Mindful Leadership

When leading your teams through times of tumultuous change such as dealing with Covid-19, one of the most powerful methodologies at your disposal is free to use and always available. Mindful leadership is a practical, proven way to make sure your people feel supported amidst a storm of uncertainty. When they do, you’ll have the best chance of navigating the new normal.

So, let’s explore the benefits of mindfulness and how this could benefit our leadership skills.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the practice of cultivating awareness so that you can be responsive rather than reactive. It’s about being fully present with what’s happening now so that you can navigate life with a sense of calm and clarity.

Consider there are two main functions our brains perform during mindful meditation:

  • The generation of thoughts, feelings and emotions – these are transient and can change from one moment to the next;
  • The observation of information, data and feedback without judgment, evaluation or criticism, or without even trying to make sense of it.

We learn to listen to and accept the thoughts and feelings that arise within us. By practicing this technique, you put yourself back in the pilot seat.

Why Mindfulness is Important

Understanding why the brain thinks and reacts certain ways to different situations can help owners take greater control of the myriad of stressful moments that arise when running a business.
Since everyone is looking for some type of competitive advantage in their marketplace, perhaps getting to know our own brains and coaching them to work for us is the greatest advantage yet.

Here are a few ways that mindfulness can take your business to the next level:

  • Lowers your stress levels;
  • Makes you more empathetic to the needs of your employees and your clients;
  • It can improve your self-confidence, helping you with decision making; 
  • It can help you be more creative; and
  • It can heighten productivity.

As business leaders, we now have an empirically tested tool which better equips us to navigate emotionally and mentally any stormy waters that might lie ahead.

You’ll not only leap leagues ahead of your competition, but you’ll also move faster and further toward your chosen goals.

Don’t just take my word for it ….

Mindfulness is finally starting to receive recognition for its effectiveness in creating a peak performance mindset. Widely used by elite athletes, it is increasingly being adopted by business leaders as a contemplation skill to increase resilience, reduce stress, and regain clarity and focus. You strengthen your capacity to face adversity with greater mental composure and emotional stability.
In recent years, mindfulness has become a staple of mental health and wellness in corporations such as Spotify, Google, Goldman Sachs, and others.

There’s a reason companies are including this as a requirement for their teams: it works, in various ways for different participants.

How can Mindful Leadership help deal with the COVID-19 pandemic?

As the government has unveiled its lockdown easing strategy week by week, business leaders have moved through several different stages at lightning speed. First, there was the immediate need to assess the commercial impact of the pandemic. Then the urgency of getting teams up and running remotely. Fast forward just a few weeks and all eyes are on the road to recovery.

Before your business regroups to figure out what that looks like and how to make it happen, – pause for a moment. Remember that this economic downturn is also a human crisis. Now, more than ever before, all the plans that make so much sense on paper must consider the wellbeing of your people. To put it bluntly, if they don’t, they’re not going to work.

In all the countless conversations I have had about lockdown with clients, family, and friends one consistent thread is emerging. Lockdown has been a time for reflecting on what’s important, realigning our values and reassessing our priorities.

People first (Because let’s face it, what is any business without people?)

We are all in recovery right now. We’re all making decisions about what the new normal will be and how it will unfold, in both a business and a personal sense. For leaders, many of these decisions are tough ones. And they are being made against a backdrop of deep urgency to get the business moving forward.

The go-to response to this can be fast, process-led solutions to drive profits. But the smartest solutions go beyond the obvious to the real bottom line of the business: its people.

It’s not rocket science. But it will fuel your recovery.

So, lead mindfully. Focus on the human recovery in your business as lockdown eases. It’s not complicated; it’s a combination of common sense and compassion – and it’s cost-free. Here are three key things to keep in mind:

Be present; in each moment, be fully with what’s happening. When you say, ‘How are you?’ or ‘How’s the family?’, don’t just throw it out there before moving swiftly on to talk about productivity. Listen, really listen, to the answer. Give it your full attention. Having a genuine interest in your people’s lives has always been helpful. Now it’s essential to getting the business moving forward through open, honest, conversations.

Be inclusive; your own perspective is just that. Seeing things only from this viewpoint can get you stuck in habitual responses. And if leaders stay stuck in habitual responses, so will the organisation. As Einstein said, ‘We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.’ Get everyone involved in planning the road ahead; make them a team of critical friends who will challenge you in order to move things from good to great.

Be decisive; sometimes, decisions come easily. -we just know. Other times we feel pressured to decide at all costs. However you can’t think yourself into a decision when you don’t know the answer yet. So, tune into your innate wisdom. When do your best ideas come? I wouldn’t mind betting it’s out of the blue – when you’re on a run, in the shower, or talking with friends. Sometimes looking away from the need to decide can bring the decision to you.

