Nothing quite stirs up your thinking like staring at the Grim Reaper head on

Posted by on Sep 16, 2015 in Uncategorised | 0 comments

Look closely and you might just see a pale smile on my face in this photo. It is one of sheer relief. Let me explain. I am a pilot in my spare time and fly a range of different aircraft for fun. This little green plane was brand new and it was only the third time I’d flown her. I was still very much getting used to how she handled. Planes aren’t like cars. It’s difficult just to jump in and drive, as we all do. They have very different flight characteristics. I think of myself as a relatively inexperienced pilot, but a cautious and safe one. Or I did. On Sunday though I made a mistake which could have – and should have – killed me. The whys and wherefores aren’t worth going into here. That’s a report I am writing for the Air Accident Investigation Board. Believe me, I am very glad I am still here to plough through the pile of paperwork an air accident brings. It’s a very very small price to pay. But in simple terms I managed to stall the plane and it just dropped out of the sky. In 23 seconds I went from take-off to crash-landing. When the right wing dropped and I saw the earth coming towards me I had no time to do anything except utter the word ‘fu..’. I never finished it. I found myself on the ground, strapped in, not knowing if I was about to go up in a ball of fire. Fortunately, some very brave people dived in, helped me switch stuff off. At this point I knew a) I was conscious b) I could think reasonably clearly. I had no idea whether I could move anything or if it was all about to hurt terribly. By some miracle, and I mean miracle, I managed to walk away from this. Bruised and battered, yes, but in one piece. The ambulance guys thought they’d be picking up body parts when they saw the aircraft. I am now less stiff and sore and to look at me  you’d never know anything like this had happened so recently. For those who like a bit of detail. I think I came down from 80 feet up at around 45-50 mile per hour, straight into the ground. And there’s no airbag. It’s starting to sink in that I had the luckiest of lucky escapes. I talked it all over today with a pilot I respect and whose knowledge and experience is very wide. This was very much a coaching conversation and I was the coachee. I learned so much about decision-making processes and cumulative risk. They say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. This nearly did and I am determined that I shall be a person who never forgets that I was given a second chance in life. My sister sent me a birthday card today. It’s not my birthday. She’s stuck a piece of text over the card to make it read “It’s your lucky birthday”. I don’t think she knows just how true that really is. I suppose it’s not necessary to have such a close encounter with the man carrying the sickle to make you re-evaluate priorities. Good coaching can help you to do that too....

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Lost In Translation?

Posted by on Jun 22, 2015 in Uncategorised | 0 comments

I have been working with a number of boards recently. Different ones. Public sector, public company and small family businesses. What’s fascinating is to compare and contrast the challenges they face. So many issues, of course, are similar. How to manage complexity and ambiguity, how to create the environment where people perform to the best of their ability, how to grow their profitability or operating surplus in the face of increased competition. What so many have is a vision and they use it as a touchstone, but equally what too many lack is the discipline and focus needed to translate those goals into hard reality. Things always get lost in translation. It might be the classic case of “send two and fourpence, we’re going to a dance”, where the operators tasked with delivering the results receive mixed messages and unclear objectives about how they – personally – need to make the difference. Equally, it is – sadly all too often – where top management operates on the mushroom principle of keeping them in the dark and feeding them on shit. Either way, what can be guaranteed is that those lofty ideals fail to pass into reality and guess who gets the blame? I am appalled at how many senior management teams dive into the Victim Loop. Denial, blame, rationalisation of why it’s not their fault (“if only…) and then simply hiding or burying the problem by being busy for busyness’ sake. yet if only top management and leadership teams took their full accountability for communication and made sure that they owned the issue, did all that they could to inform their teams , not just occasionally, but as a regular, this-is-the-way-we-do-it habit, how much more powerful could this be? If you find that your front-line troops aren’t translating that vision into action and results, stop and ask why? Is it really their problem or is it because you have failed to communicate, clearly, unambiguously and with commitment? If you know the answer to that question, you have no excuse for not sorting out the issues from the...

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Don’t Just Dump

Posted by on Feb 4, 2015 in Blog | 0 comments

We hear much about internships and apprenticeships these days. It’s not enough to work hard at school, get a good degree, row in the first 8, become Head Girl, run a Young Enterprise company at school, act, sing, play in the school teams and so on. No, to get a job, young people have to do all that and also have lots of work experience, volunteering and other evidence of leadership and initiative on their CV’s. Even then, the hard part of finding a job starts when they leave uni or college. They’re expected to work long hours for little or no pay, doing things that often bear no resemblance to the kind of job they actually want to do. So why, if they’ve gone to all that effort and sacrifice, done everything that’s been asked of them, and more, do they get shat upon from a great height when they start “proper” work? A young person of my acquaintance, in his dream job in an advertising agency, got landed the other day with a large carrier bag of receipts and a post-it note saying “please sort out and do my expenses”. The senior manager in question had left the office in holiday, so no prospect of asking key questions such as “which client should I charge this expense to?” Yet, my young graduate trainee is expected to work this all out otherwise accounts will reject them.  It would have been the work of 10 minutes or less for the manager to put a marker in each receipt stating the client. Instead, through ignorance, laziness, and a managerial  arrogance, the job will take far longer and can’t possibly be done right. Cue, one very harassed, annoyed, frustrated and demotivated graduate trainee. It’s  this kind of behaviour in so-called business leaders that really makes me want to slap them.   What sort of example do they think they’re setting. No matter what level in a business or organisation you’re at, there is no justification in treating people, especially young people at a vulnerable stage in their professional development, with disdain and contempt. Just have a think for a moment. Put yourself in their shoes and ask how would you like to be treated. If the answer’s different to how you are treating them then do it differently, better, with more respect. Remember, you were young and learning once. After all, one day, that young person may be your...

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Welcome to my coaching blog

Posted by on Jan 25, 2015 in Blog | 0 comments

Hi. I am Stephen Oliver, an experienced business professional and executive coach. I will be blogging thoughts and ideas about business and how coaching can help. Stick with me. Stephen Oliver

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