Running in a Headwind

For the past couple of days, we’ve had really strong winds in Southern England. As a runner, I have noticed.

As a population, we spend so much time in the protection of our offices, homes or cars, we aren’t always aware of the changes in weather. But in the past few days, we’ve had gusts strong enough to rattle the car when you’re driving on an exposed part of the motorway. Winds this strong are hard to miss, so you can imagine that running in them isn’t easy.

On the first day of this weather, I came back from a run exhausted and discouraged. I had gone out to run a 5K and had come back missing the mark by almost half a kilometer. I was so hard on myself. I gave myself no credit for the fact that the weather wasn’t cooperative. Instead, I assumed I was just more tired than normal or that I needed to be more fit.

Later that day, I was at a client meeting and a strong gust picked up an outdoor table and blew it over. I only then acknowledged that my difficult run wasn’t entirely my fault.

As leaders, we sometimes work on projects where we feel like we’re running in a headwind. Things just aren’t going smoothly, we are not on schedule, and people aren’t delivering. Our energy lags, and we get discouraged and down. It’s easy to project this onto everything else and decide we don’t like our jobs, we aren’t happy in our work, or we aren’t successful. Or we blame ourselves for not having the skills or the smarts for the job. In actual fact, a change of project or environment can bring us renewed energy and allow us to perform at our best.

What headwinds are you running in? How can you find ways to turn around?

Working Outside the Box

I recently moved to a new house and, as part of that, moved office premises. Be Leadership is in a better space now, with more room for growth. I have a better desk, more shelving for files, and nicer view. It’s not fully set up yet but I already love it and am sure it will be a productive and creative working space.

What matters though is less the specifics of the space but the change. Creating a change in environment is a wonderful way to jump start your creativity and effectiveness. Even if you work from the library, or a coffee shop, or your garden for a day, you’ll find that breaking your normal routine allows more focus and fresh insights. Not only are you likely to have fewer interruptions, you can set aside quality time to think, reflect, write, or just work. It’s amazing what’s possible.

I have been lucky to spend most of my working career with organizations who support flexible working. As long as I get high-quality work done, my clients don’t mind (or know) where I am. I can be travelling, sitting on my sofa or waiting for my daughter in the car as I check my email. This was true in my past corporate life as well. While this requires discipline to ensure I am not working and on-call 24/7, it also allows a wonderful level of autonomy over how I structure my work and life. I am not alone in having this level of flexibility: According to the Institute of Leadership and Management, 94% of UK organisations offer employees some form of flexible working, and 73% of managers say that their organizations are largely supportive of it. But even if we have it, we don’t always take advantage of this option.

One of my colleagues recently sent me a link to an organization that is connecting hosts and ‘office riders‘ who want to find room for co-working, a meeting or event space or even a creative venue for a photo shoot. Their proposal is that professionals can connect with hosts who have under-used space in private places, allowing you to work wherever and whenever you want. Their current options include Sophie’s living room, Sebastian’s rooftop and Yann’s connected caravan. Sadly OfficeRiders appears to be largely French based, so I can’t register my new walled garden or look for local homes to escape to for my next UK offsite just yet. But the concept is so good.

Whether you are stuck in an office cubicle or even lucky enough to have a cool modern workspace that you haven’t ventured outside of in a while, I encourage you to start the year right and break out of the box to try a new working space. You’ll be amazed at how much you can achieve.

Day 30 Connection Challenge: Establish a New Habit

In his book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg describes three steps to forming a new habit: We pick a “Cue” (or reminder), choose a “Reward” for when we are successful with our new behaviour, then execute the “Routine” or in simple terms, we practice the behaviour to get the reward. Think about the 30 challenges we completed this month today and pick one you can make a habit. #socialleadership #connectionchallenge

Day 29 Connection Challenge: Be Interested, Not Interesting

When we listen, we often are trying to think of the next clever question we can ask. Or worse, our minds are wandering on to new topics. Practice active listening today. Focus on really understanding what is being said and try repeating back what you hear. #becurious #bepresent #connectionchallenge

Day 28 Connection Challenge: Check Your Body Language

Nonverbal communication makes a big difference in how people perceive and relate to you. Uncross your arms. If you keep your posture relaxed, inclusive and open, your team will respond by being more positive, aligned and productive. #beinclusive #connectionchallenge

Day 27 Connection Challenge: Take a Deep Breath

Before you head into your next important meeting or conversation, take a deep breath, in through your nose and out through your mouth. In addition to providing other health benefits, it will release the tension in your neck and make you appear less aggressive. #beauthentic #bepresent #connectionchallenge

Day 26 Connection Challenge: Smile More

Smiling lowers our heart rate, reduces stress levels and boosts our endorphins, putting us in a better mood and eliciting smiles from those around us. #begiving #connectionchallenge

Day 25 Connection Challenge: Ask a Naive Question

Toddlers ask their parents an average of 100 questions a day. But by adulthood, we have nearly stopped asking questions altogether. In school and work, we are often rewarded for having the answer, but actually questions not only increase creativity and innovation, they improve relationships. Try it. Ask a naïve question today. #becurious #connectionchallenge

Day 24 Connection Challenge: Make an Introduction

Do you know two people who would benefit from knowing each other? Making introductions can both help those in your network and create value. First ask permission, then take the time to craft an email sharing the unique strengths of each person and explaining why you feel they should meet. #begiving #connectionchallenge

Day 23 Connection Challenge: Ask for Feedback

Asking for feedback may make us feel vulnerable, but it also can increase trust levels in an organization. Opening up also may accelerate our development: When we share the skills we’re focused on building with others, research says we improve more quickly. #betransparent #beauthentic #connectionchallenge