Inspirational

Who’s Laughing Now?

The Change Gear team is an incredibly talented one; each of our consultants brings a diversity of thought and experience to everything that we do. In this post our resident stand-up comic (as well as expert facilitator and coach), Sam Sanns reflects upon what she has learned about the relationship between comedy and leadership and whether leaders can learn anything from the world of stand-up.


A leader, a stand-up and a cynic walk into a boardroom…

Having worked in the worlds of coaching and stand-up comedy for the past two decades, I’ve become increasingly curious to see how these two very different worlds collide. I’m not usually one for a big bang so have instead decided to eagerly straddle both worlds in the service of exploring the true value of humour in corporate settings, providing tangible skills that a leader can employ. 

My career started in acting. I went to drama school after reading the shocking statistic that 95% of actors are unemployed at any one time. Result! You only have to work 5% of the time! It swiftly dawned on me however that only working 5% of the time meant you were only paid 5% of the time, which I hadn’t really thought through and so turned my hand to comedy. I also started to look for opportunities to utilise my passion for self-development and instilling confidence; something where I could help individuals who were blocked in realising their full potential. I studied hard and qualified as an Advanced Executive Coach. This provided a bridge between the brutal world of stand-up comedy and the often-sit-down tragedy of the boardroom. 

Business and humour are traditionally unhappy bedfellows. Of course, there’s the broad seriousness of making money, though often the differing roles and status of those collectively contributing to the company’s success can present communication challenges. I believed this to be worthy of further examination so, purely as an exercise, I pitched up a tent in the C Suite to see if I couldn’t create a titter or two, proving that they’re actually a match made in heaven, like Romeo & Juliet, Posh & Becks, Boris & Brexit. My objective was not to create stand-up comedians of leaders, but instead share the strategies and skills employed by comedians to win hearts and minds. This is what I discovered:

What’s in it for you as a leader?

Building Trust

Many communication models (including Patrick Lencioni) highlight vulnerability as an essential ingredient in building trust within a team. Humour is a way for leaders to show their humanity and a useful, controlled tool for shining a light on ‘selective’ vulnerability. No need to diminish your status or fear that you’ll come across as unhinged – humour can remove potential for an awkward response and leave you looking confident and credible as you reveal your poker hand with no apology. Trust will build. 

Being Present

Stand-ups live or die by how present they are. Trust me on this! A recent session I attended with global leaders illustrated just how hyper-vigilant one needs to be in order to observe reactions, stay in the moment and adapt one’s style to effectively influence the room. How often do we allow ourselves to fully sit in current reality and just observe the raw data? It can be overwhelmingly exposing to just ‘be’ and to put our own agenda aside. There are many exercises and strategies a stand-up will employ in order for them to read the room, enabling them to make conscious choices on delivering material, being physical, pushing boundaries and getting the timing right.  All this results in the notion that the individual who visibly displays the skills is one who is at the core – present; in stark contrast to one who hides behind the twin shields of PowerPoint and corporate jargon.

Authenticity

Humour can’t be faked. You can lie about your LinkedIn profile, be creative about your credibility, even say “I do” with a straight face when “I’d rather not” is your gut reaction, but you can’t ‘apply’ comedy. It is, by default, authentically you. Leaders who authentically connect with and influence their teams are those who are truthful, direct and honest. Comedy is egalitarian and provides a shared experience across all levels of an organisation and can break down barriers. There’s nothing better than being in a room where everyone is on the same page. It creates a common ground where colleagues at all levels can feel heard and valued. Laughter is contagious and an involuntary reaction to something that is funny. It’s always more about the relationships, not the jokes. As a word of caution though, not all leaders are authentically funny and the use of comedy to mask a hidden agenda can go horribly wrong and often just look and sound desperate. There are enough toe-curling examples by politicians over the years to illustrate this (Teresa May’s Dancing Queen anyone?) And a word of caution I’m not talking about the evil that is “banter” either, which is the exact opposite of authentic communication and often has a divisive rather than collaborative impact. 

Neuroscience

A good joke has a setup that takes the listener in one direction then delivers a punchline that sidetracks them down a completely different path. That wonderful ‘Aah, I didn’t see that coming!’ moment. Good comedy relies on the flexibility and adaptability of the front temporal lobe – the part of the brain responsible for spontaneity, problem-solving and judgement. People hear differently when they are amused, alert and open to suggestion. This can be of enormous benefit for leaders in a corporate environment, contributing to compelling storytelling, decision-making, consciousness and communication. 

