Even senior managers are human

The Obvious?

I am often asked to talk to senior managers, usually by someone lower down the organisation who wants them to change in some way. There is a risk that we talk about them as if they are a race apart, floating ethereally above the real world, disconnected from the reality that the rest of us think we share.

But they are just like us, feeling out of their depth, feeling unable to keep up, feeling the pressure of expectations of those around and below them. They can also feel cut off. In fact one of the biggest appeals of having a social platform in their organisation is that they get to see what is going on, often for the first time.

Taking the next step of contributing is a huge challenge for most of them. Even if they have learned to hide it behind their corporate armour, they fear making a fool of themselves as much of the rest of us. It is no wonder that they are nervous, the expectations of them are often unrealistic.

We can all play our part in helping them learn to reach out and connect, understand what they are seeing, find the right words to respond. Metaphorically holding their hand as they engage with that online social world is immensely rewarding. They are only human after all…

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A flippant curser

The Obvious?

No not a flashing cursor, but someone who drops the odd swear word into their conversation. Goodness knows why the phrase popped into my head this morning, probably a reaction to having used my new acronym MVB (Minimum Viable Bollocks) during my keynote at the Henley KM Forum this week.

Anyway, it occurred to me that I need to be careful. It would be too easy, in an attempt to come across as familiar and relaxed, to make too many assumptions about what others are comfortable with. It’s a bit like dress code. When asked to wear anything other than my standard casual shirt and jeans I’ve been known to respond that “I don’t do fancy dress”.

And yet I have even had people come up to me after a keynote and thank me for wearing jeans! They had, rightly, seen it as a push back against the conformity of business suits and ties. Likewise with my language. It is a conscious attempt to introduce more every day ways of talking into a world where formality, passive verbs, and the third person are the norm.

I don’t want to appear disrespectful but I do want to signal difference. Yes it takes more than wearing black t-shirts and dropping the odd f bomb to change the world but you have to start somewhere and maybe it will encourage others to ease the shackles of conformity even slightly.

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The Obvious?

Judgement is something we are usually keen to get good at, to have been seen to exercise good judgement, to be a good judge of character. Discerning good from bad is surely a good thing? Knowing when something has been done well and when it hasn’t – isn’t that the first step in progress?

It is seen as a skill in management. Judging who has done better, who deserves reward, who deserves punishment.

But judgement has a dark side – being judgemental. Judging others and finding them wanting is something we all indulge in. Whether it is political extremes projecting their own dysfunctional nastiness onto each other, or religions judging other religions to be the work of the devil. It makes us feel good to judge others. We can feel superior. We can ignore our judging of ourselves, the pain of finding ourselves wanting.

Like everything else the online world can amplify judgement. It can speed it up and increase its scope. We can work out good from bad faster but we can also judge more people for their actions and we can compare ourselves unfavourably against more people whom we deem successful.

We all do it, and I am as bad as the next person. Maybe we should try not to.

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Don’t just do something stand there

The Obvious?

In my first job at the BBC, doing planning for Post Production, I used to beast in to my work, focus hard, and try to improve. The result was I often finished my day’s work in a few hours. I would then look around at my fellow office workers still working away and wonder.

When I got into management I would sit in meetings that were there because they’d always been there. People had forgotten why they were originally instigated but they still turned up, because that is what you do. Again I wondered.

Nowadays I walk through the city and look in on open plan offices of mostly men in suits staring at computer screens in mute dedication. And still I wonder.

Nowadays I am a professional pontificator. I get paid to think and share what I think. Sometimes I feel guilty about this. I feel guilty about how much I enjoy my job. About how it doesn’t feel like work. I have more than my fair share of legacy protestant work ethic. With a mum who was an elder in The Church Of Scotland it was inevitable.

But I want more thinking. I want more people to think more. I am often told that it is unreasonable to expect others to think, especially not at work. They are too busy, too keen to keep their heads down.

Such compliant busyness. Does it have to be this way?

I wonder.

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How to Conquer Public Speaking Anxiety

  • Wednesday Feb 18,2015 07:42 PM
  • By External Author
  • In Tips & Tricks

Public Speaking

Public speaking is a subject that causes a great deal of anxiety in people’s lives. People sometimes become overwhelmed with fear at the mere thought of speaking out in front of other people.

The anxiety can come from many places that are deep inside the speaker. Fear of judgment is one of the largest causes of anxiety. Fear of making a mistake is another cause of anxiety. Public speakers may be afraid that someone else will challenge them, as well. The truth of the matter is that one can easily conquer public speaking anxiety in the following fashion:

Remembering That People Are People

The first step in conquering public speaking anxiety is remembering that all people are equal. Therefore, no one can judge another person. Everyone makes mistakes from time to time, and no one should feel worthless if he or she makes a mistake during a public speaking event. One of the oldest public speaking tips is to imagine everyone in the room in their undergarments. Although the tip may seem silly, it still has a realness to it. Humans are all vulnerable, and a public speaker must realize that.

Breathing and Drawing Inner Strength

Breathing exercises can combat anxiety. Every person is equipped with the power to conquer negative emotions through the intake and expulsion of oxygen. One should practice breathing by going into a quiet room that has no distractions. The person should take a deep breath in and then slowly release the air. The key to conquering negative emotions during a breathing exercise is to think about positive life forces such as clouds and sunlight. The power to win is in each person. Taking five minutes of the day to try the exercise will bring much joy.

