You are amazing

When inspiration sits in your chair

Maybe I’m just in a good mood at the moment (although it’s lasted quite a long time if that’s the case) but I’ve been finding lots of my coaching clients very inspirational just lately. And for a man who’s a natural cynic, that’s a nice place to be.

I love my work and one of the great gifts it brings is the opportunity to see people for who they really are. By which I mean to notice and understand the whole person (to the extent that you ever can). Their light and their dark together.

I frequently find myself thinking how amazing this person sitting in one of my client chairs actually is. Not because of what they are doing in their life and work – although lots of my clients do do amazing things. And not because they’re a ‘good’ person either.

For me it’s a kind of gut sensation. As we’re coaching together, if you’re lucky, you build up a picture of somebody: their light and dark, their strength and weakness, their kindness and cruelty, their aspirations and their fears.

Often in the coaching I get the chance to say what I’m seeing – we call this a ‘Recognition’, and it might go something like this:

“I see your commitment to this project you’re leading, even though you sometimes doubt your abilities and don’t know how it’ll work out. That’s courage, right there.”

And for every one of those Recognitions I’m able to say out loud, there are several times when a bit of my brain is lost in wonder at the sum of somebody’s parts.

I often think that mine is one of those jobs where you don’t really need to look too hard for inspiration. It comes and sits in one of my client chairs and is ready to reveal itself if I look and listen well enough.

Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter

Yoda

As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach. What inspiration or other qualities do you see in people if you look?


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Paradoxes?

Five important things that always seem to happen the wrong way around

Is it just me who sometimes wishes that each of these things would work the other way around for a change?

Courage follows Fear

You don’t usually get the courageous feeling until after you’ve done the scary thing, although the time that you might most want it is before.

Vitality comes from expending Energy

If you want to be more energetic, you’ve got to be regularly spending your energy on something sensible, not saving it.

Leadership follows Followership

Commitment, involvement, collaboration, ego-management, and credibility are all things best learnt first without the added need to lead.

Faith comes before Trust

If you want to be able to trust people, you’ve first got to give them the chance to be trusted – and that takes a leap of faith.

Wisdom comes after Experience

If you’re anything like me, then you need to fall flat on your face quite a lot before understanding how stuff really works. And even then, I still learn more and am surprised by how things actually turn out compared to how I thought they would.


As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach. What other things seem to paradoxically happen the wrong way around?


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Motivation for Leaders

Why my favourite go-to motivational quote still has three fatal flaws; and what leaders should do about them

This quote from Theodore Roosevelt has long been a favourite of mine for helping to motivate myself and others:

Do what you can,

Where you are,

With what you have.

– You can click and then alt-click the image above to download a copy for yourself –

Anytime I’m stuck or feeling powerless, or can’t see the route through the forest for looking at all the trees, this quote gets me unstuck and into purposeful action.

But it still has three hidden weaknesses.

Leaders who want to use this kind of thing to help other people feel motivated need to be aware of these flaws and to take extra steps to combat them.

It’s really worth doing this, especially if you’re the kind of leader who:

  1. Naturally likes to be around empowered people and to help others to raise their game; or
  2. Occasionally finds yourself wondering why other people don’t take the initiative more, or don’t work as hard as you do.

Each of the flaws I’m talking about are right there in that first line:

“Do what you can

And this is why…

1) People aren’t always aware of just what they can do, both in terms of what they have ‘permission’ to do, and in terms of their own capabilities.

2) People don’t always believe that what they can do will actually lead to the outcome that’s needed. To take a really basic example, even though someone ‘can’ make 20 sales calls today, do they truly believe that those calls will lead to the extra business they’ve been asked to generate? If not, they won’t be motivated.

3) People don’t always know in advance if the outcome that their actions might lead to is actually an outcome that they really want. It’s not so much about them not wanting to achieve a specific outcome, but more that they just don’t really, consciously know if they do want it! I believe that this hidden flaw derails more attempts to motivate people than almost anything else.


