What leadership tool is most often overlooked?


What leadership tool is most often overlooked?

Apparently, listening is. Though, when it is done well, it can create safety in the ever-changing working environment of new teams forming, employees leaving and entering the organisation, projects shifting priorities, etc. So, what helps anchoring this instable working environment? Focus on things we can control, instead of what we cannot control, like time spent listening to the other.

In her Harvard Business Review article, Melissa Daimler sums up some scientifically gathered facts about listening. We spend between a third to half our time listening and we don’t remember very much of it. Back in the 50s researchers found that listeners only retain about half of what has been said immediately after the conversation. I wonder what would remain of that quantity today.

Listening is a challenging skill to master in this extraverted world where the loudest voices are heard first. In my coaching sessions, I often illustrate the 3 types of listening Melissa discerns:

  1. Internal listening: when you pretend you’re engaging with the other person whilst checking your messages on your phone or laptop, being occupied with your own thoughts, worries and priorities.
  1. Focused listening: you engage with the other person, your phone is down, laptop aside, you are nodding in agreement, but you are not fully present. You are still elsewhere in your mind and you miss every nuance in the conversation.
  1. 360° listening: this is where you take time to fully connect. You’re not just listening to what the person is saying, but also how he is saying it and even better – what he is not saying: what topics give him energy, which don’t, and where the person pauses when speaking.

“Listening creates spaciousness, which we need to do good work,” Melissa continues. But how can you listen more? What conditions advocate listening?

  • Eye contact: look people in the eye. Don’t stare at your phone or laptop or glance outside the window. And smile.
  • Create space in your day: Melissa experiences that she listens more when she creates space in her day. So, manage your calendar and stop booking yourself out the entire day. Giving someone your undevided attention is absolutely priceless (not just in the office).
  • Ask more questions: most employees just want you to either affirm their line of thinking, or need a sounding board to be challenged for more solutions. So, first be sure to understand the situation and then, instead of giving advice, try asking several questions. Simultaneously, you are coaching your staff towards more confidence and autonomy.

Unfortunately, there is no black and white solution for all situations. There will always be exceptions. But next time you are talking, ask yourself: “Am I really listening, or just waiting for my turn to speak?” Perhaps you can pause to squeeze in a question instead of your advice or opinion. Try it!


Source: Harvard Business Review


“Resilience is about how you recharge, not how you endure.”

Strategically stopping and building in recovery periods during our day time is highly effective in building resilience. Apparently, our brains need as much sleep as our bodies do.

When coaching executives and managers I often draw the comparison with top sport. In order to achieve extraordinary results, we need to alternate practice with regular periods of substantial relaxation. No one wants heavy legs when you need to pull out your best sprint of the year, now do you?

In business and daily life this simple rule in self-management and prevention of burn-out is ever so easily overlooked. So, take at least three 5-minute breaks per day to stop the threadmill in your mulling brain. During one of those time-outs, think of 3 things you will undertake this week to recharge, rather than endure. My top three for this week:

  1. take 3 mindful 3-minute-breaks per day with focus on breathing
  2. go to sleep when I feel tired instead of staying glued to Netflix
  3. collect my daughter from school on foot instead of using the car

I know, it’s not rocket science. But it still is very powerful and easy to do.

So, how will you stop to recharge yourself this week? More tips in the full Harvard Business Review article.




What influences coaching outcomes more: relationship or technique?

Well, I didn’t know at first either to be honest. I was guessing technique while I was hoping for relationship. Let me explain how I found out.

On the 1st of December I was invited to a seminar hosting Professor Erik De Haan at Vlerick Business School. Erik is Director of the Centre for Coaching at Ashridge Business School and Professor of Organisation and Development at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. He enlightened a room full of coaches how relational coaching can support contemporary leaders. Counter to what I expected, he came with some surprising and both reassuring research findings on the effectiveness of coaching.

The most remarkable finding of his ‘Greatest ever Research Programme’ based on research in psychotherapy to me was this. Not the coaching technique or intervention chosen by the coach influences the outcome of coaching most. Apparently, the only thing that can (albeit indirectly) influence the outcome is the relationship between the coach and the coachee.
It means that picking the right intervention or coaching model to support the coachee prevails less than managing and monitoring the relationship between coach and coachee.

Mind you, it does not suggest that, while the relationship with the coachee is safeguarded, the coach can adopt any eclectic approach he desires to reach a successful outcome. No. It suggests rather the opposite, that, if a coach is committed to his own coaching ideology and approach, it will add to his effectiveness. Note the change in emphasis: by making the relationship with the coachee explicit and stronger, the coach will achieve better outcomes with the coachee than by focusing largely on technique.

