Common Sense vs Common Practise

How often do we hear people on courses saying things like, ‘yes, I know’ or ‘I’ve seen this before on other workshops’, whilst doing nothing to change their behaviour as a result?  It harks back to that wonderful Einstein comment about it being insanity to keep doing the same things and expecting different results.  So why is that we understand the sense of something and why it might help us achieve the results we seek, but we still resist adopting the appropriate behaviour?

It doesn’t just apply at work of course, but throughout our lives.  We so easily fall into the habit of behaving in certain ways and despite overwhelming evidence that a change of behaviour will help us, we still don’t make the change, or maybe we do, but then revert to type at the first challenge we face.

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I was reading an article recently about how Gym memberships soar by around 40% in January, but in no time at all those good intentions die.  The article reported that some gyms depend upon it and sign up far more members than they actually have room for because they know that within a matter of weeks attendance dwindles rapidly.  However, many people continue to pay monthly membership fees for some time after they stop working out, so it is good news for the gyms!  

We all know that keeping up a sensible level of exercise, especially for those of us in sedentary jobs, is a good idea for our general health and wellbeing. However, for many of us, knowing it is one thing and actually changing our habits is another, whether it is exercise, diet, or other potentially health threatening life patterns.

It seems that when it comes to changing our behaviour what most of us need is one of those ‘ah ha moments’ that hits us somewhere other than just intellectually.  We need an emotional sucker punch, something that actually makes us recognise that this applies to us and helps us feel differently about the impact of our current behaviour, prompting us to make a much deeper decision to change things.  Often this is a simple story.  Rather than a complex, work-related example, it is an everyday anecdote that applies to just about all of us and gives that gut-punch feeling of ‘that’s me, I do that!’

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Although The Living Leader works with many organisations of all types and size, one of the things that our trainers focus on in our programmes is finding those personal stories that are more likely to create that deeper connection and trigger self-awareness, so that individuals start to feel a more compelling sense of what they could achieve by instigating some small behavioural changes.  When I first attended The Personal Leadership Programme 20 years ago, it was a simple, personal story that helped me to think from a different angle. It happened in a heartbeat.  As a result, I made a decision to take adopt a different approach in social situations, nothing earth-shattering and probably barely recognisable to others, but it had a significant impact on how I connected with others and of course, they with me.   As a result, my confidence grew and that impacted my whole life, especially my work.  One short, true story, told straight from the heart, quite simply changed my life.  The content of the story was common sense, nothing that I didn’t already know, but I had just never taken it on board and applied it to me in that way before.

Just knowing something isn’t enough, that is only the first step.  We need to feel inspired at an emotional or gut level to do something different and when that moment happens, common sense can become common practise.

But I’m Not A Leader

Who said that?  

We have all probably heard people saying that they don’t believe they are a leader.  It may be true that they don’t have the title, but does that mean they are not in a position to lead?  In the words of Stephen Covey, ‘leadership is a choice, not a position’.

So what does leadership mean?  If we look in the dictionary, it defines a leader as the person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country and leadership as the act of doing this. This fits with our traditional thinking and beliefs around leaders.  For example, we will often hear people describe youngsters as ‘natural leaders’ because they are ordering their friends around or organising everything.

What if we were to look at leadership differently?  Instead of thinking of it as a ‘role’, maybe we can look at it as a ‘way of living’.  If we think about our lives every day, most of us find ourselves in all kinds of situations where we have the opportunity to influence others in their thoughts or their actions.  Whether that is as a parent influencing our children, or as a friend, a colleague, a teacher or as a boss, we experience plenty of interactions where we are in a position to influence another person.  Surely, these are all opportunities for us to step up as leaders.

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So how do we influence effectively?  Most of us probably think first about giving other the benefit of our experience, our knowledge and our ideas, so that they can make the ‘right’ decision.  However, we have all no doubt experienced times when, having taken the time to offer up all our very best advice, it has been either ignored, or at best, only acted upon in part.  In reality, often our most influential tools are our ability to ask searching questions and the skill of listen with our full attention.

