Thursday, 3 August 2017

Mentoring - how to be a good one and how to choose one

Years ago ‘mentoring’ was as simple as helping a new colleague feel welcome or listening to your co-worker as they let off steam about a manager or an increasing workload. Today, mentoring is regarded as a valuable and measurable tool to assist in an employee’s professional development.

Done properly, mentors provide a sounding board at critical career points, supporting and guiding on a specific career path. They help provide us with a unique perspective on the challenges we face, due to their understanding of us as individuals and – usually – an appreciation of the business or sector we work in.

A recent survey by the Accountemps recruitment company found that 86% of executives saw having a mentor as an important tool for career development. That said, only a quarter of those surveyed actually had someone they could regularly turn to for advice and guidance. 

This could be for one of two reasons:

  1. We don’t know how to find a good mentor, or
  2. There aren’t many good mentors about

Finding a good mentor isn’t as easy as it sounds. There are a number of factors that you need to consider.

People need to be clear about what they actually need in a mentor


What skills are you looking to develop? What gaps in your knowledge and experience are you looking to fill? You need to be honest with yourself about what you need from a mentor in order to find one who can support you in the right way. As we develop and grow, so too will our mentoring requirements change. Some mentors will grow with us and sometimes we will need to draw on more than one mentor to help us develop and fulfil our true potential. Set yourself a twelve month plan about what you hope to gain out of a mentor/mentee relationship and be sure to review it – with your mentor – at regular intervals during the year as you would any other development intervention.

People should consider working styles when choosing a mentor


Choosing a mentor based on the person you want to be is dangerous – you shouldn’t be looking to fundamentally change the way you are, but more to learn certain skills, such as empathy, collaboration and reflection, that will help you do your job better. By choosing a mentor with a complimentary work style you will avoid personality clashes and ensure that you get the most out of their support and guidance.

People should look for mentors who can listen as much as they talk


A successful mentoring relationship is a 360 one. Your mentor needn’t have been down the same career path that you have, nor should they just feed you the answers to the challenges you face. They are there to act as a sounding board and provide valuable insight that helps you reach your own conclusions. This can only be done if the communication is open, genuine and two-way.

So what does it take to be a great mentor?


Mentoring is a different relationship than the traditional manager / worker one and to become a great mentor you have to see the mentee as an individual, rather than a subordinate. You have to be prepared to look beneath the mentee’s work performance and develop an appreciation of their personal life to truly understand what drives the business decisions they make and shapes the way they behave at work.

Forbes.com describes a great mentor as someone who is ‘honest and unafraid to tell you hard truths about yourself and your work’. They ‘push you to take risks and aim higher’.

More often than not, the best quality that a mentor can have is the ability to inspire. To make people aspire to be better people and to give them the confidence to believe they can achieve what they set out to do.

Great mentors get as much value out of the relationship as mentees do. Some of this value is obvious: improved relationship management skills, deeper insight into how people think and operate, as well as experience in challenging, exploring and testing alternative theories and perspectives, which they can then replicate in their own work.

If you’re looking for more information on how to get the best out of people, this TEDTalk playlist is worth a look.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Summertime productivity tips

Admit it – how much time do you spend gazing out of your window when the sun is shining, thinking about all the things you could be doing rather than work?

When the weather is nice outside, there are a million and one things we could be doing – but how do we fit it all in? We’ve pulled together some tips on maximising your productivity during the summer months so you can enjoy time at work - and at play.

The early bird


Longer days mean we can get up a little bit earlier in the summer months and it’s still light. Imagine what you could achieve in just one more hour – especially if the rest of your household is still sleeping! The extra time can be spent planning the day ahead and what you want to achieve, as well as doing all the preparation work you need to ensure your day goes smoothly.

Don’t answer


This is quite a difficult one to achieve, but we think it could have a big impact on productivity – make yourself a promise that you will not answer your phone all day. This article outlines the thinking behind the action [link: https://www.forbes.com/sites/work-in-progress/2012/10/14/24-ways-to-be-uncommonly-productive-today/#55c483fa253e], it works on the premise that if the call is important, they’ll leave a message and you can pick up your messages when you have finished the task or activity you were doing when the phone rang. Breaking off from what you’re doing loses momentum and wastes time. Give it a try and see what you think.

Plan to be productive


Even if it’s the holidays, set some time aside on a Sunday evening to plan what you want to achieve during the week ahead. If you commit something to writing you are more likely to complete the task, while sticking to a schedule – even during the summer break – helps you keep on track and feel fulfilled. You can build in ‘down time’ too, as well as relaxation activities. If it’s on your weekly plan, you’ll do it, guaranteed!

