Episode 215 – Soft Skills Hard Results with Anne Taylor

‘The more I shared my personal experience… the more vulnerability I showed, the more impact it had when I got feedback from readers.’

Anne TaylorIt’s amazing how often the process of writing a book reflects the principles within it. That was certainly the case for Anne Taylor, who set out to write a book on soft skills for pragmatic, analytical thinkers focusing on practical, analytical tools and discovered that modelling the very soft skills she was writing about – sharing personal stories and focusing on relationships and lived experience – transformed the reader’s experience.

She also discovered that although she’d feared asking for favours, when she dared to reach out to invite people to be involved in the book they were not only generous in their support but honoured to be asked – a great lesson for anyone feeling isolated as they write.

A generous and insightful conversation about how we communicate and the impact – personal and professional – of a book.


LINKS:

Anne’s site: https://directions-coaching.com/

Anne on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/anne-taylor-6b2a831/

Anne on Twitter: https://twitter.com/annetaylorcoach

Alison on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bookstothesky

The Extraordinary Business Book Club on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1447064765612358/

PI Virtual Writing Retreat wait list: https://alisonjones.lpages.co/virtual-writing-retreat/

PI-Q webinar, Communicating in a Crisis with Mike Sergeant: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/pi-q-webinar-communicating-in-a-crisis-with-mike-sergeant-tickets-103073262904

See all PI-Q webinars and replay links: https://practicalinspiration.com/pi-q

Alison Jones 

I’m here today with Anne Taylor, who’s the Director of Directions Coaching Limited. She built an impressive career over 20 years with companies such as Procter and Gamble and Nestle, where she worked in marketing, overall business management and business strategy development. And after leaving her global marketing role at Nestle in Switzerland, she retrained as an executive coach. Her clients have included IMD business school where she developed and delivered the coaching component of their corporate leadership program. And as well as her private practice. She’s an associate coach for London Business School, where her focus is on helping successful managers and MDs increase their leadership impact, particularly around emotional intelligence, EQ, strategic thinking, and influencing. Welcome to the show Anne

Anne Taylor 

Thank you very much, Alison. It’s great to be here.

Alison Jones 

And you, of course, are the author of Soft Skills, Hard Results, which is a book that I was very, very proud to publish recently. So just tell us a little bit about soft skills. What do you mean by that and why do they matter?

Anne Taylor 

Soft skills are those people skills that we use every day, we rarely label them as such, but they’re the way we interact with other people at work, at home, in our lives. And the reason they’re so important, especially for business people, where we think of them less. Think of more people skills, obviously more in personal relationships, business, we think of it less, but they’re equally important. Because we know financially, good people skills or good soft skills, increase productivity, they lead to greater innovation, a more collaborative culture. We know as human beings, we’re hardwired for connection. So soft skills are really important to make that connection. We know that emotions exist at work. And using soft skills well helps you deal with the emotions that do come up. In essence, business and leadership is relational, soft skills or people skills are relational skills.

Alison Jones 

And all that makes complete sense to me, I mean, I’m a people person. I am a natural extrovert.  Of course, I mean, this is self-evident. But it’s not, is it? Not to everybody.

Anne Taylor 

It’s not to everybody. And you are a great people person. And not everybody has those same innate abilities. And so I really wrote this book for the people that may not be as comfortable with these soft skills. They’re much more analytical, they’re much more driven, task focused. They’re concentrated on what needs to be done, the goals and objectives that need to be realized at work or in their organization. So this book is to help them learn and understand what soft skills are – the how of interacting with people as they’re going about what they are doing at work.

Alison Jones 

And there’s an inherent problem there, isn’t there, because what you end up doing, you know, you and I talked about this right back at the beginning, is you’re writing a book for a particular group of people who really need this book, but who don’t actually want this book. What was that like as you were writing? How did you get over that?

Anne Taylor 

Yes, sometimes it’s not even that they don’t want it. They don’t know what they don’t know. And yes, the way I got over it is I included some of my clients who are definitely in this target in the process of writing the book. I use them as case studies, I shared material with them that I was writing and asked for their feedback and input. I used their language, I know their language. This was me 25 years ago when I started work. And by retraining as a coach, I learned a lot of these soft skills. And so I use the language of people in business who are more analytical, more task focused, I use their language and formatting in a way that would get them on board. Also, the book starts with monetizing soft skills, put a quantifiable number to it to rationally appeal to them.

