What We Think, We Become


Do you ever realize that sometimes you end up watching the absolute best and simply worst movies on a plane? You never know what you are getting into. On the flight back from my Leadership Outbreak in Sri Lanka I watched the movie the Iron Lady on the life of Margaret Thatcher (what an amazing performance from Meryl Streep) and really enjoyed the message it had to offer. There were plenty of examples on the importance of sticking to ones principles and values on things that matter, even if it results in disagreements (see my previous blog: Creative Conflict). However the highlight of the film for me was when she quoted her father, Alfred Roberts, saying:

“Watch your thoughts for they become words
Watch your words for they become actions
Watch your actions for they become habits
Watch your habits for they become your character
And watch your character for it becomes your destiny
What we think, we become”

It specifically resonated with me as I had just spent the last 4 days with the top 30 leaders of a financial services organization talking about leadership; on how they want to work together to lead the organization and what they should do to translate their vision into actions.

To get yourself (let alone a team) to think and act synchronously is not a small act. However, when you do get people to work together everything is possible. This is what the team in Sri Lanka was able to achieve. They ‘stormed’, came together and decided what they needed to do. Now it’s up to them whether they are able to translate their thoughts into actions.

This is normally the point where I ‘hop-off’ the transformation train for any team. This time however I have the opportunity to continue to coach and guide the team to make their actions became a habit. For me, this is an exciting new prospect and one on which I will continue to report and share my learnings.

– Paul Keijzer

Creative Conflict

Margaret Thatcher, the British Iron Lady, once famously said “Consensus is the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values, and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects, the process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead.”

Sounds familiar? It does to me. Throughout my career, most leadership teams I participated in tried to avoid conflict and would come to conclusions that everybody could agree with, even if it wasn’t the right solution for the organization. They didn’t have the ability to deal with the discomfort that comes from a good fight.

I don’t mean fights in which individuals are all about pitching personal interests or those fights that revolve around clashing personalities or settling long-standing grudges. No, I am talking about those fights in which people vehemently disagree about ideas, concepts and the issues that are important to the organization.

The willingness to disagree, to make yourself vulnerable and admitting that you don’t have the right answers, is a hallmark for a healthy team. A strong team comes from trusting each other and giving individuals space to be wrong. And when there is trust, people are willing to pursue the right answers even if it doesn’t fit their personal opinion.

Increasing conflict is of course not something that happens automatically nor does it happen by someone just saying that they want more constructive conflict. As in all changes, the ‘message from the top’ and installing a process that supports the change is crucial. I love the example of a senior leader who in order to encourage more conflict in his team implemented two key rules. The first rule was to that he would interpret silence as disagreement, so if people were not contributing a decision could not be made. And the second rule he introduced was that at the end of each meeting he asked each member for a formal commitment to the decision taken.

This of course is very similar to the old team development steps of: forming, storming, norming, performing. You can’t get high performing teams if you haven’t gone through this process and there is no short cut in which you can skip a step. That is why I take business teams on Outbreak Leadership Journeys. The idea is to take people out of their comfort zone, not tell them what they will be doing, make them do things they have never done before and after a few days most people are tired and have short fuses. This is when you can get conflict out and only then can you move on and start building a team that is committed to the organization, each other and themselves.

I am off to Sri Lanka for another Leadership Outbreak tomorrow. Let the storm begin!

– Paul Keijzer

The Business X Factor

Talent reality shows like ‘The X Factor’ are all about discovering people who have an exceptional ability but have never been in the position to display their talent.  These show have created a platform for people to display their abilities, while the audience is drawn in by stories of participants overcoming challenges and adversity.

My favorite X Factor story is that of Paul Potts, a mobile phone sales man, who won the 2009 edition of Britain’s Got Talent (also check out Sung-Bong Choi in X factor Korea and Emmanuel Kelly in X factor Australia and be ready to be blown away).

I recently had the opportunity to spend two weeks with senior heads of a leading company in Saudi Arabia. We had a chance to speak about ‘mining talent’. During this conversation Zaki Al Baggal, an engineering division head, shared a story in which one of his direct reports, a senior engineer, was asked to make a presentation to top management. This senior engineer, worked on the presentation for some time, but Zaki felt it was not coming together (the content, flow and the information on the slides were one big mess). With the deadline looming Zaki became increasingly nervous and asked his senior engineer to re-work the entire presentation.

Soon after, the senior engineer presented his revised version and it was perfect; it was well articulated and well structured. When he asked his senior engineer what had changed, Zaki was told that Baleegh, a young and shy engineer in the team (who until that moment had not featured on Zaki’s talent screen) was the one responsible for this brilliant presentation. Till then he had displayed mediocre performance and had never stood out the way he did now.

