Got advice?

Got advice?

Gary Burnison is CEO of Korn Ferry and author of Lose the Resume, Land the Job. For more information, see KFAdvance.com.

“Can I pick your brain?”

Five words that make up the most thoughtless, irritating and generic way to ask for advice — and any person who is a rock star in their industry has heard it more than a dozen times.

The phrase, while well-intentioned, is overused, vague and way too open-ended. When conversations start this way, there’s no telling where it’ll go or how long it’ll take.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for giving — and receiving — advice. Offering advice is a sign of good leadership, and asking for advice is a sign of intelligence. If the exchange goes well, both parties benefit.

“The whole interaction is a subtle and intricate art. It requires emotional intelligence, self-awareness, restraint, diplomacy and patience,” Harvard Business School professors Joshua D. Margolis and David A. Garvin wrote in a 2015 Harvard Business Review article.

But the process can derail in many ways. It can quickly lead to “frustration, decision gridlock, subpar solutions, frayed relationships and thwarted personal development,” according to Margolis and Garvin.

To avoid those consequences, here’s some guidance on how to ask for advice without annoying the other person:

Start with a positive tone

The way you initiate the conversation is everything. Instead of starting with, “Can I pick your brain,” shift the language to a more positive tone.

When in doubt, I recommend: “I’d love your advice.” No-frills, friendly and simple.

Identify the type of advice you’re seeking

Immediately after your opening line, address the topic of your problem in the form a question.

In order to craft a question with great precision, ask yourself: What type of advice am I seeking? What does my problem involve? What are my desired outcomes?

Below are the four general types of advice, according to Garvin and Margolis’ research:

Type of advice: Discrete
What it involves: Exploring options for a single decision
Desired outcomes: Recommendations in favor of or against specific options
Example question: “Where should we build the new factory — in China, Brazil or Eastern Europe?”

Type of advice: Counsel
What it involves: Providing guidance on how to approach a complex or unfamiliar situation
Desired outcomes: A framework or process for navigating the situation
Example question: “How should I handle my domineering supervisor?”

Type of advice: Coaching
What it involves: Enhancing skills, self-awareness and self-management
Desired outcomes: Task proficiency; personal and professional development
Example question: “How can I work more collaboratively with my peers?”

Type of advice: Mentoring
What it involves: Providing opportunities, guidance and protection to aid career success
Desire outcomes: A relationship dedicated to building and sustaining professional and personal effectiveness and to career advancement
Example question: “How can I get more exposure for my project?”

Just the other day, someone approached me for guidance, and her execution was perfect: “I’d love your advice. My company is asking me to relocate. There are several factors to consider and I’m not sure if I should do it. Do you have 45 minutes to chat?”

Forty-five minutes is a lot, I know, but I appreciated the fact that she acknowledged it would be a longer conversation. I happily blocked off some time on my calendar and we ended up talking for an hour.

Come prepared with specific details

As you move further into the conversation, it’s important to clearly define the problem. Otherwise, you’re doing what I like to call a “bait-and-switch.”

(This is another reason why you should never ask to pick someone’s brain; it makes the other person assume that the exchange will only take a few minutes. But more often than not, it ends up being a deep dive.)

According to Margolis and Garvin, when you don’t come prepared with specific details about your problem, you’re more likely to end up “telling a lengthy, blow-by-blow story” that might cause the advice giver to tune out, lose focus or misidentify the core problem that needs solving.

Simply put, don’t come into the conversation empty-handed. Put realistic guardrails on the conversation and include any essential background information that your advisor might not be familiar with. Providing specific details also keeps the conversation pleasant and interesting.

Ask the right person

Several field studies have discovered that advice seekers are more likely to ask for guidance from people they feel comfortable with, like a close friend or family member.

“Though friendship, accessibility and non-threatening personalities all impart high levels of comfort and trust, they might have no relation to the quality or thoughtfulness of the advice,” Margolis and Garvin wrote. This is especially true if you’re seeking career-related advice.

Think creatively about the expertise you need. Who will bring in the most valuable insight? Who has the most knowledge that’s relevant to your problem?

For example, if you’re asking a seasoned CEO for advice involving your personal life, don’t expect to have lunch with Yoda. Your advisor is offering up valuable time to listen and provide professional feedback, not to hear you vent for an hour.

