Leadership lessons from Gary Gower – a wire fox terrier

Gary

I was worried about money, the huge responsibility of keeping something alive and having to change my lifestyle – no more last-minute trips or evenings out on a whim. Close friends and family gave me an ultimatum ‘set yourself a deadline and either get a dog or stop talking about it’ Fair enough if I was bored it’s no surprise that everyone was too.

I remember having a dog as a child; a black Labrador called Barnaby (I was proud to have named him after my favourite TV programme Barnaby the Bear). I remember him being a best friend (especially in my early teenage years). Barnaby knew all my angst and he was an excellent listener, never judged, completely trustworthy and was just ‘there’. I felt safe when Barnaby was around. I remember long walks, day trips to the beach, how he forgave me for painting his nails, how he’d know when you were sad and lick your hands (or feet) and he was a lovely, well-behaved gentle soul.

I wanted a dog to hang out with, to go for long walks with, to give me a distraction from work. When you work for yourself and love what you do it’s very easy to work all the time and I was falling into that trap.

When I told people I was thinking about getting a dog they’d say ‘you’ll have to walk him every day’.  No problem. Walking is how I get my thoughts together, plan my day and keep my sanity in check. I felt like I was the only person walking around Alexandra Palace every day without a dog.

Introducing Gary

To be honest I wasn’t quite prepared when Gary arrived aged 12 weeks in March 2018. The first thing he did was a poo under the kitchen table. I was only a puppy myself when Barnaby came to live in my house so I missed the hours of standing in the garden in the rain toilet training, non-stop play, leg humping and the chewed shoes, books and laptop cables.

Gary is a wire fox terrier. He is now one year old. Here he is.

Gary the dog
Gary the wire fox terrier

The fox terrier breed is known for being curious (when Gary arrives anywhere new he needs to check everything, and when he goes somewhere he’s been before he needs to check everything is still in the same place). They are independent – all the other puppies stuck close to their owners in puppy training class, if I’d let Gary off the lead he’s have headed out to explore for himself on his own terms. They are also stubborn, if they decide something, it’s a cunning game and a battle of wills to get them to come around to your way of thinking.

Let’s face it, If I was a dog, I’d likely be a Wire Fox Terrier.

I’ve never apologised so much or felt like such a giant failure as when I’ve been training Gary. He’s taught me a lot about dogs and inadvertently has made me think more about human behaviour and how to get the best from people. This is what Gary’s taught me;

Patience and perseverance – people don’t necessarily understand what you want first time. It’s not because they’re being obstructive.  Is up to you to try different tactics and to keep going until they understand.

Reward good behaviour – if someone does a good job tell them. Make it abundantly clear that they nailed it so they are more likely to do it again.

Tone of voice and body language is more important than words. Professor Albert Mehrabian‘s research cited that 7% of communication is in the words that are spoken, 38% in the way that the words are said and 55% of communication is in facial expression. If I get the tone of my voice and my facial expression right, the words are less important. If Gary’s running off and I call him and I sound and look cross he’s not likely to come back in a hurry. If I call him like he’s missing out of the best party of the decade if he doesn’t do a U-turn, I have more success.

Forward plan and avoid bad situations – it’s possible to minimise bad outcomes, for example, I’ve learned that if there’s a children’s party in the park with lots of small people waving chicken twizzlers that we go a different route and avoid the likely chaos of Gary being an unwanted guest. Can you simply avoid some of your potentially bad situations?  

Other people’s treats are nicer than your own – Gary wants something because someone else has it. My human example of this is when you are employed to do a job, you present your expertise/business case to the board.  They are not sure. You call in the consultants to do the same presentation. The board agree and are delighted. If you get the result you want it doesn’t matter how you get there. (even though it’s annoying)

See the situation from someone else’s perspective – no one sees the world in the same way that you do – and even if they do how will you ever know? Not to get all philosophical here, but you have your own unique lens on the world, never assume that anyone else sees a situation in the same way that you do. Gary sees me running about trying to put him on his lead as enormous fun. I see it as massively annoying, embarrassing and inconvenient.

Keep it simple – humans are excellent at over-complicating things. When things are getting too complicated and I’m trying to make it simple I ask myself ‘What would Gary think?’ It might not get the right answer, usually it’s  ‘if its fun do it, if it’s not don’t’ but it helps put my mind in a different train of thought.