The senior engineer proposed that since this was Baleegh’s hard work, they should let him present his work to the top management himself. Zaki was unsure about the exposure and the risk but at the end relented. Baleegh presented and he did an amazing job. The top leader thanked him and publicly recognized Baleegh and his recommendations were accepted and implemented.

Ever since that presentation, Baleegh has transformed into a star performer and has become one of the key members of the team; always involved in various task forces as well as the most important projects in the team.

Stars can be everywhere; it’s about finding them, building their confidence, supporting them and giving them an opportunity.

Let’s start our own Business’s X Factor. Share and send your stories of talent that you have discovered. Of team members that were lying dormant, waiting to be discovered in the depths of the organization, and by chance (or luck) had the opportunity to perform, deliver and shine, never looking back.

Lets find our own Business’s X Factor stars.

– Paul Keijzer

The Talent Barometer: Moving HR Out of Babylonian Times

For thousands of years now, people have been trying to forecast the weather.  Even as far back as 650 BC, the Babylonians predicted the weather using astrology and cloud patterns. In 1644 an Italian scientist called Tornicelli invented the mercury barometer. Ever since, meteorologist used this barometer to gauge the pressure of the atmosphere – thus helping them to forecast changing weather patterns.

Due to the lack of reliable measurement instruments, HR professionals often still operate in Babylonian times. To fill this vacuum, Engage Consulting developed an instrument that would help executives gauge whether the talent market was entering a period of high pressure (more career opportunities) or low pressure (less career opportunities). This instrument, dubbed the Talent Barometer, supports executives and HR leaders in making informed decisions for their hiring and engagement strategies.

Aiming at Pakistani professionals, from last year’s talent barometer we gained some exciting insights:

  • – More than 1 out of every 2 managers are actively looking for better jobs;
  • – 57% of all managers believe they can get a better job within the next 12 months;
  • – The reason people leave their jobs is because of unsatisfactory compensation and lack of growth; and
  • – The reason people stay in their jobs is due to challenging work and reputation of their current employer.

With this years edition of the Talent Barometer we not only want to assess the current state of the talent market but also want to identify changes from last year to this year. The results will give us the ability to asses the factors behind the decisions of the current talent market.

Gathering statistics depends on individuals helping to provide information. I am counting on all of you to assist us in collecting data! Help us in trying to better understand what motives the actions of current Pakistani employees by taking this quick survey (it will take you less then 10 minutes) : Talent Barometer 2012

To show my gratitude for all those that take part, I am excited to announce that each 100th participant will be offered a free career counseling session with me. Your views are important and will help organizations and individuals obtain a better understanding of what is happening in the Pakistan labor market.

– Paul Keijzer

Content Is King

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to coach a very bright manager with a great deal of potential, helping her deliver the presentation of her life. In preparing for my coaching assignment, I read the latest books regarding successful presentations (check out The Presentation Coach by Graham Davies if you are interested). I also used my knowledge from previous training courses, in which I learned that 55% of what speakers convey is passed on through body language and facial expressions, while 38% is communicated through the tone of their voice, leaving only 7% of the presentation to rely on words.

When I chewed over this statistic and the realization hit me, I couldn’t help but think… Really?

Let me give you an example about the absurdity of this statistic. According to this myth, my wife should be able to tell me where I left my keys without me saying a word – I just have to make my ‘honey-where-are-my-keys face’.

I decided to conduct some further research online, and found that these statistics (as the previous example indicates) are a load of rubbish. And the professor whose research has created this myth, Professor Albert Mehrabian, is actually the first to point this out. He himself indicates that his famous formula (Total liking = 7% verbal liking + 38% vocal liking + 55% facial liking) is solely related to a very specific aspect of nonverbal communication. His work and formula relate only to inconsistent messages about feelings and attitudes, that is, face-to-face exchanges in which the meaning of what we say is contradicted by our body language and tone of voice and not verbal communication. So if I say ‘I am sorry’ to my wife, she will interpret 55% of what I said from my facial expression, 38% from my tone of voice and only 7% from the actual words I say.

Of course, as you would expect, there is a great YouTube video about the Mehrabian Myth.

What is interesting to me is how statistics that seem to distort reality can so easily seep into the collective consciousness of trainers and professionals alike (including mine!). I guess the most important aspect to remember about verbal communication in terms of presentations is that the content should be simple, credible and, to a degree, surprising. Take this as advice for your next career transforming presentation: make sure the content is simple, credible and touches the audience, but be sure to watch out for the ways in which you nonverbally communicate your ideas too!

My coachee absolutely nailed it. She won the coveted award she set out to attain and was the talk of the town in her organization. How did she do it? She prepared, prepared and prepared. As a result, her content was rock-solid and engaging, her presentation technique was immaculate and her confidence and passionate was clear for all to see.

– Paul Keijzer