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Fortunately I was not watching the British middleweight title fight in London at the weekend - but I have been following the debate over when the fight should have stopped. According to Chris Eubank Senior he would have stopped the fight if his son had been in Blackwell’s position even if it would “alienate his son for life”. I imagine that the opponents themselves, their trainers, family, doctors, referee and the audience might all have different views about the right time to stop a fight depending on their own perspective and experience.    

 

Whether you’re cooking, painting, writing, training or leading a team, knowing when to stop can be quite a skill. Effective leaders seem to know when to stop talking, checking in, waiting for more information or working on a particular project and while it’s relatively easy to spot when someone should have stopped doing something, we often don’t notice when someone stops at the right time.

Here are a few suggestions to help experiments with stopping something

  • Have a clear outcome and boundaries in mind. The clearer you are about the end result you want, the easier it is to know when you have achieved it and can stop. It also helps to understand any rules or boundaries relating to this. What don’t you want to happen?

  • Apply the law of diminishing returns. That final 20% effort might not add much value and it could actually diminish the impact /outcome of what you’re doing. Whether it’s too many colours on the paining, too much seasoning in a casserole, diluting a bold statement by restating it in multiple ways or delaying completion with additional analysis. 

  • Ask for feedback. Recognise that you might be too close to the situation to judge. Ask for feedback and give your team and stakeholders different ways of letting you know how you’re doing – is the job complete to your stakeholder’s expectations even if not to your own? is the person you think you are “supporting” feeling micro-managed?

  • Gain perspective. If you can, step away from whatever you’re doing for a while. Take a walk. Go for a run. Work on something else. Sleep on it. Then come back to the task and look at it with fresh eyes. Ask yourself what needs to happen to finish according to your original plan?

  • Practice stopping. If your tendency is to get into too much detail, talk for too long, or over-worry about things - experiment with stopping before you’re comfortable. When in doubt, give yourself a deadline or time limit - and stick to it.


Mine is now.

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So I’ve just joined a new team – nothing to do with work – it’s a netball team.  I haven’t played in 25 years but I fancied a new challenge.

It’s very strange being the new girl!

I thought I knew the rules but perhaps unsurprisingly after 25 years a few had slipped my mind which may explain the penalties given away!  I have since googled the rulebook!

Next was my assumption that as a fairly athletic person I’d handle this no problem.  However, watching the other players who’ve been playing for years you see that so much of the game is instinct and an in depth understanding of your team mates – where they are going to be, where they expect you to be.  I was floundering.

So having had my mindset altered somewhat – I’m now loving the training.  Learning new skills is fun, getting to know the team is better.  Not getting told off by the Ref for a whole game is the aim!!

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In my last blog post I talked about how I applied Kotter’s 8 step change model to prepare for the Yorkshire 3 Peaks walk. Having completed it this weekend, I thought I’d give you an update.  11 of us participated in the challenge of walking 24 miles (it seemed much longer!) and climbing 6000ft (I’m sure it was much higher) over 3 peaks in around 12 hours. All of the preparation proved essential and we also had a bit of luck with the weather. But in spite of that and the stunning scenery, there were still times when we wondered if we could face the final climb. But we did – and here’s why I think we did:

  • Preparation -in fact we were not quite prepared enough - but on the day this was compensated for by other factors including
  • The guiding team - advice and encouragement from the group, who ranged from marathon runners to dog walkers, and all faced demons from twisted knees, blisters, fear of heights, dehydration to general fatigue
  • Creation of short term goals - stopping for a break, a snack and to pat ourselves on the back at specific landmarks and milestones 
  • Visualisation – looking forward to the breeze and view from the top and imagining the taste of a cold beer back at the hotel  

But most importantly for me, the whole experience was a very real lesson in what we can achieve by taking one small step at a time. This is something we often explore with people through coaching. Thinking about how to break a problem or challenge down into manageable chunks. Identifying what you do know (rather than don’t know) and what can you do (rather than can’t do) that will take you a step closer towards your goal. And the importance of just making a start.    

That first step can be hard, but on Saturday as I looked up at a steep climb with literally no end in sight and not much energy left in my tank, the most important thing I did was to take a few steps and start nibbling away at the challenge. Each time I stopped I felt a sense of progress and literally created a new perspective. And what a perspective it was!

