Thursday, 11 December 2008

‘Tis the season … for giving…

In the spirit of giving, this Christmas, I’ve decided to make a donation to ZANE (Zimbabwe a National Emergency) - I’m doing this instead of sending Christmas cards to friends, relatives and clients. Given the huge challenges that exist in Zimbabwe and around the globe, it feels like the right thing to do.

I wish you all a peaceful, happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

Best wishes,


Tuesday, 18 November 2008

ConfidenceIt’s all in the mind

When referring to the current economic challenges, Niall Ferguson, the journalist and prolific author who specializes in financial and economic history tells us that “Fifty percent of the problem is confidence.” When I heard him say that on the BBC, I decided to further investigate by interviewing a couple of City Fund Managers and analysts. Each of the individuals I spoke to concurred with Mr. Ferguson’s take. In fact, some of them believe that it's much higher than 50%!

So, I thought to myself, if what Ferguson and other economic experts are saying about confidence is accurate, we can fix that… can’t we? A healthy self-confidence is pivotal when making any important decision. It enables us to be passionate, resolute and focused. So what happens when our confidence becomes weakened, or eroded? Or more importantly, what do we need to do when we’re able to recognise those debilitating feelings?

A lack of self-confidence is often brought on by unhelpful thoughts, thoughts that often are not verifiable. Contemporary psychologists call that kind of thinking, catastrophizing. So, if we can better manage our emotions, can we better manage ourselves in business? The answer is an unequivocal yes, of course we can. Daniel Goleman’s books on EQ (Emotional Intelligence) are perfect foils for those of you who are feeling a little less steady on your feet. Having used EQ in my personal life and my coaching practice since its inception about 20 years ago, I can attest to the positive effect it has on people. It teaches us how to manage our emotions, in effect, to transcend them. EQ is one of the most helpful ways we can prevent ourselves being at the mercy of those negative feelings.

As Steve Forbes, editor-in-chief of business magazine Forbes and former U.S Presidential candidate said in a recent BBC interview - “Emotion is your enemy.”

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Whose Blog Is It Anyway?

Only after I completed the blog I was going to post next, did I realise that I wouldn’t be posting it. I must have read and re-read it a half a dozen times. My wife, Kate, read it at least three times; clearly this was a message to quit. However, I’m not a quitter, so I decided to write this instead:

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough of doom and gloom from the media. Okay, I’m not suggesting that we should be in denial… fat chance. What I am saying is that we need to keep a healthy perspective, really. Ruby Wax told Andrew Marr on his BBC Sunday show that the terrible situation in Congo should be at the top of everyone’s minds, not the Ross, Brand BBC thingy. I agree with Ruby. However, I don’t know about you, but my mind is so full of information and to-do stuff that I don’t have enough space for much more. Particularly if it’s the kind of ‘more’ that I feel deserves thoughtful attention from me, which the Congo clearly does.

So, I’ve decided to give more attention to me! Yes, the person I usually put at the end of my to-do list. I figure that if I spend quality time keeping fit, healthy and positive, I’ll feel better about me. And if I feel good about me, I’ll be able to do my job better, and maybe take on more ‘stuff.’ That’s because my self esteem will become buoyed, and my outlook on life will be that much brighter. In short, my default will be to see the glass as half-full more of the time.

Remember this – you are your greatest asset, ensure that you invest… in you! When we begin to realise that, it gives us the opportunity take another look at how we treat ourselves. Treat yourself as you would someone you care about. In these challenging times, we’re all we’ve got. Take care of you so you can take care of those close to you. Consider it your responsibility to ensure you stay healthy emotionally and physically. Even if you go for a long walk three times a week, eat healthier food or send a small amount of money to help people in the Congo. In fact, that’s it – I’ll donate some money to the Congo… now that’s one thing less to do on my to-do list!

