What great leaders and the Queen have in common

In the past week thousands queued in line waiting to pay their respects to Queen Elizabeth II’s coffin as it lay in state. Today a nation bids farewell as the state funeral for Queen Elizabeth II, Britain’s longest-reigning monarch is held in London. Queen Elizabeth II reigned for 70 years. Reflecting with a British friend on why republicans and royalists alike revered her, and what it is about her that inspired almost a million people to queue to pay their respects, lays the foundation for today’s blog.

Today’s topics:

– What great leaders and the Queen have in common
– Improve your job satisfaction – a self-coaching exercise
– Interpreting and integrating feedback at work
– Perception is reality – or is it?

What Great Leaders and the Queen have in Common

In a recent discussion with a British friend, I expressed my fascination that almost a million people had queued to see the Queen’s coffin lying in state. The fact that a whole nation and many beyond Britain’s borders felt such a strong connection to someone who they had never met. We reflected on what had made her so popular. The list we came up with included the following:

  • Dedicated to her role
  • Carefully curated public persona
  • Professional – absolute control of herself in public
  • Scandal-free
  • Gracious in all interactions
  • Longevity in role – she and her title were one

As we discussed this, my friend, who trains young teachers, told me she starts her first class with her students with this question “What did you really like about school and what did you hate, what did your worst teachers do and what did your best teachers do?” Once the students have answered this question, she says “Now tell me what type of teacher you want to be.”

My friend said that invariably the most popular teachers had common traits. Students said they most appreciated teachers who:

  • Were consistent and calm
  • Didn’t lose their tempers
  • Didn’t make public judgements
  • Were able to rise above situations

Consistently students said the teachers they liked best were those who stayed in their role, who didn’t confide in their students, who kept their public and private personas separate. Much like the Queen.

This is an exercise that is worth doing, whatever job you are in. So, now I ask you: “What did your best managers do? What did your worst managers do?” And even more importantly “What type of leader are you at the moment? And what type of leader do you want to be?”

Please share your responses with me; I am very interested to know what your thoughts are on this.

Improve Your job Satisfaction – A Self-Coaching Exercise

Most people I coach, most teams I work with, work in science related fields. Asked about themselves, their jobs, their work and home lives, they have nice, consistent logical responses, which have been shaped over a lifetime.

For this reason, I like to take questions away from the cerebral. I ask coachees to draw for me. As an example, a coachee once told me that her job is complex, and that most of the people she works with are not clear on what it is she actually does.

I asked her to draw me a picture. The drawing she made had many different teams, company departments, geographical areas, senior leadership teams etc. all connected with lines. The image ended up looking like a spider’s web of interdependencies. Hard for my coachee to keep track of, hard for me to understand. Her drawing illustrated why her business colleagues found it hard to understand her role.

Another example is from a conference I attended where we each drew our current work roles.

One image was so powerful it has stayed with me. A young professional in her early thirties had achieved rapid progression in her organisation. Telling us about it, she seemed astonished by her achievements. In her drawing she depicted herself sitting on a tree branch, high above the ground. It was clear that she had scaled the tree. The tree she had drawn had only a single branch, which was very high up, and no roots. A single huge thundercloud, in an otherwise clear sky, emanated bolts of lightning snaking down towards the branch she was seated on.

The way the tree was drawn, the absence of an easy ascent, the absence of roots, the threat of the branch being struck by lightning, this young professional was able to communicate her struggle in an image in a way she would never have been able to in words.

While ideally I would recommend doing this exercise with an executive coach, you can also benefit from doing it alone, and assessing it with your partner, a trusted co-worker or a friend. If you want to try this exercise yourself, here is how you would go about it:

Think about the different aspects of your job, the teams you work with, the roles you play, the people you report to. Draw yourself in your role. Draw a figure representing you in each role you play. There is no right or wrong way to draw this. Follow your instincts. Use colour, shading, add as much detail as you want but try to avoid using text. Use your imagination. Ideally do another drawing for your home life.

Remember you are your most important instrument. Understanding yourself, how you show up, why you show up the way you do, and knowing how to get the best out of yourself, while staying true to who you are, is I believe the key to happiness in all areas of life. Many people invest in holidays, training courses, new cars, new experiences, in the hope that these will enhance their life, instead of investing in the one area that will definitely enhance their lives, in themselves.

If you do this exercise, I would love to see your drawing. I will take 15 minutes to discuss these drawings with each of the first 10 people who send me a photograph of their drawing!

Interpreting and Integrating Feedback at Work

Years ago, I went from a customer facing role to an internal role working with internal teams. A commercial colleague came into my office and said to me “Congratulations, you must be so thrilled to no longer be working with customers”. I was taken aback, imagining that his perception of me, was that I disliked working with our clients. Before reacting, I remembered something a coach once said to me “People’s feedback often tells you more about them, than it does about you”. I asked my colleague “How about you, do you enjoy working with clients?” He looked at me aghast and said “No, truly dislike it, the longer I have been doing it, the more I dislike it. I am envious of you being able to change your role.”

Key insights from this interaction for me, remain, to this day; 1) you never know what someone else is thinking, it is best not to try to guess 2) people’s comments about you often tell you more about them than they do about you.

Feedback is always somebody’s perception, a snapshot of a moment in time. You are not somebody else’s feedback. It is worth taking things on board, considering whether you have been told the same thing more than once by different people, and whether you also recognize yourself in the information you are being given. At that point you can take the decision to integrate the feedback and to adapt how you engage for example – or not.

Perception is Reality – or is it?

At work we usually remain in one function for a longer period of time, so it is sometimes not easy to see a project we are championing from someone else’s perspective. When we are static, it is very easy to get wedded to a certain view of the world.

As many of you know I enjoy spending time on my bicycle. On a recent weekend I was slightly annoyed by the cars who blocked my path and the pedestrians who threw themselves in front of my bicycle without looking left nor right.

Later that day I was in my car, and amused myself, by discovering how irritated I was by the bicycles, who didn’t seem to care about any road signs, and the pedestrians, who threw themselves in front of my car with an apparent death wish and no zebra crossing in sight.

Later again, I was crossing the road with a friend, who is not very mobile. We picked a spot with no zebra crossing, as the closest one was a long walk for someone with mobility issues. Again, I found myself impatient with automobile drivers, who wouldn’t let us cross.

Depending on whether I was on a bicycle, in a car, or accompanying a pedestrian with mobility issues my assessment of a situation was dramatically different.

One individual, three comparable situations, three disparate perceptions. A great reminder of how a project is likely to be assessed very differently by different stakeholders in a company.

Worth reflecting on when you are presenting your next project.

I hope my blog provides you with some useful insights and, as ever, I look forward to hearing your thoughts. And if you have a challenging project or would like to discuss coaching to help you achieve that next level, please reach out for an informal chat.

Very best wishes

Isabelle C. Widmer

Photo by Ella Ivanescu on Unsplash