Key success factors in any change program is to determine ‘quick wins.’

“Good things come to those who wait.” It is a saying that we are all used to, but sometimes in business quick wins are equally important.

This week I (Ak Sabbagh) was delighted to be invited to speak to a dozen or so CEOs as part of Bruce Fielding’s CEO Institute chapter here in Perth.  The topic was about not wasting a good crisis and using the time to be innovative and creative in your business.

We agreed that innovation does not mean that the business has to invent the cure for cancer or a new revolutionary app.  Indeed, many of the CEOs present were able to share how smaller innovations (like changes to current products and services, and tweaks to processes) have helped them to remain “business fit” in uncertain times.

With innovation comes ‘change.’ Change is an interesting thing – and right now, for many of us it feels like we are experiencing ‘change fatigue.’  Who isn’t exhausted by the amount of change that we are experiencing either directly or indirectly at the moment?

This led us to a conversation on our personal relationship with ‘change’ itself.  How do you feel about change?  For some, it is an exciting opportunity to challenge, create and grow.  For many, the mere thought of change brings up fears.  The fear of loss of control or agency, the loss of security and certainty, etc.

It turns out that these fears stem from deep seated chemistry within our brains.  In recent conversations with applied neuroscientists Lyra Puspa and Dr Paul Brown, I learned that our brains are naturally ‘lazy’ and love habit because it preserves energy.  This trait is essentially a key to survival.  Brains learn to become lazy by creating habits.  And as we get conditioned to those habits, (i.e. become creatures of habit), this reduces how much energy the brain exerts on doing things.

It’s why we look at systemising processes and creating procedures in what we do.

But there are times where we need to change the systems or the processes.  That means we need to change our habits, and our natural tendency is to resist the change.  Why? Because it means our brains have to work more to learn the new way of doing things.  This works at the most fundamental level – can you recall the agitation created the last time an invited guest sat at your dinner table in ‘your spot’ or your 2nd child’s usual chair?  Breaking the norm challenges us.

So one of the key success factors in any change program is to determine ‘quick wins.’  Incremental changes that move us towards the ultimate goal without a need to make major shifts all at once create an environment where ‘quick wins’ get associated with positive rewards (I guess that’s why they call them ‘wins’). A quick win sets off good chemistry in the brain.  Small, incremental, habit forming changes that are positively reinforced set off ‘liking’ and ‘wanting’ chemical markers of motivation (opioids and dopamine).  In contrast, change that cause negative reinforcements sets off cortisol – a key stress marker.

So, what are the innovations you are introducing that are creating positive motivations? Creating new, constructive habits? We’d like to know what’s been going on with you in your business.

Join us this coming Friday 21st August at 9am WST with other business leaders and owners for a Zoom conversation to discuss what we’ve collectively learned, what we take forward, leave behind, and how we Find a New Balance.

Join us to Find a New Business Balance, click here to register now.

Ak Sabbagh

Coach & Mentor

Director

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Making lemonade from the Covid-19 lemon

As business coaches and mentors, my colleague Margaret Armitage and I are often asked by clients and contacts “what are you seeing ‘out there?’.” Over the past 6 months of our shared Covid-19 winter in Australia, we have lost count of how many times this question has been asked.

Our response feels somewhat ‘bi-polar.’  It all depends on what lens you see the world through and how you interpret that input.  We do see the tough side of how some businesses are not coping well, but in the main we are experiencing and seeing positive outcomes.

Part of the reason for this is that, as generally positive people, we tend to attract clients who are optimistic by nature, are open to learning and growth, possess a ‘on-purpose’ mindset, and have a creative ‘open’ quality about them.

When I shared this observation with a client last week, her response was “So I guess you’d call yourself a ‘glass half full’ person, then?”  My response: “Well that depends…”

I find the “glass half full/empty” analogy problematic as it never really considers CONTEXT.  And context determines (consciously or unconsciously) so much.