Empathy

Humour provides an excellent tool to demonstrate empathy and draw out the best of human group behaviour.  To creatively share with a workforce that you know how they feel, without ever having to say; “I know how you feel, guys’ which can ignite a knee-jerk reaction of “Do you?!!!! Do you really??!!!” It can deflate tension in the workplace and is a means by which colleagues can openly share solutions and create a forward-thinking and transparent culture, taking teams from one emotional state into a more positive, future-focused mind set. It’s harder to feel like a victim when you’re laughing. Its rhetoric can provide an effective persuasive tool. A Clinical Director of an Intensive Care Unit, I worked with recently shared with me the value of humour in troubled times. Some professions seek refuge in black humour and already see the value of a leader that can stand unshakeable in this, think Adam Kay’s best-selling book “This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor” and you get the picture!

It’s absolutely not my intention to recreate Live at The Apollo within your workplace, or to encourage you to turn up to meetings riding a square-wheeled bike with a spinning bow tie. I will however provide a space where you can learn first-hand the value of comedy and the real benefit of appropriate humour. I will share exercises that bring this theory to life and offer techniques that you can put in your back pocket as another behavioural tool in your leadership toolkit. Try these techniques on for size and decide for yourself if they support you in your role as leader. At the very least, make someone smile today.

Mike drop.

If you would like to know about our lunch and learn session “Comedic Performance and Leadership” please get in touch with us at hello@change-gear.comwe would be delighted to share with you the details. What better way for your people to spend their lunch hour, than taking part in an endorphin-producing event, that will set them up for an afternoon packed full of productivity!

A YEAR WELL TRAVELLED

As 2018 came to a close I took some time to reflect back as I always do on what type of year it has been for me, my loved ones and of course – Change-Gear.  As always, the time feels like it’s flown. It seems like just a few months ago I was writing a blog pledging my new year’s resolution of using less plastic and here we are already; 12 months later and the time has come to set my goals and intentions again.

Like many other businesses, it was quite a tough one for Change-Gear.  The beginning of the year threw some difficult challenges our way but we continued to push forward and eventually, our hard work started to pay off. We found ourselves engaging with some exciting new clients and working on very different projects across a spectrum of sectors, many of whom we will be partnering within 2019.  Despite promising myself that I would improve my work-life balance in 2018 I can honestly admit that did not happen.  If anything, I found myself working many evenings and most weekends to keep things going.  By the time it got to my summer break in August I was exhausted.  10 days didn’t seem long enough and I found myself feeling like the holiday hadn’t happened.  I knew something had to give and when the opportunity came along to visit my friend who was living in Brazil I jumped at the chance.  This coincided with a number of projects abroad in the second half of the year.  I couldn’t believe the amount of travelling I was doing – work trips to Amsterdam, Brussels, New York. It felt like I was on and off planes continually.  But at the back of my mind, I knew that I wanted to spend more time with my family.  We decided to book a ski holiday for Christmas to finish the year.

So back from my ten days in Portugal my first adventure took me to NYC at the back of a work trip.  I decided if I was going all that way I wanted to spend some time there enjoying one of my favourite cities.  I tagged on an extra 3 days and managed to cover so much ground with only myself to think about.  From the heart-wrenching 9/11 Memorial to the High Line, Jazz at Blue Notes, Chelsea Market, back to Grand Central for cocktails and people watching, art galleries and shopping in Greenwich Village – I loved every second of it and felt really at ease being a solo traveller after years of family or group travel.  Coming home I felt energised and super excited about my impending trip to Brazil yet my son was back from his own adventure in Australia and had been back at university in Falmouth – I knew it was going to be tight to visit him before Christmas so I managed a short weekend break down to Falmouth to get my fix.  As always Cornwall never disappoints.  A week later I was packing again and on my way to South America. This trip far excelled my already high expectations – Rio was an incredibly vibrant city full of colour and live music and dance.  The first few days, amongst other things, had me at the top of Christ the Redeemer, attending the races, sipping beer watching the sunset over Ipanema Beach and visiting a secret jazz club high in a pacified favela.  The diverse culture and acceptance of all ages felt liberating – I loved seeing grandparents samba-ing with teenagers in city squares.  I wondered whether you’d ever see this in any part of the UK. After back to back adventures in Rio we headed off to Igaucu Falls and were lucky enough to stay in the National Park and see the Falls from both the Brazilian and the Argentinian sides.  We then headed to Paraty for some time on the Costa Verde enjoying the beautiful beaches and coastlines.  We finished the trip back in Rio and spent my last few days lapping up galleries, markets, botanical gardens and not forgetting the top of Sugar Loaf for the best views of the city.  As much as I was desperate to go home and see my family I knew I couldn’t wait to go back having only seen a fraction of what this beautiful country had to offer.  Hardly unpacked I was off for an impromptu weekend in Prague with some girlfriends – another beautiful city with so much to see and explore.  We covered almost everything in our short weekend and were lucky enough for it to snow on our first night so the town squares looked magical and the view from the top of Frank Gehry’s Dancing House Hotel was a real highlight.