Frequently we see examples of how the most effective leaders are able to inspire others to be totally committed to achieving something, not because they are being told they need to do it but because they want to.  Usually this commitment comes because their thinking has been provoked with appropriate questions and then their ideas have been encouraged and heard, so they feel a real sense of ownership in their actions and an investment in the outcome.

If we are still struggling to think of the term leader applying to those of us who are not in a prominent role, we could all be inspired by some of the stories from the Queen’s Young Leader programme.  These awards celebrate young people who are working on issues from equality to education and mental health.  Between them they have inspired hundreds, possibly thousands of people across the world.  One example, Leanne Armitage is 22 and was chosen for her work inspiring young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and ethnic minorities to enter the medical profession.  

We are all leaders, if we choose to be, because whenever we are in a position to influence another person we have the opportunity to take a leadership approach and inspire them to find their own best way forward. 

Lessons in Leadership

Mummy knows best, right?

WRONG! 

My mantra when I'm being reactive as a parent is, "Stop for a moment and listen to her" as most of the time my daughter knows what works for her and therefore is most likely to be the best outcome for both of us. 

I learn more from my daughter than any other teacher I have had - high praise considering my mother is the founder of The Living Leader!

She always wants to listen to how my day went and really pays attention when I'm speaking. I recognise I am the instigator of her behaving this way however, she often reminds me that I do not always walk my talk. She tells me when I interrupt her and notices when I am not truly listening. 

Just because she is a few, ok a lot younger and smaller than me - she still has a voice, bright ideas and feelings to share. For example, rather than getting into a daily battle about our morning routine, we discuss together how we can make the school morning a success.

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As a result of these discussions, she took responsibility for designing the morning rota - we share feeding dogs, chickens and horses - deciding what job best suited her (such as, not being outside in the rain - smarty pants!) and what time we needed to be in the car to allow us to get to school on time without me driving like Lewis Hamilton. She took responsibility for her part in this routine and is therefore engaged in making it happen without stressing both of us. Many of us could learn from our little leaders...

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Responsibility - It's All About Me

Responsibility - It's All About Me

Well the CEO CookOff date is getting closer with terrifying speed and more and more I think about the positive impact this initiative could have on young people, their overall health plus the real help it could give to individuals who are going through excessively challenging times.

Yesterday I completed a day three of my Personal Leadership Programme and, as always, I am truly blown away by what a group of ten senior leaders have achieved in three weeks and how many lives they have positively impacted.

I believe that what Ronni Khan and now Jamie Oliver are achieving is, in really simple terms, leadership at every level.  For me, leadership is fundamentally about three things:

  • How we choose to think
  • Understanding responsibility at a profoundly deeper level
  • Communication

Surely this is what needs to happen with this initiative.  There can be the best planning and re-education in the world about the importance of great nutrition for health and well-being but, if each and every individual does not take full responsibility and ownership for the choices they now make then I would suggest that this education will achieve limited results.

If a young person has the belief that making these new choices is going to be difficult because of various reasons – the school doesn’t support the project, no one at home eats this way, it is more expensive etc. etc. – then whether that belief is useful or not, that individual will look for evidence to support that belief.  No matter how much we then do our best to tell them how important this is, we are in effect, telling them that they are not capable of thinking for themselves, we have to do it for them! I am utterly convinced that it really isn’t possible to change another person’s belief, you can only change your behaviour and hope that this may influence them to change it for themselves.  Communicating differently and asking questions to enable them to challenge their own thinking allows them to think afresh and take ownership for their choices.  With over 45,000 people having been through this programme, so pretty well researched, there is no doubt in my mind that for this initiative to really have the amazing impact that it could, leadership will be key.  To say again:

  • How we think
  • Responsibility
  • Communication

So... the closer we get to March 21st the more curious I am as to how the next steps will be played out.  Getting it right will mean that the impact on our young people and on the health of our country will be amazing.  I cannot remember the exact quote (senior moment!) and it is along the lines of ‘catch them a fish and feed them for a meal, teach them how to fish and feed them for a lifetime.’  Let’s teach them how to fish!