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John Kotter’s 8 step model is one of the best known, used and adapted change models. We regularly use this or similar models with our clients. It is a very versatile tool, so I decided to apply it to my own challenge – which involves taking thousands and thousands of steps up and around the Yorkshire 3 peaks in a few weeks time. Given the fact that I’ve been walking for decades, it’s amazing how challenging it is to train for this. My head and heart are engaged, but my body is proving more difficult to convince! So here’s how applying Kotter’s 8 steps to change is helping me.

  1. Increase urgency: I’m doing the walk because I want to get fitter and hate going to the gym. Walking with 13 friends is more appealing but still challenging. What is at stake is my pride and knowing I am part of a team that I don’t want to let down. And knowing how good I’ll feel mentally and physically at the end of it.
  2. Build the guiding team: The group I’m walking with are part of this team. They are a mixture of expert walkers and marathon runners who push and encourage the rest of us and others who are great at organizing, planning and providing moral support. Also part of the team are our families who put up with us disappearing for hours at a weekend and drive to meet us in way out places (often involving a nice pub – but still!)
  3. Get the vision right:  I’m thinking about the beautiful views, companionship, laughter at our celebratory meal in the evening and sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.       
  4. Communicate for buy-in: This has been about engaging my family and agreeing roles in group. I’m pleased to say that I am chief list maker! It’s also been about setting expectations that we will need to walk in a faster and slower party so no one feels rushed or slowed down. 
  5. Empower action: There were a number of barriers to address, including equipment (I now have new and worn in walking boots, walking poles, waterproofs etc) and the fact that I have never done a 24 mile walk over 3 peaks in 12 hours. Training and a realistic training plan are essential.
  6. Create short term wins: We have planned for and completed several walks of around 15 miles on different terrain and in different weather conditions. Our time and distance goals have been challenging but doable, so we have felt a sense of achievement and progress.
  7. Don’t let up: We keep adding new milestones to our training plan. I now know my strengths and weak spots and am planning to address these by adding some specific exercises and stretches into my routine. And of course we have some “planning” evenings to look forward to.
  8. Make change stick: How will I build on my increased fitness levels and enjoyment of the challenge?  What will be next? I haven’t got as far as this yet – but will let you know!

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In July I will be presenting a session at the Institute of Fundraising National Convention entitled ‘Punch above your weight’. 

The session is designed to show how small charities can compete with the big brands in the sector. Having made the transition from a large national charity to a senior leadership role at a small NGO, Magic Bus UK, a former colleague and I will discuss how a diversified strategy and other practical considerations have enabled our respective organisations to ‘punch above their weight’. 

But what does this actually mean? Since joining Magic Bus in 2012 I have experienced a major shift in mind set about the opportunities and challenges of working at a large vs small organisation. Sure, larger organisations have bigger brands, bigger budgets and bigger infrastructure whereas smaller charities can struggle to secure unrestricted funding and brand awareness and may lack systems and processes. 

But, for me, the beauty of working for a small charity far outstrips the benefit of working for a large organisation.  At Magic Bus I have diversified my skill set, assumed greater responsibility, had the autonomy to make decisions, taken risks and made my budget stretch as far as it possibly can for maximum benefit. I have learnt to be bolder, more ambitious, tenacious and agile and I truly believe that my team and I punch above our weight and we aspire to improve every day. 

I have been lucky enough to recruit and develop my own team. They are a flexible, roll your sleeves up, proactive bunch who share my passion for Magic Bus and the children and young people living in poverty in India whom we support. Some of the team have also made the transition from larger charities and what they enjoy most about being an integral part of a team of five is that they have closer internal and external relationships and a greater connection with our grassroots work.

Starting a new job requires the ability to come out of the comfort zone and challenge and stretch oneself. I spent 15 years at large charities and I do not under-estimate the invaluable experience I gained during this time, there were highs and lows and I learnt a lot along the way. Having now experienced working for a small charity, and as a trustee of another small charity and a mentor to several individuals who work for larger charities, I have become a champion for small charities. 

