It may well be a terrible thing to admit, but sometimes I struggle at times with the "networking thing". When I've gone to specific business related events and done the mix and mingle, I've found some people get into a networking modus operandi that looks and sounds contrived and can be totally off-putting. That's the difficulty with networking -it is the thing to do (good business practice, all the books say so) yet how do you do it so that it isn't a fast card exchange and nothing more? My preference is to take an approach right at the beginning that genuinely focuses on people, involves sharing of information or resources (where relevant) and aims to build sound relationships, over time. I like the slow and steady approach and detest the hit and run model which may well put me out of step with the rest of the world. Oh well……so be it.
One of my favourite all time reads is M. Gerber's "The E Myth" (1995). In it, Gerber makes the distinction between "working in" a business (meaning hands on, operational doing) and "working on" a business (meaning viewing the whole business, taking a strategic, big picture view of things). Gerber's book is targeted at small business owners and the pitfalls they face if they spend all their time working in their business and not enough time working on their business. Even though his message is for business owners, I believe it applies equally well to managers in organisations. Given the demands of most roles, how often do managers take time out from their daily doing, to check their progress against the strategic goals and plans? To check that all the necessary systems and processes are developed, linked, functioning and contribute to the whole business? To see if their efforts and those of their staff are actually contributing what is intended? A good habit for all of us to get into is to regularly ask ourselves "where am I working – on or in the business? Where should I be working? And how frequently do I need to schedule time, to do both? Gerber's "E Myth Mastery" (2005) is also a good read, as is his website: http://www.emythmastery.com/
If you are wanting to coach others, consider undertaking coach specific training from a reputable coaching school that has it's coaching programme accredited with the International Coach Federation (ICF) http://www.coachfederation.org/ . This is really important because you need to know what you're doing and you need to have the competencies and skills to do it well. The other benefit from coach training is the opportunity to practise your coaching skills on forgiving others; and to learn from other coaches. Check out the ICF website to find the accredited coaching schools and talk to coaches who have been through their training programme, to see what would suit you best.
I'm often surprised to find when working with people facing redundancy or massive organisational change, that many have not undertaken any professional development for years, if at all, over the course of their working life. And for many, the reality of what that may mean begins to hit home when they consider competing for positions against people with qualifications or relevant, recent training in particular areas. When people are facing potential job loss or job change, they do question their "employability" outside their current area of work and organisation. My message to people in this position and others wondering if they "should" do something about their professional development is this: (1) it is never too late to undertake professional or personal development (2) it isn't an optional extra in our working careers but a must-do (3) failure to develop professionally will make us less valuable to an employer/contractor (4) the mind shift needed is to think of ourselves as self-employed, as consultants – and ask ourselves frequently if we have up-to-date knowledge and experience; whether we are highly employable; and whether we can truly "add value" to any organisation we are in.
I often ask clients to reflect on their working life and identify the number of supportive, inspirational role models they had worked with and learned from. Mostly they identify one, maybe two people and typically go on to count and identify dozens of the other kind – unprofessional colleagues and managers who made their lives a misery, treated people poorly and created a workplace that was stressful and unpleasant. Awful that it may be, we can still learn a lot from unprofessional colleagues and managers which is, what not to be like in our own business management practises.
The hardest thing for busy managers and business owners to do, I've found, is to give themselves the permission to take breaks from their workplace. For many, the work required to prepare for going on leave and the work they face when they return, make them question why they take leave at all. Yet, there is ultimately a cost to not stopping. Perspectives get lost, energy diminishes and work outcomes suffer. We kid ourselves we are productive yet the reality may be very different. So even though it may be difficult to arrange, regular rest, recreation and time for reflection is essential for our wellbeing.
One issue that greatly disturbs me is hearing new through to very experienced managers speak of 'inheriting' a range of issues when they took up their roles. The inheritances typically, are majors, not minors, like numbers of poor performing staff, seriously dysfunctional teams, chronic under funding or a near complete lack of operating policies or systems. Typically too, managers found the issues were never discussed at interview but were uncovered within a short time as they went about their role. And the worst thing is, is that the inherited issues were well known within the organisation. They had been problems for many years, yet they had been left completely or partially tinkered with but not satisfactorily resolved. I feel for managers who inherit issues that reflect years of systematic management failure. I'm always concerned for organisations who don't realise the impact of leaving major issues unresolved. Burying one's head in the sand doesn't sort the inheritances rather, bringing them to light, seeing them for what they are and providing managers with the right support and resources to do what's needed, is the only way to go. So why don't more organisations do this?
In the last three weeks I've had yet more reminders that customer service is almost non-existent in New Zealand. I'm saying this in the context of large service organisations (not retail) and small service providers (private sector) who don't respond to telephone messages or email requests for information. And the most astonishing thing is that when, after five or six attempts at contacting the people concerned, their response to not returning telephone messages or emails, is well, no response at all or a "I've been busy". So, no apology given and no acknowledgement of the delays their lack of response has caused. How can the Kiwi "she'll be right" approach be so widely acceptable, when in terms of service provision, it clearly isn't?
What should people look for in a coach? I'm often asked this and my short answer is "a lot". The only way to find out about a coach is to ask a number of questions. Here's my first 10 questions: (1) How long have you been coaching? (2) How many hours of coach-specific training have you had? (3) What coaching credentials have you got? (4) What's your membership status with the International Coach Federation? (5) What is your coaching niche or specialities? (6) What are your coaching terms, packages and conditions? (7) What are your fees? (8) How do you work with a client in the coaching process? (9) What's your coaching philosophy? (10) What's your working/professional experience and background? A really important factor in any coaching relationship is the compatibility between the coach and the coachee. If you feel comfortable with each other, have a good rapport and trust each other, then it's a great starting point.
I've learned a bit about 'tolerations' over the years and until yesterday, thought I had got them sorted. I had reduced my tolerance levels to irritants like dripping taps or an untidy office space, finding they were distracting and wearying and fixing the irritant the moment it first became obvious was the only way to go. Yet over the last three weeks I have tolerated extremely poor service from two service providers. I thought I had done everything I could to get attention to my needs and yet, despite my efforts, I didn't get what I had asked for, when I needed it. The consequences for me were significant. I talked to a colleague about the situation I was in and was told, in no uncertain terms, I was too tolerant…that if after two days of waiting for a response, the appropriate action is to escalate the issue and go 'up the chain' of command; put deadlines for responses and if there is still no delivery, find alternative suppliers. I've had a timely reminder that I still have work to in reducing my tolerance levels and that direct feedback, from colleagues, is invaluable.