If I was given a penny for each time I read or heard that humility is key to authentic leadership, my accountant would be one happy lady indeed.
[mass noun]The quality of having a modest or low view of one’s importance:
‘he needs the humility to accept that their way may be better’
The John Lewis story
This morning I went to hear Andy Street speak at the Said Business School in Oxford. In October 2016 Street stepped down from his role as MD of John Lewis to focus on a political career in the West Midlands.
Reciprocate, a new-ish local business network that aims to support local communities, had invited Street to share the story of the John Lewis partnership to an audience of 200 local business people and it was a sell-out.
For those of you who like me didn’t know this; the John Lewis partnership is the biggest industrial co-operative in the UK. It has 92,000 employees or ‘partners’ who own the business. There are no external shareholders and so the company answers only to itself.
I found myself thinking, How on earth do 92,000 people on the work floor exert any kind of decision making power? and so I asked the question. (more…)
We coaches are full of surprises it seems! Today I had no less than four different conversations in which I mentioned something that I do as a coach that surprised the other. It made me think how much of what I do is part and parcel to me and new to other people.
Here are some of the things we coaches do that can surprise people.
If there is anything 2016 has taught us so far – and we still have seven weeks of it left! – it’s how understanding our stakeholders can make or break our ambitions. In the wake of the latest political upset, the US presidential elections, another camp is engaged in head scratching and soul searching. How could it possibly have gone so wrong, and how could so many signals have been missed?
Some are engaged in the blame game, while others are taking stock to make some shocking discoveries. When push came to shove and the red pencils finally hovered over the ballot papers it became clear that they did not understand their key stakeholders well enough to win the ballot – or even understood their real concerns at all.
Understanding your stakeholders properly without kidding yourself in the process turns out to be more important than ever. It’s a hyper-connected world we live in – we have known that for a while now. People who would have been virtually voiceless just a few years ago are major influencers today with hundreds of thousands or even millions of followers on social media, etcetera, etcetera.
But something more sophisticated is happening at the same time. Where people can choose to follow a YouTube vlog or Twitter influencer, social media themselves are starting to take on a life of their own, choosing what to put in front of users based on their browsing habits.
Tina Marshall, organiser of Oxfordshire SOUP. Photo credit: Vine House Studios
Continuing on the theme of networking, the highlight for me this week was without a doubt attending the very first OxfordshireSOUP in Witney. SOUP?
Originally from Chicago and firmly taking root in cash-strapped Detroit in 2010, the SOUP concept boils down to locals growing local businesses collectively through innovative crowdfunding.
A brilliantly simple concept which was picked up by local business owner and entrepreneur Tina Marshall of Creating Sense:
Does Oxfordshire need SOUP?!
Now, Oxfordshire is an affluent part of the world and certainly compared to cities like Detroit, where SOUP has had an incredible impact. Oxfordshire has a comparatively huge range of free business support for start-ups and small companies to tap into, and for those who know to go about it, great opportunities to find private funding.
That’s just as well, because the UK now has 5 million micro businesses compared to 3,5 million in 2000. In a 2015 report the RSA puts this growth down to factors such as rising skill levels, technological developments and government-driven deregulation. Oxfordshire, with its easy connections to the capital and the M4 corridor and of course world class education and research has become a hotbed of innovation and spin-offs. You’d think there’s plenty of start-up money to go round.
For those of us who start up on our own, funding is in surprisingly short supply in Oxfordshire with the disappearance of publicly funded resources such as the Growth Accelerator programme and local start-up grants. Unless you bring your own capital or are lucky enough to have funding in place already, getting funding for your start-up has become much harder in the last few years.
Bringing businesses together
The winning pitch was delivered by Catherine Warrilow or Seriously PR, who presented the brilliantly obvious idea of a Tinder-type app for work experience opportunities. The audience which had gathered consisted of small and larger businesses, councillors, the media and representatives of Wood Green School where the event took place, and the room rippled with ‘ingenious – why didn’t I think of that?’ sentiment.
Catherine Warrilow is presented with the OxfordshireSOUP prize pot of £1,000 by Victioria Williams of sponsors The Learning Ladder. Photo credit: Vine House Studios
Runners up Ken Norman of Flock Comedy and Clare Turnham of Only With Love may not have walked away with the £1,000 pot, but they spent the morning being congratulated on being the first to stand up and pitch and making new contacts. As there were some exceedingly well-connected people in the room, the event will undoubtedly pay dividends to them too.
Clare Turnham, Ken Norman and Catherine Warrilow. Photo Credit: Vine House Studios
Meanwhile a lot of business networking was going on over breakfast, aided by lively discussions of the pitches that had just been delivered. Where many networking events can feel rather contrived, at this one the room moved about as people grabbed breakfast, sought out opinions, chatted to the ‘contestants’ and made a trip to the ballot box.
Yup, that’s me deliberating with my fellow SOUP judges! Photo credit: Vine House Studios
Photo credit: Vine House Studios
The whole thing was done and dusted by 9.30am and I daresay everyone left with a grin to start their working day with renewed energy. I’ll be looking forward to the next one later this year!
Last month I delivered a workshop about business networking to one of my business networks. It is a little bit flattering to be invited to share some networking insights with a network, and so I made sure to create a few handy little tools for delegates to take away from the workshop in a bid to deliver value.
Of course those who attended the workshop did so with a view to developing their skills as a networker and might therefore be called a self-selecting audience. There were two seasoned network marketing entrepreneurs who had been successfully running their businesses for 7 and 10 years respectively and who could hardly be called inexperienced networkers. Others had just started a business or had run their business for some time but were relatively new to networking. There were also a few newbies to Oxfordshire who were busy making new professional friends locally.
It was a nicely mixed group, but of course it was not a representative sample of my local business community.
What did people associate networking with?
Taking the temperature in the room, I asked what words came to mind when thinking of networking:
‘putting yourself out there’
‘nerves and crippling shyness’
‘connecting with people’
‘being out of my comfort zone’
The majority admitted to feeling uncomfortable with networking to some degree for different reasons. The overwhelming view was that business networking is a necessary ‘evil’ which nobody really enjoys, but is considered essential for business. And although this was a group of people who wanted to brush up their networking skills, I also asked several very experienced networkers the same question and they gave similar answers.
Few of us truly live to network it seems.
What is the trouble with networking?
A top reason cited by my merry band of business owners was that business networking events are contrived occasions. Most described feeling uncomfortable with walking into ‘a room full of suits’ where often men still are in the majority, and then proceed to artificially talk about business. Some felt anxious about starting conversations and others about being rejected as uninteresting.
As the conversation in the room developed we discovered that there are remedies for these things and skills to master to help us deal with these situations.
But that’s not the whole story.
Some people are questioning the purpose and benefits of business networking full stop. They compare the investment – memberships, paying for the meetings themselves, taking time away from the job and travel costs – to the results and are asking themselves whether other ways to make connections might not be more effective. Networking takes place everywhere now: through online and offline communities of interest, social media interaction and even at 30.000 feet.
The relative safety and ease of online interactions where we can hide behind a Twitter handle compared to face-to-face networking which can involve getting up at six am on a frosty January morning to attend a business breakfast fifteen miles away is surely very appealing. Online interactions allow us to crack open one eye at six in the morning to look at the smartphone and engage before going back to sleep, job done.
Perhaps the real trouble with business networking is that our personal skills required for effective relationship building in person are being eroded by hiding behind social media and email too much.
Do you enjoy networking in the real world? Do you prefer online interactions to taking time away to join a roomful of strangers for a fry up? Come on – post me a comment below in between bouncing the baby on your knee and stacking the dishwasher!