Friday, 10 October 2008

Leadership Style…

You may be asking what style has to do with leadership. I asked Roger Mavity, CEO of Conran Holdings and co-author of Life’s a Pitch about the qualities and characteristics he thought were important in leaders. Amongst honesty, strategic thinking and being a good listener, Roger mentioned style. Here’s what he said about leaders with style: “They’re living a bit more than other people.” I agree, in that the leaders I’ve coached and interviewed who most impress me lead a richer life than others. It’s as if, irrespective of age, gender or experience, they have the kind of wisdom that commands attention and respect from those they encounter. In these challenging times, these are the kinds of leaders we need.

So, how would we know if a leader, which could mean you, your boss or our Prime Minister, is the kind of person I’m talking about? Here are 7 ways to find out:

- Business leaders need to be authentic if they want others to follow them.

- When business people talk about being a workaholic to impress us, they’re living a bit less.

- Awareness is one of the keys to being an effective leader: you need eyes in the back of your head.

- A passionate leader enables people to follow him or her. Not only can you hear passion, it’s something you can actually feel.

- Body language. Yes, we’re back to that topic… In short, keep it open, friendly and stand tall.

- In order to influence listeners, leaders must communicate with energy and enthusiasm.

- Leaders need to be courageous, pragmatic, positive, visionary and focused.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Right Here, Right Now...

The life we have now, Is It: this is our one opportunity to get it right. And in order for us do this, we need to be reminded of how to live in the now. However, living in the present and not the future has become a bit of an anathema. Therefore, we need to learn how we can achieve a state that enables us to be grateful, kinder, more conscious and self-reflective. If we imbue these characteristics, we’ll be far more appreciative of what we actually have and less focused on what we don’t have or continue to crave. This is how we can begin to achieve a sense of well-being, or wholeness, something we all want. Dr. Robert Cialdini, bestselling author of Influence: Science and Practice says that one of the ways we can influence people is by being ‘nice.’ It’s interesting to note that David Cameron is now taking advice from Dr. Cialdini.

The Sunday Times Style magazine recently had an article in it called The Power of Now. Seven writers were asked if they’ve learned to appreciate the present. I was struck by one writer who said, “People realise experiences are remembered. What you hold in your heart is more powerful than what you hold in your hand.” The writer, Rosie Boycott said, “All we have is this moment: don’t throw it away, because it sure as hell isn’t coming back.”

Joe Pine, co-author of The Experience Economy, predicts that economy will be driven by transformation. “People will grow tired of fleeting experiences and search for more meaningful ones that transform us into better people – physically, spiritually, and psychologically.” Zoe Lazarus, the trend consultant who coined Generation Now, says: “Nowadays, things are outmoded almost before they have arrived. This collective myopia and speed of change affect what we value.” Generation Now, she says, is a rebellious countertrend to the fact that we should be slowing down and valuing things that take time.

I’d be very interested to know what you think about these views regarding the power of now, or should I say, weaning ourselves off of the addiction to having it all, now. Any and all comments are welcome.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

The Power of Empathy

When we truly empathise with someone, they feel and experience it in a very positive way. Empathy is an extremely powerful tool to use in order to connect with someone. When a person feels that we are genuinely empathising with them, they respond with more openness. They become more amenable. Furthermore, they begin to trust us. As you know, you can’t buy trust… however, with empathy you can enable it to emerge.

So, how does one do empathy? To start with, you make a conscious decision that you want to empathise. You might say, why would I want to do that? Well, maybe there’s someone in your life that’s aloof, or cold-acting. And for business reasons you believe having a better relationship with them is likely to be helpful to you. Empathy helps us to engage and build rapport with anyone. Maybe there's someone you know who's having a tough time at home. Taking the time to ask them how they are doing in a caring, genuinely interested way, will enable them to feel better. Empathy creates a win-win. We feel better about ourselves when we empathise, as does the person with whom we empathise.

