When coaching is not enough

I recently had a very interesting conversation that made me reflect a lot on coaching: its usefulness, its limitations, and my recent development as a coach. 

 

I believe coaching and the special presence of a coach is a really powerful development tool. I really like the basic assumptions of the process, for instance, “the coach has the questions, the client has the answers” or “all people have the resources within them or can acquire them”. I love the idea that you’re accompanying someone on a journey of finding their own answers. 

 

But sometimes I think coaching is not enough. In addition to being a coach I’m also helping people with skill- and capability building through trainings and programs like Radical Collaboration. And this wider knowledge on various topics helps me realize more quickly when we are hitting a wall in a coaching conversation.

When you hit a wall

In the conversation I mentioned, we talked about the person’s leadership role and her current challenges in it. She and her team are working in an innovative field, they are in the phase of figuring things out, the team is changing a lot and her role is quite complex. We talked about her definition of leadership. Here I was already sensing that this might not get us too far in her challenges, but I still wanted to explore how she sees leadership and how this belief is helping or hindering her. 

 

So I tried an analogy. It is often much easier to explore a topic when you pull back from the original situation – it gives some distance and perspective. And just as I expected, it was very easy to spot her underlying assumptions about leadership and her role in the team. 

At this moment I stopped and asked her: Can I challenge you?

A different perspective

And I told her how I’d do it differently. Last year I took a course on innovative leadership which inspired me to have a completely different view on the role of a leader. I also added some ideas on exchanging roles of leadership and using her strengths. 

 

After my monologue she stopped for some minutes (while I was freaking out that ohh shit, I just slipped into advisory mode). Then she said that she loves it and this is exactly the kind of leader she wants to be. But this is something really different from what she had learned in her previous companies.

Was it coaching? Was it not coaching? Honestly I don’t care anymore. 

 

My commitment is to help the people I get to work with in the best way possible. This time sharing these insights seemed to be the most effective tool. She left the conversation excited about learning more about this new approach, planning her next activities aligned with it, and coming back to me with her reflections and learnings next week. 

 

I’m not sure we could have gotten here without me bringing in some new thoughts from outside her worldview. As an added bonus, we also had a lot of fun discussing these frustrating topics with analogies like being on a deserted island or organizing a walking tour in Lisbon. 

How to ask better questions

A couple of weeks ago I was going through my coaching notes as I was recording educational videos about coaching for one of my online programs. I found this idea: if you are an expert in a topic it means that you can ask better questions. It was reinforcing the idea that as coaches, we are not advisors. 

In recent years I didn’t take any specific coaching-related course or certification, but I was attending many other courses for my work as an organisational development consultant and trainer. I feel that learning about these topics significantly improved the effectiveness of my coaching as well. I learned to ask better questions not by reading coaching books or taking online courses, but by learning a lot about innovative leadership, new ways of working, and Radical Collaboration

 

I could see this in another recent conversation as well. I was helping someone prepare for a difficult conversation, a negotiation she was freaking out about. During our conversation I led her through an interest-based problem solving preparation process we use in Radical Collaboration, and also helped her brainstorm ideas about creating a collaborative, “green zone” environment (this is what we call a non-defensive atmosphere in Radical Collaboration) for the conversation. Knowing this methodology allowed me to systematically and effectively help her prepare by asking very targeted questions. And again she left excited and with a big sigh of relief that she knows what she wants and also how she will communicate it. 

 

The more I learn about leadership, inspiring organizations, and collaboration, the more I can support my coaching clients. Sometimes I think that I could be a better coach if I did more of it or focused on coaching exclusively. These experiences, however, empower me to more strongly believe in a core value I bring into my work that: doing many different things allows me to do all of them better. 

 

So if you are a practicing coach, I encourage you to look beyond coaching when you plan your professional development.

 

If you are a leader, founder, or entrepreneur and would like to try coaching with me, just send me a message and let’s start a conversation.

 

And if you are wondering about the substance of the conversation and the difference between traditional leadership practices and innovative leadership, come back soon because I’m going to get into more details about that in an upcoming post. You might also want to come over to my Instagram page to get notified when it’s published. 


How to create an impactful learning and development strategy for your team

When I started my career as a soft skill trainer I was surprised to learn about the resistance people often had toward trainings. Many people told me about their bad experiences or said that the skill trainings they get at their companies are not usually bad, but that they don’t really see the value of them. They saw these days as free days, days spent as teambuilding, or in the worst case as wasted days when they were taken away from their jobs while their “real work” was piling up in their absence.

Soon I got to see the other side of the coin. I was invited to companies to train people on communication and collaboration skills without proper context of the work they do and without any opportunities to follow-up and support them in applying what they’d learned. Learning new skills is about behavior change; it’s a slow process. Attending a one-day workshop might be a great catalyst for change by giving inspiration, new ideas, and tools to participants. But where the magic really happens is when people start experimenting with the new behavior. A proper follow-up process can help people stay on track, reinforce what they learned, and see how the new skills can be applied to their everyday reality.

