I’ve talked, in previous blogs, of the issues some executives face in their career. One problem that some high-achievers may encounter is the feeling of being unfulfilled – after spending years climbing to the top of the ladder, some executives feel their career stops offering them any sort of challenge. Without a goal to aim for, there’s a risk that those in senior positions may start to lack direction.
Is age a factor?
Towards mid-life, we wonder about our contribution – what legacy do we want to leave? Some argue the ‘ultimate intelligence’ is spiritual intelligence (SQ). This spiritual dimension is a search for ‘wider meaning and purpose’, not necessarily religion. Denton (1999) defines spirituality as ‘the basic desire to find ultimate meaning and purpose in one’s life and to live an integrated life’.
Within the 32 approaches to coaching (who knew there were so many?) certain techniques are especially helpful when thinking about our higher purpose. Ontological, transpersonal and existential coaching techniques focus on self-actualisation; they offer particular value for those seeking meaning or higher purpose, who wish to broaden their field of awareness.
Of course, this isn’t everyone’s experience. Job satisfaction and what constitutes a meaningful life can involve different things for different people.
A recent survey by Pilotlight showed that 62% of executives and business leaders volunteering through its programmes subsequently gained job satisfaction in their own roles. 85% improved their coaching skills as a result of working with charities, and 87% acknowledged that the process had brought new leadership styles to their attention. Another benefit saw executives’ empathy increase, along with their understanding of the challenges faced by those needing help.
Business leaders are increasingly seeing volunteering as a way to refresh or hone their business skills. Though the motivation for giving their time and experience to a charity was to ‘give something back’, according to 80% of those executives surveyed, the sharpening of their own attributes was a close second. Many of the executive participants on Pilotlight’s programme went on to become charity trustees.
Do you have the time?
It certainly sounds like a win/win situation for all concerned, but despite both the executives and the charity enjoying a range of positives from such an initiative, there were still hesitations. The biggest issue, for 81% of respondents, was their perceived lack of time, as well as a misguided belief that their skills and experience borne from the private sector would be of little use to charities.
Dr Paul Steinfort, 63, found volunteering became a true passion. Although he enjoyed a high-flying career masterminding projects like the redevelopment of Melbourne’s cricket ground, Paul was drawn to volunteering after he spent three months in India. Rebuilding areas and communities in such as Japan and Indonesia was, Paul says, one of the most rewarding things he’s done in his career. Whereas most executives his age would be planning retirement, Paul attributes his volunteering as a “passport to other worlds and all sorts of cultures”.
The bigger picture
It’s been said that this generation is one that values making a difference more than any other benefit – whether within their own organisation, from volunteering, or through a similar opportunity. Spending time with people from completely different backgrounds, and especially those from a position of disadvantage, can be very humbling, and teach us a lot about managing people that can be implemented when back at work.
Other transferable skills
Volunteering in some parts of the world could place you within the next ‘emerging market’; information gained at ground level could make a significant impact on future projects and the direction your organisation may choose to follow. Another indirect benefit stems from dealing with people from different cultures; your communication skills are likely to be better understood and honed – both vocal and non-verbal dialogue. Adapting to another way of life also strengthens your resilience, yet another transferable skill.
Corporate responsibility is an integral element of most organisations today, and seeing those at the top of a company willing to give their time and experience for the benefit of communities (however near or far away from home) builds a good reputation, seen by customers and the public in general.
It’s easy to talk about giving back – personally making a difference speaks louder.
Coaching is an especially useful tool in such circumstances. When your direction seems uncertain, coaching can help you ascertain what is lacking in your life or career, or help you unlock the extra elements that will enrich your existence.
There can be many reasons why you may feel unfulfilled; if you’d like my help to evaluate your life and career paths, contact me on 01302 220021, or via email@example.com.
Thanks to holohololand at freedigitalphotos.net for use of the image.
The one constant in life is that everything changes. Think of how differently our lives are today to how things were for your parents and grandparents. Amongst many other things, new technology has appeared and attitudes have altered and broadened.
Companies that haven’t rolled with the changes and adapted are likely to be few in number, if still trading at all. If customers’ tastes change, or their expectations shift, an organisation has to move their approach to still appeal to those consumers.
Consider that only ten years ago, the internet wasn’t anywhere near as integral in our lives as it is now. Few businesses would have been present on the web, and even fewer people would have used it to shop, bank, or as the huge resource it is; the whole face of consumerism has shifted within the last decade, thanks to cyberspace.
