My life: First session of The Award

My life: First session of The Award

Young people frequently tend to shy away from considering their future, telling themselves that they’ve ‘got plenty of time’ and ‘there’s no rush’.

What is often overlooked is that thinking about the future begins with thinking about the present. The sooner questions are asked and answered about our current lives, the sooner we can move in the right direction, towards our ideal life.

This is exactly what the first session of The Ivy House Award is all about.

Some of the questions asked in this first session are challenging, and our initial instinct might be to back away. Yet stepping back and looking at our lives in a different way than before will allow us a degree of perspective that will be invaluable when looking from the present, into the future. What if considering what you wanted out of life gave you that push to go to university, or to accept a job that would have intimidated you too much to accept before? These questions can wait, but they shouldn’t.

At 15 I was faced with what, at the time, I considered to be a very big decision about my life and my education. I had two options. Option 1 was to stay at a private school that almost exclusively valued academic achievement, in which I would almost certainly achieve high grades and get into a very good university, but one in which I was unhappy. My alternative, option 2, was to move to a state sixth-form college which would throw numerous challenges at me. It would test my self-motivation, my concentration and the ability to cope with change, to name but a few. In making this decision, I went back-and-forth for months. Ultimately, I felt like I was deciding between academic credentials and my happiness. I worried that my parents, having funded private-school education, wouldn’t want to risk their investment if I were to take option 2. I feel lucky to have a family that is supportive, but nevertheless I felt as though I had a duty to make the decision for them, not me. However, before I made my decision, I came to two realisations. First, this life is my own, no one else’s. I needed to make the right decision for me, not for my parents. My second realisation was that I didn’t need to choose between my happiness and my academics: I could have both because both of these things were and are within my control. I took option 2 and I proved myself right. Most importantly I was happy, but I also succeeded academically, far beyond what I initially thought possible. 

This decision has stayed with me ever since, and at nearly 21, I consider myself to have set a strong precedent. The only reason I ended up making the right decision for me, was because I thought deeply about my life at the time and areas in which I could improve it. I didn’t want to just let life happen to me. I had the opportunity to make a decision that had the potential to improve my life and if I wasn’t going to take it, what would that say about me? I would have been complacent, passive and I’m not that person.

The first session of The Award inspires thinking about life in a way that will encourage us to be forward-thinking and introspective. Deeper thinking and curiosity will mean we make decisions that lead us in the direction we want to be going. For example, a few of the questions that guided my decision were:

  • Where am I at right now?
  • What do I want out of life?
  • What is important to me?
  • What makes me happy?

These are questions very few people ask themselves; fewer answer them and even fewer act upon those answers. What you give importance to has a significant effect on the direction your life takes. It impacts your motivation, goals and behaviours. So many people float through life allowing life to happen to them, without realising that they are in the driving seat. If you allow this to happen, your life is not your own! As Oscar Wilde once said, “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people just exist”.

The first session, ‘My Life’, provides the primary step to establishing what we really want out of life and how we can get there, through triggering the initial thinking about where we are now and what we could improve. Asking big questions can be daunting, but it provokes a level of critical thinking that enables us to dig deeper and understand our lives, what we ultimately want out of life, and with consideration of this, we can figure out how we can begin living our ideal lives.

Find out a bit more about Anouska here.

A bit about me

A bit about me

My name is Anouska Jantzen and at the end of May, I submitted my final exam of my university career, at home, in the middle of a global pandemic.

No elaborate celebrations following the completion of a gruelling law degree, no congratulating my friends, no collective sighs of relief as we all exit the exam hall, not even the opportunity to graduate (at least not for some time, anyway). I, along with tens of thousands of other graduates and students, am entering a world, different to that which anyone in this generation has ever experienced. The things life throws at us can be incredibly unnerving, especially as a student, and we need all the help we can get when it comes to navigating our lives.

As part of the Ivy House family, I have been brought up around much of the information that the Ivy House Award teaches, so I’ve been implementing the learnings for some time. This certainly doesn’t mean I utilise the learnings perfectly every time, far from it. What it does mean, though, is that I’ve had a fair bit of time to apply and understand the lessons over and over, from quite a young age.

I was over the moon when Ivy House decided to give sixth-form students this learning, it’s perfect timing. Doing the Award last year triggered renewed thinking about the concepts, how they’ve helped me throughout my life and my educational career so far, and how they can continue to help me as life progresses. So, I want to share my experiences and my thinking. The Award has kept me motivated, grounded, improved my relationships and helped me look forward to the future. These are just a few of the benefits I’ve experienced, there are so many more.

Personal and professional development can begin at any age, and most of the time it’s not considered until much later down the line, but why should it wait? The sooner we start learning about our lives and how we can improve them, the sooner changes will start to materialise, and we can be on our way to our ideal lives. Students have the opportunity to fast-track this process through the Ivy House Award. Why wait?