I also realized that many times people were skeptical about certain training topics because they saw no use for them in their work culture. You can teach people assertiveness, but if open communication is not embedded in your culture, people won’t dare to share their issues openly. Participants frequently expressed that their managers should take these workshops. Resistance is also common because people don’t see the value of these workshops, or worse, they have been assigned to do them by their managers without consultation (implicitly suggesting that they need development in that area). 

After experiencing many such trainings, as a trainer, I decided not to do the same thing since it is not what I believe in. Because yes, many of these trainings are meaningless, but there is a right way to develop people through learning initiatives. Developing a learning strategy is a complex task: it needs to be aligned with strategy, the company’s values, people strategy, the personal development plans of team members, and just as 2020 showed us, with the reality of how we do our work. 

I feel lucky that I now have clients with whom we can do learning and development the right way. I work with them closely, I know their culture, I know most of their people, I have an understanding of their strategy, and this all helps me co-create a meaningful and effective program calendar. 

As this period of the year is all about planning and creating strategies for 2021, I thought I’d share with you my approach to building strategies for learning and development. As I said, ideally it’s a co-creation between the company and a consultant. In this partnership, the client is the expert on the company’s goals and issues and the consultant is the expert on the tools we can use as interventions. Right now I work with small and mid-sized tech companies and not only does their flexible approach allow us to respond to needs in the organization more quickly, but they are also open to trying new tools in addition to workshops and trainings. However, I think the following tips can be helpful for any kind of organization.

1. Take a look at the strategy

I first recommend that you take a look at the company-wide and team-specific strategic goals. Learning and development ideally enable people to solve more complex challenges, and it arms people with the necessary skills to serve clients better.

By using your strategy as a guideline, you can identify any gaps between the current capabilities of your teams and the capabilities and skills needed to fulfill your future aspirations.

I once worked with a company who had international expansion as their strategic goal. They realized that how they represent the company and how they communicate is going to be key to their success. In alignment with this goal, we placed emphasis on supporting key people in becoming more confident in public speaking and communication, even in situations where they were in a different cultural context or speaking a different language.

Your learning and development objectives might be very different based on your strategic aspirations. If your goal is to be stellar in customer care, maybe you want to develop people’s customer-centricity and empathy. If your goal is to provide your clients wider services, maybe you need to equip your people with consultant skills. Check your goals and map out any skills that could support achieving your long-term goals.

2. Map the needs in the organization: the needs of people based on their personal career aspirations

People generally enjoy learning and getting better at the job they do. My experience is that even though soft skills play a huge role in career success, people are not really aware of how they’re helping them, nor can they name development areas for themselves.

As a coach, if I talk to people and they tell me about their current challenges, I immediately start to have ideas about how to help them develop. I can do it because I have an extensive “library” in my mind that’s full of topics and tools. But it’s not always obvious for the people, nor for their managers.

If you want to map out what kind of skills people lack, might need, or want to develop, don’t ask them this question explicitly.

Ask them about situations that are hard for them to solve or to overcome, ask about their challenges. Ask them about the traps they continuously fall into. Ask them about their career aspirations and how that person they want to be in the future is different from who they are now. Again, we are looking for a gap to fill in: where your people are and where they could be. 

There are many ways of mapping the needs. For a client I usually do 10-20 minute interviews with people from all of the teams to have an idea of the challenges they have and we define learning objectives based on this. You might want to talk to managers and ask what kind of challenges they see for their people. You might want to send out a survey as a needs assessment. Just one thing to keep in mind: look for the needs, the challenges, the problems. And then match the needs with the tools available.

3. Go back to your values and cultural aspirations

Sometimes it’s not about where you want to go as a company or what kind of future goals your people have, but about cultivating the kind of culture you want to work in. 

Your values ideally give guidance to people about the behavior that’s expected from them at the company.

With learning and development opportunities you can support the cultivation of these behaviors, you can help people develop the necessary skills to make these values come alive.

Even if you have collaboration as a value, people still need support with cultivating their collaboration skills. If you have taking responsibility as a value, people need support in learning how to self-manage and make decisions. If you want your people to give and receive radical candid feedback, you can support them with tools and practice. If you want your people to be accepting and open, you might want to educate them about their biases. If you want to have agile and flexible team members, you might want to give them tools for dealing with difficult emotions in stressful situations. 

Ideally these values are already present in your everyday interactions. However, by giving new input, new tools and new food for thought through training programs, people can live these values better and also develop a common understanding of how they want to work together.

Last year I had the chance to support four teams within an organization to cultivate collaboration skills through the Radical Collaboration methodology. It was great to see how a framework could help them have meaningful conversations about the kind of relationships they want to cultivate internally, and how they developed a “common language” they could use to remind each other to choose collaboration in their everyday interactions. 

