Musings of a Critical Friend

Go Forth and Multiply

We all know the feeling. We have a problem; put some spin on it and call it a challenge if you like, but ultimately, it’s a problem. There are of course, umpteen ways in which it can be solved. Some solutions rule themselves out immediately because they will take too long, cost too much money or wreak too much havoc. Other solutions buzz around our heads like tenacious mosquitoes never settling long enough for us to make a decision. The problem continues to worry us; it fills our mind and saps our energy; it nags away at us. It prevents us from moving forward and growing to reach our potential. But here is the bottom line; find yourself at a roundabout and you can only drive around it so many times until you really do have to select an exit. tenacious mosquito

 

So what to do, how to choose where to go?

 

The obvious answer is to take the conundrum to someone else, to share, seek advice and hopefully solve this pesky problem for once and for all.

This is, however, more easily said than done, and guess what – contrary to popular belief – a problem shared brings another problem with it!

Namely, who do we turn to, who should we ask for help? Family members or personal friends are obviously good people who we trust but they may not have the experience or skills to comment on say, business development (though that may not stop them….).  They cannot be objective and will often judge (how dare they?!).  Even if they do have the technical skills, they might not have the interpersonal skills needed to focus on “getting it”, to listen, evaluate, craft a solution and then review action; building confidence and motivation at the same time.

In my experience, people make the effort to seek out a sounding board because they want a secure place in which to think, in a completely uncluttered zone.  They want someone to challenge their thinking and tease out a solution that will deliver their objectives; they want stretching and support; they want someone to whom they can be accountable and they don’t want to feel embarrassed or judged.

People who run businesses live in a lonely world. They come up with good ideas and often overcome tough mental and physical challenges in order to turn those ideas into reality. They build up a customer base, acquire allies and employ people.  Confidence and a sense of purpose are of paramount importance, indecision and fear can be fatally counterproductive.

Once their business is established and developing according to plan, they need to examine the options for the next phase.  Deciding which step will deliver the desired objectives within the available budget requires a safe space to think out loud and  the courage to discuss, discard and develop.

I am a critical friend. Not just a business mentor, but a critical friend. I recognise the fears that the roundabout exit decision can create. I believe in you unconditionally and with a sense of objective.  I know you are influenced by timescale and budget but I also know you wrestle with your internal doubts. I have a wealth of invaluable life and business experience to share. Some of us are good talkers but not so good at making things happen. Others are good listeners and good at making things happen.  Working together we can make things happen.

A client wrote recently “I feel that the fortnightly session with you is an integral part of my month.   I can talk to you about anything, and there isn’t anyone else in my life I feel that about. The fact that you are also a highly skilled professional with a whole heap of knowledge and experience is a blessing and a bonus”. This is great for my ego but much more importantly he is getting the results he wants. He is making the progress towards his targets that he was not making before we met.  That is the power of a critical friend, and that is why I love my job.

If you want to take the plunge and try this type of relationship there are eight pieces of advice I would give you:

  1. Recognise your own value; realise you are your business’s greatest asset and make the time to invest in your own self-development.
  2. Be clear what you want from the mentor you seek – write a list of your requirements
  3. Meet a range of people who appear to have the suite of business experience, knowledge, personal skills and attitude you need.   Use personal recommendations to find these people.
  4. Have a selection of questions to ask. Reject anyone who cares more about their own ego than your progress.
  5. Ask yourself whether these people have been successful in life and business and what their motivation is to do this type of work.
  6. Still unsure? Why not talk with me about this type of relationship; what it can yield; what to think about.
  7. Make sure the chemistry between you works; it will become a very close relationship in which some intimate things will be said. Making a commitment to someone else who believes in you unconditionally and then going back to review progress really moves the project forward.
  8. Review your progress after three months and you should be surprised and pleased by how far you have moved and the results you have achieved.

Good Luck, go forth and multiply!

 

 

01234 273644 or 07968 822275

www.toogoodcriticalfriend.co.uk

Email: elizabeth@toogoodcriticalfriend.co.uk

Twitter: @liztoogood

 

 

 

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On building your Team Me and realising your dreams

I love my friend, Jennie Bayliss for three reasons. The first is because Jennie cuts through flimflam; she sees things analytically and applies good short phrases to describe them, no verbiage.  A spade is most definitely a spade.

Jennie Bayliss - part of my Team me

Jennie Bayliss – part of my Team me

The second reason I love Jennie is because she runs an outfit called Office Wings who do two things: operate as a virtual PA doing things like filing and mailshots; and providing concierge services like waiting in for the plumber, or organising (and even writing) the Christmas cards.  Absolutely invaluable.

