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I completed a run last month. Not the ‘roads closed, people cheering behind barriers’ kind, but the muddy, wet, barbed wire, jumping through fire kind. The event was called ’Total Warrior’ - a 12km run around Bramham Park in Leeds interspersed with ice, mud, and 25 different obstacles along the way.


It had been a while since I’d set myself any kind of fitness challenge, and to be honest, since becoming a parent a year or so ago, consistent physical activity is less of a habit these days (more like something I try to do when I’ve had more than 5 hours sleep….not an awful lot). I’d gone from running 10km a couple of times per week, to the occasional parkrun, to shuffling after my toddler round the garden. Something needed to shift, and I needed a challenge to kickstart a change.


Ever since I was young I was told that I’d never be a runner. I'd inherited my mother’s short Burmese legs and would inevitably struggle with cross country runs at school. The teachers never picked me to represent my form on sports day, on any kind of long distance run - and I never put myself forward. Sprinting was more my game - I discovered that my short legs were great for bursts of power and speed, and I would always sign-up for 100m sprints or relays. But never anything over distance.


In my early thirties I started to question this narrative. One summer I challenged myself to sign up to a string of 10km runs around Yorkshire, and, with my goal in mind, I began getting my head around the switch from the comfort of gym classes and air conditioned spinning studios to running round my city. The difference was very noticeable - running up a mild hill in a faint wind on my first run out nearly floored me, and my recovery after those first training runs took days. But slowly it began to get better. I started to find my pace, get comfortable with the sound of my breathing and the road around me, until eventually, built from a couple of minutes running/walking all the way to a comfortable distance run. There was something delicious about being able to look back at a workout that my phone had tracked and say to myself “I just ran that”, coupled with the satisfaction of challenging all those people who said I’d never be a runner.


Which brings us back to Total Warrior. A messy, sweaty, experience one June afternoon that promised to be life-affirming stuff. And it was - the feeling of euphoria after crossing the line was incredible, as was the ice cold beer that awaited us afterward.





Whilst I was queuing for one of the obstacles - a series of plastic crates strung out across a pit filled with water (see above) - one of the other runners asked a marshall how best to cross it. Run, slow walk/balance, or on your hands and knees? The marshall’s reply was simple:

"It’s your race, mate”


His words stuck in my mind at the time and I’ve been thinking about them ever since.


We tend to treat life as a race, with a series of obstacles to be overcome. And in many ways it is. Some treat the whole thing as a sprint, wanting to be first to the finish line. Others treat it as a marathon, with a steady pace and plenty of stops to refuel. Most take a blend of the two - speeding-up and slowing-down at different points.

We rely on others for guidance, support and encouragement, but ultimately, it’s down to us to decide how we take on our obstacles, and how we choose to feel about them afterwards.


P.S. I chose to walk over those crates very, very cautiously.

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A little while ago I appeared on a podcast with Garry Turner. As part of our discussion, he asked me a question :

What does vulnerability mean to you?

Truth be told, my answer wasn’t as strong as I’d hoped. I talked about the antithesis of pretending to be bulletproof, the importance of relying on a team, and about how leadership is as much asking for help/advice as it is helping to support others. 

And then I read this bit of Twitter poetry from Phil Willcox. 

Phil’s words prompted me to revisit my answer to Garry’s question, because on reflection, vulnerability is much simpler to explain.

In order to get there, I need to share something I recently learned about African tribes.

In Zulu tribes, there is a recognised greeting: ‘Sawubona’  which translates as ‘I see you’.  Of course, it means far more than the literal ‘I see you stood there in front of me.’  Its use has a long history, that at once conveys a great deal:


I see all of you, I see your hopes, successes, failures, past, present and future. I see your personality, I see your dignity and respect. You are important to me and I value you. All my attention is with you. I accept you for what you are and you are part of me.

One way to respond to this greeting is to answer ‘Ngikhona’. It translates to ‘I am here’, but again, there’s a complex richness behind the phrase. It tells the other person that you stand before them, letting yourself be seen, together with all your own needs, dreams, joy, sadness, fear and respect. You feel you have been seen, and that everything about you has been recognised, understood and accepted.

In the Zulu culture, this exchange is an extremely powerful representation of understanding. The Zulu assume that a person is only a person because of other people - that to exist, you have to first be seen by others. And tribe members celebrate this beautiful idea at every encounter. 

So there we have it Garry- please accept my revised answer.

What does vulnerability mean to me? Vulnerability is about allowing ourselves to be truly seen. And when someone else demonstrates their vulnerability, letting them know that you’re right there, seeing them as they wish to be seen. 

Because deep down, isn’t that what all of us really want from one another?

