UCD MBA Coaching Article …. just published

Six years ago a coaching pilot was launched with MBA students in the Smurfit Business School. To date 851 individuals from 30 different countries have benefited from this programme.

The purpose of the MBA coaching programme is to provide a space for reflection in the lives of MBA participants to enable them to work on a personalised agenda thereby maximising the value of the MBA as they transition back into the work-place.By Jennifer Fishbein..

Myself, Orla Nugent (MBA Programme Director) and Michael McDonnell (Leadership Development Programme Manager) took a look back over the last six years of the programme and recently published this article in the Association for Coaching Bulletin. Hopefully you will find it of interest.

‘We want coaching’

A recent article in the FT by Maxime Boersma entitled ‘We want coaching,’ say high-fliers shows how perceptions of coaching have changed dramatically over recent years.

The Head of Learning and Development at a UK organisation describes how “Executive coaching is increasingly sought by senior leaders as a space where they can have reflective conversations about their work and be challenged on their thinking and approach.”

A unique leadership development opportunity

Picture1For those who follow my blog, you will know that my trip to Harvard in 2012 was significant for me and altered my views and approaches to leadership development. I also benefited from meeting an incredible international group of people with similar interests and aspirations. One such person is Annick Zinck (www.AZck.com).

I have the pleasure of collaborating Annick this June on ‘The Sail and Lead program 2014’ on Lake Geneva. It is a unique learning opportunity enabling participants to learn more about themselves and how they interact with others in situations where they are under pressure, with limited resources and in a changing environment. No sailing experience is needed as there will be two top-class sailing coaches working with the participants.

You can get more details on the programme by clicking here or contact me directly to chat through this unique learning experience.

Leadership and Lifelong Learning

I have just finished reading John Kotter’s book ‘Leading Change’. After finishing the book, I went back to the start to see when it was written and was amazed to see the year 1996 mentioned. Many business books are written and remain relevant for a year… this one is as relevant now as it was in 1996.

The chapter that captured my attention most was the final one entitled ‘Leadership and Lifelong Learning’. It is clear that as complexity increases, the need for learning increases. Furthermore, in order to deal with adaptive challenges we can no longer rely on off-the-shelf solutions to problems but rather need to learn to make connections and come up with creative solutions to the new challenges we face.

I have always been stimulated by change and the learning associated with it. In my corporate life I constantly sought challenging assignments at home and abroad. I remember a manager asking me once ‘Eadine, what is going to happen when you have to keep the same role for more than a couple of years?’ Well, I guess for the first time that has now happened as I am running my own business and interestingly it is in the ‘learning’ space. On the surface level I am doing the same thing as 3 or 4 years ago, but the variety and challenges I am presented with reflect the marketplace and the opportunity for learning and personal growth for both myself and client’s is immense.

Kotter suggests some mental habits that support lifelong learning:

  • Risk-taking
  • Humble self-reflection
  • Solicitation of opinions
  • Careful listening
  • Openness to new ideas.

I have a wonderful opportunity in May to attend a Leadership programme in Harvard. I have no doubt that this experience will be uncomfortable and include all of the above elements but I am confident that it will be a worth-while experience. If you wish to hear about this experience in due course, feel free to sign up to my blog.

Image Source: http://artnews.org/artist.php?i=5491

Learning Agility

A few months back I wrote an article about the value ‘stretch assignments’ in developing our leadership capabilities. An article in the recent CIPD magazine (People Management) entitled Deepening the talent pool through learning agility struck a chord with me along the same vein. It speaks of learning agility (our ability to learn and adapt to new situations) as being a key predictor of future success. Of particular interest is the graphic in the article (chart 2) which  shows the step up required through each of the transitions. What makes us successful at one level may actually impede our success at the next level. The skill is to be able to learn from past experiences and adapt our approach to new situations as opposed to finding a so called ‘winning formula’ and sticking with it.

This article is well worth reading!

First 100 Days – Ensuring a smooth transition

In preparation for an MBA workshop on career transitions, I found myself reflecting on my own experience of new starts.  Given the nature of my early work (consultancy and project management), I had many new starts. In fact I counted 14 in the space of a 15 year corporate career. These starts were sometimes projects with new clients, a new role with a different organisation or on a number of occasions they were assignments in different countries. The one common factor was the need to hit the ground running!

I remember a significant shift in my approach as time went on.  Part of that reflected the seniority of the roles, but part of it reflected an increased awareness of factors that would influence my success.