And so finally I was home and unpacked and really looking forward to some time with my family on the Slopes – yet I knew I needed to see my mum and my sister before Christmas – how and when was the challenge.  I booked a ferry in between work commitments and found myself in the Isle of Wight where they lived, breathing in the fresh island air in Bembridge for another whistlestop trip.

And now I find myself sitting at the crowded airport in Turin after a wonderful week of skiing with my family in the beautiful resort of Cervinia in the Italian Alps – I’ve skied, I’ve eaten far too much and most importantly I haven’t thought about work (well not much).

I actually can’t believe how much travelling I have done in the past 6 months – the challenge has been fitting it in around my work – and so the weekend and evening work continued. Was it worth it?  Absolutely.  And yes, it’s left me hungry for my adventures.  Now my children are almost both grown up and independent I feel this will very much be a focus for me.

So, what are my hopes for 2019?  Of course, it’s for Karen and me to have a successful year with our talented Change-Gear team as we enter our 6thyear.  We will be setting our new business goals next week in our annual away days and are looking forward to some exciting times ahead.  For me personally, I will continue to strive to get a better work-life balance.  Having now been fortunate enough to have had a taste of new cultures and adventures – more travel will also be high on my list.  I’ll continue to work on looking out for our planet and apart from the other usual suspects of continuing to stay fit and eat well that will be about it for me.

Whatever your intentions are for 2019 we hope that it’s a great (well-balanced) year for you all with plenty of new adventures and places to explore

Happy new year from all at Change-Gear.

TIPS FOR GETTING ONTO A BOARD

I had the pleasure of meeting with Author, Selina Siak Chin Yoke earlier in 2018 who was happy to share details of her remarkable background with me. A most inspiring lady, Selina has written two books – ‘The Woman Who Breathed two Worlds’ – loosely inspired by her great-grandmother’s life and ‘When The Future Comes Too Soon”. (I’ve yet to read the second book but it’s on my reading list!). As well as discussing her successful and diverse career we found ourselves chatting about women in leadership, something we both felt passionately about.  Being a writer I couldn’t resist asking Selina if she would mind writing a guest blog for us which has just appeared in my inbox. Very timely with our up-coming seminar this Wednesday on bridging the gender pay gap.

When Carrie invited me to write a few sentences many months ago on the challenges of joining a company board, the media was awash with scandals involving pay, women and naked prejudice. Not only had the BBC been paying Martina Navratilova ten times less than John McEnroe for – as far as I’m concerned – the same work, but a report by the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy revealed eye-opening excuses as to why many FTSE companies had no women. The excuse that sticks out most for me is: “My other board colleagues wouldn’t want to appoint a woman on our board”. That’s precisely the point, though, isn’t it?

With so much focus on the topic, I thought that I should dust off my CV and try to get appointed as a non-executive director to another Board before writing this guest blog. This has taken longer than anticipated. Like many women, my career has gone down an unusual path and my main occupation today is as a novelist. I’m a traditionally published author and my agent had asked me to rewrite parts of my third novel. In the middle of that, it was almost impossible to think about revamping a CV.

