Do you feel like you’re winging it?

I remember when I was first promoted from being part of a team to being a manager of a team. I spent my whole time feeling like I was winging it.

I was super pleased though. For what seemed like a long time, being a ‘manager’ was the next career move. It felt like an important step up. A career milestone.

I was proud of my new business cards. I liked having manager in my job title. I felt like I’d made real progress.

Then reality kicked in.

I had no idea what was involved in managing people. I didn’t realise how much my previous manager had protected me and my colleagues from organisational politics and pressures from other departments.

I went on a management training course.

The training was great, however it didn’t prepare me for the less obvious and perhaps more challenging aspects of being a new manager that can’t be learned in a training session. I was promoted from within a team, so I was managing some of my old colleagues (some of whom applied for the [my] managers roll and didn’t get it).  Even though everyone was great and there was no obvious hard feelings it still felt difficult to adjust to this new dynamic. Drinks after work changed – now I was expected to buy the first round and then go home so the rest of the team could bond. It was no longer OK to be the last person standing on a night out.

It can be hard to ask for help

Whether you’re promoted from within an organisation or you start a new role in a new organisation, the same anxiety can take hold. The uneasy feeling that you’re winging it, that you don’t really know what you’re doing and that if you’re not careful you’ll get found out.

It’s hard to ask for help because you’re a manager now and you’re supposed to know stuff.

Also you want to step into your role and prove that you can do it. That’s why you don’t ask your manager for help for fear or appearing incompetent, inadequate or making them think they’ve made the wrong decision in appointing you. Because doubt is creeping in and you’re secretly starting to believe that they’ve made the wrong decision.

You don’t feel safe to ask your new peer group, the other managers, for help. You’re still figuring out the order of things, who you trust and who talks to who. It’s hard to ask them for help because you feel like you want to be accepted as one of them. You want them to respect you and your experience but you feel that you haven’t earned it yet, so you can’t ask them for too much help. You don’t want to be seen as the ‘new manager’ (Even though that’s not how they see you – it’s only how you see you).

You can’t ask your team (the people you manage) for help because you feel like they look to you for answers and you should have them. Plus who knew that managing people could take up take up so much time and energy? There’s hardly any time to do anything else what with one to ones, meetings about objectives and performance, forms to fill in and organisational deadlines to meet. What about the actual work, the stuff you’re good at, the things you love?

As we climb further up the conventional career ladder we often get further away from the work we love because we’re managing other people to do it.

Back to winging it

If that’s not enough all of a sudden I had to present information at meetings, talk about budgets and people actually listened, and with that comes great responsibility. What if I got something wrong?

I just wanted to enjoy my job and be good at it. I felt that in the time I was learning to step up to be a manager that I was floundering, being a fake and that I was going to get found out. Even with excellent management training I still felt like I was lost and making it up, my confidence took a nosedive and I started to doubt myself.

Does this sound familiar?

Now I work with clients in different points in their careers, and I’ve noticed that there’s some real grey areas for organisations in the development of their people.

There’s two gaps that I see time and time again; the first is when someone steps into a management role and manages people for the first time. The second is when someone takes the step from management to leadership and becomes part of a senior management team.

When people first step into a management role they often go through a management training programme but nine times out of ten they don’t have support networks they need to put the theory into practise and continue to learn and develop. Self doubt creeps in and the great management opportunity turns into an anxious nightmare. Even when people are well networked, even when they know a lot of people, the majority are still not very good at asking their networks for help. It either feels too daunting or they don’t want to be seen as incompetent or are fearful of being found out.

More senior mangers and leaders in my experience tend to see the value in networks and have more established ones, yet still find it difficult to ask for help and utilise the networks that they’ve worked so hard to build.

Whatever stage we are in our career we all need to ask for help and to help other people. We all need a cheering squad, critical friends, people to bounce ideas round with and people around us who challenge us to be the best version of ourselves.

These are the things that traditional management training doesn’t (or perhaps can’t) cover. The subtle challenges that keep you awake at night, the learning by experience and the skills that get called ‘soft’ which are essential to master to have a happy and productive working life.