Follow Anouska’s experience of The Award on Twitter, using the hashtag #AwardandMe

Do exam results define you?

Do exam results define you?

Whatever your beliefs around COVID-19, be they conspiracy, fake news, fear or enjoying the slower pace and time at home, there’s no getting away from the fact that the pandemic has had an impact.

I spend my days talking to schools and the most often shared thought is: ‘This is the generation that will miss out on so much… They are lost, rudderless, feeling hard done by and sad that they have missed out on end of year rituals, exams, proms and anything else that schools do to mark the occasion.’

It got me thinking – when did this ‘stuff’ become more important than who we are as a human when we leave school or reach key milestones?

I turned 50 this year and whilst COVID limited the celebrations, I did take time to pause and think back over my half century. I am on version 17 of my life.  I have had countless jobs, been unemployed, employed and self-employed. Been married and swiftly divorced. Lived abroad a couple of times and raised a beautiful boy in the process. Of course in 50 years I have also developed skills and mindsets that serve me and keep me sane. 

I went to a local grammar school and studied ‘o levels’ (remember them?) and honestly I wasn’t remotely interested in anything academic and couldn’t wait to leave school to go to work full time.  I actually didn’t turn up for my needlework exam because I was at work! I can still sew a button, but that’s about it.  As I recall, a friend picked up my exam results because I was also working on that day too.  On my last day of school, we signed shirts, I jumped on my bike and headed off as quickly as I could, happy to be free of it all.

My son is 19 now.  He was diagnosed with ADHD, nonverbal Tourette’s and Asperger’s aged 7, and had a turbulent relationship with a variety of schools for his whole educational career.  In year 10, he was bounced from 3 schools and missed half the school year and found himself in year 11 in yet another school, with one school year to study for his GCSE’s.  HE did well considering and passed 7 of the 8, but without the grades he needed to study a particular course at College, was furious when told by said college that he could still attend but would have to achieve a level 1 Diploma before then enrolling for a further 2 years to complete the level 3 Diploma he wanted to.  He didn’t have a prom, hated doing exams and was also keen to just get out of the system he had been tied to for so long. 

Because he has developed resilience beyond anything I have seen in most adults, has a deeply embedded inner script that he can achieve anything he sets his mind to, practices focusing his attention on thinking that propels him forward and is convinced that with his mum behind him, he can create the life he wants, he was furious for about 30 minutes before setting out to find a college where he could study what he wanted to study, regardless of grades.  The fast forwarded story is that he did, and in the following two years he diligently worked his way through studying for a level 3 Diploma in Sports Performance, passing with Distinction last year.

So why am I telling you all this? For those who have not figured it out yet, it’s important to know that exams don’t define who we are. Neither does a prom, a signed shirt, an egg and flour fight (going back to my last day at school – that’ apparently what happened as I was racing off on my bike to go to work) or anything else.  What defines who we are and how we start on the journey of creating the life we want is our character, our resilience, our thinking and our behaviour.  Ho we show up every day, how we face challenges and take ownership for making things happen.

So if you’re sitting reading this and you’re on the lowest levels of the ownership ladder, finding yourself saying or thinking things like ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen, if my teacher had made me work harder I wouldn’t be stressing about my grades, I’m just waiting and hoping it all works out ok or any other kind of thought that blames others and generally absolves you of any kind of ownership for your current situation… Maybe you want to pause, catch yourself and look again.

In 5, 10, 15, 30 years’ time… will you be the person who is telling their kids or grand kids that life went to pot because you didn’t have exams, a prom, an end of year ritual? That COVID-19 ruined your future? Or will you be the person that chose to use the time to take a look in the mirror, decide upon the kind of person you want to be and make the life you want happen? Regardless?

And if you need a reminder, some of the world’s most successful people never sat an exam or had a prom or even got to complete their education. All will be well, if you choose it.

Everyone at Ivy House is as passionate as Vicky about putting leadership and life skills at the heard of education, so that students can stay on track no matter what life throws at them.

Self-leadership: The new kid on the block?

Self-leadership: The new kid on the block?

I’ve worked in learning and development for more than 20 years, I know that we never stop learning, in fact I love that we never stop learning! However, I had my own personal version of Isaac Newton’s gravity moment or Archimedes’ eureka the other day that I thought worth sharing.

I was contemplating how the world has changed in the past eight weeks – in particular, the impact on people as they form a new ‘normal’ in their lives, whatever that may look like. One thing is for sure, it will feature social distancing, endless Zoom calls, many virtual quiz nights and some working from home arrangement for the foreseeable future.  The first ‘go to’ for me was how that has hit people from a practical perspective. Do they have a comfortable space to work? (my 20 year old niece is working on her laptop sitting on her bed!) Do they have little people at home who need attention? Do they have support functions available to them for complex queries or customer complaints? How often do they speak to their team or leader? Are they coping?  

