Juggling Priorities

We all know the feeling of being overwhelmed. The inbox is flooded with unread messages, the calendar is full, and the to-do list looks unmanageable. It is important to gain the ability to manage your time between short-, medium-, and long-term tasks and projects. By exploring how to spend time on the right things we begin to see the importance of setting a personal agenda to get your focus back on track.

This post will introduce two tools for developing time and project management skills that have proved very effective in my work with clients. The first is the Third Habit outlined in Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which details the importance of prioritising tasks.

Managing priorities

In Habit 3, Covey encourages leaders to ‘Put First Things First’. Here he refers to the Four Quadrants of Time Management, by which all tasks are classified in terms of both urgency and importance. Tasks in Quadrant I might entail important deadlines and crises, those in Quadrant II tasks contributing to long-term development. Quadrant III refers to small and potentially distracting deadlines, whilst Quadrant IV’s distractions are frivolous and often pertain to procrastination.

The process of working with these quadrants entails first identifying the levels of urgency and importance in certain tasks, and in this way becoming more reflective on your working patterns. Covey advises us to spend more time in Quadrant II, with tasks and projects that are important but not urgent. These tasks are about planning, prevention, and improvement. By focusing attention on them we begin to prevent crisis situations from unfolding and maintain a healthy balance between productive work and understanding our limits.

To do this, Covey argues, we must reassess the time we spend on Quadrants III and IV, which should respectively be delegated to others and eliminated entirely.

Visualising the plan

To assess how much time, we spend in each Quadrant, however, we must first identify the levels of importance and urgency in our routine tasks/medium term projects/long-term goals. Here I introduce a second tool which comes from the fifth chapter of my book, The Evergreen Executive.

As an idea generating tool for you to design and generate your own Plan On A Page take a look at this downloadable template https://www.sandrawebbercoaching.com/downloads/Strategic_Plan_On_A_Page.pdf

By creating a plan on the page, it becomes easier to see what your priorities are and where your time should be spent. It can also be used to communicate and assign ownership to other members of your team

Taking charge

We all work collaboratively in many ways, and it is important to recognise the impact that relational work has on our time management. Leaders often feel themselves getting pulled in different directions by many people. They are often juggling multiple projects and are relied on heavily by different teams. By refocusing attention towards your individual agenda, it becomes easier to identify important tasks and prioritise these. Time management works hand in hand with personal management, and by regaining agency you can achieve efficiency in your work practice.

Reframing Imposter Syndrome

One phrase that has come up in many of my coaching conversations over the past few months is “I think I am suffering from Imposter Syndrome”. This has been mentioned by leaders who are looking for new roles, individuals who have been in their existing role for some time, and people who are new into their current position.

One of the main barriers to leaders reaching their full potential is not a lack of skills and experience, but instead a perceived lack emanating from low self-confidence. In a 1970s study on the impact of this work-centred around self-doubt, it was coined ‘Imposter Syndrome’. From here on this phenomenon has been understood as a limitation by which skilled workers doubt their competence and believe they are not talented enough to belong in their position. In 2014 study of 116 executives, 60% stated that imposter syndrome had an impact on their leadership.

When understood in this way, as a disadvantage, imposter syndrome can have huge consequences on peoples’ attitudes towards and behaviours at work. Some might overwork and refuse to ask for help to meet impossibly high standards, with the aim of combatting imposter syndrome by gaining proficiency in the workplace. This response often leads to burnout which can have hugely detrimental effects on wellbeing. Others lean into the insecurity and begin to avoid feedback and opportunities for promotion, believing that they don’t deserve to be given any merit.

First step to moving forward – open up communication

To tackle this exhausting feeling, opening up communication around imposter syndrome will allow the insecurity to be humanised and understood as a necessary and universal part of professional progression. Self-doubt can lead to rich and valuable reflection but should be balanced with positive reinforcement regarding what you have already accomplished and using this to move forwards and build self-belief. Changing the focus from the feeling of Imposter Syndrome as being a limiting factor, look at the evidence of what you are good at and can bring to your role and move towards a reframing of your situation as a natural phase of personal growth which you can easily move through.