Ask for help – if you ask for help people are generally kind and will offer it. You don’t have to take all the advice, but listen, and make the best decision for you in your unique situation with your unique perspective.

Dogs bark at things they don’t understand – and so do humans. It can be easy to become anxious or defensive when we don’t understand. If you don’t understand be brave enough to ask for clarity.

There is no one right answer – you just have to take the information you’ve got and do what you think, do the best you can, learn and keep going.

And if that wasn’t enough Gary makes me laugh every single day, sometimes joyous laughter and sometimes in frustration, but thanks to Gary I’ve made some new friends, walk my daily 10,000 steps, switch off from work more often and have a different perspective on many situations.  And something surprising happens every day.

You can check out Gary for yourself on Instagram – he’s Garygowerwft

Innovation for introverts

Innovation for introverts

I know it might be surprising I feel like this, given I run training on networking and I lead the Lucidity Network (which involves networking). Perhaps the reason I do both of these things is because I know how important networking is to pretty much everything and also how difficult it can be, so I just want to make it as easy and pain-free as possible for people.

I define introversion and extroversion as where you get your energy from. As an introvert, I get my energy from being by myself. Extroverts get their energy from other people. You’re not stuck in an introvert or extrovert box though. It’s like a spectrum. I sit towards the middle of the introvert side of the spectrum, and I can switch on my inner extrovert when needed, for example, if I’m at a conference, running training or presenting. I just have to go home afterwards and be on my own to refuel.

One isn’t better than the other, it’s just useful to understand your own preferences and those of the people you work with so you can adapt your communication to get the best out of both introverts and extroverts.

Last week I prized myself off my sofa into the cold and dark November night to go to the 100%Open Union networking event on innovation for introverts.

Here’s what I took away

When it comes to innovation introverts come into their own.

  • They have no need for external affirmation
  • They make order out of chaos
  • They are the best listeners
  • They connect disparate dots that may save the business.

 

To get better results make sure you are engaging both introverts and extroverts.

Here’s how;

Often it’s just the loudest people that get listened to. If you manage a team make sure you make space for introverts to be heard. This takes the form of great facilitation and good planning, for example, ensuring everyone has the opportunity to speak in meetings and structuring ideas sessions with some tasks that people can do on their own.

A web-based platform or community is a good way to solicit ideas from everyone (we heard from Waitrose and how this approach has lead to a range of new business ideas).

Offer quiet zones at work especially if you work in an open plan office

Encourage introverts to lead, chair meetings, present on topics, lead projects.

Become aware of the loudest voices, encourage them but do not allow them to be the only voice that is heard.

Let me know how you get on.

I’ve designed the Lucidity Network to be a place for introverts and extroverts. It’s a pick and mix of online and offline learning and connection to a dynamic network of people that can help you. We’re open for new members a few times a year. Join the Lucidity Community Facebook group to get in the Lucidity groove for clearer thinking and better results and be the first to hear when the Lucidity Network is open for members.

3 tips for creative leaders

Last week I interviewed Kirstin Kaszubowska, innovation and creativity expert about her thoughts and experiences helping individuals and teams to think creatively. One of the questions from the audience was about how to be a creative leader.

First lets define leadership – I define it as leading in your own sphere of influence. It’s how you behave, your mind-set and your attitude not what your job title is.

Creativity is one of those words that means something different to everyone. I define it as having ideas, original ones, unusual ones or even boring ones. They all count as long as the ideas serve a useful purpose or more precisely solve a problem.

So how do you actually ‘do’ creativity and then lead others? There’s no silver bullet. No blueprint. No one right way. Creativity is messy. And as Kirstin points out there is a process but what comes out at the end of the process is not predictable because creativity is on a continuum, there are different types of creativity and it’s different for everyone. If we all went and did the same things to spark our creativity we’d get a whole bunch of different ideas.

The process can feel messy. You identify a problem that needs solving, you get curious, you draw on different contexts, situations and experiences, You mull it over, you play, you sleep, you relax, you go and do something entirely different instead. Ideas come to you. You repeat the process and evolve and blend your first ideas. You keep going until you have an idea that warrants testing. It can be unpredictable, time-consuming, fast-paced, exciting, frustrating and emotional.