Got Coach?

Got Coach?

The stigma of asking for or being assigned an executive coach is vanishing quickly. The growth of the industry tells us so. In the U.S. alone, $1 billion was spent on business, personal and relationship coaches last year, according to IbisWorld, up about 20% from five years earlier. And the number of business coaches worldwide has zoomed more than 60% since 2007, according to one coaching association. But while executive coaches have improved the performance of many already-good managers and sanded the rough edges off many less effective ones, they aren’t a miracle cure. In fact, we have seen many companies waste considerable sums by assigning coaches to managers who just aren’t ready to be coached, no matter how effective the coaches may be.

So how do those who control the coaching purse strings — HR, talent managers, and other buyers — avoid throwing money away on uncoachable executives? Considering that a year’s engagement with a top executive coach can cost more than $100,000, it’s an important question.

From nearly 35 years of coaching hundreds of executives, our firm has noticed a pattern of red flags that indicate when a coaching investment will be wasted. Here are four things to watch out for:

1. They blame external factors for their problems.

When things go wrong, does this person always have an excuse? Maybe they point a finger at the quality of their team, a lack of resources, or even their boss.

When leaders argue about the validity of your reasons for offering coaching, or offer excuses or defenses for poor results, it can be a sign that they lack self-awareness. Before any coaching can be effective, they need to wake up to the ways their actions affect others.

One CEO we worked with was known for his smart turnarounds of a large media company. But he was struggling to get along with his executive team. Finally, several board directors suggested he should seek out a coach. After multiple sessions, he had shared little information about himself, and we were no closer to figuring out the root of the problem. Stymied, we suggested that we observe the next executive team meeting.

Suddenly, all was clear. We were shocked by how he controlled the conversation in the room. He simply spoke over other people with a volume of words that was unfathomable. When he left the room to take a call, his team members erupted with frustration. It was obvious that this CEO was completely out of touch — something that became even more apparent later on, when he asked us to tell the board how positively he was responding to coaching.

Leaders like this often ignore criticism if it doesn’t jibe with their view of themselves — and such feedback is easy to ignore if it’s buried in a performance review or mentioned briefly in a larger conversation. Conducting a non-judgmental, just-the-facts 360-degree review could help them see the reality of their situation. Until they can see what others see and why it matters, they won’t examine their behavior, and coaching will be useless.

2. You can’t get on their calendar.

Some leaders claim to be receptive to coaching but just can’t find the time. They may cancel sessions at the last minute, constantly reschedule, or, when they do show up, be visibly distracted. They lack space for coaching both in their calendar, and in their mind.

Unlike the oblivious leader, the too-busy leader is often quite likable. They will apologize for being hard to pin down, and be very direct about how busy they are. Don’t be surprised if they’re flattered to be offered coaching. But coaching can’t be crammed into the schedule of a leader who wears their busy-ness as a badge of honor. Their inability to prioritize is a sign they need coaching, but their unwillingness to make room for it suggests they won’t be a good coaching investment.

A brilliant engineer we know had been promoted three times in four years, and by the time he was nearly 30 he was a group president at a U.S. manufacturing company. Diligent, humble, and smart, he could hold a room spellbound with only a marker and a whiteboard as he worked out solutions to highly technical problems. However, as adept as he was at the technical aspects of his job, he now had 20 people reporting to him whom he had no idea how to manage.

After three months of coaching, his superiors could see it was going nowhere. The executive often rescheduled his sessions, telling his coach he didn’t have the time. He believed he couldn’t set aside the time to improve himself. That made him uncoachable.

HR managers should do some reality testing to ensure the too-busy leader is willing to make room for coaching. To benefit from coaching, too-busy leaders must make the space to be fully present, both during the coaching sessions and after, doing the difficult work of developing new mindsets, skills, and habits. Ask this person what tasks or responsibilities they’d be willing to give up or delegate, even temporarily, to make time for coaching. If they struggle to think of any, give them a gentle but firm ultimatum as part of a career planning conversation: that they have plateaued at the company and won’t go to the next level until they make time for self-development.