So, what will be the next huge shifts and challenges today’s companies will face? Here are just a few points for business leaders to consider:
The typical age of consumers
Evidence has shown that we’re living longer, thanks to medical advances and continual improvements in our living standards. Because of this, the retirement age has moved and we will work for longer. Our expectations of what ‘old age’ means will also shift, particularly if we’re still actively working; businesses need to pay heed to the wants and needs of the older generation, because there’ll be a lot of older consumers around.
You’d be forgiven for thinking only the young matter if you were to walk along most high streets or pick up magazines today; however, things will alter with a much larger market and demographic of consumers over the age of 50.
Over 50% of the population lives in cities today, but during the next generation this figure will rise to 70%, bringing all sorts of issues concerning logistics, infrastructure and space for housing, retail and development.
The most efficient execution will be what sets companies apart, as will their agility and ability to adapt to what could prove ‘overpopulation’ challenges in some areas.
Whilst it could be argued that class is something that diminishes with each generation, experts predict that the middle class will see the most growth in the near future, due to economic shifts. 90% of the middle class will live in emerging markets, such as China and India.
Though this has its positives, not least new wealth to be chased, we may see some commodities become scarce as a result.
With so many channels and technologies available that allow you to interact with your consumer, and new avenues surfacing all the time, one challenge will be choosing the right channel for the right demographic. High expectations from all sections of the market may see some organisations spread thinly across all platforms and outlets, which may threaten or dilute the overall customer experience.
Serving a global community means companies will need to keep abreast and sympathetic of differing languages and cultures throughout all their touch points – a challenge in itself.
Attention to, and investment in, innovation is crucial, as the more flexible a company is, the more likely it will stay afloat. I’ve spoken in recent posts about the importance of innovation and creativity in business, touting it as the main source of competitive advantage; the most successful companies of tomorrow will lead and produce new ideas, rather than react to market changes driven by their competitors.
Skills gaps and a still-shaky economy are just two things that threaten any rosy future, as significant issues to businesses today. Tomorrow’s executives certainly have as many challenges to face as the execs of today – whether they prove harder or worse challenges, only time will tell. As I said at the beginning of this post, change is the only thing executives of any generation can rely on.
Angela Sabin is a Master Practitioner and executive coach, helping those engaging her services to eradicate obstacles in their careers or life situations. Contact her for more details on 01302 220021 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks to pakorn at freedigitalphotos.net for use of the image.
A few months ago I wrote some blogs on the theme of team-building/away days, which struck a chord with readers. I received a few real-life examples of why an away day didn’t work or was unproductive in some way, which got me thinking as to whether this feedback referred to isolated incidents.
Once I started looking for examples on the web I was both amused and shocked to see how many anecdotes and stories there were around poor/weird/disastrous team-building days. And whilst digging more examples out, I also found some of the more unusual activities employees are invited to undertake.
I think it’s fair to say that practically everyone knows the purpose of a team-building away day. Removing staff from their workplaces delivers a different perspective and shakes them from their comfort zones. Usually, the structure of the day and the types of activities involved help participants to learn trust, exercise creative thought, and interact effectively within groups.
That said, what the organisers were aiming to achieve with the following anecdotes is less apparent.
Strange but true…
“I worked in a team that was having trouble getting along. First activity? We had to go around the room and say what we didn’t like about each other. We might have also had to add what we did like about each other but I honestly only remember the criticisms and people bursting into tears. We went from simply not being able to work together to actively disliking each other in about 30 minutes.”
“My team did ‘horse whispering,’ where you work with horses to learn about effective communication. One of the horses got over-excited, galloped towards the centre of the barn where we were being briefed, and nearly trampled one of my co-workers. It was a bonding experience to a certain extent, but only because we all thought we were going to die.”
“I work in Japan, and my worst team-building exercise was taking a bath with my boss and supervisors (of the same gender). After showering and washing your hair in a group facility, you sit in the bath together, talk and bond. The idea is that when you’re naked, everyone is equal and you feel freer to discuss and joke about things that you wouldn’t in the office.”
“We had to take a big gulp of soda and spit it into a partner’s mouth! It was incredibly disgusting.”
Even more strange?
These are genuine activities available for corporate teams:
- Sheepdog handling
- Stuntman training
- Egg roulette (taking turns to smash eggs on your forehead to see if they’re boiled or raw. Lovely.)
- Cardboard boat racing
- Blindfold driving
- Sumo wrestling
- Human vs. zombies
- Chariot racing
The intention of these activities may be to encourage participation and to bring people out of their shell, in the hope this renewed confidence and sense of community continue when everyone’s back at work. However, competition-type events only reinforce good things for those that win; the rest get the message that they’re not good enough or that only winners are rewarded, which isn’t conducive to productive work or the basis of a successful team.