A huge barrier to overcoming imposter syndrome is the feeling that you don’t belong in comparison to others. Breaking the silence on these thoughts, therefore, can help you understand how widespread they are. But this can only start with you, and openly acknowledging these feelings will give colleagues the opportunity to do the same. Imposter syndrome has been found as one of the top fears for executives, so there’s no chance that you’re feeling them alone. Take the first step by talking to a trusted peer, line manager or external coach/mentor and move forwards from here.

If you need any further help please reach out using sandra@sandrawebbercoaching.com for an initial free consultation.

Sandra works as an executive coach for a multitude of businesses and private clients. She has over 30 years of experience to draw from in her work and has a particualar focus on creating high performing leaders.

Action Learning Sets – Revisited

Each UK Lockdown during these COVID times I decided to set myself a project so that I could look back in years to come with memories of having used the time productively.

In Lockdown 1 last March it was to finish book number 2 The Evergreen Executive and I also became a big Netflix fan. In Lockdown 2 , November 2020, the project was to revamp my home yoga/zen room and cook more nutritious healthy meals from scratch. Now as we approach the end of Lockdown 3 the project has been Action Learning with some fellow professional coaches which has proved to be both insightful and fun.

The term Action Learning crossed my path for the first time while I was working for Hewlett Packard in the 80’s and 90’s where as part of our leadership development and process improvement training we worked together to share best practices and support each other solve work related problems as a group. The way we have been using Action Learnings Sets in 2021 though has been with a slightly different twist, we have been using the methodology to keep refining our skills as professional executive coaches by investing in our own development. There is a danger, when the day job involves helping numerous people achieve their goals, increase self awareness, move though personal change, embed new habits or in this era find new roles quickly, us coaches don’t make enough time for our own personal growth. I am pleased to report that UK Lockdown 3 has proved to be very productive from this standpoint as all 3 of us in our mini Action Learning Set are nearing the end of 8 weeks of online learning in a variety of topics. What has made it fun and enjoyable has largely been down to our weekly Zoom meetings where we have taken ourselves through the action learning cycle above, challenged each other, shared successes and difficulties on route and most important of all held ourselves accountable to each other and the programme of learning. There were times when I didnt want to use my non working time to watch online video tutorials, read books or do assignments however knowing we had a weekly Action Learning Group meeting where we all had to report into each other on actvities and progress did work from a motivation perspective. In addition it was useful to discuss the difficulties we sometimes had as well as this made it easier at times not to be too hard on ourselves as well.

The concept of the action learning cycle can be powerful used individually as a reflective exercise by itself but its much more fun if you work with others to learn from different experiences and about alternative actions taken even given the same content shared by all. Next time you embark on a piece of learning consider setting up your own Action Learning Set with a few people undergoing the same journey it might add another powerful dimension to your experience.

7 Stages of Lockdown Working

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Well when I wrote the last blog at the beginning of this year I could not have imagined what lay ahead for us all. There were the beginnings of headlines coming on the news about a virus called Covid-19 in China but as our family returned from a Christmas holiday spent over in Palma Majorca we were blissfully unaware of the big changes ahead.

Even as we all continued to work during the first two months of the year I don’t think we imagined that life was literally going to come to a pause phase as the UK Lockdown was announced on March 24th 2020  I remember the date clearly as my birthday was on March 25th and it was celebrated as one of the first of many lockdown birthdays that quickly became the norm amongst us all.

Continuing to work with both business and private clients over the past few months it has been interesting to observe how we have all (myself included) coped with these changing times that came about so suddenly. I have identified a few common stages as the weeks have progressed:

Stage 1 – Wow this has actually happened, we are all based at home (shock)

Stage 2 – Adjusting to working from home (immediate knee jerk reactions)

Stage 3 – New routines develop (how can I make this work for me)

Stage 4 – Am I optimising this situation as much as I should be? (guilt/doubt)

Stage 5 – What do I enjoy and not enjoy about this (reflection/evaluation)

Stage 6 – How can I integrate the best bits moving forwards ( new ways of working/living)

Stage 7 – Prevent just slipping back into old habits that didn’t serve you (embed changes)

For me personally there have been good days and bad days with both clients and friends sharing that they have experienced the same. A lot of good has resulted with time that would have normally been spent commuting, stuck in traffic and extra long meetings being spent either on more meaningful work, projects that needed to be completed or getting to know others better. Funny moments have included people having meetings with me in cars on drives to get away from young families to my elderly neighbours checking that I am ok as they haven’t seen me for days due to endless Zoom meetings!

