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Coaching Leadership

Fail in Novel Ways

To be successful, you have to take risks. If you take risks, then sometimes you are going to fail. When you fail, you need to learn from what went wrong.

As a leader, it’s important for you to put in the effort to learn some things before they are actually seen in your context. The risks you take should be smart, and they are smart if you’ve thought about, and mitigated, the familiar ways to fail.

You should always strive to make your failures novel.

If it’s easily predictable, something that’s failed similarly before or a direct repeat of a failing in the past, then you haven’t learnt what you needed. You are letting down those that rely on you.

This Saturday, Swatch launched their Moonswatch, a collaboration with Omega. Only to be sold in stores, available on launch date in limited numbers. Wildly anticipated, certain to be incredibly popular.

These types of product drops are becoming more familiar in retail environments, and there’s a standard playbook to manage them.

Unfortunately, this playbook didn’t make it out to every store. Some managed well and gave people a great experience. Some really didn’t, leading to scrums in the street, the police being called and stores closing a few minutes after opening.

There’s a school of thought that all publicity is good, but here the company could have avoided the bad with better planning and just basked in the good of a well managed launch, a popular item selling out fast and lines of people waiting for their chance.

What basic mistake are you going to avoid? What can you learn today to make sure your next failure is a novel one.

Categories
Book Review Coaching Leadership

The Scout Mindset

Julia Galef gives us “The Scout Mindset“, a book about developing your skills in seeing things how they are, rather than how you hope they might be.

We start off by looking at two types of thinking, the Soldier and the Scout. Soldier thinking is both defensive and aggressive. There’s a truth, I know it already and I need to protect it against the assaults of others. Scout thinking is focused around discovering the truth that we don’t yet know. It’s about exploring, improving the map and throwing the old map away when we learn more.

The Soldier approach has value in some situations, and is usually our default way of approaching problems. The Scout mindset is less common, unfamiliar, but likely to be better for the complexities of modern life. So how do we move from one model to the other?

Julia gives four key stages to moving towards the Scout mindset:

  1. Develop Self Awareness – Understand when you are thinking like a Scout or a Soldier
  2. Thrive Without Illusions – Get comfortable living with how things are
  3. Learn to Change Your Mind – Be comfortable being wrong, and celebrate steps towards the truth
  4. Rethink Your Identity – Don’t let beliefs define who you are, as it makes it harder to accept change

Through these stages, there’s some great deep dives on some surprising topics, ranging from how boundlessly positive thinking can be harmful, to how you might have to do things that aren’t obvious to have the biggest impact.

It’s well written, and the book doesn’t endlessly labour similar points or loop over and over on the key message. There’s lots of practical advice, and a great collection of references and further reading to pick-up on.

Any leader working in complex spaces would benefit from reading this book, and trying to think more like a Scout.

Categories
Coaching Leadership

Everything Old is New Again

In a large enough organisation, it is easy to lose the thread of where we are now. Great practices and processes can be lost as people move on to different roles or focus on new things. As you grow, people joining the company will bring their own experiences forwards, without necessarily understanding the history of what has gone before.

This is another classic communication conundrum, having people tread the same ground multiple times, solve problems that have already been solved or go chasing off in multiple different directions is incredibly wasteful. What can you do to reduce the likelihood of this happening?

Document the good stuff! People are unreliable over time, so write it down if it’s good. Give access to people who are interested in the specific topic, and make sure it’s easy to edit and keep up to date. This is great for repeatable processes like hiring, and it’s super good for recording decisions, especially when you choose not to do something.

Next, make sure there’s someone who has responsibility for the thing, and time to manage it. For small stuff, that might be part of a role, but again, as you grow you might find it’s important enough to hire someone, or build entire teams around it. I’ve taken onboarding practices from an ad-hoc group of volunteers, to a defined part of people’s roles, to the entire job of a small team. This gives amazing continuity and saved us from re-inventing the wheel multiple times.