Rather than set out the ‘steps to empathy’, I thought I’d talk about how it feels to be on the receiving end of empathy. For the most part it feels considerate, kind, thoughtful and generous. It’s as if the empathiser is thinking about us more than themselves. In addition, it feels as though they genuinely care about our well-being. Okay, you might say, I can’t do that with everyone. No, of course you can’t. What you can do is to start by choosing someone whom you feel might benefit from a dose of empathy. Perhaps somebody you know who's received some bad news and is feeling low and/or dejected.

The first thing to do is consider how you might feel if you were in their position.
Say for instance, someone you know has been told the job they were hankering after has been given to somebody else. And the reason they didn’t get the job was because they failed the final interview. And the reason they failed was because just before the interview, they received some very bad news about a close family member. This news, 'threw' them, therefore, they were not able to give their best shot at this crucial time. Now, put yourself in their place. What might you want to experience in terms of empathy from someone who knew the full story? Consider what you would like to hear them say, what you'd like to feel if you were in a position such as the interviewee mentioned. Write those words down, also, write down the feelings you'd like to accompany the words. Then, the next time somebody you think is worthy of empathy comes your way, remember those words and feelings and pass them on to that person.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Renewable Energy… Yes, please – I’ll have some of that

For those who might be thinking that this blog is about escalating oil prices, or the increases on household gas and electricity bills, think again. What I mean by energy is Human Energy, an invisible force that enables us to feel fully alive. One of the dictionary’s definitions of ‘renewable’ is “Inexhaustible or replaceable by new growth.” In a way, I think that says it all.

We often describe someone who exudes the kind of energy I’m talking about as being switched-on, charismatic or perhaps energising. In order to be a person who emits that expression of vitality, first one needs to watch their language. As Rudyard Kipling once said, “Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” Here are the words I find boost my energy, both inside and outside -
Yes. Please. Thank you. You’re welcome. I apologize.

If you’re interested in absorbing more energy and adding zip to the way you communicate, I’m going to make you an offer you can refuse. The first three people who contact me about this blog will receive a 30-minute free-of-charge coaching session on Energy.

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Parting of the Ways -

I’ve fallen out with the hair salon I’ve been frequenting for about two years. Paying loads of money for a haircut in a fashionable West End salon has always seemed, well, a bit silly. Maybe it’s a man thing. Nevertheless, I liked the way Veronique (not her real name) cut my hair and the salon’s atmosphere and price were fine.

When I phoned to make my last appointment, no mention was made of a price increase. There was no notification at reception, nor was I advised at any time that my haircut had gone up by 30%. Only when I went to pay did I realise that there had been a price hike. That’s when the snooty male receptionist announced the increase, as he matter-of-factly inserted my card into the machine. While the transaction was being processed I said, “Excuse me but that’s more than I usually pay.” He said, in a no-eye contact robotic fashion, “Our prices went up this month.” That was it.

I know the Manager of the salon; I caught his eye and suggested that if you are going to raise prices by 30%, it would be good to advise the customer in advance of them being gowned, or should that be gauged! He responded with some lame excuse and what I would describe as an almost-apology. You know the kind of thing, when someone tells you they are sorry if you are upset by what happened to you, not that they are sorry that they were the cause of the upset. So what’s the big deal, you might say? Here’s the big deal. I want to be treated as though I’m special. I want to feel as though my custom is considered important, something that’s valued.

In short, I want good old fashioned excellent customer service. When, as in this case, a luxury-priced service provider makes no attempt or effort to make a disgruntled customer feel better, they don’t deserve to keep the customer. It’s so simple, all the Manager had to do was offer me this haircut at the old price, or give me a couple of their own-brand hair products as a gesture of goodwill. Or, perhaps send me an e-mail saying sorry about the lack of communication regarding the price increase. I wanted it to be demonstrated that my custom was valued and that they wanted me to come back - I guess what I’m really saying is don’t just stand there… do something!

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Celebrating Being Different

When I was in the fashion business, I spent oodles of time being inauthentic. I applauded enthusiastically at runway shows in Paris, Milan and New York, even when I thought the collections were both uninspired and un-wearable. I went to restaurants, bars and clubs because they were ‘in’ not because they were any good. Okay, a few were quite good.

