Monthly Archives: April 2008

Are You Burning Out?

Stress has gained a reputation as being a bad thing. ‘I’m really stressed out’ or ‘Don’t get stressed’ are common phrases around the workplace. While it is often the case that people do feel under stress, it is normally too much stress (as with too much of anything!) that causes us problems. Stress is actually an important element of our daily life, without which we would not find the motivation to undertake the basic life saving activities.

If you consider the stress curve shown here, you can see that your performance is directly related to the amount of stress you are under: As the amount of stress increases, you reach a point know as the interest threshold. Anything below this level of influence does really affect you on a concious level. At the interest threshold, you are physiologically aware of something and respond appropriately. If you become hungry to the point at which you notice the feeling, then you have reached the interest threshold and will generally respond by finding some food. If you wait to eat, your interest will be drawn to food at every opportunity. Listen to anyone on a diet and you will hear then focusing on food more and more as their ‘hunger stress’ increases.

It is the same with most elements of personal performance. As the stress increases, you awareness and performance increases until you are performing at a peak level. In his book Flow:The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi suggests that the point of peak performance is when the individual experiences complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation. This is supported by the peak of the graph where the stress is at such a point that you are focusing only on the information necessary for the task in hand, totally engrossed in the moment.

As the stress increases, you become overstressed and your performance degrades. After a prolonged period of stress, or even a short period of extreme stress, you reach a point of burnout.

There are several causes of excessive stress. Some of these are presented here but this is by no means an exhaustive list:

  • Overwork

  • Lack of control

  • Lack of support

  • Lack of rewards

  • Insufficient rest time

  • Criticism

  • Insufficient positive feedback

  • Change

  • Uncertainty about the future

  • Lack of personal achievement

Excessive stress can affect you in 4 ways:

  • Emotionally – creating tension and irritability

  • Physically – induces stomach pain, ulcers or headaches

  • Mentally – by impairing logic and thinking skill

  • Behaviourally – making you change the way to act

It is important that as individuals and and as managers that we learn to recognise the warning signs of stress in ourselves and our team.

There 4 stages of over stress and burnout:

  • Stage 1 – Excessive enthusiasm for the task and a reluctance to take holidays and time off. This can lead to self doubt and fear of being unable to cope or to being unable to refuse new work. The work itself becomes a distraction for the stress and this often has am impact on output quality and a person’s family/personal life.

  • Stage 2 – Short bouts of irritation and tiredness. Complaints about the team’s input and quality of work. Increased working hours as a further coping mechanism and inability to measure time or time manage.

  • Stage 3 – Increased discontent and anger, apathy and a lack of emotional commitment. Exhaustion, reduced commitment to work and life in general.

  • Stage 4 – Withdrawal, illness feelings of failure and depression. Reluctance to communicate and increased isolation sometimes dropping into alcohol and drug abuse.

The key is to identify when you or a team member is beginning to suffer the early stages of burnout and act. Reduce or remove the workload, change their environment or encourage them to take a holiday.

Dare to Aspire


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Learning styles

Learning is fundamental to self-improvement and for moving from your performance to your potential.

Honey and Mumford (1986) suggested that most people have a style of learning that is most effective for their character and personality.

The 4 learning styles that Honey and Mumford identified are:


Open minded people who involve themselves fully in a new experience. Highly sociable and keen for new experience, activists are relatively strong problem solvers, good at brainstorming and finding working solutions. They are weaker at implementation, process and sustained effort.


Thoughtful and cautious people who prefer to consider options and all of the implications before coming to a considered decision. Generally preferring a role as observer rather than become active in discussions.


Logical and process focused people who approach problems in a step-by-step fashion and prefer looking for coherent patterns or behaviours that can be mapped to accepted theory. These learners prefer to analyse situations and establish assumptions, principles and models. They are happier in a disciplined environment but uncomfortable with uncertainty, subjective opinion and radical thinking.


These people thrive on new ideas and look for the benefit and a practical application of new ideas. Problems are seen as a challenge but these learners become easily frustrated with endless discussion and inaction.

There are sites on the Internet that will help you identify your predominant learning style. Peter Honey’s own site is just one example.

SO why is this relevant?

Firstly, by identifying which learning style or styles you prefer, you can adopt an approach to learning that benefits from your strengths.

For example, my own style is that of Activist / Pragmatist. This means I am very happy to try new processes, ideas and techniques but will happily throw some of those away, favouring something that is effective and brings benefit.

Secondly, if you are responsible for staff, by identifying the preferred learning style of people in your team, you can present information in a fashion that is more easily absorbed. If you try to force a Reflector into activities favouring an Activist style, you will get resistance, conflict and very little commitment.

Finally, if you have a significant dominance in one learning style, you may want to consider developing a weaker area. This will allow you to increase the opportunities that you can learn from and allow you to more easily relate and communicate with those who have differing dominant learning styles. This will increase your behavioural flexibility.

One of the key presuppositions from NLP is:

In interactions among people, the person with most flexibility and variation of behaviour can control the outcome of the interaction.

So strive for that flexibility.

