Mentors Exercise for Dealing with Challenges

Three amazing people you can have on your side whenever you’re facing challenge, uncertainty or fear

Serious question – Can you imagine what it would be like if there were three absolutely brilliant people, with different but complementary abilities, who you could call on for advice at any time and who’d know just what you needed to hear?

What difference could that make…


This is part of an exercise I use with people when they might be facing something challenging, unknown or scary. And they need to recapture or uncover some of their innate resourcefulness to deal with it.


Take a look at the diagram above;

and then follow these easy steps:

  1. Identify the challenging, scary or unknown thing
  2. On a scale of 1-10, where 10 is high, just how challenging or scary is this thing at the moment?
  3. Place it on the floor in front of you, like in the diagram. Don’t get so close to it, that you feel uncomfortable; back-up if necessary
  4. Think of a person who is really, really Effective, just great at getting things done.
    It can be a real person you know, somebody you have heard about or know of but haven’t met in real life, or a character from a film, a book, a game or a TV programme
  5. Get your (imaginary) Effective Mentor to stand in their spot, as per the diagram, so that they are behind you and slightly to your left. In your mind’s eye, get a good sense of what they look like and how they stand.
  6. When you’re ready, move onto your Effective Mentor’s spot, and pretend that you are actually stepping into their body
  7. Do what you need to do, to get a real sense of what it’s like, to be this person who is so effective, so good at getting things done
  8. When you have that sense, look over at the You spot and imagine a version of yourself still standing there, facing this challenging/scary/unknown thing
  9. From inside your Effective Mentor, you’ll notice that you have some advice or support that you’d like to offer to that version of yourself. Go ahead and say that, out loud if you can.
  10. Step back onto the You spot and take a moment to hear that advice

  11. Now think of a person who always seems really, really Fulfilled. Someone who is happy with themselves. Again, it can be a real person, someone you know or know of, or a fictional character of some kind
  12. Get your (imaginary) Fulfilled Mentor to stand in their spot, as per the diagram, so that they are directly behind you. In your mind’s eye, get a good sense of what they look like and how they stand.
  13. When you’re ready, move onto your Fulfilled Mentor’s spot, and pretend that you are actually stepping into their body
  14. Do what you need to do, to get a real sense of what it’s like, to be this person who is so fulfilled, so happy with who they are
  15. When you have that sense, look over at the You spot and again imagine a version of yourself still standing there, facing this challenging/scary/unknown thing
  16. From inside your Fulfilled Mentor, you’ll notice that you have some advice or support that you’d like to offer to that version of yourself. Go ahead and say that, out loud if you can.
  17. Step back onto the You spot and take a moment to hear that advice

  18. Now think of a person who always seems really, really Empowered. Someone who lets nothing stop them and doesn’t wait for permission. Again, it can be a real person, someone you know or know of, or a fictional character of some kind
  19. Get your (imaginary) Empowered Mentor to stand in their spot, as per the diagram, so that they are behind you and slightly to you right. In your mind’s eye, get a good sense of what they look like and how they stand.
  20. When you’re ready, move onto your Empowered Mentor’s spot, and pretend that you are actually stepping into their body
  21. Do what you need to do, to get a real sense of what it’s like, to be this person who is so empowered, who doesn’t let anything stop them and who doesn’t need to wait for permission
  22. When you have that sense, look over at the You spot and again imagine a version of yourself still standing there, facing this challenging/scary/unknown thing
  23. From inside your Empowered Mentor, you’ll notice that you have some advice or support that you’d like to offer to that version of yourself. Go ahead and say that, out loud if you can.
  24. Step back onto the You spot and take a moment to hear that advice.

  25. Now imagine that all three of your mentors are lined-up behind you. Perhaps you’d like them to reach out and place a supportive hand on your shoulders and back.

Remember the advice that each of your mentors had for you and know that you can access this inner resourcefulness of yours whenever you want to.

On that same scale of 1-10, how challenging or scary does that thing seem now?

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Empowering Beliefs (part 1)

Empowerment: How to reveal the unconscious thought processes that can either really help or really hinder you

If you want to adopt ways of thinking and behaving that get great results and satisfaction (to empower yourself), or to help other people do the same, one very useful approach is to reveal some of the unconscious processes that can either really help or really hinder you.

In my kind of coaching, we call these unconscious processes ‘beliefs’ and I’m going to show you how to work with them to make sure that they are as empowering as you can get them.