Once I did, though, things moved pretty quickly. Within weeks I was approached by a headhunting firm and my name was put onto a list of candidates for a board position (still in process). I’ve since also been asked to join another board whose chairman is an acquaintance. All this to say that there’s plenty of hope! If you’re wondering how to get onto a board, below are a number of suggestions.

First, use your networks. If this sounds obvious or trite, it’s not meant to be. Telling as many people as possible expands your realm of possibilities. Speaking to other businesspeople has helped me clarify what I may want and what I’ll avoid when it comes to board roles. For me, being a non-executive director is not a career – it’s an add-on. I’m working on another book already, but at the same time I have twenty years of solid experience in finance – first as an investment banker and then as a quantitative trader – which some board is hopefully going to appreciate. A slight digression here that may be reassuring: the fact that I left finance eight years ago isn’t necessarily a barrier. A non-executive director needs to be independent. Being a little removed from the industry currently can actually prove helpful. So don’t discount your abilities just because your experience dates back in time.

Secondly, make sure you have a profile on LinkedIn, that the profile is up-to-date and puts your experience forward in the best possible light. This was how the headhunter mentioned above contacted me. A disclaimer: I was appointed to the board of a corporate finance boutique many years ago and have remained on it. Being already on one board is immensely helpful for getting on to the next board. Yet, I didn’t even think to put my board experience on LinkedIn until recently!

Thirdly, have your CV critiqued. Show it to a friendly audience first if you wish. Also, let a headhunter look at it. I had to rewrite my CV completely!

There are many websites which claim to connect companies with possible non-executive director candidates. You have to pay to join some of these without really knowing how effective they are. A website I can vouch for is nurole. I hadn’t heard of it, but as soon as I started talking to friends and acquaintances, three of them independently recommended nurole. It’s free to register, and your registration is first vetted before you’re sent an invitation email. You check off your interests and receive regular notifications about new roles. nurole works.

Finally, it’s worth giving thought to what you’d like to get out of being a non-executive director. There are hundreds of opportunities and you’ll have to decide which to pursue. Do you want to be compensated? If not, how many pro bono positions are you prepared to take on?

The world is our oyster now, but getting onto the right board(s) will take time. Good luck!

 A big thank you to Selina for sharing her advice and recent experiences with us.  I’m sure you will have all found this interesting and useful. If you’d like to hear more about Selina and her work please visit her website at http://www.siakchinyoke.com– and do read her books – a great Christmas gift too!

And don’t forget it’s not too late to sign up for our free breakfast seminar in collaboration with Moorcrofts Law this Wednesday 28thNovember. https://www.facebook.com/events/580144002414838/?ti=ia

 

A CHANGE IS CERTAINLY AS GOOD AS A REST

Way back in June my husband surprised me with a gift of a flight to Rio for our 20thwedding anniversary; a generous, but slightly unusual present as it was a trip just for me. My oldest friend had moved to Brazil 3 years ago and I’d been itching to visit her, coupled with the fact that I desperately needed a break from work.  Despite banging the drum to others on self-care, taking time out and not working too hard, I was guilty of not practicing what I preached. I was my own worst enemy; working late nights and weekends was the norm rather than the exception and I was feeling worn down. Brazil (as exciting as it sounded) could have been Brighton – as long as there was a bed and no work, I’d got to the point that I wasn’t too fussed.

Of course, well known for my love of a travel book, I bought the Lonely Planet guide to Brazil which sat by my bedside as I had no time to read it – plus I was lucky enough to have the best tour guide in the world at my disposal when I arrived, so I honestly hadn’t given much thought to what I was about to experience (was desperately trying to ignore those warning me of the current political situation and danger in the favelas too).  I arrived in Rio late evening greeted by my friend, her husband, a garland and tropical plant pot with much excitement about my two weeks of downtime and was presented with a suggested itinerary I greedily lapped up.

Despite being on my knees with tiredness the adventure began on Day 1 – we had 72 hours in Rio before setting off for our first mini trip.  I experienced beach life in the amazing Ipanema and Copocabana beaches, a trip to the jockey club and a flutter on the horses, authentic Brazilian food and shopping at the beautiful town of Santa Teresa, visiting local street markets, sizzling samba in bars and city squares with the locals, jazz in the favelas – not to mention the obligatory visit to one of the ‘Wonders of the World’ – Rio’s most iconic Christ the Redeemer; an early start gave us an advantage over the hordes of tourists flocking to see the Big Man – and views from the top were certainly worth the trek.  A local told me that his arms are open wide ready to applaud the day when a Brazilian completes a full day of work (I can honestly say I get this now – with so much to do in this beautiful, diverse city I’m sure I’d feel the same if I lived here).