Productivity has been good even getting book two published hence the image to this post – now on Amazon https://amzn.to/3gh95jw and streamlining social media strategy. Both of these things had been on my to do list for many months. I walk daily now easily meeting my 10K steps a day compared with 4k prior to lockdown. I have polished up my process of online coaching now that it is 100% virtually delivered compared with 25% before plus it feels good to have more meaningful relationships with my neighbours rather than going for weeks without even stopping to chat! The challenge is to keep the good stuff going!

Leadership Fundamentals – Understand Your Team and Your Customers

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This follows on from an early post entitled  ” Your First 90 days “.

A short cut to success in your leadership role is having complete clarity on who your key stakeholders are, ensuring you know what they expect from you and building solid effective two way relationships with them all.

So, where do you start?

Firstly, set out with the intention of building a thorough understanding of all your team members, regardless of their experience level, seniority, area of responsibility, personality and attitude. Approach this project with an attitude of curiosity to build a complete pen picture for each member of your team. Do it in a way that makes sense to you however insure you consider what makes them tick, what their aims and ambitions are short and long term even if its just to keep doing what they already are that is fine at least you know. What challenges do they face, what do they love doing, are their any people they are struggling with. Capture all the this information per person and design a process whereby you are continually building and refreshing this knowledge of each team member so that over the next few months you know them inside out! Use your regular 1-1’s, times when you are working alongside individuals on specific pieces of work and social interactions to gleam further insights. Cultivating this attitude of interest and curiosity will enable you to adjust your leadership style accordingly and look out for opportunities where you can put the right work their way and design appropriate development interventions to help each person grow under your leadership tenure.

In parallel to building an in depth understanding of your team you need to take a similar approach with all your customers internal and external. Try and put yourself in their shoes and anticipate what they need from you and your team for them each to be successful. Armed with your thoughts check this out with each person at the earliest opportunity to ensure you haven’t missed anything and to identify the priority expectations and requirements of your role from their perspective as customers. Often we are busy doing work that we think is critically important which our customers don’t value in the same way.

For both your team and internal/external customers ask yourself “how healthy and enjoyable is the working relationship between the two of you?” Score each relationship between 1 and 10, 1 being very broken and hard work to 10 being extremely productive and enjoyable in fact it doesn’t really seem like work! Identify the most important stakeholders that have the lowest quality rating 1-10 and then think about what you need to do to make improvements.

Take a similar approach with your peer group and your manager so you can establish what each needs from you and how effective the working relationship currently is.

Its worth repeating this type of exercise annually as people change roles a lot and also business expectations change as strategy changes.

Sandra works as an executive coach for businesses and also has a private coaching practice for career/life and business coaching. More information can be found at http://www.sandrawebbercoaching.com. She is also author of Own It – regain control and live life on your terms available from Amazon Check book out here and a recently launched series of Own It Podcasts which gives inspiration and tips for professional and personal life Own It Podcasts

Use Your Natural Strengths More

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The next technique to learn is to ask yourself what strengths do I naturally have that I can use to solve any problem or challenge that comes my way and move towards a solution orientation? Do you know your natural strengths?

You may have received some 360-degree feedback over the years in various forms formally or informally so this is a good source of information especially in identifying what other people think you are good at.

To add to any existing feedback in your possession and to give a fresh perspective there is a very useful free resource online that could be help, go to  www.viacharacter.org and click on the survey tab where you go and take a free test that identifies your top natural strengths. The report looks at strengths very differently and has more of a value internal perspective. When I did the test my top one is “love of learning” and this is so true and linked to my top motivational factor.

Either use the test above to identify what you naturally do well or use your own self-awareness to ask “how can I use my natural strengths to solve this problem?”

If I use myself as an example I am a resource investigator (I found this out using Belbin team types diagnostic tool many years ago in my corporate career). What this means is I can normally find someone to help either myself or anyone else and I don’t mind asking people to help share their expertise. When faced with a tricky problem I can’t solve myself I would pull on this skill to look at my existing network to access expertise or experience of similar problems to help me explore possible options for the problem in front of me.