4. Choose the right tool for the right goal

Once you start to see what kind of strategic goals need support, what the needs are in the organization based on people’s aspirations, and which cultural values need a bit of reinforcement, you can choose the best tools to cultivate these skills or transfer new knowledge.

This is the point when co-creation between someone from the organization and a learning and development expert can be very useful.

Someone working in the field of developing people, especially if they have a wide range of expertise, can give you tips and might know methodologies or training topics that are less common.

This is the step that I enjoy the most. At this point of the planning, I get into an advisory mode: I propose training topics and methodologies, and research whether or not there’s a program that could best fit the needs identified. This is also the point when we can get creative because there are just so many more tools than one-day skill trainings. 

Last year there was a team where we had the goal of developing internal collaboration and facilitation skills. One program element was a follow-up workshop, facilitated by my participants, where they could actually practice facilitation skills as they were giving space for team members to have meaningful conversations about how they want to collaborate. Now that’s what I call two birds with one stone!

5. Match people in a meaningful way

Attending the same session, workshop, or development program can provide a common experience, a common set of methods, and a common language to the people who participate. These programs can also act as a great team-building activity, as people have facilitated conversations about topics they wouldn’t normally cover. 

In order to utilize the full potential of the learning initiatives you organize, be intentional about how you group people. Do you want this workshop to strengthen team cohesion? Do you want specific teams to have the same knowledge so they can use what they’ve learned as a reference point in their collaboration? Do you want to support cross-functional collaboration by mixing people from different areas? 

It can be a powerful experience for a whole team to go through the same program. It can also be really nice to share an experience with colleagues you don’t know so closely. Both can work, just make sure you put some thought into it.

6. Communicate, communicate, communicate

Once your learning strategy and the program elements start to crystalize, communicate them! People will better understand what’s expected of them, why they are receiving invitations for programs, and how attending them will benefit the advancement of their careers if they are told these things explicitly.

People appreciate these initiatives if they see that there was a lot of thought put into developing them and that their needs were considered in the process. Especially if you consulted team members in any way, it’s great to summarize the result of the internal search and how the current development plan responds to that. 

I’m really grateful that some clients allow me to conduct short interviews with future participants before starting a program. This helps me enormously as I plan the content, as well as giving people a say in what they expect and what would be the most useful for them.

7. Plan the follow-up process

Please don’t plan standalone one-day workshops without any follow-up, please, please, please! Or rather, don’t do it if you want your programs to have any impact. After one day people just get back to their daily work and forget most of the things they’ve learned.

Real learning happens through reflecting on experiences. If you have a one-day workshop, it’s crucial to plan at least a 2-3 hour follow-up session for participants to reflect on what happened in their work lives recently and where they could apply the new skills.

As I said, behavior change takes time. The more opportunities people have to reflect on their experiences, the more those experiences will stick.

As I facilitate many such follow-up sessions, I also see that I can greatly contribute as a trainer or coach to helping people link the material to everyday situations. I help them see how what they’ve learned about themselves plays out in real life. I help them recognize which tool would be the most useful in a certain situation. We can replay situations and solve them differently in our minds or through role play. There is so much gold in follow-up sessions, where the focus is exclusively on linking the new knowledge to real life.

If you, for example, plan a 2-day workshop for your team, I suggest that you already block three 3-hour follow-up sessions in people’s calendars, ideally with 2-3 weeks between them. In my follow-up sessions, I also encourage participants to develop internal rituals that they can use to continue reflecting on their skills after the program ends. If we want people to practice the new skills, we need to support them until they become part of their thinking and behavior. 

+1 Be flexible and respond to the needs of people

In the beginning of 2020 we had many yearly plans with clients. Then the whole year was about replanning them on the fly. It might happen that your focus areas shift during the year. It can happen that new incoming challenges require people to level up in their skills. I gave workshops on emotional agility and online facilitation – not because we planned these things but because there was an immediate need to support people.

The more relevant your programs are, the more people will appreciate them, and the more impact you’ll have on your people and your culture.

You support your company’s vision and achieve your strategic goals through the contribution your people make. By supporting the growth of people, you support the growth of your company. Learning and development are not a nice-to-have, it’s an essential part of your strategy if done well. 

I hope these tips can help you develop an impactful learning strategy for your team. And if you are curious about what I’d say or what kind of ideas I’d have for your team based on the needs identified, don’t hesitate to reach out.


What happens when there is no boss - an example

Not having bosses in an organization sounds like a very radical idea. The hierarchy and its elements, such as having top leaders and managers, are so embedded into our worldviews of work that it’s hard to imagine a workplace without them.

 

I was very excited when, many years ago, I learned about self-managing teams, flat organizations, and new ways of working. And so every time I see a working example, it reinforces my belief in and enthusiasm for this very special way of collaborating within a team. Whenever I talk about these concepts, I like to use analogies, metaphors, and concrete examples to help people visualize how it actually works in real life. So following up on the analogy with the roundabouts, here comes another great example of what might happen if a team gets full ownership of the work they do. 

