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Ruby Wax's new business venture - executive coaching

30th September 2009

With a background in psychology, being brought up with business minded parents and after speaking at countless corporate after dinner events, Ruby Wax has launched a new business venture - executive coaching.

“I used to be asked to do after-dinner speaking in which I was very funny. I would find out everything about their company and use their lingo. Then I just started to flip it into teaching them something and now I get asked to do this and not the funny stuff” said the comedienne.

Skype, Deutsche Bank and the Home Office are among those to have used her management workshops and presentations.

Her focus is on trying to tame the outsized egos of the business world by teaching four basic principles: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. “It is essentially emotional intelligence — although I’d never use those actual words,” she says. “They need to know themselves, read other people and then manage themselves.”

She believes there is a real need for these skills in a credit-crunched world. “The guys with the highest IQs are the guys that screwed us hardest and nobody is now looking for the most brilliant, they are looking for the most human.”

She says, “I’m undoing a lot of the fancy management training they have been on. I’m undoing it because it is garbage. Everyone can read it, everyone went on the same course,” the petite comedienne says.

So why is the offbeat television interviewer choosing to spend her spare time in training rooms filled with the suited-and-booted? “I didn’t want a career doing comedy for the rest of my life, because eventually it will leave me, rather than me leaving it,” she admits.

And the business community has always been of particular interest. “My parents were in business, my whole background is business. I like the speed of their minds. I love it because they get it, they really understand it,” she enthuses.

Ruby's workshops are tailored to suit clients and delegates can be filmed and their postures and actions deconstructed.

One of the things Ruby tries to teach executives is not to prejudge people. “We are all deceived, you see me and you think I’m a television entertainer; I see a guy in a suit and I think that he’s pretty straight,” she says. “If you make a judgment too quickly of an employee, or on a global level, you’ve lost.”

Ruby is deliberately not funny in the workshops she runs: “Some people really don’t want me to be funny and if I bring out that old tool, I’ve totally alienated them.”

Her management insights are born of the mistakes she has made. She shows delegates clips of interviews from her television shows such as Ruby Wax Meets, to highlight the problems she initially had in creating a rapport with her subjects.

“Later on I learnt to read what it was that they needed and started to adjust my style to make them comfortable. You can see when it works, when I’m talking to Hugh Hefner or Bette Midler or Imelda Marcos — I figured her out very quickly. She was an eight-year-old child in her mind.

“But in the beginning of my career I thought what is wrong with everyone else? I didn’t realise what I was bringing to the table. I was bending forward and getting more and more aggressive. That was my default. That’s what I mean by self-awareness,” she says.

She draws on her own experience when it comes to telling executives they need to be able to switch off from business and focus on their families when they leave the office.

“If you are really not connected, it is not a happy home life,” she says. “You have to understand that when you get home and the kids start to talk that you’ve got to pull the plug. Awareness is everything.”

“My son never forgave me for spending his childhood on the telephone, he never forgave me, and he is 20 now,” she confides. “I didn’t think that he’d noticed. But he had.”

The four rules

1. Self-awareness: Before you can understand what someone else is thinking and feeling you have to be aware of yourself — your thoughts and feelings. Leaders high in emotional self-awareness are attuned to their inner signals.

2. Self-management: Leaders with self-control find ways to be in command of their own impulses by being aware of their own habits. It’s about knowing how to stay calm in a storm so their emotional state doesn’t infect the organisation.

3. Social awareness: The leader is aware of each person’s emotional signals, sensing what the other person is actually trying to say, under their words.

4. Relationship management: The leader can adjust his or her style to shape the outcome of a social interaction, sensing what the other person needs moment by moment. When needed, the leader is inspirational, a coach, a friend, commanding, democratic, or direct.

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