I’ve just come back from a two week cruise in the Caribbean. I’m the first to admit that in day to day life I find it difficult to switch off so when I was faced with the prospect of fourteen days on a ship with limited internet access I wasn’t sure how I would fair…
January is a time when many of us start thinking about what we want from the year ahead of us. What do we want to achieve? Where do we want to go? What do we want to do? The statistics surrounding New Years Resolution’s are diabolical and for most people by the time they read this post many of those plans will have fallen by the wayside. There is lots we could talk about regarding goal setting and habit formation and there is a great body of work around this by people like Tony Robbins and Charles Duhigg. However I wonder if it is more useful to turn our thinking to a more fundamental question. Rather than asking “what do we want to do?”, what would happen if instead we asked ourselves “who do we want to be?”? Instead of planning to run three times a week or make 25 sales calls a day, what if we focused on being a runner or being a sales superstar?
We use identity statements all the time but often without much thought. “I’m a father”. “I’m an HR Business Partner”. “I’m Senior Vice President of Sales EMEA”. They might be useful labels but in reality they don’t tell us much about what the role entails. And therein lies their downfall and at the same time their shining beauty. Used in the right way, these identity statements present a huge opportunity. We get to choose. We get to decide how we play the part. Rather than asking ourselves if we are capable of fulfilling the role, we can start to think about how we are going to fulfil it in our own authentic way.
When I was training to be an actor one of the crucial steps to creating a character was drawing up a list of characteristics. You had to decided what the character was like. Was he brave? Was he smart? Was he naive? These qualities then informed the way in which you played the part. In simple terms, the sort of energy the character approached a situation with was dictated by these characteristics. A confident character enters a room in a very different way to a timid one. When we take time to define our roles, we can choose our characteristic which in turn help to shape our outcomes. You get very different results if you focus on being a committed, powerful and dynamic athlete, rather than just attempting to go to the gym three times a week.
So, instead of writing resolutions this year, I’ve defined the roles I want to play in my business and personal life and for each of those roles I have chosen at least three characteristics. Two weeks into January and I’m making progress in all areas. It’s less about ticking boxes and working to complete isolated activities and more about taking a holistic approach to the sort of person I want to be and the impact I want to have on the world. The roles are helping me to focus my attention and not get distracted by shiny objects and the characteristics are helping me bring the right kind of energy to my activities. The added bonus is that if I miss a workout or succumb to a biscuit with my cup of tea I can look for other ways to fulfil my chosen role rather than beating myself up for falling off the wagon and failing in my chosen task. After all, no matter what role we decide to play, we’re only human and our failures as well as our success are what make us who we are.
What Running 26.2 Miles Taught Me About Business
On Sunday 11th October I ran my first marathon. Historically I am not a runner. I signed up for the challenge because I wanted to give something back to the fantastic hospital that treated my daughter after she had an accident at the beginning of the year. It was a personal challenge but also a very public one. I had told all of my family and friends about what I was doing in a effort to raise as much money as possible. I was then contacted by a TV production company who were interested in my story and wanted to film me training and during the race for a documentary they were making about the event. I had nowhere to hide…
I’m not going to lie and say it was easy, it was the most physically and mentally demanding thing I’ve ever done. The race and the months of preparation challenged me in ways I hadn’t expected and there were moments when I doubted that I’d be able to complete the challenge. But I did. In 4 hours 31 minutes. A time of which I am incredibly proud. The whole experience has changed me as an individual and as a business owner. It’s made me change the way I think about the challenges I face and it’s made me more determined than ever to succeed at those things that I choose to do. It was a brilliant experience. Here are the lessons I learned along the way….
Take it one step at a time
There’s nothing sexy about training for a marathon. Just like any major project with a delivery date way off in the future, the thought of achieving your goal, of crossing the finish line, is exciting and extremely appealing. However, the reality of what comes before that celebration, the journey you must go on to get there, is pretty bloody boring and full of lots and lots of hard work. I had just under nine months to train for the race and after the initial excitement of starting the project had worn off, it was very hard to find the motivation to leave the house on a cold, wet Sunday morning to go jogging for two hours. I soon discovered the importance of splitting the journey into bite-sized chunks, mini-projects or milestones that I could tick off along the way. Complete at least 2 runs a week. Run a half marathon. Run for 3 hours without stopping. All little goals within the bigger goal that gave me a sense of achievement and of forward momentum. As a result I now include milestone in all of the projects within my business which not only gives me and the team a way to measuring our progress but also helps us resist the urge to cram all of our preparation in just before the deadline. As any marathon runner will tell you, pacing is the key!