 

As I mentioned, there are certain structures that are so deeply embedded in how we do things that sometimes we don’t even question their existence. Let’s take the example of an orchestra. An orchestra is a group of musicians guided by a conductor. The role of the conductor is to keep the musicians on time and together. They are also considered to be the ones ‘channeling’ both the music and the message of the composer. Their interpretation comes alive as musicians can transmit the vision of the music to the audience in a unified way. 

 

But what happens if some of the musicians start to challenge this assumption? 

 

This is what happened in 1972 when a group of young artists decided to create Orpheus, an orchestra without a conductor. Their vision was that they would lead themselves democratically and create extraordinary musical experiences through innovative collaboration. And this is indeed what happened and continues to happen today.

How does that work in practice? What makes them so special? How can you envision this kind of innovative collaboration? I think their example provides many insights into the advantages, the magic, and the mindsets that are needed for self-management. We can then translate these into the life of any organization that embarks on the journey of eliminating management layers, building a flat organization, or simply building more wholesome and human-centered workplaces with inspiring processes and practices. 

Before you continue reading, I really recommend that you watch this video (5 minutes) to get a glimpse of the kind of work they’re doing. I promise you’ll be smiling from start to finish! 

 

What can you learn about self-management from this example? 

 

1. They are one team

 

What happens when there is no ‘leader?’ How do they perform if there is no one person providing interpretation, vision, and order to everyone?

What actually happens when there is no leader is that everyone becomes a leader. They are one team, they work together, and they rotate the leadership roles. These leadership roles are not even assigned, but rather emerge naturally when there is a need for them, as you can see in the video. If someone notices something their music needs and has a suggestion they naturally initiate a conversation. 

This way everyone can contribute with their best ideas and feels ownership to raise an issue whenever they notice it. They are one single entity with one common goal: to make the best music possible.

This is what happens in a self-managing team as well: anyone can make any proposal to make things work better or produce better work. Everyone says what they think, everyone’s idea is valuable, and people discuss these suggestions based on the single most important factor: whether it is in the best interest of the work they do. 

2. Check your insecurities at the door

 

The last sentence of the previous point is critically important: the common goal of this orchestra is to make the best music possible. Every suggestion and piece of feedback is considered valuable if it seeks to make the music better. This is what they all care about.

This is why everyone raises topics and this is why everyone accepts the feedback of others. It’s not about egos, pushing your ideas on others, or defending yourself and your way of doing it.

There are many different people with different instruments and different interpretations of the music. They manage to channel these differences into healthy conversations. This is something I love about the video: whenever they add a comment, they explain their ideas or actually show what they mean musically. There is passion and creative energy in the air. 

What makes it possible to have this kind of collaboration was articulated in the video as well: these people are musically secure. That is, there are no feelings of inadequacy. Which means that they feel safe. They know that they are competent musicians, and that the feedback they’ve just received about a piece they played is not about their competence, but about an attempt to making their music better. They don’t take it personally, and thus they don’t try to defend themselves at all costs. 

This is what we call psychological safety. I know that I can raise any topic or suggestion because I won’t be punished for it and I can handle any feedback because I know that the others accept and appreciate me. 

 

3. Immediate communication

 

In this team there is absolutely no hierarchy. There is no one person who knows what’s best. Lively and sometimes messy conversations are shaping the final version of the music. 

Their common energy is also fueled by the way they communicate. Their communication is unfiltered, raw (this is what I would call real radical candor feedback) and most importantly: immediate. They can directly communicate with each other at the exact moment they sense something. They can turn to each other with their suggestions instead of turning to the conductor.

Imagine what this would look like in an organization. 

I was recently talking with a manager who told me that there are many issues and tension points between two teams at his organizations. As a result many of his team members come to him and expect him to mediate whenever there is an issue. Then this manager initiates a conversation with the other party involved in the conflict. Then these two peope and their two managers get together to sort things out. 

Not only does this take way too long (resolving an issue this way might take days or even weeks),it also takes the time of too many people ( a one-hour meeting with four people means four hours of productivity lost dues to this tension). Flat organizations instead have processes in place for handling these kinds of issues by encouraging the people involved to resolve them on their own or with an unbiased third party. 

Conflict resolution is something that a team needs to learn and practice continuously. Having a good process in place can normalize resolving the conflict instead of shying away from disagreement and tension. Resolving tensions immediately might be challenging for many as the vast majority of people don’t feel comfortable having these difficult conversations. This is why collaboration skills and conflict resolution skills need to be developed as well. 

 

+ Work is much more fun this way 

 

Every time I watch this video I start smiling and feel this joy bubbling up inside me. The thing I like the most about it is how much fun the musicians have. The whole process of creating together seems to be such a joyful, playful, and entertaining process. If something goes wrong or someone plays a bad note, they laugh together. Rehearsing seems to be quite an entertaining process even if there are conflicts or people highlight the mistakes of one another. 