These things may seem obvious. Common sense is not always common practice in the race to get back up and running.

Consistently anchoring your leadership approach in these universal human traits will go a long way to supporting your teams’ recovery.

By investing in their trust, wellbeing and commitment, you will be investing directly in your future.

Dealing with considerable uncertainty at the present may need a different approach. Also, be mindful if you do need help to get there.

To instill these into your own business, talk to your local ICON advisor today.

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The Man In The Shower

Simple Stories That Help Us To Be More Successful

When engaging with business owners for the first time our Icon Business Advisers often get remarks such as ‘my staff just don’t listen, they make so many mistakes and I have to correct them, do I need to tell them everything’.

I guess the problem is as a business owner you have been through most of the disciplines as the business grew and probably developed a lot of the processes yourself. Its second nature to you and you know intuitively what you want done and how certain things should be approached.

As a business owner you have to be able to COMMUNICATE precisely to ensure your message or instruction is received correctly. To just assume all your clients and prospects know ‘what you do’ or assuming your staff know ‘what to say’ is lazy and unprofessional and ultimately will cost you business.

As an example, if your personal culture as a business owner is excellent service then you MUST ensure that all the people who work for you buy into that culture and understand that they may need to go the extra mile to be consistent with the cultural message.

Often business owners are so engrossed in the business that they forget to communicate clear messages to their staff and customers and inevitably mistakes are made.

I guess this is also true in our private lives – as the following story demonstrates.

The Man in the Shower

A man is getting into the shower just as his wife is finishing up her shower when the doorbell rings. The wife quickly wraps herself in a towel and runs downstairs. When she opens the door, there stands Bob, the next-door neighbour. Before she says a word, Bob says, “I’ll give you £500 to drop that towel.” After thinking for a moment, the woman drops her towel and stands naked in front of Bob.

After a few seconds, Bob hands her £500 and leaves. The woman wraps back up in the towel and goes back upstairs. When she gets to the bathroom, her husband asks,…

“Who was that at the door?”
“It was Bob the next-door neighbour,” she replies.
“Great!” the husband says, “Did he say anything about the £500 he owes me?”

Moral of the story:

You need to share critical information with your peers and staff to avoid damaging or embarrassing results.

A lot of business owners are poor at communicating internally, but more importantly communicating to their customers and potential clients or worse still not communicating their marketing message to their own staff.

Ensure that information is shared and communicated in a professional and clear manner. Good communication with the staff will also motivate them, especially if you congratulate them or recognise their positive attitude and response to this.

In fact, the worst type of business owner/manager is the one that stays in his office, will not engage with his staff and rants if things go wrong. The one person that will suffer most from poor communication is YOU the business owner. Motivate your staff by behaving as a leader (not a tyrant), take time to listen and share ideas.

So, ensure you share all critical information with your staff and clients – do not just assume your staff know what to do if you have not communicated with them and just as important ensure your prospects and clients know what you do.

For candid and reliable business advice talk to us at Icon Business Solutions, contact us now for a chat over coffee.

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Do You Miss Out On Work / Life Balance

The National Work-Life Week 2017 took place on 2-6th. October 2017. Did you know about it and are you making the most of your work / life balance?

This week was an opportunity for both employers and employees to focus on well-being at work and work-life balance. The purpose is to get employers to use the week to provide activities for staff, and to showcase their flexible working policies and practices.

It should be the goal of any responsible employer to help their staff find a better balance between responsibilities at home and work. Does this actually happen in the work place and does it happen for the business owner?

Feedback from some ICON clients suggests that some business owner’s work-life balance is dangerously out of kilter.

According to a study by insurance provider Simply Business, almost half of the 2,000 individuals surveyed cancel social plans at least once a week, a quarter take less than 10 days’ annual leave and 25% have fallen ill due to stress and overwork.

The effects are likely to go further than physical illness, according to mental health charity Mind. With one in four people experiencing a mental illness each year, business owners need to keep a close eye on their wellbeing.

“Having a good work-life balance, including regularly having time off, is key to staying mentally healthy,” says Emma Mamo, head of workplace wellbeing at Mind. “Taking proper breaks allow staff to return refreshed and revived, and small business owners are no exception. Every business owner wants to ensure their business is a success and this can mean putting in the extra hours from time to time. But consistently working long hours and managing an excessive workload can take their toll on our physical and mental health, with the potential to negatively affect business performance.”

But for many small business owners, there simply are not the resources or support needed to enable them to create a healthy balance.

