Are there intrinsic differences between men and women? If so, what are they and how should that influence our approach to leadership, coaching and OD? For instance, what are the consequences of leadership teams that are all male or all female? What are the costs and benefits of a greater gender mix? How does culture influence notions of gender and role in organisations? How (if at all) as leader, coach or consultant should we modify our approach according the gender(s) of the person or team we’re working with? I would love to hear your thoughts, including examples from your own experience!
I don’t understand courage. It’s certainly not a quality that comes naturally or easily to me. I spent many of my school days trying to avoid the tough kids rather than face or confront them. It felt safer that way, even it if did mean walking home the long way round or trying hard to look inconspicuous. In later years, I took up karate to improve my confidence but even that felt like a show, a façade to hide my inner fears.
My lack of courage reached an all time low when working in a Palestinian hospital on the West Bank. An Israeli jet flew past at speed, causing a sonic boom that shook the doors and windows violently. I had just arrived a few days beforehand and, assuming we had been bombed, threw myself onto the ground against the wall. Moments later, a group of nurses walked into the room casually and looked at me, surprised and amused.
I have done some things that others considered brave at the time. I once broke up a fight between strangers in a night club and someone threw a glass tankard at me for doing it. I’ve done detached youth work on dangerous housing estates at night, hitch-hiked across Europe, taken relief supplies to a war zone, flown into a city just as it had been bombed, had secret basement meetings with guerrilla leaders.
Yet, if I’m honest, none of those things really felt scary at the time. Courage is about feeling the fear and doing it anyway. It’s about acting on an inner conviction, doing the right thing, even if the prospect of doing so feels terrifying. Christian teaching describes it as a spiritual quality, an admirable character trait, something to aspire to and to do. It calls for self-sacrificial choice, a step out of the safe zone.
And so I marvel at people who overcome their own self-preservation, who do something genuinely courageous. I want to be more like that, to do more like that, to emulate those who set such a noble example. It’s different to bravado because it implies humility, a willingness to trust in greater God or a greater good. So, when was the last time you felt fear yet exercised courage? What was your story and how did you do it?
If you’re tempted to cut back on L&D when budgets are tight, think twice. ‘Isn’t it easier to cut staff training than to make cuts in other business areas?’ Easier, maybe; wiser, maybe not. Let me pose four inter-related reasons why business leaders should pause before letting the axe fall.
Consider your talent. Talented people are those who make a disproportionate contribution to your organisation’s success. They’re the ones who leave a big hole if they leave. They’re also the ones who will find it easiest to leave if you don’t invest in their learning and growth.
Consider what makes your business succeed. Whatever your business is and does, I can guarantee it will depend on knowledgeable, skilful people. Disinvest in people development and, over time, your knowledge and skills base will erode and your performance with it.
Consider engagement. Engaged people are those who put in discretionary effort, sell your business by their enthusiasm, inspire and motivate others to do their best. Such people love to learn and grow. Cut back on L&D and you risk losing the hearts of your most committed players.
Consider your customers. They look to your business with high expectations of high quality products or services, and high quality customer service. If customer experience is compromised by poor service from untrained or disheartened staff, you can wave goodbye to their cash.
But what are the corresponding demands on L&D? Is L&D as an investment of value per se? It does symbolise valuing and investing in people. Nevertheless, the onus lies on L&D professionals to ensure its value in terms of attraction, retention, development and business results.
I would be interested to hear of any examples from organisations where business leaders have chosen to continue or increase investment in L&D in hard economic times. For example, what were the drivers, what convinced you, how did you achieve it, what were the results?
I was speaking with a colleague recently who felt trapped in unresolved conflict. It was a key relationship, one that couldn’t be avoided, and all previous efforts had failed. As a consequence, both parties were feeling frustrated, de-energised and despondent about the future. As we explored how they had attempted to fix things in the past, it became clear they had focused on all the negatives…a long list of annoying and painful experiences from the past. Their conversations were characterised by blame and demands. It felt intractable.
The problem with such patterns of behaviour is that they create a negative expectation of the future. Both parties now felt stressed before they even spoke with each other. The stress affected their perspective and their resilience, their ability to hear and to cope. So we decided to try a different approach. How to build a positive expectation in order to create a different focus, a different conversation and, ultimately, a different relationship. It wouldn’t be easy but it felt worth a go. My colleague felt sceptical but, nevertheless, willing to give it a try.
Firstly, we agreed that next time they spoke, they would meet off site in a physical environment (e.g. café, park) that they both found positively stimulating and energising. This helped to break them away from the current environment that held such negative memories for them. Secondly, we agreed they would speak only of the positive moments in their relationship together. They found this hard at first. The negative experiences felt so overwhelming that they could hardly think of any positives. Nevertheless, they managed to remember some examples.
Thirdly, we agreed that after sharing such positive examples, they would each share future hopes for their relationship: ‘what we would like our relationship to be more like, more of the time’. They reflected each others’ hopes back to each other: ‘So you would like…’ Fourthly, we agreed they would move on to discuss ‘what it would take from me to make this work in practice’. This shifted each party’s focus from the other onto themselves. ‘This is how I would need to change…this is what it will take for me to do it…this is the help I will need.’
This kind of approach demands openness to fresh possibilities, humility, a willingness to forgive. It demands imagination and courage too, an ability to envision and embrace a new future. It’s not easy and the support of a friend, counsellor or coach can help make the journey possible. I would be interested to hear examples from others who’ve worked on conflict resolution too. What was the issue? How did you approach it? What happened as a result? What made the biggest difference? What did you learn? What would you do the same or differently next time?
Nick is a freelance coach, trainer and OD consultant specialising in reflective practice.