If you would like to support our goal of raising £2 million, you can donate here.

       Penny cooks with Jamie Oliver!    On 21 March 2017, Penny will be donning an apron for an epic night of cooking and fundraising. She is taking part in the first ever UK   CEO CookOff     – which will see 100 senior business leaders join forces with 30 top chefs, in one enormous kitchen! The aim is to raise £2 million to tackle food waste, obesity and malnutrition, through the work of the     Jamie Oliver Food Foundation     and   UKHarvest.     They’ll be serving a banquet to hundreds of everyday heroes from our schools and hospitals as a thank you for their amazing work with children and patients.     There are 13 million kids in this country, and one third of them are obese. The funds raised from the CEO CookOff will go towards food education schemes in schools, via the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation, and will also be used to save surplus food from going to landfill (and redistribute it to those in need), through the work of charity UKHarvest.     It’s a fantastic and ambitious event, which could make a real difference to the lives of millions of people. Penny has pledged to raise     £10,000     and we'd love your support to help her smash that target!     To donate, simply go to Penny's fundraising page at   www.ceocookoff.co.uk     and click ‘donate’.     Whether it’s £5 or £500, any amount you can donate is appreciated and will go a long way to help raise money for better food education, reducing food waste and feeding people who need it. 

Penny cooks with Jamie Oliver!

On 21 March 2017, Penny will be donning an apron for an epic night of cooking and fundraising. She is taking part in the first ever UK CEO CookOff – which will see 100 senior business leaders join forces with 30 top chefs, in one enormous kitchen! The aim is to raise £2 million to tackle food waste, obesity and malnutrition, through the work of the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation and UKHarvest.

They’ll be serving a banquet to hundreds of everyday heroes from our schools and hospitals as a thank you for their amazing work with children and patients.

There are 13 million kids in this country, and one third of them are obese. The funds raised from the CEO CookOff will go towards food education schemes in schools, via the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation, and will also be used to save surplus food from going to landfill (and redistribute it to those in need), through the work of charity UKHarvest.

It’s a fantastic and ambitious event, which could make a real difference to the lives of millions of people. Penny has pledged to raise £10,000 and we'd love your support to help her smash that target!

To donate, simply go to Penny's fundraising page at www.ceocookoff.co.uk and click ‘donate’.

Whether it’s £5 or £500, any amount you can donate is appreciated and will go a long way to help raise money for better food education, reducing food waste and feeding people who need it. 

A fabulous testimonial about Penny's words

A fabulous testimonial about Penny's words

“Penny Ferguson, founder of 'The Living Leader' recently addressed our Women@SIMI event. Many of our members were inspired listening to Penny’s own story.  Her openness regarding her personal experiences trials and tribulations was emotional and how she realised that she could only be responsible for the changes in her own life was refreshing to hear, as too often we avoid looking to ourselves for answers. Penny is the living example that you can change your mind set and in turn change your life.  

Penny outlined the three key factors to being a real leader the way you think positively or negatively, our understanding of taking responsibility in work and in personal life and the third communication the way we listen to people encouraging them to do things for themselves. Penny’s talk was straight forward and common sense which can be a rare thing to find these days, as too often we are swept up in jargon and catch phrases that we lose real sight of the important role we play in our own decision making process and how we can be our own leaders.” 

Society of the Irish Motor Industry (SIMI)

'Independence Day' by Penny Ferguson

'Independence Day' by Penny Ferguson

June 23rd is a day that I will remember for ever.  Not only because on June 23rd1964 my first child made his entry into this world but now because it has become what is likely to be remembered as Independence Day.  A day of truly mixed emotions – euphoria, excitement, energy, worry, panic, fear and depression.  From the highest to the lowest extreme.

 

Leadership has never been more important.  Not just thinking of leadership in the corporate sense but at every level, in every situation and in every environment.  With the absolute belief that leadership at its most basic level comes down to three things – how you choose to think, understanding responsibility at a profoundly deeper level, our communication and the impact of that communication.  I am now really going to see if I can live what I teach!