With respect to the glass, we must consider its purpose.  What is the glass for? If it is for beer, then for a beer enthusiast, half full OR half empty is not a good situation – it’s only a half a glass of beer.  If it is half full it will be too full for a red wine lover.  And if cognac is your thing, then the glass is most certainly over full – even at half.

You can apply the same logic to most things.  When it is raining, is that good or bad weather?  It’s great if you are on the farm and need rain, and not so great if you promised the kids a camping weekend!  In the end it’s a judgement call on a situation, and in the same way we judge anything as ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ our attitude and perspective/context dictates the outcome.

The “glass half full/empty” concept is often used as an analogy to describe a person as being either an optimist or a pessimist.  Australian research just released by the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute  shows a link between pessimism about the future and a greater risk of dying earlier.  It showed that, on average, participants who scored higher on pessimism were likely to die two years earlier than optimists.  Interestingly, a highly optimistic perspective did not show extended life expectancy above the average life expectancy.

Regardless, what I take out of the research is that while you may not live longer than average by adopting a positive/optimistic attitude towards life, business, and the world at large, it certainly doesn’t hurt.  And when we work with positive, and optimistic business owners, we witness incredible creative energy that spins off opportunity and a sense of Agency (refer to Margaret’s blog last week) and certainty in a world that for others seems out of control.

It’s time to stop thinking about how bad (or in some cases, good) the whole Covid-19 situation is – enough energy is wasted there already.  Instead, if we simply acknowledge that it is what it is and ask how we can make the most of it, then we can begin to see a way out.

So what are we seeing out there? We are seeing optimistically minded business owners making lemonade from a pretty bitter lemon.  Among other things we see them:

  1. Redefine their businesses, seeing growth in new markets that were unavailable to them only 4 months ago.
  2. Learn more about themselves and their personal relationship with “change” and “risk,” often surprising us with bold moves to expand when competitors have shuttered up.
  3. Take stock of Covid-19 Lockdown #1 – learning and determining what they will take forward, leave behind, or adapt if and when Covid-19 Lockdown #2 occurs.
  4. Be real about the situation – not being over-optimistic and betting on a cure-all vaccine by Christmas (although wouldn’t that be great), instead, they are pragmatic and prudent in their planning for what may be.

Above all they are not waiting for a ‘new normal’ to form.  They are pro-actively creating, defining, and shaping the new normal for themselves and their businesses.

What are you seeing out there? What have you heard?  What have you learnt?

We would love to know…

Are you waiting for a ‘new normal’ to form or are you pro-actively creating, defining, and shaping a new normal for yourself and your business?

If you belong to the optimists doing the latter, then please join us on 21st August at 9am WST with other business leaders and owners for a Zoom conversation to discuss what we’ve collectively learned, what we take forward, leave behind, and how we Find a New Balance.

Join us to Find a New Business Balance, click here to register now.

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How distance can improve business fitness in an era of social distancing

Last year my work colleague Ak Sabbagh, who often has moments of startling wisdom, wrote a blog about the similarity between Astronoauts and Business Coaches in which he explained that the gift they both have is PERSPECTIVE. To quote from Ak’s blog –

It is a phenomenon called the “overview effect” – described by space philosopher and author Frank White as “seeing the Earth from a distance, and realising the inherent unity and oneness of everything… The viewer moves from identification with parts of the Earth to identification with the whole system.”

The “Overview Effect” was brought back down to earth in COVID-19 and became a powerful exercise regime for keeping our coaching business and our clients’ businesses fit during lockdown. Lockdown caused society and businesses everywhere to cease ‘business-as-usual’ and stay still, whilst keeping on going – and that was the challenge that sent our minds and feelings into turmoil.

What immediately emerged, no matter how aware and well coached we were, was a reactive response of – ‘well that means I can’t do the things that keep me and my business healthy anymore, so I’ll just have to get fat and unhealthy!’ As a collective we felt disempowered because we were ‘prevented’ from making our own choices.

