Human leadership: How does your organisation measure up?
We’re at a turning point in history. Old styles of leadership no longer fit.
Needing to win, pursuing profit at all costs, having a game face, never admitting vulnerability… these are the behaviours that have led us to where we are today.
Leaders who spend virtually no time learning, regularly put their wellbeing on hold and find it hard to challenge the system are not what we need for our organisations today – or the ones that will emerge over the next few decades.
Authenticity, creativity, collaboration, agile learning, and flexibility are already becoming far more valuable than the ability to shout the loudest.
Old-style leadership makes us miserable on a personal level, too. A recent study showed that 85% of the global workforce feel disengaged with work, which is estimated by Gallup to cost the global economy $7,000 billion every year in lost productivity.
Another discovered that in the year before Covid, 74% of people in the UK felt so stressed and overwhelmed they were unable to cope, leading to 17.8m workdays lost to stress.
The good news is that there is a different way. A more purposeful, meaningful, and human way. It’s time to build a new sort of leadership, fit for our world and fit for the extraordinary lives we want to live.
What is it?
Human Leadership is the practice of leading oneself and others in a way that empowers everyone to reach their full potential. No matter who, what, or where you choose to lead, it’s about creating environments of meaning, growth, belonging and ownership – enabling people, organisations, and societies to thrive.
You don’t have to choose between financial security, pleasure and meaning. Human Leadership is in fact the only way to deliver them all.
Why is it important?
As Industry 4.0 spreads through our organisations and affects every part of our professional and personal lives, the more ‘human’ our leaders must become. They must do the jobs that only humans can do – developing other people, solving new problems, reading social situations, inspiring teams, challenging the status quo, and collaborating creatively.
We need leaders who can effectively draw the humanness out of those around them, whether face to face, online, across time zones, cultures, or social hierarchies. Leaders who reject the idea that the workplace is where you check your real self in at the door and instead approach their colleagues as living, breathing individuals – not as resources.
Leaders who don’t see their role as squeezing every ounce of profit out of the system, but instead create environments where people thrive and ensure success. Success for the individual, organisation, and society.
These are the kind of leaders we develop at Ivy House. If you’d like to learn more about Human Leadership and how to make it a reality in your organisation, register to access our special edition recorded event:
Human Leadership – how do you get from where you are now to where you want to be?
People expect students would be happy if their exams were cancelled, right? Student Emily explains why this isn’t the case – and how finding her element, creativity and a new community changed her perspective on lockdown.
For me, and most of my friends, it feels like the thing that we’ve spent the last few years working towards, (in fact our entire time in education really), has just been taken away. Does that mean that all of the work and revision was for nothing?
I know that obviously it’s great to learn as much as you can, but all of those evenings I spent memorising dates, names, quotes, and facts, now feel wasted. And the worst thing is, once exams were cancelled, I didn’t really know what to do with myself! My whole life has been about getting good grades, and going to a good university. I’ve never really had much time to figure out what I actually enjoy outside of school. So, for the first few weeks at home it was tricky to find any motivation at all. Then, I heard that some of my family friends were doing the Ivy House Award. I had heard about it through a friend at a different school, and though I wasn’t really motivated at that point, I thought I might as well do something productive with my time.
After probably the first two sessions, my whole perspective towards this lockdown period had changed. I spoke to people who I had never met, who are going through the exact same thing as me, and who are feeling pretty much the same. One of the sessions challenged us to find our ‘element’, which is essentially the thing that we are passionate about, and have a strength in – doing that would put us in our element. I realised that this is what I had been looking for ever since exams were cancelled and school work was over. I also saw that I was probably never going to have as much free time to discover what it is that I love doing!
It was a bit trial and error at first. I used to play the saxophone, so I dug that out of the shed and tried getting into that again, but found that I didn’t really get much joy from playing it. I started going on runs, and though I’m enjoying the fitness, I don’t think exercise is my thing either! A few weeks ago, after a great session on the Award where we learnt about our personality and communication styles, I had a bit of a revelation. In the quiz we had done, I had come out as a Creative Enthusiast. I have always been creative, but I think my focus on school and lack of opportunities to practice my creativity meant that I had started to abandon it. From that day on, I have cooked dinner for my family pretty much every night, creating menus from different cooking videos that I see online. I have also started up an Instagram account to share the meals I make, and that has already built up a good following!
