Can character education create happy people?

Can character education create happy people?

Let me ask you a question: How many happy people do you know? 

I am not talking about skipping through the daisies happy, or the ‘happy shiny people’ kind of happy. I am talking about the really solid kind of happy. The happy that comes from feeling comfortable in your own skin, being in relationships that are kind and respectful, studying what you are passionate about, doing work you love and feeling valued while you do it. How many of those people do you know? 

As I see it, this is the principal purpose of character education. Underpinned by a belief that confident, collaborative and curious people will have happier and more successful lives. It is a belief that sees people who can truly communicate, access their creativity and commit to things as better set up for success, than those that can’t.

Yet what I find fascinating about the need for character education is that, what is actually described here, is in fact the human condition. It is how we are born. Anyone that has spent time with toddlers will testify to their innate confidence; have you ever seen a toddler learning to walk, give up after their first fall? No, me neither. We are born confident, curious and collaborative. We are also born with the ability to communicate and commit to what we are interested in. I recently watched 5-year-old Katie building a dam in a stream… nothing would get in her way. She was oblivious to her mum calling her in for tea and nor did she care that she was knee deep in cold and muddy water for hours because she was in ‘her element’. She was in ‘the zone’. Until that dam could withstand a minor tsunami she wasn’t shifting and, in that moment, she was an engineer and a craftsman. However, give Katie a hairdressing set and the task to create the perfect chignon, I suspect her curiosity and commitment to craftsmanship would have waned pretty quickly.

The fact is, these skills and ways of thinking make a material difference to how people’s lives turn out. The question is how do we help people access them? For me, having worked as a senior executive coach for twenty-five years, there are three things that make a standout difference. 

First, we need to recognise that, instead of these attributes being found outside of us that they are already within every one of us. And, our job as educators, as facilitators of human potential, is to help people to reconnect and build from what already exists. What this means is that instead of starting with a position of ‘lacking’ e.g. “I am just not a confident person”, we start from a place of abundance e.g. “I was born confident; all I need to do is choose the thinking and behaviour that accesses it.” 

Just a few months ago I was working with Jonathon, a senior leader who told me in no uncertain terms that his problem was that he had always been shy. He therefore absolutely couldn’t do the kind of public addresses required of him. It was, in his mind, a fact. The next morning, however, he stood up in front of over 5,000 people, spoke for 30 minutes with a single mind-map as a guide and, at the end, got a standing ovation. What happened? First, he had understood that ‘shy’, like so many things, was actually just set of feelings and behaviours generated from the thoughts he was choosing to focus on. And, if he wanted, he could change the focus of his thinking at any moment and produce a different result. Secondly, he acquired a new skill that makes talking about anything, without notes, easy. Simply put he realised that he was creating the behaviour of ‘shy’ and decided not to do it anymore, then he learnt a skill that enabled him to perform better. 

This brings me to the second key thing which makes all the difference. The learning needs to be relevant. Jonathon was able to learn how to change his thinking around being shy because it mattered to him. He was interested in being able to present well so could perform in his job. The same learning wouldn’t be interesting to me. ‘Shy’ or ‘poor presenter’ are not labels I have applied to myself. On the other hand, show me how not to get stressed by my workload and I will listen to every word you say. We learn when we have a need or a want – just like we look up how to bake a chocolate soufflé when we want to make one (or are curious about how it’s made).  Curiousity is not a blanket thing. We are only curious about the things that interest us.

And finally, if we want to support people to live their best lives, we need to show them how to live from a place of ‘core strength’. Core strength is a set of personal identifiers that make up our unique blueprint. So, when we talk about giving students ‘character’ in order that they can go on and live their best lives, we have to help them find their character, their values, their beliefs, their vision and discover what puts them in their element. Like curiousity, character is not a one size fits all thing. It is something we need to discover within us and then bolster by learning a set of skills that matter to us. When people understand how to live from their core strength they show up as their best selves, they are grounded and able to realign easily when things get out of balance. When we don’t know these things about ourselves, realigning becomes a game of chance… and that is not the best recipe for a great life.

So, here’s the good news. Teenagers love it when they discover this. The moment they realise that all these great attributes are already inside them AND they can access them at any point, they sit up and listen. In my experience character is not something that can be ‘taught’, it is something that must be discovered, supported and above all facilitated. When we take the time to do this, we create more happy people and, in doing that, we begin to change the world.

If your school is on a mission to create happy, confident students, download our brochure to find out how we can support you.

Organisational gratitude. The new thing.

Organisational gratitude. The new thing.