Despite Magic Bus being based in India, I feel far closer to, and more passionate about the cause than I did at any other charity. This is what drives and motivates the Magic Bus UK team every day. We have all taken a leap of faith, come out of the comfort zone and we are on an incredible journey. I remind myself every day personally and professionally that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step and that the comfort zone is a dangerous place.

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So MasterChef is back and I for one am delighted.  Strange to love a show where you watch people cook impossibly difficult dishes and don’t even get to taste them but there is something about it that engages me.

I think it’s watching contestants with an obvious talent, really pushed and challenged to become the best they can be.  Plus of course the drama of a complete disaster, aka chocolate fondant all over the floor.  The creativity (or not) of the ingredients test – curried pasta anyone (that’s one of my own – it’s not good!).  And perhaps my favourite part - the characters that excel – not always the polished individuals who perform well on camera and have all the right words.  Sometimes the old school granny or as in last years winner the young DJ from East London who was so engaging, passionate and down to earth she was a true foodie hero in my eyes.

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I am a fair weather skier. When the sun is shining and the snow is squeaky you’ll find me swooping around the mountain with the wind whistling past my ears (safely encased in my helmet of course). But put me on a run with poor visibility, big bumps or deep fresh snow - and I go completely to pieces. Instead of the wind whistling you’ll hear me squealing as I lurch from one turn to another.        

Last week we were lucky enough to be skiing.  In spite of the heavy snow and poor visibility on several days, I found the lure of the mountains and fresh air overcame my dislike (and slight fear) of skiing in a white out. I chose to step outside my comfort zone, give it a go and increase the level of risk and stress - within limits. When my legs were getting tired and I really thought I might hurt myself, I stopped. After 3 days I had learnt to relax into the bumps and how to avoid getting stuck in snow drifts. Then the sun came out - and it was suddenly all so effortless by comparison.   

The idea of the comfort zone has been around since the early 20th century, when psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John D. Dodson explained that a state of relative comfort creates a steady level of performance. But in order to maximise performance, we need a state of relative anxiety - a space where our stress levels are slightly higher than normal. This space is called "Optimal Anxiety," and is just outside our comfort zone. Too much anxiety and we're too stressed to be productive, and our performance drops off sharply. 

An article in Future Science Leaders suggests that any goal or challenge could fall into either our comfort zone, growth zone or panic zone. A goal in your panic zone would be too frightening to do now, but if you try similar challenges in your growth zone, your comfort zone expands so that things that would have been unthinkable at one point become challenging but doable. 

Choosing to step outside your comfort zone in a controlled way helps to build the flexibility and resilience to deal with unexpected changes. This could be something as simple as trying a new dish in your favourite restaurant or assigning a regular activity to a different member of the team. Wherever you start remember that small incremental changes are just as beneficial as big steps - and the important thing is to start.

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So, 18 months ago I couldn’t swim 2 lengths of a swimming pool without having a coronary, I thought front crawl was something babies did across the carpet and the thought of swimming in open water utterly terrified me – you can’t touch the bottom, there are waves trying to drown you and there are other living creatures that can move a whole lot faster than you can! 

Yet last Saturday I swam 10k down a river and into an estuary (the Dart 10k) – and I loved it! 

It started with actually learning how to swim properly – I could stay afloat but had no clue beyond that.  A winter spent training and some serious coaching sessions turned me into a swimmer.  Suddenly I was passing people in the pool.  My times were dropping dramatically.  I even looked like I knew what I was doing. 

Then this summer with my technique looking better and my swim fitness good it was time to tackle the fear element.  My challenge to myself was to tackle a swim local to me – it is 2k and goes from one beach to another round a headland.  Terrifying in that once you start you can’t get out unless you want to scramble up a cliff.  Truth is it was a piece of cake – it was beautiful to be out in the open, to feel the sun and to see the cliffs and seagulls bobbing about every time I took a breath. 

A greater challenge was required – which was good as after a bottle of wine over winter I’d signed up for the Dart 10k!  It wasn’t so easy – 10k is a long way, but it was great fun, a real challenge and what a sense of achievement as I crossed the line. 

So old dogs can learn new tricks – if they put their minds to it, get some good coaching and have people to push you out of your comfort zone.

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