3. They focus too much on tips and tactics.

Some leaders eagerly agree to coaching, but then avoid the deeper inquiries required for meaningful transformation. They’re willing to modify behaviors, but not beliefs. They view coaching as medicine that, if taken regularly, will help them get ahead.

The quick-fix leader becomes frustrated when their coach asks questions that require self-reflection. They want answers, not questions. “You’re the expert, you tell me,” they’ll say in response to questions from the coach, or “What if I did this?” Everything comes back to tactics. (A related warning sign is if a leader asks how quickly the coaching can be finished — especially if they demand that the cycle be compressed.)

Although coaches sometimes offer suggestions, their real job is to help executives uncover the assumptions driving their behavior. Only then can a coach help them challenge self-limiting beliefs that block their development. However, the quick-fix leader has little interest in this process.

One CEO we worked with was leading a family business that had recently been sold to a large company. He was told by a leader in the new parent company (who himself had benefitted from coaching) that coaching would help him make the transition. The CEO gladly accepted, wanting to be seen as a peer.

However, it wasn’t long into the first coaching session that he showed his entire focus was on “doing whatever other successful people did.” The coach worked tirelessly to shift the conversation to the CEO’s purpose and goals. Each time, however, he shifted the discussion back to the “secrets of success” of other organizational leaders he wanted to emulate. Ultimately, he was passed over for a permanent role on the parent company’s leadership team, and left the organization.

To prompt this kind of leader to be open to self-reflection, remind them of all the other times they vowed to change but were unsuccessful. They then might realize they need to work on more than just changing their game plan. Or, introduce them into a preliminary mentoring conversation with one of the leaders they admire. Tell the mentor to share their experience of struggling to develop.

4. They delay getting started with a coach to “do more research” or “find the right person.”

To be sure, it’s important to have a good fit between a leader and his coach. But a continual rejection of qualified coaches should give you pause. A related red flag is if the person is acting confused, and asking repeatedly why coaching has been suggested. Assuming you’ve clearly explained why coaching is necessary, this could be a defense mechanism and a signal that the person is not ready to confront their shortcomings. It usually stems from insecurity.

Being coached can be daunting, and not everyone is ready to take it on. We remember a physician leader who was hired to turn around a business unit of a large medical center. When his staff challenged him, he became emotional. Told by his boss that he needed a coach to help him control his emotions, he was hurt and angrily asked “Why?” — failing again to control his emotions. He was too full of hidden fears for the coaching to be useful. His boss eventually reassigned him, and ultimately he left the organization.

Reframe coaching as an investment the organization is making in their development rather than a personal fix. Tell them your firm provides this resource for high-potential, top performers to accelerate their success. If this leader can view coaching as something positive to help them achieve their goals, they may warm up to the process.

When Going Coach-Less Is Not Viable

After hearing us say that a certain leader is not a good candidate for coaching, an executive who brought us in will often say a variant of this: “Well, he must be coached. We can’t let him continue to manage others the way he has, but we can’t fire him easily either because we need his skills badly.” But imposing coaching on someone who just can’t handle it at the moment isn’t going to help anyone. Companies are better off directing their people development investments elsewhere — skills training or academic programs are often better options.

Invest your coaching budget in people who have shown the willingness and the capacity to change, and you’ll get a much better return on your investment.

Coaching For Founders

Coaching For Founders

Curated Thoughts for Founders & CEOs | By Helena M. Herrero L.

Article by Kate Brodock.

When I took over Women 2.0 in August 2016, the company had been around for 10 years, but we were straight back to startup mode, with a slim team to start (two people!) and an almost completely new business model. We had an intense focus on riding the fine line between revenues and mission that many for-profit, for-good companies often have.

Despite having the same limited resources that all startups have, one of my first and most immediate goals was to get to the point where I could hire an executive coach.

This isn’t a very common goal for most startup CEOs, but in my opinion, this is a mistake.

Why should you get a Coach?

When you optimize your performance, it directly impacts the performance of your startup

When you are at your best – in mind, body and spirit – you perform well in every aspect of your life. What you bring to work every day matters. A lot.

If you’re successful enough to have received investor money to grow your company, your own capabilities as a company leader now impact other stakeholders.

So how can you do your absolute best to make sure the company performs at optimal levels? You have to be at your optimal level.