Dare to Aspire

Reference: Honey, P. and Mumford A. (1986). A Manual of Learning Styles, Peter Honey, Maidenhead

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The Best Managers are Coaches Too

One of the aims of management is to get better performance from your team and achieve your goals with less. Often the resources and equipment are generally out of your control as you have already negotiated the cheapest price for any commodities you use.

The only other variable you have influence over is your manpower. Working with them to increase performance and output is one of a the key levers a manager has. The most effective way of increasing performance is by coaching. Just as a sports coach works with individuals to achieve better results, as a manager, so can you.

The aims of coaching are:

– To help a person become aware of their current levels of performance.
– To help a person identify their own resources for self improvement.
– To help a person commit to a plan of action.
– To hold a person accountable for their commitment to that plan.

There are several models that have been developed to take you though the coaching sequence. The GROW model from John Whitmore is popular, but I prefer the STEPPPA model used by Angus McLeod.

In a quiet area where you will not be disturbed, sit with your staff member and run through the following sequence of actions.

Subject – Discuss a number of performance areas with your staff member and identify one that will be the subject of the session. Have the staff member identify the area that needs to be addressed as their involvement will increase their commitment. If you select the subject, it will be taken as an instruction and you will have less commitment, if any.

Target – Develop a target objective from this subject, again one that the staff member suggests. It needs to be realistic, achievable and one that the person is willing to commit to doing. Too lofty a goal will be too much to achieve, too little and the lack of challenge will be demotivating.

Emotional – There has to be a certain amount of emotional connection between the subject and the person. No emotional content and the person will not be inspired to do anything about the issue.

Perception – ‘Perception is truth’ in most people’s minds. If you perceive something to be true, then it is. The person has to perceive that the task is possible and that it will provide real benefit when achieved. They also need to convinced that any external resources will be made available. Without this, their perception will be that YOU are not committed to the outcome.

Plan – Have the staff member work out a plan of action, steps that move them from where they are now to where they have decided they want to go.

Pace – Having defined the plan, you both need to establish that the target has some realistic chance of being achieved and at a pace that is possible to maintain. Stretch targets are acceptable but remember that there is normally some personal growth and learning in this process, so agree a target and a pace that is not too much of a stretch.

Act – The process so far has taken your staff member to a point where they have defined their own target, plan of action, pace and agreed a level of personal commitment. There is no value in this process unless the person commits to action. Agree the actions steps and the when you will review progress. Agreeing to review progress increases the likelihood that the staff member will take at least some of the actions they have agreed as you will be checking progress.

Although this model provides guidance in how to coach your staff, the ability to coach is not as simple as following this pattern. It requires sensitivity, emotional acuity and flexibility in how you act and speak. It is important to let the staff member provide the questions, the answers and create their own plan of action. As a manager, you will be desperate to solve the problem but remember to resist that temptation.

I recommend Dr McLeod’s book in Performance Coaching for further reading. It is clear and well written and the STEPPPA model he uses is reinforced by several case studies and other supporting techniques such as cognitive therapy and NLP.

Dare to Aspire

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New Book Summary – True Professionalism

I have just completed another book summary.

Hope you find it useful.

True Professionalism by David Maister

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7 Tips for Crisis Management

It doesn’t matter what kind of leader or manager you are, there comes a time when you face a crisis and all that you knew about managing your team falls by the wayside. The structure you relied upon to communicate and pass out instructions to your team is no longer effective and people are looking to for guidance.

A crisis isn’t something that you should be intimidated by. It may be nasty, frightening, dangerous even, but your management and leadership skills will carry you though the event, if your remain calm and confident. Remember, if you do nothing, then things are likely to get worse on their own, so doing something thoughtful and constructive will be beneficial and what more can be expected of you. If you could plan for a crisis, it wouldn’t be a crisis, merely a contingency.

Hopefully it will never happen but if you do face a crisis, it is well worth having thought about the things you will need to do before the event. Here are 7 tips that will help you over the first few hurdles.

1. Don’t PANIC! Just like the hitch-hikers guide states! Panicking will not let you think clearly enough to make rational decisions. Just realise that you only need to take a few quick steps to get people working towards a solution and then take a moment to think.

2. Find out what is really happening. Get some team members to gather information so that you have a better understanding of the situation

3. Quickly triage the important things that need to be address and delay dealing with the non essential things to you have time. The priorities are:

  • Safety, yours and the teams
  • Will the problem get worse if you do not act?
  • What are the first 3 things you need to achieve to get moving in the right direction
  • Who can help you?
  • What should your team be doing? An active team worries less!
  • Who do you need to inform?

4.  Identify the resources that you have.

5. Draw up some preliminary plans and get the team moving. Things will change, that is the nature of a crisis, but activity will gain you momentum, again steady the team and give you more information on the crisis.

6. Monitor the situation and modify your plan to meet the changing environment.

7. ACT! Spend no more time in planning than you need. As General Patton said ‘A good plan today is better than the perfect plan tomorrow!’

In a crisis, people will look to you for leadership. Be bold and confident and get people acting. Your confidence will grow as you see your decisions and actions baring fruit and you team will bask in that confidence to.

