She got knocked down and she got up again

(Thanks to Chumbawamba for the title inspiration)

Resilience – the act of getting back up again (my definition!!)

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This blog is a bit of indulgence but a recognition of some fantastic “bouncebackability” from my wife Kathryn and I write this because I am really pleased for her and proud of how she has picked herself back up, and I wanted it to put into words! 

Kathryn has been bursting for a couple of weeks now, having being offered a new position and promotion in a local company but unable to say anything as her role fits into a larger reorganisation. Last night she kept me awake talking at me until 1pm, until I really needed to turn over and go to sleep.

She joined Matcon a year ago because we needed the money and some extra security of income. A local company who I knew from my pharmaceutical engineering days so we knew they had long term potential. So a role that she would not have chosen, but needs must, however with a clear balance of unknown potential or an opportunity to tough it out until something  better came along. She was also fighting the approaching 50, and “am I going to get another real job again”

Kathryn has held senior positions in Market Research and Consumer Insights working with Boots, Smithkline Beecham and Kraft Foods. A career many would be proud of. Except Kathryn who does not see herself as the same person others describe on her Linkedin profile – hardly a case of impostor syndrome, but a common story I guess of not understanding how you do what you do and appreciating your talents!

In between she has brought up two lovely boys (that’s what others tell us), gone through a confidence sapping redundancy, done some contract work, been a school governor and juggled a whole range of local committees. An ISTJ she gets things done, so when you want something doing you ask Kathryn – why do you think I married her!

(you know that horrible saying, when you want something doing give it to a busy person – well she’s that person – i think she’s getting tired of that now and starting to bite back!!!).

Conscious that she did not want to appear to be a “corporate princess” she did what she does best. Got her head down, worked hard and in her eyes won the right to challenge and influence.

So we come to today, and the announcement of a newly created position as Marketing Manager. An MD and Business Development Director that trust her and who see this as only the start of her career with them. She’s been given a small team and the opportunity to redo the whole marketing and promotional positioning, bring in social media, really target and develop a plan to achieve the challenging aspirational growth that the business desires.

Her excitement is infectious and to be honest in our 27 years I have never seen her so excited. Its not about about the money as its less than she’s earned before, but her motivation comes from the fact that someone believes in her, wants her and has the confidence that she can make a difference. Next week she does have the small challenge of a global sales conference in only her second week and expected to lead some sessions so as an ISTJ you can imagine where her head is right now 🙂

Quietly she’s been on twitter for some time and she plans to bring more social media to her new role. I think she sees that I have moved from the “faffing” stage and that there might be something in this stuff so if you are interested please connect with her for the moment at @crochetkate45 if you would like to say hello or talk about B2B marketing , mountain biking, gardening and crochet!!!!

The lessons for the rest of us from Kathryn’s news?

We can get up again, we are never too old, and all our experiences are in preparation for the next thing.

As she said “it feels like I have been training for this position all my life”.

Maybe she has?

The art of asking instead of telling, the humble inquiry.

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I wrote a blog before Christmas, which started to talk about dialogue with some loose connections to collaboration and innovation. The blog got great feedback, probably my best yet, so fuelled by positive feedback and further reflection I wish to continue the theme.

This blog was stimulated having stumbled upon a book by Edger H Schein – Helping. I am a fan of Schein and his work on process consulting and OD so duly brought the book. In the early pages, he talks about moving from our obsession in management to operate in a “tell” culture where we are too eager and rewarded for voicing our opinions to an “ask” culture. In those early pages the following definition shouted out at me:

“Humble Inquiry

Is the fine art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you do not already know the answer, of building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person”.

So what drew me to this definition? My work is largely based on coaching, leadership development and psychometric and behavioural feedback, and when I reflect on my work over the past 10 years, what I notice and often find myself feeding back or questioning is “I wonder what response you would have got if you had asked a question?”

For me this is not some simplistic you need to ask more questions blog, a bit like the coaches who say that you should only ask questions mantra. No the key for me is in Schein’s comment that’s its about curiosity, and for me, possibly more important, intent.

In my opinion, it’s the intent behind the action that’s more important than the action itself. If I am genuinely curious and interested in your thoughts, opinions and feelings, and do so because I want to build the relationship or improve something then whether I ask you a question, share my own thoughts, or tell you something then I’m practicing inquiry. My intent is to make something better for both of us, and that’s what drives my behaviour.

One of the behavioural competency frameworks I work with has a competency called “enabling openness”, and the competency is described over 5 levels. Level 1 is negative use of the behaviour, and Level 5 is the strategic use of the behaviour which essentially means that you use the behaviour in such a way that encourages others to use it, and that the practice becomes embedded in the way an organisation uses it. More than just words it’s about bringing it to life everyday and consistently.

The building block of the behaviour is the ability to ask open questions, to summarise and paraphrase in order to show they have understood the other person. We might call that empathy?

But for me what is more fundamental, is if we don’t practice this behaviour, with the intent to be curious, then how can we collaborate, be creative, innovate and facilitate our teams to empower them and dare I say the word “engage them”. Worse still, we wont make our businesses and organisations better, because after all that’s what pays our wages.

So using a phrase from the 90’s. Maybe its time to get back to basics and lets all of us seek to ask rather than to be too quick to tell.

Maybe we might even create something we could not have possibly imagined or dared before. Who knows?