Learning

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.

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE FENCE

This year I have been fortunate to take some time out from the business and focus on my own personal and professional development. Like many other coaches, facilitators and trainers I know, I am very good at putting everyone else’s growth first and leaving my own as a “nice to do” rather than making it a priority. The big question for me this year has been if I’m not working on my own development, how can I authentically ask those who I train and coach to work on their own progress? After all, one of my favourite sayings is “no-one is the finished article,” and with this in mind I decided it was time to bite the bullet and sign up for something that would challenge my thinking and skill level.

Putting on hold celebrations for our 20th Wedding Anniversary, my extremely supportive husband waved me off in late January as I made my way to Edinburgh to deepen my knowledge and understanding of transformational coaching. Now you may be expecting me to give you an insight in to what I learned about coaching and I did indeed learn a massive amount and must send a big thank you to Gillian and the team at Full Circle Global for the warm, supportive and sometimes heart thumpingly challenging experience. However, what I came away with was not just the confidence to be the coach I want to be but to have a deeper sense of what our participants and delegates go through when they are on a course we are delivering.

After spending five days in a training room as a participant, I really believe that one of the best ways you can increase your skill level as a trainer or a coach is to be on the receiving end and then to reflect upon what it has meant for you as a learner. I think a regular dose of being on “the other side of the fence” is something all of us who work in people development should plan into our busy diaries. So, what have I learned and how will I use it in how I work?

Participants get nervous – No matter how senior or experienced they are! Everyone on my course had previous experience of coaching others but there was a palpable anxiety as we moved into the coaching practice sessions. Creating a safe space to try out our new knowledge was going to be the key to our success and we were left alone to try out new techniques; no facilitator looming over us ready to step in with their feedback. We all felt absolutely free to step out of our comfort zones and make mistakes. The time for being observed would come later in the programme and it felt good to be fully responsible for our own learning.

Key learning point – Give participants space and trust that they will make the best use of the time available; allow participants to fully immerse themselves within the experience so they don’t notice the presence of the facilitator; sometimes we can get in the way!

Pace – As an Activist learner I am often guilty of wanting to pack lots into a session but taking on various roles within the training I realised how tiring a training course is for the learner. Shifting state between being a participant, coach and coachee meant that a much slower pace was required and plenty of breaks were needed to mentally and physically move between roles and be the best that we could be for our colleagues and for Gillian leading the event.

Key learning pointThere is a time and a place for high octane learning but let participants take a breath as they move them from one experience to another and never underestimate the amount of energy it takes to be in full learning mode.

Quality over quantity – Now I have to admit that when I looked at the published timetable for each day, I felt slightly short changed. Each day was due to start at 9:30am and close at 4:30pm and one of my first thoughts was “heh, I am paying for this myself – no corporate company footing the bill, I want value for money!” Well how wrong could I be? I was exhausted by the end of every day and I really couldn’t have taken in any more if we had gone past 4:30pm. I was incredibly grateful for the opportunity to leave knowing that I had given my all but still had an opportunity for some downtime to explore the delights of Edinburgh city centre.

Key learning point – Long training days aren’t always effective; trainers can do more with less. Allowing participants to apply learning faster, rather than lengthy theoretical explanations keeps learners engaged and on their own agenda. Keeping the training ‘learner’ rather than ‘trainer’ centric, recognising that learners need to let their new knowledge “settle and sit” by having the time to take part in other activities, whether that is a spot of shopping or catching up on emails.

Learning continuity – One of the greatest gifts I have been given since attending the course is a new group of like-minded people, dare I say it they have become my “friends.”  I don’t use that term lightly but having the opportunity to get together over lunch, get a WhatsApp group going and an informal Action Learning Group via Zoom has cemented my belief that learning is above all a social activity. Thank you to Karen, Amandine, Eleanor and Paula – your insight and support has been invaluable and especially for giving me the feedback that I could be heard sighing during a video Masterclass. A bad habit that I am massively more aware of now!

Key learning point – Create social spaces within a learning event that encourages  participants to share their learning from the session over coffee and lunch but coming back to one of my original points, don’t hijack the conversations – let the participants work it out for themselves; if they are sufficiently motivated they will!

As you probably can tell, I have hugely enjoyed my own learning journey. I went expecting to know more about coaching and yes, I came away with that but also with a new found understanding of myself as a person and myself as a trainer – now that is excellent value for money!

 

If you would like to know more about our extensive personal development and coaching packages, please get in touch with us at hello@change-gear.com or call on 07714 793669 we would love to hear from you, no matter which side of the fence you sit on!!

LET THE MUSIC PLAY…….

Ok.. who can name the singer of this blog title? Of course, it is the incomparable Barry White!  So, why have I chosen to write about a 70’s Love God? Well, it’s more about the part that music and lyrics play in our learning of new skills in both business and life. From creating memories, to taking us back to past times, to providing the backdrop to our lives; music can have a significant part to play.

Certain songs have the ability to transport me to specific times and places and relive a moment in glorious technicolour detail. I cannot hear a brass band without being jettisoned back to my childhood and the memory of my Grandad playing the big bass drum with the Langley Prize Band outside our house every Christmas Eve. I am a blubbering wreck at the sight and sound of a trombone or cornet!

As a designer of learning events, my challenge is to create multi-sensory environments to appeal to all participants’ learning preferences. Using visual tools/cues and physical movement are a few ways I can achieve a rich learning tapestry for attendees, but could using music help or hinder a learner’s experience?