And the third reason, and the focus of this blog post is because she has come up with the typically succinct term Team Me. Team Me is a brilliant way to describe the gathering of people around you who can help you juggle all the things you need to do, and give you the time and energy to focus on the things you really want to do.

Jennie Bayliss is a supreme juggler who makes things happen – I feel very thankful to say that she is most definitely a part of my Team Me!

It's all about teamwork

We all need people like Jennie around us to stimulate and challenge our thinking, to sympathise with life’s vicissitudes and to help us put the broken pieces back together as and when required. Everyone needs a support network, everyone needs a Team Me.

Let’s take the example of a working mum with two teenage children who is in the first three years of running her own business; has a husband with his own demanding job; and whose parents, in-laws and siblings are scattered round the country rather than helpfully located down the road. On her Team Me she might have:

At home

  • Schools with reliable after school clubs and good child care for school holidays
  • A trustworthy, experienced and conscientious cleaner who also does the ironing
  • A gardener who can work without supervision
  • Decorator/handyman/plumber/electrician/locksmith who will come out when she has regular work but more importantly in an emergency
  • A friendly neighbour to take in parcels and let the various workmen in
  • A motivational personal trainer

At work

  • An efficient book keeper and accountant for the business and to do her personal tax
  • A good PA who keeps on top of everything
  • Good professional advisers & associates – marketing; social media; legal and so on
  • A network of likeminded business professionals

Does that sound good? Of course it does. But there is something missing.

The most important recruit to Team Me is the one who is objective; who believes in the ‘me’ unconditionally but can separate that from looking at the facts; who tells the truth; who challenges our thinking to refine it and improve it; who holds us to account so we stay on course and get things done; and very importantly who gives us the type of support we need when we need it. I call this person a Critical Friend.  A person who is not emotionally involved;  whose job is to help you move along the road at your own pace, without taking the wrong turn or getting distracted by the scenery!

Let someone else do the ironing

Let someone else do the ironing

One of my mantras is “Do what you are good at and delegate the rest to someone good at it who likes doing it”.  If you hate ironing, the ironing basket just gets fuller and fuller – when you do eventually tackle the pile it takes you twice as long as it should. Delegate it; you do what only you can do, and let someone else do the ironing.

Our spouses, family and friends all want to help us but may not have the time; might not be objective (their lives might be affected if we take what they might see as risks); or might not have the skills we need. They love us unconditionally and do not want to see us hurt, stressed, or working like a demon. They are clearly important to Team Me but not necessarily part of it. Team Me is more about the support you need in order to create time to spend with your loved ones.

You need a Team Me if you know what you want out of life – if you have dreams.  Turning them into a strategy and crafting plans to realise them is not easy. Things get in the way – we don’t know how to do it; we have not got the confidence to try; we get distracted; we fall down and can’t get up by ourselves; we believe our critics; we don’t believe our fans……….

Building a Team Me will enable you to focus specifically on your dreams and goals by giving you the precious gift of time.  Time to help you become all you can be and stay focused on your objectives instead of dashing from crisis to crisis, always busy but never really making any real progress.

If you are serious about living your life to the full and being the very best you can be, if you are committed to following your dreams and realising your goals, if you know what you are good at and can leave the rest to everyone else – then it is imperative that you surround yourself with Team Me.

Your Critical Friend

Your Critical Friend

And might I be so bold as to suggest you add that Critical Friend to your Team Me, a professional like myself who specialises in challenge and support and is unfailingly and reassuringly, always on your side, always a part of your very own Team Me.

 

 

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My Seven Pillars of Stunning Customer Service by Liz Toogood

Delivering stunning customer service 24/7 is a stretch for any organisation. However, your customer service must be stunning in order to differentiate you from your competitors.

Ultimately your service is what binds customers and clients to you; good is simply not good enough. Printing your commitment to customer service on a bumper sticker or carrier bag is not sufficient – plastic bag platitudes are all very well but have no value unless acted upon.

In this blog I’m going back to basics;  “Why bother with customer service?”

No product or service is unique, people buy from us because they choose us and once we are on the ‘sacred’ list of preferred suppliers, we need to stay there even though there might be a better deal elsewhere.