Dare to Aspire

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Styles of Leadership

People have always been fascinated with the behaviour and characteristics of leaders. The body of knowledge that covers the subject is immense. My own experience leads me to believe that it is the impact that a leader has and the effect of that leadership that we most need to be concerned with. This impact is almost always the consequence of the style that the leader uses to move a team or individual forward toward a goal. As managers and leaders, there are many styles that you may wish to consider when leading teams.

Although not exhaustive, the following list represents a few practical leadership styles, condensed from the many, which are relatively easy to remember and apply.

Management by Objective
An approach where you set the objectives drawn from your vision and encourage the team or individual to use their own capabilities to reach those objectives. The outcomes should be challenging but not to the point of becoming overwhelming.

Management by Exception
This approach suggests that you have a light touch on the team, setting them an outcome and only intervening when you see that the outcome will not be reached.

Charismatic Influence
If your vision is one that generates passion and fulfils a motivating purpose that generates its own commitment. Many Not for Profit organisations use this style of leadership, but they are by no means alone.

Contingent Reward
Rewards are given based upon the people demonstrating the behaviours you want. Unfortunately compliance does not always reflect commitment and the reward may eventually no longer motivate.

Intellectual Challenge
Allow people to stretch themselves and feel a degree of self worth and achievement from using their own ideas.

Individual Consideration
This is an approach where you consider the needs of the individual rather than that of the team. Leadership here is often in the form of coaching and mentoring.

Deciding on the style to use is very much based upon your assessment of the individual or team and will require some emotional intelligence. It will reflect the way in which a person or team is motivated.

Often the style you choose will need to be tailored or a combination of styles may be needed in any given situation. Don’t be afraid to try different approaches.

Measure your success by the responses you get and any change in behaviour you see.

By reflecting on the style you choose and the impact you have you will be able to hone your leadership ability more easily.

Remember leadership is about moving people toward a goal and although the shortest distance is between 2 points is a straight line, the most interesting journeys tend to meander.

We all have opportunities to show some level of leadership. These leadership tools may give you are few options to perform that role more effectively.

Dare to Aspire

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Becoming a Better Facilitator (Part 2)

Applying the basic skills of facilitation will allow you to manage a group and bring about a successful outcome for your group. But to really perform well, it is useful to have a few tricks and techniques to call upon.

Even though our voice is our primary tool in facilitation, studies have demonstrated that only 7% of what we communicate is in the words that are spoken. 33% is how the words are said and 55% of meaning is in facial expression and body language.

Try applying these verbal and non-verbal techniques to enhance your facilitation style.

Verbal Techniques

  • Alter the tone and volume for the effect you want. Fast, loud and energetic to create enthusiasm, clear and direct to take control again.
  • Use open questions to encourage answers that have more content than Yes or No. ‘What happened?’, ‘How can we fix that?’, ‘What have we learned’ all demand more than a one word answer.
  • Use encouragement. Often a sound or the word ‘and’ can bring out more information and they are less disruptive to the thought process than saying ‘Great point!’
  • Parrot phrase for clarity, repeating the exact words back slowly to the group so that you demonstrate you are listening and that you want to clarify the point being made.
  • Imply questions and commands with the tone of your voice. Make a statement and raise the tone of the last syllable so that it implies a question. Ask a question and lower the last syllable so that it implies a command.
  • Refer to a point and ask what the rest of the group think. ‘ Frank has an excellent point, can anyone see how we can apply that?’

Non-Verbal Techniques

  • Attentiveness – Be attentive and focus on the individual speaking. This allows you to demonstrate to the group that you are listening and makes both you and the speaker the centre of attention.
  • Location – Move around the room so that you can identify those that are not engaging in the process or are checking their blackberry! Standing near someone can often be intimidating enough to make them rejoin the group.
  • Use Silence – Silence is useful to encourage more from the speaker. They will often become increasingly uncomfortable with the silence and feel the need to fill the gap. Don’t leave it too long though as you may lose momentum with the group.
  • Body Language -Use open gestures and stances to demonstrate approachability. If you find someone who is a little reluctant to speak, close the distance and lower yourself to their level so that they feel more confident.

Common Pitfalls

These are some easy traps to fall into. You will probably commit more than one in the early days…I still do!

  • Finding the solution for the group – You may see the solution so clearly and want to guide the discussion, but it is essential that the group find their own solution as their Involvement generates their commitment!
  • Don’t play the expert – you may be the expert, but no-one iS as smart as everyone in the room together, so draw the answer out of the group. You may be too close to the problem as an expert and not see and alternative approach!
  • Don’t manipulate the words you hear so that they fit into your pre conceived solution – Parrot phrase not paraphrase or you are in danger of stamping your opinion on the groups outcome.
  • Don’t let one person dominate the floor – Be good humoured and say ‘ thanks for that Bill I think you have made you point’ then move on quickly by asking someone for their viewpoint.
  • Disappearing down rabbit holes – keep the outcome in view and make sure that the conversation is moving in that direction. It is all too easy to become side tracked rather than focus on the point at hand.

With practise and repetition, these points should help you become a better facilitator. All that is required is a little confidence and practise.
Dare to Aspire

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