What a successful team-building day looks like
An effective team-building event should: promote a greater understanding within each participant, and the people they work with on a regular basis; leave participants with a positive experience and a feeling that they’ve all worked well together; a pride in the work they do, and for their organisation; a sense that the time was beneficial and that it will ultimately help the whole group work in unity, towards shared goals.
Ensuring that those participants that help others win or get good results are recognised or rewarded – as well as the top dogs – sends a powerful message that ALL contribution is important and of value in group situations. Reminding or showing employees how everyone can benefit if they’re all pulling the same way, towards the same goal, gives the important message that co-operation often results in greater success than solitary initiatives or approaches.
A successful day also builds in time for reflection – particularly helpful for the introverts in the group – so that participants can absorb what they’ve learned, make sense of it, and hopefully understand how those skills can be implemented once back at work.
I’m sure I could find even more evidence of strange and unsuccessful team-building days – perhaps you have your own account? When planned correctly, with suitable outcomes, team-building days can prove useful tools that encourage unity, boost production and build confidence. However, as you’ve seen, the desire to help participants step out of their comfort zone and ‘think outside the box’ can conjure up some very strange tasks/initiatives indeed!
If you’d like my help to improve the success and productivity of a team within your organisation, please do get in touch to discuss the situation, under no obligation. Call 01302 220021, or email me at email@example.com.
Thanks to Mister GC at freedigitalphotos.net for use of the image.
Even when you’re near, or at, the top of an organisation, it’s not set in stone that you’ll never again change jobs. Moving to a new company can be just as unnerving, disruptive and traumatic – probably, even more so – than it would be for anyone else in the company. Below are common challenges executives face in such a situation, and ways to tackle those issues.
It’s entirely plausible for many executives that, if they move organisations, they may have to relocate too. Due to honed, niche skill-sets and years of experience, for top-level executives, it’s likely that their next role will come looking for them, rather than the reverse. This, of course, has a bigger impact than just the job change, it can mean the whole family being uprooted, and urgent searches for new schools and a new home.
From a business perspective, coming to a new location means an element of education: on the area’s demographics and consumer habits, on prominent people/stakeholders in the locality, and the perception/reputation their new company attracts.
Preparation is key: finding out as much information about the new area – from all members of the family’s viewpoints – will help the transition process and any reservations about the move. Making sure all the family understands and accepts, the reasons for the move should reduce any resistance they may feel.
With much responsibility and little autonomy typical of roles near the top of an organisation, it’s important that the executive ascertains what they want from their next position – such as their motivations and interests, because it’s unlikely there’ll be a standard job spec.
It’s essential executives clarify goals and targets they’d personally like to achieve so that they progress their own development as well as that of the company.
Leaving a role may not be straightforward for the senior executive, who may be midway through crucial projects and innovative development. Timescales and handover processes need to be determined, so that there’s less risk of disruption to the organisation as a result of the departure.
Particularly concerning head-hunting, it’s plausible that the executive’s new role won’t be ready immediately; some companies strive to secure the best talent as soon as they know a key position is likely to be open, or if someone is set to retire.
In this situation, find out if it’s feasible to spend a little time in the new organisation whilst also still working in your present company. Sometimes it may be possible to take on an interim or consultancy role, if the timescale of your transition is particularly lengthy.
Following big footsteps…succession planning
Imagine the mind-set of the chief executive and his team who had to follow Steve Jobs – the legacy or impact a previous leader leaves can be big shoes to fill.
Even though those in the organisation are looking for continuation, it’s often wise to use the opportunity to evaluate the direction of the company and its practices. Sticking to ‘old ways’ may now not be commercially viable in the face of a continually moving and competitive market.
Everyone has their own ideas; it’s natural for the new leader and his team to want to implement their own plans. It’s possible, however, to respect the past yet still implement radical change, with structured change management initiatives.
Looking forward, not back
It can be a very testing time, moving organisations, particularly for the executive who may have introduced significant practices, products or a culture in their time with their old company. Starting from scratch to put your own stamp on things within the new organisation may evoke feelings of loss for what you’re leaving behind.
Seeing your move as a new challenge that could lead to even bigger successes is a good approach; look to build on your past achievements. It’s also feasible that there’s more scope with your new organisation to achieve, if it’s a bigger company than the one you’re departing from.
Time will help, but in the interim, remaining positive for your family during the transition, your old and new colleagues, and for the benefit of your own mind-set, will make it much smoother.