It might be worth listing down a summary list of “ What I am naturally good at and love to do” so that when faced with a challenging situation you can look at this list and it might spark off an action or approach that will help you move forwards and because it is capitalizing on natural strength then the action wont feel too hard it will come to you easily.

 

Sandra works as a professional coach for both Businesses and Private Clients, More information can be found at www.sandrawebbercoaching.com

 

 

 

Turn Problems into New Outcomes

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How good are you at taking a situation and switching from a problem focus to a solution focus?

Whether it be in private or professional life we can often be faced with unplanned events or situations that we didn’t anticipate and have the potential of derailing us. How quickly  you are able to pick yourself up and reposition both your thoughts, feelings and actions from a problem orientation to a problem-solving stance is a skill high performers work on continuosly. Having some tools and techniques to handle these situations are useful ones to have.

One way of training ourselves to move towards a solution is by thinking firstly towards what is the desired outcome we want. If the outcome isn’t obvious then the first habit to learn is to look wide at all the possibilities alternative outcomes so simply get a blank bit of paper, a white board or flip chart and ask the following questions.

What would good look like?

  • What would it feel like?
  • What would people be saying?
  • What do all the different stakeholders want?
  • What we be proud of?
  • How can we make this the best in class?

Try and get other people involved as well for tricky problems to get diversity of thought as sometimes we can be too close both emotionally and technically to the problems we are trying to solve. So that’s the first technique to learn, questioning with curiosity to explore new outcomes that you can work towards from the problem you are currently encountering. Just by reframing the situation in this way you can change the energy levels of those involved from low energy despair to higher and possibility.

Acknowledge the problem but move on quickly towards a new outcome.

 

Sandra works as a professional coach for both businesses and private clients, more information can be found at www.sandrawebbercoaching.com . She is also the author of Own It – regain control and live life on your terms available from Amazon click this link

 

 

Continued Personal Development

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As part of most professional qualifications or to secure and maintain membership of a professional body we are required to source, attend and document Continuous Professional Development (CPD). I first encountered this requirement when I became a qualified management account many years ago and I now have a similar requirement with my International Coaching Federation (ICF) accreditation.

Depending on your personality you will either have put a plan in place to evidence all the CPD requirements by the required date well in advance or if you are more of a last minute person the reminder of this CPD renewal will suddenly arrive in your inbox and there will be a mild sense of panic resulting in this going on the mental to do list.

Every time such professional requirements appear on my horizon I have mixed emotions. The first initial one is “oh no how on earth am I going to find time to do this” quickly followed by a second thought of “this could be really onerous and boring” and a third one of “this is going to cost a lot of money”. As I am a naturally structured plan in advance person I haven’t got the additional pressure of having to find something last minute that I can complete or attend to get the right number of hours under my belt to submit.

As I approach this requirement now I am very lucky in the fact that a fellow coach had done a lot of research (during a spell of enforced illness) and researched the most cost effective, time efficient and interesting programmes available on the market. This has proved invaluable to me as all I had to do was look at the recommended course and verify I could commit the time, money and that it would be of value to both myself individually and my client base.

So, a few months ago I committed and enrolled on a Positive Psychology Coaching Programme run out of the USA. It is my first complete experience of a worldwide distance learning course which involves webinars, peer coaching via Skype or telephone and written work. This whole way of learning was the first benefit for me as my immediate reaction was that I prefer face to face work however to date this multimedia and distance approach is working just fine.

Regarding financial commitment yes, it is a lot however if I choose to be aligned to the most highly recognised Coaching federation this is non-negotiable, and the investment must be made. As always, the time slots required I have managed to integrate into my already busy diary, I have mad at least one new great connection to add to my network and the subject matter I am already using in my work.

So, for anyone reading this who is required to do similar CPD work, have you got this sorted yet? If not, it may be a good idea to plan out what you intend to do meet your specific professional requirements and commit. In addition find activities that met the requirements but are also of personal interest and benefit for personal and professional growth.

