Every Time

Poem: 12 things to do every time you want to go beyond yourself

When I started it, I wasn’t really sure what this article would turn out to be…

In the end, it more or less wrote itself anyway. Very early one dark, rainy Monday morning when I was feeling great about things. Full of determination and ready for the week. Looking at it now, I’ve laid it out a lot like a poem, so, I guess that’s what it is!

Enjoy 🙂

Every Time

Every time you doubt yourself,
Go do it anyway.

Every time you judge yourself,
Give yourself a break.

Every time you get a chance,
Lift somebody up.

Every time you’re not enough,
Be all that you are.

Every time your dream fades,
Dream it even bigger.

Every time you let us down,
Learn to ask for help.

Every time you need a leader,
Look into a mirror.

Every time you hit a wall,
Work your way around.

Every time you’re in the wrong,
Own it.

Every time you mess up,
Fix it.

Every time you stop short,
Start again.

Every time you fall down,
Get up.

© 2018 www.nickrobinson.org


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Empowering Beliefs (part 3)

How to get real about empowering yourself, by training your mind to filter and focus your attention

If you want to adopt ways of thinking and behaving that get great results and satisfaction (to empower yourself), or to help other people to do the same, here’s the third article in my series which looks at what we call ‘Empowering Beliefs’. These are the unconscious thought processes that can either really help or really hinder us.


This part is about how we can selectively focus and filter our attention towards the ways of thinking that empower us.


An immediate side-benefit of this kind of approach is that it tends to crowd out or silence some of that self-doubt that can otherwise creep in and undermine us.

What I’ve set out here for you is a really simple and effective approach. The key to why it works is that:

a) We rarely actually stop and consider what exactly we want to be ’empowered’ about. Just pausing and consciously putting into words the kind of ability or capability or attitude that we’d like to be operating is itself a powerful act;

b) This approach breaks things down into steps. You don’t need to follow them exactly, some back and forth is OK but, generally speaking, the steps I’ve set out here move from a kind of general sense of wanting to be able to do something, or behave in a certain way, towards getting a real concrete feeling of what that means;

c) It starts with getting clear about what kind of ability, capability or attitude you would like to have. If you’ve read some of my other stuff, you’ll know that this getting clear about what you want is an “Outcome” – and being clear about desired outcomes is the single most important thing you can do (in my not-so-humble opinion). It isn’t what you want to stop or be less of. It isn’t what you might feel you’re not good at. It’s about asking ourselves, “In what way do I want to empower myself?”

d) Lastly, because it works in steps and helps direct our focus in a positive way towards what we want, you can use this process, pretty much as it’s written here with other people, whenever you want to help them to empower themselves.


Here’s how you can use this approach.

1. Empowering Ability

Start by thinking about what you want to be able to do, or to be capable of doing, or what kind of attitude of mind you’d like to adopt. I’ve put it like that, in three slightly different forms, just so that we cover all the ways that people tend to think about these things. If you want to be really focused, or just to have an easy way of remembering how to do this with others, you can simply ask:

What do I want to be able to do?

And let’s call your answer to that question the [Ability].

I’ll put it in square brackets like that below as well, so you can track through what’s going on.

We can also use a real-life example from a client I worked with last week, whose answer was, “I want to be able to concentrate.”

2. Focusing and filtering our attention towards empowerment

Once we know a little about what it is we want to be able to do, then we can start using the way that our minds naturally focus on what’s important to us and filter out other stuff to start getting a handle on empowering ourselves. And since everybody approaches things in a slightly different way, you can use this approach to help somebody else apply an ability even if their best way of doing it would be different from yours. For this step, we would ask:

When I’m [doing Ability], what’s important to me?

And I’m going to call your answer to that question the [Criteria] because it reveals how you’ll judge whether you’ve got that ability.

Now we’re starting to get a real handle on what is wanted and to reveal the way that this person wants to approach having it.

To continue the example from above, I asked my client, “When you’re concentrating, what’s important to you?” And the answer came back, “That I’m working through until it’s finished.” So that’s how he’ll judge whether or not he’s concentrating – is he working through until it’s finished.

3. Defining the way we want to empower ourselves

Next, we get even clearer about what this means. We’ll ask:

What is [Criteria]?

I hope you can track through all this stuff in square brackets OK easily enough. To continue with that example from my client, I asked him, “What is ‘working through until its finished’?”