While stress and overwork in itself does not necessarily lead to mental health problems, being exposed to prolonged periods of unmanageable stress can cause or worsen a mental health problem. So how do you spot the signs that a bad week is turning into something more serious?

“The symptoms of unmanageable stress can also be similar to the symptoms of someone experiencing depression and anxiety,” she says.

Symptoms of depression and stress, can be physical as well as emotional and will differ from person to person but may manifest in feelings of isolation, lethargy, lack of self-esteem, restlessness, irritability, hopelessness or a lack of interest in the things you normally enjoy.

Typical symptoms are having trouble sleeping or sleeping a lot, eating more or less than usual, experiencing aches and pains, and drinking more alcohol.

If you are an SME business owner it may be difficult to spot the symptoms as they gradually creep on you over time, and so it may be difficult for colleagues to notice changes in your behaviour.

The key thing is to try to head any serious problems off before they stop you in your tracks. The business should be there to help deliver the rewards that you deserve from taking on the challenge of running your own business and not to put you on a downward spiral.

Often this may be the result of the business not delivering sustainable, profitable growth and so the business owner may end up constantly funding the business which further increases the level of stress. This state is often described in terms of the business owner working ‘harder’ in the business and not ‘smarter’.

It may be time to take stock of your position and to review where you are. Don’t accept a poor work/life balance as the only option available, but take a decision to do something about it before it is too late.

What is the answer? A good option is to critically evaluate your life goals and to see if your business is helping you to achieve these. If not, then time for change. If yes, then well done. In any event, time to review whether your business is helping you to achieve your life goals is no bad thing.

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Three approaches to customer service

Being customer-centric means looking after the people who buy from you – a simple, desirable goal. But in an ever more complex world of software and social media, true customer-centricity that goes beyond rhetoric is no mean feat.
Broadly speaking, there are just three approaches to customer service: one is putting the customer at the heart of your business, the second is pretending to, but not really doing it, and the third is putting the customer last and celebrating the fact!

Oddly, the third of these scenarios is not packed with failed businesses; in fact it’s a growth industry. The “budget” sector – home to some of the world’s most successful airlines, supermarket chains and travel firms – offers customers the lowest possible level of service at the cheapest possible price.

In this brave new world, businesses are transparent about their limited service, and customers appreciate the opportunity to dip in and dip out without being offered a complimentary head massage or being asked to fill in a “How are we doing?” form.
Is the customer always right?

Self-styled “ultra-low cost” airline Ryanair is at the very core of this approach. As with all short-haul carriers, it has been affected by higher fuel costs and the eurozone crisis, but it still managed to pile up impressive, ever increasing sales.

This despite a string of baffling announcements from Ryanair’s senior management that seem to imply the customer is merely an inconvenient necessity. Take chief executive officer Michael O’Leary’s idea that passengers should stand on short trips to make room for more fare-payers, or his (reported) ill-fated plans to introduce on-the-spot charges for mid-air toilet use. Has anyone forgotten the recent poorly managed cancelation of flights and inconvenience to customers?

Then there are the regular complaints from customers about “hidden” charges in the booking process, and the firm’s previous plan to introduce planes with bigger doors so that passengers can be shepherded on and off in double-quick time.

But in businesses whose marketing collateral is awash with customer-centric language – where the customer is number one – the delivery often falls short of putting a smile on your face.

Fundamentally, there are three processes that ICON recommends are key to any successful customer-centric campaign,

First, an intelligent and comprehensive database is required to track and record all details of customer interactions and behaviours.

Second, you must have the tools and technology in place that will enable you to make sense of the data and maintain its accuracy.

Finally there must be a process for the ongoing capture of up-to-date consumer data, behaviour and interactions. This data provides you with the required insight into the history of the customer’s interactions, relationship and behaviours that enables the marketer to successfully adapt and target their approach for each individual.

Sounds simple enough, right? But the process is littered with complications and pitfalls that can cause businesses to do it half-heartedly, and to stop short of the thorough process that creates the fullest customer picture.

Customer-centricity then is about doing, not saying. It is capturing data, offering people more of what they like and less of what they don’t like and, above all, dealing with them as individuals and as human beings with personalities.

Get the right balance, and your organisation will benefit from a growing group of delighted and loyal customers who feel cared for and appreciated. They will tell their friends. Get it right and you won’t need to write “the customer is king” on your marketing materials, because they will already know it.

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Why do Companies Need a Good Business Strategy?

Michael Porter (The E-Myth) describes the journey most entrepreneurs go through as they charter the course of their business.

He describes the process as the owner becoming focussed on the operational aspects of the business (becoming a ‘technician’), which can be to the detriment to developing sound business strategy.

