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Respectful reflections and little white lies

Respectful reflections and little white lies

Respect is one of those concepts where you often only realise someone is not being disrespectful when they make it very obvious, but it’s a lot harder to notice when people are showing you respect apart from some obvious gestures like opening a door for example. More often than not respect is a silent transfer.

Equally I think most of us have a different definition of what constitutes respect. A few days ago I had an interesting debate with a client about respect and how for some people it comes with standards they have for others, but then when they apply it for themselves it does a 360 value drop. For example the staff member liked a friendly good morning as they walked in from the receptionist, but when she was asked to man reception during a break she was probably one of the least friendly you could meet. It is amazing how quickly standards can be turned on their head.

Recently I had a friend complaining about how another friend had taken liberties by showing up unannounced then using the hosts place as their home, but then when the complainer visits others they did exactly the same thing. I found it funny to observe without comment and wondered, whether what we want the most from others we consistently do wrong ourselves?

Think about it, when you become annoyed about someone is it because they show you a part of you that you don’t like or is it a part of you that you have standards around or is it something completely different again.One of my personal bug bears is integrity and telling the truth, I absolutely hate it when people lie to me either with intent or to cover up a little indiscretion. I actually have walked away from friendships for this reason and I most of the time pull people up on their mistake when they do it. What fascinates me though is that some people go in the defensive, whilst they know very well that they were the wrong party.

Isn’t it funny that in our society, the following perception seems to rule namely that it better to lie than forgive someone for the truth?

Personally I work the opposite, I would rather forgive than tolerate lies, most of my friends know that and I struggle to respect people that offend this on a regular basis whether they are personal friends or clients.

I actually think I only ever fired client for telling me lies consistently on their performance, their promises of action and then the truth being a stark complete opposite. As a person I have often been accused of being too honest and sharing too much, at the same time in most cases it is also what I get paid for by clients.

Looking at the whole lies scenario from my earlier question of whether this is a part of you that you don’t like or you have standards around. I honestly have a sick feeling in my stomach if I have to use a lie and I am also chronically bad at it, my face usually tells the true story if my mouth hasn’t already done the same, but I sure have standards around it. Maybe that is exactly the root cause of having standards around the whole area of indiscretion, that I just don’t master it and I am not good at it, so I just created a whole range of standards around it. My other explanation is around values and integrity is high on mine, hence I would rather be blunt and honest as opposed to be kind and lying. I can’t say for sure why or when it started but I really find it offensive when people lie.

If I listen to politicians and their carry on about the banking system, it absolutely galls me, the same with the bankers behind the scam. So it’s not even a case of a personal connection it goes further than that and that is where the respect factor comes back in I have very little respect for those that consistently lie for whatever reason, whether it is politics, career, business, little indiscretion or anything.

I ask you to wonder what your respect factors are and then to put it through the same test, is it because you dislike that side of yourself so much or you just can’t do it or is it because you have standards around it? Then examine whether you can trace the root of the standards.

The other question is what are you tolerating when it comes to being respectful? Most of us want to be respected for who we are, yet at the same time we have people question parts of us consistently and we let them. I have been guilty of it in more than one personal relationship, friendship and even in a work setting, at some point I have always reached a line that either ends the respect factor or the friendship or even the working agreement. Over time my tolerance levels have come down, also for myself when I catch myself doing things that I don’t like others doing to me. Once I am aware of it I do my best to change the behaviour around and come back to a clean slate with it, even if that at times means eating humble pie.

When you work in the field of self-development, everything is up for questioning most of the time and I tend to listen until I have a clear answer for myself and will then share the same. What I see with clients is that immediately defensive mechanisms kick in to play and it becomes a justification process. The question I then have is who are you justifying this to?

I guess this turned out to be a rather reflective blog and I hope it does make you think and question what you do in the area of respect. I dare you to ask yourself the questions is respect about the things you dislike about yourself, the things you don’t master or something you have standards around which are value based? Then the second question I would urge you to ask on a regular basis, what are you tolerating from others but even more importantly from yourself?

Enjoy the respectful reflections…

Manager’s dilemma: are you being played?

Manager’s dilemma: are you being played?

In my work as a trainer and business coach to managers and teams in companies of all sizes, I often wonder whether managers realise how much they are actually being played. In some of my coaching I would equally equip corporate clients to manage both upward and downward. If you want to build a career in the corporate world it is an essential skill to learn, and if you are the manager then awareness of it happening to you is paramount as you may be drawn into someone’s agenda unknowingly.

