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Coaching Leadership

Exponential Starts Slow

When you are looking for any sort of compounding growth, it’s really important to remember that it starts off really slowly. If you look at any curve, you see that most of the growth occurs at the end of the interval.

That’s why you need to take the motivational posts about small efforts with a big pinch of salt. Growing by 1% every day for year does indeed get you to 37x from where you started, but getting to double will take you 70 days, rather than the 10 you’d expect if it was growing in a straight line.

So, you start off slow. It feels hard, and it doesn’t feel like you are making much progress. That’s why I like to think about the Flywheel in this early phase.

When you know the early efforts will be hard, it’s easier to keep pushing. Build up that momentum with an early shove, then you can maintain and grow over time with the same push.

If you don’t immediately see 10x growth, then don’t be disheartened. Look for the positive progress and hold on to the those incremental gains. See it getting easier, and the process of change becoming a habit. Do that, and you’ll get over the slow start, and the growth will come.

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Coaching Leadership

You Don’t Have One Problem Anymore

When you only have one problem, it’s almost certainly got an approachable solution. It might not be easy, and it might take a while to get there, but you will likely be able to see a path to get to where you need to be.

This can often be the state of play when you are working at the level of a single team. You have one big overriding problem to deal with at a time, you figure it out, then you solve it.

As you take on more responsibility, the chances that you are dealing with just a single problem become vanishingly small. Working across a group of teams, you quickly find that each team has their own problems, whether that’s product, project or people issues. There’s also things going on in the wider world, across the organisation and even inside your own department.

Now you need to work with different strategies. These problems are going to be linked to one another, so working on one could make another worse. You won’t be able to solve them all, so you need to figure out where to put your focus. Things will change, so you need to be ready to adapt to what’s coming.

  • Understand – Look at everything that’s a problem right now. Figure out the Important or Urgent ones, delegate or ignore the rest.
  • Relate – Put together problems that are related. If working on one impacts another then you need to understand that relationship.
  • Communicate – If people feel their problems are being ignored, then they will feel that those problems are unsurmountable. Let them know where the focus is, and why.

Keep going through this process on a regular basis. You’ll solve a few problems, some will get more important and need more focus. Some might just go away!

There’s a lot more that you need to do when working at the higher level. You don’t just have a single big problem any more, and you need to recognise that to succeed.

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Coaching Leadership

Impact!

There are a number of times in your life where it’s really important to get across the impact of what you have done, in a way that’s really easy for others to understand.

In the corporate world, there’s a few key points where you want to get this right. It’s on your CV, it’s during annual reviews and it’s when you are preparing a promotion pack or for an internal move.

Many people will make one of two key mistakes. They’ll either focus too heavily on what they did, going too deep into their responsibilities. Other times they will make their impact really opaque, something that makes sense to them, but is really dense to any external reader.

You need to fight both of these, and really highlight the Impact!

There’s a really simple trick to beat these problems, and make sure that you stand out from the crowd. You just need to look over any statement you make, pretend you are someone who doesn’t have great context over your work, and ask “So What?”.

“I upgraded all our systems from v1 to v2”. – So What?

“By upgrading all of our systems, I reduced page loading times by 50%, increasing conversion by 5% and driving an additional £1 million in annual revenue”. – Wow!

It can be tough to get into this habit, so there’s a couple of tips you can use to help:

  1. Read your statements out loud. It helps you to see that they flow, and if they feel simple to understand
  2. Pretend to be someone else. Read the statements as if it was your CEO. If it doesn’t make sense, get rid of some jargon and go again
  3. Actually get someone else to read the docs. If they don’t understand the impact, edit until they do.

This technique will get you noticed. Practicing this skill will make it easier.

Show off your Impact, and people will understand why you are the right person for the opportunity.

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Coaching Leadership

Refinement

The desire for perfection often stops us taking that first step. Once we accept that nothing is perfect, that’s it’s valuable to learn from an initial effort, and that “better than before” is so much better than nothing, then we are able to get moving and start making positive change.

The next phase is to return to that effort and to refine what you’ve done. In technology, it’s a key way that we identify we’ve moved away from a project focus and into the more powerful product mindset. Things are never done, we can always refine them to make them better.