Alison Jones 

And I guess an awful lot of people in this category might not instinctively come to it themselves, but have been told by their line managers or by 360 degree appraisals or whatever, you need to improve your people skills. And they’re like, really?

Anne Taylor 

Exactly. And right now we know those same people are struggling with motivating and influencing and inspiring their teams, which again, all comes down to soft skills. And so they are getting these messages from external places that, ‘Okay, I need to work on this.’ And this book is done in a way, in a format that they can then take in that information.

Alison Jones 

Do you have… when you were working with it with the people that you know, your beta readers and so on? Did you find there was a shift from that kind of transactional ‘Okay, I’m going to do this because I can see that there’s an element of I have to do it’ to actually really appreciating it. It’s a leading question. I’m guessing you probably did.

Anne Taylor 

There was a shift in me, as well as within them. I found it fascinating. The shift in me was, originally I thought, okay, I’m writing this just for those clients, it’s going to be a guide for them to pick up, be able just to go to a specific chapter, learn how to give feedback, or learn how to story tell, close the book, they go off and do it. And as I was going through that process, and sharing it with them, they got excited about recognizing what they had developed within themselves over the time that we’ve worked together. And then as I started talking to other people about the concept, other people were like, this is a great idea, a lot of people need it. So there was a transformation within me as well as my clients.

Alison Jones 

Which is one of the best reasons for writing a book, isn’t it? It’s so fascinating. Yes, how brilliant. And let’s talk about that process of writing. What was it that really surprised you about that? What did you learn along the way while you were writing?

Anne Taylor 

Oh, wow. I learned so much… One of the biggest things I learned was this whole idea of courage and vulnerability. And I talk in principle eight in the book, it’s a Brene Brown cornerstone, where the more I shared my personal experience, or that of my clients through case studies, anonymous case studies, the more vulnerability I showed, the more impact it had when I got feedback from other readers. So it’s that duality of courage and vulnerability that really surprised me a lot. And having to put myself into the book and the fear of doing that. The risk of putting my personal stories in as well and you know, the fear of being judged or being wrong. So that really surprised me. And also from a book-writing perspective, what surprised me at each stage was when I was writing, I thought that was the hardest thing. And then we went into the production process, I thought that was the hardest thing. And then the formatting of the production process, I thought that was hardest. And then the social media advertising promotion. So at each step, I thought it was the hardest. And now that I’ve been through it all, it’s like, ah, each of those was difficult in their own way, and lead to a really better result. Because of that struggle.

Alison Jones 

Yes, it’s so interesting, isn’t it? And I know exactly what you mean. ‘I finished writing, I’m done.’ No, no, no, no… And just going back to that point about the vulnerabilty, I think it’s fascinating, about the vulnerability there and learning to open up and put more of yourself in and trusting that process as well. That is something you would never have done had you not involved people in working with you on it. Had you not got those people contributing, giving you feedback, you’d have written quite a dry, analytical book, wouldn’t you?

Anne Taylor 

Yes, which probably was what I was thinking at first, oh, I’ll just put a bunch of models in, I’ll put a bunch of lists and tips and tricks because that’s what you know, all my clients want. And then when I kind of got into it, I realized, in my coaching client relationships, we’ve got the relationship, we’ve got the soft skills, because we do have that relational experience. And then I realized, I’ve got to put that in the book, that I can’t just be the tips and tricks and the dry stuff. Because I really need to model it in some ways, what I’m talking about, and that has to go in the book.

Alison Jones 

And that’s a great question for any writer, isn’t it, is that, you know, I often say to people, imagine you’re speaking to somebody because then it keeps your tone conversational, and you’re focused on them and where they’re at, rather than what you know. But of course, they’re not in the room with you. So there’s quite a lot of work goes into creating the feeling of a conversation. When you actually haven’t got the person in the room and putting your own stories in. There is a really big part of that.

Anne Taylor 

Yes, and I’ve never thought of it before we’re talking now. And one of the people that endorsed my book actually said in the endorsement, and that’s kind of when it started formulating in my mind, ‘She’s shown the vulnerability. She’s modeled what she’s suggesting leaders need to do.’ And it was like, yes, so that you could feel it, rather than just read tips or actions or ideas. So it’s marrying the head and the heart, I always say, which is what this whole book is about.

Alison Jones 

Yes, absolutely. That’s the kind of the dominant theme of the book really, isn’t it? Yes. Is there anything else that you learned as you went through this in terms of your, maybe your practice or your relationships with other people?