I coach newly promoted managers in one multinational organisation and their biggest initial challenge is that they are no longer one of the team members. The fact that they gained a title and access to meetings where higher level decisions are made is the first factor that sets them apart as well as the fact that they may now have to give feedback to people they used to be very friendly with. The common ground of all being in the same boat has changed. It is sometimes the downside of stepping up and furthering your career.

In other multinational organisations managers join the company from abroad and have no network of friends in their new base, which makes work the only point of social networks and contacts. The challenge is to be a manager and to make friends at your own level, often I see managers becoming very friendly with team members, which invariably causes envy and an opportunity to be played by staff.

In my view the best and most objective approach to management is to clearly draw a professional line. If that means creating a little bit of distance between you and your former team or new team, it will put you in a stronger management position. It is easier to be objective and detached about business decisions involving people.

Wanting to be seen as one of the ‘boys’ is something I come across a lot in large companies and the after hours drinking or sports becoming the common factor. The risk with this is that in your drunken moments you do let out company confidential information or you become persuaded by your team members of an injustice even if the view is completely tainted by their personal opinions and circumstances. I have seen serious under-performers playing managers out of hours and when it comes to dealing with their under-performance managers don’t do it, which in terms creates a culture where as long as you are friendly with the boss, you can get away with just about anything. It is a breeding ground for bad practice and often bullying by the perceived ‘untouchable’ party.

Strong and skilled staff typically appreciates professional and supportive management with transparency in decision making and communication. They will challenge the poor variety and they will start playing the system if that is the only way up in an organisation or else when it really doesn’t reconcile with their values they will leave.

You can spot the influencers, because they always have a reason to come and talk to you both during working hours and outside them. You will receive the most random invitations from them. They will do their best to give inside information, which is intended to help you make better decisions, however usually some information will be subjectively tainted and would require objective verification on your part.

As a middle manager you are always the conduit in the middle of the conversation, you are doing your best to implement the messages from senior management as well as listening to the issues from the team. It is a delicate and often fine balance to be caught up in and when you are in this boat you have 2 sides that are playing you at the same time. The only way through is to find your happy medium and at all times do your own research so you can make an educated and objective decision. Most employees will enjoy working for a fair and professional manager, yet the statistics continue to read that the main reason for leaving an organisation is bad management.

At times being a manager can be an isolated role at any level of an organisation, because as a human being you want to reach your targets as much as the next person. You would like to be perceived as fair, objective and good at what you do; more often than not you are being questioned on those very things often by people with their own very coloured agenda’s. The biggest fear of CEOs of top companies is to be found out that they don’t know everything and that sometimes they are not so sure whether the next decision is the right decision, but they still have to sell the strategy and vision of where they want to go.

In my view as a manager what is key is to work with your own values in mind and some can be non-negotiable, I place a lot of importance on integrity and would have major issues when the wool is pulled over my eyes or in business dealings when other people are being compromised. I have to say what is on my mind most of the time, which is why I make an excellent coach as you will receive instant feedback, but as a manager this isn’t always the best policy. The other part of being a manager is staying professional and if that means creating a little bit of distance to allow objective decision making, just do it. In any case watch the players and learn the rules of the game.

How life shapes us

How life shapes us

It’s funny how life often shows us exactly what we are all about through our interactions with other people, some people tell you straight what they see and others merely hold up mirrors that when you choose to look and take notice give you interesting reflections on you. In my work as a coach, I am often the person pointing out the obvious messages or my observations about people and some find that great and are really open to hearing the observations, other people just back off into their own shell again and sometimes I do both also. It’s a bit like the Chinese saying ‘ when the student is ready the teacher will come’, that doesn’t always equate to liking the the lesson in my opinion, but teachers cross our paths every day of the week.

A recent event with a friend made me think and realise at how much they were holding up a giant mirror for me, either to see in a good or bad lights how things change and how life events shape and affect us in a lot of ways.

If you don’t like to hear all the deep and meaningful stuff or philosophical interludes of my mind, I would advise you to tune out and come back another day when I pick something way lighter to write about.

About this time 2 years ago I was heading out to Cambodia on a trip, for a lot of reasons i should not have made this trip, yet thanks to to help of some key people I did end up going and it is only now that the benefits are coming together. So you know who you are, I thank you very much for every bit of help you were willing to give and I sure hope that in time I can repay all you put in, thank you all the same.

