Don’t be a D***

One of the reasons I love my job is our company culture. Our former MD frequently quoted Mark Drucker by saying: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”.

When external people work with us or for us, we often get told what a great company we are. I’ve heard us being called “a bit PC”, but a great company with lovely, amazing, hardworking people.

So, what’s different, and what is it about this culture I love so much?

Well, when we’re in the office (Remember pre 2020, when people went to offices to work?), we hold the door for people (which means it can take some time to get anywhere during peak times). We don’t tell people to do stuff; we ask nicely. We say please and thank you. We come up with solutions; ways to make sure we can, instead of reasons to say we can’t. We learn never to get complacent. We focus on being inclusive and understanding. We get involved in charity and volunteering. And we make an effort to make work enjoyable and fun!

What we don’t do? We don’t throw people under the bus when things go wrong. We fix the issue and learn to do better next time. We don’t raise our voice at people. We don’t give people “an ear full” and we don’t use scare tactics.

When I started working for this company 3 years ago, I was anxiously waiting for the moment someone would shout at me. Or at anyone really. Or tell me “we could have a different conversation” if I didn’t get behind something that clashed with my moral values.  

That moment never came.  

I don’t even know why I consider this to be exceptional.

Well, actually, I do: Because I’ve experienced places, departments and projects where it was accepted to raise your voice at people or make them feel bad in any other way. I was used to having meetings in my calendar to be nervous about. Meetings of which I knew there was just no way of winning. We’d be shouted at whether we under- or overachieved (when we overachieved we’d been accused of sandbagging). I’ve been in situations where I saw grown men walking out of meetings crying. Not a one off: plural.

None of those places were nearly as successful as the one I’m working for now.

I believe shouting at people is the most stupid thing you can do, especially in any type of leadership position. Why would you? Only to vent your frustration? It sure doesn’t reflect well on you. You ‘ll seem out of control, out of your depth and you certainly won’t encourage the people you’re shouting at to do well or enjoy their job.  

People who are scared to make mistakes are likely to start making more mistakes. And when they do make mistakes, they’ll be scared to own up to their mistakes. That can lead to escalations and disasters that could have been prevented if you would’ve chosen to focus on solutioning instead of finger pointing and finding scapegoats.

I believe in treating people the way you like to be treated. I’m not saying you have to like everyone, or everybody needs to be your best friend. But it’s certainly a given that having good relationships will lead to people being more likely to be willing to do things for you.

So, my company might be “a bit PC”, but if it means we’re aiming to be kind, helpful and humble I’m happy to be sigend up for that. It also means people are much more likely to do things for each other and achieve great stuff together. Even in unprecedented times.

Saying please and thank you goes a long way. Being kind and making people feel appreciated goes a long way. And you know what, you can do all of that, especially when times are tough, and it doesn’t cost you a thing.

As a wise former CEO I know used to say: “Don’t be a D*ck”

Kindness might even benefit your own well being!

Influencer

In a role with leadership responsibility the majority of things you say, don’t say and do or don’t do will be measured and weighed.

On top of that, people will form a perception of you. No exception. Sometimes, you might not even realise what that perception is and what you’ve done to prompt that perception.

Flipping it slightly: consider how critical you are towards the directors in your company making company announcements, sharing information in “all hands” meetings… You weigh and measure things those directors might have not even deemed to cause an issue when they prepared for the meeting (Which they meticulously tend do to make sure their messaging is spot on).

Consider the perception you have about your line manager, the Managing Director or CEO of the company you work for, influencers you might follow on Instagram, the founder of Microsoft, the Prime Minister, the President of America, the President of New Zealand… It might be really positive, or quite negative. But it’s likely to be strong.

As someone with leadership responsibilities (Don’t just think managers or world leaders: think teachers, parents, influencers) have you ever considered what the effect of your words and actions are? Have you realised that every action causes reaction? That you have the power to influence people?

Everything you say or do, or don’t do, can blow up, be taken out of proportion, can cause an unintended effect. Scary, right?

The more visible or influential you become, the stronger opinions will get; both positive and negative. It probably helps to develop a good sense of awareness of what you want to portray.

A couple of weeks ago, one of my reports told me they couldn’t understand where I found the time to do all the things I was doing with my life. He felt like I am never just doing my day job but always get involved in a million other things to keep me stretched and challenged. Inside as well as outside of work. He said he felt that I might expect the same of my reports or consider them to be lazy or inadequate if they didn’t have a similar approach to life.

My initial thought was: Why would he have that perception of me? I never feel like I read enough or am massively busy and I often consider other people to do many more useful things with their time. Also, I appreciate I have quite some more me-time available to spend than people who have caring responsibilities other than just themselves and their house plants.

Then I got a little shocked and worried. O dear, people take things from me and care what I think and consider changing their behaviour because of it!