As an executive coach, I can help your transition from one company to the next, and with any of the feelings associated with the above challenges. Contact me on 01302 220021, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for an informal chat regarding your circumstances.
Thanks to stockimages at freedigitalphotos.net for use of the main image.
The progression of our society, shifts in values, and even technology, influence us greatly. In turn, these mould our behaviour – for example, consider how many of our attitudes today vary from those of our parents’ generation. The only constant in life is that things never stay the same.
Leadership is more about the people being led than the leader. If we change, and the way we view our world evolves as time passes, it’s no surprise that leadership methods need a rethink. Using old practices to lead and motivate staff won’t work if our expectations have moved.
Here are five new approaches that are already being employed in organisations:
Spontaneity and accessibility are the key factors behind this approach. Leaders at Honda encourage ‘drop in’/anytime meetings, where rank is irrespective, so that employees who feel they can contribute towards innovation or the success of the company can report anything that impacts the organisation. Waigaya was a result of the company’s belief that scheduled meetings were not as dynamic in comparison to this new approach, and only affected the productivity of their busy staff.
There are four basic rules for waigaya: everybody is equal; all ideas must be disputed until proven valid or rejected; once an idea is shared it’s Honda’s and no longer the originator’s; and at the end of waigaya, tasks and responsibilities are awarded, and subjected to timelines.
Though it may sound more like they’re thrown in at the deep end, at Leaders’ Quest, senior executives are encouraged to work at ground level on projects or in widely-different roles, to get completely different perspectives on their own issues. Rather than learning from a textbook or seminar how others manage with fewer resources and against altogether different challenges, this social enterprise believe the knowledge is only absorbed if the participants are asked to physically do the same.
People are brought together from all walks of life, and get to experience things outside their comfort zone; the theory is that they can take what they’ve learned to apply themselves when back in their role. The more responsibility on a leader’s shoulder, the more likely they’ll have no time to really notice the environment surrounding them; placing them on a quest completely removes them from their day-to-day pressures, and opens up their mind to other possibilities.
The Golden Circle
Simon Sinek suggests that traditional leaders concern themselves only with the ‘what’ and ‘how’; he refers to those who dig deeper, asking ‘why’ something happens, as ‘the golden circle’. Asking ‘why’ something is done, he says, helps us to look at challenges with a fresh perspective and allows us to tap into our intuition – it’s purpose-driven leadership. Based on neuroscience, Sinek explains how these questions are processed differently in our brains. The two outer sections of our mind concern themselves with the ‘how’ and ‘what’; they’re rational, with no capacity for language.
The ‘why’ comes from the inner section that we’re still discovering more about: the section that’s concerned with emotions, desire and communication. When we start to speak from the outside in, starting with facts and data, we don’t get to the place where people make decisions. Flipping this on its head, when we start from the inside out, we access people’s wants and needs before finishing with the necessary facts and figures to back up our argument or further our persuasion.
Something I’ve covered on this blog before, Susan Cain’s championing of the introvert as a more effective leader is certainly thought-provoking. Susan claims that introverts do more listening than talking and can therefore read situations better. Those who shout the loudest don’t necessarily shout the best – taking the time to process the information received helps leaders to make more informed decisions. The introvert’s ability to stay focused is one of the main qualities a leader needs, as is their focus on making meaningful connections: quality over quantity.
70% of our communication is non-verbal. The physicalities of a leader, from the way they hold themselves to their body language, can change the way they speak and think. Incorporating mindfulness practices hones confidence and compassion, amongst other things, as well as helping leaders to stay composed and focused under pressure and stress.
These leadership trends will themselves change over time. There are recurring elements within the themes, even though their approaches are different: immersion, involvement and greater understanding. As detailed in last week’s blog, if a leader has focus, a mindful perspective, and a commitment to get more from his team, they will all share success. I doubt this will change in the future, even in our children’s children’s generation.
If you’d like help to boost or develop your leadership skills, contact me on 01302 220021, or drop me an email at email@example.com.
Thanks to digidreamgrafix and renjith krishnan from freedigitalphotos.net for use of the images.
I’ve talked many times on the subject of leadership, and what successful leaders need to do in order to get the best from their team – and it’s always good insight and advice to repeat.
I’ve compared styles of leadership, and even leaders themselves, such as Alan Sugar and Nelson Mandela, who have huge variations in their approaches and attitudes.
So what qualities, or aspects of personality, would you imagine a leader should demonstrate or develop?
