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Active Listening for Leaders

Active Listening: an Essential Leadership Skill

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“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Stephen Covey, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

Being a great leader is not just about what you say and do, it involves listening to the voices of others too. Active listening is an essential leadership skill and core component of emotional intelligence. How many times have employees within organisations said that they just want their voices to be heard? People want leaders who listen to them, and doing so is a very effective way to inspire and motivate them.


What does it take to be a good listener?

Active listening goes above and beyond simply being quiet and paying attention. It involves body language, participation and exploring the conversation. There are many components that contribute to this skill, here are a few major ones:


6 Components of Active Listening

1. Undivided Attention: Pay attention to what the other person is saying and avoid being distracted by your own thoughts and thinking of what you are going to say next. Ensure your phone is away so that you’re able to give the person your undivided attention. If you’re not able to, it may be able to reschedule for another time that you can. Giving someone your undivided attention demonstrates respect.


2. Body Language: Show that you are listening through your body language. This can be done through eye contact, nodding your head, facial expressions, short statements such as ‘yes’ and ‘mhmmmm’ and keeping your body turned in the same direction as the person you are listening to.


3. Withhold Judgement: Leaders need to be receptive to new ideas, perspectives and ways of doing things. Maintain an open mind while listening and avoid jumping to conclusions. While you may have an opinion, active listening involves allowing the other person to express theirs without interjections or criticism. Allow the person to have time to think and speak before responding or contributing your perspective.


4. Seek Clarity: If you are not sure or do not understand what the person is getting at don’t be afraid to ask questions. Open-ended questions are great tools for learning more about the person and expanding the conversation.


5. Restate What You Hear: Restating the underlying themes you hear in a conversation shows the other person that you understand what they are saying and are truly listening. It also allows them to realise if their point is not coming across clearly and rectify it in the event that what you have restated does not align with what they are trying to communicate.


6. Share: Active listening begins with understanding, and ends with being understood. As the conversation progresses feel free to deepen it by contributing your own perspective, experiences and ideas. This will build a rapport and positive relationship.


The Impact of Active Listening

Listening builds trust, creates transparency and fosters loyalty. Active listening also give leaders insight and makes them more mindful of the stress and tension points of those they lead. It encourages stronger communication between leaders and team members and drives engagement. It can also act as an indispensable soft skill during the conflict resolution process.

By taking the time to master this skill leaders can go from simply being leaders to being influential leaders within their respective organisations. Going the extra mile and encouraging employees to learn active listening skills or providing them with training can truly transform an organisation and team culture.

The Importance of Showing Vulnerability as a Leader
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“Vulnerability is the best measure of courage” ~ Brené Brown

At a glance, vulnerability is seen as a weakness, particularly in business. When it comes to leadership, vulnerability is often treated as a liability for leaders. Leaders feel a constant pressure to perform at a higher level than others. After all, it is leaders who are expected to have a vision, take the actions necessary to bring it to fruition and answer the tough questions along the path.

In reality, this view of vulnerability prevents leaders from being effective. When we hear the stories of successful people we are frequently inspired by the circumstances and obstacles they were able to overcome along their path. Although we go to great lengths to hide our own vulnerability, it is most often the vulnerable leaders who share their weaknesses and struggles that we find the most authentic, inspiring and easy to connect with.

Not only does vulnerability allow us to be our authentic selves, it is a powerful tool that we can use to empower others. So how does one go about utilising their vulnerability as a leader? Here are some important points:

What is Vulnerability in Leadership?

Contrary to popular belief, being vulnerable does not mean you have to share your deepest, most personal secrets and let it all hang out. It means letting your guard down, putting pretenses aside and being yourself.

Brene Brown, the best-selling author of books including The Power of Vulnerability and Daring Greatly, has done extensive research on vulnerability. Brene argues that vulnerability is ‘engaging in life, being all in, dedicating yourself to something.’  