In order to be successful we need to build strong, interesting relationships between our customers (people) and ourselves (also people and not faceless organisations with no personality at the end of complicated telephone systems with automated computerised voices that cut off at the final hurdle………). I don’t mean sending out newsletters to our customer base telling them how wonderful we are, and what we’ve achieved that month, I mean creating a personal relationship that gives individuals far more than they seek when they trade with us. I mean developing friendships.

We also have to be aware of what people are saying about us both good and bad. Unsolicited but important reviews of our performance and products are readily available in cyberspace. OK, we know some might not be entirely accurate but people read them and bona fide or not, bad news travels particularly fast. Be vigilant, be responsive, be stunning.

So what are my Seven Pillars of Stunning Customer Service?

1. Know what stunning customer service looks like

Think about it. What is stunning customer service? It’s not the regular service we enjoy from most of our network. It’s the stand out from the crowd service; it’s the people who go the extra mile for us; the ones that surprise us; the ones who delight us; the ones we want to shout from the rooftop about.

This is not rocket science – think who impresses you; who impresses your family and friends (ask them); who impresses your employees (ask them too). It might not be in your own business sector, it probably won’t be. So go and visit these people in their organisations. Talk to them. Take some of your employees with you. People love to hear how good they are and they will be pleased to let you observe what they do and how they do it. Analyse what makes them special; watch and learn. Now how can you have the same effect in your business? Model perfect customer service so that everyone in the organisation knows how to behave; and if things are going pear-shaped make sure your team has the tools available to them in order to recover the position.

2. Be human and be true

Make sure your customer speaks to a real person at the beginning of their customer service journey. Ensure that person is the person your customer is seeking. Put your own baggage on the shelf, play the part; you are here to give great service.

Tell the customer your name, slowly and clearly, don’t gabble. Smile – however you might feel – and focus on the customer. Remember smiling is even more important on the phone and they will know if you are distracted.  Listen hard to the clues they give you. Use their name if they give it to you, and make friends.

What is the customer seeking from this interaction? Focus on their needs and why they are talking to you; is it a simple query or a complex complaint? Put yourself in their shoes and give them the answers they are looking for. Are you giving them an answer that would satisfy you?

Always be truthful and always be true to yourself and your values. Use your initiative to ensure your customer goes away happy, and more importantly, tells everyone else how happy they are.

3. Keep your promises

We are taught “to under promise and over deliver” mainly to flag up that “over promising and under delivering” is unacceptable. However I am not sure about this. If ABC Co. Ltd. tells me they will be there on Wednesday then I plan for that; if they suddenly show up on Tuesday that could present as many problems for me as would their not showing up til Thursday. I say keep your promises. If you can’t, for reasons outside your control, LET ME KNOW. Ring me immediately, speak to me, leave me a message, send me a text, drop me an email, send me a tweet – apologise then explain what will happen next to get things back on track.

4. Know your products/service

Know your products. It sounds simple but often isn’t. Know what you sell; how it works; where it works well; where it would not be appropriate; how long it takes; how much it costs.

Be prepared for every question. Make sure you know the answers. If you don’t – admit it. Never waffle, never lie. Make a commitment to the customer to find out the answer then go away, get the answer and get back to the customer as soon as you can.

5. Communicate

Don’t you just hate phoning and being put “on hold” because “we are experiencing a high volume of calls at the moment but your call is important to us….”? Or being invited to go to the website when you know perfectly well that the FAQs on the website won’t help you; or worse still calling your broadband provider to find out why it is down and being referred to the website! None of this is proper two-way communication.

Nor is communication a questionnaire or a survey. How often do you ignore them when one of these falls into your Inbox? If you want to know what a customer thought then why not ring them to ask them? (But not at a mealtime or when “Coronation Street” is on TV). And ask if they have a few minutes to spare you. They might say “No” but they might say “Yes” especially if you tell them that you are the business owner and you want to improve your service and you’ve also got some luxury hampers/vouchers/freebies to give away.

Always keep the lines of communication open. Tell me what is going on, especially if nothing is going on. Keep in touch with me. A text telling me that you are on your way is always appreciated – especially if I have put things on hold to wait for you.

6. Closure

Having helped your customer, then complete the interaction and close the conversation. What is wrong with “I am pleased we have managed to sort out your query today” or “Thank you so much for calling and letting us know about this”? Don’t switch into autopilot and ruin all the hard work you have put in. By this I mean don’t use plastic bag platitudes, or clichés – don’t say “Is there anything else I can help you with today” – if they wanted something else they would have said. Close with “Have a nice day” and you’re committing customer service suicide in my book.