Here’s a question for you. How much gratitude do you, your team and the people within the organisation show? We’ve all seen gratitude journals – a prompt for us to take a few moments every day to be thankful for what we have in our lives. Some of us have even got one and written in it a few times, some, even made it a daily practice. But, from what I can see gratitude hasn’t yet found its place in our organisations.

The other day I was with a very senior team, not as their coach but to talk about their emerging talent and you could have cut the atmosphere with a knife. Nothing to do with me, I have to add, but everything to do with the team dynamic. And, before I had really engaged my brain, I had called it – as if some alien had picked me up and transported me back to my days as an exec team coach. Luckily – rather than showing me the door the CEO suggested I take 20 mins to help them sort it out. (Nothing like an impossible challenge to make a sales meeting go well!) But, seeing as I had already opened my mouth, I had a go. I asked each of them to name three things they were grateful for in relation to the business right now. What do you think happened? A number of them got angry. Two told me to stop wasting their time and one mentioned that any decent coach would get them to name the issues they were facing as opposed to getting pink and fluffy (yes, he actually said that). But I held my nerve and waited. Eventually, one seemingly timid lady spoke up.  She said, “I am grateful for the bright committed people I work with each day, I love that I am developing my career in perfect direction for me and I will be eternally grateful for the health care cover that looked after my daughter this last year.” One by one they followed. You could have heard a pin drop in the room as phones and computers were put aside and every single one of them truly listened to each other probably, for the first time ever.

As they came to the end the whole dynamic in the room had changed. They were still and thoughtful. They carried on the meeting but now they were on the same side, their debate had a less aggressive air. One of the men said he had gained a different perspective. Another said how well they had done as a business to get to where they were and how lucky they were to be in their roles. I am not saying they transformed into a truly effective team, obviously that would take a lot more work, but I came away thinking that having a daily dose of organisational gratitude could be an amazing thing.

The 5 top talent development needs of 2019…

The 5 top talent development needs of 2019…

A recent Deloitte survey* identified that the No.1 reason people leave their jobs is the ‘inability to learn and grow’. 

The simple truth is if millennial and Gen Z employees don’t feel their organisations are investing in their education, training and development, they’re not going to stay. 

So, we have spoken to the brightest emerging talent from across pretty much every sector, to get their view on their top 5 talent development needs of 2019…

1. “Utilise the many varied opportunities to develop us.”

Reverse mentoring, shadowing, joining associations, keynote speaking opportunities, taking on research projects or being asked to publish articles are all free ways to develop your emerging talent – and they love them! Help them spot these opportunities, give them time to take part and offer support and feedback.

2. “Take our development seriously.”

Millennials and Gen Z place huge value on the growth of their personal brand and ongoing professional development is hugely important to them. However, the odd training day with a junior trainer every 6 months simply won’t cut it. They want access to experts and a clearly structured training and development pathway that will keep them engaged and get them to the top.

3.    “Let us play to our strengths.”

Whilst many businesses say they do this, the consensus amongst emerging talent is that this isn’t happening. Be proactive in understanding your high potentials’ strengths, passions and what puts them in their element and support them in finding work in this space. This might mean giving them more creative freedom within their role, or supporting them in moving to a slightly different position within the organisation – Far better that your talent moves within your business than outside of it.

4.    “Embrace a more relaxed hierarchy.”

With many of your most capable individuals sitting lower down the organisational chain, loosening the hierarchy allows change to be driven by those with the most powerful and relevant ideas, rather than those with the most prestigious titles. This might mean finding opportunities for your HiPos to lead strategy meetings, giving them regular contact with senior leaders or creating feedback forums so they can shape solutions and the direction of the company.

5.    “Give us a voice – make it safe and consistent.”

Our organisations are brimming with bright, capable people who want to make a difference.  In order to ensure they are able to share their voice, we need to set up two things.  Firstly, it needs to be safe to have a bad idea – to be able to brainstorm and explore. Secondly it needs to be safe to challenge the status quo. While many companies claim to be this way, this is far from what emerging talent are currently experiencing.

To read the full findings, download our white paper: ‘Future Leaders: The Research and the Reality’

At Ivy House we offer the kind of life-changing development, usually reserved for a handful of the most senior executives, to your brightest emerging talent. Our programmes build the knowledge and skills to allow your high potentials to thrive; becoming extraordinary leaders and living extraordinary lives.

To find out more about how we can support your emerging talent and future leaders, get in touch today.

*’2019 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends’ report

Ivy House alumni interview – Amy Higham

Ivy House alumni interview – Amy Higham

What did you think of the IH Programme?

It promised to be a life-changing experience and it absolutely lived up to that. It’s had a massive impact on my personal and professional life. It’s made me reflect a lot more on how I can interlink the two.