According to neuroscience, funny things happen in the brain, when we feel like this – and we probably don’t need neuroscience to tell us that, do we!  Our brain loves ‘autopilot’ and feels mighty uncomfortable when things aren’t ‘normal’, as Lyra Puspa, leadership coach and neuroscientist explained to me. In practice the brain unconsciously feels secure when the past, present and future are connected.

One client told me how helpless he felt when lockdown was announced and swimming pools closed because his ‘normal’ exercise regime is a 5am swim three times a week. This keeps his body, particularly his back, fit. He blamed the government for making him ‘fat and unhealthy’. In desperation he decided to try a new exercise, walking, allowed under the COVID-19 regulations. He found it wasn’t too bad, although it was slow and not really keeping him fit. He needed to jog, but knew he couldn’t because his knees wouldn’t stand it. However, he tried it once and came back feeling invigorated and no sore knees. Now he is jogging his way through COVID-19, staying fit to emerge from lockdown with a new level of fitness and equipped if this situation comes back.

What is happening from a neuroscience perspective is that to manage the discomfort caused by being prevented from swimming, the brain looked for things that in the past have provided security. This is called Attachment – and the past things we are attached to affect the present and will flow through to the future.

However, the brain is stimulated by new things and also likes familiar or old things. New things, different behaviours can be exhausting for the brain as they demand energy. Therefore, the brain attaches to Familiar patterns because it requires less energy when changes take place. The attachment to something that worked in the past and is familiar, makes us think we are in control of the situation and have Agency. Our brain tells us it’s okay, “I know what is going on here, even if things are different out there”. This is called Certainty and is what helps our brains grow. Uncertainty gives rise to fear which shrinks our brain, as Lyra explained it. Hence, my client’s reaction to changes with lockdown can be explained by neuroscience. His past attachment to swimming and feeling of helplessness when it was taken away by  government lockdown, in the present made him view the future as fat and unhealthy.

The same applies in our business lives. One client, a business owner of a highly skilled dental practice was significantly impacted because her industry was the first to be totally shut-down when COVID-19 emerged. Despite having the initial response of ‘What are we expected to do NOW???’ this client decided to use a low-energy activity, to ‘go digital’. This felt a bit like walking as an exercise, it wasn’t really making the business fit, just keeping things moving. This client extended her energy to keeping ‘business-fit’ by building her leadership team and strengthening them to lead the practice out of lockdown, fitter and stronger than ever. Now that the business can return to it’s pre-COVID business regime, there is a new energy in the place and a strong and well-equipped leadership team to manage things back to normal.

In this new normal of unknown, uncertain times, as we move out of lockdown, we can stay fit and healthy by adjusting our view from focus on the individual parts of our business, to view this from above, looking at the entire business system itself and strengthen and develop the parts that make the whole strong.

In this age of social distancing, creating a space which allows you to objectively consider your business is a healthy move towards Finding a New Business Balance.

If you don’t want to wait around until the ‘new normal’ is dictated upon you, but you do want to pro-actively create,  define and shape the new normal for yourself and your business, then join us on 21st August at 9am with other business leaders and owners for a Zoom conversation to discuss what we’ve collectively learned, what we take forward, leave behind, and how we Find a New Balance.

Join us to Find a New Business Balance , click here to register now

Margaret Armitage

Coach & Mentor

Beckon Business

 

 

 

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Brains, Drains and Webinars: How a Leader’s Brain Works in the Virtual Covid19 World

Margaret Armitage, 22nd April 2020

Amongst the flood of valuable online material, webinars, zoom meetings that make up life in COVID-19, there are one or two that have really resonated and bring a whole new awareness to me as a Leadership Coach (and a person, dare I say) in both an online world and when we return to ‘normal’.

The first that resonated was a revelation for me at a personal level regarding my own energy, or lack of! Many of us – me, my clients, colleagues and friends and family are feeling more exhausted being locked down, working from home, which is strange when you think about it because I for one expected to have so much more time and be more  relaxed without travel (in the air or on the ground) to fit into my life, or to negotiate my time around grandchildren’s school runs, or an exercise class or a myriad of things.