This is a real example of the magic that happens when people co-create, when they can bring their whole selves and creativity into what they do and collaborate innovatively. Because in the end they are not an orchestra. They are “a big noisy family”. 

 

If you are curious about inspiring work practices or want to learn more about self-management, let’s get in touch and start a conversation! 


What does it actually mean to have a flat organization

I regularly talk to founders and leaders about how they run their organizations and there is something interesting I bump into from time to time: leaders of small to mid-size companies or teams, just starting up and working on innovative products or projects, tell me that their company is ‘flat’. 

They sense that they do something differently, that they have innovative ways of running their companies, and they’ve probably heard the term flat in various contexts before. And so, since they don’t have any hierarchy they assume they must be flat.

They are indeed flat in a sense of not having a hierarchy, however, I find it very interesting that it’s not always clear what exactly is meant by a ‘flat organization’. To explain the difference between a traditional organization based on hierarchy and a flat organization without one, I usually use an analogy in which traditional hierarchies are like intersections with traffic lights while flat organizations are like roundabouts.

In a crossroad with traffic lights it’s very clear what you need to do: a light indicates if you have to stop, if you need to slow down or you can go. The system runs automatically, prevents accidents, and is quite easy to understand. You know what to do and when to do it. It’s based on the principles of command, control, and compliance. And we all know how people react at a crossroads when someone doesn’t start to go as soon as the light turns green – it’s quite easy to spot the same kind of frustration in organizations as well. It’s an efficient system: much more efficient than not having anything at all or having a policeman in the middle of the street giving directions. However, with heavier traffic it can become very slow, traffic jams can occur, and wait times, as well as driver frustration, can grow quickly.

Roundabouts are designed differently: drivers can make the decision about when to stop and when to go. A roundabout is not an intersection without any rules, but rather it’s carefully designed while still giving drivers freedom. Of course there are certain rules: you have to slow down or stop before entering, you have to pay much more attention to the other cars on the road, you have to indicate if you want to leave the roundabout, and you need to give priority to the circulating flow. Roundabouts feel much more natural: they allow for a more efficient flow of traffic, wait times get shorter, and the cost of maintaining them is far less than for a crossroad. Replacing intersections with roundabouts is a way of getting rid of big traffic jams as well, giving flow and movement to previously clogged roads. And yes, I might have recently read an entire Wikipedia article on the history of roundabouts.

I like this analogy because it shows not only the nature, but also the advantages, of flat organizations. They are not organizations without rules. Rather, they are organizations with a carefully designed, different set of rules based on freedom, autonomy, and responsibility. Thanks to these rules, flat organizations find ways to operate in a system of self-organizing ‘circles’ in such a way that people pay attention to each other and collaborate instead of functioning in hierarchies, where the layer above gives the traffic signals to the layer below.

Just like in a roundabout, in flat organizations people decide what to do only after considering what others are doing. Many processes of flat organizations are designed to ensure that colleagues pay attention to each other. For example, the fact that anyone in a self-managing team can make any decision doesn’t mean that they can just do whatever they want. There are different kinds of advice processes through which the person making the decision needs to consult all parties impacted and the decision maker needs to take the advice of people with more experience or expertise into account when making the decision. This is such an important foundation of their functioning that not following the advice process is one of the reasons you might get fired from a self-managing organization.

Flat organizations are similar to roundabouts in their efficiency as well: they allow for faster and better decision-making, more productivity, less waiting time, fewer wasted hours and there are no people who become bottlenecks for decisions.

Which all sounds very great. But let’s not forget that just as roundabouts require more attention, functioning in a self-managing, flat organization also requires quite a lot of effort, learning, and unlearning. While you might be able to stop for three minutes at a traffic light and check your phone, in a roundabout you need to constantly pay attention to others and what’s happening around you. Self-managing organizations are made up of self-managing people. And self-management is not an easy task. But it’s definitely liberating and worth the effort.

Building a flat organization is not just about removing middle management and letting work flow without any structure. It means carefully designing the rules and principles of collaboration in order to allow the most natural flow of work.

If you are curious about building teams based on self-management, let’s get in touch!


The reason why you need long vacations - very long ones

On the 4th of February I took a plane and landed on the other side of the planet, in South America. It was the second time that I spent all of February on holiday, recharging my energy and leaving everything behind for a month. I like to call it a creative retreat for myself. Last year I still brought my laptop with me to Thailand, but this year I decided that I’ll take four weeks only for myself and for my mental break. I left everything behind this time, even though I have a company, I love my job, and I know how much the success of my projects depends on me. To many other business owners it seems to be a completely crazy idea to make my life as an entrepreneur so hard by skipping a whole month. I was also afraid of how much I’ll lose by doing this kind of experiment.