I could also have asked what does it mean to ‘work through until its finished’, or something like that. The crucial things are to (a) use the same words as him and not paraphrase; and (b) just to start getting more and more meaning and definition. What we’re doing here is taking a desired capability, an ’empowerment’ out of the vague and unconscious and into the real world. That’s where the power is in this work.

4. Focusing our minds on the evidence that will tell us we’re empowered

The last step in this part of the empowering beliefs process, is to get as concrete and real as possible about what kind evidence we want our minds to be scanning for. It’s almost like we’re programming ourselves to put aside doubts, fears and fantasy, and to start getting real.

The way to do it is to take that [Criteria] from above and ask something like this:

What do I see, hear or feel when I’m [Criteria]?

I’m going to call your answer to that, the [Evidence].

And to continue that real life example, I asked my client, “What do you see, or hear or feel when you’re ‘working through until it’s finished’?”

5. Next steps

After you’ve gone through steps 1-4 above, that’s often enough to shift things quite some way towards having that ability or capability or attitude of mind. My client who wanted the ability to concentrate, which meant working though until it’s finished, was able to use the evidence part as a kind of series of signposts to help him concentrate.

Usually people need a bit more than that and it’s necessary to ask something like this:

Now I know that the [Ability] I want is about [Criteria] and that I’ll recognise it from [the Evidence], what are the next steps I might take to empower myself?

Try some of this for yourself. Think of an ability, a capability, or an attitude of mind that you’d like to have, and track it through the steps above. Let me know how you get on please.


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Leadership and Physical Intelligence

How’s your Physical Intelligence – and how does this affect your ability to lead others?

I’ve long been interested in the idea of different types of intelligence. The developmental psychologist Howard Gardener described eight “modalities” of intelligence (which he later expanded to include two more), one of which is ‘Bodily-kinesthetic’ intelligence:

Gardner describes this as control of one’s physical movement and the capacity to handle objects skilfully. This also includes a sense of timing, a clear sense of the goal of a physical action, along with the ability to train responses. He believes that people who have high bodily-kinesthetic intelligence are generally good at physical activities such as sports, dance, acting, and making things.

Click here to see Gardner’s book on Amazon (not an affiliate link).

Whether or not you believe it’s actually an ‘Intelligence’, you’ve probably been around people who are really great at using their bodies. They can hit a tennis ball right by you without seeming to try. Or they can insert a needle into a worried patient’s arm in one easy motion. Or they can make great choices about their own physical health, in a way that sustains them really well.
What other kinds of physical intelligence or smartness have you noticed in yourself or others?

I learned from studying Emotional Intelligence, that you can think about each of your own intelligences as having two components:

First, a ‘Capacity‘. This is like the limit of your own intelligence (whether it’s Intellectual, Emotional or Physical etc). For some aspects of each of those intelligences, research suggests that your capacity is fixed – that is, it can’t be increased. What you’re born with may be what you’re stuck with. For other aspects, your capacity can be increased – you can stretch the limit and develop new capacities.

Second, there’s a ‘Utilisation‘. This is how much you use your current capacity. If you want to improve your intelligence, be it Intellectual, Emotional or Physical etc, making sure you’re actually already using all that you can use is probably the best place to start.

As I get older and my body stops taking care of itself quite as automatically as it did when I was younger, I’ve become more interested in aspects of physical intelligence. I’m lucky to have a wide spread of ages and occupations and interests amongst my coaching clients, so this is something I often just get a little curious about with them. What do they do to take care of themselves physically? How does their physical being impact on their presence as a leader? Are there links for them (as the evidence seems to suggest) between their physical intelligence and their emotional resilience?


If I bring to mind a dozen or so people I know really well who I’d regard as great leaders, it seems pretty clear to me that they have a good range of several of Gardner’s Intelligence Modalities. They’re smart people and they’ve worked at that. They are good at building relationships with others and they’ve worked at that too. And they all do something to maintain or even increase the utilisation of their own physical capacity.


What’s also interesting for me, is the range of things that these leaders do to utilise their physical being. There’s all the middle-aged cyclists of course. And there are swimmers and runners and tennis players and footballers and hikers and so on. But then there are also dancers and yoga practitioners and tai-chi masters and Nia movers and Five Rhythms people. The range of things that people do to be in great relationship with their bodies is huge.

