Thursday, 17 May 2018

Is ‘niceness’ a leadership quality?

I’ve been contemplating the nature of leadership after the death of Tessa Jowell.  In the first comments when it was announced, what came over was her ‘niceness’.  ‘She got on with everybody’ was a common phrase, ‘a gem’, ‘a great person’, ‘her likeable personality’, she ‘exuded cheerfulness and gave even those she had only just met the sense of being one of her old friends’.

 Further reading demonstrated that she was an exceptional leader: respected by all regardless of politics, class or ethnicity and she got things done. It seemed that no matter the complexity of the issue, or the political sensitivity it generated, she was the person who could deal with it.

She had the tricky task of dealing with the DoH, was minister of state with responsibility for women,  minister for employment, welfare to work and equal opportunities.  Following the drive to improve standards she introduced health targets, maternity and paternity leave and Sure Start which supported and empowered young mothers. She became Culture Secretary and brought the Olympics to London, was given responsibility for looking after the victims of 9/11 and the London bombings.  She was in charge when the future of broadcasting was in the headlines and introduced Ofcom and adroitly handled the controversy of her husband’s involvement with Berlusconi.  Then of course there was her campaign for improved services for those afflicted with cancer.  

It was a record that any leader would be proud of and who can name any leader in the private sector who can say they were faced with the level of challenges she faced and dealt with them as competently?

So why did people default to her ‘niceness’ when describing her?  Could it be that, because leadership terminology is structured around male qualities of strength, determination, drive, power, they did not have the language to describe her undoubted leadership qualities?  That by her being female it revealed people’s unconscious biases about what constitutes leadership?

Further reading revealed that people also noted her ability to ask ‘penetrating questions’, her ‘passion, determination and a sense of mission’, a ‘visionary’ who saw how things could be, a woman with ‘internal steel’.  She consummately combined those qualities with a high degree of emotional intelligence to achieve what is now being lauded throughout the country.

So yes, I would say that ‘niceness’ is a leadership quality but it’s the niceness that’s also accompanied by a sharp intellect, a commitment and belief that anything is possible and the ability to communicate that to everyone within their sphere.  Alas, there are too few leaders like her, and too few who recognise and encourage that potential within others.

Friday, 13 April 2018

Philosopher or Coach?

You're the CEO in your business or organisation, or maybe an HR Director and you've taken the decision to commission some coaching to help improve productivity and decision making.  It's a wise move as there's a many a quote from CEOs of blue chip companies that they recommend having a coach for success.  Yet those at the very top are now reaching out to philosophers it seems. 

As Prof  Marinoff, from the City College of New York says in a Guardian article,“These are very intelligent people, who are also overworked, more so than most of us. And they don’t have enough time to reflect. A lot of what we do is to create reflective space.”

It's not just in the US either.  Joe Garner, Chief Exec of Nationwide also works with a Professor of Philosophy.  As mentioned in the article, 'A philosopher can nudge and question, take leaders on uncomfortable journeys, even be a disruptive force.'

I feel that our learned Professors are now being forced to seek alternative income generating streams and are promoting a methodology that is already in use; just assimilating it, claiming it for themselves as a new way of doing things. 

So, I'm sure they can do all that they say but, and here I'm going to admit to being a bit biased as I'm a coach, isn't that what good coaching does anyway? 

Yes there's different coaching models but the positive psychology methodology that I use provides that protected, reflective space.  It enables deep seated questioning of oneself, of one's approach and values - all the things that the philosophers state they do so much better than coaches.

I also encourage the client to take those uncomfortable journeys and believe me, it's not all sweetness and light.  They do question their strategies, their decision making and scrutinise their actions.  With the positive attention they have, and knowing they're not going to be interrupted they have time to think with quality, to step outside of the boxes they might have placed themselves within and become their own creative, innovative selves as a result.

I've seen amazing changes in direction from the client who had spent three days agonising over an issue to come up with a solution in less than 30 minutes because they had that protected, positive, supported thinking space.   With my challenge I've listened as the MD questioned their own assumptions about an issue and found a completely different route, a new strategy that made a significant impact on performance.

So no, it's not philosopher v coach.  It's just another model of coaching; a model that is already being used by experienced, qualified, client centred, positive psychology coaches.  We too provide an environment where you can nudge and question, even be a disruptive force. 

So welcome Prof Marinoff - just don't try and pass this off as something new because it ain't.