The art of ‘managing’, not slavishly ‘doing’
I’m the first to recommend any leader should have a good idea of what every individual in their team is responsible for and the brief attributes of their role and day-to-day tasks – sometimes practising these themselves so they have a deeper knowledge and perspective. However, there’s a difference between having an overall understanding, and actually doing your team’s work for them because your delegation skills need sharpening.
Just handing out work to the first person that stops by your desk is not effective delegation either; learning individuals’ strengths and weaknesses is requisite, so that you can offload tasks to the person most suitable to complete it well. The success of your team will be your success too, and the art of delegation is a key element of this.
Following on from the last point, delegation won’t work if you’re a poor communicator. Guidance and instruction towards your team will be challenges if you’re not able to talk to people on the same level and your approach to communication is one that infuriates or confuses team members.
Understanding that communication is a two-way street is the first consideration; a successful leader encourages his charges to bring him their problems and ideas. Without interaction and a continual dialogue, it’s hard to believe any leader is effective, with such limited knowledge of their team’s progress or daily duties.
Being responsible for others means you’re automatically held as an example to them. Your team will look to you for direction and, possibly, ethics and advice. Trust is a huge consideration if you’d like your team to follow your lead; if they suspect you’re not honest with them, they’ll disengage and ignore your authority. You’re the motivator, inspiration and steer – set an example that’s something they can aim for, if you want to push the whole team to reach higher and give them something to aim for.
As leader and an inspiration, you need to be the one to chivvy along others when life events or office conflict threaten to push their emotions off-balance. You’re the one with the vision to articulate and the energy and commitment to motivate everyone you’re responsible for towards that goal; if you’re not someone who can themselves shake off problems or challenges from outside the workplace, you’re going to struggle to lead your team towards great results. Hone your detachment skills and work on your positivity; the energy and productivity of your team are easily influenced by your demeanour. Remember: enthusiasm is infectious.
The ability to adapt and think ahead
As leader, you’re the first to traverse new paths and stormy seas. If your team see that you adapt well to challenges or changes, they’ll follow suit. Your intuition and lack of indecision when progressing with projects will cement your authority and credibility as leader, and the ability to think a few steps ahead will not only reduce risk for the team but also the amount of time wasted as solutions are found.
Your confidence that the outcome of any task will be a good or beneficial one will further fuel the efforts of your team, underpinning their security and giving reassurance.
Tolerance and detachment
Though, as a human being, it’s likely you will have ‘favourites’ or members of the team that you engage with more than others, it’s important you treat all team members the same. Not getting personally involved with office disputes and keeping a professional distance in social settings will ensure the set-up of your relationship as leader to individual team members will not be compromised.
Tolerating your team’s weaknesses and keeping a cool head whilst all around you are losing theirs are both good reasons why you’re the leader. Turning failures into learning opportunities and encouraging unity within the team will ultimately help their overall success. Never should the vision or goal be forgotten because of petty squabbles between the team; the leader is the one that, under any circumstances, always keeps focus.
So, is leadership a state of mind, or can it be taught? Looking at the qualities above, I’d say that it’s a mix of the two. All are important if you’re to encourage others to further their commitment, effort and abilities towards a shared goal – few people want to remain autonomous for eight hours a day, five (or more) days a week.
As a leadership coach, this is only a brief overview of the qualities a good leader should hold. I can help you develop a raft of competencies and traits that will push you and your team towards better results. Contact me on 01302 220021 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Living in a free country, we have the liberty to look and dress how we want. Some choose to entrench their sense of identity with tattoos, particularly younger people, having grown up with pop stars and sporting heroes inked from head to toe.
When you’re a celebrity you have a certain carte blanche to do what you like without really altering how people perceive you. But does the average Joe Bloggs, however accepting a world he/she lives in, believe that noticeable designs on skin that’s exposed won’t tempt prejudice? Or do they just not care?
I recently watched Bodyshockers, a programme that aims to get those looking to permanently change their body in some way to consider the impact of their decision. The episode featured a man who’d tattooed his face when drunk and reacting to a dare, the fallout of which saw him sacked from his job just a day later. He couldn’t find anyone who would hire him during the following five years, then, after getting the tattoos lasered off, he landed a job.
People’s perceptions can be very powerful. One man, Jason Barnum, was arrested and charged after shooting an Alaskan police officer. Having one half of his face tattooed, including his eyeball, Judge Barnum, presiding over the case, said: I’d like you to take a look at Mr Barnum. He has the right to do this to himself and to express himself. We can’t sentence him for that, but I think we can consider a guy’s attitude and his behaviour.” Mr Barnum’s tattoos were guilty of influencing the jury.