Leading creativity is about embracing messy, trusting in the process and leading by example. Here are our top 3 tips:

  1. Leave your desk, get curious and go exploring. Go to that gallery, that exhibition or the talk that looked interesting. Encourage your team to take time out of their hectic business as usual day to go exploring into the topics that interest them too.
  2. Creativity is about being open to new things and learning to experiment and then fine-tuning. Creativity comes in layers. Stop trying to get things right first time. Do lots of small tests, approach everything as a small experiment and if and when they don’t work (because not everything will work – that’s probably the only guarantee with creativity), be open, tell people, share the learning and keep going.
  3. Don’t spend too long planning, or making your team construct lengthy business plans that will be out of date by the time they are signed off. Try ‘napkin planning’ – a plan that fits on the back of a napkin that by its very nature can be more flexible to change. Just remember to buy a good supply of napkins.

And one more tip for free; never, ever, if you are inspiring other people to be creative ask anyone to ‘think outside the box’.

The Unlock Your Inner Creativity’ webinar is available on the Lucidity Network. The Lucidity Network is a pick and mix of online and offline practical tools and advice as well as access to a dynamic network of expertise to help you take the lead in getting the results you want.

We’re open for new members a few times a year. Sign up to the waiting list to be the first to know when the Network is open for new members. In the meantime you can join the Lucidity Community free Facebook group  for clearer thinking and better results.  

Creativity. What is it good for?

A guest blog by Becky Slack.

Creativity. When you say that word, what type of person or job role do you think of? Artist? Writer? Designer?

Many people think that creativity is just for “creatives”. But it’s not. Everyone can benefit from being and thinking creatively. As Dave Trott, a creative director and the author of Creative Mischief, says: “Creativity isn’t a particular discipline. It’s the quality of originality and unexpectedness that you bring to whatever you do. “

Creativity is about putting new and different – often unanticipated and unpredictable – things together, which causes you and others to think about them in a new way. This isn’t just something for people who work in the creative industries. No matter what your role, you are likely to have to think creatively about the tasks at hand.

Often the need to think creatively is associated with problem solving:

  • Can you turn a problem into an opportunity?
  • Can you turn a problem into a competitive advantage?
  • Do you need to fight a problem head on, or can you circumnavigate it in some way?

Finding solutions to problems; seeing opportunities where no one else does – this is how new products and services come to be every day. The business world is littered with stories of entrepreneurs who have built businesses by being creative.

Richard Branson, for instance, started Virgin Atlantic when his flight from Puerto Rico to the Virgin Islands was cancelled. Rather than waiting for the next available flight, he hired a charter plane and sold seats to all of the other passengers who had also been bumped.

After questioning why Coco-Cola could be found almost anywhere in the world but aid couldn’t, ColaLife worked with the soft drinks company to develop the AidPod, a wedge-shaped container that fits between the necks of bottles in a CocaCola crate and allows aid to be transported using CocaCola’s distribution routes.

Back in 1984, Anderson Erickson Dairy in Des Moines, America wanted to do something to help find two boys who had gone missing on their paper-round. Knowing that their milk cartons would be seen by many families in the area, they printed the photo of the boys on the packaging – and so began the practice of publishing photos of missing children on milk cartons, a tool that remained in use until the mid 90s.

Thinking creatively means questioning the norms and challenging the status quo. It means doing things differently.

This is where surrounding yourself with people just like you can become a problem. If everyone thinks and acts the same, and have had the same life experiences, you’re going to keep getting the same responses. Real creativity happens when different people from different disciplines, genders, age, race and backgrounds etc get together. Diversity is a driver of creativity.

For instance, when you bring together people who think with the right brain (sensory and emotional) with those who are more ‘left brain’ (rational and logical), brilliance can be achieved. The right-brainers have flashes of inspiration and great ideas; the left-brainers find a way to deliver the solution and keep the whole process on track. I’m thinking of visionary ceos working well with their finance directors, or creative directors working with planners on branding projects.

The same principle applies with skills: as the old saying goes, when the only tool you’ve got is a hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail.

Hence why it can be really helpful for left brain people to take training in art, theatre and creative writing, and for right brainers to learn about structure, logic and analytics. Learning about difference disciplines is how new ideas are borne. We don’t always have to use those new skills but they can help get us out of stale thinking and into new ways of working.