Just because I like to do a lot of things at the same time, because I like to read management books and write blogs, it doesn’t mean I expect my reports to do the same! I’m not after copy-pasting myself into an army of duplicates! Do what works for you! And that’s not necessarily the same as what works for me!

It was a good eye opener though and it got me to reconsider influence and perception.

I believe that one of the most important aspects of leadership is understanding what your messaging does to other people. “Seek to understand”, in Covey speech. Put yourself in the shoes of people on the receiving part of your message. This applies to unconscious messaging, which might lead to unintentional perception, or conscious messaging, which should lead to some more deliberate effect.

I’m not saying you should be frantically worried about what people might think of you. I’m just suggesting you need to find a good balance. Be careful people don’t think their perception of you is the same as your expectation of them and be mindful and considerate about you messaging. Lead by example and treat other people they way you like to be treated. Just in case someone does go in to copy-paste mode… If you influence people, it better be in a positive way!

Oh, and you probably need to accept you can never please everyone. Good luck 😊

Reads:

How to make friends and influence people; Dale Carnegie

Never thought a video about firefighters would ever make an apprearance on this blog. Worth a watch!

Goals – Part 1

During your whole life, you’ll be asked about your goals, explicitly or implicitly. What do you want to be when you grow up? 5 years from now? 10 years from now? What’s you’re ultimate ambition? What are your #lifegoals? If you look back at your life in your last days of your life, what do you want to be the achievements to look back on?

Inspirational quotes are often about having big goals; smashing those big goals; making dreams happen by turning them into goals. I’ve read a lot of books that state what sets successful people apart is their clear goals.

Goals can help give you direction. If you don’t have a direction you might end up going in circles.

So, here’s how things work in my brain: To be successful I should set myself some gigantic, life changing, impressive goals. Becoming CEO of Google, solve poverty, elimimate crime, save the rhino, the coral reefs, become a millionaire by age 40, establish world peace. Just to name some…

But what would be useful about setting huge goals that look like you’re set up to fail from the start? And what are the odds you’ll actually succeed? 

I don’t like to be disappointed if things don’t go to plan and I don’t like failing. Hence, I get a bit nervous about setting goals. You might relate to the feeling (Or not. In that case I envy you a bit).

So, here’s a light bulb moment that helps me put things in perspective (or just a gentle refresher): Set yourself goals that are realistic and you’re excited about reaching. Then consider what steps you need to take to get there and focus on the steps. In other words: make a plan. There is a big difference between a plan and goals. You need a plan to reach your goals. And if plan A doesn’t work, you can try plan B or C.

A goal can be “I want to lose weight, a stone (6 Kg) in the next 2 Months”. What’s your plan to lose weight? “In order for me to lose weight I need to exercise 3 times a week” or “In order for me to lose weight I need to follow diet X for 2 months”. Great, I believe I can achieve that.

See what I’m doing? The goal is made concrete or SMART, as people like to call it in business jargon: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic (or relevant) and Time bound.   

If instead I would’ve given myself the goal: “I need to lose 4 (24 Kg) stone in 3 Months. To accomplish that I will exercise 3 hours every day and will only eat 1200 calories per day” It’s specific, measurable and time based. But since it’s not very attainable or realistic, you’re very likely to set yourself up for failure from the start.

A goal can be anything: to walk 10k steps a day, to read at least 5 management books this year, to learn a new language, to choose to be mindful for the day, to be happy in life (yeah, sorry, the latter ones are a bit more difficult to quantify. But you can still consider a plan to be happy, or a plan on how to stay mindful).

If you’ve looked at attacking goals this way, it might be worth giving it a try.

I’m going to use this gentle nudge for myself while setting my personal development goals for the rest of our companies’ financial year.

How you deal with setting and achieving goals?  

I’ll be writing 2 more blogs around goals. Next week I’ll be writing a about building goals around your passion and about how to find your passion. And the week after I’ll address goals and fear of failure.

If you want to learn more about SMART goal setting, have a look at the below video I swear I didn’t watch the below video when I came up with the weight loss example!

Let’s talk about impostor syndrome.

Somehow, I’m back in the Netherlands and I’m being told my degree isn’t valid. It appears I never passed all my courses. I have to retake a huge number of exams next week. I haven’t followed any classes and I don’t have the study material either. I’ve been caught out. See, I wasn’t qualified to do the job I have now after all…I’m never going to pass these exams. What do I do now?

I wake up.

I have this recurring dream. It pops up every time I have a big challenge ahead of me at work. It’s not that I believe I’m bad at my job. It’s just that with every new challenge I’m being given, I wonder if this is where my capability ends. Is this the moment I’ve been promoted into incompetence? Is this where they find out they hired someone who’s not as capable as I made them believe?

While doing some research for our SWIB network (Supporting women in business) I found out that 70% of people, not just women; PEOPLE, suffer from impostor syndrome to some extent.