So as well as using that brilliant quote from Teddy R, leaders who want to motivate people should also be doing these four things as well:

1a) Always give the permissions up front. This is basic delegation skills. If you’re asking or expecting someone to do something, what permissions do they have or need? What resources can they access? What approaches, methods or ways of doing it can they use or not use?

1b) Help people to assess and grow their own capabilities. Which means you really do need to encourage and show people how to learn and adapt.

2. Break the unconscious rule that people make for themselves about taking action and needing to get the correct result. Help them to be more like a scientist. Any action will lead to ‘a’ result. Get people to be curious about selecting from a range of possible actions. Have them observe the results like a scientist doing an experiment. What worked, what didn’t get the expected result, what would you try next time?

3. This is perhaps the most significant one for leaders to be doing. Encourage people to live in the future a little. This outcome that you want them to help achieve – what will that be like? What will it mean for them when it’s been achieved? How will it change or affect their day-to-day experience?

This important part of motivating people is the equivalent of getting them to try on some new clothes in the mirror before they know whether or not they want them.


As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach What do you think of that Roosevelt quote? Does it help you motivate yourself and others? What also works for you?


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More on Outcome Focus

Is this the most powerful question you can ever ask?

One of the best things a leader or a coach can do for somebody is to ask them:

“What do you want to have happen?”

This simple outcome-focussed question can do so much:

  • It can raise someone’s head up and out of whatever problems they’re stuck in
  • It can focus effort and attention in a really personal and energising way
  • It can create unique moments of clarity and even stimulate big changes in direction.

You can use this when you want to address conditions in someone’s personal or professional life; when they’re working on a project and need to plan and progress it; and you can use it when you want to motivate and build on success, or even when things aren’t going well.


Sometimes you need to ask the same question, maybe in a slightly different way, several times in a row.

People can avoid answering it, they can be stuck in the problem, they can even be wedded to a possible solution (rather than being clear about what they actually want).

Keep asking until you get a clear outcome statement of some desired future state that doesn’t reference the problem itself or a solution. Then you know you’ve got to the heart of what they want.


And how about you?

Thinking about what you’re working on now, or about where you find yourself, what do you want to have happen?

And who around you needs you to ask them this kind of question? Who needs that clarity and powerful attention from you just now?


As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach to let me know what you want to have happen or how you’re getting on at asking other people the same.


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Self-Awareness (2b): Impact and Results

In your interactions with other people, do you always get the result you’d intended?

For a full copy, click the diagram above and then right-click to download or ‘Save as…’

If the first part of Self-Awareness is getting really clear about your Intention (see this article here), then the second, perhaps even more important part is to practice noticing your Impact in the form of the Result that you got.

What happens when you interact with someone else; and was it what you meant to have happen?

There’s a rule we use in my kind of coaching which says that:

The meaning of your communication is the response that you get

It’s tough rule to follow because it’s telling us that, no-matter what we said or did with someone, no matter what our intention was at the outset; what we actually communicated was exactly what the other person says it was – even if their interpretation or response was radically different from what we meant!


It is the meaning that they ascribe to your communication that counts, not yours.


Of course, this rule is only important if you want to have really effective interactions and communications with other people. If not, if you’re happy to say, “Well, I don’t care what they actually did in response, I told them what I wanted to tell them anyway,” then this rule doesn’t need to apply to you.


There are lots of communication skills that you can use to maximise your chances of making sure that the message and meaning you meant to communicate is what somebody else actually hears.

What I want to focus on for this article is the skill of Self-Awareness, building on that first part around being clear about your Intention. Once you’ve done that, you can turn your observer’s lens towards the Results that you get:

  • When you say something to people, are they hearing what you meant them to hear – and how do you know?
  • When you do something for somebody else, do they understand why you did it, and again, how would you know?

Awareness really is the key here. Most of the other skills are about saying or doing things in a slightly different way, often to better match the other person’s style, and with a bit of experimentation almost everybody can broaden their range and learn to match it to other people.

But you won’t even know to do that if you’re not monitoring the Impact you’re having.

So that’s the Self-Awareness skill that I’d like you to practice next. It’s the red box in the diagram above. Did your interaction with another person get the Result that you Intended – and how do you know?