I never felt that I fitted in at any of these fashionable venues - I tried, but the reality was I just didn’t. I’d have been happier reading a book in my hotel room, or exploring the not-so fashionable enclaves of the cities I visited. One really, really sweltering hot weekend in Milan, I made my first foray into being real. I declined two invitations: one to go to the beach, the other to go to the mountains. In the summer, no one stays in Milan after lunch on a Friday. This time, I did.

I read the Herald Tribune… every page! I started to write a journal of my experiences that week. I explored the ghostly streets of Milan. They were void of (fashionable) people, most shops were closed and there was hardly any traffic; now, that’s a rarity in the centre of Milan. I lunched at a restaurant on the Via Manzoni, an elegant street that has a distinct feeling of understated luxury. During fashion week this particular restaurant would be mobbed with who’s who in the industry. However, on this clammy grey Saturday, there were just a few well-heeled Milanese families enjoying their lunch.

I spent time in an area known as the Brera, Milan’s Soho. This was long before it became known as a trendy area. I discovered antique furniture shops that specialised in late 19th century and early 20th century Italian furniture. Seeing mobili (Italian for furniture) of those eras was very new to me – unlike anything I’d seen before. The very dark wood of the large pieces seemed to exaggerate the bold, curvaceous design and unusually ornate fittings for that period.

As my weekend in Milan was drawing to an end, I chose to have a snack before returning to the hotel for the night. I happened upon a very ordinary looking bar that had sandwiches and coffee. I ordered a toasted Panini with cheese and a cup of coffee. A far cry from the trendy restaurants I’d be lunching and dining in the next day. I can’t say that the weekend changed my life, or that I’d suddenly become authentic. What I can say is that I woke up to the fact that although I enjoyed the business of being in the fashion business, I realised I was totally disconnected from its culture. I also had my first real lesson in what it means to experience feeling more authentic. And, as they say, the rest is history.

Monday, 26 May 2008

You Brand, you…

If you were a brand, how would you like people to describe you? In fact, how would you describe yourself?

When we consider the brands that we enjoy buying and using, it’s our right brain that’s engaged in the process. The right side of the brain is ruled by feelings and imagination, it’s where our emotions reside. The left side of the brain relies on logic, facts and caution. When we think or talk about a product we like, one that has strong brand recognition, we usually describe it in these terms: “My favourite brand of paper towels is…” or, “I love the XXX brand of skin care products”. What underpins our brand loyalty is almost always emotional – what we feel about the brand. (Ask yourself what you’d like people to feel about you.)

We all love brands that promise to improve our lives, or make us feel better. Remember, “Persil washes whiter” and “Guinness is good for you.” Equally, brands that touch us in some way, earn our loyalty. Perhaps you’ve remained faithful to a brand since childhood. That brand is likely to hold memories of a time you remember fondly. Maybe you’ve come to rely on a particular brand because you trust it and it makes you feel safe and secure. Take a can of Heinz baked beans. When you look at the distinctively shaped black label on the blue can, (red and white logo in the USA) you can almost see and smell the beans. You know what to expect, it’s both familiar and emotionally satisfying. In fact, you might say that “It does exactly what it says on the tin”. (For my American friends and relatives, that saying is equivalent to walking the talk; ‘tin’ is interchangeable for “can” in the UK.)

Here, you might want to ask yourself if you do exactly what it says on the tin. Or indeed, does your ‘tin’ say what you do? And if it does, is the description accurate? One of the ways you can begin to answer these questions is by asking yourself this: if you were a product, what might that product be? One of my corporate female clients told me if she were a product, she’d be a bottle of Louis Roederer Crystal champagne. She explained why – it’s reassuringly expensive, of excellent quality, reliable, bubbly, always in style and contained in a shapely bottle. If you knew this woman, you’d see how closely she comes to those descriptions. Oh, about the ‘expensive’ bit, she commands a deservedly extremely high salary.