Well, it isn’t as I expected!

The online environment is more demanding – this new intimacy significantly amplifies the need for those in leadership to be present and expand our awareness. In other words, we need to stay focussed, we cant doodle, check social media or let our minds wander and then plug back in. It is more demanding because we are “missing many of the environmental and personal visual cues which enable us to easily speak or present face-to-face”.

I learnt this in a post from Claire Braund, Executive Director of Women on Boards, “The ON-switch is never OFF in this new World of Work”

The message to take from this is that our brains are working in a different way which accounts for some of the exhaustion we are feeling and we need to develop extra muscles used to build intimacy and presence at the same time as we are managing other tasks, such as checking the ‘chats’ and questions in our zoom meeting , ‘admitting’ people to the meeting, helping out those who ‘can’t get on’ –  all this whilst remaining fully engaged with the webinar we are running and of course – looking into the camera. It can be exhausting!!

The second amazing series of revelations came from an equally incredible woman, Lyra Puspa a neuroscientist and leadership coach who gave a webinar titled “Decoding the neuroscience of Leaders” or in my lay terms “How do Leaders Minds Work?”

The first significant fact that I discovered is that even when we aren’t using them our brain consumes around 20% of our energy! Which explains why this new world of work which demands much more brain activity is causing leaders to feel drained.

Another amazing insight from Lyra was the impact that stress and lack of sleep can have on our leadership brain’s mechanism. Now we all might know this intuitively and even have experience it, but Lyra explained why. The mechanism our brain follows when making decisions are almost involuntary – we have Fast, intuitive thinking 95% of the time and Slow, reflective thinking only 5% of the time. It is much easier to think Fast, like being on autopilot than it is to Slow down and be deliberate and intentional. When we are tired our default is Fast thinking – although we might feel like we are slow!

In addition to that we have two distinctly different Thinking Neural networks to inform our decision-making. The two networks cannot work at the same time – the DMN (Default Mode Network) manages the Relational thinking for feelings, empathy,other-centered information whilst the TPN (Task Positive Network ) manages Rational thinking, based on judgement, task, action and goal oriented neural activity.

Therefore, leaders cant work on a Financial Report and actively support the emotional needs of staff at the same time. It is impossible for our brains to do this.  Switching from one network to another quickly and easily is what leadership is about.  If we have had a bad night’s sleep or are stressed and anxious we will flip too quickly into Rational/Judgemental TPN thinking and may even show up as more racist or harsh in our decision-making.

 

Finally, leadership isn’t located in one part of the brain, however, there are two hormones, testosterone and cortisol, that influence our leadership style.  These hormones are present in everyone but the aim is to have higher Testosterone levels to help us be inspiring, fearless leaders and lower Cortisol levels to keep us healthy. Cortisol, sometimes called the ‘stress’ hormone blocks testosterone and reduces our immune systems. Studies show that high performing leaders have high testosterone, are resilient, bounce-back easily and see stress and failure as just another event. Whilst low performing leaders have high cortisol and take failure very seriously. Lyra’s research showed that cortisol reduces when we are at peace and in a deep reflective state and testosterone lifts. Brain measurements showed that during facilitated leadership coaching leaders can move into a deeply reflective state that induces a mindful state, similar to deep meditation in Buddhist monks. Following this deeply reflective state, an ‘aha moment’ frequently occurs resulting in transformational change. As a leadership coach, I hope for that for  all my clients.

So, it isn’t just an old wives tale that sleep and reflection builds strong leaders – It is proven by neuroscience that good rest, good food and mindfulness build up the muscles in our leaders brains helping us lead through difficult times. Please look after yourselves.

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Vacuum bigger killer than the Virus?

Just got off the “Zoomiverse” from countless calls to clients and contacts this morning.  Key themes coming out are around keeping staff connected and engaged, motivated and focussed.