Before, I never would have even considered that I could excel in a time with no school and no structure, but the Ivy House Award has really made me curious to find out what else I am good at and enjoy doing! It has also helped me become a lot more motivated, and now I write down my goals and to do lists every day, which really helps me feel like I have my routine back. I am very jealous of people that actually get to do the Award in school because even online with strangers it has been amazing – I can’t imagine what it would be like to do it with your friends in real life.
The Ivy House Award is giving students back a sense of purpose, community and direction in a term that was all about preparing for exams.
We caught up with Pete, a sixth former taking the Ivy House Award, to hear his take on the learning so far.
What’s the most usefulthing you’ve learned from The Award?
That’s tricky! I think probably the most useful thing I’ve learnt from the Ivy House Award is that I can take ownership over my life. That just changes everything really. And it seems so obvious, I don’t know how I didn’t realise it before.
Great! So how are you taking ownership at the moment?
I try to take ownership now for everything, but mostly my school work. I didn’t do great in my GCSEs to be honest. I was a bit disappointed, but mostly because I felt I had let down my parents. But when they spoke to me about it, I just gave them excuses. I blamed it on the school, the teachers, my friends. The exam questions were too hard, and we hadn’t been taught the right stuff. People used to brag about how little they had revised. How stupid is that?
I know I’m only one year older now but I have changed so much. Even though it was hard to admit, I realised that it was mostly my fault that I didn’t do well at GCSE. This year though, after starting the Ivy House Award, and understanding that my life is completely up to me, I started to work a lot harder.
When we learnt about ownership, I decided that the area I would focus on mostly would be my school work. I really want to go to university, and I probably won’t get in if I don’t do well in my A Levels, and then what will I do? So now, I’ve started to make notes in every class, I am actually doing my homework on time (well most of it), and I am revising for the tests. The weirdest thing is – I have actually started to enjoy it! I am doing mostly humanity subjects, because to be honest I thought they would be easier, but now I am reading more in my spare time, and have found that I really love English – I think I want to be a writer when I am older.
The Award is great at making you think about your future like that.
Do you think other people have noticed the change in you?
My teachers definitely have. I have been getting much better grades, and a few of them have told me that they have noticed I’m putting in more effort, which is really nice. I am now aiming for straight As at A level! My parents were surprised when I made a timetable for my work, but I think they are more surprised that I am actually sticking to it! That’s ownership for you!
What would you say to somebody starting The Award?
Listen! I can’t stress that enough. There is this one part of The Award which basically asks whether you are open to learning new things or not. And it is so easy to just say ‘I don’t need to learn anything’, but there is always something to learn. So yeah, keep an open mind. Every week is different, so you never know what will have the biggest impact on you, but it works best if you put everything together. Also, participate in the sessions. It might feel a little awkward at first to share stuff like that with your friends, but after a while you get used to it and everyone now has each other’s back a lot more than before. I have learnt so much more about my class through these sessions than I knew from 5 years of being at school with them. And I have also learnt more about myself than I have in the past 17 years.
Utilising the apprenticeship levy: Manager as apprentice
How many extraordinary leaders do you know? Not many? Interesting, right? So why are we still taking our brightest, bravest emerging talent down the same path we took our current leaders? The truth is we’re in the midst of a leadership crisis.
Only 13% of senior execs have confidence in the rising leaders in their firms, whilst a shocking 82% of managers are perceived to be lacking leadership skills by their employees. But this crisis isn’t just manifesting in the CEOs sitting at the top of our organisations. Throughout all hierarchies of business, we’re seeing a skills deficit, with a whopping 77% of CEOs seeing the unavailability of key skills as the biggest threat to their business.
The truth is if we want a better world, better businesses, better lives – we need better leaders. Leaders who are agile, adaptable and change ready. The kind of leaders people actually want to follow and pioneers who are equipped to lead us into a better future.
But here’s the great news: The apprenticeship levy can help with exactly that.
In fact, since the introduction of levy, there’s been a major shift in how businesses have viewed professional apprenticeships, with a growing number of organisations turning to the levy to upskill at senior levels and develop management and leadership skills across their organisations. A recent IBR report evidenced that 68% of the UK mid-market surveyed now believe apprenticeships can develop leadership skills and 53% believe apprenticeships are attractive to experienced managers and senior executives.