This article takes a brief look at what are called ‘Cause-Effects’. These are the connections we unconsciously establish when we perceive that something consistently and predictably leads to something else. A shorthand I often use is “this causes that”.

Let’s explore some examples.

1. To start with, think of something that’s important to you in your work: _________________ ?

Suppose you say that: “Success” is important to you in your work.

Now that we know what’s important to you, we next want to know what your life experiences have taught you about how to satisfy that. First, we’ll ask:

2. What enables someone to have [success] _________________ ?

To which you might answer: “Hard work”.

Next, we want to know what would make someone take action, to actually take steps to satisfy their important thing. Using the example above, why would someone put in “hard work” in order to have “success”? We’ll ask this question:

3. What does [success] lead to or make possible _________________ ?

To which you might answer: “Security”.

Now we’ve got a really significant part of the pattern that your unconscious mind uses in regard to “success” at work:

Using this example, we can see that this person is unconsciously saying to themselves, something like this:

“If I work hard, I’ll be successful; and I want to be successful, because that makes me secure”.

4. From here, we can start to explore deeper.

First the “Enabling” part.

Here’s a few simple examples of questions that can really get breakthroughs in people’s thinking and behaviour:

  • Does hard work always enable success for you?
  • What else does hard work create?
  • What do you do when hard work isn’t enough?
  • Could success for you also come from some other factor than hard work?
  • What else do you need, to be able to have success?
  • What other reasons might you have for working hard?
  • Which other people are important for success?

And then the “Motivating” part:

  • Does success always lead to security for you?
  • Is there anything that’s more important to you than security?
  • How much security do you want?
  • What other routes to security might there be?
  • Does success ever actually get in the way of security?
  • What did you learn about yourself when you didn’t have security?
  • Who else is part of this?

The answers to questions like these will reinforce how working towards “success” is something that helps empower you and others. They’ll also help you to spot when that isn’t enough and to be on guard for how the unconscious assumptions that (in this example, hard work -> success -> security), can actually be disempowering or produce unwanted results and behaviours.


You can also use this approach for negative behaviours that you’d like to change. Put that behaviour in the “Important Thing” box and work through the process above.

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When Leaders Need to Fight

The four types of grown-up fighting and three battlegrounds every leader must be able to win

Co-operation, compromise and connection are essential tools in the leader’s kitbag. If you’re spending most of your time as a leader doing those things, you’re probably getting it right. But if you’re never spending any time at all in conflict, maybe it’s worth looking at  where and how you might need to be doing some grown-up style fighting.

Click the image above and then right-click it to download/save a copy of the graphic

First, the three battlegrounds that you must have control of

That’s YOU – the resources, respect and room to do you what you need to do, to the best of your ability.

Then there’s YOUR TEAM – are you looking out for them; clearing the way and getting them what they need?

And of course YOUR BUSINESS or organisation itself – as well as planting the right seeds, are you fighting to keep your crop healthy, safe from predators and clear of invasive weeds?

Second, the four types of fight you’re going to need to engage in

FAIRNESS – Are you, your team and your business being treated with fairness and respect and not being taken advantage of? If not, you’ve got a fight on your hands!

RESOURCES – Are you, your team and your organisation getting the resources you need to do the job you’ve got to do? If not, where do you need to come out fighting?

DETERMINATION – Are you taking a stand for yourself, for your team and for your business when it matters? If you’re not standing up for all three of those – who is?

COMPETING – Are you, your team and your business able to compete with the strength and flexibility that it takes to win in a complex and inter-connected world? You don’t have to play for a win-lose scenario, but you absolutely can’t be the losers yourselves.

“Where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence.”
Mahatma Gandhi

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Three Empowerment Techniques

Three simple ways you won’t have thought of to help someone empower themselves at work

OK, you might have thought of some of these, but they’re so simple, and so effective, that they often seem to get overlooked and are definitely worth repeating.

First things first, notice that it’s about helping someone to empower themselves, not doing it for them (which is actually disempowering). I reckon a lot of corporate programmes fall down right at this first hurdle, trying to spoon-feed empowerment to their staff instead of creating the conditions in which people want to take power for themselves. Perhaps that second option is just a bit too scary in some organisations?

1. Ask for their help

Nothing helps people realise what they’re capable of better than an opportunity to help somebody else. If you can do this in a way that is genuine, i.e. on something where you really do need their help, that’s good. If you can do it in a way that shows that asking for help is itself an act of strength, not weakness, even better.