This is true whether it’s a product feature, a technical solution, a series of meetings, or even something like a blog post!

When you think about your refinement approach, you can try to explicitly carve out some chunks of time for improvements. This can be a tough sell, especially if your improvements aren’t as immediately visible as the next bright and shiny thing. When I sit down to write, I certainly find it easier to work on a new article than go back to an old piece to freshen it up.

Instead, you can build your refinement in to your process. Whenever you are working in an area, if you spot something out of place then take a few minutes to leave it in a better place than it was before. Cleaning as you go gives you lots of quick improvements, without big investments in tracking, remembering what you were going to do, or continually fighting to carve out this time.

For example, I’ll write and edit in a couple of passes. I schedule posting a few weeks in advance. When a post goes live I’ll check it out with fresher eyes, and use that as a chance to clean up any rogue words or phrases that aren’t as clear as I’d thought they were. If I share links, or link back to an old article, then I’ll scan through and check for updates then. It’ a much easier process than sitting down for an hour to just do edits!

So, once you’ve gotten started, and put your initial efforts out into the world, look out for opportunities to slot in improvements whenever you are back in the area. Make it routine, it’ll be easy, and you’ll quickly see the compounding benefits of these small refinements

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Coaching Leadership

Action Triggers

When you want to start taking steps towards change, but you are finding it hard to get going, then set yourself an action trigger to help kickstart the effort.

This is a simple mental plan to execute an action when you encounter a particular situation. It’s a great technique to help you build up or change a habit, by preloading some decisions in our mind.

It’s a simple technique. First of all, pick what you want to change. For example, you might want to show more gratitude when someone does a great job.

Next up, get specific. Exactly when and how are you going to do this? If it’s too loose, it won’t be effective in changing your behaviour. When we’re praising people, it has greatest impact close to the good activity, so you might set an trigger of “When I see someone asking a great question in a meeting, I will actively thank them for that input”.

This is good because it’s a specific situation (great question), and a specific action (thanking them). As you’ve already made this decision, you take away the concern of what “a great job” looks like, and how you’ll “show more gratitude.

When you make it easy, you are more likely to take these actions and change your behaviour. The complex processing that exhausts your Type 2 brain is dealt with ahead of time, letting you shift these changes to the quick and lazy Type 1.

If you want to be even more likely to be successful, then either say your trigger out loud, or write it down. Make the commitment public and it give you even more impetus to succeed.

This technique is not a panacea. It will only work if you want to make a change, and it will only help move you towards good behaviours. It’s not going to change your direction 180 degrees, and it’s not going to shift you fundamentally.

To make some positive change and build energy in your flywheel, setup a couple of action triggers to preload some complex decisions and make it simple when the situation occurs.

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Coaching Leadership

How Do You Lose?

Winning is great! It’s an awesome feeling to come first, to see the reward for all your effort and to be recognised for your successes.

You aren’t going to win all the time. The more you are pushing and stretching, then the rarer those wins might be. So you need to think about how you handle losing, and how you can take those losses and make them positive experiences.

First up, check out your public response. What are you presenting to the world? Most of the time, even for something high stakes like a promotion, you’re winning or losing is in the context of a continuing relationship. Showing anger, complaining loudly or disparaging the winner are actions that are unlikely to be looked on favourably in that ongoing relationship. Think about losing gracefully, respecting the game and showing good spirit.

Remember, no-one ever overturned a referee’s decision by arguing with them in the heat of the moment!

Of course, that’s not to say that you won’t feel hard done by, that decisions were unfair or that someone won out on attributes that weren’t being measured in the ‘official’ rubrics. Take a breath, count to ten and complain in private if you have to! Then think about how you’ll drive some constructive change in the future.

Now you’ve covered that public response, the reflection and learning is the next, and most important, stage. Losing is a perfect opportunity to learn from your performance, to do even better next time.

What did you do well? What went badly? Was it a close run thing, or were you played out of the park? Get honest here, and use feedback or external sources to ensure that the honesty is true.

If you did well, then take heart from the experience. You are likely to just need to tweak some parts of your performance. Double down on some of your strengths and turn areas you were good, to places you can be great.