The switch from apprenticeship levy funding just being used for school leavers, to becoming a critical part of the development path for managers and future leaders is important. As the IBM report stated:
“Poor management creates a myriad of issues; higher levels of team attrition and increased employee turnover are just two persistent examples. As they say, people don’t leave their job, they leave their manager. Leadership development, through apprenticeships, is one, incredibly cost-effective way to solve these problems.”
With the impact of poor leadership on productivity being a key driver for the Government’s introduction of the levy, it’s time that more organisations utilised their levy to develop their future leaders. Leaders who can inspire, drive change and navigate businesses to success now and in the future. Leaders drawn from a wider pool, with different experiences and perspectives. Leaders with drive, ambition and an openness to learning.
Aren’t those exactly the kind of leaders your organisation needs?
At Ivy House, we believe that if we want a better world, we need better leaders. And, to make that a reality, Ivy House wants to turn traditional leadership development on its head.
Our mission is to put leadership and life skills at the heard of how we develop each new generation.
We do this through our programmes for future leaders, emerging talent and sixth formers which deliver life-changing development, the kind usually reserved for a tiny percentage of the most senior executives.
This begins with self-mastery. The principle of taking total responsibility for the quality of your life, by committing to:
– building your understanding of yourself and developing an ever-deeper
– being a lifelong learner, always growing, developing and creating positive
change as a result
– taking ownership for who you are, the impact you have and the life you create
Based on this foundation of self-mastery, our programmes focus on teaching seven transformational leadership and life skills. Skills, that when mastered, make a game-changing difference to the kind of leader you become and the life you create. Having spent over 20 years working with senior leaders across every sector, we know that exceptional leaders learn first to lead their own lives and then learn to lead others. It is for this reason that the first six life skills are an essential foundation for the seventh skill, namely Human Leadership.
The Ivy House 7
Skill 1. Core Strength
Our core strength is what makes up who we are – like a personal blueprint. At its heart is our vision for our life (the one that we want to live, not the one others want us to live). It includes our values, beliefs, and our driving forces; the skills and talents that put us in our element, and eventually perhaps our purpose in life.
is it so important?
we know who we are and we find ‘our life’ we make things easy for ourselves. If
we have a clear vision for the life we are creating, we know which direction to
head in. When we understand our personal values, making decisions becomes easy.
When we are doing the ‘right’ job or studying the ‘right’ subjects, we learn
quicker, we put in extra effort and success comes easier. Living in this way….
knowing yourself to this level, means living from a position of strength. It
means having clarity about what makes you tick and what matters to you and,
from this place you can become the person you were born to be and live the life
you were born to live.
Skill 2. 100% Ownership
100% ownership is about taking complete responsibility for your life and how it turns out. It means knowing we have a choice in how we respond to each and every event and that those choices, one after the other will create our life.
is it so important?
Choosing how we think and behave, in response to every event, is the ultimate power of being human. It is the event plus our response that creates the outcome. We can’t change the situation, but we can always change our response and in doing this we get to influence the outcome in every situation we are involved in.
Skill 3. Conscious Mind
Conscious mind is the skill of being in a state of deep awareness. Aware that you are not your thoughts. Aware that thoughts come in and out of your head constantly, but it is our choice what to do with them – hold on to them and make them into something, or let them go. Accessing our conscious mind gives us the power of choice. The ultimate human power to choose our response to anything that comes our way.
Why is it so important?
How you think determines how you feel and how you feel directly affects the quality of your life. Spend your day focusing on negative thinking then you will have a bad day. Alternatively, deciding not to get caught up in that negative thinking and choosing to follow more positive thoughts will mean you will have a better day.
Skill 4. Courageous Learner
Courageous learners are motivated by learning. They take joy and satisfaction in learning about themselves, others, and the situation. This comes without the need to be right, to win or defend their point of view. Courageous learners are acutely self-aware and have the ability to tell the truth to themselves and others. They proactively seek to change and develop themselves throughout their lives.
Why is it so important?
When we are motivated by being right,
we are motivated by protecting our ego. For some reason we believe that when we
are wrong our self-worth is affected. We believe that if we don’t win, we are a
failure and if we don’t become top of the class we are not as valuable as
someone who did. Put this all together and you get a world of pain and
self-judgement; you end up creating relationships that become battlegrounds and
leaders who are more concerned with protecting their ego than doing the right
Skill 5. Intentional Relationships
Intentional Relationships is about getting good at building and keeping relationships. Relationships of all kinds – intimate relationships, friendships, work-based relationships, as well as building an extended network. It is the skill of creating and maintaining relationships from a place of trust, respect and understanding.