7. Treat every complaint as an opportunity

When things go wrong – and they will go wrong – your customers will tell their families, their friends, their colleagues, their associates and anyone else who will listen. So throw everything at it! This stops being an operational matter and starts being damage limitation otherwise known as reputation protection. Nothing is more important in this digital age. You do not want to go viral, unless it is in a good way.

It may be that the whole issue is clear cut, the result of an unfortunate misunderstanding and easy to resolve; whatever the situation, be stunning in your response, don’t argue the toss but do something amazing to acknowledge that you were in the wrong. Start by saying you are sorry – and meaning it; being sorry is often the thing that really matters.

If you need time to investigate what happened then devise an acceptable holding position whilst you do whatever you have to do to check out the facts. If you act quickly and politely then your customer will tell their networks about how brilliant your response has been rather than dwelling on the original problems.

So I have said anything you didn’t know?

I doubt it.

Watch your people too and make sure they are consistently doing the right things. Customer service is for life, not just for Christmas, and if they are letting the side down – deal with it!

Ultimately it is simple. We are all customers and we all know what we want; deliver gold standard to your customers and clients every time and you will fly.

Good luck.

Liz Toogood
December 2014

 

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On courage and where we find it

As a mentor, part of my job is to encourage and support people who are contemplating and then tackling change. I know this can be the most difficult time for many of us. Making the decision to do something differently whether gargantuan or minute and breaking the habit of doing what we have always done is immensely hard; but it will be a game changer, and it will be worth it.

Having the courage to change

Having the courage to change

I encourage and support change in my day job but actually it is in my DNA, so I do it all the time. Sometimes it might be a conversation; sometimes just offering the right word at the right moment; sometimes a card, a note or an email. I do it with with no hidden agenda, in the moment, and frequently forget all about it and move on; I never know, or worry, whether my tiny intervention will bear fruit.

quote

This week I had the wonderful experience of someone telling me about the positive effect I have had on her. I admire Gemma. She works, she has two children and a couple of years ago was diagnosed as a coeliac. Life presents her with many challenges. Gemma was a freelancer and taught me all I know about Twitter. Then she decided to take the massive step back into full time employment. We met, I thanked her and a bottle and card changed hands. The rest of the story is Gemma’s but that day I did something right and helped someone find the courage to change and to persevere. Thank you for telling me Gemma but much more importantly keep the faith as you continue on your journey.

The Award for Courage

The Award for Courage goes to…….

Please read Gemma’s story and be encouraged.

 

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Would your customer service make my blood pressure soar?

 

bad-customer-service

I do not rant often. I am basically easy going and I aim to be a good customer. In general I appeal to people’s better natures rather than harangue them and importantly, I pay my bills. I pay them on time and I won’t rip people off so if they have done extra work I offer extra remuneration. I don’t expect people to drop everything and dance to my tune; I am happy to wait a bit if my project is not sizeable or urgent. Importantly I am also loyal if someone gives me good service I will stick with them.

All this means I am a customer worth having.

download

So why do I want to rant today? Because in the last month I have been on the receiving end of bad customer service from two people who run tiny businesses and should value someone like me.

My work does not often come in the massive chunks that will pay for my supplier’s holiday but my pound deserves respect. When I ask someone to do something I expect them to get back to me; to tell me what is going on; to tell me when they can do the work; to do what we agree when they say; to own up to mistakes. In other words I want an adult relationship; a productive relationship.

So why am I ranting?

One supplier asks how high he should jump when the intermediary who introduced us asks for something. When I ask and ask again he has been having trouble with his email and has not picked up my message. He promises response but it does not come when he says. I ask again but get no response. And once I have asked a third time….I start to feel frustrated.

The other supplier whom I have used before this time I contacted via Twitter (long story and it was appropriate at the time); he never came back to me. I contacted him a second time and found he had forgotten because of a domestic circumstance that required me to be flexible and patient. So I was. Did he come back to me when he promised “No”. So I contacted him again. By this time the “not urgent small job” had been waiting two or three months. I then get a response to discover he is going on holiday that day. I ask when he will be back and please can we fix a date for the work. There is no answer.

Both these guys do not do slapdash work but they are displaying a slapdash attitude. There may be more to it; I don’t know because they don’t talk to me. I do know that I am about to find different suppliers; I do know that I will tell the girl who referred me to them to me how disappointed I am; I do know that as a referral I cost them little to secure but replacement customers might cost money in advertising and schmoozing time; and I do know that I will not recommend them to anyone in the future.  Quite the opposite.