If you’re not sleeping, getting overly stressed, or getting sick a lot — and generally not taking care of yourself — it does not bode well for the company (or your investors).

Optimizing your performance requires prioritizing self-care and committing to positive, healthy habits. Coaches will review your daily professional and personal routine and schedule, and work with you to develop a peak performance plan (and hold you to it).

Understanding how we’re motivated, how we work and want to work, how our work impacts our life and vice versa is all crucial to making sure we’re our best selves.

You’re growing a company, but you’re also growing yourself

It’s the Double-Track of Learning. Yes, you are hustling to raise capital, build a team, find office space, perfect your product, grow revenue, etc. But all the while, you are also growing yourself — as a leader and a CEO.

No one is born knowing how to be CEO of a company. Becoming a good one, and a good leader in general, requires a growth mindset and a commitment to stretching yourself.

Remember: You can’t take a company further than you’ve taken yourself.

Developing and executing 3-5 goals for growing your business and 3-5 goals for growing yourself is no easy task. Having a coach as a partner makes it much easier.

Realizing the importance of having 3-5 goals gives you ultra focus, makes decisions easier across the board, helps identify when things are wrong or right more quickly, and helps your team get on the same page and taking actions to move the ship forward.

Science

Your brain’s limbic system is the back part of the brain, which has been with us forever (it controls our flight-or-fight response). This is the part of the brain that controls your stress, emotions, behavior, and motivation. And it can be trained (yes, trained). The limbic system learns best through feedback, extensive practice, and outside motivation.

Coaching provides exactly that: Critical feedback (the honest kind that doesn’t avoid the hard stuff), actionable tools and frameworks, and motivation (the kind you might not be able to give yourself in the morning).

With a coach, you can put together a practical development plan for growing into the best leader you can be.

As Founders, we all work our brains extensively all day long… but it’s often unstructured, high-energy, fast-action thinking that’s usually meant to get our company’s full plates less full by the end of the day.

Our brains, when put through structured thought processes, benefit in the long term.

When you’re a better human, you’re a better leader

This goes all the way back to Socrates, who taught the principle of “Know Thyself.” Many modern day leadership gurus, like Warren Bennis, believe that knowing thyself is the first rule for becoming an effective leader.

By developing a deep understanding and awareness of yourself, and committing to constant evolution as a person, you are also opening yourself up to truly grow as a leader.

Self-examination is hard and flawed, and easy to put off when you are running a company.

A Coach can walk you through an assessment process and offer up questions and exercises that help uncover your strengths, weaknesses, motivators, limiting beliefs, fears, etc.

Kate’s Note: With over-working comes a natural deprioritizing of self. We’re so busy setting business priorities and moving the company forward that we neglect ourselves. Being able to effectively incorporate our personal lives – especially if you have things like families and children (!!) – makes hitting your desk every morning not only more productive, but more enjoyable.

There’s a difference between building a product and building a company.

While you may be a great engineer or product mind that thrives in the early days with a small team executing an MVP, scaling a team and a culture is a totally different ballgame.

A Coach can help you troubleshoot issues and see situations differently by asking quality questions. She can also help you identify and implement necessary changes to your behaviors or skills.

Lastly, if you need more convincing, Google launched data-driven Project Oxygen to figure out what their most successful managers do so well. As it turns out, being a good coach ranked first among eight qualities of great managers.

So, if you learn what coaching is all about, you’ll have the power to go forth and be a good coach to your own team. Think of it as a virtuous baton-pass — you learn to be a great leader and then pass it on.

Invest in Your Brain

Invest in Your Brain

Oct 2, 2017: Weekly Curated Thought-Sharing on Digital Disruption, Applied Neuroscience and Other Interesting Related Matters.

By Jeremy Hughes

Curated by Helena M. Herrero Lamuedra

The world’s population is ageing. Improvements in healthcare in the past century have meant people are living longer, but this has also resulted in an increase in the number of people with conditions like dementia. Projections indicate that the number of people with dementia will only continue to grow.

Despite this, global diagnosis rates are low. People are receiving sub-standard or no care and stigma in many communities remains rife.

But dementia is an issue that can no longer be overlooked.