2. Tell them what you see

This one is really so sweet and so powerful that it should come with a government health warning! People take themselves for granted. They forget about their good qualities and they focus on the things that they don’t like about themselves. You can change that in an instant with this way of giving people recognition.

Take a moment to remind someone about a resourceful quality of theirs that you have noticed them using. The format is really simple, but does take some guts to use. It goes like this: “I noticed that you were really [resourceful quality] during [recent situation]; that’s a great quality to have.”  Here’s an example of the kind of thing I’ll say to the barista in my coffee shop, just for practice:

I noticed that you were really calm and helpful with that difficult customer just now. That’s a great quality to have.

3. Be kind in their presence

Everybody knows by now that acts of kindness are contagious; when you see someone being kind you tend to pay it forwards yourself.  People are less aware that there’s an unconscious association of kindness with resourcefulness. It’s like part of your brain says to itself: “Oh, I’ve just been kind! I must have the strength of mind and physical resources that mean I can spare some for others”. Whenever you get the chance, role-model this for people and use the contagious power of kindness to remind people just how resourceful they really are.

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Coaching Techniques

Coaching with clients’ symbolic non-verbal cues with respect and empowerment

One of the many things I love when I’m one-to-one coaching is when clients unconsciously start drawing shapes in the air, or writing on an imaginary whiteboard or using their hands to position symbolic thoughts, people and objects in different places around themselves. It’s clear that people’s hands and bodies are directly connected to the inner workings of their mind and are often able to represent things quicker and with more clarity than words alone can do.

In my experience, all the qualities of these shapes, diagrams, air-writings and positionings are great doorways into deeper understanding and will open up many new possibilities for insight and action with my client, if I treat them right.


I always try to be really respectful of what they’ve just ‘drawn’ and to not impose my own frame of reference on things. Here’s a technique that I like to use which I believe really helps to get more insight and action, without me the coach getting in the way.

Because my client is often sitting across from, not next to me, I’m not seeing what they’ve ‘drawn’ from their perspective. Suppose I want to ask something like this, so we can get deeper into what it means:

“I notice that you just drew that as a kind of curve; whereabouts are you on the shape of that curve?”

And as I ask that question, I’ll usually want to redraw that curve for them, so they can see it again for themselves but consciously this time.

Here’s the important bit – I reverse the frame of reference so that I’m mirroring, not reproducing what clients have done.

If they’ve drawn that curve in the air from their left-to-right, I’ll redraw it, but from my right-to-left. If they’ve picked-up an imaginary object, person or idea and moved it over to their left, I’ll play that back to them, but make sure that the thing I move also finishes-up on their left. I imagine that I’m tracing whatever they did back to them, from the other side of a glass whiteboard.

I believe that this approach is so crucial, because I don’t want it to be my thing – what I do want is to empower them to get more understanding about the thing they ‘drew’ or ‘moved’.
 

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Using Emotional Intelligence (EQ) to Review your Year

How to review your performance this year using Emotional Intelligence (EQ) to help personal growth and get better results

If you’re about to review your performance over the last year or so, you could try doing so through an Emotional Intelligence (or EQ) lens.

EQ is one of my favourite ways of looking at how well I’m doing, because it suits a behavioural approach (my actions and their impact).  It supports a deeper understand of what drives those actions and what does or doesn’t make them effective in my interactions with others. Plus, there’s research to show that high levels of EQ are correlated with individual success and performance in a work context.

Although definitions vary, in my view you could regard Emotional Intelligence as the ability to be aware of and manage our own feelings and emotions, to be aware of and able to influence other people and to balance behaviours which benefit us individually with those that benefit the team and organisation.

If you want to have a go at reviewing your own performance in EQ terms over the year, click-on and download the blank spider chart at the top of this article and then score yourself on the following seven elements. These come from one of my preferred models of EQ, established by two British authors from Henley Management College in their book Making sense of emotional intelligence.

Score yourself from 0 – 10 and then mark it in the chart. See my example below if you’re unfamiliar with this kind of spider chart.

How well do you feel you did during the last year?

  1. Self-Awareness
    The awareness of your own feelings and the ability to recognise and manage these.
  2. Emotional Resilience
    The ability to perform well and consistently in a range of situations and when under pressure.
  3. Motivation
    The drive and energy which you have to achieve results, balance short and long-term goals and pursue your goals in the face of challenge and rejection.
  4. Interpersonal Sensitivity
    The ability to be aware of the needs and feelings of others and to use this awareness effectively in interacting with them and arriving at decisions impacting on them.
  5. Influence
    The ability to persuade others to change their viewpoints on a problem, issue or decision.
  6. Intuitiveness
    The ability to use insight and interaction to arrive at and implement decisions when faced with ambiguous or incomplete information.
  7. Conscientiousness and Integrity
    The ability to display commitment to a course of action in the face of challenge, to act consistently and in line with understood ethical requirements.