A leader who expresses vulnerability is someone who does not feel compelled to be the first to answer or come up with an idea. Being vulnerable as a leader involves a change in mindset that enables you to see through the eyes of the people you lead. By doing so, you invite them to become the drivers of the conversation. The result is that people become more involved and invested.


How to be Vulnerable as a Leader

Although we are all vulnerable at the core, expressing this outwardly in a meaningful way is not easy nor is it necessarily comfortable. Here are a few ways to open up communication and vulnerability in your leadership practices:

Learn the Value Vulnerability- Being vulnerable doesn’t make you weak, it allows you to show people your authentic self.

Recognise Your Own Vulnerability- Confronting your own self-doubt is a great starting point for getting in touch with your own vulnerability. No one is free of worry or reservation at all times. When you address your own self-doubts they lose their power over you, and in doing so help you better empower others.

Practice Vulnerability- Even if you see the value in vulnerability it does not automatically translate in being able to convey that vulnerability freely. Most of us need to practice being vulnerable because we’re used to doing the opposite. Work on your vulnerability by being an active listener and not worrying about saying the right thing. Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t have all the answers or be wrong. Sometimes the boldest thing a leader can do is listen and truly hear other people’s ideas and answers.

Using Vulnerability as a Superpower

Emotionally intelligent leaders recognise vulnerability as a powerful tool. Smart leaders who are in touch with their vulnerability and express it appropriately at the right times to the right people will experience greater support from their followers in addition to empowering and inspiring them.

Here are some powerful benefits vulnerable leaders experience:

Meaningful Connections- By embracing moments of vulnerability leaders can form more genuine connections.  Even though it may feel uncomfortable it portrays the leader as a real person rather than a robot, someone relatable.

Greater Innovation- Although leaders do have a an important role to play by absorbing fear and uncertainty, courageously expressing vulnerability allows them to lead with authenticity. This fosters a growth-mindset culture in organizations by creating a sense of psychological safety, allowing employees to move beyond their comfort zone and take risks. By meeting uncertainty with openness and a willingness to learn vulnerable leaders and their teams set themselves up for greater innovation.

Accepting Help- Leaders often find it challenging to delegate a portion of their work to others. This may involve admitting that they have too much on their plate or that someone else may be better suited to the task at hand. By letting go and allowing someone else to take on a portion of the responsibility leaders demonstrate trust in their team and are sharing their vision. It also allows them to focus on their strengths and leverage the contributions of others rather than struggling alone with their weaknesses.

Decreased Stress: Expressing vulnerability can kick the elephant out of the room and allow people to talk freely about topics that may otherwise have been uncomfortably avoided. The result is increased openness and decreased tension in work environments (and for leaders themselves).

Greater Self-Awareness: When leaders identify their vulnerabilities and express them appropriately, leaders can become more self-aware and less insulated.

Identifying Issues Faster: By creating a more open, communicative work environment through their own vulnerability leaders are then able to discover problems faster. People are more likely to bring issues forward and admit to mistakes if they are less afraid of doing so.  Vulnerability stimulates collaboration, learning and growth rather than fear, cover up and blame.



Although it may seem paradoxical, showing vulnerability is actually showing strength. Exhibiting such authenticity and speaking truthfully about vulnerabilities is the essence of leading with a growth mindset. Vulnerability is indeed a superpower and leaders should take the time to learn how and when to use it to empower those they lead.



Developing Heightened Emotional Intelligence
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Our emotions drive our behaviour and have an impact on others. We respond to stimuli in our environment on an emotional level and many of our decisions are based on these feelings.  Emotional intelligence, or EQ, is defined as the ability to recognise, understand and manage our own emotions as well as recognise, understand and influence the emotions of others.

According to Talent Smart, 90 percent of high performers possess high EQ, while 80 percent of low performers have a low EQ. Increasing our EQ can have a huge impact on our relationships, careers, self-control and perspective. The good news is that your emotional intelligence can be enhanced and improved overtime so long as you have the desire to learn and grow.