Then you need to communicate it. Remind people where things are stored. Ask them if they have seen the docs, or talked to the people who are already doing the thing. Connect them up. If someone is keen to improve a recruitment practice, hook them into the groups already working in that space.

If people are new and want to investigate a product area that’s previously been discounted, then accelerate them by giving them the state of the art. Get them to answer the question “What’s changed?”, and they’ll save massive effort on getting to where you have already been, and be well prepared for any long-serving nay-sayers they meet on the path.

Also, make sure the people who are already doing a thing are easy to find and noisy about what they do. This is when you broadcast, that’s where you share your wins on the public channels. That’s an excellent use of the wiki, intranet or company Slack. Help people find you early, and you don’t crush their dreams when you tell them that you’ve already solved that problem.

It’s poisonous to leave people solving problems you’ve already solved, it’s the quickest way to waste massive sums of money and great tracts of time. Build that organisational memory, and propel people to the novel and new.

Innovate in fresh areas to drive on to great success.

Categories
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!

Categories
Coaching Leadership

Being Wrong

Count the number of times that you admit to getting it wrong. Pull out a piece of paper and make a tally of every time you say “I’m wrong”. Half marks if you think it but just say it, bonus points for putting it out there in a conversation where you are the leader in the room.

If you are regularly hitting zero, then you’ve not got the right balance for learning fast. You aren’t pushing enough, you’re stuck in the comfort zone and you aren’t making much progress. It’s also important to check in here with how honest you are being. Reflect fully on the past and make sure that hubris is not setting you up for a fall. Retelling the story to make you right from day 1 is not going to support your desire for growth.

If you are just thinking it, then you need to make some more space to fail. You’ve got into the space of learning, and assuming you are changing your behaviour or actions then it’s a good start. To make it great, you need to build the safety in the group to willing to admit to being wrong. That’ll speed up the learning journey for all of you, building more momentum for change.

The bonus points for doing it in a leadership context come because you are setting the example for behaviours you want to see. If you want people to innovate, to take risks and to learn, then you need to show that with your actions. Own it when it goes wrong, show people how you are changing and be a role model for that behaviour. Remember, as the leader in the room, you are always being closely studied for signs of how to be successful.

Finally, if you are always admitting to being wrong, dial it back a bit. There’s certainly a balance to be found here, where “always” is as bad as “never”. Try highlighting 4-5 positive things for each negative, and make sure that hitting one small mistake doesn’t turn an overall success into something you were totally wrong about.

If you’re never wrong, you aren’t learning.

Categories
Coaching Leadership

Learn Fast

Fail fast is a common and popular refrain in certain circles. It’s something you’ll hear from a lot of people as they are busy shouting about “pivots” and other sudden changes of direction.

It’s a useful approach, but it’s easy to miss the point by taking it at face value. If you just keep throwing out ideas, trying them and failing, then all you’ll end up doing over time is building up to a big failure. That’s not a positive outcome.

Instead, think about what you are learning from every effort. The goal is to then design activities so you get to learn something quickly, to feed into the next cycle. This puts focus back onto the positive iteration, skipping the sometimes negative tones of failure.

Sometimes, the thing that you learn is that your idea was not right. That’s a great outcome so long as you’ve learnt something, and use it to make your next effort better.

So learn fast, pivot with meaning and build your momentum with positive iterations.

Categories
Coaching

Nothing is Perfect

The only truly perfect thing is nothing. There are no problems, no mistakes and nothing that can be improved.

That’s why a feeling of needing to be perfect is always going to be limiting. You default to doing less, aiming towards nothing. It’s an approach that will stop you realising your true potential and instead you end up lost in the noise.

Instead, look towards something that’s good enough to go out into the world. When you are creating something, think about what done is before you start. Find your cheerleaders and seek out their advice. Go through a couple of iterations with this group, then get it out and start learning.

All masters learn their craft over time, and they learn by finding out what works and what doesn’t. Perfection doesn’t let you do this, so don’t get hung up on perfect. Start learning as soon as possible.