Anne Taylor 

Ah, asking for help. Oh, huge learning. And I’ve always believed that people were generous. And when I asked for help, I was just reminded of how generous people can be. And again, it’s that vulnerability asking for help, can’t do it all, you know, trying to be independent and this author, and I asked people for short notice things, I asked people to share things about themselves. I asked permission from clients to be included. I asked for input I asked for what I didn’t even know sometimes, to you, to your team. And the generosity of people just continually amazes me and reminds me of all the goodness and compassion that is in the world.

Alison Jones 

And I think as well when people are asked to contribute or be involved in a book, it’s not such, well it is an ask of course, but it’s actually an invitation into something interesting and creative as well, isn’t it, which is a really generous thing from your point as well. I think often authors hesitate and they feel that they’re asking a lot people but generally when they ask they have exactly the experience that you have, which is that people are really excited to be asked and you know, really keen to be involved. I mean, not always, but most of the time,

Anne Taylor 

Most of the time. And one actually, when I reached out and said, you know, would you mind reading the book, you know, before it’s finished, and he was like, I’d be honoured to, and I’m like, oh, that really touched me. I was coming from the place of Oh, I’m asking a favour, I hope it’s not too intrusive. And his response really turned me around to just what you said of, people want to, they’re honoured to, they’re willing to help.

Alison Jones 

Yes, and I think approaching it in that way. If you’re reaching out to people and phrasing it as an invitation as, you know, ‘Would you like to be involved in this, is a really cool thing to do?’ because it gives you more confidence when you’re doing it as well, and you don’t go in kind of cringing. ‘You probably won’t want to, but…’ you know, which is not a great way to do it.  Now, that the book is out Anne – What’s that like? How has it impacted you personally and professionally, now that it’s in the world and doing its thing?

Anne Taylor 

Oh, it’s so exciting. From a professional perspective, it’s really helped me be much clearer about what I stand for, about how I coach, about what matters to me. So, words that have come up for me is like clarity and conviction to my message, and to my beliefs, to my purpose. It’s actually given me more courage as well, to contact people that I haven’t contacted, you know, it’s almost an excuse to reach out and say, oh, I’ve written this or I’d like your thoughts, or maybe someone in your team could use this. So it’s made me more courageous as well to do that. And given me credibility is, you know, a book does.

Alison Jones 

Yes, and I’m guessing you had a really good reaction to that as well.

Anne Taylor 

Yes, yes. So far. It’s been great. And then personally, as I said, just before the launch of it, there was a lot of fear, a lot of fear of being judged, a lot of fear of having exposed too much. A lot of fear of maybe having not done it right. Would someone find a typo in it, as much as we all try in the process to make sure there aren’t any…

Alison Jones 

This is what keeps me awake at night.

Anne Taylor 

And now that it’s out there, and I’d say to any author that,the excitement once it’s out there, and then you start getting the feedback like other coaches who have said, you know what, I’ve given this to my clients because it’s a perfect resource for them. I’m like, wow, I had just envisioned my clients at first, and now other coaches are giving it to their clients and the excitement and the possibility of it. That’s what lives now more than the fear.

Alison Jones 

That’s so exciting, and I can really hear that in your voice. That’s absolutely brilliant. And I’m going ask you for your best tips. So we’ve actually, we’ve touched on the whole arc of the book journey, you know from that kind of original concept, right through to the sales, marketing, the launch and everything. And at any point in that, would you care to share a tip that you think would be really helpful for somebody listening today?

Anne Taylor 

Oh, wow. I guess a tangible tip would be: get your endorsers and your book reviewers lined up early, so that they’re ready at a moment’s notice when you’re ready with the manuscript. So that would be the tangible hard result tip. The soft skill tip would be really know yourself. And I talk a lot about this in part one of the book of know yourself. Figure out when is the best time for me to write and make that time sacred. For me it was oddly 3.30 to 6.30 in the afternoon.

Alison Jones 

That’s quite unusual.

Anne Taylor 

Very unusual, and it worked great. And once I knew that, I just made my schedule accommodate that. I know I’m great with external accountability. So being part of your bootcamp process, for example, gave me that community to be accountable to. Support yourself, and line up all these structures to support yourself in achieving your goal of writing a book.

Alison Jones 

And I love the way you delivered that as soft skills and hard results. Yes, the wrong way around. But yes…

Anne Taylor 

Exactly. Because you go to the hard result first and then go to the soft skill.

Alison Jones 

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Yes, that’s brilliant. Really, really good tips and that thing about knowing yourself which sounds quite mystical, actually, it’s really practical as well, isn’t it? Like just what works and don’t judge it. Just go with it.