Why is it so important?
Countless pieces of research tell us
that we will live longer, happier and more successful lives if we create great
relationships. The same research also tells us that people’s ability to build
great relationships in marriages, politics, business and education is not
getting better but worse. So, if we want a better world for ourselves and
others the only way to do it is through better, more trusting, loving,
thoughtful, joyful, evolving relationships.
Skill 6. Proactive Wellbeing
Wellbeing is, simply, the feeling of being well: mentally, physically and spiritually. It is a deep certainty, and recognition that we are okay. It’s an inner peacefulness. When we are proactive about our wellbeing, we create the right circumstances for our mind, body, and soul to recharge.
is it so important?
would your dream life be like without the feeling of wellbeing? Think about it, you have the house, the job,
the relationship of your dreams but if you woke up every morning feeling life
was pointless or without the energy to enjoy it, then what use would it be? You
may already know. You may have experienced the crippling effects of poor mental
or physical health and realised that, without it, experiencing well-being
becomes virtually impossible.
is important because when we have the skill of proactive well-being, life stops
being scary and starts being an adventure. It empowers us to bring our full
creative, connecting, curious selves to the world and in turn inspires greater
levels of success. Without well-being our achievement in life will be
meaningless. It is the essential ingredient.
Skill 7. Human Leadership
Human leadership is the practice of leading oneself and others in a way that empowers everyone to reach their full potential. No matter who, what, or where you choose to lead, it is about creating environments of meaning, growth, belonging and ownership; enabling people, organisations and societies to thrive.
Why is it so important?
It is so important because there is a
better way. Individuals and organisations can’t go on as they are. The mental,
physical and spiritual well-being of the nation is at an all-time low. It’s having
an adverse impact on people’s individual’s experience of life and
organisational success. And, the madness of it all is, when we create a world
where people work in their element, develop collaborative, purpose-driven teams
where people find meaning and growth, it will mean everyone – including the
balance sheets will be happier.
If you can see a need to develop any of these seven key skills, we’d love to chat to you.
In honour of International Women’s Day on 8th March we caught up with Sophie Alderton and Megan Rump, two incredible women who took their careers (and lives) by the reigns, after joining the Ivy House Programme. Selected as part of Nationwide’s Women in Leadership programme, Sophie and Megan share their experiences and journeys to becoming extraordinary leaders, and creating their extraordinary lives…
“I am currently a Branch Manager for Nationwide in Saffron Walden. Since joining Nationwide as a cashier three and a half years ago I have worked extremely hard to be promoted through Cashier, Host, Personal Banking Manager, Customer Service Manager, Assistant Branch Manager and now Branch Manager.
Until Ivy House, I would have said I got where I was through luck, but there is that famous saying of ‘the harder you work the luckier you get’. I have to agree, I now realise how hard I have pushed myself to be where I am now. My drive comes from watching my team learn and grow, nothing pleases me more than them being successful.
It took me until the age of 24 to find the right career for me.
Throughout school I knew I wanted to be a police officer – it was my only dream. When I finished my A-levels I applied to the police force and after six months of assessments and training I made it – I got my dream job! I loved every minute of my two and a half years as a police officer but the reality was, with every passing day, as much as I loved what I was doing, I realised it really wasn’t the job for me – but I had no ambition for anything else.
I left the police and bumbled around in various different jobs, never really finding the right thing – the job that made me leap out of bed and actually want to go to work. I would look at my friends and see people that knew what they wanted to do and I still woke up in the morning and dreaded going to work. I hated not knowing what I wanted to do – it’s so frustrating.
But then I joined Nationwide as a cashier. Now I’ll be honest, at the start I didn’t have a single desire to sit as a cashier – I had no ideas it would be that start of my new dream. From the day I joined the team I never looked back. I feel at home, I love every aspect of what I do. It’s hard and often underrated but it’s the job for me.”
To top it off, Sophie has recently been nominated for an award by her colleagues for her commitment to her development and desire to share her learnings across the business. Here’s an extract from Sophie’s nomination:
“As a new Branch Manager, Sophie has brought a refreshing and different dimension to our team. I have been inspired and humbled by Sophie’s commitment to her learning and development as a leader. Sophie earned a place on the prestigious Ivy House development programme; an opportunity which she has fully embraced. In front of her peers she openly pledged to use an aspect of the programme on a daily basis and is happy to be challenge on this personal goal.”