So whether you’re a finance director or a HR executive; whether you work in retail or manufacturing, creativity could be just what you need to get out of a rut, take advantage over your competitors and help you to be even more brilliant than you already are.

Becky Slack is the managing director of the PR and comms agency, Slack Communications, and the co-host of L’atelier des écrivains – The Writers’ Workshop, France, a four-day creative writing retreat in southwest France and a member of the Lucidity Network.

The Lucidity Network is designed to help you build your networks before you need them and take the lead in getting the results you want. It’s a pick and mix of online and offline practical tools and advice as well as access to a dynamic network of expertise.We’re open for new members a few times a year. Sign up to the waiting list to be the first to know when the Network is open for new members. In the meantime you can join the Lucidity Community free Facebook group  for clearer thinking and better results.  

 

Be the person others want to work with

A guest blog by Jemma Molloy.

Do you wake up at night wondering how you might connect better with your colleagues? Do you worry if you are communicating well with your team? Do you ever feel like you are not performing at your best?

We lead busy lives. It seems to be expected of us and society reinforces the idea that successful people are busy people. If we have a packed diary, we are doing well. Sometimes it’s almost like a competition – ‘I’m far too busy to go for lunch with the team, I’ve got too much on.’

Sound familiar? The reality is we are more stressed than ever. In 2014/15, according to the Health and Safety Executive for the UK, there were 440,000 cases of work related stress.[1] With a never-ending to-do list and unrealistic targets, tight deadlines and demanding clients we can easily end up feeling like a hamster on a wheel going round and round in circles.

All this stress and ‘busyness’ can make us disconnected from our team members too. We are so caught up ‘doing’ things we don’t notice what is going on around us.

For example, when was the last time you asked a colleague how their weekend was and could remember their answer by the end of the day? Most of us ask these questions out of social politeness, but before our colleague can answer, our brains have moved onto the next thing on our list that we need to do.

How hard can it be to stop and listen? For some of us, surprisingly it’s almost impossible. Why? Because our minds are so used to being busy ‘doing’ we don’t know how to just ‘be’ in the moment.

If we can more deliberately stop and listen when we ask these questions and give our colleagues a few minutes of uninterrupted attention it will make a positive impact on our working relationships. We so rarely really listen to one another uninterrupted it’ll feel almost revolutionary. And better working relationships lead to better results.

When we are ‘present’ in conversations and meetings with colleagues we learn so much more about them. When we know and understand people, we’re able to work more effectively with them. We’ll become recognised as a team player, someone who works with others to get the job done, someone who other people want to work with. And work gets done more quickly when we know and trust people.

How to be the person others want to work with

Be more mindful. Mindfulness is about staying in the present moment and focusing on the person you’re speaking to or task you’re completing, rather than letting your thoughts distract you. Mindfulness is all the rage, and science backs it up. For example, research conducted at Harvard University found we typically spend 50% of our day ‘mind-wandering’ (i.e. lost in negative thoughts about what might happen, or has already happened.) After practicing mindfulness, activity in the part of the brain that focuses on ‘me’ reduces, making us more able to return our focus to the present moment.[2] And to your colleague who is still telling you about their weekend…
Practising mindfulness can be as simple as sitting and counting your breath, and returning your focus to your breathing every time your mind wanders. Or mindfulness can even be achieved by enjoying a piece of chocolate; smelling, feeling and tasting it totally; doing nothing else but that for a whole minute (great news for chocolate lovers!)

Mindfulness is very simple, but like any skill it takes practice to achieve it. Be patient with yourself and keep trying, soon you’ll notice a difference.

Tips on how to practice mindfulness everyday

  • When you’re in a meeting and you notice your mind wander, bring it back to focus on what the person leading the conversation is saying. Don’t reprimand yourself for letting your mind wander, just notice and return your focus to the present.
  • When you’re on the phone, move away from your desk so you won’t be distracted by emails coming in. Focus only on the conversation you’re having.
  • Next time you ask a colleague how their weekend was, focus totally on their reply. Pick up on particular points they are making and repeat them back, or ask a question.

Have a go at mindfulness to increase your effectiveness as a team member. What do you have to lose? Nothing; except sleepless nights.

Jemma Molloy is a learning and development manager at The Children’s Society and an accredited career coach.

[1] http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/stress/

[2] Adapted from Sane New World by Ruby Wax