Statistics show that one in five people have a tattoo of some kind. Given that this represents 20% of the workforce, surely some people aren’t offended or put off by body art? When interviewed, many tasked with hiring people admitted that candidates’ tattoos did not offend them personally, but their perception that customers may be offended ultimately affected their choice.
The negative comments tattoos invite can be severe. Managers admit to perceiving tattooed employees as rebellious, lazy, repugnant – and even dirty – individuals. There are some positives to be found, however. Some professions are found to benefit if their employees have tattoos. Prison guards, for example, where tattoos can break down barriers and help make instant connections with inmates.
Putting aside perceptions for a moment, there’s absolutely no correlation between someone’s tattoos and their ability to do their job. And as more and more celebrities parade their tattoos in society, the more acceptable they’re bound to become. It certainly hasn’t harmed David Beckham’s career. Young people are around tattoos and body art all the time; if they see that their role model hasn’t received prejudice due to their inkings – quite the opposite, in fact – there’s little wonder they see no negativity associated with them. Also consider that, as time goes by, those making the hiring decisions are more likely to have tattoos themselves.
In 2006, tattoo fan Rebecca Holdcroft took her employers to court on the grounds of discrimination, after they asked her to cover her fully-tattooed arms and back. However, she didn’t get the verdict she sought because no law existed to protect her at that time.
Researching this topic, I found a good rule of thumb from a legal professional. Her suggestion, that if your contract doesn’t specifically state tattoos aren’t acceptable or that they’re not to be on show, suggests you’d have better grounds for discrimination if your job was threatened or lost because of your body art. And if you were never in physical contact with the public as part of the role you were dismissed from, you’d have a good case for unfair treatment.
The issue here is whether tattoos come under ‘dress code’ in a contractual reference. If employees’ tattoos are such an issue it would seem prudent to give them their own significance in the employee contract.
Discrimination can also be a grey area in some professions but more clear-cut in others. For example, body art on a pop star wouldn’t cause negative reactions in this day and age, but on an undertaker, tattoos may bring about a very different reaction.
The issue of whether tattoos affect careers is certainly not an across-the-board conclusion – in some professions there’s far, far more acceptance than others. And even in the workplaces where tattoos are viewed more negatively, there’s no reason common sense can’t be applied by both employer and employee.
Tattoos shouldn’t affect one’s career – on the whole – and in years to come, it’s quite possible that they never will. But in the meantime, consider that, though you may have control over your body and what you choose to add to it, you have absolutely no control over people’s perceptions of you. In most cases, this is unlikely to affect you, but when it comes to your career, it does have the power to influence your progress.
What are your thoughts on this subject? Would you hire someone with visible tattoos?
Thaks to marin at freedigitalphotos.net for use of the image.
As I reported in my last blog, a person’s outer/physical image is not necessarily the most influential factor when choosing candidates for promotion – based on a recent study. However, you wouldn’t have to trawl the internet for long to find examples of discrimination against employees based on their physical appearance, and cases where workers have been passed over for promotion because of how they look.
So, how much does our appearance affect our careers? From the way we dress, our tattoos and piercings, even our gender and how attractive we’re perceived to be – all have been grounds for discrimination in people’s careers. In this post, however, I’m going to address obesity, and how it’s perceived in the workplace.
Obesity discrimination does happen
A 2012 study, led by The University of Manchester and Monash University, Melbourne, found that prejudice against people’s weight did indeed exist. Said Dr Kerry O’Brien, “We found that strong obesity discrimination was displayed across all job selection criteria, such as starting salary, leadership potential, and the likelihood of selecting an obese candidate for a job.”
Dr Boris Baites, a psychology professor at Wayne State, confirms that obese employees are victims of stereotyping. His research showed that weight based bias is stronger than that for race or gender, and speculated that this is because obesity is generally considered to be within a person’s self-control. One UK manager even admitted, “Whatever else you know, there’s a gnawing feeling at the back of your mind that fat people are lazy, greedy and undisciplined.”
Even if an overweight or obese candidate was in perfect health, assumptions that they would not be capable of carrying out certain roles could limit their career prospects, such as professions that require sustained mobility or a degree of physical exertion. There’s also the very real assumption that obese employees need more time off work than their slimmer colleagues, due to weight-related complications and illnesses.
Weight and gender
If prejudice indeed exists against the obese, is it experienced proportionately by both male and female executives?
A study by Michigan State University suggested that women are viewed far more negatively than men, and are held to harsher weight standards.
Is obesity a scapegoat, or a justifiable decisive factor?