These gaps are the reasons that I run the Lucidity Network. It’s a community of people to ask for help as well as coaching and training (including those critical soft skills) to help you step up in your career and enjoy the experience. For more information go here, or book a time for an informal chat on how joining the Lucidity Network can help you progress in your working life.

Innovation for introverts

Innovation for introverts

I know it might be surprising that I’m an introvert and that 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.

Here’s what I learnt over the years of working on innovation:

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.

It’s estimated that between a third and a half of the population is introverted. However, there’s a cultural bias towards extroversion. This means that workplace cultures and practices are often set up in favour of extroverts, the people that speak up first or loudest, the people that are seen to be participating and who are well known in an organisation.

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. 
  • 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!  

8 tips for boosting your confidence with creativity

Creative thinking

We often think that creativity is about whether or not you can draw. It’s not. Creative thinking can apply to anything. You can be a spreadsheet superstar, a marketing maverick or a clever content creator.

If you reframe creativity as ‘problem-solving’ it will help you feel more comfortable and makes creativity feel like less of a dark art. Creativity is about solving strategic problems, spotting opportunities, making connections and making good ideas happen to deliver the best learning and development for your employees and volunteers.

All human beings are creative. Research shows that creativity is more about a state of mind. And when we are in a relaxed or playful state our subconscious keeps working away, making connections and solving problems. That’s why when I ask people where they have their best ideas it’s very unusual that people say, ‘sat at my desk.’They usually have their best ideas when they are not at work: in the shower, driving, walking the dog, asleep, talking with their children or even on the toilet.

It can be difficult to work in an environment when we are expected to deliver more for less, inspire audiences with different needs to want to learn and ensure that employees have opportunities for professional development.

Yet so many organisations put their employees under pressure to simply ‘be creative’ or offer up massively unhelpful phrases like ‘think outside the box’ but without providing any guidance about how to do that.

So here are some simple tips to develop your already excellent creative thinking skills:

Know yourself: You are already creative. Step away from your desk. Think about where you have your best ideas and make time to go there. If this means spending more time on the toilet then so be it!

Get more curious: According to Steven Johnson in his book Where Good Ideas Come From, creativity is making new connections by putting old ideas together in new ways. Therefore you need to expand your portfolio of knowledge so you have more old ideas that you can put together when needed. So get more curious about the world. Read more books, go on a course, listen to a webinar and attend that talk.

Break patterns: As we get older we repeat the same patterns. You’ll have experienced this when you feel like you’ve been on ‘autopilot’, for example, got to work and not really noticed how you got there. This inhibits our creativity because we simply repeat these ingrained patterns. To help break them, change your habits. Start with the things you do on autopilot. Change your route to work, listen to a different radio station, watch something different on TV, go to a different place for lunch. All these small changes will help to create new patterns, new neural pathways and help your brain to be more flexible at making new connections.

Ask why: When we’ve worked in an organisation for a while we accept the status quo, we accept ‘how things are done round here.’ Wear a different lens, pretend you’re new and start asking ‘why?’ When a new employee starts, ask them what they’d change.

Make it so: It’s actually much easier to say we can’t do something. That means that nothing changes. However, confident creative thinkers have a restlessness to solve problems and make things better. They are constantly seeking to ‘make it so’. The process of making the seemingly impossible possible also helps to flex your creative thinking muscles.

Ban idea killer phrases: You know them. Those phrases like ‘we tried that before and it didn’t work’ ‘we don’t do it like that here’ ‘we don’t have the budget’ ‘the board will never sign it off’. Stop using them. They may be true. However, the world changes fast and something that historically wasn’t the right solution might be now.

Say ‘yes and’: Encourage confidence in creativity by making a small change to your language. Rather than using an idea-killer phrase (even ‘yes but…’ is negative) change your language to ‘yes and’. ‘Yes and’ encourages people to keep thinking creatively, solve problems and keep making those new connections and creates an environment where creativity can flourish.