Customer-Service-Stinks-comic

I am currently dealing with a new supplier, again a small business, and I am delighted. Why? This guy believes in communication. He is doing a job for me which will maybe take one day but spread out over four weeks. Three weeks in and I have had an update by email every Friday morning. Did I ask for it? No. Do I like it? Yes. He makes the previous two charlatans look like real amateurs.

I have another supplier who persuaded me to do something one way. It didn’t work and I should have stuck with my original idea. I asked him to do the work a different way. Yesterday I went to collect the item to find that he won’t charge me. It was a joint decision and I went along with it but he looked at how important I am to his business and decided to fund it. What fantastic and embarrassingly good service. Will I go anywhere else in future? Of course not, he has secured my work for the long term.

Survey form with a tick placed in Outstanding checkbox

I am not telling you anything you don’t know.

As a business mentor I talk with my clients about keeping existing customers happy; customers who form the basis of our businesses, who tell their friends, who even cut us some slack (if we need it and ask nicely).  They may either have big jobs coming along themselves or have friends that do. Keeping customers happy is often not about the product you sell but how you sell it; how you deliver the work; how you communicate and most of all maintaining a strong relationship, treating people as if they matter because they do. All sound business principles, simple to do and very low cost.

We all know these basic business concepts but I ask you four questions:

  1. What are your criteria for customer service?
  2. How do you measure your practice against those criteria?
  3. What do you do with the results?
  4. If I asked one of your smaller value customers what they thought of you what would they say?

In my case the four guys I have described do not offer unique services; in all cases I can go elsewhere. Their work only differentiates itself for me if I receive customer service that stuns me; astonishes me; makes me feel glad to be their customer. In two cases that is true and I will sing their praises to the world. The other two…….will they even notice when I walk away?

bad-customer-service-cartoon

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On Trust, Flying & Catching

If you have a spare 10 minutes and want to learn an essential management skill then watch the Flying Rodleighs on YouTube.

Four men and two women fly through the air, goodness knows how many feet above the ground, twisting, turning, somersaulting, backwards and forwards. The spectacle is breathtaking.

The flyers are magnificent and draw huge, much justified applause.  One of them said “As a flyer, I must have complete trust in my catcher. The public might think that I am the great star of the trapeze, but the real star is Joe, my catcher. He has to be there for me with split second precision and grab me out of the air as I come to him in the long jump.  The secret is that the flyer does nothing and the catcher does everything. When I fly to Joe I have simply to stretch out my arms and hands and wait for him to catch me and pull me safely over the apron behind the catchbar. I do nothing.”

Let the catcher do the catching

Let the catcher do the catching

Now that is TRUST in a very big way. The relationship has been nurtured over many years. The routine practised and the timing perfected but the skill is the complete and mighty trust that the flyer has in the catcher.

To be a successful manager, to work in a great organisation, we need that level of trust every day of our working lives. It underpins all the relationships we have within the organisation and with our customers. It is reliable faultless customer service that brings people back again and again. And this stems ultimately from trust.  I would argue that if we trust the people we interact with then everything else follows. We know how the others think, what they would do in a crisis and what will happen as a matter of course. We can rely on them doing their job, being there for us and always ready to catch us.

If trust has been developed and is renewed every day then your company will be healthy and you will enjoy playing your part in it. You will be part of an effective team operating like a well-oiled machine.

But be warned, trust is like innocence, once you have lost it, it is almost impossible to re-kindle.  Without trust, your working life is unbearable: you can rely on no-one except yourself; you can delegate nothing as you have no guarantee the job will get done. There are no shared targets and too much time is wasted looking for a scapegoat. Ultimately your customers will go looking for a better supplier.

"Trust me, I'm a lion...."

“Trust me, I’m a lion….”

  • So how trustworthy are you?
  • What do your co-workers and clients say about you?
  • Are you reliable?
  • Do you perform consistently?
  • Are you there for your team when they need you?
  • Would they launch themselves into mid air confident you would catch them?

If you are trustworthy, fantastic…..you will be a great manager, able to delegate and draw the best from your team.

running_manIf you are not, …..then don’t be surprised if people doubt you, walk or even run away from you.

If you want to work on improving your performance on becoming extraordinary, then TRUST will play a key part; I can help you to develop trust and empower you to be the catcher people want on their team – the real star of the show.