A UK survey in 2007 for Personnel Today magazine revealed 93% of human resources professionals would give the job to the thinner person when choosing between two candidates of equal ability.
Is this wholly shocking? Ask yourself the same question: if ability was resolutely equal between two promising candidates, what factors would you apply to decide between them? What other elements could separate two identical candidates, and what benefits would you imagine an obese or overweight person would bring to the role that are attributable to their size?
Whether you’re in agreement that obesity is a legitimate decisive factor when promoting or hiring, or not, it’s clear many think it’s justifiable to turn someone down or pass someone over because of their size. Around a third of HR professionals, in the same survey, believe obesity is a valid medical reason for not employing a person, and 15% agree they would be less likely to promote an obese employee.
Is obesity a disability?
In July 2014 EU advice suggested that obesity should be treated as a disability. With the average clothing size of UK women as 16, and given that almost one in four of the UK population is obese, the impact of such a recommendation surely affects almost every organisation. Though the Advocate General ruled that only those with a BMI of 40 or more should legally be classed as disabled, companies that choose to ignore or discriminate against their obese and overweight employees may find themselves at risk of compensation claims.
How much is society to blame?
Dr Viren Swami, evolutionary psychologist at Liverpool University’s Department of Public Health, says, “We are bombarded on a daily basis with the idea that only attractive people can be successful, and that to be attractive means to be thin.” There’s little wonder, with this mind-set promoted all around us, in the media and society itself, that obesity is seen so negatively.
What’s the answer? More support towards society’s ‘ideal’, i.e. help for the obese to be thinner, and, in turn, more ‘successful’? Or greater acceptance of the obese in the workplace, eradicating discrimination on the grounds of their weight?
But, if we accept obesity, are we supporting more long-term, costly problems, such as reinforced chairs and toilets/facilities, in the workplace? What other benefits does acceptance bring? I’d love to hear your views on this topic.
A New Year is upon us, and if there are any aspects holding your career back, please do contact me for a no-obligation chat on 01302 220021, or contact me via email@example.com.
Thanks to vorakorn at freedigitalphotos.net for use of the image.
Over the next few blogs, I hope to provoke some thought, or even debate, on how much our physical characteristics influence our career, compared to our capacity to do the job itself. It’s often a common assumption: that the confident and beautiful climb effortlessly up the ladder (whether they’re capable of doing the job or not), whilst the faithful workers who continually over-achieve – but who keep their heads down – are always overlooked.
In this post, I’m addressing the key factor when it comes to deciding who to promote. What would you imagine made the top of the list? Men/women with the best figure? The person who wears the most expensive suit? The most committed flirt?
Despite stereotypes and misassumptions, image (which concerns more than just how we look) accounted for only 30% of any promotional decision.
A survey carried out by Harvey Coleman, that spanned a number of large organisations, found that three main factors were prevalent when awarding a promotion: visibility, job and image.
Sixty percent of the companies that participated in the survey said that visibility was the most important factor.
What do we mean by ‘visibility’?
It’s feasible for any manager to wonder if an employee actually wants to be promoted. If a team member seems happy enough to get on with their work, and doesn’t show any sign of wanting to progress, is it any wonder they slip under the radar when it comes to choosing who to put forward for promotion? Increasing your visibility boosts your chances of moving up the ladder. Follow my tips below, regarding how best to get noticed:
- You’ve got to sell yourself. You’d know your value, measure your skills against others in your industry, and look to fill any skills gaps you had if you were applying for a role outside of the company you currently work for – so why should this be any different when applying for a promotion? Take a strategic look at your skills, strengths and weaknesses and plan how to rise above the competition – just as if you were job-hunting elsewhere.
- Don’t be a wallflower. Speak up in meetings and put forward your ideas. Take the initiative to approach your manager with strategies that would help your team become more efficient. Be more involved with your company by attending their events and supporting marketing campaigns, for example. If you continually put yourself forward for things, and you become familiar with your superiors, the more you’ll increase your chances of promotion. Managers promote those they know, and whose track record they’re aware of. If you’re unknown to the decision-makers, take the initiative to change this.
- Do your research. Keep up to date with industry and company news; look at the bigger picture. Don’t just see any networking or making new contacts as something you need to do with people outside your organisation – research the key people in your organisation and gain/strengthen ties with them.
- See yourself as a brand. You’re effectively selling yourself – your ideas, your work and value. Think of how you appear online and within your team. What would your manager and colleagues say about you? How do you come across to people you’ve never met before? How do you overcome your weaknesses or challenges/obstacles in your career? Rather than let those you interact with brand you, consciously look to improve and steer your ‘brand’ and the perceptions people have of you.