Taking a Public Speaking Class

Another way that a person can overcome the challenges of public speaking is to take public speaking courses. Courses are available online as well as through various instructors. The benefits of taking an online course are privacy and a self-set pace. The University of Washington is one institution that offers free courses on public speaking. The course explains how speaking and writing differ, and it gives the speaker some insight on rhetoric, orality and practice. Coursera offers a free public speaking class, as well. Speakers should not be intimidated because many resources are available for their use.

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The Obvious?

I had a great meeting recently with Isabel Collins who is building a consulting business around the idea of belonging. We talked about the sort of things people feel the need to belong to and why. What is the optimal group size for a sense of belonging? What norms have to exist to give us something to belong to? What is the right degree of conformity?

My own belief is that networks of autonomous, tolerant, collaborative individuals are how we are going to thrive in the future and the only way we are going to solve our complex and volatile challenges. What is the minimum amount of structure, rules, or consistent behaviours that allows those networks to work and not fall into dysfunction and disorder? What is the right balance between the outlook and interests of the individual and those of the network? How do we keep the networks fluid and diverse enough to avoid them becoming tribal? How do we retain our identity when we belong to multiple, overlapping, networks?

Last night I read a long but fascinating article about ISIS in which I was struck by the need that fundamentalists of any religious persuasion have to belong. A need to belong that overrides their individuality and even, in extreme cases, their need to live.

Even in the workplace there is an often overwhelming pressure to conform, to fit in. We are encouraged to sublimate the self to the needs of the group. Dissent is frowned upon and individualists invariably end up being ejected.

A need to belong to something larger than ourselves is clearly a powerful part of being human. How do we avoid that need overcoming our sense of self, our ability to operate effectively, and our very humanity, in the process?

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A wonderful lack of normality

The Obvious?

One of the greatest joys of my job is that I work with such a wide variety of organisations, from large corporations, to governments, to charities, to small startups, to individuals. There is also no pattern as to what sector those organisations operate in nor even the countries they are based in. I don’t even work with the same people for very long as most of my engagements are very short term.

While this can be challenging when it comes to finding work or marketing my services it also has the wonderful consequence of there being no sense of normal. There is no pressure to “fit in” as there is nothing to fit in to. There are no pressures to conform, no tribes to belong to, no peers to compete with.

Clearly I am not immune to the influence of the media, my local community, or those I rub shoulders with online. But my exposure to each of those is more in my control. I am not stuck in the same office day in day out. I am not stuck in repetitive patterns of behaviour or routine. I am not forced to listen to the same stories all the time.

This lack of identity could feel challenging to some but I relish it. It means I have little “received wisdom”. I have to constantly work out what I think and why. I have to think for myself. I think this is a good thing.

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Messing with your head

The Obvious?

Thoughts rattle around my head all the time, good ones, bad ones, confusing ones, and the odd interesting one.

Two or three times a week I sit in front of a “blank page” in my text editor and start writing in the hope of getting some of those thoughts out of my head and onto the page. Sometimes I don’t recognise them. Sometimes they look better, sometimes they look worse.

I try to make them intelligible to others, getting the right words in the right order, deciding where to put the paragraph breaks, hoping that they make sense.

And then I copy them into my various places on the web and press save…

… and seconds later they appear on your screen, you read them, and somehow the thoughts that were rattling around my head, only moments ago, are now rattling around yours.

This is a kind of magic.

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Choosing your words carefully

The Obvious?

I get a funny look when I tell people that I read books on poetry and grammar as a way of improving my tweets and blog posts. Trying to squeeze the maximum value out of those 140 characters or optimal four paragraph posts. I take it as my responsibility when my posts are misconstrued and comment threads veer off in wild directions. I resolve to try harder next time.

This is even more true in the world of work, especially as more and more people work in distributed networks, where their only experience of each other is through their online exchanges. All we know of people is the words they choose to use and the order in which they use them. It is possible for our boss to throw their weight around verbally without even realising. Underlying assumptions become visible through use of grammar. Tensions surface in the inadvertent use of apparently innocently chosen words.

I love all this. I love trying to get better at it. I love how much it matters. I love to pass this enthusiasm on to others!

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Working things out

The Obvious?

Over the years I have been part of various groups of varying sizes working together in different ways. From the large, complex, bureaucratic organisation that was the BBC, to networks of people with only an intent and internet conversations to hold them together.

It is too easy to think that sharing the same physical space and having face to face meetings was better. Many of you will know just how frustrating that “normal” work experience can be, how confusing, how haphazard, how imprecise.

Likewise purely online work can be challenging. The things that are unsaid or misunderstood, the soul sapping experience of long conference calls, the struggle to work out what it is that you are meant to feel part of and how.

The rules are changing, the lines getting blurred. I am lucky enough to work with interesting people trying to work all of this out. Experts involved in property and the workplace, technology, communications, HR… the lot.

We are at the beginning of a really big transition in our experience and understanding of work. Who works, why, where and how.

Some days it feels exciting, some days it feels overwhelming.

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