This is not just about “fitness” – although being fit certainly seems to be part of Physical Intelligence. It’s more than just that though; it’s also about being aligned with and being fully part of our physical being, our bodies, as well as our mental and emotional existence. Without that, it’s hard to be a complete person – which is another important aspect of being a great leader.


It also seems to me that people who have a good relationship with their own bodies are more confident in their dealings with others, are less likely to get hijacked by their own knee-jerk responses and are generally happier and therefore more pleasant to be around.


What’s your view? Does your physical intelligence have anything at all to do with your ability to lead others, or to be successful in your work?

What’s the key? If you believed that physical intelligence IS important to leadership and general success at work and in life, and you wanted to improve your own where should you start?

In my personal experience, it’s all too easy to make this difficult. In the past I’ve managed to fill my own attempts to get physically smarter with all kinds of unhelpful beliefs about how much ‘should’ be possible for me. Or about how I need to keep the shambolic, beginner stages private. Or I’ve even fallen into the ‘no pain, no gain’ trap!

If we reflect back on my earlier points about Capacity and Utilisation, we’re actually talking about learning new stuff here – even if, in this case, it’s our bodies that are doing the learning. And the best learning is messy, playful, gentle and spontaneous.

Is that the way to improved physical intelligence?


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Progress not Perfection

8 little-known factors that could affect your ability to actually get stuff done

I heard this really useful phrase in a movie again last week: “Progress, not perfection”.

You might also have heard it before as “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good” or, as Confucius put it:

Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without

I’m somebody who really likes to polish and tinker with stuff until it is just right. Interestingly, my grandfather was a lapidary – someone who cuts and polishes precious stones and gems, so maybe it’s an inherited trait! Anyway, I often need to be reminded of how important it is to not let my desire for something to be ‘just right’ to actually get in the way of producing anything at all.

But it’s quite easy for people to say this kind of thing to you, without helping you implement it. I find it especially frustrating when people who aren’t that bothered about getting things right tell me that “done is better than perfect”. That’s easy to say if everything you do is a bit rubbish!

If you’re someone who likes to get things right, but also believes that it’s better to produce a flawed something than a perfect nothing, here are the major steps and questions I usually work on with my coaching clients who also share those values:

  1. What’s your definition of ‘progress’?  – get really clear about just what progress means to you, in this specific context
  2. The evidence you use to measure progress – how will you know when progress is being achieved; what will you see, hear, feel or read?
  3. The prior step – what has to happen first, or what is necessary in order for there to be any progress?
  4. Your motivation – if you were to make progress, what would that make possible? What’s in it for you?
  5. Your strategy – what are the steps, especially the first and second things you might do, that will lead to making at least some progress?
  6. Your fallback – what will you do if those first few steps don’t work?
  7. Your emotions – what kind of emotion helps you move from perfection to progress; how do you need to feel for that to happen? And what usually helps you feel that way?
  8. Your allies – who is on your side already in this? And who could be co-opted to your cause?

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Resourcefulness

Feel like you’re unstoppable – eight steps to being a powerful, Resourceful leader

Can you meet whatever situation life and work sends you – and show others how to do the same? Resourceful people can. Resourceful people have the initiative to grasp opportunities and the ingenuity to overcome their challenges. They can make powerful decisions and help their teams and colleagues to do so too.

We have a principle in the kind of coaching I do which is about regarding everybody as resourceful.

This is such an important thing that it’s maybe one of the first points I look for when I’m working with a new client. I ask myself:

How does this person regard themselves and the people who work for them? Do they think of themselves as someone who is able to meet whatever situation arises, and who is ingenious enough to devise ways and means to overcome problems? And do they think the same of their team and their colleagues too?

Perhaps one of the main reasons why regarding yourself and others as ‘resourceful’ is so important, is because the alternative is really awful. The alternative to regarding people as resourceful, is to see yourself and others as somehow fragile and dependent.

Now, it’s true that if you bend anyone hard enough and fast enough then they might break. But that is in no way the same as being ‘fragile’. And what’s more, breaks can be mended. And it’s also true that we are all, in some way, dependent on the people around us – like the poem says, “No man is an island” – but having those kind of human links, having dependencies, is not the same as being dependent, as being unable to function at all without others.