 

I wasn’t running away, I wasn’t burned out, I didn’t have an especially stressful period behind me – there was nothing negative as a motivation for my decision. I knew without reaching a point of full exhaustion that I needed this break, I needed this time for exploration. One of my main motivations to start my own business was to have more freedom, including freedom of choice and deciding on my own schedule. This also includes having time for traveling, which is my main source of inspiration. The idea of only having 20 days off a year was freaking me out and it scared me away from being an employee (among many other factors, of course). 

 

I don’t want to be trapped by my own business and forget one of the important reasons why I decided to go my own way. Which is, to be honest, very difficult in a world where being busy and having an insanely full calendar are the metrics for success. The more you do, the more valuable you are as a person. It’s suspicious if you ask a friend to have a coffee together tomorrow morning instead of setting up an ‘appointment’ in two weeks. We’re running the who sleeps less, who loves their jobs more competition every day. But for what? I’m exaggerating of course, but this is kind of what I see around me, especially among entrepreneurs and those working on ‘love projects’. 

 

So when I tell people that for a month I was mostly offline, wild camping in Chile, snorkelling in Colombia, and sleeping in a hammock for four days in a row in a house in the middle of the Caribbean sea, some respond: “Yes, it’s such a luxury that YOU can afford leaving for such a long time.” Because their industry is different. Because they have people in their team. Because the house is always burning in their company. Because if they leave for such a long time they don’t get involved in the coolest projects because they don’t show motivation. Or because they ‘love’ their jobs so much that they can’t even imagine living without it for a month and doing ‘nothing’. (!!!)

 

Don’t get me wrong, there are indeed times and circumstances when you can’t leave: you have a sick relative to take care of, a super important project that influences the future of your business, you have other priorities like growing in a short amount of time or have other things going on in your private life. I’m talking to those who want to go, who dream about a destination they’ve wanted to visit for a long time and haven’t made it happen because their ‘love’ for the job doesn’t let them go for a longer period of time. 

 

After these two long creative breaks I’m convinced that if you don’t give yourself the time and space to fully recharge your batteries it’ll cause your business much more harm than the fact that you’re away for a month. And no, when you check emails on the beach all the time, that’s not recharging. You need to let go of work and not think about it at all. And it’s super freaking hard. It took me nine (yes, nine!! super shocking) days to fully let go of what’s happening at home and in my business. After a week I had a call with a colleague and was still very frustrated that I didn’t have much influence on the flow of the things. And then I started a wild camping trip with a local friend in Chile where I had no internet connection and that’s when I finally managed to turn off mentally as well. After that I only checked emails every 5-6 days and I didn’t respond to any of them, I only forwarded the most important ones to someone in charge. I trusted my team and their ability to take care of everything that was going on in the business. And I’m still super grateful for their efforts in that month. 

 

I think many more people would need such holidays. In fact, I think that the more you love your job, the longer you need to leave it behind. So here come my six main reasons to convince you to plan your next long holiday:

 

1. Your brain needs time to let go of the everyday hustle

The nine day cool-off period that I had might be a bit extreme, but you need at least 3-4 days to start arriving mentally to your holidays: to see that your colleagues are taking care of your tasks, to still finish some projects, to send some last emails you might have forgotten in the office. You need to get used to a slower pace when you don’t always do something. Just imagine, if you take a long weekend, you are already packing for home when you finally start arriving, and if you have a week, you only have 3-4 days to enjoy that relaxed state of mind. I’m sure that after this you don’t want to be in the office next Monday, sitting at your computer still dreaming about the beach whether you could still be sunbathing if you decided to take more days off in a row. 

 

2. You need to turn off – literally

When I first heard the news about the elimination of roaming fees in the EU it seemed to be great news. Then I realized that this puts one of the biggest values of traveling at risk: being offline and unavailable most of the time. The time when we only check our phones after a full day of sightseeing is over.This is why it was so great to be in countries where I couldn’t use my phone most of the time. I intentionally decided not to buy a SIM card. For almost 10 nights I was sleeping at places where I didn’t even have Wi-fi: in the middle of the sea, up in the mountains, or close to a lake in a tent. It’s so deliberating that there is no one ‘waiting for me’ in the virtual world and there is only me, my friends, and the present moments. Take distance from the online world. Put your phone in the backpack and don’t take it out for days. I know it might seem hard, but your mind will shift into a completely different mindset if you allow it to focus only on the present moment. (But please let your family know that you won’t answer for some days because you are in a remote place so they don’t freak out if you don’t give life signs for days…) 

3. Nature recharges you like nothing else

Lately I’ve read an article [K1]  about the importance of nature for our mental health. Fresh air, all the shades of green and blue, the sound of the sea, and the admiration of sunsets all make me calm and relaxed. There was a day when we were hiking uphill all day (with a lovely 12 kg backpack) and I could only hear the birds chirping and the twigs breaking under my feet, and I had to pay attention to every single step so that I didn’t sprinkle my ankle. Believe me, it is impossible to be anywhere else mentally when you have to pay so much attention to what’s around you. Because of the physical tiredness I mostly went to bed around 9 PM and I woke up with the sun, which also gave me a very energizing routine. Living in nature for 4-5 days felt like completely restarting my brain that had six programs running at the same time and 65 pages open in a browser tab. A new beginning 🙂 