We were only a group of 14 people visiting some magnificent sites, learning about the work of what is now one of my favourite charities namely Friends International and equally spending time with like minded people in business and learning from Dave Lakhani and Chris Howard as well as everyone on this adventure.

One of the days Dave Lakhani was helping each of us to make our personal life story into persuasive story we could use in our respective businesses. So when it was my turn, I did as I was asked and gave my full life story through my eyes and words; now if you know me well enough you know I have packed in a lot of experiences ranging from good to bad to ugly in a relatively short space of time. He stopped me somewhere into the story and said this one wasn’t ready for editing. At the time I was stunned, I really believed I had dealt with most of the things I experienced and was quite taken aback by his reaction, which then triggered anger, doubts and a whole load of negative self-talk, etc. etc on my part.

I did have some conversations with Dave and other people on the trip about it and he felt there was an enormous sense of grief, loss and sadness about me,which confused me because the only real loss of life I had experienced was that of my grandparents and whilst I was very close to my grandmother I also felt that I was at peace with this aspect of my life. He also recommended a book called the ‘Grief recovery handbook’ by John James and Russell Friedman. When I was done being angry and sorry for myself, the book arrived and it was probably one of those eye openers when you read and finally feel totally understood or just about get to understand yourself.I did all of the exercises and went with the flow of the book. I did clear up some relationships that I didn’t think would ever change, but also it helped me see that we all attach feelings and emotions to events and experiences even if they are a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time or how we interpret things and make them into insurmountable crazy issues, just so we can be noticed and feel the attention.

Coming back to recent events, it is ironic that recently I met a person who is extremely charming, funny, witty, etc and yet also carries a strange sense of loss and sadness around. By observing them, I realised how far I had come and that exactly this was probably me back then. So for that I thank the person greatly, because maybe I needed to notice.

To share some of the key things that I took away from the book. Some of our life experiences from relationship endings to business closures or job or country changes cause the same effect as losing a dear relative or friend, which means we also have same senses of loss and grief to work through. In most of our society though, grief, sadness, loss etc is not something the general public wants to deal with or is able to deal with and we all process it in our unique ways. Some of go quiet, others have to talk about it and the timeframe is completely irrelevant, it’s as if your body intuitively knows when you can handle the final grief, because in the immediate aftermath of a crisis, we also have this amazing coping mechanism kicking in. In a way it never ceases to amaze me how much our body can tell us what we can and can’t deal with at the time.

In terms of time frame it is not uncommon for major issues to come up, years later, purely because we probably cleared up other things or grew internally so we ended up ready to deal with them. I often have clients come back to significant events in business that affected them and at the time they may not have paid much attention, but when they are ready it pops back up.

Yesterday I had a meeting with a client and we were talking about the analogy of diamonds and coaching. She had been looking at alternative ways to explain that she was a life coach, she now is in the diamond business, which means she takes the rough stone and helps the person find the true gem, because there is one in each of us. That is exactly what my friend that triggered all of this looks like to me, and I guess that is what I looked or maybe still look like in the eyes of others on that trip to Cambodia. I love the analogy though, sometimes grief, loss, life, etc just get’s in the way of the true gem coming out and maybe it is because we are protecting it’s beauty or we are afraid it may shine too strongly or whatever else.

If you look at it from a distance and with time perspective, life is what shapes us to be the people we are and I truly believe there is a gem in each and everyone of us, some of us just like to cover it with more rough edges than others for our own reasons. I do hope you find the courage in you to dare and show the brilliant side and go out and find the gem inside and if the gem get’s muddied with events, just do what it takes to polish it off and keep shining brightly.

The inner critic: are you managing yours?

The inner critic: are you managing yours?

We all have an inner voice, an inner critic which regularly distributes self-talk that is extremely far removed from being helpful or constructive. In a way it is a trained voice, which can take the shape of a previous boss, family members or relationships past or present. Whether it is circumstances or society at large that have shaped the words and viciousness of this unlikely invisible character, I am not sure of, but it is a powerful source that can stop us in our tracks at any given time.

Even with my most successful clients I am often amazed how much they still listen to that inner voice which often so fundamentally knocks them off their chosen path or destination. As their coach I am in the privileged position to point out that the inner critic is not necessarily basing its opinions on facts, but rather on perceptions or feelings and most often doubts and fears.