While emotional intelligence is commonly treated as a quality in and of itself it is actually a collection of many traits. Here are some of the top qualities associated with high EQ and ways you can enhance them:


Self-Awareness

To be self-aware is to understand how we are interacting with and reacting to stimuli in our environment. It is the ability to understand and see ourselves and adjust our behaviour accordingly. Increasing our own self-awareness involves being mindful of how our thoughts manifest themselves in our body. Pay attention to how your feelings feel, whether it be carrying tension or an increased heart rate. By developing deeper mind-body awareness we are better able to recognise our emotions and the impact they may be having on us. By becoming more aware of our emotions we are better able to evaluate them and deal with them accordingly.


Empathy

Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes and is an essential quality of emotional intelligence. It gives us perspective and connects us to others on a deeper level. While our primary experience of empathy is simply a reaction to others, greater empathy can be learned and improved by experiences and mindfulness. Taking the perspective of another person is not something most of us do reactively. It involves taking the time to mentally imagine how they may be feeling. To become more empathetic take a moment to put yourself in the other person's shoes and then determine the best way to interact with them.


Adaptability

Emotionally intelligent people recognise that they can always change and know when to adjust their sails. Adaptability is recognizing that the current method or course is not leading them in the direction they need to be going and trying different strategies rather than giving up. Frustration or feeling as though you are ‘in a rut’ can be a red flag that you need to adapt. Leaders constantly need to adapt their leadership method in order to motivate and inspire those who follow them. If you have been trying one approach and find you are not getting the results you want, it may be time to adapt.


Prioritisation

A major part of increasing your EQ is being able to distinguish between things you need and things you want and prioritise them accordingly. This also involves an internal awareness about what we need and want in our lives versus what society tells us we should want: a mansion, luxury car and the latest phone. We all have the potential to do many things, but only 24 hours to do it in. It is easy to make a long list of things we should be doing but at the end of the day the difference lies in knowing what not to do.


The Ability to Analyse & Apply Logic

It is important to be able to look at our emotions and behaviour, and that of others, with a non-reactive, more logical lense. By thinking deeply and analyzing the information we have rather than simply reacting we are able to evaluate our habits and ways of doing things and determine how we may improve them in the future. It is when we are on the verge of losing control, take a step back and try to process your emotions in a more logical manner. This will help you regain your sense of control and move towards problem solving rather than being a victim of your own emotions.


Being Inquisitive

Emotionally intelligent people ask lots of questions because they are willing to learn and improve. A sense of curiosity is essential to personal growth. This quality also has a positive impact on relationships as it allows you to deepen your empathy and understanding of others by asking lots of questions. This is a fairly straightforward quality to cultivate, you simply need to start asking more questions and you will slowly find that you get better at knowing what questions to ask and getting the right answers.


Optimism

Developing heightened emotional intelligence means believing in yourself and others. Approaching tasks with a positive attitude tends to lead to better outcomes.

The most important part of maintaining a positive attitude is being able to manage our own negative emotions. Try to be less reactive and avoid jumping to conclusions. Look at the situation from multiple perspectives before reacting. This reduces the chances of a misunderstanding due to a negative assumption.

Another obstacle to optimism is fear. Fear of rejection can hold us back. An emotionally intelligent way to deal with fear is to give ourselves lot of options when dealing with important situations, also termed scenario planning, so that no matter what happens we have confidence in our ability to cope and choose alternatives.

Staying Calm

We all experience stress, it is how we handle this stress that makes the difference. Emotionally intelligent people know how to be assertive rather than reactive when under pressure. When faced with stress our bodies often go into ‘fight or flight’ mode. One of the best ways to stay calm is to get rid of the physical presentation of stress in the body and back into your mind. This can be done through breathing exercises, physical activity and making sure we get enough rest when under stress.


We all have varying degrees of emotional intelligence and different strengths and weaknesses within our EQs. Identify which aspects of developing heightened emotional intelligence need the most attention. This approach will help you deepen your understanding of yourself and others and allow you to be a better friend, family member, partner, parent, coworker and leader.