 

4. Physical and mental distance from your everyday life gives you new perspectives

This month allowed me to take a helicopter view of my life, my project, my plans. It was super interesting to observe during the first week how much I missed my established routine: the workshops, my hobbies, fencing trainings, the people I met regularly every week. Then the trip took a turn when I managed to leave everything from the daily hustle behind. It allowed me to observe things from a distance, to reflect, to think, to evaluate the last year. I had the time to ask the questions to myself that I don’t usually ask when I’m just caught up in the daily to do’s. I realized what’s important to me at this point and what’s not. What are the things that I do out of habit and what are the things that need more focus because they are closer to my personal mission. I had to face how much I changed and that this internal change needs external changes as well. I saw my goals much  more clearly and had many exciting ideas. 

5. The great feeling of solving real problems

Where am I going to sleep tomorrow? Where can I get my laundry done? What will I eat, what will I need for a 3 day hiking or boat trip, what should I buy against the local mosquitos, what should I do with my severely sunburnt skin, how can I get to Santa Marta from Cartagena in the safest way…? I only had very practical things to do and arrange. It was so refreshing because my job is mostly theoretical; many times there are no black or white answers for the problems clients and I face. They are hard to grasp and mostly very complex and complicated. This makes my brain constantly run in the background as I try to brainstorm about possible solutions. For a month I only had very simple and clear challenges to solve. Apart from the mosquito issue because they were eating me alive no matter what I did. 

6. You never know who will inspire you on your journey

As a trainer it’s part of my daily life to learn: I read, I attend courses, I do massive research, I have mentors, I do interviews, I listen to podcasts. During traveling a whole new dimension of learning opens up for me: I meet many interesting people from different background and stories to tell. To me it’s kind of like entering the ‘school of life’. I learn so much from these people: from a bartender in a hostel who is super committed to his job and who also learned three languages on his own, or a man who tells me stories of restarting by telling me how his life took a 180-degree-turn three times already, or a 22 year old girl who runs a successful local business instead of going to university. A good conversation is like a shot of inspiration and I love how much my worldview is challenged on an everyday basis. 

 

‘I love that after this trip you are so energized that you can also transfer this energy to me. You should go more often and recharge us as well’ – this was the reaction of one of my colleagues after the trip. It made me think. 

 

I didn’t take this holiday to recharge from traveling so that I can work more afterwards. I took it for myself, because it’s a part of me, because I’m so curious that I have to go from time to time. But as you can see now, being recharged and more focused definitely had a positive impact on my worklife as well. Going away for a month didn’t damage my work, it only enriched it. 

 

It might not be a full month in Latin-America for you. It might be taking 3 weeks to renovate your house. Or to visit a remote family member in Australia for the first time. Or taking weeks to spend some time with your newborn niece. Or taking three weeks every winter in the mountains because snowboarding recharges you like nothing else. The important thing is that you focus on what’s important to you and that you consciously make time for it. Enough time. Not only stolen evenings and half weekends when your head is full of the challenges of the next week. 

 

The default setting is that we spend most of our year working. If you had the choice to customize this setup, what would you change? Especially if you have the freedom because you are a founder, entrepreneur or work for a freethinking company that might even allow you to take a month of holidays. How can you adjust your worklife to meet your real priorities?

 

If you want to search for the answers together, get a listening ear from me and meet me for a kick-off coaching session. You can also follow me on Instagram to get a daily reminder about your goals. Thanks for reading and if you are still hesitating: Just book that flight 😉 

 

 [K1] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/03/psychoterratica-is-the-trauma-caused-by-distance-from-nature?fbclid=IwAR1Rnxz_Yo2VOQyNysjGvV6qm3lRrVxAf5psHhgmiXSwK_wl45SKcMaorgs


The benefits of a beginner’s mindset

Let’s take an area, a topic in which you’ve worked for years already. You consider yourself an expert. You’ve seen many cases, you draw conclusions very quickly, you see the patterns and can give very precise advice without thinking. You’re an expert, but I still ask you to take a fresh look at the things you think you know: with the mindset of a complete beginner who doesn’t know much about the topic.  

I believe every trainer colleague would agree that one of the biggest challenges of our profession is teaching people who don’t want to learn. In big companies in particular, many people sit in trainings because someone assigned them to be there. Not because they’re curious and full of questions, or because they’ve realized that they need improvement in some areas. It takes a lot of effort from our side to engage these people, taking away valuable time from the not-so-long training time. The time spent showing these participants that there is something in the topic for them as well could be spent with more practice, another Q&A block, or more detailed feedback. 

 

Have you ever been this participant archetype? Sitting in the room thinking: “really, why am I sitting here?” Or “perfect, two days thrown out the window again for useless workshops…” Or “Presentation techniques training when I’ve been delivering presentation for years? What new things could anyone tell me?”

