3 simple steps for developing female leaders

It is encouraging to see an increase in research and articles calling for improvement in the representation of women in management positions and leadership roles. Studies consistently show that organisations with more women in senior ranks outperform those that don’t by 30%-40% on key measures such as productivity, profitability and sustainability.

According to the Diversity Council of Australia, if we do nothing it will take one hundred and seventy-seven years for women to gain equality. Equally concerning is the lack of practical direction and ideas on how to support the development of our female talent within a broader organisational context. In providing this support, it is helpful to understand the different issues and support requirements commonly faced by women at the key phases of their career.

Early career stages development needs:

At this stage, it’s important for women to develop awareness of their skill set and abilities and for their workplaces to provide opportunities to develop these skills and practice them in a supportive environment.

Personal development focus:

  • Personal awareness, awareness of others, managing up, confidence building, political savvy, networking

Organisational opportunities:

  • Career planning
  • Cross-functional project exposure and project leadership opportunities

Professional support:

  • Job shadowing, internal mentoring
  • Training and development workshops

Mid-career development needs:

Once the individual is established in her career, opportunity to gain relevant commercial experience (P&L management, strategic planning) is important in order to earn senior appointments.

Personal development focus:

Risk taking, innovation, persuading and influencing skills, profile management and self-marketing, stress management and resilience building, peer relationships

Organisational opportunities:

  • Flexible career planning
  • Stretch assignments/opportunities to present to the Senior Leadership team
  • Team leadership opportunities

Professional support:

  • Coaching
  • Internal sponsor or mentor
  • Membership in professional associations and networks
  • Cross-functional project or job opportunities

Senior phase support needs:

At a more senior level, women are more likely to require support with networking and a safe sounding board for strategic thinking, business improvement and innovation.

Personal development focus:

  • Authentic leadership, networking, courage in decision making, perseverance, appropriate assertiveness, energy management

Organisational opportunities:

  • Functional leadership opportunities

Professional support:

  • Coaching
  • Strategic senior networks
  • Acting as a mentor for younger, less experienced colleagues

For a confidential coffee chat on how we can support you or your organisation please email fleur@blueberryinstitute.com or call 0404 559 244, for a complimentary coffee discussion.

Why SMART goals don’t always work

There are a plethora of articles written on goal setting and how we can best frame our objectives for success, but despite our best planning and intentions, many of our goals continue to roll from year to year. Why is that?

The most widely used goal setting tool is SMART. Writing our goals in Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound statements gives us direction, focus and defined outcomes to strive for. What this model is missing is the passion that makes us want to leap out of bed in the morning and work towards those goals. When we come up against external blocks or internal resistance, what is it that we really care about in these goals is that going to keep us motivated enough to persevere?

Achievable and Realistic are quite similar in philosophy. I would encourage you instead to rename the A in SMART as Attractive. Is this goal something I should do or something that I really want to do? How badly do I want this? Is this goal important enough to me that I am prepared to prioritise my time and resources towards its achievement at the expense of competing demands?

If your answer to these questions isn’t a resounding YES, it may be helpful to ask yourself some clarifying questions about your motivation. How many of us have set ourselves weight loss or fitness goals that we keep recycling year after year? A punishing goal of ‘No alcohol or sugar for the next month’ doesn’t really engender enthusiasm. Reframing your goal into a benefit statement such as ‘a slimmer me brimming with energy by eating beautiful green leafy vegetables’ is more motivating.

Also, check for blocks to your motivation. Losing 5 kilograms in 5 months, for example, can feel overwhelming. Why bother starting? Lose 1 kilogram per month is sounding more manageable, but 250 grams per week feels even easier. Chunk your goals down into bite-sized, achievable pieces.

Reward yourself for small wins along the way. Motivation to achieve small wins builds momentum that increases your capability and capacity to tackle bigger goals and aspirations. Share your goal with friends, colleagues or family. Enlist their support in helping you keep on track.

And finally, I would encourage you to just start. There is never a perfect time to start, but the best time to start is right now!

Prioritising personal goals increases work engagement

Research continues to find positive links between employee engagement, advocacy, performance and intention to resign meaning that it is in employers’ interests to drive up levels of engagement amongst their workforce. Engagement is not about driving employees to work harder but about providing the conditions under which they will work more effectively. This is more likely to result from a healthy work life balance than from working long hours. Engagement is wholly consistent with an emphasis on employee wellbeing: arguably it is an essential element in contributing to that wellbeing.