I am a Branch Manager at Nationwide and my role consists of me leading and empowering a team people to achieve our branch and society goals ranging from delivering ‘Legendary Service’ to looking for ways to make our members financially better off. One of my favourite things about my job is that I get to support, coach and develop my people; being able to do this gives me a real sense of fulfilment and achievement and is something I absolutely love.
I began working as a Customer Representative (cashier) 5 years ago and I soon realised that my passions lie with people and that I wanted to go down the leadership route. I had a vision of what I wanted and a plan of how I was going to achieve it; I had to become an expert in my other roles and take on extra ownership and responsibilities to showcase my leadership skills and after three years and a lot of interviews I achieved my goal of leading my own team. I wouldn’t say my ideal job has changed over time, rather it has taken me a very long time to realise what my ideal job is – I spent a lot of time not knowing what I wanted to do.
The biggest challenges I have had to overcome have been from within, my self-confidence and trust in my own abilities has always been something I have struggled with and I see a lot of other women struggle with too. From experience in my place of work, the women around me tend to feel as though they are ‘not quite ready’ for the next job opportunity or they are ‘not sure’ about taking the next step and this sometimes prevents us from achieving our goals. I feel privileged to have the opportunity to be part of the Ivy House programme who helped me be more confident in my abilities, given me the tools and knowledge of what it takes to be an extraordinary leader and feel overall more contentment and happiness in my life. I am so excited for what my future holds!
We can’t wait to see what is next for these two talented women.
If you recognise yourself in these stories, or if you’re looking for a programme to support your Women in Leadership population, we should talk.
We think you’ll agree that Louis thoroughly deserves his first nomination for an ACE (Aviva Customer Excellence Award)!
Ivy House Alumni Louis shared the incredible news with us and his coach Danni this week:
“I’ve always really appreciated that you’ve always wanted me to be seen and heard. This has always really meant a lot and I’m forever grateful for all the support and amazing ‘challenging’ coaching you’ve provided over the last 6 months.
Well, It turns out I’ve been seen and heard all along!!
My senior leader Gary has kindly nominated me for an ‘ACE’ (Aviva Customer Excellence) award at our annual Aviva Rewards Ceremony! (Category – ‘Debut’) It’s my first ever nomination in 13 years 😊
I’m very humbled and over the moon and the ELP has helped no end make this happen… Even if I don’t win or make the top 10… the nomination and recognition means a great deal.”
Yep, we’ve all got a lump in our throats right now.
Here’s what Gary had to say in his nomination:
“13 years of service for Louis and up until 12 months ago Louis was a brilliant customer advisor quietly getting on with serving customers, you probably wouldn’t have noticed him…
Last year I asked Louis to attend a Product conference and when he came back he took the time and effort to attend all of our huddles to share what he learnt. Off the back of this he had great feedback on his delivery which inspired him to start to get more involved. Louis started to think and believe he could make a difference –again self-starting he started to coach other team members and the outcomes were positive. This led to Louis taking a short term secondment leading and coaching within Live chat. It became clear Louis was inspiring people based on feedback and changes I could see in the people he was influencing. This was all cool stuff but no different to other good leaders in my team.
So why this nomination I hear you ask…
Enter the Emerging Leaders Programme which Louis was successful in securing a place on. For the record I have heard many a person talk about transformational change but of the back is this course we are talking a change in proportions I have never seen in my 32 year career.
The way Louis has engaged in the ELP content and his passion
for bringing it back to the work has been nothing short of inspirational. The
conversations he has that challenge thinking has inspired all of those he has
coached to a level I have not seen before – the department has coined the
phrase ! I have been Louis’ed! i.e. I have had my thinking challenged and I am
inspired to be the best I can be!
Overcoming limiting beliefs: an Ivy House alumni story
There are moments when I feel totally humbled. And speaking to Stephen Kakouris about how he has smashed his own limiting belief is definitely one.
Stephen is one of the Ivy House Alumni, and when he completed the Programme he made a commitment to himself. Despite having mild motor disabilities, which cause him challenges when walking, he wanted to take on and conquer the Brighton Half Marathon.