When you are working in the positive field of business coaching and training, it is often assumed that we don’t have those demons anymore and I can safely say that no coach and trainer is immune from the inner critic, whether they admit to having one is probably a personal choice, but we all have one.

The inner critic is massively powerful, it can stops us from achieving great things or even stops us from going after what we truly want, based on some irrational perceptions or fears. When you are really truthful and honest with yourself, what has the inner critic stopped you from doing? Did you still go ahead and was it as bad as your inner critic had predicted?

The level of ease with which we recognise when the inner critic is talking and the tools we use to manage this resource is what sets us apart and equally determines our level of success in the chosen field and in life in general.

Personally I spend a lot of time working alone even though it is with people and at some level we look for feedback or confirmation of our abilities, expertise, likeability, etc and when we don’t receive external responses or non-favourable responses, it is then that the inner critic has a field day. On those days managing that voice is essential.

What I do to manage the inner critic is write in a journal, which is not for publication or reading by anyone not even the closest of friends or family. Equally I do my best to regularly read motivational books, articles and surround myself with positive and supportive friends. In addition to these techniques I sometimes use recorded NLP techniques and I also have my own coach, who has my best interest at heart.

With my clients I often ask them to get back to the facts about themselves, when the inner critic has been particularly harsh. I ask them to make an objective factual list of all their achievements, qualifications, awards and things they learned since they were born and getting this list started often feels odd to people, because we are so pre-programmed to see the shortcomings and do our best to not be boastful especially not about ourselves. Yet, if you think about it, you have achieved an awful lot since you were born even down to simple things such as learning to walk, read, write, etc, I challenge you to write out the list. Then when you feel down, look at the list and check whether the feelings you are having are inner critic talk or based on facts.

Have fun managing the inner critic and never forget that it is perfectly alright to be gentle on you!

Giving by nature

Giving by nature

Over the last few weeks a few people have been asking me why I am involved in Rotary and in the past I have had the same questions about the Cork Choral Festival and the Cork City Sports and any other organisation I have been part of. I find it a difficult question to answer and yet I know when I do become involved in something I have to give it everything I have got or it’s not worth being part of, so I guess the answer is deep-rooted somewhere in my value system.

I do believe I was born with the intent to make a difference on a large scale. Equally I was brought up to give back to society. I remember debates in school where most people came up with things that were important to them in the short term and me dreaming up concepts like world peace and large scale improvements that would affect communities. Even when I was a small child, I remember receiving comments on how I would come up with the strangest concepts towards the greater good of the community or whatever other cause took my interest at the time from suicide prevention to protecting the environment, etc. etc…

In my direct family my grand mother was a great campaigner in looking after people less fortunate, my dad was involved in a number of organisations for disabled and then sports events and really early on he got me little gigs as a volunteer to various sports events, which I always loved and enjoyed. So to be honest I personally believe that some of us are just giving creatures by nature, over time we learn to channel it into areas and things that are important to us.I have always been very aware that if all we do is focus on ourselves then we aren’t really living life for any purpose other than our own and whether it’s the dreamer or naieve person in me I believe we all have a higher purpose than that.

Personally I feel strongly that I was always destined to help others, how I could help keeps changing and evolving. Sometimes it is one at a time, sometimes more, but often I bring it back to the tale of the young person throwing starfish back into the ocean after they got stranded on the beach and someone commenting that he couldn’t save them all and he simply replied well it made a difference to that one. I would like to think that whatever I do will at least impact someone and ideally in the most positive way. If you think about it, even my business is focussed on helping others achieving more than they originally thought was possible.

A couple of themes do recur in the kind of causes I support these days, one is young people and the other is achievement whether this comes in terms of athletic or musical performance or simply learning new skills. I totally believe that if we give young people support and encouragement to achieve their best potential in whatever walk of life they choose, that we can make a big difference. That doesn’t mean this is not important for adults, considering it’s my core business to work with adults on achievement. I do find that young people may not necessarily receive the best options for a number of reasons often beyond their control, which can be family or geographical circumstances or disabilities etc, so creating more chances and teaching them that more is possible, I find worthy of giving my time and effort to often free of charge.

The best experiences I have had often involved doing things for other people without necessarily looking for the return favour, but just giving for the sake of making someone else’s life better even marginally so. I remember the day we helped build the school in Peru and then commited to keep helping the village with their building projects for a school, hospital and other sustainable local economy projects and all the men in the village insisting on coming to thank us one by one… that is something I will never forget.