 

There has been so much rhetoric over the past weeks about why we should remain or leave the EU, and even more about why we shouldn’t that I imagine an awful lot of us have been deeply confused and fluctuated from ‘in’ to ‘out’ on an almost an hourly basis – that, to an extent, was true for me as I listened to all the arguments (largely negative sadly).  Now that is past and the decision has been made – an unexpected result that certainly left me reeling as it was not expected and the uncertainty of how that might impact us all is concerning. I voted to remain because, with limited knowledge and a certain amount of confusion, felt this was best for Great Britain.  I now have a choice about how I choose to deal with a very different reality.

 

I am fully aware that I can absolutely choose my response – am I going to constantly bemoan the decision giving reasons why it is not going to work, how bad it is all now going to be, talk about it and create negative feelings wherever and whenever I get a chance, however tempting that might be at times.  Or – am I going to recognise that this adds no value at all, to myself and others to whom I speak.  I want to remind myself that what I put my attention on expands and what I take my attention away from withers and dies.  A situation has occurred and I have the option of choosing my response.  Perhaps I can begin to think about how I can make it work, where I might find the benefits, what pluses there are if I just look for them and what I can give to the situation that surrounds my life and business.

 

This may sound a bit crazy but believe me when I say that I absolutely know this is a more useful response – I feel better, I create a belief that it will ultimately be better for individuals at all levels and, critically, it will allow me to think better.  I do not think well when I am cross, upset, or worried and none of those are useful ways to feel.  Whatever belief I hold, whether useful or not, I will invariably look for evidence to support that belief.   I did vote to stay in, and yet leave is the outcome that the majority wished for.  I will take 100% responsibility for how I deal with this new situation and I will talk the majority of the time about the opportunities that can be created.  I will not spend my time bemoaning how awful it all is as it will achieve nothing whatsoever other than my upset and stress!

 

I will choose my thoughts, take 100% responsibility for how I choose to think and critically, how I choose to communicate.  I will do my best to demonstrate what I passionately believe in - great leadership.

The Hidden Language of Language by Fritha Hookway

I’m a firm believer in the power of language. However, it’s something we take for granted because it’s such a regular part of our every day.

A few weeks ago I talked about the subconscious use of language that drives sexism. I’ve also discussed why saying “follow your passion” has lost its meaning. And a few months ago I wrote one of the most challenging subjects I’ve taken on so far, the trivialisation of the word ‘rape’ in corporate environments.

The theme that underpinned all of these posts was that how we choose to use certain words, and at what frequency, bears a huge weight on what we consider to be normal. And subsequently what behaviours we act out.

Today one of the workshop sessions I was in discussed a concept I’d not heard of before called ‘smog’.

‘Smog’ stands for: should/shouldn’t, must/mustn’t, ought/ought not and got. Unsurprisingly, these are all ‘stress words’.

But just like all the words we overuse, we don’t make the connection to them triggering stress because we say them so often.

I can’t imagine the number of times I’ve said “I really should go for a run” or “I’ve got to check my emails”.

What this language creates is an obligation to the task, as opposed to ownership of it.

Today, what was proposed as the alternative was “I choose” or “I choose not to”. And, just like every other logical thing on the planet, my response to this was “oh yeah, of course. That makes a ton of sense”.

“I’m choosing to go for a run in the morning”.

“I’m choosing to check my emails”.

Immediately, the context shifts. There is accountability, responsibility and an ownership of what we are doing. And ultimately, these three things need to be at the core of the actions we choose to take.

Have you ever stuck a post it to your computer screen only to ignore it for so long that you barely see it anymore? Language is the same thing. We can be so habitual with the words we use we don’t always hear what we are really saying.

‘Smog’ is just one way of considering this topic but it’s such a good example of a small change that can have a big impact. And ya know, acronyms are catchy.

Thank you Fritha for your fabulous piece. https://twitter.com/FrithFrith

A Trip to Dublin

Penny, Emma and Lucy were invited to a fabulous lunch event where Penny was one of the guest speakers. We met up with Maurice Whelan of Unleash Potential, who is our Irish Associate.