Stephen’s performance coach, Ray, says this about Stephen: “He was fantastic to coach. Experimental and committed. He took on feedback well and was an incredible guy. When he said he’d do this challenge I had to do it with him! Others also jumped to support him reflecting the Ivy House spirit of radical support. People were pushing themselves outside their comfort zone as they were inspired by his story too.”
So, the day after the race, I caught up with Stephen and spoke to him about his undertaking:
How did the idea of doing the race come about?: When I started Ivy House, I wanted to work on some limiting beliefs. Specifically, those surrounding the challenges that I face as a result of being born with mild motor disabilities. I have adapted my life so it doesn’t affect me in any way but I still felt quite uncomfortable talking about it. So, on The Ivy House Programme, I challenged myself to get up in front of a group of people I had never met before and openly discuss it. Talking about my speech impediment and challenges openly I experienced a greater acceptance of myself. It was very powerful for me.
When I went on to do the rest of the Masterclasses, I discovered a limiting belief that I would never be able to run a half marathon. I struggle with walking and have always hated running. But as I learned more about stepping out of my comfort zone I challenged myself in front of the group to run a half marathon.
What support did you have?: The amount of support that I got was amazing. When I committed to doing this, 7 other people on the Ivy House Programme decided to join me. And Ray, my Ivy House executive performance coach, came and said he would do it with me and make sure I crossed the finish line. I can’t think of a more committed coach. On Sunday, he set the pace the entire way and helped me to accomplish something I never thought I’d be able to do.
How did you prepare for the race?: I needed to train my body. So, I started running 3 to 4 times per week. The first time I went on the treadmill, I had to stop halfway through doing 5k at relatively low speeds. I went on to finish the race in 2 hr 15 mins, even better than I thought I’d do.
What was it like at the end of the race?: I took the medal and didn’t want to take it off! I had never given up even though it hurt. Some of the pictures show that I was in pain but I was so happy that I finished the race.
I was raising money for the Alzheimers Society. I received a lot of support from my network and friends who sponsored me and it felt good to say that I had done it. These people believed in me, encouraged me and helpedraise money for a cause that’s important to me.
I even wore my medal the next day. I thought that people would think that I was walking funny because of the half marathon. Then I realized that I walk funny anyway, and felt proud of what I‘d done.
Could you sum up how this has impacted you?: Being blessed with physical differences, all my life I have been smashing the boxes that I have been put into because of what people perceive my limitations to be. I ran further than I’ve ever run before and I had to put a lot of work in before the race. I saw it as a metaphor for what I’m trying to accomplish in my whole life. I was running towards a goal – putting in the hours to achieve something great. Even though it may look like I have a problem walking, I know I’ve run a half marathon in a pretty decent time. I now can’t tell myself that there’s something I can’t do due to my limitations.
If you put in the time and effort, if you show up, I believe you can achieve great things. I’m not yet where I want to be in every area of my life but when I crossed the finish line, the amount of pride I felt made me reflect on other opportunities in my life.
So what’s next?: I realise now that I actually quite enjoy running. I think I’ll keep going. I’ve committed to doing a second half marathon in 3 weeks’ time. I am flying to Cyprus, where my parents live. Then they can see me run a half marathon too. They are very supportive, and have decided to run 5k with me too. I’ll be running with the team linked to my father’s work – a much bigger team of people – but I won’t have anyone close to Ray with me through the race, showing me the way.
I’ve gone from not running at all to running 2 half marathons within a month! Maybe with some more training and a few more half marathons, I’ll be running a full marathon.
How has this impacted the others who’ve been with you on this journey?: When I think of those who showed up this weekend, some were raising money and some wanted to prove something to themselves. They did it for their own reasons. The fact that I committed to do this started the ball rolling for them too. Possibility is contagious. The mindset of possibility is contagious.
Today I wore my medal into work and showed someone who hadn’t thought I could do it. He had been genuinely worried for me and had tried to talk me out of it. Seeing the medal, he talked about things going on for him and said that he felt inspired too. It made my morning. I hope that people will say, ‘if Stephen can do it, why can’t I?’
ABOUT IVY HOUSE: Ivy House is on a mission to create a new generation of purpose-led and values-driven leaders who have the courage to look at how they show up and be challenged to change. Stephen took up the challenge and flexed both his physical strength and his mental strength. For more on the Ivy House Programme visit www.ivyhouse.co.uk.