I seriously had a smile on my face for my first three days which didn’t disappear as we headed off to the airport to our next port of call, the incredible Foz do Iguacu.  We were lucky enough to stay at a hotel based in the National Park itself which meant we had the added advantage of being able to explore the park and the falls without the crowds.  I can honestly say I have never seen anything quite so spectacular – for those of you who haven’t been I’d certainly recommend trying to see the falls from both the Brazilian and the Argentinian sides – each offering its own unique panorama and feel.  And whatever you do, always go for the ‘wet’ rather than ‘dry’ boat trip option you are offered – but do wear waterproofs – my plastic poncho was absolutely pathetic compared to the full-on wetsuit and galoshes our boat man was wearing. No surprise he was the only one not looking like a drowned rat when we emerged from the fall force of the falls.  If Iguacu is not on your bucket list please don’t miss it.

After 3 full days of national parks in both Brazil and Argentina we headed back to Rio for a couple more days of galleries, beaches, sunsets, lunches and weather watching as storms were predicted and putting a question mark over our next adventure to the beautiful historic town on Paraty on the Costa Verde.  Being a terrible traveller, my friend was anxious about taking me on the 5-hour coach journey and arriving to 3 days of torrential rains but I was keen to go.  I wanted to see this place that she was raving about and knew it would be another diverse view of this country I was already beginning to get so fond of.  So 8 days into my trip I took my anti travel sickness pills and off we set for the bus station with clothes packed for all eventualities of weather.  I can’t even begin to share how glad I was we took the chance – for to have missed the wonders of Paraty would have been a terrible shame.  The ‘sturgeon’ worked a treat – not only did I not feel sick, I was also able to enjoy the stunning views along the coast line and couldn’t have felt happier as the sun began to shine and thankfully stayed with us our whole 3 days in this beautiful little part of Brazil.  Paraty was a little piece of heaven that will forever stay in my heart.  From cobbled streets to beautiful coves, rain forests, yoga classes in Portuguese and samba bands on the beach and in the square, Paraty packed a punch.  A special highlight was a private boat trip around the gorgeous islands where we visited deserted coves, hand-fed a rare species of monkey, swam amongst the turtles – and I even managed to conquer my fear of SUP boarding.

After sadly saying goodbye to a new favourite place in our world we headed back to Rio for my last few days in the city.  Keen not to miss anything we managed to visit the Instituto Moreira Salles with its incredible architecture offering views of Christ the Redeemer and a current enviable collection of African and Italian photographic exhibitions, then stroll through the beautiful botanic gardens with the biggest collection of cacti I’ve ever seen and visit a few more of Rio’s residential districts to lunch with the locals.  Of course I couldn’t come home without a visit to Sugarloaf Mountain – so on my penultimate day, with air temperatures on the street hitting 40 degrees we trekked up the mountain to pick up the cable car to get to the summit. It was certainly worth it for the breath-taking panoramic views it offered across the city – once again causing me to load the family WhatsApp with more enviable photos of my trip.

With one day left and a sense of not wanting to let my new found love leave me, my friend and I headed off to the Copacabana Palace Hotel where we had been invited for lunch by the Manager at our hotel in Iguacu National Park.  Over a lazy lunch I reflected on all of my adventures with my dear friend and had one final caiprinha before heading back to the apartment to pack my last few things in my suitcase.

So now as I sit at the airport waiting for my flight back home I can honestly say I have truly had the most magical of holidays in this incredible country and come home with a renewed energy and spirit ready for work and a desperate need to see my family (and my dog).  I have fallen in love with a country that wasn’t necessarily on my bucket list but now can’t wait to return to. In the words of my dear Mother – a change has certainly been as good as a rest.

I hope this little travelogue has whet your appetite for a visit to Brazil.  To find out more go www.visitbrazil.com

SPOT THE DIFFERENCE – ARE YOU A NOVELTY LOVER OR DO YOU CRAVE FAMILIARITY?