This World Alzheimer’s Day, the Global Alzheimer’s and Dementia Action Alliance (GADAA) is urging people to recognize dementia as one of the biggest global health crises of the 21st century. Here’s why…

1. The world’s economy is set to lose a trillion dollars in 2018, rising to $2 trillion by 2030 unless dementia is tackled.

That’s a cost greater than the GDP of all but the 15 richest economies in the world. If global dementia costs were a country, it would be the 16th largest, in-between Indonesia and Mexico.

Dementia already exceeds the market value of the world largest companies such as Apple (US $742 billion) and Google (US $368 billion). Eighty per cent of these costs account for the unpaid and formal care for people living with dementia, two-thirds of which is delivered by women.

2. Dementia affects almost 50 million people worldwide, with a new case of dementia occurring somewhere in the world every 3 seconds.

Worryingly, ageing populations – especially in low to middle income countries (LMICs) – are set to exacerbate prevalence rates. The potential ramifications of this are huge. More than half of people with dementia worldwide (58%) live in LMICs – and the number in some regions is expected to increase fivefold by 2050. The number of people living with dementia in high income countries is also expected to double by 2050.

Despite this, many countries are unprepared for financing long-term care. As social changes in LMICs mean less family members are able to provide care, the urgent need for social care will shift to the formal sector.

3. As few as one in 10 individuals receives a diagnosis for dementia in low and middle income countries, and less than 50% are diagnosed in high income countries.

Globally there is a persistent lack of understanding that dementia is a medical condition and not a normal part of ageing. People living with dementia all over the world desperately need access to a medical practitioner who can provide a diagnosis and help to plan necessary support.

Risk reduction strategies and earlier diagnosis of dementia could save government expenditure by reducing the high cost of emergency and avoidable health interventions, improving care, and by increasing the effectiveness of social, community and other care services.

4. Two out of every three people globally believe there is little or no understanding of dementia in their countries.

People living with dementia and their families frequently face stigma and discrimination – and in some parts of the world can even face violence. Dementia can also have a negative impact on employability – younger people with dementia have reported being made redundant or unable to find work due to discrimination or lack of understanding. This can have an impact on employment rates and social welfare benefits.

5. Dementia is in the top 10 causes of death for women worldwide.

The World Health Organisation lists dementia as one of the top 10 causes of death for women and it is the top cause of death for females in the UK. Research shows that women not only face a greater prevalence of the condition, but also fulfill the majority of care support and face the greatest stigma.

But so far only 12 countries have taken into consideration the needs of women in their commitments and only 29 countries have a national dementia plan. Around the world people remain trapped in a perennial struggle to access the diagnosis, care and support that they desperately need – and for women the challenge is even greater.

Global leaders have a responsibility to meet the targets of the World Health Organization Global Dementia Action Plan. Governments around the world must urgently recognize dementia as a medical condition that needs action, and unite in ensuring better diagnosis, care, research and awareness through the development and implementation of national dementia plans in every country in the world.

International civil society also has a role to play in addressing the stigma and delivering change for people living with dementia. We need as many voices as possible to spread the word that dementia is not a normal part of ageing, but one of the most prevalent and under-supported medical conditions the world over.

World Alzheimer’s Day is an opportunity for organizations around the world to raise awareness, highlight issues faced by people affected by dementia and demonstrate how we can overcome them to help people live well with dementia.

Mindfulness, Meditation and Adequate Sleep are definitely invaluable paths to permit the brain to rest and to rewire, enhancing nervous connections and allowing the brain circuitry to reset and not only maintain but enhance its vitality and plasticity.

The Power of Deep Listening

The Power of Deep Listening

Sep 12, 2017: Weekly Curated Thought-Sharing on Digital Disruption, Applied Neuroscience and Other Interesting Related Matters.

By Heather Plett

Curated by Helena M. Herrero Lamuedra

Listening takes a lot of practice. Even though we develop our ability to hear while still in utero (unless we’re hearing impaired), genuine empathic listening is a skill that takes much longer to develop. And even when we’ve worked hard to develop it, we often mess it up.