As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach to let me know how your Self-Awareness is doing and how you monitor the results you get from your interactions with others.


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The Supportive Boss

Leaders: 7 things your struggling employee needs to hear you say

What if you’ve got someone who works for you who is struggling? They’re maybe a little overwhelmed or out of their depth. Perhaps they’ve lost their mojo. Or they’re reacting badly and you know something is up, but not quite what it is. What is that person secretly waiting to hear from you, their leader?

Here’s seven options to start with:

“I’ve got your back. What support do you need from me?”

“I know you can come through this.”

“Your concerns are genuine and I hear them.
Can we look together at how to deal with them?”

“The reason we fall over is so we can learn to get back up.
What do you want to learn from this?”

“Here’s the bigger picture of why this is important now …”

“Stop struggling.
Take a break.
Come back to it later from this [different] angle.”

“I’ve struggled with lots of things in the past myself.
I reckon we all must do at times.
Who have you asked for help?”


I hope those help a little? Please add a comment below if they’re still open, or contact me here, or tweet me @NickRobCoach especially if you’d like to add something that a struggling employee needs to hear from their leader.


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Un-F*** Your People’s Minds to Help Them Change

If your business needs to make changes, first you need to Un-F*** your people’s minds – here’s why and how.

There’s a really powerful part of our brains that operates mostly unconsciously in the background. It runs the autonomous parts of our bodies: breathing, heart-rate and muscle-state and triggers the production of stress-hormones such as adrenaline. Recent research also shows that it tends to take most of our daily decisions for us, without us being consciously aware of the process. AND – it’s constantly on the look out for any threats to our physical or emotional safety.

There’s also evidence to suggest that, when an environmental trigger activates this part of our brain it actually shuts down our higher cognitive functions. This is thought to be another evolutionary factor; trying to think our way out of danger is just too slow for nature!

This lizard or primal brain structure, as its been called, is in charge of…

The six F’s:  Fight, Flight, Fear, Freezing-up, Feeding and Fornication

… all the stuff that humans need to do to make sure we survive individually and as a species.

With all this going on, literally in the back of people’s heads, is it any wonder that introducing a change at work is so fraught!?


What you want to do is to get people on board with the change, and to start using their higher cognitive functions to understand and make the most of what it’s about. But you can’t do that when this really powerful evolutionary mechanism is hijacking their heads.

First, you’ve got to Un-F*** their minds.

You’ve got to take each of those Six-F’s and see them from your people’s point of view. Anytime you want to introduce a change at work, either in the way things are done or structured, or in anything that might have an impact, its essential to consider each of the Six-F’s.

In other words, you’ll need to Un-F people’s minds!

Only by being prepared to allay people’s concerns on all of these levels can you hope to avoid major resistance (which is largely unconscious, don’t forget). Make some breathing space for people to consciously understand what your change is really about and how they can positively and actively be part of it, by addressing each of these:

  1. What is there in your proposed changes that people would Fight against?
  2. What might have them Flying out the door rather than see your changes through?
  3. From their point of view, what is there to Fear in your proposed changes?
  4. What in your change is so complicated, fraught or difficult that instead of getting stuck into it, people just Freeze?
  5. How will it affect their ability to Feed themselves and their families?
  6. And I’ll leave this last one for you to ponder – how will your changes impact people’s Fornication!!?

Please let me know in the comments below if they’re still open, or by tweeting me @nickrobcoach, what you’re finding out about introducing change at work and how (or whether) you need to deal with the 6-F’s.


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How to give Moral Support and turbo-charge your leadership

I don’t see people giving enough encouragement and approval at work right now. Here’s why and what to do about it.

I don’t see enough moral support being offered around these days. Either from leaders to their people, or just between colleagues.

I mean, easy things like giving someone an affirmation: “I know you can handle this,” or offering a willing ear to really listen to what might be bothering someone.

Is it a sign of the times maybe that these simple human acts of encouragement and approval have somehow slipped from the top of our leadership and managerial agenda?