 

 

Sandra works as a professional coach for both business and private clients. More information can be found at www.sandrawebbercoaching.com or in her book Own It available from Amazon  http://amzn.to/2m3l8Vl

Manager, Mentor, Coach

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The importance of having either a mentor or coach (ideally both) has always been apparent to me from the early part of my career. When I was qualifying as an accountant in my twenties I was lucky to be working for some great role models who encouraged personal development and growth both from a technical and interpersonal standpoint.

I have a clear distinction in my mind between a persons line manager, a mentor and a coach however for others sometimes the lines can get blurred. If you can create strong relationships with all three of these people at any one time different things can be gained from each. At the same time you will feel both challenged and supported if you surround yourself with the right people in all of these roles.

As well as having all three of these people in your life if you can get the opportunity to act in all of these three roles to aid the development of others this is also very rewarding work and allows you to experience what I think are the differences between the roles. Let’s take each in turn and I will explain how I have experienced them

Line Manager – the most obvious in that organisationally this is who you report too if employed, if self employed this won’t be in place and makes the other two roles below even more important to avoid working in a void. A good line manager will ensure you have complete clarity about that is required from your role, give you feedback on whether you are heading in the right direction performance wise while in addition set you stretching objectives and devise a meaningful development plan.

Mentor – this is someone who has walked the path you want to take and has learnt from experience and willing to share how these experiences may help you follow a similar path. They should be inspiring and enjoy helping you proceed in your journey in your way but with the benefit of learnings they may be able to pass on. This relationship normally is in place for a relatively short time until you have discussed their journey. A mentoring relationship can last for about a year however if there is a big gap between where the mentor is and where you are now the relationship may last longer and move into a more infrequent checkin over a longer period of time.

Coach – this is someone you meet with again over a set period of time anything from 3 months to 9 months typically. The coaching sessions act as safe spaces for you to get clear on your goals (work and non work), explore options for action, any barriers you may be struggling to overcome and any patterns of behaviour or thinking that are either working for you or against you. A coach will use established tools and techniques that include powerful questions to unlock the answers that are already inside you. A qualified coach does not need specialist knowledge about what you want to work on or technical expert subject matter.

My recommendation would be to have at least two of these people in your life and to at least get the opportunity to act as a mentor for others in either a professional or personal area.

 

Sandra works as a coach and trainer for both business and private clients. More information can be found at http://www.sandrawebbercoaching.com

For New Leaders

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For anyone new into a leadership role or for anyone who has taken over the leadership role of a new team taking the time out to build up a pen picture of each team member is a good first step.

One suggested approach is to create a grid with team members name down the vertical access in the first column and then create a number of other columns across the page where you can note useful information that can help you flex your leadership style in order to get the most out if the individual. Effective leaders have the ability to adjust their approach and leadership style regularly to adapt it to differing situations and the unique differences of team members. Firstly however you need to understand these unique differences and this grid exercise is a way of doing this?

The sort of information that could be useful for the new leader to collect in a systematic way would be

  •  Personality preferences eg Myers Briggs extrovert/introvert sensing/intuitive/ feeling/thinking judging/ perceiving .
  • Motivational and de-motivational indicators for each person
  • Development level eg their current way of working from dependent to interdependent
  • Have they got a clearly defined and understood job description
  • Key objectives
  • Key areas of development
  • Any other useful misc notes

If this grid is compiled and used as a management tool it is useful as a “My Team on a Page ” part of your leadership tool kit . It  can be a useful refresher prior to 1-1 discussions.

Another useful activity to schedule with each team member in the initial few weeks is to allow them un- interrupted time to talk about their personal goals long and short term, for them to share how they prefer to receive feedback and also how happy they are with their current personal development plan. Are they in need of more challenge or more support in their current role. How can you as the new leader be helpful for them.

By taking a genuine interest in what makes each person tick and also how things are currently working out through their eyes it will let them know that you care about them all individually.

Armed with all the above information it will not only allow you to adjust your leadership style accordingly it will also help you understand which developmental opportunities are best suited to which individual in your team. As an effective leader the development and growth of your team should be a key objective.

 

Sandra works with both businesses and private clients as a coach and trainer. She is also author of the book Own It – regain control and live life on your terms. More information can be found at http://www.sandrawebbercoaching.com or http://www.own-it-book.com