The same when we take 24 students on our Rotary Youth Leadership Winners week to Belfast/Dublin and Strassbourg with the aim of making them understand the various complex political and cultural issues on the island of Ireland as well as the larger context of the European Union, we can see the students grow and create bonds for life as well as live an experience they won’t forget in a hurry and for some it shapes their study and career choices. The fun and feedback I receive in addition to all the time and sometimes not so nice bits of feedback in the preparation process are often forgotten at the end of a usually exhausting week purely because I get a kick out of seeing people move forward and grow.

The funny thing is though most people like the fun and glory moments, but will not stick around to see them because of all the work, often inter-personal challenges, political nightmares etc. I guess it is at this level that people question me, when I sometimes have my own downtime moment of ranting or venting about the latest mishap in whatever organisation. If I think about the original question, the real question is why do you stick around because I am pretty sure people do understand my previous point of the satisfaction of actually simply helping others grow in whatever shape or form and I could just as easily only do this for profit only.

Hmm… part of me is very duty driven and if I have given a commitment to someone or an organisation I find it hard to go back on a promise and let them down, so sometimes I stick around and see things through because I simply gave my word that I would do something. On occassion I also see it as an opportunity to grow myself and gain new skills, which is the case with my Rotary district role I guess even if I may not have taken it with this intent originally. When I was asked to step into a leadership role my first evaluation was very much around what is the core role and because it is all youth opportunities related that was an immediate fit. I may never have children but I am determined to make a difference to young people the world over, so that was about the only role that would really interest me. Then I looked at the person asking and whether I could trust them and get on with them and from what I knew that worked out fine.

Since then I gained a few things that I hadn’t really bargained for and that is diplomatic care, leadership decisions are not always popular and that sometimes you have to drive forward even if the team is kicking and screaming. The challenge has been to remain sane and calm at times and keep a bigger picture view as opposed to resorting to small time politics in large organisations.

So the challenge of making something work and to pull off a good event or a a minor stroke of lucky genius, is another factor. The hurdle jumping that happens often away from the public domain, which are the anecdotes of the future for example with the Cork City Sports a shotputter getting into my car for his journey to the next event, but with only an hour to go to his flight informing us his shotput was still at the track, which on the eve of the event finishing closes and yet thanks to some phoning around and a team pulling together having the guy boarded his flight with his shotput. Or for the Cork Choral Festival making a up a gift for the Lord Mayor whilst the choir is rehearsing for their performance and hence nobody looking badly and from the outside making it look as if it always was perfect. I get a kick out of these things too.

I hesitated when taking the district position with Rotary and nearly 9 months in I have to admit it has definitely not been easy and often I have questioned whether it is worthwhile to continue, but I have gained insight into myself that I didn’t believe I had in me and may actually consider other public facing leadership position with a little more ease and a lot less naive view of people in organisations especially highly traditional and hierarchical ones.

Big organisations often get criticised for being about photo opportunities and personal glory and I guess if you are highly critical and take away any background work it would even be easy to say that about me too. The only response I have to that is from card my granny sent me years and years ago when I first moved to Ireland ‘Sometimes you have to be wiser than the others and say nothing’. I know how much organisation and time it took to complete and get an event working and it always takes a lot of work behind the scenes. I do enjoy praise and thanks for a finished job, but that is usually not the driving force that got it started.

The people you meet and the friendships that are created out of being part of different networks are absolutely invaluable. I have some great friends around the world purely from giving back freely mainly of my time and skills. When times turned in business, some of the best friends stepped up out of organisations that I had given time and skills to, purely to stand by me or fight my corner because of the respect they had and some did just give me non-judgemental companionship without knowing that this was vital for me at the time.

To come back to the original question, I think at some level I am just a giving person by nature, over time I have narrowed down my causes and reasons for doing things and every year I do re-evaluate whether something is worth sticking with for the year to come. I am not sure whether everything I do is completely self-less nor does it need to be, I help people for my own living and I sometimes choose roles to grow and evolve my skills, but ultimately if it contains fun, young people, an element of adventure or challenge and achievement to some extent I will be interested.

This is a long and philosophical and even abit self-reflective answer to a simple question, but when it comes to values and beliefs I suppose there is no easy short answer. By all means share your own ideas as well as be respectful of mine and others.