Why we all need support - especially CEOs

This month I’m returning to a subject that is as important as it gets for the ongoing welfare of non-profit organisations – how the leaders within this very varied sector are able to flourish as individuals while remaining in charge of the destiny of their organisations. 

It is almost impossible to pick up an article or book about successful leaders and entrepreneurs these days without finding a story or quote about how that individual derived enormous benefit from having a mentor at some stage of their career.  Mentoring has been going on for a very long time – famous relationships include Socrates and Plato, Aristotle and Alexander the Great, and more recently Freddie Laker and Richard Branson.  Indeed, government statistics show that 70% of small businesses whose leaders receive mentoring survive for five years or more, which is double the rate compared with non-mentored entrepreneurs and, in addition, they are 20% more likely to experience growth. 

We know that a CEO crisis line has just published data to say that it has received twice as many calls this year as last.  So, if it is true that the leaders within our sector are increasingly aware of the need to run their organisations as successful businesses while also being under incredible pressure from all sides, and if it’s also true that leaders of all kinds benefit from having a mentor, why do so very few Chief Executives, senior management or Board Chairs have mentors?

 

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Why Professional Competence is all about Comfort and Security

I’ve spent the past few weeks living away from home while we had some plumbing issues dealt with.  Now I’m back and settling once again into my own space. While returning my home to some semblance of order, it is time to take stock of an acutely uncomfortable experience which has unexpectedly offered me an insight into the value of how we use our professional competences. 

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The dreaded acronym - it can easily confuse

Have you ever had one of those days when just about everything you touched or came to your attention was bigger, more complicated, more difficult than it, at first, appeared? Someone asks an innocent question or an email arrives and your first answer needs qualifying in some way and then that answer triggers another train of thought and so it goes until you wish you hadn’t answered the phone or opened the email in the first place! At  the close of just such a day a while ago, it occurred to me that at the root of this type of problem we often find the issue of implied, implicit or assumed understanding.  If your understanding is not clear in the early stages of the conversation or transaction then you will labour under the misunderstanding for quite a while, usually until someone realises that you have been talking at cross-purposes.

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Thursday's Magic Moment

As someone who spends their time working to support others in their personal and professional development, I am always thrilled to hear that people have found working with me both helpful and useful. Verbal and written feedback is always gratefully received and I value it highly but yesterday something very special happened.  It was the first time that I have ever seen physical evidence that affirms the value of what I do and what I had written. One of the attendees at my afternoon workshop entered the room and, while she was settling herself down,  took various items out of her bag as she was looking for a pen which had clearly sunk to the bottom.  One of the items which appeared was the most dog-eared copy of my book that I have ever seen.   She told me that she dips into it every day and that it is incredibly useful to her.

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R.E.D. and G.O.L.D. – an auspicious focus for the coming Year of the Dragon

Tomorrow sees the start of the Chinese Year of the Dragon, believed to be the most auspicious year in the calendar, with red and gold as the auspicious colours for the New Year.  They are also great shorthand to think about how we approach the coming year and what it may hold for us, both at work and in our personal lives.

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PAYING IT FORWARD OR GIVING SOMETHING BACK

"The only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on. It is never of any use to oneself. "- Oscar Wilde

As the increasing longevity of the population means that the government continues to struggle with the question of where to peg the age at which we might all receive our bus passes, I recently attended the festivities surrounding the retirement of a long-serving colleague.  Listening to the stories relating her personal history to patterns and methods of working which have long ceased to be relevant in a modern environment, it occurred to me that, over time, her capacity to adapt had been severely tested but that, in amongst the other elements of her day to day tasks, she had found the time to train and assist those around her.

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PROFESSIONALISM – OPPORTUNITES TO CONNECT

While I prepare a workshop to be delivered at the CHASE conference (*) in London next week, I have been giving a lot of thought to what the benefits will be for those who attend the session. Let’s face it, most of us have to justify the time taken for attendance at conferences of this type to employers. We know it will be necessary to make the case that it is not just about personal CPD and the opportunities for networking and discussions with our peers. Most organisations will also need some evidence that what you are going to see and hear will be time well spent and that there will be benefits for the organisation too.

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Professionalism attributes - Somewhere over the rainbow

We are all very familiar with the classic 1939 film The Wizard of Oz – on our screens again over the holidays - and especially the most enduring song from the film ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’, sung by Judy Garland.  In the years since the film first appeared it has become accepted as the ‘standard’ version, now full of memories and association for many people.  Although lots of other singers have since offered their own versions, no-one ever really made a dent in Judy Garland’s ‘ownership’ of the song.

Then, in the late ‘90s, a new version appeared and did something really surprising.   It was a fabulous new version, beautiful in its own right and utterly different from the original.

TRULY   MEMORABLE

I can clearly remember the first time I heard it. I was listening to my car radio and, even though I arrived at my destination while it was playing, I had to stay in my seat until the end of the song because I wanted to hear all of it.  Then I waited for the name of the singer because I knew that I would want to hear it again - Eva Cassidy.  Next step was to go and buy it for myself and, unsurprisingly, I liked everything else that the singer had to offer and am still listening to it all these years later.

Why am I telling you this?  Hearing the song again the other day triggered the memory of my feelings of surprise and delight at discovering this new way of looking at something I was so familiar with.  The content was the same but the delivery was new and unexpected.  I also realised that I did not have to decide whether it was an improvement on the older version but that I had quickly accepted that the two versions could exist side by side.

DIFFICULT  BUT  NOT  IMPOSSIBLE

How had the singer achieved this?  She had found a new and intensely personal way of looking at something familiar and had made me, the listener, appreciate the content afresh.  She triggered an extraordinary reaction in me and a great many other people who also heard the song that day.

I have huge admiration for the singer, having the courage to take something so familiar and do something truly different with it.  A huge gamble that could have backfired badly but she made it uniquely hers with no detriment to what went before - just completely different.

POSSIBILITIES

At work and in our everyday lives we all allow ourselves to continue doing what we have always done before without questioning it – it’s easy that way.  Have you ever wondered whether easy is not always best?  Now would be a good time to apply a fresh pair of eyes to what you have been doing for a while, giving it a good shake and seeing if perhaps there might be another way – perhaps better, definitely different, maybe leading you to other changes.  Change for its own sake is not always the best route but it can occasionally lead to improvement, even just by relieving the tedium of unending repetition.

Use the key attributes of professionalism of integrity and the search for excellence.    Have the courage not just to do the right thing for you but also look beyond the ordinary and the mundane, beyond entrenched attitudes to find something better, something newer and, by upsetting the status quo, perhaps produce something for the benefit of everyone.  Give yourself permission to dream and you might just find your rainbow!

“If we all did the things we are capable of doing we would literally astound ourselves” – Thomas Edison

True professionalism - Read more, read often

We are all subject to fairly staggering amounts of information each day, coming at us from an ever increasing range of sources.  Have you ever considered how much of this ‘stuff’ you actually read and ingest, finding relevance for how you live or work, or storing it away for further use later? The mixed drivers of intellectual curiosity and the need to remain up to date for professional and CPD purposes should be enough to make you apportion a significant percentage of your time to reading as widely and as frequently as possible.

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The volunteer's new clothes - with apologies to the emperor!

For those of us who work in the not-for-profit sector, either as salaried employees or as committed volunteers, there was probably a moment when we made a choice – nfp or commercial – and the potential reasons for those choices are too many and various to list. For volunteers the years of involvement with a particular organisation or charity will pass quite quickly.  In the first instance it is interesting and exciting and it feels privileged to be on the ‘inside’, with your voice being heard and, hopefully, your opinions being valued.

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