What I’ve heard is that younger staff who haven’t experienced a major downturn or calamity, displacement, war or existential threat are really struggling.  And in some organisations the “end users” – i.e. front-line staff are not being communicated with enough right now.  The term “being treated like mushrooms” is being used a bit.  It’s probably because leaders don’t want to ‘throw more s**t onto the pile right now,’ and I get that.  But communication is our secret weapon in this fight.

One of the true signs of effective leadership is to know that you can be vulnerable.  In fact, it is that very vulnerability that leads to creativity.

Being able to say “I don’t know…” is a real leadership strength and in our experience leads to a very open and honest conversations that brings a whole team along.  We also know the power of a collective goes well beyond the sum of its parts.  Shared ideas, wisdom and insights from a team most times lead to great ideas and initiatives.

During this time please remember that a vacuum of communication and connection with your people and teams will be a bigger killer than any virus.  Vacuums kill confidence. Vacuums beget noise that is not constructive.  Vacuums suck the life out of your personal and commercial brand.

So how do you bring atmosphere to the vacuum? I don’t know!  I asked around and here are a few ideas that have come about from not knowing:

  • Make time to connect right now. Yes, you are busy, but connect right now.
  • Create Friday “happy hours from home” to connect with your people over a drink (because no one likes drinking home alone).
  • Diarise 2-3 times in the week where all teams can connect online with no agendas – it’s a virtual coffee machine chat.
  • Create internal buddy systems for people to support one another. Structure it. Leaving it to be organic won’t work. Structure creates purpose and beats confusion.
  • If you are a ‘shy’ leader who really isn’t comfortable in the front line, this is your time to step up, adapt and get out of your own way. Be present, vulnerable and real.

Create the atmosphere.

Seek the innate wisdom from within.

 

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What business coaching and space travel have in common

Feature photo:Photo Courtesy NASA

Written by Ak Sabbagh.

 

An article in the Weekend edition of The Australian Financial Review by Chief Executive of CSIRO’s Data61, Adrian Turner got me thinking about the work we do with our clients at Beckon Business.

We are often asked about how we “do” business coaching and what are its benefits.   This is relatively hard to articulate as each client uses business coaching in a different way. When they really take advantage of what we offer, it is not uncommon to measure average economic returns on investment somewhere between 7-13 times. The non-commercial and personal benefits are often immeasurable, with comments like “I’ve got my life back in balance” or “I am spending more time with my kids and family” or “I don’t get as stressed out anymore.”

Turner’s article was about the world environment and the threats we as a species are facing.  He suggested that we take an astronaut’s perspective of the situation.

What is Turner talking about? It is a phenomenon called the “overview effect” – described by space philosopher and author Frank White as “seeing the Earth from a distance, and realising the inherent unity and oneness of everything… The viewer moves from identification with parts of the Earth to identification with the whole system.”

I was unaware that this was a “thing” despite having had the opportunity some years back to sit at dinner with Captain Dan Brandenstein who flew four shuttle missions.  He described how seeing the Earth as an entire system, it’s fragility, the intensity of the stars, etc. as a life-changing experience.  It gave him a new perspective on life.  The Overview Effect.

It’s the same perspective that we give our clients.

In many ways the role of a business coach is to help an entrepreneur and his/her partners gain the overview effect on their business.  We regularly get comments like “I’ve never seen my business this way before.” “It’s like the fog’s been cleared…”

How do we do this? We use a coaching style to help our clients sit above it all and consider the context of their situation – rather than sitting in the situation itself.  We use proven frameworks and tools to engage in discussions that elevate our client’s perspective of their business, processes, leadership and communication styles, people, goals and aspirations to new levels.  We are always innovating new approaches to help our clients get the “overview effect” they need to realise that the solution was always with them – it’s just that they were standing too close to see it.

Why do we do this? Because, regardless of the size or style of their business, we love working with the highfliers in business who want to enhance their experience of being “in business.”