One of the loudest complaints I hear from poor leaders is that their people: “… aren’t resourceful enough”. They wonder why nobody works as hard as them or why their team: “… don’t show more initiative”. The years have taught me that this is a 90% certain sign that this leader doesn’t regard other people as resourceful. And usually, when I get the chance to dig a little more with this kind of leader, we find out pretty quickly that they don’t really feel resourceful themselves either!


All of us have times when we lose sight of our resourcefulness. Perhaps we’ve been stretched too far out of our comfort zones too fast or for too long. Or perhaps we’ve gradually had things pile up on top of us to the point where it’s difficult to remember just what we’re capable of.

It’s taken me a long time and lots of getting it wrong along the way to discover just how important this idea of resourceful actually is. Think of it like this. If it was possible to choose between two alternative points of view, which of these do you feel is likely to be most useful?

  1. In general, me and/or the people around me are easily broken and incapable of overcoming problems
  2. In general, me and/or the people around me are capable of meeting whatever situation arises and are skilled at solving problems.

If you could choose – which of those viewpoints would you have?

Us coaches tend to be very practical people, so we look for what works. And over the years I’ve tried a lot of things that don’t work! Now I’m pretty certain that the best leadership approach is to regard myself and others as fully resourceful.


The principle in my coaching work is that everybody has a natural ability to resolve the challenges they face and to grasp the opportunities around them.

When we forget that, or when I want to help others reconnect with their own innate resourcefulness, here are the eight steps that I follow:

1. Understand what Resourceful means

Two things are important to grasp in whatever your own or other people’s definition of Resourceful is:

First, that the word itself comes from the Latin ‘Resurgere’ – which means “to rise again”. Right there in the word is an important clue. Being Resourceful does not mean never falling, it’s about getting up again when you do.

Second, being Resourceful is a ‘capability’, something which can and should be developed, learnt and practised.

2. Start looking for Evidence of it

I think we’re predisposed to actually look for evidence of where ourselves and others are not Resourceful. Maybe this is even more prevalent at work. Perhaps it’s because the consequences of not being Resourceful can be (or seem to be) dangerous; and that we need to compensate for them. I’m not bothered by that, it seems a natural thing to want to do. But if we want to experience more occasions of ourselves and others being Resourceful, then we’ve got to start looking for evidence of when it IS happening.

To start looking for that evidence, answer this question:

What would you see, hear, feel or otherwise notice that would let you know when you’re being Resourceful?

3. Figure out what Thought-Patterns are useful to you

Once you know what Resourceful means for you or for others, and you know what evidence would let you see it was happening, two significant thought-patterns are worth exploring further. You can dive into them by answering these questions:

  1. What enables me to be Resourceful?
  2. What is necessary first, in order for me to be Resourceful?
  3. When I am Resourceful, what does it lead to or make possible?
  4. Why is being Resourceful important?

Your answers to those questions are the cornerstones of what some people would call an ‘empowering belief’ (kind of the opposite of a ‘limiting belief’). They’re at the heart of what might motivate you to be Resourceful, and they’re the primary clues to changing your behaviour if you want to be more Resourceful. So spend as much time exploring them as you can!

4. Become consciously aware of your fears

The stuff that we’re (usually unconsciously) afraid of is what most often derails our chance to be Resourceful. Being afraid of getting something wrong stops us from trying. Being afraid of looking stupid stops us from taking a risk. It’s hard to be Resourceful when your unconscious mind is afraid of what might happen if you try!

Other common fears include being afraid of getting hurt, of missing out, of failing, of letting people down, of not being good enough. There’s a lot! I’ve written about this stuff before, so feel free to browse around here. Once you stop and ask yourself honestly, what am I afraid of, or worrying about or being anxious of, it becomes much easier to see what’s going on. Don’t try to get rid of these fears – they serve their purpose – just get to the point where you’re conscious of them, and then…

5. Actively Make Choices

Making choices, intentionally and consciously, is a very powerful (and resourceful) thing to do. Otherwise we let habit, fear and expedience run the whole show.

You can use a structure like this, if you want to help yourself or others to make powerful choices:

  1. In order to be Resourceful, what three things do I choose to say “No” to?
    In particular, what do I choose to say No to being, to say No to doing and to say No to believing?
  2. In order to be Resourceful, what three things do I choose to say “Yes” to?
    In particular, what do I choose to say Yes to being, to say Yes to doing and to say Yes to believing?