Here’s my own; got some work to do on actually seeing stuff through to completion and being more considerate of how my actions affect others.

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Authentic Leadership

Why it’s important to people that you be the ‘real you’ as a leader; flaws, imperfections and all

I’ve been out and about just recently doing a variety of talks and group coaching sessions, which always gives me a good chance to ask people their views on leadership and teamwork. One of the things I keep asking about is what kind of leaders do people really want.

The answers are pretty diverse, but one theme that definitely recurs is about “authenticity”.

People tell me they want to be led by someone who is a real person and who doesn’t pretend to be perfect. They say that they don’t want to be led by someone who sneakily tries to cover up the gaps in the strategy or ignores the inadequacies in “the way that things are done around here”. They say that being perfect is just unbelievable anyway. That’s it’s hard to respect and connect with someone who won’t admit to their flaws. And trying to live-up to someone who is desperately trying to be perfect is simply exhausting. Instead, people say they want a leader who is honest about these things, even if it might reflect badly on themselves.

My own experience, both with my coaching clients and as a leader myself, has been that it’s quite powerful to be open and vulnerable about where you might be less than perfect.

As a young first-time leader, I remember thinking that it might cause people to lose confidence in me, and in themselves, if I admitted all the things I had no idea about. I still think that there’s a slight risk in being open like that; that some people might lose confidence. But I also know it’s possible to be honest about your flaws, and those of the organisation, in a way that commits to addressing the important ones and doesn’t excuse things. If you want to, you can use the flaws, cracks and imperfections to connect with people in a powerfully human way.

I’m writing this in the week after the death of the Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, so it seems timely to include a message from his song “Anthem”:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

See also:

Kintsugi – (“golden joinery”) the Japanese philosophy/art-form, which treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kintsugi
 

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Choice Not Control

Whether you feel in or out of control, it’s probably an illusion. What you choose is what really counts

 

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Reduced Performance at Work

How to use Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to diagnose and deal with what’s going on when someone’s performance at work takes a nosedive

Maslow’s framework has been around since 1943, when he wrote a paper called “A Theory of Human Motivation”, seeking to describe and explain the behavior and motivation of exemplary individuals, including Albert Einstein. It has some flaws and critics, but since it is so well known and follows an easily remembered structure it’s also a great tool to use when somebody just isn’t delivering anymore, or seems to have become quite ineffective compared to their normal levels of performance. Here’s how to use it that way.

As a point of principle, the approach I’m going to describe here is essentially a ‘pastoral’ one – that is, it’s about looking after people rather than blaming, criticizing or trying to fix them. After writing his 1943 paper, Maslow subsequently extended his ideas to include his observations of human beings’ innate curiosity. If a member of your team is no longer performing, set your own innate curiosity alight. Perhaps by yourself initially but then certainly in partnership with the person concerned, get curious about what might be going on.

Start at the bottom of the pyramid.

Physiological needs are the physical requirements for human survival – food, water, air, sleep, clothing, shelter – and the sexual instinct (according to Maslow). Check that your team member is looking after themselves physically: just basic stuff like are they taking lunch, is there water to drink?

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to point out to often very senior clients that they are driving and flying big distances and working very long hours and that the reason their performance is suffering is because they are simply really tired. Do they have opportunities for rest? Can they work from home? Can they stay over one or two nights a week instead of commuting?

Can you mention the sex issue with a colleague? I would argue “yes” if you have a pastoral responsibility to them. But how you do so is likely to be determined by your organisational culture. Just be aware that it isn’t only younger employees who may be staying out late and/or drinking more alcohol than usual in response to their basic sexual instincts.

Safety needs are about feeling secure and free from actual (and the threat of) physical and emotional harm. Does this person feel safe? Is their physical, emotional and economic security currently threatened by anything? Perhaps there are some basic issues that need to be addressed. If you can, ask them how they’d like you support them in feeling safer.

Since change is now just about the only constant we experience at work, I’ve yet to find a workplace that doesn’t include some anxiety. Either about job security if there are threats or even concern over the unknown caused by positive opportunities for growth and change. Often, all of this is left unspoken. Commercial sensitivities can mean that it’s hard to tell people exactly what changes are afoot.