Anne Taylor 

Just go with it. Yes.

Alison Jones 

Yes. And you won’t know until you try various different things to be curious. Yes, brilliant.

Anne Taylor 

Be curious and be observant. Notice yourself,

Alison Jones 

Sorry, go on.

Anne Taylor 

Yes, just notice yourself, you might not know. So start writing all the time until you figure out when it flows best for you. So be curious and notice and then implement.

Alison Jones 

Absolutely, brilliant. And I always, listen, no surprise to you. I know. But I always ask people to recommend a business book. So clearly, clearly, everybody should read Soft Skills, Hard Results, but what else should they read?

Anne Taylor 

I was thinking about this question, because I’ve listened to many of the podcasts and people mentioned very current books, and I’ve actually got a timeless classic, and it’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.

Alison Jones 

Do you know how many times that it has been recommended? It’s such a good recommendation. Go on, why are you recommending it?

Anne Taylor  

I do think it’s timeless. It’s been out for decades and the material in it still works. I think it’s applicable to everybody, whether you’re an author, whether you’re a business leader, whether you’re an employee in an organization, an entrepreneur or just, you know, a human being. I think ideas in there are brilliant. They’re timeless. They’re applicable across anybody to improve your life, to improve your work.

Alison Jones 

Yes, there’s a reason why books like this become classics, isn’t there? They just… yes. And it’s funny, I remember I read this obviously years ago. And then I said I’d read it and somebody challenged me about it and the principles, I couldn’t remember them. So clearly I need to read this again. And I think it’s one of those books that you should read every couple of years, really.

Anne Taylor 

Yes, one of the principles is ‘sharpening the saw’, which is how do you continue improve your skills, and that book is part of it. As well as all of the other brilliant books that have come out since obviously, yes, sharpen our skills reread it, read other things.

Alison Jones 

Yes, I wish it was just kind of one-time thing, I wish the books, some books you read and they just kind of land in your brain and the brain reforms itself around them. But generally, you just have to kind of keep refreshing.

Anne Taylor 

Well, for me, I find what your brain needs or absorbs at that moment is the right thing. And a few years later, you have changed, your situation has changed. So you read the same thing with different eyes, you’ll take different things out of it.

Alison Jones 

That is so true. Yes. Yes. And there are some books that stand up to that. And there are others that are perhaps more superficial that you know, once you’ve got the tactical stuff out of it, that’s it, but there are others, the real perennials that you will always get something new out of them when you go back to them and Stephen Covey is definitely one of those. Yes, that’s good point.  So Anne, if people want to find out more about you, where should they go?

Anne Taylor 

Three places, my website, Twitter and LinkedIn. So in terms of my website, that’s directions-coaching.com. There’s many resources in there, some from the book, there’s blog articles. There’s also a place where people can sign up for a complimentary clarity coaching session with me. On Twitter, they can find me at AnneTaylorCoach, and I’m also on LinkedIn under Anne Taylor Soft Skills, Hard Results.

Alison Jones 

Awesome and I love the way you’ve worked the book title in there as well. I really like that. I will put all those links up in the show notes, obviously at extraordinarybusinessbooks.com. And just one last note, which of course is about your book launch, which we were supposed to be doing and now we’re not because as we’re speaking on the 18th March. We’re just in the kind of day by day change of the whole Coronavirus lockdown. So you are rolling with the punches here on this aren’t you, we’re going to have to reschedule that.

Anne Taylor 

Yes, it was to be today. And that’s in part why I chose this date from your availability.

Alison Jones 

If we can’t do the launch, we can do the podcast,

Anne Taylor 

Exactly, our little bit of micro celebration until we can all get together to do a proper celebration in person.

Alison Jones 

I know and we will, we will have to defer it. I think there’s going to be, whatever happens at the end of this, there’s going to be a great sort of ‘back to normal’ parties, which will have to encompass a huge amount of delayed stuff. Yes. So there we are, you know, books get published, launch parties can’t always happen. But at least I think the good thing of course is if we’re all self isolating like mad, hopefully we’ll be reading really great books like this, so you know, every cloud has a silver lining.

Anne Taylor 

Exactly. My reading list will get shortened over the next little while.

Alison Jones 

Well, I can always suggest some more. That’s not a problem.  Really, really good to talk to you today Anne, thank you so much for your time.

Anne Taylor 

You too. Thanks very much Alison, for this, as well as everything else.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.