Nine Ways to Overcome Anxiety & Avoidance
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Anxiety can lead to avoidance and what we commonly refer to as procrastination. This creates a catch 22 as avoidance creates stress and increases anxiety about whatever it is we may be avoiding.

When we feel overwhelmed we often procrastinate. We all have things we feel overwhelmed by whether it’s one big task or a series of small tasks that are piling up like a mountain. Sometimes willpower alone is not enough to motivate us to tackle what we have been avoiding. Anxiety and a pattern of avoidance can cause procrastination to get out of hand. Therefore, it is wise to develop a set of strategies to help you break through procrastination and avoidance.

Here are 9 strategies for overcoming anxiety, avoidance and procrastination:


1. Sort Tasks by Project Rather than Days

Save the space on your daily to-do list for things you truly need to do that day. Over cluttering your daily to-do lists can make you feel as though you are constantly falling behind as you run out of time and continue to have to bump tasks to the next day. Instead try creating a list of tasks around each project and outline all the actions you need to take so that you can tackle them when you have time.

2. Check Your Expectations

Sometimes we overestimate how much we can get done in a single day. When our expectations of ourselves are not in line with what we can actually accomplish it can lead to stress, anxiety, lower confidence levels and ultimately procrastination and avoidance.

A great way to assess what you can actually get done in a day is to see how much you manage to get through on your daily to-do list during an average week. By looking at what you have actually done rather than what you need to do you can create more realistic expectations for yourself in the future.

3. Watch Out for All-or-Nothing Thinking

All-or-Nothing thinking is very common among people who experience anxiety.  For example, if you need to reply to a couple dozen emails the task seems much bigger if you think you need to tackle all of them at once. Instead, just look at them as individual replies rather than something you have to do all at once.

4. Identify Tasks Where You Have Predicted a Negative Outcome

Sometimes we avoid doing something or seeking feedback because we fear getting negative information. If we do not feel confident that we can cope with negative outcomes we are more likely to avoid facing reality. Half of the battle is identifying that you are making negative predictions. Once you have, a good way to overcome this is to recognise that the outcome may not be negative, or that if it is you will be able to cope. It is a good exercise to think about how you will cope with any negative emotions associated with a task, such as dealing with debt. When you plan on how you will manage your feelings around a task it will make it a lot easier to take the steps you need to in order to get it done.

5. Adopt a Growth Mindset

Having a fixed mindset can lead to avoidance coping and a growth mindset can overcome it. Fixed mindsets affect our confidence and competence when approaching a task leading to thoughts such as ‘I can’t do this’ or ‘I am not good at giving speeches’. A growth mindset can help us overcome anxiety and avoidance by increasing our confidence that we can learn new skill sets and improve on existing ones. Learn more about Growth vs. Fixed Mindsets.

6. Seek Support

Sometimes we experience anxiety and avoidance because a task is actually too much work or requires too much knowledge to tackle on our own.These difficulties are common for new tasks where the path is less clear. Sometimes we need help or advice on the best way to approach a task. Allow others to help you with difficult tasks.

7. Learn to Tolerate Uncertainty

Uncertainty can cause a lot of anxiety that ultimately manifests itself as avoidance. This is commonly referred to as feeling stuck or not knowing where to start. In many instances we spend a lot of time working through different scenarios rather than taking the first step. Learning to tolerate and accept uncertainty can help get us moving on a task.  

8. Clear Obstacles

If you have been avoiding a task for a long time and it is particularly important, such as choosing health insurance or filing a tax return, try setting aside an entire day dedicated to the task. While you may not need an entire day to get the task done, clearing your to-do list so there are no other options for procrastination can help you focus and tackle the tasks you have been putting off.

9. Reward Yourself

Some tasks are not enjoyable or have negative feelings associated with them, leading to greater anxiety and avoidance. Sometimes rewarding yourself for doing a task can make it easier to begin the process of knocking it off of your to-do list.