If you are driven towards perfection, then try this exercise. Think about something you’ve done that you thought was perfect at the time. Find the old document or presentation, and dive into the detail. I’m certain that you’ll find a lot that could now be improved upon. This is a demonstration of your learning over time, of mastering your craft.

You let this creation out into the world. It was well received, positively remarked upon and may even have landed you more impact or influence in your role. It wasn’t perfect. It was real, it was valuable and it’s something you can do more of.

Categories
Coaching

Dancing Through Life

Those who don’t try, never look foolish.

This piece of wisdom is certainly true, but will never enable you to achieve your potential.

If you coast through life you’ll live forever in your comfort zone. You won’t take the steps that you need to move into a space of learning and you won’t grow and develop.

When it’s easy, it might feel great. You are able to succeed at things you set your mind to without any effort because they are within your capabilities.

To grow, you must stretch yourself. You need to find moves that are beyond your current capabilities. Dance through them. Celebrate the successes and review your missteps.

If it’s perfect the first time, it wasn’t really a stretch. Don’t let easy get in the way of great, and make the mistakes you need to reach your full potential.

Categories
Coaching

Just try it

For those of us who are safe and secure enough to be able to reflect on the future, now is a time where you have the freedom to try things in a different way to how you might usually approach them.

It’s important to act compassionately and with empathy. Don’t get fully caught up in the place you are coming from, be considerate of who else you are working with and their current situation.

In these times, a lot of your old rules of thumb may not hold true. Contacts may be more amenable or open to opportunities. Others may be closed down and unable to act. A digital solution might now be feasible when it wasn’t before. It might be the right time to offer something for free, or to charge quite differently to how you may have done so in the past.

With this uncertainty, it’s difficult to predict an outcome. The best thing to do is to find something to try, and to learn from. If you want to achieve, then try the simplest possible thing. You’ll discover something that takes you a step closer to success, you’ll have learnt something valuable and you’ll have started on your path towards lasting change.

If you want to figure out the simplest possible thing for you to do, then get in contact and we’ll discover it together.

Categories
Book Review Leadership

Drive

Daniel Pink’s Drive is a short and punchy introduction to the truth of motivation. It cuts through the traditional ideas of ‘carrot and stick’, to look at the intrinsic factors that encourage us to do a great job.

If we’re leading or coaching people, then the thoughts outlined in Drive are a really strong way to open them up to the best chances to grow, achieve and succeed in their endeavours.

This is most especially important with the changing nature of work. As we move away from the algorithmic world of the 20th century, where output and effort were easy to measure, and into the heuristic world of the creative modern workplace, then we must change our approach. When the outcomes you strive for are not easily linked to the outputs, then rewarding people becomes a more complex problem.

Firstly, we must provide the environment for the intrinsic drive to come to the fore. So long as people have their basic needs met, and can see that they are compensated fairly when compared to others, then we can unlock their true potential.

The three strands that form this motivation are Mastery, Autonomy and Purpose.

Autonomy is the power to choose your own goals, to determine how you will achieve them and to make commitments on your own terms. In a commercial context, they must of course be aligned to the needs and goals of the organisation, but beyond that the more power of choice you can give, the better the outcomes will be.

Mastery is the recognition that the journey is often the valuable thing, rather than the final reward. It’s the idea that the goal medal is recognition for great achievement, rather than the goal itself. In seeking mastery you are always looking to learn and improve, and to get better at your craft.

Purpose is the knowledge that your efforts are building towards something greater, whether that’s an endeavour to build something great, or to create a positive change for the future.

If you can give these three things to a group, then they will become engaged, effective and solve problems far beyond their apparent capacity. As leaders, it’s our role to find ways to extend access to these opportunities. As coaches, we might encourage our coachee to find these opportunities themselves.

In the book, we are given a range of techniques to try for ourselves and our organisations, and some tools to check-in on how we are doing. You can pickup the ideas of Drive in a very short period of time, and then return to the resources again and again as you develop your own approach. It gives you a list of over a dozen books for further reading, with brief summaries of each. This is a great springboard for continued learning.

Very much recommended, a great read and an excellent investment of your time.