6. (Re)Discover what Resourceful feels like in your body

Remember that there’s a dynamic aspect to being Resourceful. It isn’t just a static thing, it’s about rising again when we’ve fallen or when we’re stuck or when we’re faced with another fresh challenge.

What does each part of that dynamic process feel like in your body? What do your muscles feel like? What’s the temperature of it? What feelings do you notice in your gut, in your face, elsewhere in your body? When you get to the most Resourceful part, what does that feel like? And where in your body is the centre of your own version of Resourceful?

Daft as it may sound, getting to know what your own experience of Resourceful is like in this way can be a really helpful and grounding approach.

7. Connect with others

Don’t do all of this stuff on your own. I’m a very independent person and I respect other people who like to do things by their own efforts too and I know that it really helps to be wise enough to share some of it. You can learn from, lean on and bounce stuff around with other people in a way that just isn’t possible by yourself.

8. Experiment, Practice and Adjust

Finally, I said earlier that everybody has that natural ability to resolve the challenges they face. The best way to bring that out in yourself and in others is to experiment with it. Find opportunities to be Resourceful. Get curious about what that’s like. Practice doing it like your favourite sports person would practice their skills. When you notice something isn’t working, adjust part of it, and practice some more.


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Planning, Productivity and the Cumulative S-Curve

Time to focus on that small, regular progress which builds into really significant long-term achievement

I’m writing this in early September, just back from family holidays. It’s time to commit to and to get down on paper the priorities and achievements I want to focus on for the remainder of this calendar year. If you run your year quarterly:

  • Apr-Jun, Jul-Sep, Oct-Dec, Jan-Mar

then the start of the month before the next quarter starts is a great time to get this kind of planning done. (Which is why I’m doing planning for the Oct-Dec quarter at the beginning of September).

And, of course, any other periodic structure that works for you is just as good.


You might already know that people generally tend to under-estimate what they can achieve in the long-term, and over-estimate what they can achieve in the short-term.


One of the consequences of this tendency is that it’s really important to plan what you want to achieve in a cyclical way. To look at both long-term and short-term, and to link those together. Longer-term planning needs some ambition and vision. Shorter-term needs more realism. I’ve written before about how you might use the Rule of Threes to help with this.

Another way to think of it, is as a series of linked S-Curves.

Any project managers reading this will be familiar with the concept of the ‘S-Curve’: a graph showing how costs, labour hours, profitability or outputs in a project typically flow over time. Slower at the beginning, accelerating in the middle and slowing down again towards the end. There may even be downward slopes at the beginning and again at the end, as the rate of the input/output measure tends to drop at those points.

When it comes to how much you might achieve over time, your own S-Curve graph might look something like this:

If you can take the time each quarter to refresh this work and to intentionally plan the priorities and achievements that you want to focus on then, over time, you’ve got more chance of your overall achievements building into a kind of much bigger cumulative S-Curve. This is how small, regular progress builds into quite significant longer-term progress. I think it’s the accumulation of achievement in this way that’s behind our tendency to under-estimate just how much we can achieve in the longer-term.

If you were to make a graph of it, most project-managers (and technologists, who love this kind of stuff) will be familiar with the cumulative S-Curve graph, which looks something like this:

I often feel in this kind of planning process that the joy, spirit and motivation can all too easily get sucked out of the whole thing. Even if you’re somebody who does get excited about the planning part, it’s just as easy to lose heart when the weight of everything that needs doing becomes clear. Again, this is why it’s so important to approach this in a cyclical way. In the longer-term, a great deal can be achieved. In the shorter-term, we have to be realistic about what’s possible and find ways of motivating ourselves about it. I’ll leave you with some thoughts about stuff that does seem to help with that motivation part.

Whenever you do it, as you’re refreshing and planning the priorities and achievements you want to focus on, does it help you to also include things like these:

  • How do you want things to ‘feel’?
  • What’s exciting, attractive or rewarding about your priorities?
  • What needs to happen in order to stop the sky from falling in?
  • What does it look like? I mean, if we could jump in a time machine and travel forwards to when you’d achieved it, to the end of that S-Curve, what would we see, hear or feel in relation to each of your priority achievements?
  • How will you know when the end-point of an S-Curve has been reached?