From an HR perspective mental health and wellbeing certainly comes to the fore. A critical first step in keeping our teams and our people safe during very uncertain times must be a focus on their wellness.  It was around this point I had my ‘eureka!’ – ok, maybe I’m sensationalising, but why let the truth get in the way of a good story?

My thought was this… In all of my years in learning and my many interactions and exciting projects with large corporate organisations, their leadership development has been focused on their line managers and senior leader populations, makes sense doesn’t it?  It’s these guys who lead our people, who hold responsibility for setting the culture in our business and driving performance and results right? Well, it might have felt right in 2019 but looking forward I see it very differently. Leadership is now a 1-man job, an every-man job; leading ourselves, owning our mindset and how we show up each day, being resilient and adaptable to the changing world around us, being pro-active to reach out to colleagues and leaders alike to share, help, challenge and support. In job interviews we ask lots of questions around self-motivation, self-awareness and self-development.  Well there’s a new kid on the block: self-leadership is now critical for every person in our business. In truth this was the case before but, just like apples always fell from trees and Isaac didn’t see it until it hit him on the head, Covid 19 has firmly not only hit us on the head but kicked our butts, and if one positive can be drawn from it it’s that self-leadership is now sharply in focus.  

So, this had led me to wonder how many organisations had development solutions to build self-leadership skill at scale already in place? How valuable it would be right now to offer our talent self-leadership development; development to truly understand how to lead themselves and others; to improve their ownership and accountability; to understand their purpose, values, and beliefs and perhaps most importantly right now, to support their motivation, wellbeing and mindset. What a difference that would make not only to them but to our organisations. Because let’s be honest, right now we need great leaders more than ever. Leaders who can lead themselves and others through this crisis and into a brighter future.

So perhaps, among all of the chaos, this crisis offers an opportunity to make positive change – so let’s do it!

Ready to make self-leadership part of your people development strategy?

Challenging your hidden stories

Challenging your hidden stories

“I’m just not having a good day.”

Lacking the physical social contact, and missing the ‘busyness’ that can wholly consume us, I am finding much more time for reflection. Continuing my coaching practice online, I am experiencing how many leaders I work with are also becoming more aware; at times philosophical, positive and deeply caring. At others, inward looking, confused, angry and fearful.

We create inner dialogue; ‘what happens if…’ ‘… how do I make sure that…’ and our unconscious mind starts to process it as a truth. We start to see the world of our belief system as universal truisms. We carry two sacks of beliefs around with us at all times; one over each shoulder; those beliefs and stories that support us in bringing our full incredible self to the world, and in the other sack those beliefs and stories that stop us; that drag us back; that detract from our own strength as human beings.

We fall into patterns on a minute by minute basis that can determine from which sack we might draw at any one time. Mostly, we aren’t even aware of this; our unconscious mind goes about its’ business offering up our stories as these universal truths, on which we act.

Good coaching can help us to recognise and work with this. If you really want to get serious about paying attention to your stories, then reflective leadership is well researched as a way of rapidly moving forward. Simply put, by making a written journal, reflecting what’s going on for you; thoughts, feelings and actions, this develops the muscle of reflexivity; the ability to be aware of what’s going on for you both after the event, and then increasingly, contextualised in your world in a live environment. It makes for better connections and better decisions.

Right now, it’s clear that engaging with others on a day to day basis requires a higher level of emotional awareness of self and other like never before. All interaction is co-created. It’s completely okay to know that we’re having a bad day.

The game changer as a leader of self, is to take a short while to check in with what’s going on, and to patiently listen to the stories that we are telling ourselves. If we can do that with kindness and self-care, we are already becoming our own best coach in service of a rapidly changing world.

The event never dictates the response

The event never dictates the response

It dawned on me at 4 am this morning as I lay there wide awake, my mind uploading everything I had to do today, that I had been lying to myself again.

My mind felt crazy, out of control, and I began to feel anxious – the speed of the download and the chaotic thinking… To be honest, it felt just like it had before, when I’d forgotten to practice what I preach.

As I lay there, hands on belly trying to breathe deeply – in for one, out for two – I realised that I’ve been fooled again. Fooled into thinking that this situation is different, that this situation demands something different from me. But it doesn’t. I was lying to myself.

Corona is an event. And life is just a series of events that appear one after the other. Most of these events we have no control over, they just come, and we respond in our own way.