 

 

With thanks to Henri Nouwen and The Flying Rodleighs 

 

Elizabeth Toogood
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On marking time and having the courage to change course

Last night I was fortunate to go to see Ruthie Henshall, Queen of musical theatre in the West End and on Broadway.   You may well have seen her performing in Miss Saigon, Cats, Les Miserables, Crazy for You, Chicago or any one of the hundreds of West End productions she has been involved with over the past 25 years.

Before me was a woman I have seen in many guises appearing in an ‘Intimate Evening’ at The Stables in Woburn Sands (and if you have never been to this fantastic musical venue put it on your bucket list of things to do).

The leading lady of musical theatre

The leading lady of musical theatre

Ruthie has an amazing voice, a huge range and she can certainly give it some welly! And yet here she was in a cosy 400 seat intimate venue, almost physically able to touch her audience.

It got me thinking. As a mentor I often see people who are at that point in their career when the moment has come to change direction either because their dreams change or the context changes and they don’t like where they are any longer.

Ruthie is in a heartless profession. She has had fantastic roles that have stretched her and challenged her to develop her talents to their fullest potential but the parts must be running out. There are fewer and fewer opportunities for a mature woman to sing and dance in front of an audience, perhaps, to coin a theatrical phrase, ‘stepping out’ from the framework of the show is the only way to go.

It can’t be an easy decision though: up until now you have been given the parts to play, given the material; you have a director, a choreographer, costumes, wigs, an ensemble on stage and an entourage behind the scenes. And every night you give it your all to 1000+ people who adore you.

Then something happens – a contract comes to an end and there is nothing on the horizon; a performance suddenly lacks that je ne sais quoi; maybe you dry on stage or perhaps there are creative differences; ultimately you realise things are changing around you, all is not as it was, but have you got what it takes to change too?  I don’t know whether Ruthie has taken on this tour as a route into a new phase of her career.  If she has, I take my hat off to her for having a go – she has the courage to try something out.

Maggie Smith as Desdemona in 1965

Maggie Smith as Desdemona in 1965

I know what this is like and perhaps you do too. One minute I was a bright young thing making fast progress, learning everything, doing everything….like Maggie Smith’s wide-eyed Desdemona spirited and idealistic, then suddenly I was a wise old owl, Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham,  the go-to person for no-nonsense advice, the person who would know how to handle an awkward or tough situation. Goodness knows how and when the transition happens but it does. And so the hair starts to grey and the figure is not quite as sylph-like as it used to be…..

When people ask me how and when they should change tack, I always counsel taking control of the tiller – do it in your own time and on your own terms, steer your own course. In my capacity as a critical friend I would say – make sure you still have options open. Test the water and find something that will excite the ‘mature’ you as much as your original career used to thrill the teenager in you.

But it’s hard.  Changing course is hard – not only do you need to work out where you want to go but also, how you are going to get there. Hopefully your nearest and dearest will support you and navigate for you, but don’t count on it.  If they lack the imagination to get behind you, you will need to find someone to observe your progress and encourage you in your pursuit of a new direction.

Being a Critical Friend gives me enormous satisfaction  – I can observe and encourage and remain totally objective. My job is to listen, to unravel the thinking from the emotions; to help identify options based on experience and passion; to help deliver a new sense of direction; and then to accompany my clients as they execute their new plan. It means they are never alone; never floundering and never frightened because there is always someone there to share their experience.

Maggie Smith as Lady Crawley in Downton Abbey

Maggie Smith as Lady Crawley in Downton Abbey

I don’t actually know whether the 46 year old Ruthie Henshall is going through anything like this or whether Maggie Smith has found her way as a ‘mature’ woman, but having spent my whole life watching and analysing, I would like to be so bold as to make one observation.  Last night Ruthie Henshall tried something new in a different performance space with an educated audience – I wonder how it felt? If Ruthie were to answer “great” I would question that answer.  What I saw was a wonderful woman who was performing beautifully but who seemed uncomfortable. I suspect that this change of direction might not be quite right.  I would urge Ruthie to think through what feels good and hone it until she is absolutely sure it is the right way to go.

If you are reading this blog post and suspect the moment has come for you to re-invent yourself – here is my advice – find a mentor; find a guide who can help you explore the wider world and seek out the exciting next stage, find a critical friend, or perhaps, if I may make a suggestion, find me.  Grey and unsylph-like I may have become, but I do know exactly where I am going and I can show you the way too.

Elizabeth Toogood - Your Critical Friend

 

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On Wings, Wands and Wisdom

“Where are your wings” he asked; he was about seven and quite serious, not at all trying to be funny.