Increased levels of engagement also have significant benefits for employees considering that engagement is positively associated with job satisfaction and flow experiences at work. We all want to go to work and know that the job we are doing is worthwhile and, on some level, inspires us to do our best.

Without taking time to reflect and take stock, it is difficult to choose purposeful goals that align our personal interests and strengths with our job requirements and organisational expectations. An important step that many of us skip when it comes to completing our annual performance and professional development plans is taking adequate time to ask and answer the following simple questions:

  • What have I done well?
  • What are my strengths?
  • What do I get most satisfaction from doing?
  • What would I like to do more of?
  • What skill, knowledge or experience would I like to try or learn?
  • What would I like to do less of?
  • What didn’t go as well as I hoped?
  • What would I do differently next time?
  • What were my blocks?
  • What stopped me from achieving what I wanted?
  • What could I try differently next time?

If you would like support in working out what you want to do, there are plenty of options: try buddying up with a friend or colleague; ask a mentor for their time and feedback; book a couple of coaching sessions with one of our coaches to help get you headed on the right track.

How to enjoy performance appraisals

Traditionally, performance appraisals tended to be infrequent, top-down, subjective judgments of an employee’s performance. This usually involved a manager conducting an annual critique of past performance, often with little active input from the employee. These days, however, the pendulum may have swung a little too far in the opposite direction. Many employees are being asked to rate themselves, provide evidence of their ratings and forward to their manager prior to the appraisal discussion, often times leading to the manager turning up unprepared and under-contributing.

People’s perception of their own performance often differs from their managers and those around them, so if not prepared with care, the performance appraisal process can result in conflict and misunderstanding. Both sides can become defensive and the whole process is written off.

Used properly though, performance appraisals can help to build an open, positive, collaborative relationship between individuals and their managers. Set the performance appraisal up to be a two-way discussion without surprises:

  • Both parties prepare an assessment of performance versus expectations prior to the appraisal meeting and share with the other.
  • At the same time, ask the other if there are any specific issues they would like to address that they may need to prepare for.
  • Both parties review the previous appraisal and agreed actions and rate the follow-up and support.
  • Where there are specific performance issues to be addressed, prepare some ideas and options that you can draw upon in the meeting.

Enjoying the performance appraisal meeting:

  • Start with the areas of agreement and establish that you are both there to support the employee’s performance. Encourage the employee to start with their ideas for further development and collaborate on the next steps.
  • Next, cover their strengths and positive results. Both of you want the employee to play to their strengths, so that they can make the best possible contribution. Spending time reviewing and acknowledging the positives upfront supports their confidence and capability and also prevents the individual dwelling on issues regarding areas of concern to the exclusion of the positive.
  • Address the areas for improvement: encourage the employee to volunteer their own observations about weaknesses or performance lapses. This reduces defensiveness and reinforces collaboration. Identify contributing obstacles: is there anything stopping your team member from performing at their very best?
  • Be mindful that it is all too easy to dive into problems: avoid spending most of your time dwelling on these.
  • When the other person is talking, listen actively and where appropriate paraphrase to ensure your understanding is the same as what is being said. When you give and receive feedback, be sure to focus on the situation – not the individual.
  • Where there are disagreements, allow the person to describe their point of view and try to reach consensus before moving on.
  • With the issues identified and agreed, you can co-create solutions for improvement. Agree what each of you will do to change or support the other and set specific goals in order to resolve problems.
  • Agree to monthly development meetings where you can discuss progress and support performance.

Getting comfortable with the ‘F’ word

Mention the word ‘Feedback’ and watch everyone duck for cover! When did it turn into such a dirty word? The problem seems to have arisen with the contortion of the word into a politically correct euphemism to deliver thinly veiled unpleasant, negative, personal criticism. We increasingly have a tendency to focus our feedback on what hasn’t been done; attributing blame for errors and dishing out the consequences of unachieved business KPIs. The most interesting thing about this phenomenon is that it’s dreaded equally by the giver and receiver of the, dare I say it… feedback!

Whatever happened to taking the time to acknowledge and appreciate a job well done? I have run a number of skills workshops over the last two months with cross-departmental participants on delivering positive feedback. I asked each member of the group to come up with an example of when they had experienced positive, genuine, impromptu and specific feedback. After much hesitation, they came up with a small handful of experiences; a report well-written, a proposal well-received and a client complaint well-handled.