The power of vulnerability in the professional world
Everyone suffers from confidence issues at some point in their lives – a feeling of being different or not good enough. But what would it be like if, every day, you had to face people’s judgements and preconceptions because of something entirely out of your control?
Stephen Kakouris, a Member of Ivy House, was born with a mild motor disability that affected the way he talks and walks. Here, he shares what he has learnt about facing these differences and the ongoing process of using them to develop real inner confidence.
Stage one – own my difference
I was born with a mild motor disability that affected the way I talk and walk, and I have worse handwriting than a 6-year-old (in fact I’m pretty sure that my handwriting was better when I was 6!).
Being “different” was a massive point of struggle when I was young. I remember frequently wishing that I was like everyone else. It felt unfair but I pushed myself to overcome my challenges – doing speech therapy, physiotherapy, and whatever else it took.
At 16 I realised that my greatest “challenge” was my attitude. I was fed up with feeling insecure, sensitive and resentful about things that were out of my control. I realised I had a choice to make:
Feel sorry for myself because I am “different” and life is not fair.
Accept that this difference is out of my control and not let it negatively affect my life. Start to embrace it and live my life to the fullest.
The option was abundantly clear. And the amazing thing is that, once I had accepted it, I began to stop feeling so insecure. Like Marilyn Monroe’s mole, what made me different became a beauty mark. I started to live this decision and, as I did, I began doing things that exceeded my wildest dreams.
My last year of high school, I won Most Valuable Player for my school soccer team (big deal for the kid always picked last). I was chosen to travel to a conference in Qatar where I gave a speech in front of 2000 people (another big deal for a guy with a speech impediment!). To put myself through university I became a bartender in cocktail bars. Despite having shaky hands and “a funny accent”, my ability to make people comfortable was a real gift, and brought amazing opportunities. One such connection with a gentleman in the oil industry led me to leave the US and head to London where i pursued an energy related Masters Degree.
I made a habit of embracing my vulnerability. If there was something that made me feel uncomfortable, that was the place I had to bring myself to grow. My differences became my biggest teacher. I learnt how to deeply read and understand people, and how to connect with them in a meaningful way. I also learnt what it took to feel comfortable in my own skin. Embracing my vulnerability, I shed my insecurities and replaced them with self-confidence.
Stage two – Face the elephant in the room
I would forget that I was any different 99% of the time – I did not allow it to prevent me from doing anything. My mentality was, “This is how I am. I will exceed your expectations. If you have a problem with it then it is your problem, not my problem.”
With a Masters under my belt, confident of my prospects, I was ready to approach the job market. All good, until one evening a mentor asked, “So how do you address your difference in the context of a job interview?”.
Suddenly I didn’t feel so sure. I had confidence in my abilities but that didn’t mean that other people’s judgements and preconceptions had disappeared. I believed that if I could create a positive lasting impression, I could defuse earlier preconceptions. But in an interview, what was the solution to addressing the inevitable questions an interviewer could have? If I spoke slowly would they think I thought slowly? If I walked differently would they think I wasn’t up to the job? The thought of entering an interview with a disclaimer, “I may be slightly different but it does not have any impact on my performance…” was terrifying!
I began to question myself. Maybe I wasn’t as comfortable as I thought. Perhaps I had reached the limits of my capacity to be vulnerable.
Stage 3 – How to address other people’s preconceptions and judgements?
I was left with this challenging question but I was determined to find the answer. Earlier this year I was offered the opportunity to participate in The Edge, an Ivy House masterclass for young professionals designed to develop personal and professional impact.
This was a chance for me to grow and overcome my own preconceptions. I pushed myself to understand how others perceive me. I asked my peers for their honest first impressions, I asked the coaches for feedback and, at the end, I stood up in front of 60 strangers and told them why my difference is my superpower.
My willingness to name the elephant in the room, to listen to other people’s experiences of me, and to be vulnerable and open resonated strongly. Instead of judgment, I felt an overwhelming respect. People listened! The journey to understand my differences and overcome my own attitudes and beliefs had once again become my teacher as I learnt what it takes to really connect with others.
If you’re facing similar challenges, my advice is to meet them head on. Don’t shy away from your vulnerability – it is an opportunity for profound growth.