"Where are your wings?"

“Where are your wings?”

It was just before Christmas and I had gone to the nativity play at the school where my Goddaughter is deputy head. She writes it and she conducts – I love watching her. The Head had introduced me to the audience by saying that they all had someone there to watch them and enjoy their performance; and that Miss Burton had someone too “this is Miss Burton’s Godmother and she has come to support her”. The whole point was to make those whose parents hadn’t made it feel better about having grandmas, sisters, cousins and aunts there to support them instead. So this little boy came up and said “if you’re Miss Burton’s Godmother…where are your wings?”

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Wings, Wands and Wisdom

Someone else called me a Fairy Godmother last week but she didn’t want to see my wings.  She was talking about how I make things happen.  In reality not only do I not have wings; I don’t have a wand either.  But these two lovely comments made me think, perhaps I do spread a little magic, and I love the thought that I might be sprinkling a little stardust on the way.

My oldest Godchild is now 39 and all this talk of fairy godmothers made me start to think about what I have made happen for her and the other six? I hope lots of things. Mostly I have tried to be there when they needed support; there to answer questions; there to be a sounding board; there to believe in them; there to offer wisdom – if wisdom is sought and only then.

Rowing in the Rain

Rowing in the Rain – blink and you miss it

I have shivered on cold tow paths year in and year out watching the two who rowed; Henley Royal Regatta is all very well but you’ve got to get through the rest of the season first. Mostly watching rowing is cold and wet, and woe betide you if you blink and miss the boat going past. Watching rowing involves yelling a lot, clapping a lot and administering a great deal of hot soup and sympathy.

Then there are the rugby players; watching rugby involves getting cold too. And as I am in a wheelchair it also involves seeking out a place where I can actually see what is going on – easier said than done – fences are always at the wrong level.

Cold, windy and very muddy

Cold, windy and very muddy

Watching rugby involves lots more yelling and clapping, less soup, more sympathy, more mud (and a lot more beer).

Sometimes there is a phone call “Auntie Liz can you do a mock interview for me?” Well yes, I can and yes I did and yes he got the university place he wanted.

Sometimes they turn up on the doorstep “Auntie Liz my A’ level results are rubbish I need a plan before I go home and talk to Mum and Dad.” More tea, more sympathy but we were warm and cosy and we crafted a plan. My godson survived the wrath of his Mum and Dad and is now a successful company lawyer.

So yes, I have to admit I do make things happen, but I can’t conjure up glass slippers or golden carriages appearing in puffs of smoke. The person who called me her Fairy Godmother this week valued the time and space I gave her to think about her business and the help I gave her to explore her ideas in a positive and creative atmosphere. Then she went and made things happen for herself….  I’m pretty sure she didn’t see the sprinkling of fairy dust following her out the door….

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On five pounds of blubber and knowing what to do about it

5 lbs of blubber

5 pounds of blubber

It’s that time of year again. I know that I didn’t need all that chocolate; I know that it wasn’t absolutely necessary to taste everything on that buffet table and I know I should have thrown out those leftovers.  But I didn’t. I ate too much; I didn’t exercise; I enjoyed the Pinot Noir; and the consequence is 5 pounds of blubber. Add that to the 7 pounds I have been procrastinating about losing and I have a whole stone of trouble. I need to lose it: I don’t like the look, my trousers don’t fit and my wheelchair does not like the extra load. I know what has to be done.

In fact I know most of the things I need to do in order to be healthy; to be happy; to run a successful business, but knowing is not the same as doing.

Life is busy, work is furious, my business makes constant demands, my clients’ needs are more important than mine, watching what I eat comes way down my list and by dinner time I know I shouldn’t eat the comfort food I am craving, but that doesn’t stop me doing it.

Over the holidays one of my Godsons asked me “So, do I need a coach?”  My answer was “Only you will know if you do”.  If you are not happy with how things are going in your life then a coach might be able to help BUT remember 3 things:

  1. If you engage a coach you will be paying for someone’s time and objective expertise.  Embrace your decision, value your decision, think of it as a gift to yourself, a special treat, an indulgence.  Enjoy the freedom your decision will bring and celebrate the successes that come your way.
  2. Once you have made the decision, ensure you know exactly what you are looking for in a coach. We can all buy on a whim and regret it – that bargain you bought in the January sale that you have never worn! Do your due diligence.  Think about your specification; who should this person be, what knowledge and skills do they need and is the chemistry there that will allow you to share your innermost thoughts?
  3. Only invest in help if you really want it now and if you believe in what you are doing.  If you are not totally committed to this new partnership, it will not be effective for you.  But if you are resolved, invest in the expertise, to coin a well-used phrase – ‘because you’re worth it’.