Or maybe it’s because they’re not taught as part of our management education? Which is strange, because they’re in all the good leadership and management theories. Take a look at “Transformational Leadership” for example. This is still one of the most complete and research-backed leadership models we’ve got. Right there, under the Individualized Consideration component, it says:

“the degree to which the leader attends to each follower’s needs, acts as a mentor or coach to the follower and listens to the follower’s concerns and needs. The leader gives empathy and support, keeps communication open…”

Couldn’t be clearer to me!

I reckon that what’s actually going on, so that there really isn’t enough moral support being offered around, is that it can actually seem quite a hard thing to do. It isn’t hard to do at all. But it can seem hard…


Here are some of the barriers I’ve observed that get in the way of leaders and people in general offering more moral support to others. And what to do about them.

What does offering ‘moral support’ even mean?

This is an important barrier. If you haven’t seen moral support in action, or it isn’t something you’ve too much experience of receiving yourself, then the whole idea of ‘moral support’ can seem quite alien or difficult to define. But you can break that chain.

Here’s what I mean. Whenever you get a chance, tell people that you trust them, that you have faith in them: “I absolutely believe you can do this.” Tell them you approve of them: “The way you handle yourself at work is great.” Tell them you’re there for them: “I’m interested in what you have to say. If you ever want to just talk things over with anybody, I’d love to be that person.”

And if you don’t feel able to offer that kind of moral support, and you’re in any kind of leadership role, please, please keep reading…

I can’t truthfully say that to this person

Another big barrier, and often the first thing that leaders say back to me when I raise it as an issue. The person who needs moral support from you isn’t someone that you trust absolutely. You’re not really sure that they can do what’s being asked of them. You don’t really like the way they are. “And I’m not prepared to lie to them,” you’ll say.

For me, this is a practical and a creative issue.

On a practical level – has the opposite approach worked? Have you successfully managed to coax the best out of this person by NOT giving them any moral support? Has doing the opposite worked well for you – telling them that you don’t trust them, don’t approve of them, don’t have faith in their abilities?

I can see in some circumstances that the opposite approach might work, but if you want more, get creative:

Find what is true. Look hard enough to find what you can trust, what you can approve of. Be brave and trust yourself enough to take a risk, and tell them that even if they stumble at some point, you’re confident that they’ll get up and carry on; that you’ll be there if they need you. Stop complaining and raise your own game – when you take a small risk and try it, you’ll be great at it.

Who am I to offer moral support to others?

Us coaches literally love this one! It’s such a common barrier to the final step to being a great leader or manager. And almost everybody has their version of this. We tell ourselves that, because we ourselves have failed or have let ourselves down, that we can’t offer moral support to others in similar circumstances. People have said things to me like: “I’m no better than them! How can I tell them I trust them to do this, when I wouldn’t really trust myself?”

We need to take a baby-steps approach to this barrier.

First, it’s not about you, it’s about the other person. What do they need to hear from you, about them? Yes, it really helps if you are the kind of person who does believe in yourself and does act with integrity. And, people don’t really need to hear what you think about yourself, they want to hear what you feel about them.

Second, do the work yourself. Do the work. Take small steps to become the kind of leader who does what they said they would. Work on your confidence by admitting to your secret doubts and then learning to co-exist with them. Over time, learn to trust yourself completely.

I know you can do this.


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Capability – Part 2

Why you should be worried if people in your business are saying “I don’t know how…” – and what to do about it

This is the second in a brief two-part series about Capability at work. 

Part one (click here) explored what kind of approaches you can take if you want to help individuals to change their behaviours or to be more capable. In this second part, I look at why you should really sit-up and pay attention if you’re hearing a lot of “I don’t know hows” in your business and what’s needed if you want everyone to feel more capable.

If your business is not capable of doing what it’s supposed to be doing, and of doing that better than your competition, there’s trouble ahead!

Just recently, a couple of client organisations who are in the first stages of becoming more effective and more competitive have mentioned that a few of their people are saying that they, “Don’t know how… (to do what’s required of them).”

This is both a good thing to hear – because it shows that (a) you’re listening and (b) people feel able to tell you – and also the last thing you’d want to be hearing! How can your strategy be a good one, if it’s not based on already having (or rapidly acquiring) a competitive advantage of some kind? How can you execute a great strategy, if key people don’t know how to do what you need of them?