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In recent years the study of behavioural economics has become a popular lens to view human behaviour, with best-selling books on the topic now a mainstay of most retailers. Behavioural science has journeyed from the academic world into the wider arena. As a consultant and coach, I’ve become intrigued by how behavioural economics might be applied to the arena of learning and development. 

This article was written as a guest post for Training Journal, and can be found via the links below:

Part 1: https://www.trainingjournal.com/articles/opinion/behavioural-economics-whats-it-got-do-ld

Part 2: https://www.trainingjournal.com/articles/opinion/behavioural-economics-whats-it-got-do-ld-pt2

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After appearing as a guest on The 3 Good Podcast, hosted by Sukh Pabial earlier this year, we thought we’d go for the hat trick with our third episode together. Sukh’s podcast covers the themes of positive psychology, wellbeing, resilience, mental health and emotional intelligence.

In this episode, we pick up a theme from our previous episode, and talk about

  • How the past year of podcasting has been for Sukh

  • Our favourite games, and what they make us good at

  • How play impacts our wellbeing

  • The concept of ‘supernormal stimuli’ and how this taps into our evolutionary wiring for distraction

  • Surprising research about the benefits of playing games, including weight loss, avoiding PTSD, resilience, empathy, and connectedness

Listen to our previous two podcast episodes together on social technology and optimism and don’t forget to subscribe to the 3 Good Podcast at iTunes or your favourite podcast provider.

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Value Through Vulnerability is a podcast dedicated to putting the human back into humanity. How? By sharing ideas, opinion & challenges to improving the level of self awareness, vulnerability & inclusivity, at home, at work and in the world.

The host, Garry Turner, is an enthusiastic advocate of trust, growth, collaboration and communication. With over 20 years of commercial experience, he is a chartered member of the CIPD, holding a Level 7 certification in Organisational Design and Development, as well as a level 5 certification in Learning & Development. We met via Twitter some years ago, and then in real life at a Learn Connect Do event in 2017. His genorisity and passion for these subjects really shines through, and his excellent questions took our conversation into some fascinating places.

In this episode of Garry’s podcast, we cover a range of topics including:

  • My unusual career journey and some of the lessons I’ve taken from it so far

  • Defining what vulnerability is and isn’t

  • Exploring identity work with individuals and teams

  • The way we present different aspects of the ‘self’ through different forms of social media

  • The immune system analogy when working with diversity in teams

  • A model to describe varying levels of maturity when it comes to diversity in organisations

We also talk about Phil Willcox’s thoughts on vulnerability & credibility (see the linked write-up here).

Listen to our episode in full below, and subscribe via iTunes or your favourite podcast app.

Some other reports of value concerning inclusion & diversity:

www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/delivering-through-diversity

www.catalyst.org/media/companies-more-women-board-directors-experience-higher-financial-performance-according-latest

Other peers that we discuss (who are well worth following) include:

Helen Amery - @WildFigSolns

Rich Cooper - @uk_coops

Rob Baker - @BakerRJM

Matt O Neill - @mattoneill

Check out Garry’s work over at:

Twitter - @garryturner0
LinkedIn - www.linkedin.com/in/garryturnermcipd/
Blog - valuethroughvulnerability.com/

thelisteningorganisation.co.uk/

Garry also leads a weekly Twitter chat called #SelfCareWeekly @selfcareweekly every Tuesday at 2000pm GMT to help promote regular discussion around these topics - get involved!

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After appearing as a guest on The 3 Good Podcast, hosted by Sukh Pabial earlier this year, I was thrilled when Sukh invited me to return. His Three Good Podcast covers the themes of positive psychology, wellbeing, resilience, mental health and emotional intelligence.

In this episode, we talk about the impact of modern social technology such as email, social media, and apps on our wellbeing and resilience. We explore some of the latest research into this area, and discuss some top tips to help us regain control of our devices.

You can hear our previous podcast on the topic of optimism by clicking right here.

 

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Have you ever heard about how natural pearls are formed?

Me neither. If you’d asked me this a few weeks ago, I probably would have mumbled something about the sea and thousands of years. As it turns out - the specifics are pretty interesting.

Here’s how it all works:

First of all - any mollusc that's housed within a shell has the ability to produce pearls. This includes snails, clams, mussels, as well as oysters.

The formation of these precious gems begins underwater, when the oyster (or snail/mussel/etc) becomes irritated and disrupted, by sand, grit or bacteria entering its shell.

The oyster responds to this irritation by releasing a protective ‘goo’ as a defence mechanism. This goo, called nacre, is both lighter and stronger than concrete.

Over several years, thousands of layers of nacre build-up to create a smooth, beautiful gem. The thicker the nacre, the more bright and shiny the pearl becomes.

I was thinking about this amazing process recently, which had me wondering about the profession of people development, and whether any helpful analogies might be drawn.