Interestingly the common characteristic in each instance was surprise. Surprise that they were being complimented. This was quickly followed by one of two reactions: suspicion of an ulterior motive, “What is the catch?”, or down-playing the feedback even when it reflected a significant achievement “Oh, it was nothing really”. Receiving positive feedback or a compliment with grace is as simple as saying “thank you”. It has the dual benefit of leaving the person who has taken the time to notice and acknowledge the positive behaviour encouraged to try it again.

Why don’t we value good news, a job well-done or positive reinforcement with the same weighting as the negative? Are we so lacking in confidence and the skill to deliver feedback that the only time people hear something good is as part of an indigestible feedback sandwich – saying something positive to butter them up then quickly throwing in negative feedback, and then ending with something nice in the hope that we will still be liked? Guess what? It doesn’t work – we are all on to it!

Tips for creating a positive experience when delivering constructive feedback:

  • Deliver the feedback 1-on-1 and face-to-face
  • Be genuine in your intentions which is to support the person to improve – people sense insincerity
  • Prepare your feedback before having the conversation – don’t script it but commit to what you need to say
  • Describe specific examples of their behaviour you have observed without judging
  • Ask for their response and listen with an open mind – be prepared to change your opinion
  • Ask for their suggestions on options for improvement and develop the solution jointly
  • Gain their agreement on the change to be made and what support you will provide
  • Agree next steps, and commit to a follow-up meeting time to follow up progress

What is wellbeing?

Everyone wants to feel well but there’s a lot more to wellbeing than happiness and yoga.

Think wellbeing and what comes to mind? If you’re anything like most people, chances are health, happiness, pleasure and perhaps even yoga or alternative medicine are top of the list. Lots of people also describe wellbeing as an experience – of feeling good or healthy, for example.

While there’s no doubt feeling happy is a component of wellbeing, there’s actually a lot more to it. Living according to your values and reaching your full potential are key elements of wellbeing. It’s also possible to feel a sense of wellbeing about a specific event as well as an overall sense of wellbeing about your life. Here’s what you need to know about the complex world of wellbeing.

Check out the full blog by Dr Lindsay Oades, Associate Professor and Director of the Centre for Positive Psychology at The University Of Melbourne

Resilience is the new skill for managing

Many of the people I coach and mentor are regularly overwhelmed by competing priorities, reactionary work requests, limited communication, reduced resources, prolonged stress and excessive work hours. For many, these working patterns started as the result of a temporary change at work – a staff member leaving and not being replaced, the merging of departments, a new client coming on board – which were absorbed at the time only to become the new norm months after the ‘temporary’ event has passed.

A recent UK study1 has shown that organisations continuing to focus on headcount reduction as an ongoing cost reduction strategy experience intensifying managerial labour and created an environment in which managers increasingly feel the necessity to work harder, to work faster, to increase their volume of work, work longer hours with an erosion of control over how they do their jobs. As a result of the pace, scale and intensity of change and often overlapping waves of change, manager’s views of organisational change were overwhelmingly negative: 68% experienced reduced job security, 70% reduced morale, 64% reduced motivation and 53% experienced reduced wellbeing at work.

When embarking on organisational change, it is imperative for senior management to fully consider the impact on the volume and pace of work that those affected by the change will have to cope with. A successful, sustainable change plan must support employee transition and wellbeing in addition to any technical, process and structural change projects. For consultancy support in this area check out our Workplace wellbeing consultancy page.

Resilience is emerging as a new core skill for managing in an environment when change is the norm. Resilience is simply defined as the quality that enables people to bounce back when life knocks them over. The good news is that all of us are born with resilience, and we all have the ability to increase our resilience. The major factor in determining how we deal with the obstacles in the road in front of us is our attitude.

As individual managers, we can’t always control the obstacles or blocks in our path, but we can choose how we deal with them. Skills we can develop that will support our resilience and wellbeing include self-awareness, flexibility, focus, mindfulness, boundary setting and enforcing, accountability, self-care, confidence and creating effective support networks.

To find out more about how coaching can support you in this area, visit our Resilience and wellbeing coaching page.