It’s that time of year when you’ve returned from your Summer break that you’ve been waiting on for what seems like forever.  You’re home but wishing you were still chilling by the beach or visiting magical cities and places without a care in the world.  Crash, bang – you’re back into the throes of work, wishing you perhaps hadn’t over indulged to the extent you did (in my case eaten too many pastel de natas) and wondering how long it is until your next holiday and committing to be fit and trim before you don your beachwear again.

Sound familiar?  Well “familiar” is exactly what I want to talk about today.  Whilst lying on my sun-lounger on afore-mentioned beach I found myself pondering what it was that had me returning to the same part of the world for my Summer break over and over again.  I always considered myself to be someone who likes to travel and see new things and that holiday time for me was about exploring places I’d never seen, attempting new activities I hadn’t tried before and finding new and exciting places to eat, drink and sometimes dance.

I’m not saying that I’ve only ever been to the same holiday destination and nowhere else – I’ve been fortunate to have many great experiences in beautiful places both near and far, but I can’t help feeling more and more comfortable when I return to my special spot in Portugal that holds my heart and brings me back time and time.  I find myself arriving and almost immediately I relax.  The very thought that I don’t have to think about how to find the beach/decent restaurants/local shops feels fantastic.  As soon as I get to the resort I feel like I’ve come home and it feels good.  I don’t need to be a tourist here – I can truly wind down.  Seeing the same faces in restaurants and bars feels comforting. I’ve long since stopped wondering why the same people work in these places for many years – I just now accept they do and am grateful to see them.

And is it just my holiday bookings that this love of familiarity applies to.  I search deeper into my habits and behaviours and find that perhaps I do love familiarity.  I’ve been in my current home for almost 13 years, lived in the same area for over 20 and have been running businesses and working with many of our team for almost the same length of time.  I’ve sadly shopped in the same supermarket for about 25 years (and even had a local branch down on my “new address” criteria list when house hunting – as well as needing to be living near water of some description).  I listen to the same genres of music I’ve listened to since I was a teenager, always shop in the same department store, go to the same gym classes, pick the same colour when buying a new purse, buy the same underwear brand and the list goes on!

But what does this say about me?  Am I so dull or lacking creativity that I take the easy option? Does it say I’m risk averse or that newness scares me?  I don’t think so.  In fact in many areas of my life I’m probably the complete opposite.  What I love about my work is the fact I get to meet so many new and varied clients and don’t have to go to the same place and do the same job every day.  Some days I am coaching, some facilitating large scale events, or delivering a workshop or working in my office on a project or doing some business development – no day is the same and I love that.  The thought of going to the same office every day is awful.  I can also get restless if I am doing the same thing for too long and can lose patience with tasks that require repetition. Oh and I never wear the same shoes more than once in a week unless I’m on holiday or they are my trainers!  If push came to shove though I’d probably fall in the ‘familiarity” camp – even though I hate admitting that.

You may have read my last blog before my holiday about my packing habits where I deduced I was an abundance lover rather than a simplicity one. Once again Gretchen Rubin in “Better than Before” shares her thoughts on the distinctions we have such as:

  • Are you a lark or an owl? (Are you better in the morning or evening?)
  • Are you a sprinter or a marathoner? (Are you slow and steady or do you leave things to the last minute?)
  • Are you an under-buyer or an over-buyer? (Do you love or hate to shop?)
  • Are you a finisher or an opener? (do you get the job complete or do you just like to start new things?)
  • Do you take big steps or small steps? (Are you happy making big changes or prefer to stick with small ones?)

So knowing which category you are in can help you understand your habits and behaviours more – which in turn can help us to be more effective and indeed inform the choices that we make both in and out of work.

For me knowing that I am more of a lark than an owl means I try to do my most difficult work in the mornings (including any exercise otherwise I’d never do it!);  Being a sprinter I need to make sure I build in enough contingency in case last minute doesn’t work out as planned; Being an opener I need to work hard on making sure I get things finished and my “big step” mentality means I need to build in milestones to check and monitor my progress along the way.  (Being an abundance lover goes hand in hand with an over-buyer – so enough said there!).

And when choosing my next holiday destination I’ll either be returning to Portugal combining it with a city I’ve not been to before or a new location with an over-stuffed suitcase full of my familiar possessions.

Who said I was indecisive?

 

 

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