“Don’t get too worried if you have to stop and walk…”

I had a message this morning from an old university house mate. She’s just agreed to sign up for a marathon, with wine. It’s the Marathon du Médoc, in France, if anyone else is insane enough to run 26.2 miles with 23 wine stops. She knew I’d run a marathon before, and she wanted my advice on the training program – for the running, not the wine drinking.

Whilst I am a runner, I have very limited technical knowledge – but what I do have is the experience of training for a marathon, and the frustration of going out on a training run and not achieving what it was I set out to do. I’ve had training runs as short as three miles where I’ve had to walk at least two. I’ve given up and cut runs short. I’ve cried. I’ve fallen over (a lot!). However, each time something goes a little bit wrong, I’ll be annoyed with myself for a little while, and then I’ll vow to do better next time.

With this in mind, the best advice I could give her was not to worry if she has to stop and walk for a bit.

This made me think about whether I could apply this logic to anything else. Any of my other goals; whether they’re personal or work orientated.

I thought about my New Year’s Resolutions. I made a list at the end of 2014 of 12 things I wanted to achieve in 12 months, and I stuck the list on my pin-board at home. Buy a new car. Pay off my credit card. Travel abroad. Learn sign language. Solve world hunger. It’s now October, and I’ve probably achieved three things out of those 12. I threw the list away months ago, realising that 2015 probably wasn’t “my year”, and decided 2016 would be better.

I’m not disappointed with myself. Refresh Leadership reminds me that only 8% of people who make resolutions actually achieve them. I’ll try again for the things I want to achieve another time. I remember that it’s ok not to achieve everything I set out to do.

We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t fail occasionally.

This made me start thinking about two things. Why I failed and what to do next?

I realised I hadn’t met my own goals because I hadn’t set myself SMART goals. The concept of setting SMART Goals isn’t a new idea – it’s been in business for a long time, and there are a number of different versions of the acronym out there. Just Google “SMART Goals” and the top ten results all offer something different. I’ve opted for this version:

Specific What exactly do I want to achieve? What should the outcome be?
Motivating Will working on this goal ignite my passion?
Attainable Is it within my power to reach my goal? It can be a challenge, but not so difficult that it becomes de-motivating.
Relevant Is it meaningful to me? Will it make a difference?
Trackable When do I need to achieve this? How do I measure how well I am doing?

The resolutions I did achieve were the ones that I was passionate about; the ones that I could realistically achieve in 12 months; and the ones that had a clear end objective.

I need to work on setting myself SMART goals, if I actually want to achieve them.

This alone won’t help – sometimes, even setting SMART Goals, I won’t be able to achieve a goal. It might be that the goal is no longer relevant to me – in which case I could try modifying the goal to meet my needs – but it might just be that, despite my best efforts things didn’t go as planned.

In this situation, I need to remember not to be so hard on myself. People are their own worst critic – one of the hardest parts of failing to achieve is that inner monologue – and people will put themselves down, devalue themselves, and become disillusioned.

Obstacles to achieving our goals are inevitable – but it’s not what happens to us that’s important. It’s how we respond.

Sam Thomas Davies writes about how to move on when a goal is missed – and points out that the goal is the outcome you want to achieve at the end point, and people focus on this more than the passion and enjoyment of trying to achieve it in the first place. I’m reminded of a song by Miley Cyrus called “The Climb”, where she sings about it not mattering whether she gets to the top of the mountain or not, it’s all about the journey she’s taking to get there.

It’s important to remember that, even if it’s taking you longer than you expect to get to where you want to be, you should take the time to appreciate any progress – no matter how small that might be – and remember to congratulate yourself for what you have achieved.

Take the time to make your goals SMART, and give yourself the best chance of achieving them. Keep a flexible approach. And, when obstacles come your way, remember that it doesn’t matter if things take you longer than expected.

It’s ok to stop and to walk occasionally, and enjoy the view from where you are right now.

Is It Time To Take A Break?

After all, the best part of a holiday is perhaps not so much to be resting yourself, as to see all the other fellows busy working – Kenneth Grahame

wooden signboard on tropical beach

I’m going on holiday next week. If you’re one of my friends, or colleagues, you probably can’t wait for me to go – I haven’t shut up about it for weeks. It’s my first holiday in four years. I’m nearly ready to go. I’ve handed over keys, projects, and back-up contact details. I’m writing my out of office message now.

I’m terrified.

Of course, I am looking forward to getting away; but I enjoy my job, and I take pride in the things that I achieve. I enjoy ticking things off of my ‘To Do’ list, and love delivering great customer service, and working closely with my teams and clients. So, of course, I’m scared about what will happen if I jet off abroad, and my colleagues aren’t able to deliver the same level of service. Or, even worse, what if there’s a disaster back here that I need to deal with? Do I trust my team members to handle things in the right way?

