor. Some good ideas on personal branding, and a really nice collection of personal career stories. Not something I would re-read, but might be good to jot down a few key ideas and questions. For instance, the personal brand questionnaire - have a go at it!

  • How am I innately different from my peers?
  • What about my background, experience, or schooling makes me unique?
  • What do I do exceptionally well? In what skill sets do I have the black belt?
  • What is my currency? What skill sets do I have that set me apart?
  • What experiences distinguish me?
  • How does my perspective differ from that of others? What informs my perspective that does not inform theirs?
  • What approach do I bring to solving thorny problems? How might this approach distinguish me from my peers?
  • What accomplishment has given me joy and won me accolades? What gives me satisfaction so that I want to do more of it?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

We may not have a vision, but we have a process for that.

A few days ago someone asked me, "What are the similarities between the two large employers you have worked for - Shell and Philip Morris?" I contemplated for a second. The answer was there instantly. Process.

I'm being facetious here. There are many other things in common: large blue chip companies, both in Fortune 100, both mammothy in decisions, both take good care of people, both with global footprint, both... The list can go on for a while. Yet. The processes that are in place in these two companies take the policy book writing to a totally different level. I guess that any organisation larger than 3 people need to have a process to function (think about toilet paper replenishment in your own family), and processes are the inevitable evil that haunts thousands of corporate workers worldwide.

Processes are not necessarily bad. In the HR field especially. You know how merit increases work, you know how to calculate your annual bonus, you know how learning course registrations get processes and you know what and when will happen if you move house to another country, dragging your expatriate life along. Processes make it easy to Automate/Standardise/Simplify/Eliminate a piece of work that has become a commodity. Processes eliminate the necessity of taking decisions every time something happens: you just know that you need to follow what the manual tells you. And here comes the rub...

Hmmm, the rub comes every time people stop to think. It's easy to hide behind the book and resort to the algorithm of flowcharts and swim lanes that the consultancies pepper so generously the wall space of large corporates (I think it's some sort of morbid pleasure for them to create a flowchart or two in a spare moment between lunch and trip to the airport). These process flows kill the human touch and turn workplace into a machine. Bad. Daniel Pink in Whole New Mind told us about the danger of living by the process and how those process-driven job travel East. This week's editorial in The Economist added technology into the swirl (Coming to an office near you), basically saying: it's not even shipping your jobs East, it's giving it to the machine:

"The effect of today’s technology on tomorrow’s jobs will be immense—and no country is ready for it"

Luckily, the same Economist offers the solution: competitiveness and survival will be dependent on managerial effectiveness and innovation. Music for the ears of any corporate learning officer with a budget. Nightmare for the CEO. Why? Because there is no process for resolving an interpersonal conflict in your team and the best innovative ideas defy flowcharts and occur against all odds in the most unexpected places. Not every company can afford to be a Google or an Apple. Every company can try though. Large organisations with strong and unique corporate cultures are hard to change, but change is there. I see the drive towards collaboration (no process), greater authenticity in leaders (no process) and social learning (no process).

There is a fine line between processes and technocracy. As long they do not weaken your credibility as a strong leader and a thinking human being, they are a great thing. Otherwise - detrimental.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Coaching before hiring: Charity or Being Smart?

A friend of mine has recently gone through the interview process with a well-known management consulting company. My friend is a senior executive in the finance industry and, obviously, a desirable candidate for any large consultancy. To cut the long story short, after rounds of phone and face-to-face interviews with HR, experts and partners, the resolution was that a bit of coaching is needed before a firm offer could be made. Guess what: the consultancy offered an executive coach.

This does not sound like a standard practice to me, but hey - I have never worked for a consultancy before. In my experience, if you like the candidate but there is one or more aspects for improvement, you would hire that person and put together a personalised development plan with internal or external resources. Pre-employment coaching that you invest in yourself - yes. Pre-employment testing - yes. Even pre-employment background checks - regular and known practices. Why would anyone invest in you before hiring?