1. UK Study: Worral, L and Cooper C.L, (2012) The quality of working like 2012: Managers’ wellbeing, motivation and productivity. The CMI/ Simplyhealth Quality of Working Life Survey. London. CMI

Have fun de-stressing!

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Relaxation produces a quiet body and a calm mind. The physical and mental aspects of relaxation counteract the body’s stress response.  If you normally live with a high degree of tension, you are more likely to experience problems when additional stresses occur. You can lower your general level of tension by practicing regular relaxation techniques that help protect you from the ill-effects of stress.

Effective relaxation techniques practiced on a regular basis build your resilience. Practices such as meditation, breathing techniques, yoga, Tai Chi and Qi Gong have an extensively documented evidence-base of benefits.

Ideas of simple enjoyable activities to consider including in your daily and weekly schedule: 

  • Listen to some relaxing music
  • Get a regular massage
  • Learn about aromatherapy
  • Bake a cake with your family
  • Say good morning to your neighbours on the way to work
  • Get into gardening
  • Watch a good movie
  • Walk your dog every day or volunteer to walk a neighbour’s dog weekly
  • Read a good book
  • Play a regular sport
  • Phone a friend for no other reason than to say hello and check in on their wellbeing
  • Do some stretches while at work
  • Subscribe to a guided meditation app
  • Read your favourite magazine
  • Play a board game with a friend
  • Take a regular walk in your neighbourhood through a park or by the water
  • Walk up a hill or climb a mountain and enjoy the view
  • Sing in the shower
  • Make sure you get enough sleep every night
  • Learn about the pressure points of the body and massage them
  • Get out of the office for lunch
  • Eat dinner at the table with friends and family with all entertainment devices switched off
  • Put a plant in your office
  • At the end of each day, write down 3 good things – keep a journal for 3 months
  • Buy a set of juggling balls and practice your juggling
  • Learn a muscle relaxation technique
  • Ring up a friend and initiate a fun activity
  • Stop and smell the roses!

Let us buy you a coffee to discuss where you are at with your wellbeing and resilience journey and how we might be able to collaborate – contact Fleur@blueberryinstitute.com  or 0404 559 244

Find the PDF for this blog on our home page

Emotional Intelligence and Resilience

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Every one of us has different challenges to meet and difficult situations to deal with both personally and professionally.  Resilient people are able to utilise their skills and strengths to cope and recover from problems and challenges. Resilience does not eliminate stress or erase life’s difficulties. What it does do is give people the strength to tackle problems head on, overcome adversity and move on with their lives.

There is no instant antidote to dealing with stressful situations; there is only experience and the gradual development of resilience skill. Effectively understanding and choosing how we think, feel and act directly impacts on our concept of self-belief and self-reliance and ultimately resilience.

Emotional Intelligence (EI) is the ability to have self-awareness and self-management of emotions combined with the skill to recognise, identify, assess and interpret the emotions of others. This ability to understand ourselves gives us the power to positively influence our own behaviour and the behaviour of others. Emotional Intelligence is essentially a framework for understanding and connecting with:

  • Emotions and their triggers
  • Emotions and cognitive thought, and
  • Feelings and their translation into behaviours

Emotional Intelligence (EI) is increasingly valued as an asset because it empowers us with the ability to understand how we are perceived by others and how our actions and behaviours impact upon others. EI skills also allow us to understand and handle other people and their feelings.

We can tap in to the Emotional Intelligence pillars of self-awareness and self-regulation to build our resilience:

  1. Self-awareness lets us recognise when distressing thoughts and feelings are beginning to build.
  2. Self-regulation helps us choose how to respond to stressful events so we don’t end up being emotionally hijacked.

7 strategies for developing a resilient mindset include:

  1. Shaping your sense of control: being aware of what is within your control, recognising what is beyond your control, and learning to let go of things outside of your control;
  2. Maintaining a hopeful outlook, expecting good things and visualising what you wish;
  3. Avoid seeing crises or stressful events as unbearable problems;
  4. Holding the belief that there is something you can do to manage your feelings and cope;
  5. Keeping a long-term perspective and considering stressful events in a broader context;
  6. Proactively deciding how to deal with strain and pressure before they escalate into negative stressors.
  7. Practicing, practicing, practicing approaches, responses, thoughts and attitudes that increase resilience.

Effectively understanding and choosing how we think, feel and act can result in increased resilience in many aspects of our lives such as energy, positivity, coping, relationships and integrity. ­

Resilience is a practiced art; we need to practice resilience to further develop our natural reservoirs of resiliency.