I’m thankful, of course, that I do have a wonderful team covering for me, and I know that they’ll be able to handle any curve-ball that might come in their direction whilst I’m topping up my tan. However, it is the moment that every leader dreads: they’re lying back on the sun lounger, about to jump in for a swim, and there’s a crisis back home.

This fear is clearly demonstrated in politics. As the BBC so rightly points out: in a world of 24 hour news political leaders are under public pressure to be back at work in a moments’ notice – many even ditch their holidays and return to work. This doesn’t extend only to politics. Former BP CEO, Tony Hayward, was heavily criticized for going sailing just after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The Institute of Leadership and Management surveyed over 1200 leaders, and uncovered some startling figures:

  • Over half of all managers work whilst they are on annual leave.
  • 71% of leaders feel more stressed in the run up to a holiday; and 17% return from holiday more stressed than when they left.
  • 80% of managers checked their smart phone on holiday.

Should leaders be working on holiday?

This is a tricky balance. On one hand, they need to show that they aren’t chained to their desk; and accept that it is ok to take a break occasionally. They may, however, find that they still need to take the lead if something goes wrong. Timing is critical. Whilst leaders don’t need to be checking their e-mails every day on the beach, they should also not to appear to be dragged back to work “kicking and screaming”.

Will it make a difference?

Overworked leaders need relaxation more than ever, but the existence of mobile phones, cheap wireless internet connection, and 24-hour rolling news means someone can do their job just as well from almost anywhere in the world.

The general media seem to think holidays are a bad thing – remember our politicians being forced to return home? It seems they expect the Prime Minister to be running the country from his BlackBerry. The Training Journal, however, points out that all the research suggests people should be taking breaks. They identify that the opportunity of clearing out clutter and rubbish whilst on holiday is typically under-used. They also identify that, by delegating key responsibilities to their team members and not interfering too much, new leaders can step up and get an experience of running the show; deputies can step up and experience what holding the reins actually feels like. They might surprise you. Even if things do go a little pear shaped, it’s a chance to identify space for personal and professional development.

So, perhaps having no mobile signal can be a blessing?

Aside from your friends back home thanking you for not uploading hundreds of #Holiday #BeachSelfie’s to social media, the chance of an interruption-free holiday might be exactly what leaders need to do, both to recharge their own batteries, and to challenge others to step into their shoes.

This knowledge doesn’t stop the pre-handover stress.

You can plan for your absence, and work on cutting down your holiday related stress levels:

  • Create handover notes about the status of your work or projects, and if you have people reporting to you, give them clear guidelines on tasks they need to complete while you’re away.
  • Tie up any loose ends before you go on leave. Aim not to leave anything half-finished. Even if that means identifying where something won’t be completed until you return.
  • Identify everything likely to require attention in your absence and who will be responsible for each – Brief those who will be acting in your absence and be clear about what their role is. They can probably do more than you think. Then, crucially, let them get on with it!
  • Make sure that you inform your key contacts that you will be away – this will cut down on the number of messages you are sent in your absence.
  • If you are planning to check work e-mails, establish ground rules: only do so once or twice a day, and switch off your laptop or iPhone in between.
  • Set up a detailed out-of-office response for both your e-mail and phone line. Include the dates you’ll be away and a person that can be contacted in your absence.
  • Do not open your e-mail account straight away upon your return – catch-up meetings with team members might be a better alternative, and save you time trawling through e-mails. Remember to appreciate where people have used their initiative and made decisions, even if these weren’t perfect.

With all of these tips in mind, I think I’m ready. There’s a sun-lounger on a Greek beach with my name towel on it. All I need to stress about now, is what factor sun lotion I need, and which bikini’s to pack!

Top 3 Reasons Why Being a Great Leader Isn’t Easy

A few months back, I asked a group of leaders for a show of hands on who had experienced either oversupervision or undersupervision. Almost every hand went up. But then I asked how many had themselves oversupervised or undersupervised their direct reports. Only one or two hands shyly peeked out from the crowd.

So what’s going on? Well, leaders can sometimes be unaware of what they should and should not be doing. And this lack of awareness separates good leaders from great leaders. Great leaders know that leading is a never-ending journey that can be filled with treacherous obstacles.

So what do you need to know to become a great leader?
Continue reading

Leadership Advice: Words of Wisdom for My Younger Self

Child in suite

I don’t have regrets and I know what my mum would say if I comment on how lucky I have been at work. The line ‘you create your own luck’ normally rears its head. I won’t tell her, but she’s right! I do wish at times I had more confidence in my ability though and wasn’t so hard on myself.