So many people I perceive as being very capable or very confident have shared stories with me on how they suffer from “The Syndrome”. Whenever I mention the term, I get an instant bulk of examples on when and how people experience it. Whether it is on customer calls, with presenting in front of big groups, applying for a job, being praised for being good at your job, or getting a promotion: it crops up.

It can be quite situational. If you experience a form of impostor syndrome, it doesn’t mean you have to feel it in every aspect of your life. For me, it mostly applies to the seniority level of my job. I cringe when I refer to “leadership” and “career advice” when writing blogs. Even though I’m responsible for a big group of people and I have some achievements under my belt that should convince me I don’t suck at my job and I deserve to be where I am. I feel awkward when being asked to mentor people. What do I have to offer that is going to help you in your career? I feel like I’m winging it half of the time! Oh, and then the blog: who am I to think I should be sharing my opinions on these subjects with you?

However, if you ask me to speak up in a big group of people or present to a big audience, I won’t bet an eyelid. I feel confident and comfortable in these situations. Seems pretty contradictory. Weird how your mind can play tricks on you, right?

Fortunately, feeling insecure has never held me back from trying or doing things anyway. I do believe that if you don’t address it, it can really get in your way and hold you back.

I’m no expert in dealing with impostor syndrome. From what I understand you can’t get rid of it, but you CAN learn to deal with it.

From my experience, talking to other people about it seems to be quite helpful. It shows you’re not alone. According to the stats, we live in a world full of self-acclaimed impostors!  

What is your experience with impostor syndrome? How do you deal with it? Does it hold you back?

If you’ve never heard of impostor iyndrome, the below Ted video explains it in a couple of minutes:

Valerie Young is an expert on the topic. She even has a website called impostorsyndrome.com

*for the language terrorists amongst us: Impostor or Imposter are both correct. The Latin root is impostorem, “impose upon or deceive.”

Books that might help you deal with imposter syndrome:

Feel the fear and do it anyway; Susan Jeffers

The Subtle art of not giving a f*ck; Mark Manson

You’re a Badass; Jen Sincero

The balancing act that is called feedback

One of the first things I learned when I moved abroad was how differently feedback is provided and perceived in the Netherlands and the UK

In my second month of working in the UK, I made someone cry giving them feedback. I really didn’t understand what I had done to cause such an intense reaction. As most people, I don’t enjoy upsetting people, so it was clear to me I had to find out what had gone wrong.

Dutch people are perceived to be very direct and straight forward. We don’t tend to ask if it’s a good moment to share some feedback. We just give you the feedback when it suits us, and you’re expected to “take it like a man”. Sugar-coating is a word that doesn’t translate very well to Dutch.

I actually think it would be good for some Dutch people to learn from the Brits to act a bit less rude. I also think it would be good for some Brits to learn from the Dutch to be a bit more direct. 

Getting the feedback thing right is a balancing act. Not providing constructive feedback can put managers in quite some trouble down the line. You’re not giving people the opportunity to improve if you don’t share feedback. Providing too much critical feedback can have a demoralising effect.

How do you find the right balance? I hear you think.

What a lot of people forget most of the time, is putting yourself in the receiving party’s shoes. What would it do to you to get this type of feedback? How can you be more considerate about the message you’re delivering?

When you have feedback to share, always consider if it’s useful. If the only thing you do by criticising behaviour or work is hurt someone, it’s probably better to keep it to yourself. If you deliver feedback so someone can change or improve, it’s the right thing to do. Make sure to be concrete; have one or two examples ready to share to back up what you’re trying to bring across.

Somehow, I get asked to provide 360 feedback quite regularly now, even for people outside of my direct remit. I like to believe I have learned to be better if people actually ask for my opinion, right?

Receiving feedback is an interesting one too. My chimp can play up when I get feedback I don’t agree with or feel is unfair or unfunded. It’s hard to just take it in and not be defensive about it. My advice is to always try to take feedback on gracefully. Breathe, count to ten and maybe sleep on it. If you want to come back on it, do it when you’ve calmed down.

Sometimes feedback is reflective of what the person giving you the feedback is dealing with. Sometimes it’s perception. It’s always a good idea to sanity check with some other people if they recognise the feedback you’ve been given.

Remember it’s your choice what you do with feedback. Maybe you don’t recognise it at all. Maybe you recognise it, but you don’t feel the need to change. Maybe you don’t recognise it immediately, but it might make sense after pondering it over for a bit. Maybe you do recognise it and it’s a quick fix, or maybe it’s hard to change, but you’re willing to. It’s really up to you. Will changing the thing you were criticized on make you more effective? Then you’ll probably be better off taking it on the chin.

I’ve not even touched on positive feedback. Probably deserves a separate blog. For now I would say: if you have anything nice to say to someone, don’t hold back. It makes people happy and it doesn’t cost you a thing.  

How do you deal with feedback? Do you ever reflect on your behaviour? Have you ever changed anything on the back of feedback you received?

Here’s a quick video on the topic:

Recommended reads: The Chimp paradox and Radical Candor