And as for the job interviews, I’m ready and I know what I have to say. “I have a mild motor disability and it has made me a stronger and more competent person. This is why…”
This is one of the most common questions asked in job interviews. And it’s totally stupid – impossible to answer, because you don’t know who else has applied.
Thankfully, there’s a secret, smarter question lurking beneath the silly one. What prospective employers – and most strangers who meet you for the first time – are really trying to understand is this.
“What makes you special?”
If you learn how to answer that question in a clear and confident way, in a variety of different personal and professional situations, you massively stack the odds of your own success. If you don’t, no amount of innate brilliance or hard work will get you to where you want to go.
Do you lack impact?
Carrie is an extremely bright young woman who came to me for some coaching support. Carrie has wanted to be a lawyer since she was eight years old (it happens, apparently!). She’d held onto her ambition through her teenage years, watching back episodes of LA Law, and gone on to get a good law degree.
But Carrie’s passion for her subject got her nowhere when it came to applying for a job.
The feedback from her interviews was consistent – she came over in a rehearsed way and didn’t engage. These law firms were looking for someone that could win the trust of clients, take ownership for projects and ultimately sell their expertise, but Carrie interviewed as nervous and passive. She was good at the work, but she didn’t leave the interviewers feeling eager to spend more time with her. And so she got rejected, again and again.
Tom, on the other hand, did manage to secure a place on the corporate graduate programme he was aiming for. Six months in, however, his boss was wondering how he had managed it. Tom was a straight A student, used to following the process to get a brilliant result. But when he had to work without clear direction, think on his feet and deal with quickly changing goal posts, he found himself out of his depth.
Instead of recognizing what was going on, noticing how he was reacting to it, and having the conversations he needed to turn things around, Tom withdrew and grew increasingly angry. This wasn’t what he had been sold! Tom began to question his career choices while the organization, slowly but surely, wrote him off.
Both Carrie and Tom demonstrate the same point: without impact, talent goes to waste. It’s not that rare to be good at something. Most of us have natural gifts or hard-won accomplishments. What’s really rare is the ability to make an immediate and positive impression on others. And it’s especially hard when you’re young.
Why does impact matter?
We tend to think of ‘presence’ as a personality trait, something you’ve either got or you haven’t. In fact, it is a precise and teachable set of skills. I am often asked – if I could coach young people on just one thing, what would it be? And without a doubt, it would be the ability to make an impact.
Success and happiness do not come from what we can do. They come from how good we are at engaging others. Research backs this up. One study has shown that people make a decision about you in an average of seven seconds; the rest of the time, they’re simply looking for evidence that validates that first impression. Similarly, recruitment surveys show that the top reason interviewers choose one candidate over another is because of the connection they make with them, regardless of how well they do in tests.
What does good impact look like?
People who make a powerful impact display clear traits.
They feel comfortable in their own skin;
they communicate in a clear and engaging way, whether they are talking to a friend or a complete stranger;
they remain fully present when they’re with people by listening, sharing and contributing; and
they tell stories that others remember.
One of the most impactful CEOs I know has progressed from being a commission-only sales guy to running one of the leading software businesses in the world. He puts his success down to being truly comfortable with himself and knowing how to connect with anyone, anywhere, anytime. But that wasn’t always the case. Aged eight, this CEO was a ginger-haired boy with a drunk for a dad and hand-knitted jumpers. He was relentlessly teased and, by 16, seriously depressed.
But at that point, rather than accepting he was doomed, he decided that he was going to become the kind of person that he himself would like. He read voraciously, he took classes at a drama school to learn how to speak confidently, he eventually worked with a series of top coaches who could help him boost his impact. Now you can see him regularly on TV, rubbing shoulders with presidents and rock stars. He is never nervous – just himself. People are compelled to be with him. And he never stops learning about who he is and how he shows up.
So yes – you can learn how to have more of that elusive ‘presence’. But you need to work at it.
How can you make more impact?
The journey starts by asking yourself three challenging questions.
1. How good are you in the moment? You get in a lift and meet someone who could make all the difference to your career. You have the time it takes to get to the 7th floor to make an impression. How do you do?
2. How compelling are you? Do people want to hang out with you? Are you regularly invited to events? Would you want to sit next to yourself on a long journey? Do people remember who you are?
3. What do people say about you when you are not in the room? Who do you know that would go out on a limb for you? Would others recommend your talents? Would they recommend you as one to watch?
Presence is the secret superpower of really successful people. Are you ready to find yours?