Find yourself a cheerleader
The road to success can be pretty lonely. We’re all our own biggest critics and when things start to veer slightly off track we can be pretty quick to put ourselves down. We go straight to our default negative bias. The little voice inside our heads starts telling us about all the things that we haven’t done, all the targets that we’ve missed and all the reasons that we’re sure to fail. Our ability to manage that voice, to demand that it changes its tune and starts championing us instead, can be the difference between success and failure. When “you’ve still got 6 miles to go, I hope your knees hold out” changes to “you’ve done 20 miles already, the finish line’s within reach” the difference is tangible. And it’s not only the internal voices that are important in helping us to achieve our goals. On race day I had teams of friends and family strategically placed at intervals along the route: cheering me on, waving signs and offering me jelly babies and bananas! The impact of this was huge. All of a sudden I wasn’t alone. For a couple of fleeting seconds I felt connected and part of a bigger team. Just imagine what a difference it could make in your business if you created a more positive script for yourself and regularly checked in with the people who champion you and believed in what you were trying to achieve.
With so much invested in the run and with so many people aware of what I was trying to achieve (not to mention the TV crew following me round!) giving up was never really an option. But that doesn’t mean that it didn’t cross my mind. About three weeks before the event I had to pull up short on a training run due to knee pain and I was seriously worried that my chances of racing were over. A couple of days before the run I developed a full body rash, started running a fever and was having cold sweats – I think I caught a virus – and again the doubts crept in. And the on race day itself, around the 21 mile mark, I hit the dreaded “wall” and was convinced that I’d have to give up there an then as I had no energy left and I could hardly breath. But at every hurdle I kept pushing on. Not because I believe that anything’s possible. It’s not. I’ll never win a marathon – unless I’m the only person in the field :-). The reason I kept pushing on is because I’d done my homework. I’d put in the training hours . I’d eaten the right food. I’d chosen good shoes and even better socks (essential for anyone who fancies running a marathon themselves in the future). And most importantly I’d prepared my mind to go the distance. I’d anticipated that it wouldn’t all go according to plan and I put tactics in place to cope with it. I crossed the finish line with a smile on my face. My body ached, my lungs were stinging and I had achieved my goal.
Don’t forget to celebrate
After I collected my medal I didn’t go home and start training for my next challenge. I went out to the pub to celebrate – via a long hot shower of course ;-). This may not sound extraordinary but when I compare it to what I would normally do in a business context there is a big lesson to be learned. Believe it or not, despite the fact that I’m an actor, I don’t really like being the centre of attention. So, when my wife told me that she’d invited 40 people to celebrate with us after the race I felt pretty uncomfortable. Plenty of other human beings have run a marathon, it’s really nothing that special. My default position is to swipe things under the carpet, to acknowledge my successes briefly and then move on to the next thing. But my thinking has now changed. I realised that celebrating success wasn’t just about me, it was about recognising all the people that had been part of my journey. It was about my wife and daughter who’d put up with the relentless training schedule that had eaten into our weekends and changed the contents of our fridge. It was about the friends and family who had turned up to cheer me on along the route and it was about everybody that had read my story, pledged money to the cause and sent me beautiful messages of support. Those few hours in the pub will always be really special to me. I got a chance to relive the race from a different perspective and to create even stronger bonds with my “tribe”. Successes need to be celebrated. It’s too easy to switch focus to the next big thing as soon as a goal is ticked off the list. However, unless we give ourselves the time to enjoy our wins, we miss an important moment for reflection and connection that sets us up for continued success in the future.
I am now a runner. I’m not sure where it will take me next and I’m pretty sure I won’t be going full marathon distance in the foreseeable future, however, I do know that the experiences I have had over the last nine months will have an impact for many years to come.
What have you learned from your recent challenges? What will you do differently in the future? I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please leave your comments in the box below.
Here in the UK we’re one week away from a General Election. Once every five years our politicians down tools for six weeks, leave the running of the country to the civil service and get out on the election trail, desperate to retain their seats and increase their party’s margin. Regardless of your political inclination this is a fascinating time and one where the ability of each party’s leader to connect with an audience can have massive implications for the future of the nation.
Back in 2010 the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg delivered massive gains for his party following his performance in the country’s first ever live leadership debate and was praised for his ability to connect with the TV audience down the camera lens. The recent 7-way debate on Sky News was less of a game changer but from a performance perspective it highlighted the importance of authenticity. Whilst none of the leaders were able to land any killer blows, all of them had moments where they seemed truly connected and engaged with what they were saying. At these moments they shone. During others they appeared lacklustre at best. Tonight the leaders of the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats parties will take part in a special edition of Question Time. Who will stand out as authentic and who will be criticised for being “out of touch”? Only time will tell…
Whilst authenticity is increasingly seen as a must have quality in politics, it also has massive implications in a business context too. So what are the elements that make the difference between authentic and inauthentic and how can we apply them in the “real world”?