To the extent that you can, talk through these things:

“I wonder if you’re concerned at all about X? I can’t give you all the exact details of what we’re doing, but here’s what I can tell you. When we’ve been though this kind of change before, there have been costs but positive aspects too.”

Tell them what your intention is during this next phase of change with regards to them personally, even if it’s just in principle for now rather than full practical details. Fear of the unknown is usually greater than fear of known risks.

Love and belonging. The third level of human needs is interpersonal and involves feelings of friendship and intimacy. People need to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance among their social groups and a large part of that takes place at work. Many people become susceptible to loneliness, social anxiety, and clinical depression if their need for love and belonging is not satisfied.

My experience has been that the needs around social interaction and group-belonging are exceptionally strong drivers of behavior at work. Other psychologists since Maslow have written about things like Group Norms and how peer-pressure drives performance.

Is this individual getting on well with their peers and staff and other colleagues? Are they accepted for who they are? Are there any factors which might be isolating them or leaving them feeling disconnected? Do they have a mentor or confidant in the workplace?

Esteem is the need for respect from others and oneself. Needs for respect from others may include those for status, recognition and attention. The need for self-respect may include needs for independence, competence, mastery and self-confidence.

If someone’s performance has dropped markedly, has there been a change in what they might perceive as respect from others – for example, a change in their status or in the attention they get from bosses or peers? Are they getting appropriate recognition for who they are and what they bring?

Or perhaps their self-belief has taken a knock and for some reason they no longer respect themselves in a healthy way or their self-confidence is not what it was?

If you suspect that their self-respect might need a boost, now is a good time for you to adopt a coaching leadership style. Help them to see the situation for what it really is (probably just a bump in the road) and to set out a plan to deal with it, including some achievable goals and some learning, reflection and development.

Self-actualisation. Maslow describes this level as the desire to accomplish everything that one can, to become the most that one can be. People may perceive or focus on this need very individually, so that what is self-actualisation to me or you may be very different for somebody else.

Experience suggests that a drop-off in someone’s performance or demeanour at work can be related to their self-actualisation. Consciously or unconsciously, they may have re-appraised what they want from their life or career. Or they may have re-assessed their own ability or the resources required to achieve an important life or career goal.

This is a time for some fairly in-depth conversations with the person concerned and you may need to take it step-by-step, ensuring that you first have the depth and quality of relationship with them to trust and respect each other enough.

Can you help them relate what they want from their career and life with what is available from their current job? Can you help them plot a course to enhance their abilities and develop the right resources to maximise what their current role offers? Is there space for them to self-actualise somewhere in the organization, if not in their current role? Can you help them exit in a positive and useful way, if that is the best solution?

Developing Commercial Drive

The Top 11 Mistakes that Knock-back your Commercial Drive

I’m occasionally asked to help people develop their commercial drive. That is, to become more self-assured and motivated in making their business or organisation successful in its marketplace.

These requests come from people in the private, third-sector and, increasingly, from the public sector. They are sometimes experts, specialists and professionals who have moved into more generalist leadership positions.  And they are sometimes leaders in organisations where market-pressures have changed or where new ‘internal markets’ have been introduced. In either case, the overall commercial success of their business or department is a key part of their responsibilities and developing more commercial drive themselves is a necessity.

There are already lots of books and websites dedicated to helping you do great marketing. So I’ve focused here on the mistakes that you might want to avoid in your own internal attitudes and ways of thinking that can otherwise really knock-back your commercial drive:

  1. Not asking your existing customers what else they need you to do for them, or who else they know
  2. Not being picky enough about who you choose to work with
  3. Not being really focused on doing just a few things exceptionally well
  4. Forgetting how great and joyful it is to help people by doing what your business does
  5. Forgetting to tell your team and everybody else about number 4
  6. Thinking that the product or service you provide will keep being “good enough” without a plan for becoming the absolute best in the world at something
  7. Thinking you have to “sell”, and sell now, instead of building relationships
  8. Doubting your own ability to be great at being commercial, instead of just “Doing what you can, where you are, with what you have” (Roosevelt)
  9. Only having one strategy, one approach to being commercial and always trying to apply that, regardless of its relevance
  10. Being a frozen, rabbit-in-the-headlights, stuck trying to find the ‘perfect’ or ‘right’ way to be commercial, rather than experimenting with things
  11. Not Gamifying your thinking – every contract you win, every great project you deliver is a ‘level-up’ and provides a platform for even more success – if you use it.

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