In my experience some of the key factors were as follows:

The cultural gap: I don’t think we can ever under-estimate the culturaldifferences within organisations and consequently the challenge of ‘fitting’ within the culture. When working internationally I always expected cultural challenges (and I loved it!) however some of my biggest cultural challenges were in Ireland where I did not expect it.

I have worked with a number of clients both in advance of making a career decision and also after making the decision to help them understand the cultural gap and how best to deal with it. If the individual can anticipate potential ‘cultural flash-points’ they can be operate in a more culturally sensitive fashion. I draw a distinction between being ‘culturally sensitive’ and ‘fitting into’ into the culture though as huge benefits can often be gained by coming from a different perspective and being yourself.

Availability of resources: many people may be familiar with the scenario where the excitement of a new role turns to frustration as it becomes obvious that resources are not being made available to enable success. Sometimes this can be anticipated beforehand and it may affect your decision to take the job. Clearly, the more information you can gain in advance the better your ability to make an informed decision.

In my own case, I experienced this once. I could not however have anticipated it, as the challenge arose 6 months into the role. A few months on, the project was canned and I moved onto my next assignment. Personally, I learnt vast amounts from the experience so it was not wasted effort from my point of view, however it did make me more conscious of this scenario when taking on new roles.

Importance of relationships: in the flurry to come up the curve in a new industry/ organisation/ function, we can sometimes lose perspective of our stakeholders. In my last couple of roles I very consciously sat down and made a list of all the relevant stakeholders in advance. I tried to take a broad perspective on this exercise including customers, suppliers, regulators etc as appropriate. Once compiled, I then worked out the best way of building these relationships.

If you have the luxury of a decent break between roles, this is an ideal time to start building some of these relationships in advance (assuming you can also fit in a rest for yourself).

Your Support Team: Goldsmith and Carter outline what they describe as the ‘perfect storm’ for career transitions in their recent book (Best Practices in Talent Management, 2010) . This is the coupling of significant learning demands in complex roles, along with a lack of development support. In my experience, it is possible to increase the chances of a smooth transition by taking a structured approach to the learning demands as well as assembling a support team in advance who will be there when the inevitable bumps in the road materialise.

I am really looking forward to my upcoming MBA workshop on this topic where I hope to help the participants plan their next career move.

(Image sources: www.artnet.com & www.specht.com.au)

Stretch Assignments

An article just published in the Center for Creative Leadership’s ‘Leading Effectively’ newsletter: Job Assignments That Matter Most struck a chord with me this morning. For those looking to develop leadership competencies, this article presents an interesting framework for approaching the challenge.  It may involve seeking new assignments which put you outside your comfort zone or putting your hand up to solve a difficult problem. One way or the other, the idea is to take on a challenge that stretches your leadership skills.

During my time in GE we were actively encouraged to take this approach (in GE terms this was called a ‘stretch assignment’) and this resulted in me taking on assignments that stretched not only my leadership competencies but also my language and cross-cultural skills. The assignment that I learnt the most from was a role that I volunteered for in France at the age of 26. I was asked to join a large IT programme in order to learn about the system so it might be implemented elsewhere. The French perceived me as an intruder from head-office and the ultimate insult was that I did not speak much French. After 6 weeks they tested me by asking me to do a presentation in French to about 20 people. To say I was terrified does not adequately describe how I felt then. My inter-cert French was tested. By the time I left France however I was facilitating large meetings through French and thriving on it.

My lack of French was an issue but it was the least of my problems. The biggest challenge was dealing with the political culture of a tri-party project and significant people issues. A couple of months into my assignment I (naively) sought a team leadership role with a team of about 10 people. All the team members were French, and varied in age from early 20’s to individuals in their 50’s and they came from 3 different organisations (with differing expectations) all with a stake in the programme. When I look now at the article referred to above, I realise that this assignment allowed me to develop 7 of the 8 competencies they mention. It  was an amazing experience (albeit quite stressful at times) and I am certainly proud of how I developed in that role.

In October last year I attended an MBA alumni event at which Cormac McCarthy (CEO of First Active and Ulster Bank) was interviewed. He was asked what advice he would give to those looking to develop their careers, and Cormac spoke of the concept of ‘stretch assignments’ in GE. The article I mention above may provide an interesting framework to those of you interested in taking this approach. I certainly recommend it!

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