I have pondered over the last week what I would tell my younger self if I had the chance, but also what I would tell other young or aspiring leaders.

You can influence others without authority

You may not be a manager or have direct responsibility for making a decision, but you can contribute and you should. You thoughts, ideas and input are valuable and may have a huge impact on an individual, department, business unit or even a whole company.

You will have a job as a Project Assistant for a local authority in your Summer holidays whilst studying at university. You will be brought in to do the project team’s filing, but you need to show interest in the ‘bigger picture’, learn the team’s objectives and how you can help them. A number of small projects later and you will find yourself on an away-day working on a transformation strategy with the heads of service. Imagine that! Never think you can’t influence others.

You will get knocked down, but you will get up again

It was Winston Churchill who said ‘Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm’.

Your career won’t all be plain sailing, there will be set backs and challenges. Just remember that everyone needs these challenges and to make small mistakes in order to learn.

You wouldn’t have the length and breadth of knowledge years down the line without a period of learning and we all gain that from ‘doing’ and making errors. It’s a hard fact of life, but don’t beat yourself up over it. You’ll be a stronger person as a result.

Be inquisitive

I was talking to my team this week on the topic of ‘thinking like a child’ and I wanted to tell my younger self to always ask questions. You are a sponge when you are younger and have a creative, out –of-the box thinking that often gets lost as we get older. We have more responsibilities and the stresses and strains of life take over.

So, my advice is to be inquisitive, ask questions and soak up as much information as you can. You have a great opportunity to learn from everyone around you, the good bosses and the bad. Treat it as a gift.

Take all opportunities available to you

When we progress in our careers there’s the tendency to take on too much and to have to learn the art of delegation and sometimes just saying ‘no’.

My advice to the younger me is to take every opportunity that comes your way. Everything is an experience, a learning curve and some will be a marvellous adventure. People will admire your enthusiasm and are more likely to offer you other opportunities in the future.

There’s a lovely quote from Mario Testino, he said ‘my favourite words are possibilities, opportunities and curiosity. I think if you are curious, you create opportunities, and then if you open the doors, you create possibilities’.

The challenge of youth; earn the respect of others and be positive

It’s going to be a bitter pill to swallow; but the reality is that when you are young people will judge and question your ability. The best thing you will ever do it to remain positive and plough your energy into proving your worth and earning the respect of others.

This is not a bad hand you have been dealt, it’s an opportunity to prove your worth and to shine. Every manager you will have will admire your determination and perseverance; it’s up to you to gain their respect.

Be confident about your value

This last piece of advice is not about strolling into your bosses’ office and asking for a pay rise, but it is about giving yourself a pep-talk when things aren’t going so well.

Always be confident in your ability and know your worth. We are all different and that means we are have unique strengths that add value to a workplace – know what your value is and bring it to the table.

Lastly, keep a phrase, quote or mantra in your pocket for the tough times. I will give you a start with the latin phrase ‘Carpe Diem’!

carpe diem

HR’s Seat At The Table

Many moons ago the HR role was seen as an administrative role, looking at the rules and processes that govern the organization. Nowadays HR is much more than that, HR is (or should be) a strategic partner to an organization and can help an organization leverage human capital to the maximum. However some organization’s still see HR departments as cost centers and refuse to give them what is needed. HR are a core part of any business and should occupy a seat at the C-suite table.


So how does HR get a seat at the table?

Get to know your business – Understand your business and what makes it tick. What is your organization trying to achieve? What constraints are managers under? The structure and decision power in your organizations. Learning about what is important to the business will help you plan and prioritize what needs to be done in HR.

Knowledge is power – HR professionals need to have a vast understanding of the world around them. It’s not only important to understand what is going on in the world of HR but also to understand the environment, the industry. HR skill-set’s also need to be evaluated, are the team equipped with the necessary skills to work at a strategic level?

Develop key relationships – Network within your organization, drop in ways the HR department can help with problems people might have. Offer advice to managers informally. Be present!

HR tools – Research what tools are out there to help you show how you turn results into meaningful actions. Google’s HR division (at Google HR is called People operation’s) is tuned in with what the business needs and provides it. It has a data driven HR function, that works with analytic’s and data rather than subjective decision making. If you want to learn more about how Google use this data please check out Dr. John Sullivan’s blog post (Click Here).

Bottom Line – HR need to link their strategic plans to the organizational goal and business needs. If HR actions are linked to a business need it will be easier to demonstrate how it has contributed to the bottom line. Until this happens HR will continue to be seen as a cost center.

Unfortunately when budgets are cut, it seems to be the HR budget that is hit first. HR need to prove their worth to the organization in order to gain a seat at the table.

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