 

Of course I’m exaggerating. But you know what I’m talking about.

 

If yes, or even a tiny bit, I challenge you to take the beginner’s mindset. I’m not asking you in order to make my job easier. No. I’m asking you because this way, every learning experience might become a more useful, more interesting, and more enjoyable experience for you. I’ll show you what I mean by giving you some more insight into the principles of the beginner’s mindset.

 

How does a beginner approach a new topic? 

 

The beginner’s mindset, the “Shoshin” comes from Zen Buddhism. It’s an attitude of turning to something with openness, curiosity, and free from preconceptions even if we already have some knowledge or experience – looking at it as a beginner would approach the challenge.

 

In the moment of saying “I know this” you close your brain to letting anything inside. Your glass is full and you don’t want to pour anything in it anymore. It’s kind of like turning off all the lights in a big office building: this is how open you will be to letting anything new in, even if it’s new. Because if it’s new or different from what you know, you might need to admit that you don’t know – which is a hard job to do. 

The beginner’s mind is instead like a half full glass: there is already something in it, but there is still plenty of place to fill it up with learning, experience, and personal development. There is place for experiences that you’d otherwise miss if you reject the new information because you say that you already know how to do things. In this case you turn on all the lights in your office building: you become open to receive any kind of information that might be interesting and you’re ready to question if you’ve done it right before. 

 

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s there are few.” – Shunryu Suzuki

 

Why is it so hard to not know something?

 

One day I was looking after my niece when a repairman came to our house. My niece was so excited about the process that she asked me every single minute (and here I’m not exaggerating): “What is he doing?” And the question came back again and again. “What is he doing? And now what is he doing?” Even the repairman had to stop from time to time because he was also laughing so much. 

 

One of the most admirable thing in kids is how much they ask. Who? What? Why? When? With whom? Sometimes they ask questions that are hard to answer. Curiosity is part of their experience every day. This is how they explore the world and learn. 

 

By the time we grow up, we lose a lot from this natural curiosity. No wonder: not knowing during our school years means punishment. Bad grades, humiliating oral exams, failing tests, being ashamed in front of others. If someone expresses during a class that he doesn’t fully get everything and asks questions, he’s quickly labelled as the less intelligent one. Even if everyone else had the same feeling of not understanding in the classroom. No wonder we are so terrified of not having the right answers, of not knowing.

 

This also makes practicing the beginner’s mindset very challenging. Unlearning the mindset, the patterns of hiding insecurities, needs conscious effort and practice. You consciously need to make space in your glass in order to make space for exploration. The good news is that this allows you to leave space for learning, development, growth. You train your potential and expand its limits. This way you don’t only train your brain but become more accepting towards yourself. Not knowing not only becomes okay, but becomes the desired state. 

 

“The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” – Aristotle

 

Three practices to get into the beginner’s mindset

 

Active listening

 

When was the last time when you were quiet, listening, focused only on what the other person was saying? A good exercise for the beginner’s mindset is immersing in conversations and leaving all our preconceptions behind, being fully present and alert to what the other says and how he says it. It is actually very hard because our brain immediately starts to comment on what we hear: I agree, I don’t agree, that happened to me as well, I have a story from a friend who had a similar experience… Or even worse we start to think about items from our to do list or whether we locked the front door or not. If we already have some knowledge on the topic we will only hear what justifies our opinion and fits our map of the world. Because it’s more comfortable. Be conscious in hearing messages that you don’t agree with. Don’t try to defend your views, just let it sink in. Instead of waiting for your turn to talk, leave space for the other to express freely and allow yourself to learn something new.

 

“When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.” – the Dalai Lama

Ask, ask, ask

 

It’s possible to have a conversation in which you only ask questions. Don’t believe me? Ask a coach! As a coach, for long stretches of the conversations you might be just be asking questions. It’s good practice for you as well. In your next conversation don’t add anything, don’t comment, reply,or share a similar story, just ask questions. Start a journey of exploration and try to understand what’s really in the other’s mind, how do they think. Have genuine curiosity, try to understand and model how they think the world functions, what their thinking patterns are.

 

Practice during trainings and presentations

 

The next time you enter a training room, remind yourself: ‘When I think that I know, I close my capacity to pay full attention and let surprising new information in.’

 

The best challenge would be signing up for a training that sounds like something below your level. If you consider yourself an expert in a topic or know a lot about it, go to a training for beginners and let yourself be surprised. Sit with an open mind and curiosity and search for what’s new, not for what you already know. Pay attention, ask questions, challenge your previous knowledge. Don’t look for confirmation of your already existing knowledge, but for challenging facts and interesting insights. After the experience reflect on the new insights you gained.

 

The last challenge also allows you to build on your strengths even more, which also allows you to practice a strength-based approach. It’s worth investing in learning about a field that you’re already good in.