As learning and development professionals, do we see ourselves as the oyster? Constantly irritated by the outside world, building protective barriers around us and having to defend our practice to others.

Perhaps we view ourselves as the pearl? Producing gems of knowledge and insight, over years of development, polishing and mastery of our practice.

Or are we, as I suspect, the grit? Recognising that our organisations/teams might see us as the irritant, a foreign body that can sometimes prompt defensiveness and protection. 

Do we play that role knowingly, challenging where others cannot challenge, and hoping that those teams/organisations will respond by releasing their own nacre, developing their own pearls of wisdom?

What pearls are you cultivating at the moment? What is their value? And how long do they take to form?

I'd love to hear your thoughts - please feel free to share your persepctive in the comments below.

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A while ago I curated a list of my favourite podcasts for L&D practitioners and coaches, including Phil Willcox's Emotion at Work podcast. Imagine my delight, then, to be invited by Phil to celebrate his 1 year milestone with the podcast by joining him as a guest host! Together we turn the spotlight on Phil for the first time, reviewing the past 12 months and 23 episodes of his podcast.

The topics we covered included:

  • Whether we would rather be able to hit 'copy and paste' or 'undo' in real life

  • Knowing the distinction between contentment and happines

  • How and why Phil came to specialise in emotion, credibility and deception

  • Looking at what happens "within" vs what happens "between", and the interplay between the two

  • Personal stories in which both of us have lost face and credibility at work

  • Tactics for repairing face when it has been lost

  • The merits of using the methaphors of masks/houses when discussing the many faces that we wear

  • The challenges involved when finding men to talk about stories of emotion at work

  • Potential themes and guests for future episodes of the Emotion at Work podcast

Listen to the episode in full below, or via iTunes (other podcast providers are available):

Phil has curated a list of references, books, podcasts and more in the shownotes, which are available to view at: https://emotionatwork.podbean.com/e/emotion-at-work-anniversary-special/

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I’m a big fan of a to-do list.

Almost every year I pick a new To-Do list app to try out, and spend enthusiastic hours moving all my tasks/projects/workflows across to it. And believe me, I’ve tried them all - Omnifocus, Wunderlist, Clear, Any.do, ToDoist … all the way through to my current favourite: Things 3. Not to mention the low-tech solutions of various journals, notebooks and post-it note arrays.

Each time I switch tools, I marvel at the new features and convince myself: this is it. This is the one true to-do system that will allow me to organise my life in a way in which David Allen himself would be proud.

But there are inherent problems.

For a start, to-do lists often serve to remind you of all the things you haven’t done. Not too helpful, that.

Secondly, writing a list doesn’t stop us being distracted. By all kinds of things - interesting people, questions, computer/phone notifications, random thoughts...and generally things that feel more exciting than the task at hand.

Eliminating some of these distractions helps, of course (see this piece from the blog archives on digital mindfulness). But I feel something more powerful is called-for.

Enter: the not-to-do list.

The not-to-do list is a short list, refreshed either once a month, week or day, to focus the mind on things you will definitely NOT do.

The concept originates from Charlie Munger (right hand of famed investor Warren Buffet), who was an advocate of ‘inversion’: looking at problems in a way that seeks to minimise the negatives rather than maximising the positives. In other words, how to create x by considering how to create the opposite of x.

An example of a personal not-to-do list might be:

1. No morning meetings this week.
2. Don’t agree to meetings without a clear agenda.
3. Don’t check emails more than twice a day.

And these lists are not just for us to use as individuals. They work for teams too. It can be helpful to have a discussion with your team about things that we know will distract us from our primary goals/vision, and formally agree not to spend time in these activities.

Why the not-to-do list works:

  • It creates space in a way that to-do lists generally do not
  • It creates commitment in a different way to standard goal setting
  • It sharpens focus to motivate us in a specific direction

In the words of best-selling author Tim Ferriss:

“What you don’t do determines what you can do.”
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I was thrilled to be invited to contribute to The Three Good Podcast, hosted by Sukh Pabial. Sukh's podcast covers the themes of positive psychology, wellbeing, resilience, mental health and emotional intelligence.

In this episode, Sukh and I talked about optimism. The topics we covered included:

  • What optimism is, and what it isn't
  • How pessimism works, both against us, and in our favour
  • A framework to identify excessive pessimistic behaviours
  • How optimism can be overused
  • The role of data and evidence when exploring optimism with leaders and teams
  • Practical tips for working with optimism 

Listen to the episode in full below, or via iTunes (other podcast providers are available):

If you're interested in finding out more about the Opportunity-Orientation Profile (QO2) mentioned in the show, visit www.tmsdi.com to discover more.

Other links discussed on the episode:

Tali Sharot's - The Optimism Bias: why we're wired to look on the bright side

Dan Ariely : Predictably Irrational: the hidden forces that shape our decisions

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