In order for you to establish what you’d like your tin to say about you, first, you’ll need to find out what’s inside the tin. Then your ‘label’, that which represents you, the brand, can be tailored to mirror the contents. It’s a kind of an inside-outside project: is what’s going on inside, aligned with what’s going on outside? When you’ve established a congruent match, as a brand, you’ll become easily recognisable, and if you get lucky, you’ll become highly desirable!

Sunday, 4 May 2008

The Resurrection of Style

Oliver Sacks, the accomplished author and neurologist, says this about style, “Style, neurologically, is the deepest part of one’s being, and may be preserved, almost to the last, even in dementia.” So what’s that got to do with style as we know it? A person who has style, that is, personal style, has it in the deepest part of their being. And yes, it can be preserved until the last. That’s why it’s called style… it transcends fashion and yet is always in fashion. Unfortunately in today’s culture, it isn’t being preserved; it’s been prematurely buried. And now is the time to dig it up, open the coffin and unleash it on an unsuspecting public.

Fashion has replaced style… unsuccessfully. That’s because style is irreplaceable, and unlike fashion, you can’t buy it. For some, it’s as if it’s attached to their DNA. Take Kristin Scott-Thomas or George Clooney, they continually exude effortless personal style. They are not exactly fashion icons, however, they are iconic, that’s because they don’t look like everyone else. People who have personal style don’t want to look like a fashion victim. Thinking about it, who’d want to look like a victim of anything? They want to be remembered for who they are, not what they wear.

In the last ten years, in the UK, and in particular, London, personal style has been replaced with The Stepford Wives - everyone looks the same. We’ve lost our Personal Style Mojo. Most of the fashionable shops look the same. I swear, if you swapped around all the designer names of all the fashion shops on the High Street, the consumer wouldn’t know. That’s because each fashion retailer purveys ‘the look’, the same look. How boring. What happened to individuality, someone who doesn’t follow fashion, who’d actually rather be followed, and is known for their uniqueness?

Your style is personal, it’s all about you. And it’s up to you to determine what your personal style is. That means taking responsibility for how you want to come across, and as importantly, how you’d like to feel. To a large degree, how we feel dictates how we look. And although we may not be aware of it, others can ‘see’ how we feel. So it doesn’t matter if you’re wearing a trendy handkerchief-style dress and 7 inch heels, if you don’t feel good about you, that’s what we’ll see first.

Here are some practical tips that will help you to resurrect your Personal Style Mojo:
Let’s start with the three F’s: Fit – Flatter – Feel. If any clothing item (shoes included) doesn’t fit to flatter or ‘feel’ right, say “No”. If you look in the mirror and see a Stepford Wife, say “No”. If you have to ask more than one person’s opinion about how you look in a clothing item, say “No”. Your Personal Style is about who you are on the inside and the outside. It’s to do with what you stand for and won’t stand for. So don’t be influenced by the media’s insistence that in order to be ‘somebody’ your body has to be stick thin. Or, that if you don’t dress like a Footballer’s Wife, you’ll be a social pariah. Learn how to be you. Then, when you next go shopping, you’ll know who you’re shopping for!

“Fashion fades, only style remains the same”
Coco Chanel

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Service with a Snarl...

Why is it I ask myself that I’m still whingeing on about customer service in London? Well, it’s because it’s still rubbish. Why is it that the consumer in the UK, particularly in London, is treated so poorly in restaurants, shops and by service providers? Now there’s an oxymoron, I think they should be called ‘no service’ providers.

London is considered the third most expensive City in the world. Maybe that’s something to do with the reason we receive third rate customer service. We Londoners deserve value for money and the kind of service that is commensurate with the prices – elevated. I had the misfortune of shopping, if it indeed it can be called that, at one of those multi-national high-street retailers where you find the item you want to buy in a catalogue. Then, after you’ve established the item’s code number, you fill in a form; take it to the customer service counter (that’s a joke), hand over the form and wait for the salesperson to collect the goods from the stockroom.