Do not multitask


We love to multitask – it makes us feel invincible and as if we have everything under control. But think about it - do we ever spend any time thinking about what we’ve actually achieved while multi-tasking? It is an illusion that we will accomplish more if we multitask. How can we put the same focus and energy into several tasks, as we would to just one? This summer, address just one task at a time and vow to accomplish it to the highest possible standard.

Three simple tips


Productivity is sparked by times of relaxation and reflection. These three simple summertime tips will help you strike the balance between relaxation and productivity.

  1. Write things down, rather than keep them in your head – leave your brain clear for thinking and ideas.
  2. Open the windows and get some fresh air – go for a quick stroll if you can, but at the very least take a minute or five to take in the fresh air during every working day.
  3. Use waiting times – e.g. while in queues or waiting for public transport – for thinking or unwinding, rather than doing stuff, that includes responding to emails, text messages and surfing for information. 

Summer brings with it lots of distractions, but if we plan ahead and make minor modifications to our daily schedules we can remain productive.

For more practical advice to help ensure you deliver your best self at work during the summer months, read this article.



Wednesday, 28 June 2017

The differences between male and female leaders

A survey of American workers suggested that more than a third of all workers would prefer a male boss, over a female. Factors, such as the gender of their current manager and the age of those surveyed, play a part in the decision, but what are the differences between male and female leaders? Is there any foundation in our preference?

Another American study found that women tended to be rated higher in achieving results, getting work done, being transparent and clear, and building rapport with others. Men scored higher in strategic planning ability, persuasion, delegation, and being more reserved in expression.

The study highlights the areas in which male and female leaderships styles differ, which would explain why people may be drawn towards stating a preference. It also suggests that the natural leadership styles of men and women are complementary. It is by creating a balance of both types of leadership, through Board-level diversity, that organisations can bring about peak performance.

Culture matters


Unsurprisingly, these differing leadership styles are more suited to the different cultures. In traditionally ‘male’ environments, such as the armed forces, male leaders – or at least their leadership style – might be favoured. While environments which employ larger numbers of women, such as education and retail, appear to favour female managers/styles.

Gender stereotypes


These gender-biased leadership skills are historical and often reinforced by stereotypes. As this article shows even after all these years, humans are surprisingly good at assessing a person’s physical formidability in terms of strength and fighting skills – tending to prefer dominant leaders when threat is greater. If women are perceived as too assertive or direct, they are often criticised; not assertive enough, they are labeled as weak leaders. The same goes that male leaders can be regarded as being weak, once they have show their nurturing and empathic sides.

Interestingly, most of the skills identified as being necessary for being a great leader – honesty, delegation, communication, confidence and positivity – are common to both male and female leaders.

Breaking free from being a stereotypical leader


We can all do our bit to break away from being the stereotypical leader we are expected to be:

  • By being conscious of your own biases about gender roles, we can first change our own thinking and behaviour, as well as that of our team members.
  • By having an appreciation of our own leadership style. This means we can purposefully learn to adapt it to fit different situations. Sometimes leaders need to be direct and firm. At other times, empathy and compassion are most needed.

Being an effective leader is about what you do, rather than what you know. Most leadership skills are learned from others, so it stands to reason that the more women leaders we have, the more they will share their skills with their teams.

Organisations are only ever successful thanks to the sum of all parts, rather than the achievements of individuals. All businesses flourish thanks to their diverse, gender balanced workforces, despite what leadership style we prefer – or display.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Encouraging male colleagues to reach out when they need extra support at work

It was back in the 1980s that The Cure sang about the fact that Boys Don’t Cry – men are conditioned from a young age not to display negative emotions. This can make it hard later in life for men to seek out the help and support they need, especially at work.

It’s a situation we’ve all been in – feeling the need to reach out for support, but not quite sure how to go about it, or how it will be viewed by colleagues, especially when we are well established in our careers and lots of other people look to us for support and guidance. However, the reluctance for male colleagues can be even more acute than for their female counterparts.

There are many reasons why this might be the case, not least the conditioning to bottle up emotions boys often face when they’re young. Male colleagues may be so out of tune with the emotional side of their make-up that they do not actually recognise that they need help. We, as colleagues, may notice changes in their behaviour and personality before they do.

The following signs are common in people who are struggling:

  • Becoming withdrawn – spending more time alone focused on their work
  • Losing interest in what’s going on around them
  • Not being as confident or outspoken as they have been previously
  • Missing deadlines or not being as productive as usual


What you can do

The mental health charity, MIND, feels here is some evidence that men are more likely to seek help if a friend or colleague encourages them to do so – especially if it’s a female partner or someone who offers advice in a professional capacity, e.g. occupational health. They theorise that the ‘interference’ of a third party helps to legitimise the issues they’re facing, which means male colleagues are more likely to then seek help.