- Be pliable. The more flexible you appear, and how well you adapt to new ways of working with little fuss, will win over your superiors. If you demonstrate how resilient and independent you are, the more your manager will believe how easily you’d fit into a new position. The last thing they’d want to do is promote someone who buckles under pressure or who needs their hand holding. Show you could cope – ask to take on more responsibility in your current role.
- Build your confidence. If you don’t feel confident that you can do a higher-level job this will be apparent to those tasked with choosing the most suitable candidate. If your confidence is an issue look at employing a coach or implementing common techniques to improve it.
The reality is that a promotion isn’t going to hunt you down – you have to chase opportunities. If you don’t bring your successes to anyone’s attention, how can they ascertain how capable you’d be in a more demanding role? If your manager can barely remember your name, would you imagine it would be first on the list of who to promote?
Next time I’m going to discuss image, appearance and perceptions in the workplace. If you’d like some career coaching or help with your confidence, to boost your chances of promotion, please get in touch with me on 01302 220021, or via firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ll be back with the next blog post in a couple of weeks. I sincerely hope you have a wonderful Christmas and a very happy New Year.
Thanks to Ambro at freedigitalphotos.net for use of the main image.
Many coaches are accredited by industry panels and boards, but few of these bodies are independent accreditors who uphold a European-Quality Standard for coaching – across all disciplines and concerning all coaching elements.
The standout is the European Individual Accreditation (EIA) from the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC). It assesses and verifies that a coach works consistently to the highest professional standards. It’s recognised globally as the ‘gold’ standard of coach accreditation in the marketplace.
If a coach who isn’t accredited has been working with clients for a length of time, they might argue that accreditation is not something likely to add any extra value to what they offer; however, I disagree. As someone who is accredited, I can explain exactly why it’s beneficial to attain such a level of validation, and why it’s so important in our increasingly risk-conscious world.
Having the rigour of approval of a Quality Standard, which places high expectations and stipulations on the quality of coaching needed to gain accreditation, helps my clients to feel safe –safe in the knowledge that the standards I abide by protect them.
I am one of just 30 coaches accredited with the EMCC to Senior Practitioner level, a process that involved rigorous evaluation, and one that was difficult to attain. I was required to clearly detail the ethics I employ in my work, the extensive training and experience I’ve undergone and gathered, and evidence of reflective practice on sessions with clients. It certainly didn’t involve sending off for a certificate that would just look pretty on my wall; it was a thorough, lengthy and significant dissection of my coaching practice.
The importance of being EMCC accredited is becoming more apparent, given that the last two sales opportunities I’ve pursued were only open to accredited coaches. Elsewhere, I was required to verify the claims I’d made in my proposal. My EMCC certificate backed up everything I’d detailed, and I received 100% of the available marks for quality.
The 2013 Ridler report stated that accreditation is increasingly becoming a minimum standard required – for internal, not just external coaches. 54% of sponsor organisations look for their external coaches to be accredited, and 37% require this of their internal coaches. “The majority of sponsor organisations now expect their external coaches to be accredited by a professional coaching body. Accreditation is seen as a ‘quality badge’ – an acknowledgement that coaches are established and operating at a certain level.” If this is to be believed, I’m pleased that I can back up any claim I make with tangible evidence.
Interestingly, accreditation didn’t even get a mention in the two previous Ridler reports, so times are changing.
Ultimately, the client needs to feel happy that their coach is qualified and equipped to be able to help them. According to a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers, “52 percent of coaches report that their coaching clients expect the coach they hire to have credentials”. An accreditation of such high quality as that from the EMCC demonstrates strong professional integrity and ethics, and a high knowledge and skills base.
Though some coaches may have managed perfectly well without accreditation, and may, as a result, see this benchmark unnecessary, the fact that coaching practitioners are increasingly asked to provide proof of the claims they make, and also the impetus for coaches to meet specific standards, is seeing the demand for accreditation grow.
It may seem a rigorous process, but that’s the whole point – it’s thorough and detailed. From a cost point of view, it’s a few hundred pounds well spent, particularly if sponsors offering tenders now insist such accreditation is requisite. How much coaching work might be lost to those who decide not to become accredited?
Anything that’s hard to achieve is more worthy as a result. If accreditation was dished out willy-nilly, it would devalue the significance of their validation. That their accreditation is independently verified is another plus.
If you’re interested in hearing more about my executive coaching services, backed up by the security of an independent quality standard as a Senior Practitioner, contact me on 01302 220021, or via email@example.com.