10 Habits of High Performers
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When we look at successful people we often think they are lucky, when in reality success is almost certainly the result of hours of work, sacrifices and learning from when things haven’t gone to plan. Although each person has their own individual path to creating successful outcomes there are several habits that are common among high achievers.

Here are some of the top habits of high performers:

1. Embracing the Morning

The easiest way to let the day slip away from you is to sleep through it. By having a healthy morning routine high performers set the tone for the day. It is far easier to optimise your time when you wake up at the same time each day and have a consistent routine. Ensure your morning routine sets your mind and body up for success.

2. Learning From Failure

Everyone fails, even high performers. However, high performers make a point of learning from failure and seeing it as an opportunity to improve. When you fail you can determine what to do in order to succeed next time.

3. Acting from a Place of Purpose

In addition to determining what we want to do we need to find the reasons why. High performers have a sense of purpose that guides their actions and decisions. Acting from a place of purpose makes our work and sacrifices more meaningful and can help us stay motivated.

4. Developing Patience

Overnight successes typically come after years of hard work. In order to become a high performer you must be patient with yourself and focus on the steps along the road to achieving the results you desire.

5. Self-Care

Performing at a high level requires a great deal of energy. In order to generate this energy high performers understand that they must take care of their mental and physical stamina. If we are too fatigued and not properly nourished it is difficult to maintain focus.

6. Task Prioritisation

Everyone has the same 24 hours in each day. In order to be productive high performers prioritise the activities that will have the greatest impact. Sometimes this means learning to say no to opportunities that are not related to your end goals.

7. Minimising Distractions

Staying focused takes a lot of discipline. Sometimes success means staying at the office and working on a beautiful sunny day. While this is not enjoyable, high performers understand the importance of getting things done and saying no to distractions.

8. Seeking Knowledge

Successful people tend to be lifelong learners who seek out new information and feedback that can guide them along their way. They read books, listen to podcasts and invest in conferences to continually extend their knowledge.

9. Choosing Positive People

Negative people have no place in a high performer’s social circle. It is crucial to surround yourself with people who have a similar outlook and are supportive. Friends that drain your energy or distract you can hinder your ability to achieve your goals.

10. Maintaining a Positive Attitude

High performers generally adopt a proactive, positive approach to everything they do. Positivity is a much better motivator than fear of failure, as fear is more likely to create inhibitions that stand in the way of your achievements.


Each individual defines success differently. It is important to define what success means and looks like for you and to determine what steps you need to take in order to get there.

Action: write down what success means to you and determine three things that you can change today in order to get you one step closer to success.





How To Turn a Confrontation Into a Conversation
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Confrontation is typically viewed in a negative light. Many of us associate confrontations with the dramatised versions we see on TV and social media that are overflowing with insults and threats. For most of us, conflict may take days - even years - to truly surface and while it may not be as dramatic it can be deeply uncomfortable.

Conflict is a part of life and depending on how you approach it, conflict can also serve as an opportunity to open up dialogue. The majority of people do not particularly like conflict and many of us go out of our way to avoid it. Avoiding conflict can be even more detrimental than having a confrontation as it denies us the opportunity to express ourselves and may deny others the opportunity to alter their behaviour. It is especially important for leaders to become adept at conflict resolution.

Ideally conversations will happen before they manifest as confrontations. However, more often than not we will find ourselves experiencing conflict with someone. Even if this is the case the confrontation can still be redirected into conversation.

Why conversation over confrontation? When in a fight people tend to take on a ‘win/lose’ mentality. When people are focused on winning they are less likely to be receptive to feedback, open to resolution or trying to come to an agreement. This is why it is crucial to transform a confrontation into a conversation to achieve the best outcome possible for both parties.