So, the first thing we can do if we suspect a colleague may be struggling, is to let them know our concerns. If you don’t feel comfortable asking someone outright if there’s something wrong, start by showing an interest in them. Ask them for their opinions and build trust with them in the hope that they may open up to you voluntarily in the near future. At the very least, you’ll be paving the way for a more serious conversation about the support they may need later on.

Secondly, find out what support services are on offer within your organisation and share that information with your colleague. Sometimes, a well-placed flyer or telephone number could be enough to prompt your colleague into seeking the additional support they need. The thought that someone’s struggles are affecting their work – and that it has been noticed - could be enough for them to address whatever is bothering them.

For managers, or other people in a position of influence within your workplace, e.g. employee representatives, making suggestions to introduce practices that can help support the whole team not only helps the colleague you’re worried about, but also the rest of the workforce. These suggestions could include mindfulness practices, stress reduction and time management techniques; workplace counselling services; or occupational relaxation therapies, like massage and accupuncture.

If the above interventions don’t seem to help, it might be beneficial to speak to another colleague about your concerns. HR departments are trained to deal with matters that are impacting on people’s ability to do their job. You can ask to speak to someone in confidence and share your concerns.

For more information about stress reduction in the workplace, you can read our previous blog post Feel free to print it off and leave it around the office, if you think it will help others!

Friday, 2 June 2017

Ways to deal with difficult personalities

Our differences are what set us apart from each other – they add a vibrancy and a dynamic to the workplace that just would not be enjoyed, were we all the same. Diversity brings challenge and discussion that enables us to produce work that is thorough and rigorous.

However, this multiplicity may mean that there are one or two personalities within our work environment that we find difficult to work with. Rather than let this cause conflict, it’s better to have a plan – and be armed with the communication skills you need to deal with even the most trying of colleagues!

This article from Psychology today outlines ten top tips for dealing with difficult people in the workplace – it’s a great place to start in identifying what personality type you are dealing with. Here’s the list:

  1. Keep your cool 
  2. 'Fly like an eagle"
  3. Shift from being reactive to proactive 
  4. Pick your battles
  5. Separate the person from the issue 
  6. Put the spotlight on them 
  7. Use appropriate humour
  8. Change from following to leading 
  9. Confront bullies
  10. Set consequence 

It’s a good starting point, but when deciding which approach will work best for you, do bear in mind that there are two types of difficult conversation that you could find yourself facing. It helps to prepare an approach for each, beforehand!

Planned conversations

Knowing that you are going to encounter a difficult conversation can be daunting, but it does give you time to prepare. Make sure you have your facts straight beforehand – plan what you want to get across and how you are going to say it. Think carefully how you will respond to questions, accusations or challenges. 

Unplanned conversations

Being ‘cornered’ on the spur of the moment can automatically put us on the defensive, which means we deal with matters emotionally, rather than rationally. Try and reflect on how you react in such circumstances before they arise and put some steps in place that will prepare you, such as mindfulness techniques or a ‘holding’ response that will help you communication rationally if you’re ever put on the spot.

Be self-aware…


With a little bit of self-awareness and a willingness to develop your own communication skills, it is possible to be able to navigate interactions with difficult people. The following qualities are invaluable when communicating with others:

Assertiveness

We’re not talking about being bossy or bullish – assertiveness is about putting your point of view across clearly and with passion. Our assertiveness webpage gives you some tips on how to develop your own assertiveness.

Empathy

Empathy is a willingness to see things from another’s’ perspective, an appreciation of how you would feel were roles reversed. Read more about the habits of empathic people >

Negotiation

Aiming for a win-win outcome really helps when developing relationships at work. Creating an outcome where everyone can benefit is a powerful leadership tool. Read more >

Verbal / Non-Verbal Language

How you communicate with others is about so much more than the words you use – it’s about your non-verbal cues as well. This previous blog outlines some counselling skills that will help you connect with others.

Keep calm and carry on…

Difficult conversations and interactions with others can escalate quickly. Here are some tips to help you stay calm and in the moment >


Dealing with difficult people is not something that people relish, however with planning and preparation it needn’t detract from the job you have to do – or indeed impact on your working relationships.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

What to do if you’re not happy in your job – is it too late to change your path?

It's been calculated that many of us will spend around 10 years of our lives working. This is a long time to spend doing something that doesn’t make you happy or bring you some form of satisfaction.

Changing your career path when you’re younger is a relatively straight forward process – many options lie within your grasp if you can put the time and effort in. The older you get, the more likely it is that you have commitments that make changing direction more difficult. You’re also competing with people who are younger and often cheaper!

There are many reasons why employers might favour the younger generation. And while unemployment in the over 50s is rising, there is some hope for people looking to change direction through apprenticeships.

Changing your career path as you get older may be more challenging, but it is possible. We’ve got some tips to help you in your search for a more fulfilling work-life.