Connect To Your Subject Matter
It goes without saying that when we talk about things we are passionate about we are more engaged and more engaging. Often when I’m coaching I will ask a client to tell me about their kids or a recent holiday they went on and all of a sudden, the dull, lifeless person sitting in front of me becomes an animated ball of infectious energy! Their voice goes from flat to colourful and their gestures and body language come alive. Why? Because they care about what they are talking about. Our challenge when talking about work related topics is to find the thing that we connect with. If you challenge yourself you’ll always find something that resonates with you (or makes you angry) and this is the thing to focus on. When you connect to it you’ll be speaking from the heart.
Don’t Hide Your Emotions
People are often scared of emotions in a business context. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting for one second that you should aim to get teary-eyed or start shouting with rage. However, personal emotion is irrefutable and if it is used genuinely it can be extremely powerful. If you say “I feel really proud of what we have achieved” it’s very unlikely that anyone will challenge that sentiment. Instead your audience will actually feel a collective connection to you and you will instantly build rapport. Emotions, both positive and negative, make us human. They help us break down barriers with our audience and in our search for authenticity they help us to build trust.
Dare To Be Yourself
It’s all to easy to blend into the crowd but it’s more exciting to stand up and be counted. If you want to be remembered for what you say you have to be prepared to stand out. The word authentic and the word author have the same origin, coming from the Greek word authentikos meaning “original”. Ask yourself this question: Are your prepared to pick up the pen and write your own story? Or would you rather let someone else provide the narrative? “Fortune favours the brave” – It’s time to get authentic!
How do you authentically connect with your audience? What do the people that you trust have in common? I’d love to hear your comments in the box below.
I’ve just boarded a flight to Vienna and am going to be away from my eleven month old daughter, Nell, for the next twelve days so understandably I’m feeling a little bit blue (apologies to my wife – Darling, I’ll miss you too!! – but anyone who has had children knows how quickly they change and twelve days feels like a life time!).
Anyway, sitting at 30,000 feet, scrolling through some pictures of my daughter on my phone, I got thinking about how amazing babies are at communication and how astonishing it is that rather than build upon these skills we seem to forget them as we grow into adulthood.
So, what are the top communications tips and tricks we can learn from our little nappy-clad offspring?
Lesson 1: Dare To Fail
Babies are pretty fearless creatures. They bump into things, fall over a lot and generally take risks.
In order to be brilliant communicators we too need to think about stepping outside of our comfort zones. We can’t learn or grow unless we are prepared to fail. The consequences of doing things a little differently often seem huge but in reality what’s the worst that can happen? We might forget our words, someone in the audience might laugh, we may even get the facts and figures wrong. But by doing things differently and daring to experiment with our performance we guarantee that we continue to improve. The changes we make don’t have to be massive but they are extremely important. That’s why they’re called “baby steps”!
Lesson 2: Practice Makes Perfect
Repetition. Repetition. Repetition. Little people do the same thing over and over again. It amazes me that no matter how many times I read The Tales of Peter Rabbit to Nell, it’s always the most exciting thing in the world. Babies do the same thing over and over again and so do the world’s top performers. Whether it’s the David Beckham of old practicing his free kicks long after the other players had left the training ground or the actors of the Royal Shakespeare Company rehearsing Hamlet for two months before they bring it to the stage, people who want to be world class put in the practice. Just like babies learning to walk.
How many times did you rehearse “out loud” the last presentation you gave or the difficult conversation you had with your boss? Don’t sell yourself short. Make sure you put in the hours.
Lesson 3: Be Seen & Be Heard
As any new parent will testify, if you walk into a room with a baby in it, the baby is usually the centre of attention. The rational, sane adults that are present will invariably have turned to mush and will be crowded round the infant cooing and pulling funny faces. Babies rarely shy away from the limelight and love to make themselves heard. They are not being aggressive or demanding (most of the time) they are simply being present and are enjoying communicating with their audience.
Learning to become comfortable with being seen and heard is one of the hardest and potentially most rewarding things we can do. If we want to make an impact, other people need to see us and hear us. So take a deep breath and greet your audience with gentle eye contact and a warm “hello”.
Lesson 4: Smile
Ok, I admit it. The world of the newborn isn’t always full of the sound of laughter. There’s a fair amount of crying too! However, a gummy little smile from a baby has the ability to melt even the coldest heart and this is something we can all put into practice with very minimal effort. Smiling whilst communicating has many benefits. Firstly, it releases endorphins so you’ll personally be in a better mood. Secondly, human beings are natural “mirrorers” so your audience will unconsciously copy you and feel better too. And finally (and perhaps most interestingly) smiling lifts the soft pallet in the mouth, creating more space for resonance and producing a brighter more interesting sound. So simply by smiling, your audience will find what you have to say more compelling to listen to!
I can’t encourage you enough to get back in touch with your inner child. You’ll be amazed at the impact it will have on your presence and gravitas. Give it a go and share your experiences in the comments box below.