If you did less well, then it’s time for some deeper reflection. Did you really overreach yourself? Even so, what did you do well? Can you take those positives and build on them for the future? Is this an opportunity to set an intermediate goal and aim there next time?

Losing is the fastest teacher around, take the knock, dust yourself off and get back on with it to drive forwards to success!

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Coaching Leadership Uncategorized

Know Your Strengths

I really rate the Clifton Strengths assessment as a method of understanding your own strengths and preferences. It costs about $50, but it will bring you many multiples of that back in value if you make good use of the report.

You’ll get an ordered list of 34 different strengths across a range of themes (Executing, Influencing, Relationship Building and Strategic Thinking). You’ll get a range of reports, ranging from the full list, to a deep dive into your top five strengths. The detailed reports will give a high level summary, a range of phrases that explain the strength, and also an indication of what could be a negative if you overuse that strength.

It’s really great that the reports invite you to reflect on the specific themes that resonate most to you, rather than forcing you to box yourself in to a single descriptor.

As an example, one of my top strengths is “Analytical”, which is 100% not a surprise (Maths graduate!). This means that I like to work with data, that I like it when ideas are well formed, and I enjoy when people are able to “show their working”. This strength will mean that people will seek me out when they want support to build up an idea (or knock down one that’s not yet well formed). However, if overused, it can cause people to stop seeking my advice, if they feel their ideas may not yet be rigorous enough.

With this awareness, I’m able to put this analytical strength to good use. I’m able to support people to build up ideas, pairing up with people who work in a more instinctive way to help them connect their inspiring idea to the data that backs it up.

I’m also able to look out for those times when the emotional connection is the right one to make, so that I don’t drown it out with data!

If you know your strengths, then you can spend time making sure you apply them whilst also looking out for situations where overusing them might be a handicap.

If you don’t have this awareness, then will find it hard to recognise what you are great at, you won’t recognise where you are struggling, and worst of all, you won’t know where your default behaviour is going to cause you difficulty.

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Coaching Harvard Business Review Leadership

Choose your Time

It’s better to spend a few hours a day doing important work than filling ten or a dozen with activities that don’t move you towards achieving your goals.

Kick it off by making sure you know what’s actually important to you. Do the work to understand your values, and then frame your goals.

Then, take stock of the current situation. Where does your effort go? Track your time to understand it. You’ll learn something for sure!

How much effort goes towards wasteful activities that are low value to you? Can you delegate away, or maybe just not do them at all? Recurring meetings are an area worth particular focus. Review your calendar, and try to cancel, short or spread out as many as possible.

Next up, where are your high value activities? There are probably not enough yet. Look at where you are doing good work. Can you extend these slots with the time you’ve just saved?

Big spans of time are better for doing activities that lead to real change, so extending an hour to two is powerful option.

If you can’t do this yet, then go back to that calendar and look at those gaps. If it’s anything like mine was, you’ll have a patchwork of meetings, with small gaps between them. You’ve cleared out the cruft now, so there’s not much left to get rid of.

Instead, start shuffling. Meetings you own are easiest, but any small group session is up for grabs. Two things help here. Knowing your own high performance times, so you can keep them clear for focused work. Then knowing your organisations culture. Start of week for team syncs? Planning mid-week? Retrospectives and demos on Fridays? There’s a cadence there. If it’s a big org, then understanding this is key, you’ll struggle to shift this culture quickly. If it’s small or just getting started, then it’s not fixed yet, so don’t be afraid to grab it and shape it a bit.

Now you’ve made the space, you have to keep it. Hold the time with calendar bookings that highlight the great work you are doing. Stay strong when people inevitably try to overbook and just say “No” (or at least offer a time outside your focus space).

Choose how you spend your time, and you’ll spend more of it contributing towards your goals and achieving the successes you deserve.

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Coaching Leadership

Swing and a Miss

We all give feedback to lots of people, in a wide range of situations. Sometimes it’s really well balanced, hits the mark exactly and really helps that person drive forwards to a positive change. Sometimes it doesn’t land perfectly, but with some reflection they find value. Sometimes it’s a total miss, that elicits a negative or even hostile response.

What do you do?

First up, consider the response. Reflect on the content. Is it an emotional outburst? Is the person giving additional context or information? Where’s the difference between what you were aiming to share and what they’ve taken from your communication?