Be age appropriate


Sometimes age and experience can work in your favour. There are many roles where age may be on your side, so don’t get stuck into thinking that you can only look at roles that you have always done – instead, be open to consider positions and options that you may have discounted when you were younger. Examples include sales positions and customer service, where experience and self-confidence can really help to drive performance. Think about what your age might line up with in the eyes of other people, this may spark ideas that you had not previously considered.

Be clear about what you want to get away from


Many people claim that they don’t like where they work, but unless you take the time and trouble to detail exactly what it is you don’t like, chances are you could end up in the same situation again, months or years down the line.  If you’re currently working with figures but yearn to be outside more, for example. Or, perhaps you like working with figures but don’t like the culture of the organisation you work for. If you’re not honest with yourself about what you don’t like – how will you find something that you do?

Once you know what you want, it’s time to lay the foundations that will get you there


  • Step back and get a perspective – be realistic about your skills and your talents, be clear about what you have got to offer a new employer and remember that many of your skills will be transferable, so you needn’t be chained to the same industry or organisation type, if you don’t want to be. If it helps, get someone else to look at your CV and provide honest feedback – we are often far too self-critical.
  • Let go of old thinking and behaviours – a new job is a new start and a chance to present your very best version of yourself to your new employer. If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got so you must be prepared to work on yourself too!
  • Say yes – don’t be afraid to take the first step towards your end vision. If someone offers you a chance or an opportunity – take it – even if you don’t think you’re qualified. They may see something in you that you haven’t, yet!
  • Explore and scope it out – do your research. Gather all the information you can about where you want to go and what you need to do to get there.
  • Outline a plan of action - some opportunities will take longer than others to realise, especially if you need to retrain. Set out specific steps and goals that will break down your journey and help keep you motivated as you take steps towards the changes you wish to make.

Allow yourself to grow


Recent research published in the International Coaching Psychology Review explored the subjective experiences of high functioning professionals who had experienced 'executive derailment' - a term given to describe ending a career due to organisational restructuring, overwhelming demands and workloads, or workplace bullying. The researchers concluded that a positive psychological and growth-oriented mindset could be helpful in enabling personal change following such an event.


Re-evaluating yourself and your skills and asking yourself honestly what skills you have, what you could do and what you would like to do can really help open your life up to fulfilling your dreams. If you need help and support identifying your goals and how to reach them, a psychological coach can help. 





Thursday, 4 May 2017

Procrastination – why do we do it? – and how to stop.

It’s easy to find things to do in this digital age – the temptation to spend hours on our phones and tablets is great and we could be easily distracted away from doing other things, especially those jobs / activities we’re not really looking forward to!

New research suggests we lose more than 55 days a year through procrastinating – that’s nearly two months, every year!

What type of procrastinator are you?


The article also describes the three main types of procrastinators: those who wait until the last minute for the adrenaline rush; the people who don’t like to make decisions and so put things off until someone else jumps in and saves them from having to; and the 'avoiders’ – who over analyse what other people think of them and are overly concerned with failure (or success). By doing nothing, their accomplishments (or lack of them) can be put down to lack of effort, rather than ability.

That all sounds harmless enough and indeed suggests that procrastination comes down to our personality. However, there's a different train of thought which suggests procrastination could actually be as a result of an underlying issue or condition, such as hyperactivity, anxiety or a lack of self-confidence. Click here to read more about this.

If you find yourself predisposed to procrastination, the first thing to do is to make sure that it is not as a result of one of these underlying issues. If it is, don’t worry – you are not alone and help is at hand. There are lots of self-help resources freely available, as well as professional help should you need it.

If you’ve established that your procrastination habits are down to personality and habit however, we’ve got a couple of tips to help you get stuff done!

It only takes a minute


For many, the one minute rule is a simple - yet extremely successful - way to stop putting things off. The idea behind it is this: if the task before you can be completed in a minute – do it. If it can’t, then take that minute to schedule it for a later time.

When we say schedule, we mean write down when and where you will complete the task. If you do this, you’re far more likely to actually complete the task as we are predisposed to respond to deadlines – even self-imposed ones – more than we are to completing open ended tasks.

If your minute allows, share this schedule with someone else – a friend, a family member, a work colleague. This might mean emailing or texting someone your statement of intent (e.g. I will make sure that I get the list to you by Wednesday at 5pm…), as once you have informed someone else of your deadline, you are much more likely to complete the task within the timescales you’ve specified.

Do remember though, life is not all about getting stuff done. We are all allowed to take some ‘down time’ and if surfing on your tablet is how you choose to relax that’s a matter of personal choice. Difficulties only arise when we find ourselves procrastinating to the extent that we no longer have the desire to do anything else. That’s when it’s time to do something about it.