 

 

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Leadership – When ‘rolling up your sleeves’ can send the wrong message

Oil pump at sunset

The business of oil and gas is, arguably, one of the most complex environments to operate in. The challenging global economic and market situation, together with having to maintain safety, drive cost efficient operations, and focus on innovation puts more demands on leaders than ever before. With all of these internal and external factors happening faster than ever, it can be difficult for the modern leader to not act reactively to what is going on.

To meet these complex challenges head on, the majority of leaders look to build their capability by amassing more ‘tools’ and ‘skills.’ Ironically there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that the evolution of leadership lies on focusing ‘internally’ rather than on externally. To go within and explore the realm of ‘mindset.’

The theory goes that leaders need to understand more fully their own internal ‘operating system’ and how this system shapes the view of the world they live and work in. To use an analogy, it has been likened to equating the complexity of the industry to the full functionality of the latest Microsoft program being run with the skill-set of the leader running a DOS based operating system. You just cannot run today’s applications on old operating systems.

So to ‘upgrade’ the leadership operating system, one has to take a deep dive, and upgrade what lies within. Most importantly, that deep dive needs to focus on a leader’s awareness of themselves, their behaviours and the language that they use and bring into work every day.

Aware leaders know that it is the ‘small things’ they do which creates the climate and culture of an organisation. They also know that it is what is NOT done or said that gets noticed.

Self-aware leaders know that the standard they ‘walk by’ becomes the new standard. For example, we know that safety is a core value and focus within the industry. Let’s say that the safety rule on-site is to work with ‘sleeves rolled down and buttoned’ and the leader (unconsciously) appears on site – even for a moment – with sleeves rolled up. It can send the wrong message that it is ‘ok’ to be relaxed on that rule.

The need for this level of awareness requires a conscious and mindful commitment by the leader to act, talk, and behave in the same way that he or she expects everyone around them to.

Armed with a deeper understanding of self, the leader is able to use his or her energy to create a climate for staff to excel and to be connected to the vision and outcomes of the business. And that builds a culture of engagement, success and innovation.

The links between a leader’s mindset, culture and overall employee engagement (engagement being defined by the Corporate Leadership Council as ‘the extent to which employees commit both rationally and emotionally to something or someone in their organisation’ – i.e. discretionary effort), is the focus of a five year longitudinal research project in Australia and New Zealand. The “Thank God it’s Monday” Project measures the links between “employee engagement scores” and the capabilities of the management and leadership within organisations. The research seeks to find the answer to two questions: “What organisational capability reinforces a highly engaged workforce?” and “What role does the leadership team play in determining engagement?”

Given that recent Gallup research in the USA found that only 30% of workers and 35% of managers considered themselves engaged (all this despite the fact that the annual spend on traditional employee engagement initiatives tops $1 Billion in the USA alone), the research set out to identify what was missing.

Year – on – year the research results show conclusively that leader behaviours and the belief in the leadership team makes a huge difference in employee engagement.

Leadership mindset matters. Where leaders were perceived to be ‘reactive,’ less than 10% of employees were highly engaged. Conversely where leaders were perceived as being ‘connected to purpose,’ effective, and more fully aware of their impact, 72% of employees were highly engaged.

And the Number ONE capability that highly engaged organisations focus on to gain and maintain high engagement? – ‘Culture and Values.’ Importantly the research also reveals that this only occurs where engagement, culture and ‘living the values’ strategies are owned by the leadership team and not outsourced to HR to ‘fix.’

In the trying times that face the oil and gas industry, the challenge for leaders is to broaden their understanding of ‘self’ and how their personal awareness can profoundly impact commercial outcomes. Today, ‘mindset’ needs to be added to the mix in order to augment the ‘tool-set’ and ‘skill-set’ that any great leader brings to the industry.

The aware leader consciously and mindfully knows when to roll their sleeves up and when to keep them firmly buttoned down.

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