Practice: Like any skill the more you practice the better you get. The small changes you make every day will add up to powerful confidence in your own creativity.

 

Are you ready to build your resilience to courageously try new things and be creative?

Join me and Charly White on 18 May for a one-day online training workshop.

May 2021 Resilience and creativity workshop

If you liked these tips you might also like the Lucidity Network – a place for people pushing to make change happen, a place to learn, a place to share and a place to connect. Check it out and join us here.

A version of this blog originally appeared on the Charity Learning Consortium.

Three tips to avoid burnout

Constant busy can lead to burnout

The danger with busy is that if you’re not careful, your constant busy can lead to burnout.

I’ve commented on busy as a badge of honour before.  Like when when someone asks how you are, your default response is ‘busy’ or ‘soooo busy’.  We fear that if we’re not really busy, we’re judged as being a poor leader, lazy, or not doing our best.

Your constant busy can lead to burnout.

A burnt out leader will struggle because burnout drains your energy. It prevents you from thinking clearly, and from inspiring and motivating others.

Burnout is serious. It’s a combination of professional exhaustion, general disillusionment, and a lack of motivation and interest.

It’s not just the odd day when you feel a bit under par. The effects of burnout build up over time, and impact individuals over the long term.

Symptoms of burnout vary from individual to individual, and include insomnia, low energy, a loss of interest in work, headaches, and irrational irritability with colleagues, friends, and family.

Burnout results in low productivity and low creativity. You’re less likely to spot opportunities when you’re feeling burnt out. And even when you do, you don’t have the attention span to act on them.

If you’re constantly exhausted, anxious, annoyed and overwhelmedand you prefer to watch generic television shows and eat chocolate than hang out with your friends and family, it may be a signal that burnout has got the better of you.

You can prevent this. You have to put strategies in place to look after yourself – and encourage your team to do the same – to prevent burnout happening in the first place.

You have to put your oxygen mask on first before you can help and lead others.

If you’re in danger of burning out, a quick fix like a spa day or a holiday might help. But it doesn’t offer a sustainable solution.

To prevent burnout, you must implement strategies and habits that create lasting change.

1. Get moving

Do more exercise. Your body and mind will be able to handle the effects of stress more easily if you take regular exercise. This isn’t about doing a mega workout at the gym. It’s more important to find exercise that you enjoy and that you can make a habit. Check out this excellent atricle on no gym workouts from our friends over at Groom and Style.

It’s one of the reasons I got a dog because it means that I have to walk every day. Research shows that in addition to improving fitness and cardiovascular health, walking outside can also increase your creativity and well being.

Walking helps me to think straight and get my thoughts in order. If I walk at the start of the day, it helps me to plan my day and prioritize urgent tasks.

Doing exercise can help you to sleep better and when we’re rested we’re capable of making better decisions about pretty much everything from work problems to what we eat for dinner.

2. Do something all-consuming

For some people, this is about practicing mindfulness and focusing your awareness on the present moment. For others, it might be immersing yourself in a good book or a film.

For me, I prefer improv. Several years ago, I was running a workshop on stepping out of your comfort zone. I believe that it’s important to lead by example, so I challenged myself to step out of my comfort zone and do something that scared me.

I signed up for improv classes. In my experience, it’s better than therapy. When you are practicing improv, you can only think and be in the moment.  You have to fully apply yourself to be able to respond to the others on stage.

Find your thing that is all consuming and means you have to switch off from everything else, and do it often.

3. Ask for help

As leaders, we sometimes feel that there is an expectation to know all the answers. This can make us feel stressed and under pressure. It’s not your role to know all the answers.

It’s more important to ask the right questions and have a network of people to go to who will have some of the answers. Build your troupe of people who you can ask for help.

These are not the people who tell you you’re amazing no matter what, these are critical friends who have your best interests at heart and will be candid and kind. Go for breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and connect with people regularly to build your networks before you need them.

Do these things regularly. Make them a habit.