As coaches, we need to keep discussing the quality of the relationship openly with the coachee. What is it he wants, what he expects from a coach professionally, in terms of agreement on tasks and goals. If the coach takes this up as main focus – and not just at the beginning of the coaching journey, but rather throughout it – it will automatically lead to more self-understanding and self-changing of the coachee.


“I don’t believe in coaching.”

“I don’t believe in coaching.” That’s what a manager of a well-respected and growing organisation once confided me. I was baffled. From my experience I had seen it work on so many levels, but I could not convince him. He had his mind already made up.

Today, the International Coaching Federation backs up the benefits of coaching with hard figures in a 2016 study, conducted independently by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Study reveals clear benefits of business coaching

The benefits of using a professional coach are manifold: respondents claim it improves their performance at work (70%), business management (67%) and time management (57%). And there is more.

Those who undertake coaching can also expect increased self-confidence (80%), improved relationships on the work floor (73%), enhanced communication skills (72%) and a better work-life balance (67%).

96% would repeat the coaching process eyes closed

Overall, the learning and new insights offered by individual coaching returns the investment to the entire business (86%). The satisfaction rate of coaching is extraordinarily high (99% ‘somewhat or ‘very satisfied’). No wonder 96% would repeat the process eyes closed.

I witnessed coachees grow in self-confidence, undertaking steps after coaching they would not have before. One coachee decided to leave her father’s company, another started her own business. One extraverted manager was surprised how much his relationship with an introverted employee in his team improved after learning about MBTI. And a top executive who had accomplished almost everything in his career found peace and decided to take up a final challenge as mentor in his company.

So, what will be your story?


A simple choice that kept me from ruining the family holidays

This year everything is different. Not just professionally (I’m self-employed now), but also in terms of holidays. Usually we pack for a fortnight’s stay in the lovely hills of the Provence, France, close by the most picturesque Luberon villages such as Gordes, L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Fontaine de Vaucluse, … . But this year we decided to visit the queen of Belgian seaside cities, beautiful Ostend.

Suddenly, my mind goes blank with panic

Not sure about the weather, we packed everything we could possibly need that week: rain wear, sun wear, party games, running shoes, yoga mat, books, laptop, towels, sleeping pillows, … the lot. With a fully loaded car we brightly headed off for a straight 100 kilometers to the Belgian coast. We had a lovely evening drive, no traffic at all, sunshine all the way. My daughter and husband were thrilled with anticipation. In the minutes before arrival they started playing summer songs like Surf City, the Lambada and Summer in the City on the car radio to get in the mood. But then, as we stop at the last traffic light before the apartment, my mind suddenly goes blank with panic: “OMG, did I bring the keys?”

Why not go back tomorrow ?

I collected myself, focused on my breathing, feeling the sensations in my body without letting this initial panic get ahead of me. I ask my husband to look for the key in my handbag behind the zipper. As he tries to find what is not there I tell them that I have forgotten to bring the keys and that I am really really really sorry. His reaction is silence and a numb stare outside the car window. He wanted to return immediately. In the past I would have been unforgiving towards myself for such a forgetfulness. Now, I could see what was there: we were by the sea, with no key, and we’d have to drive back 100 kilometers to get it. Such was the situation. I accepted it. Surprisingly, I was able to remain calm and be kind to myself and understanding in the disappointment of my dearest family members. We headed back home in silence while I kept bringing awareness to my breath and the whole body. And then, when we finally took the last turn towards our street, something amazing happened. Suddenly my husband smiled lightheartedly: “What a splendid holiday we had in Ostend. I know, it was all too short, but ever so relaxing. Next time, let’s stay a little longer, don’t you agree? Why not go back tomorrow?”

We all started laughing so hard our bellies ached with amusement. At home, we ate the evening pick-nick we packed for in the apartment, kept laughing and mocking the situation, concluding that we now had another funny story to tell at parties. We decided to drive back to Ostend the morning after, all in good spirits. That was our choice of dealing with it.

A simple choice makes all the difference

Would I have been able to cope with this unfortunate situation without the mindfulness practice? Probably not. It could have been an ugly experience, enough to ruin the whole holiday. But it wasn’t. Staying calm and not making a drama of this influenced my husband’s and daughter’s reactions. That’s what a daily practice can do for you: you make a free choice to have a good holiday. And that choice makes the difference between a good and a bad holiday.