So why say all this?

I strongly believe we are all better people, more likely to reach our own potential if we find our coach, our ally.  I know that I need someone to help me stay focused, to help me explore options to get where I want to be and to encourage me. I think we all know we need this type of support in different areas of our life but we do not always go out and find it. We either try to go it alone (and inevitably fail); or we make a New Year’s Resolution to seek help that is broken by the end of January (if not before).

As an executive coach, a critical friend, I am an ally for my clients but I practice what I preach.  I know about me. I know I too need support.  I know when the blubber (physical and metaphorical)  threatens to engulf all that is good.  And I have invested in my very own skilful ally who offers me encouragement.

My ally - Rosie Wright

My ally – Rosie Wright

My ally is Rosie Wright, brilliant yoga teacher but much more besides. Rosie comes to me once a week and helps me keep my body in shape and my mobility good through yoga. I love her to bits because she works with who I am and what I can do.  She applauds those things I manage, and encourages me to do the things I find hard.  She never lets me be complacent and rewards me when I reach my goals.

Rosie is my very own ‘coach’ in every sense of the word.  She does not yet know about my 2014 objectives and when she does she will embrace them (heaven help me), applaud them, encourage me to realise them and reward me when I do.  I intend to get back into shape by Easter. Watch this space.

And until then, think about what you need to focus on. What are your goals? Who will be your ally? And, please, let me know if I can help?

On a good talking to & little grey cells

The-Thinker-300x199Thinking is the way we talk to ourselves and the only way we can change what we do and how we do it. Most of the time it is just everyday chit chat to get us through the day but sometimes we need to have a major conversation about where we want our lives to go and the strategy we need to get there.

However, we are all so good at chatting to ourselves about day to day minutiae, that this has become a mechanism for distracting ourselves from serious thinking – instead we spend our time considering the next meal, the journey  home, the text we need to send to our best friend and so on.

There are times when we get desperate because we have ignored whatever it may be for too long (see previous post on procrastination). We know we need to sort out the issue but are exhausted by the sheer effort it takes just avoiding it. Often we are prepared to delegate, but this means inviting other people into our thought processes without necessarily considering any axes they might have to grind in our lives, without thinking about possible ulterior motives. Do they want us to do what what we want or rather perhaps what they want?

Have you noticed how willing these people are to give you advice? Often they do not ask questions or establish the facts, they just start to tell you what to do. What they think you should do. A friend once told me of the nurse who, only a matter of hours after delivery, was instructing her on how to breast feed – to the point of physically manhandling both her and the baby.  My friend was so exhausted by the recent birth that she didn’t have the energy to tell Miss Bossy the Breast Feeding Consultant (who had never in fact had any children of her own) that she had actually very successfully nursed four kids already and knew what she was doing thank you very much. These people are like the bull in the proverbial china shop.  They do not stop to ask questions or recognise the limited resources you might have to put into a project. They assume there is infinite money, time and that the matter is of the utmost urgency. They leave you feeling limp because they can see things so much more clearly than you can. They also have the expectation that you will accept what they say and then expect you to follow it through while they bask in all the glory; why is it so hard to say “Thanks very much. I have thought about it some more and decided not to do that”?

Now to be fair – sometimes our friends, families and colleagues are right, but invariably, and understandably, they see the problem from their own viewpoint. If it is a spouse worried about how the business is going they will usually advise the safe route to ensure the mortgage is paid. A friend who wants you to value them and their thoughts can be much bolder when handing out advice than they would be in their own lives. This is all very well, and normally meant with good intention – collecting ideas is great provided we remember where they came from and the bias they bring. However, using other people’s ideas does not take away the responsibility we have to ourselves to form our own thoughts, examine our own ideas, and craft our own solution, one that works for us.

Whether you are thinking about a personal issue or a business problem, this is your life, only you can live it. Make the space – both physical and mental – to talk to yourself about it. Stay focused and concentrate.

If you are still confused and unable to channel your thoughts, then get some help. But leave spouses and friends out of it.  Get help from a detective like me – someone who spends their life looking, with people like you, at issues and challenges like yours.  I’ll help you exercise your little grey cells and really look at the answers you come up with. The time has come my friend to give yourself a firm talking to and make your life what you want it to be – what are you waiting for, call me today.

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