Control comes however, in how we respond. The thinking we hang out with and the behaviour we choose in relation to each and every event. I had no control over corona landing on our shores but I do have control over how I respond to it. My response has not been to panic, get anxious or down. I’ve done what I can to keep myself, my family and my team safe. But I’ve worked nearly every hour available. I’ve told myself that we are in extraordinary times and that requires an extraordinary response. I’ve been telling myself that in this event, the event does actually dictate the response, but I was wrong.  And, while I have been believing that story, I’ve stopped meditating and stopped doing yoga, both things I know l need for my wellbeing.

But…  the event never dictates the response. If someone shouts at me, I know I have a choice whether or not to shout back. When a pandemic hit, I had a choice about how I looked after my inner peace. I had a choice about my self-care – but I forgot that for a moment. I told myself a different story.

So, for now I’ve remembered – I am back on my path – choosing how I respond to each event that appears. And, my invitation to all of you is to join me here for a while, remembering, we get to choose – no matter what is going on around us.

I never even realised I could learn that!

I never even realised I could learn that!

Today at school I learnt how to have great relationships. I never even realised that I could learn that! It was our 14th session of the Ivy House Award, and over the past few months, we have learnt stuff that I hadn’t even given much thought to beforehand.

It’s crazy to think back to September when we first started, and how sceptical I was about the course – I thought that it was just another way of teaching PTPC. To be honest, it took me until the second session to really get what they were saying and then I felt bad for not paying attention properly so I went home and re-watched it, this time actually making proper notes in my journal.

I spoke to my mum about it, and over the next few weeks I think she really started to see the difference it was making. Even silly things, like how I listened to her without going on my phone, or started cleaning up after myself without being nagged, but it all added up.  

Bigger things, too – I have started to take ownership over my behaviour, and have stopped blaming others for how I feel (something I used to do ALL THE TIME).

Over Christmas, I had a conversation with my mum about the course, and what I had learnt. After today’s session, I am planning on talking to her again – this time about our relationship, and how what we both choose to put into it dictates how we experience one another. I was going to wait until next week, when we learn about how to have hard conversations, but I’ve decided I will just watch the session on my own tonight, so that I can talk to her this weekend.

I’ve started to become a bit impatient with it actually! I get so excited about the session each week, as it is such a refreshing change in my timetable, and I always feel like I’m already a better person afterwards.

A couple of my friends who aren’t taking The Award are still sceptical, but really they are only hindering themselves by thinking like that. I get so much more out of the course and take action in my own life to change things.

It’s all very well to pretend like you don’t need to know this stuff, but let’s be honest – who is going to do better in life? Somebody that knows how to choose the right behaviour, takes ownership for their relationships and makes time to fuel their passions, or somebody that thinks they are too cool for all that?

Interested to find out more?

What are we measuring against?

What are we measuring against?

The other evening, we did a family quiz – the second one in a week and already a pattern is forming.

My husband and two of our girls, Meg and Sian, answer all the questions while the rest of us begin to feel increasingly more stupid.

And then I realised. This is just like our current education system… set up to reward a particular kind of intelligence; one where you remember lots of random facts and can regurgitate them at a moment’s notice. 

But what about the rest of us? I’ve no idea what the capital of Tanzania is or how many sonnets Shakespeare wrote, but I’ve set up two really successful business and coached some extraordinary leaders. Our daughter Emmi can write and perform a song that will touch the deepest part of your soul, Mimi can drum like a young Ringo Star and Lara is unbelievably entrepreneurial. No wonder so many kids are left feeling like they don’t quite measure up.  I am so bored of this. We are better than this. We need to sort it.

In the meantime, I have set up the Creative Challenge in our house and for once am looking forward to Sat evenings!

Human connection and human leadership

Human connection and human leadership

Tim is one of the brilliant Ivy House coaches. Here, he reflects on the need for human connection and human leadership.

Yesterday, I connected via videoconference with a group of leaders I studied with six years ago. We hadn’t connected for a while. What was different is that we weren’t talking about thought leadership topics, or developing our approach to an emergent VUCA economy. Instead, we put time aside to just catch up. Nothing else, just to be together. At times there were gaps of silence. We laughed, we cried, but underlying this was a strong bond of what it meant to be human together.

As I work with leadership teams I often experience the focus on driving agility, pace and outcomes. So often, I also see this taking a separate pathway from our empathy. If resilience becomes about putting our emotions to one side whilst we battle through tough times, then we are building up to a very hollow world of disengagement and risk losing truly connected human purpose. We have a time now to stop and reflect. We have been given a time to listen to our inner wisdom and to step outside of our automated thinking. We have been given a time that calls for connection in a deeper and more sustainable way. 

The space we held yesterday was about truly listening to each other. It was about connecting with fear and love across different countries. I choose to live with optimism about the world, and what can be achieved. Looking out at the world from my window this morning, I see an uncertain world that is looking for leaders to step forward and create that truly compelling future. And the truth is; we are those leaders.

Utilising the apprenticeship levy: Manager as apprentice

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?