Here are 5 steps for turning confrontation into conversation:

 

1. Increase Your Internal Awareness

If you are not actively engaged in a face to face conflict you have the opportunity to increase your own awareness on the issue before confronting someone or being confronted. Doing so will allow you to better express yourself and empathise with the other person. Even in the time following a confrontation there is the opportunity to increase your internal awareness on the issues and readdress them.

 

2. Acknowledgement

When you do find yourself in a face to face conflict, begin by acknowledging the frustration the other person is expressing. This does not mean you have to agree with them. You can disagree with them but still show empathy. Even if they are asking for something that you cannot deliver you can acknowledge them and move them towards discussing alternatives. Sometimes people just need to be heard and acknowledged.  

 

3. Ask Questions

Questions are a great way to explore the underlying issues causing a conflict and move away from confrontation and towards conversation. Begin by asking an open-ended question. Ensure you are asking with sincerity rather than from your own place of attack/defend. This will make the other person stop and think and can help them move out of an aggressive, defensive, confrontational state. By asking with genuine interest in the other person and their response you are much more likely to reach a mutually beneficial resolution.

 

4. Pay Attention to Your Body Language

More than 90 percent of communication is nonverbal. Pay attention to your tone of voice and ensure that your body language looks receptive rather than defensive. Having your words directed at de-escalating the conflict is not enough - your body language has to match.

 

5. Provide Feedback

If you have had a confrontation with someone and succeeded in identifying issues to be worked on be sure to acknowledge them positively when they change their behaviour. If the issue persists be sure to acknowledge it in a timely manner. The phase following a confrontation can be quite revealing. For example, if the person is an employee and they fail to change their behaviour or address the issue at hand it may become apparent that they are not a fit for your organisation.

 

Leaders who embrace these steps become very adept at dealing with confrontation and winning respect in the process. Make no mistake, leaders who are great at conflict-resolution dislike confronting people as much as anyone else but have learned to pick and choose their battles, often anticipating conflicts before they even materialise. For example, a leader who has issues with one of their employee’s performance may wisely opt to deal with these issues as they arise rather than waiting for the problem to spread.

The next time you are in a situation where there is the potential for conflict try to open up the dialogue rather than avoid discussion. This will likely lead to much better results and prevent confrontations down the line.

 

My 8 tips for living your best life

“I want to live my best life” is often the goal my clients write down and it got me thinking about what I think are the most important tips for living your best life. Here are eight tips I’ve learned about living the best life I can.

Be yourself

You don’t have to sacrifice your beliefs and lose who you are to be successful. Staying true to your core values is imperative to your success and happiness. You can achieve what you set out to without losing yourself along the way.

Be courageous

It takes a lot of courage to go after your dreams. Being brave doesn't mean being a fool. Take calculated risks. But being bold and a risk taker doesn’t mean being foolish; the key is to always protect the downside.

Dream big

Without a dream, there’s no vision. You have to dream big so that you know what you’re working towards. Don’t be limited by the current state of play as things change all the time. I have a big dream and remind myself of it all the time. Everything I do is contributing to that dream.

Be respectful

Your success in life is based on the relationships you make and the reputation you develop along the way. Be respectful of every person you meet and do business with. Every interaction you have with people around you matters, so be aware, be kind and always think of others.

Say yes

Yes is a crucial word. Even if I have no idea how I’m going to get there, I prefer to say yes and work it out along the way. It really leads you to amazing opportunities, meeting new people and doing things you could never imagine.

Have fun

Fun is something we forget about as adults, particularly when it comes to work. If you’re having fun, you’ll be more energised and it won’t feel like work. So how do you have fun in your work? Do something you’re passionate about.

Give back

It’s really this simple. Giving back offers huge personal rewards. There’s really nothing else that offers such a great return on investment than this. The greatest give you can give someone is your time. And it’s through helping others that you will often find answers to your own challenges.

Look after yourself

The only way you can truly live your best life is if you look after your mind and body. The key to your best life is your health and this has to be your priority. My health and wellbeing is paramount because if I can’t be my best self, how can I help others?