I have to say that I find it a very odd way to purchase anything. Apart from having to deal with the kind of lighting that makes your passport photograph look as thought it was taken by a 4 year old, you’ve got customers and staff that are reminiscent of the extras in George Romero’s horror film classic, Night of the Living Dead. Anyway, the thing I wanted, a mini-hair-trimmer, which was about £10.00, seemed like a pretty straightforward purchase, I mean, what could go wrong? When I returned home I removed all of the absolutely unnecessary, wasteful packaging and retrieved the trimmer. I slid the on-switch forward - nothing happened. Now, although I’m pretty useless at anything electrical, after several attempts at trying to get the trimmer to work - it was clear the device was faulty. I rewrapped it and headed back to the shop that gets its name from an ancient Greek City to get a refund.

To cut a long story short, after a very long wait, an assistant told me that any electrical item opened by a customer, cannot be returned for an exchange, refund or credit. That was company policy and that was that. I explained that had I not opened the packaging, I wouldn’t have discovered that the item was damaged. There was a deadly silence followed by a repetition of company policy. I expected to hear “Computer says no.” When I realised that this person was not going to help me, or for that matter speak to me like a human being, I asked to speak to the Manager. The Manager arrived and yet again, read out the company policy. I told him I was now fully aware of the company’s policy regarding the return of electrical items. It was then that I realised it was time for me to use a different tack. I thought I’d try to appeal to the Manager’s common sense, you know, really basic stuff. So I asked how he would feel if he made a purchase, un-wrapped the item only to find that it wasn’t in working order. This seemed to elicit a positive response! He said he understood and on this occasion would exchange the item. However, there were two catches: the first being that I must exchange the trimmer for a more expensive model. And the second catch was that I must take out insurance for the item. I said that this was not acceptable. Suddenly his tone changed and he went all robotic on me, again he explained the company’s policy regarding returns. I left the premises.

Now, here was my dilemma, do I throw the bloody thing away or fight for my rights. You guessed it - I went on a crusade. Eventually, after phoning I can’t remember how many 0870 numbers; I spoke to a person who actually empathised with my frustration. I was given the phone number of Head Office, where the MD is based. By the way, when I realised how much it was costing me to call these various 0870 numbers, I found – Lo and behold a site that provides you with alternative ‘geographical’ numbers, which cost a third of ‘non-geographical’ numbers. And here’s the best bit, more often than not they also offer you a Freephone number. Hooray! After much determination and perseverance, I managed to get through to the office of the MD - I was put through to the MDs PA. A young man, with a rather high-pitched voice, said “Good afternoon, this is Adrian Noble (not his real name) you’ve reached the office of…” etc, etc. I have to say, Adrian had lots of energy, an efficient sounding manner and was clearly someone who likes people. Something one would want to have in a PA. At last, I thought, someone who wants to help me and is not treating me like the enemy. You may be asking yourself how was I able to deduce that he was efficient, liked people, etc. in such a short space of time. Well, if you do what I do for a living, have been doing it as long as I have, you learn to pick up verbal cues, voice tone and pitch, all of which indicate strongly the type of person you are talking to.

Without to much ado, Adrian apologised profusely and said that the store Manager had ‘absolutely no right’ to impose any of the conditions he did. In addition, he was particularly appalled that the Manager had attempted to ‘blackmail’ me into purchasing insurance. Adrian assured me he would take this up with the Area Manager. So what about the faulty trimmer? Before I forget this, at no time did I tell Adrian exactly what the item was, or the cost, I just told him it was a ‘small electrical device’. Without any fuss, Adrian said as a matter of goodwill, he would double the amount I paid for the item and send me a cheque within 48-hours. I wondered afterwards if Adrian’s decision to send me double the amount I paid for the trimmer was predicated on the fact that I told him it was a ‘small’ electrical item. My £20 cheque arrived 2-days later, accompanied by a very well written letter of apology. If only I had purchased a very, very large electrical item…