Michael Porter (Competitive Advantage) goes further as he argues that having a sound operational strategy is simply not enough. Companies must be flexible if they are to respond to the needs of an ever changing market place, and must develop core competencies if they are to stay ahead of the pack. They must not just focus on being operationally effective. Faced with this, what are the ingredients of good business strategy and why is it so important?

Being operationally sound should be a pre-requisite of any business. Simply to focus all efforts on having operational effectiveness is essential to any business, but will not in itself set it apart.

For the past decade managers have been focussed on making small improvements in operational strategy and this has heralded the rise of programmes such as TQM and BS5750. Many companies have adopted such approaches and so any potential marginal gains against those of competitors may be nullified.

The result of such myopic focus is to even out any potential advantage for any specific operator as all face static or declining prices and pressure on costs that compromise a companies’ ability to invest in the business in the long term.

Porter argues that being operational effective is a pre-requisite to business. In essence, as the gap in operational effectiveness narrows, companies are unable just to compete on the basis of only quality and price – they must adopt a more balanced strategy.

What is the Essence of a Good Strategy?

Having a good competitive strategy is essentially about being different in some way. For example, EasyJet offers short-haul flights, based on a low cost fares whereby the whole operation is geared to fast turnaround times, and no frills so that they can keep their planes flying longer each day. Its customers include business travellers, families and students.

The strategic positioning for EasyJet is in terms of price and convenience for travellers, but their competitive edge is in the way they combine their activities to make this work.

This is why BA and other ‘full-service’ carries cannot compete profitably in this sector.

Finding a strategic position is about finding a market niche that a company can service profitably. A good example is in the furniture retail sector where companies specialise in supplying a specific type of product e.g. World of Leather and Oak Furniture World. Others such as IKEA have found an edge by offering a range of home furnishing items of good design and function, excellent quality and durability, at prices so low that the majority of people can afford to buy them.

The competitive edge that IKEA then has is the way that it combines its activities to deliver this. They offer a vast choice but merchandise a limited product range in massive retail units and product is gathered in store in flat pack units and assembled by the customers. Porter calls these areas activity systems and says that these are at the heart of effective business strategy.

It is important to recognise that the differences in customer need (e.g. price) do not translate into a meaningful competitive position unless the best set of activities to achieve this are compatible. If this were not the case then every competitor would be able to meet the same needs.

Why do Companies Fail to Have an Effective Strategy

Business owners are faced with many choices and this impacts decision making as they try to eradicate any perceived loss in competitiveness. This may lead to them imitating everything about their competition which has the effect of damaging their own competitive edge. This is where often competition becomes the race to the lowest price.

Porter argues that effective business strategy delivers sustainable business advantage and is based upon the combination of the following:

  • Having a unique competitive position for the company
  • Where activities are tailored to fit the needs of the strategy
  • Where there are clear trade-offs and choices vis-à-vis the strategy of competitors
  • Where a competitive advantage arises from a fit across activities
  • Where sustainability comes for the activity system, not the parts
  • Where having operational effectiveness is a given.

It is leadership that is the vital ingredient to drive the review of strategy. Most companies owe their initial success position to a unique strategy position that will be copied by competitors over time.

The key challenge is to start over, and review which products and services are the most distinctive and profitable and to build the strategy around this as a hub.

Failure to develop a sound strategy will run the risk of having a ‘cookie cutting’ approach to business where the chances of long term sustainability and profitability are at risk.

To ensure you are taking the *correct* approach – speak to your local Icon Advisor. 

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Focus On Change

If you want to affect positive change in your business you need to focus on change in the beginning.

The only constant in the universe is change. Change is the one thing you can absolutely rely on and as such it should become your friend.
If change is an absolute, you must be focused on change in a positive way. You must focus on how you can activate change in a way that is always giving you and your business what you want.

Don’t let change overtake you and allow you to become its slave, as most business owners do. Do not fall victim to what they think is “unusual and unplanned events”.

You can control what happens in your universe, it’s just a matter of focusing on what you want and then go for it with 100% commitment.


The road less travelled is the one where you mould and construct your business with true purpose.

As an example, just imagine that you were to go on a car journey to a destination you have never been to before. One of the first things you would have is a map of how to get there.

As you travel along the way you may take small detours to put petrol in your car, see the odd sight etc. You would however eventually reach your destination.

Imagine you were to go on a journey to a destination you were unsure of, and you did not have a map. The question becomes – “would you make it?”

How would you know if you were on track or off track?

How would you know if you were heading for danger?

This is how most people run a business!

So what do you need?

You need a map of “your business plan”.

You need to know your destination and you need to be focused on getting there.

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