There is certainly a weighty body of evidence which demonstrates that music can have a positive impact in education and treatment of illnesses such as Dementia. Music has been found to light up parts of the brain like a firework display and reconnect people to memories and abilities that may have been thought lost. Studies have demonstrated that music enhances the memory of dementia patients, and has shown that scores on memory tests improved when they listened to classical music. Chris Brewer, founder of LifeSounds Educational Services and author of the book Soundtracks for Learning, explains that music can help to hold our attention, evoke emotions, and stimulate visual images. “Students of all ages—that includes adults— generally find that music helps them focus more clearly on the task at hand and puts them in a better mood for learning,” says Brewer.

Many of the research studies suggest that playing music when engaged in a learning activity has an impact on “positive mood management” and that various styles of music are appropriate for different types of activities. For example, upbeat popular music to motivate learning, especially songs with lyrics that encourage positive thinking. However, when engaged in more reflective learning such as writing, or reading, instrumental music can help to sustain concentration. Classical music of the Baroque era, such as Vivaldi, Handel, Bach with musical pulses between 50 to 80 beats per minute helps to stabilise mental, physical and emotional rhythms. Music has been found to affect the neuro plasticity of the brain and slower baroques can create mentally stimulating environments for creativity and new innovations.

The case is certainly strong for incorporating music into a learning event, however perhaps a word of caution before facilitators and trainers rush to build their playlists into sessions. Tests on retention and transfer of knowledge and skills have also shown that irrelevant background music can lead to poorer student performance and can create a distraction for learners if it generates a negative emotional reaction. Just as we would with any piece of design work, if we intend to use music in our sessions, then we need to think about the needs of the audience and choose music that resonates rather than alienates and most importantly seek permission from the learners before launching our chosen tracks.

As I prepare to head to Edinburgh for a week of self-development, I am starting to think about my musical choices. As I do my evening homework, I want to create neural pathways that help me in the future to access the resources I have developed during the day – so to that end I am most definitely going to “Let the Music Play!”

If you would like to find out more about any of our development programmes please contact us at hello@change-gear.com or call us on 07714 793669 we’d love to chat with you and maybe even hear about your favourite learning tunes.

ON TOP OF THE WORLD

Greetings from Dubai!

Once again my offspring are appearing in my blog. Trying not to make a habit of it, but given that I’m travelling with my 15 year old daughter (sorry, she would most definitely correct me by saying “16 in 31 days actually”) it’s a bit unavoidable.

So, at the age of “almost 16” my super lucky daughter was given the opportunity by a very generous friend to gain some invaluable work experience in Dubai. To say she’s had a blast would be an understatement. I am so grateful that she has been so well looked after and has learned so much in such a short space of time. If only more businesses could follow suit and give our emerging young talent this type of invaluable life experience – I am positive that young people would be so much better equipped to start out in the workplace.

When the opportunity was first discussed over 6 months ago, both of us were very excited. A trip to Dubai, working for a very well-known lingerie and beauty retailer (exceptionally popular with ladies, young and older, around the world). Maddie has been the envy of many friends – having said that, she’s had a busy week with a real marketing project to do as well. I’m sure this experience will stay with her for many years.

So, she needed a chaperone and here I was to be that person. It sounded like a ball… Maddie busy at work and mum could sit by the pool… maybe not! Firstly, it’s not entirely in my nature to watch my daughter go to work while I indulge in “me time”.  Secondly, I wanted to make the most of this great opportunity to network in the UAE and take some uninterrupted time to focus on doing some business development.

So, five days in I’ve started to realise a few things. Firstly, sending your daughter off at 8am in the morning whilst you’re cooped up in a hotel is nothing but odd! I found myself a little lost and wondering whether I was supposed to relax or get straight onto my work. I settled for working while she was working and then chilling out with her when she had finished. Secondly, the challenge of working remotely from an unknown hotel in the UAE was harder than expected. My normal routine had gone out of the window. I wanted to eat well, work out, swim, get some sun and be productive = it was all too much. So what did I learn and how did I cope? I needed a few strategies to keep me focused.

Here’s 5 top tips that might help if you’re planning something similar:

Internet – Have a plan for your Internet connection. When you’re travelling internationally, you can’t always rely on the corner Starbucks. If you’ve griped about the WiFi speed at the coffee shop in the UK, the connection can be even more frustrating abroad. Do your research before you travel and find out what WiFi provision is in your destination, and have a back-up plan, whether it’s purchasing an Internet SIM card or securing a spot in a co-working space.

Old-school rules – Carry around a notebook and pen. There will come a day when you can’t connect to WiFi and you’ll be grateful you have this.

Time after time – Be mindful of the time differences. Keep track of time zones so you don’t end up calling a potential client or another important contact at 3am without realising it! Most smartphones allow you to set a clock for another time zone, or you can download an app to keep track.

Be realistic – The days are shorter than you think. Don’t over-estimate what you can do. And plan some down-time. You’ll feel more productive as a consequence.

Be culture savvy – Every country has its own specific customs and traditions. Although immersing yourself in a culture is the best way to learn what is appropriate and what is not, try to research and avoid any major faux-pas before you pack for your destination. I’ve only worn 10% of the wardrobe I brought with me so far as everything else is either inappropriate or unacceptable.

And so today it’s my official day off with my gorgeous daughter – a well-deserved trip to the Burj Khalifa – and I can’t think of a better person to be on top of the world with!

 

 

#employabilityskills #luckymum #pricelessmoments #fabworkexperience #workingmums #beautifuldaughters #worklifebalance #verygrateful

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