I think I was nervous at first about the unknown. I’ve never experienced being put into a room with so many talented people from different backgrounds and organisations. I was thinking that I’d have to shine the light on myself a little bit – there’s quite a lot of self-reflection. But it was a safe environment and everyone was really supportive.

How different is it from other courses that you have attended?

It’s totally different. It brings the leadership skills training that’s normally reserved for executive board members, chief execs and financial officers, and gives it to you at an earlier stage in your career. We don’t do that on our internal programmes (at M&S). To have professional coaching from experts who’ve coached senior leaders was very different.

At age 26, I think it would have been so useful to have this experience earlier, particularly the insights around understanding your own personal values. It can prevent a lot of conflict or unnecessary conversations.

What were your main takeaways from the workshops?

The biggest thing for me was around the art of more effective conversations. I’m not sure any organisation covers this in detail. I think when you’re first leading people, you’re just learning through trial and error. I’ve never had any sort of direction in the seven years that I’ve been a line manager on how to have an effective conversation and I had never realised the importance of that until coming on the programme.

My biggest challenge was not wanting to tackle difficult conversations. It’s nerve-racking but I felt so much more equipped to go in and hold my opinions lightly and talking about facts.

How has the experience affected your relationships with your team/department?

I have been much more open with my team, about what I’ve learnt, for example, giving and receiving feedback. I think that has broken down barriers within the team and encouraged everyone to be more open. It definitely feels much nicer walking into the office in the morning or onto the shop floor.

In such a big organisation with 85,000 employees, we’ve only sent about fifteen (emerging leaders) on the Ivy House programme. We’re not going to touch everybody but if everyone I come into contact with can benefit from something that I’ve taken away, that’s great.

I’m keen that the people that signed me up for the programme know that it is going to add value as I passionately want us to do something bigger with the kind of stuff that Elke and the team are teaching.

How have you used the core principles in your personal life?

During one workshop, Elke asked the question, ‘who likes to be right?’ Most people put their hand up. I think that’s something I was guilty of, not holding my own opinion lightly, whether it was a personal or professional conversation.

I just feel like we’ve got a totally different relationship now, for example, with my dad. It is just nicer and more comfortable to have a conversation with each other. I’ve explored more about him and understand now why he might be how he is and to accept him for who he is. I just need to adapt how I approach it. You can only change yourself.

If there was one thing that the course has helped you with, what is it?

Effective conversations are definitely a big thing for me.

But we also covered purpose which helped me and my team when I was back at M&S: ‘Why are we here? What is our purpose?’ and ‘Are we always working towards that purpose?’. So it has been particularly instructive with meetings:  ‘Why are we having them? What is the purpose? What’s the output of them?’.  

In every organisation there are so many unnecessary meetings. I think it has helped me and my team to weed out any ineffectiveness. We’re still working on it, but we question the purpose a lot more.

How would you describe yourself as a leader before the course? And then afterwards?

I would have said I was supportive, straight-talking, inclusive and directive. My leadership style was hierarchical, but I think Ivy House has helped me to reflect more, be more open and vulnerable, share more of me as a person, which has allowed the team to trust me more.

The leadership crisis

The leadership crisis

After months of campaigning by prospective Conservative candidates, we now have a Prime Minister who was predicted from day one.

We also have a brand-new cabinet around Boris Johnson. His choice of leaders ready to take the country forward at this crucial time were no surprise either.  They are his known supporters and have all promised to do things the way Johnson wants.

What appears to be missing are disruptive new thinkers with fresh ideas for the future. The electorate is ready for change. Yet it’s the same players who are charged with mapping out the road ahead.

We expect future leaders to follow in the footsteps of those went before them. In the current world, this tactic is failing us.

In politics, as in business, there is a very real threat that we are facing a leadership crisis. We are not feeding our talent pipeline and preparing them for the future. We are not equipping potential leaders from an early age with the skills and tools they require.

We inhabit a world of fast change but keep being given leaders suited to yesterday’s world. It doesn’t need to be this way. We need to turn traditional leadership development on its head by starting to prepare our future leaders far sooner. Instead of pushing ‘leadership behaviours’ onto an individual, help them first discover who they are and what matters to them. We need to recognise that the future requires different skills – human skills based on relationships, communication, trust, authenticity, collaboration and creativity. More than anything there needs to be humanity in the system.

As I look at our new ruling government I see little of the above. Politics may be slow to change but the organisations who oil the wheels of this country need to act now.

By connecting forward thinking leaders with emerging talent, we can inject organisations with a new energy. By giving individuals the opportunity to develop in a way that that inspires them and makes them feel valued, we can change the future. Maybe one day politics will follow.