If you struggle to unpick this, then take a bit of a break. It’s very normal for your own emotions to spike out if you hit this type of reaction, and reacting in turn will not help matters! It may be helpful to reach out to a less involved third party to get their view, especially if they witness the situation that arose to the provision of the feedback.

Now you’ve got a better picture, you need to decide what to do. When feedback misses badly, it can put a real dent into a relationship. You’ll need to do some work, and it’ll take some time to get back to where you were.

First off, were you just wrong? If the recipient has given some more information and you recognise that something you said was factually incorrect, then don’t be afraid to offer a strong and full apology. “I’m sorry, what I said was incorrect and I recognise this has upset you. Thank-you for sharing the additional information, I will ensure that I’m fully up-to-speed in future before commenting”. Then follow through on that commitment, and demonstrate to the recipient the learning you have stated you will undertake.

If you were factually correct, but the recipient has reacted emotionally, then you still may apologise (It’s not nice to make people feel bad). If you are doing this, make sure to make it a real apology, no soft “We apologise for any emotion you have felt”, nor ones that make things worse “I’m sorry you took that so badly”.

As a leader, you may still need to land the message to drive a change in behaviour, so your next step would be to reframe the feedback (repeating it will certainly not work). Focus on what you observed and the impacts of the behaviour you saw. In this higher stakes scenario, practice this reframing before delivering it. Write down your observations, run them back and check that they are better than before. Review them against Situation/Behaviour/Impact or your own favoured feedback framework.

It’s also great at this point to recognise it’s a tough conversation! It might feel meta, but highlighting this gives you the chance to remind the recipient the value that can come from these tough moments.

Finally, you will look towards rebuilding that relationship. Again, depending on what your miss looked like, this will take different forms. Listen again to what the recipient is telling you. The fix might be as simple to change the style or format of the feedback. This is a very likely outcome in the remote world, as text chat can come across many times harsher than the same message given face-to-face in real time.

Alternatively, the recipient may have given you that extra information that changes the situation somewhat. Here you can provide additional support by removing a blocker or doing something else to smooth their path forwards.

As you are repairing the relationship, you must ensure that whatever you commit to in this stage is something that you stick to and continue to do, even beyond the initial repair period. This is how to build back trust that you have damaged.

So, sometimes feedback misses the target, and sometimes it misses in a destructive way! If you spot this early, then you can correct it. It’ll take some effort, but doing it with care and attention can rebuild a damaged relationship and even strengthen it for the future!

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Coaching Leadership

Bringing in the New

I’ve been watching the theatre across the road being built for over a year now, and it’s really great to see some of the parallels between construction in the physical world vs the crafting of software in the virtual.

As we get into the New Year, then it’s very likely you are starting to put into practice some of the new ideas that will help you start building up your flywheel of change and achieving your goals. Today I’m sharing a couple of insights on how to do this well, from what I’ve observed throughout this construction process.

Every time a new material arrives on site, there’s a simple approach used to get it into the construction process. The experts in the particular area will fit a small area (something like a single window in a frame). They’ll review it, look at how it’s sitting in the shell of the building. If it looks good, they’ll show it to other workers, who are able to go and fit the rest of the items across the full facade. If it’s not working out, they’ll re-work this area, re-do the process and learn in a low risk corner of the site. If it goes really badly, then they’ll strip it out, and wait until improved materials can be delivered.

This low risk test and learn allows the construction to proceed at pace and in a more predictable way. There’s two clear stages in play, once the process is great and easy to apply, then it’s rolled out quickly across the whole building. The rework is limited to the testing phase, where it’s quick to correct any issues.

This is absolutely the best way to approach launching new practices and processes in your organisation, or building and launching new software products.

The most powerful part is to recognise when you are switching between the learning cycle and the rollout cycle, as that’s the point you change how you are delivering that change. This is also the most important time to communicate clearly and set expectations as to how that change will land.

So, in summary, to make your change a success:

  1. Test out a process or product in a controlled space
  2. Learn quickly, and adapt your approach
  3. Loop around again if it’s not right yet
  4. Recognise when it’s good enough, and roll out at pace

This approach gives the best chance of landing significant change with the smallest cost.

Get out there and do it!