Your constant busy can lead to burnout. This is not you being selfish, this is you preventing burning out. This is you putting on your oxygen mask first so that you can better lead and help others.

If you’d like some help to better lead and help others check out the Lucidity Facebook community. A place to ask for help, share ideas and practical ways to be happier at work.  

A version of this blog was first published at About Leaders. 

Three tips to beat the curse of busy

Ants are busy

When someone asks, ‘how are you?’ is your standard default ‘really busy’? Are you constantly responding to urgent and important requests on different devices with no time to think straight? Do you feel like you are on a hamster wheel running round and around with no time to stop and consider what you are doing? You are not alone. In the recent Lucidity Innovation Launchpad survey 82% of people told us they don’t have time to think because they are too busy fire-fighting everyday tasks and managing an ever increasing ‘to-do’ list with no time to do it because they are in constant meetings, juggling conflicting priorities and are stressed out at being pulled in all directions.

Is your standard default ‘really busy’?

Based on our research and experience it would seem that we are in the midst of a busyness epidemic. Huffington Post described busyness as a sickness. And we would agree since excessive busyness can cause fatigue, irritability, insomnia, anxiety, headaches, heartburn, bowel disturbances, back pain, and weight gain.

We’re so busy responding to other people’s ‘urgent and important’ we don’t take stock of whether the activities are truly urgent or important. We don’t take time to consider, if what we are busy about, are the right activities that will get us the best results. The stress levels associated with this sort of constant busyness are bad for us. Our health suffers, concentration ebbs, decision making is impacted, we miss opportunities and we can lack focus and become inward looking.

“It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?” Henry David Thoreau

That’s why over at the Lucidity Network we put some training material together on beating the curse of busy and making time to think. Here are our top three tips:

Tip 1. Work when you are at your best Humans are not programmed to work between the conventional office working hours of 9-5. Some people are best early morning, others are night owls, and some thrive at 3pm. Save time by working out how you can do the most difficult stuff that requires real thinking when you are at your Note your working patterns over the next week and notice when you do your best thinking. When are you in a slump? Start to plan your day to do the difficult tasks when you are at your best and take a nap (we’re serious) or do the tasks that take less concentration when you are in your slump.

Tip 2. Get rid of distractions If you are attempting to do meaningful work turn off all distractions. Switch off your email, put your phone out of reach where you can’t check Facebook or WhatsApp and turn off all notifications. If you work in an office put headphones on (even if you are not playing anything through them, they can signal ‘do not disturb’ or if your office environment is too distracting book a meeting room or work from home. Interruptions stop your flow and your brain’s thought process. Once you are distracted, the brain has to find where it was, re assess the situation, and then make the effort to get back to that stopping point. That can take 15 minutes per distraction which adds up to a massive amount of wasted time. Research also shows that people in a flow state are five times more productive than they otherwise would be. Turn off all your notifications, for example on email, Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram to give yourself a chance of concentrating for more than 10 seconds.

Tip 3. Work in short bursts Humans work best in short bursts. The optimum short burst time i.e. the length of time worked vs when a break is needed will vary from person to person. Start by sitting down to focus on a piece of work for 45 minutes. Then give yourself a 15-minute break. Set an alarm to make sure you do it. Go for a walk around. Have a stretch. Breaking up your time prevents boredom and helps you to maintain a high quality of work. Lengthen and shorten your bursts to work out your optimum time.

And I’ll give you an extra one for free. Do one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is simply not effective. It’s true that we can do several tasks at once, but we don’t do any single one of them well. Researchers have shown it’s more efficient to do one task after another rather than several things at once.

The Lucidity Network offers more help on making time to think, including a webinar interview where Productivity Ninja Grace Marshall shares her best tips for productivity as well as training bundles on resilience, confidence and creativity. It’s a community of generous people who help each other get the important work done. Facilitated via a Facebook Community with group coaching, mastermind groups and online content to help you tackle the complexities of working life that didn’t come with the management handbook. Click here for more information and to join the Lucidity Network.