Overcoming Distractions

Not only does listening take a lot of practice, it takes a lot of vigilance and intentionality to stay in it. Sometimes you can be in deep listening mode and suddenly, something will distract or trigger you and you’ll have to work really hard to stay present for the person in front. You may not always identify what it was that pulled you away–it can be a body sensation, an emotional response, or my own ego (ie. wanting to insert your own comment). When time something like that happens, youo have to bring your attention back to the person in front of me.

Genuine Listening

Here’s a summary of thoughts about Listening:

1. Genuine listening can’t be faked. While there are many outward signals that someone is listening (eye contact, bodily engagement, good questions), people need to have a genuine felt sense that the person listening is fully present.

2. Culture and context matter. Some cultures, for example, don’t value eye contact. And some contexts (ie. when the speaker has a lot of shame or trauma) require a more nuanced form of listening that may mean no eye contact and/or no questions.

3. “Ultimately, a good listener allows the person they are listening to to hear themselves.”. When we, as listeners, interject too much of ourselves in the act of listening (questions, interruptions, too much body language, etc.) we can pull the person away from the depth and openheartedness of their own story.

4. Genuine listening involves stilling your body and mind so that you can be fully present. When we are being listened to, we are usually perceptive to the body signals that a person is genuinely engaged with us.

5. The behavior of the person speaking strongly impacts our ability to listen to them. People find it most challenging to listen to another person when the speaker’s behavior indicates they are self-righteous, condescending, not willing to be open minded, performing rather than speaking from the heart, etc.)

6. Both speaker and listener have to be engaged and willing to be openhearted for it to work. Genuine listening is a two-way street and it can’t happen when one or the other is checked out, distracted or not being honest with themselves. If the speaker is closed off or defensive, it shuts down the ability to listen. If the listener is closed off, triggered, etc., it shuts down the speaker’s willingness to be vulnerable.

7. Genuine listening requires self-awareness and good self-care. When we have done our own healing work, paid attention to our own triggers, and taken time to listen to ourselves first, we are in a much better position to listen to others.

The Circle Way

The three practices of The Circle Way are:

1. To speak with intention: noting what has relevance to the conversation in the moment.

2. To listen with attention: respectful of the learning process for all members of the group.

3. To tend the wellbeing of the circle: remaining aware of the impact of our contributions.

Gathering in The Circle Way means that we slow conversation down and give more intentional space to both speaking and listening. When we use the talking piece, for example, there are no interruptions, cross-talk, etc. Nobody redirects what you’re saying by interjecting their own questions, nobody diminishes your wisdom by interjecting their answers to your problems, and everybody is trusted to own their story and look after the circle by not taking up too much space or time. It can take a lot of practice (some people are quite resistant to talking piece council because they don’t feel it’s genuine conversation if no questions are allowed), but once you get used to the paradigm shift, it’s quite transformational.

Four Levels of Listening

According to Otto Schamer and Katrin Kaufer in Leading from the Emerging Future, there are four levels of listening.

1. Downloading: the listener hears ideas and these merely reconfirm what the listener already knows.

2. Factual listening: the listener tries to listen to the facts even if those facts contradict their own theories or ideas.

3. Empathic listening: the listener is willing to see reality from the perspective of the other and sense the other’s circumstances.

4. Generative listening: the listener forms a space of deep attention that allows an emerging future to ‘land’ or manifest.

Listening becomes increasingly more difficult as we move down these four levels, because each level invites us into a deeper level of risk, vulnerability and openness.

There is no risk in downloading, because it doesn’t require that we change anything. Factual listening is a little more risky because it might require a change of opinion or belief. Empathic listening increases the risk because it requires that we open our hearts, engage our emotions, and risk being changed by another person’s perspective. Generative listening is the most risky of all, because it requires that we be willing to change everything–behavior, opinions, lifestyle, beliefs, action, etc. in order to allow something new to emerge.

Generative listening not only requires a willingness to change, but a willingness to admit I might be wrong.

Holding Space

All of us, through the healing of our own wounds, are much more able to hold space for others.

All of us need to continue to heal and build resilience so that we do not shut down in difficult/ risky/ vulnerable conversations. Some of that involves listening to ourselves more deeply and finding spaces where we are genuinely listened to.

This is not easy work, and it doesn’t happen by accident. Learning to listen is a lifelong journey.

If you want to be a better listener, start by listening to yourself!