Let us buy you a coffee to discuss where you are at with your wellbeing and resilience journey and how we might be able to collaborate – contact Fleur@blueberryinstitute.com  or 0404 559 244

Find the PDF for this blog on our home page

Understanding resilience

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Resilient people are able to utilise their skills and strengths to cope and recover from problems and challenges. Resilience does not eliminate stress or erase life’s difficulties. What it does do though is give people the strength to tackle problems head on, overcome adversity and move on with their lives.

There is a huge diversity and complexity of definitions, concepts and approaches used, but the following captures the essence of resilience succinctly:

           ‘the successful adaptation to life tasks in the face of social disadvantage or highly adverse conditions’ (Windle 1999, p163).

A consistent theme among the range of definitions of resilience is a sense of adaptation, recovery and bounce back despite adversity or change.

Resilience is contextual in many ways and is variable across time, life stage and circumstance.

Resilience is a skill that can develop or diminish depending on how we deploy it.

Some individuals have personality traits that help them come by these abilities naturally, but all people have the capability to learn the skills that it takes to become more resilient. How we develop and hone this skill is what sets us apart as individuals. Individually we are resilient on different levels and have unique reserves of tolerance that we can deploy to become more resilient.

Cultivating resilience will improve our ability to:

  • Quickly adapt in times of change
  • Cope with constant disruption
  • Thrive when you are under the pump
  • Retain a balanced approach to life
  • Maintain your energy levels and zest for life

Some strategies for building resilience

There is no instant antidote to dealing with stressful situations; there is only experience and the gradual development of resilience skills. Resilience is a practiced art; we need to practice resilience to further develop our natural reservoirs of resiliency.

  1. Staying connected to others. Having caring, supportive people around you acts as a protective factor during times of crisis. It is important to have people you can confide in. While simply talking about a situation with a friend or loved one will not make troubles go away, it allows you to share your feelings, gain support, receive positive feedback, and come up with possible solutions to your problems.

On a practical level connections often lead to opportunities, but connecting to others also allows us to recognise that people see us much more widely than the person with a problem. Seeing ourselves reflected in others eyes helps to put the difficulty into a different place.

  1. Doing things that we enjoy. Research has shown that people who carried on doing some leisure activity during a time of difficulty recover more quickly, because the activity both provides enjoyment and provides a respite from their normal thoughts.
  1. Writing down our thoughts. Keeping a journal is a valuable way of getting on paper what is filling up our head, and then being able to look at it with objectivity. The journal also allows for recognising when things are changing, and to see that resilience is not a fixed state, it ebbs and flows.

When we are in the middle of a tough time, we often only recognise the ‘bad days’ but it is equally important to acknowledge the better days. Acknowledge what we are grateful for and happy about.

  1. Develop problem solving skills. Research suggests that people who are able come up with solutions to a problem are better able to cope with problems than those who cannot.

Whenever encountering a new challenge, make a quick list of some of the potential ways to solve the problem. Experiment with different strategies and focus on developing a logical way to work through common problems.

  1. Focus on what is in your control. One might not be in a position to decide what the outcome will be, or have any control over the situation.  Let go of what can’t be controlled and focus on what can be controlled – at the very least we can choose how we react to a situation.  In “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl, a holocaust survivor shares a powerful message of hope and resilience in horrifying adversity.
  1. Acknowledging the small wins that often pass unnoticed. During tough times it is important to acknowledge our strengths and what we are doing well. This builds our confidence, our sense of capability, and provides us with motivation and momentum to tackle the tougher challenges.
  1. Noticing and being in the present. When we are not feeling resilient we can spend our time either looking backwards on what could have been, or looking forward and only seeing relentless difficulty. Being in the present means noticing what is OK right now.

That isn’t to deny the reality of the situation e.g. it is tough to lose one’s job, or to have one’s hoped for career future taken away, but it is also important to notice what is happening each day that tells you that life is still good. Having more time for one’s children, partner or parent; being able to help out on school trips; not having to wear a suit; noticing you have been able to read a book without falling asleep.

Let us buy you a coffee to discuss where you are at with your wellbeing and resilience journey and how we might be able to collaborate – contact Fleur@blueberryinstitute.com  or 0404 559 244

Find the PDF for this blog on our home page