As I wrote in my last blog, the leadership training that we went through during our week at Les Fontaines was, if you excuse the cliché, truly eye opening. And that was the case for everyone. Some of us has bigger “aha” moments than others, perhaps owing to the size of the contrast between where we are now and where we want to be, or perhaps the shock at just how long we’ve been fumbling through as leaders without truly understanding why we behave that way.
For some, this has resulted in a complete 360 swivel and a change in job, career or home life. For others, it has helped to reinforce and confirm ways of working and behaviours with a confidence boost. I think I’m somewhere in the middle, and following my “aha” moment, the areas that I decided to be mindful of were: being more flexible, being less nice, and being more inspirational. In this post I am going to talk about flexibility, and a book that I have read which suits this theme. I’ll follow the same format in my next 2 blogs on being nice and being inspirational.
Being more flexible
The irony of having to actively think about being flexible does not escape me, but this is honestly something that I find completely unnatural. As someone who just won an award for demonstrating control on a recent project, being flexible could not be further from my comfort zone! Until I joined this programme, I suppose I had always associated (rightly or wrongly) being flexible with having a blasé or lazy attitude. And, coming from a family where hard work and “getting your head down” were encouraged, this was just a foreign concept for me. I now realise (as I’m sure many of you already do) that my perception of flexibility was slightly warped!
So how am I getting on?
Well, 2 days after returning from Les Fontaines I was running a workshop. A lot of preparation and planning had gone into this, involving lots of people over many weeks, and I was responsible for running it. Half way through, a number of the attendees requested that we change the agenda for the afternoon. Now, I had a freeze-frame moment. The “Control” side of my brain was having a mild panic (“we have to stick to the agenda, this has been planned for a reason”) but the new “Flexible” side of my brain was trying to get its voice heard (“maybe the agenda isn’t right any more, maybe just go with it”). Given that this workshop was for a client, I found it easier (not easy, just a little bit easier) to say yes and accommodate their needs (after giving myself a good talking to). I think if this had been with fellow colleagues or friends, I would have found it more difficult.
The rest of the afternoon went well and everyone left feeling much more satisfied than I think they would have done had we not changed the agenda. So much so that in all the feedback I received from that workshop, almost everyone had expressed their thanks for me being flexible and accommodating. That is the first time I have ever received feedback for being flexible, and it felt pretty good! I also left the workshop feeling a lot lighter, less burdened, and happy that the others were happy.
A helping hand
I am also getting some help from my fellow buddy-coach in the class. As part of the programme, we are being given the training and support to better improve our coaching skills, and therefore help each other. Working with my buddy-coach so far has enlightened me to a few techniques to help me take my flexibility to the next level, to both help others and myself.
The first is that I am trying to see control vs flexibility not as polar extremes, but as a continuum. I don’t always remember to apply this, but when I do, it allows me to take a step back in a situation, but not step fully back and disengage responsibility. This way, if the situation demands some control, I can step back in. Not with a hefty size 9, but a little bit at first, and then more if needed along the continuum.
The second is to try and see everyone in my life a little more like a customer. I find it so much easier to be flexible with a client because, quite frankly, they are paying for my help. I can of course object, based on my experience and knowledge, but I am less likely to outrightly say no, and I definitely wouldn’t say it to their face. Applying empathy and understanding where my colleagues are coming from in needing me to be flexible is really helping.
Having a more flexible outlook in my life is also helping me. Despite the small amount of effort I have to put in to think actively about it (and I’m hoping that with practice that will becomes less and less), I am reaping huge rewards in terms of feeling more relaxed and not being so intense about every situation.
So I’m done, right?!
Not quite, not by a long shot. The workshop was a nice example, and most likely went so well because flexibility was fresh in my mind after Les Fontaines. Writing this blog has made me to think back over 4 weeks, and I can say with certainty that I have not always had flexibility at the forefront of my mind, and there were probably situations where I would have wanted to be more accommodating, but something might have held me back.
I’d therefore like to try and make this more of a habit, to be mindful of it and also to reflect on how I am doing. Having kept a diary in the past, I know that this is something that works quite well for me. At the end of every day, the purpose of me writing in my diary is not to just while away my moans about the day, but to actively check in and ask the question: “how flexible was I today?” So, with that in mind, I have bought myself a new diary (because who doesn’t love new stationery too?).
Books, books and more books
Whether consciously or unconsciously, I have gravitated lately towards reading various books about leadership, tenacity, the psychology of people, etc. And I am finding all of them enlightening and useful, so without sounding like a critic, here is my first recommendation.
I am currently just finishing a book called “Treating People Well” by Lea Berman and Jeremy Bernard, who were both Social Secretaries to the White House during the Bush and Obama administrations. Lea and Jeremy have so many life lessons (and shocking stories) to share, and they distil it very well into pieces of advice that are relevant across lots of leadership qualities: confidence, calm, humour, and others. So for that reason, it is a great all-rounder book.
The thing that has stuck with me the most about this book though was the statement:
“It was an odd blessing that everything we did in the White House had the potential to become public. It made us think carefully about our actions, which almost always helped us find a considered approach to sticky situations”.
This was in reference to their sections on radiating calm and managing your behaviour on social channels but using this as a guiding compass in life can also be useful.
It has helped me when considering to be flexible. Putting myself in their shoes, it wouldn’t have gone down very well if Lea or Jeremy had been inflexible when either Bush or Obama had said: “can you change the seating plan for tomorrow, because I have more guests coming”!