Surely, looking at it from the perspective of a large business, the case for such practice can be quite strong. Several sources quote quite different figures for the cost of a bad hire (e.g. Investopedia: 1-3 monthly salaries) but that´s for a regular employee. For an executive, I would at least double that, and some experts claim that replacing an executive would cost a company 3-5 yearly salaries. Try this useful tool to make your own calculations:

So, let´s imagine that my friend makes $300 K a year. Costs of replacing an executive (severance package, benefits, new search, loss of productivity, loss of clients, reputations, etc.) - we are talking about figures of $500 K and up. So, when we look at figures of this magnitude, what would investing in 5 sessions with a coach charging $1000 an hour mean? Even 10 2-hour sessions will only bring us to $20K, and I am talking about a good coach, so this estimation is on the high end. The payoff could be tremendous. Apart from boosting the company´s image, if everything goes right and the offer is made, they are getting an executive who is technically sound and who has already been coached in line with the company´s directions. That coach can also provide important information to HR in the form of a coaching report, giving direction of future development. If it does not work, well... The risk of doing it wrong far outweighs the investment.

My initial surprise at this seeming charity turned into appreciation for long-term thinking. They are a top-notch management consultancy after all :)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Shiny Coach


Coaching is sexy, coaching is fun. 

There are so many of them, but which one to choose? My problem is that whenever I talk to a coach who wants business from my company, I always get a brilliant performance, which gets me thinking… I want brilliant performance from my executives, should the coaches really shine?

A coach is someone who will be left in the shade. One has to make peace with is idea. If you consent to become a really good coach, you have to resort to the realization that one day, and perhaps very soon, your coachee will outgrow, outperform and out-I-don't-know-what-you, but the reason you are a coach is because you have the knowledge and/or skill but not the potential or talent to be excellent on the large scale of things. That's why the best coaches are high professionals. They coach high potentials how to become their bosses and deliver disproportionate amount of value to the organization. Hence the reason why those high professional coaches are so valuable. They are the backbone, the talent factories, the nurturers; they enjoy watch others grow and progress fast up the ranks. Soon someone will note that these high professionals are so good with young grads, hipos and top talents that what they will be doing for the rest of their careers is this: coaching. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Saying "Goodbye": How or Why

Nobody likes good-byes. At least not when you like someone. In organisations this line might be blurred at times and you would actually be looking forward to seeing someone out and maybe you were the one who has engineered the proverbial sack.

Even if someone is leaving the company at will (like... found a new job or going on an international assignment with the same company), it's still not the same. Even though you are connected and might continue to be working together on projects or virtually, you won't be able to come up to that person's office and offer to grab a coffee just to chat... for no business reason.

It can be worse. You may find out that someone you liked is leaving from an announcement on the intranet. If it was a unilateral desire to part ways, the phrasing is typically around "left to pursue other career opportunities".

So, people leave for whatever reasons. It still does not make it easier to say "goodbye" to them. I have been through many "business breakups" like this, when I knew the reasons, the timelines and the feelings, and I know that it is toughest when you have grown attached. Hence the maxim: don't get too close to anyone who might potentially be fired/find another job/move house/die. Not always practical and virtually impossible unless you are an emotional freezer.

Staying connected to those you like is important for two reasons:

  1. Personal. You feel comfortable around them. They can give good advice. They are going through a tough time: you can help them and in the meantime learn how to handle it. You like them.
  2. Professional. I do not know many people who are fired for underperformance (apart from those whom I fired myself). People leave because they have been ousted by the system, because they lost a political battle with someone who stays in the organisation, because they could not handle a conflict or maybe because they really found a better job - in any case, they possess something that made them stand out - for better or for worse. Staying close to those who stand out and learn from them is a good idea. 

Doing so is trickier. Here are a couple of helpful tips that might help you stay in contact:

  • Plan regular coffees/lunches/theater trips. Nothing better than regularity will help you to kindle the relationship.
  • LinkedIn Profile organizer is a useful little functionality that helps you sort out those contacts who "left to pursue other career opportunities" and have your own strategy of staying connected to those.
  • Don't miss an opportunity to offer them your Facebook friendship if you really feel close.
  • Make sure to get their personal e-mail and send a "what's up" note after a week or two. A personal touch.



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