As well as developing individuals – see part one of this series – what might you need to be doing to develop a deeper sense of capability right across your organisation?

Here’s a couple of pointers based on my experience. It’s not meant to be an exhaustive list, but should be a good springboard for your own investigations:

  • Are you strategic enough about acquiring and developing Capability? Specifically:
    • how clear are you about the core competencies (related bundles of skills) that set your business apart from the rest?
    • are these core competencies made known, valued, rewarded and measured?
  • Do you promote Curiosity across the organisation? Curiosity about what makes your business tick is a precursor to improved capability. Instead of hearing people say “I don’t know how,” you want to have them saying “I wonder if this would work…?”
  • Building on that, is it OK for people NOT to know stuff? Organisations often reward people (in the widest sense of ‘reward’) for their expertise and knowledge and also often unknowingly punish those who don’t know. Make it OK for people to risk NOT knowing and you open the door for them to learn stuff you’d never have dreamed of.

The man who asks a question is a fool for a minute, the man who does not ask is a fool for life.

Confucius

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Capability – Part 1

Why teaching new skills isn’t enough by itself to make people more capable or to generate new behaviours at work

This is part one of a two-part article looking at the topic of Capability at work.

This first part explores what kind of approaches you can take if you want to help individuals to change their behaviours or to be more capable. In part two, I look at why you should really sit-up and pay attention if you’re hearing a lot of “I don’t know hows” in your business and what’s needed if you want everyone to feel more capable.


When I was about ten or eleven years old I discovered the fantastic “Teach Yourself…” book series in our local library. This series has been going since the 1930s and was originally published in distinctive yellow or blue and yellow dust jackets. They covered a really wide range of subjects, from practical stuff like brick-laying through to economics, calculus and even Esperanto, which I once spent a whole summer playing around with.

Take a look at this collector’s website for some great information about the series and its various imprints.

When I discovered those books, it felt like something clicked inside me.
If you come from the kind of background I did, your horizons can sometimes seem a little limited, the options constrained, some choices perhaps already made for you. But I thought that here in these books was one of the main gateways to the world – knowledge and the capability that it imparts – made plain and accessible to anyone who wanted it.


It’s maybe no surprise then that one of my favourite aspects of my coaching work is around the level of Capability.

In the kind of coaching I do, I lay out those ‘levels’ like this:

1EnvironmentRefers to the Where and the When of whatever you’re doing and reveals what external constraints you might be operating under.
2BehavioursRefers to the What it is that you’re doing and reveals itself in your actions. 
3CapabilitiesRefers to How you go about doing things and reveals what approaches you might take now or in the future.
4Beliefs and ValuesRefers to the Why behind what you’re doing and reveals your motivations and self-imposed limits. 
5IdentityAnswers questions about and establishes Who you are. It’s both revealed by and satisfied by the missions you might undertake.
6ConnectionAnswers questions about your Vision or Higher Purpose – that is, in the larger system of which you’re part, it addresses for who and towards what cause your actions are directed.

For now, it’s important to realise that there’s a hierarchy to the levels as I’ve set them out above. For example, I’m often asked to coach people around operating more effective Behaviours at work, either as a team member or a leader, or often both. You can see from the table, that Behaviours are at level two. However, in order to operate new Behaviours, people usually need new approaches, new ways of going about things – and those new approaches require new Capabilities, a level three aspect!

It’s quite usual to have to explore two, three or even more levels deeper whenever any significant kind of change is required. New Behaviours (level two) usually need new Capabilities (level three), and acquiring new Capabilities often needs a shift in self-imposed limits and a rediscovery of motivations – a level four Beliefs and Values shift. And a really significant shift in those self-imposed limits, or a re-alignment or rediscovery of motivations, often requires a long hard look at just who we really are – right down at level five, Identity.


This is why, as we’ll explore more in the subsequent article, you’ve got to address cultural aspects around values and ways of doing things, as well as individual motivations and limiting beliefs in order to have more capable people in your business. Just trying to teach them new skills or sending them on a management training course may not always work!


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