Let me know how you get on please. What are your priorities? What timescales work for your regular planning and focussing?


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Managing or Leading?

Trying to be a great leader without also being a great manager is like an army with loads of generals but no sergeants

Today there’s a lot of emphasis put on being a good leader in organisations of all shapes and sizes. This is only right; leadership is one of the things that can make the difference between a business or an organisation being just OK and being great.

What I think leadership can’t do on it’s own, is to take a business from being new or poor to being OK. Or to sustain greatness once it’s been reached. To do those things, you also need great management.

I sometimes see individuals and organisations making the mistake of thinking that leaders and managers are different people. Maybe it’s an ego thing? Or something sensible to do (at least on an individual, short-run level) because maybe ‘leaders’ are considered more important than or get paid more than managers?


Whatever the reason, I reckon that a better way to think of it is as the way that people in your organisation spend their attention.


Way back in the early twentieth century, industrialist Henry Fayol wrote that all managers perform five functions: Planning, Organising, Commanding, Coordinating and Controlling. These days people still use Fayol’s definition of Management, but tend to shorten it to:

  • Planning
  • Organising
  • Leading
  • Controlling.

Right there we can see that the very definition of management actually includes leading – that is, leadership is a subset of managing and not a replacement for it.

Think of it this way – and I’ve tried to show this in the graph at the top of this article:

As you get more and more senior in your organisation the focus of your attention should shift away from the “Stuff” that’s involved in doing the Planning, Organising and Controlling that Fayol described. Now you need to give more of your attention to People. And that’s where your skills as a great leader come in.

You have to do this. A lot of my coaching work is about helping people to make this transition, to shift their focus away from managing the stuff and towards inspiring and empowering people.

If this isn’t done, if senior people don’t make this shift, it’s very hard for individuals, teams and whole businesses to rise above ‘OK’. This is why, when you ask someone how they’re doing, and they’re doing alright but not brilliant, they’ll reply: “It’s OK, I’m managing.”


However, this doesn’t mean that you do no management at all as you get more senior.

In fact, I’d argue that the smaller amount of your time and attention that remains available for managing means that you need to be really, really efficient and effective at it.

Your Planning and Organising needs to be spot-on AND to include other people, so that they can contribute to and buy into it. Your ability to Control (monitor, feedback and adjust) has to be light-touch, well-connected to the overall purpose of the business AND flexible and robust enough to adapt to external conditions.

As you make that essential shift and give more of your attention to leading through others, don’t forget how to still be a great manager too.

The sergeant is the army
Dwight Eisenhower


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Overcoming Obstacles

There’s no obstacle that can’t be overcome – the second most important thing that any leader should believe

(click the image above and then right-click it to save or download your copy.)

If you’d like to feel more able to overcome obstacles, and have more confidence that you can tackle anything that life and work throws at you, try working through these easy questions in the order given:

What do you personally mean by “overcoming obstacles”?

What would you see, hear or feel that lets you know you are overcoming obstacles?

When you are overcoming obstacles, what is important to you?
(and write that answer down – I’m going to refer to it as X in the next few questions)

Then answer either both of or whichever of these questions make the most sense:

What enables someone to have X?  Or…
What is necessary for there to be X?

And then answer either both of or whichever of these questions make the most sense:

Why is X important?  Or…
What does X lead to or make possible?

Write down as much of your answers as you can and keep coming back to them to get a deeper feel for what’s important to you around overcoming obstacles.
If you can, explore these questions with other people too.

It’s a great group exercise too, so if you want to lead a session with your team, have them work through those questions in pairs.

Think back to previous times when you’ve overcome something difficult. How many of the factors I’ve asked about in the questions above were present at that time? What else have you learnt from previous experiences when you overcame obstacles? Also, what might you need to Unlearn?

There’s even more you can do to embed these beliefs and empower yourself, including some of the less transformational but more practical things like, what do I actually need to DO. Have an experiment yourself and go overcome stuff!


I said in the heading that this is only the second most important thing that any leader should believe. That’s because you can’t get anything worthwhile done without overcoming obstacles, BUT even a cast-iron belief in doing so only gets you so far. It’s like repaying a debt. Okay, you clear what’s owed, but having overcome that obstacle, now you’re just back at zero. At square one.

As well as believing they can overcome obstacles, great leaders also believe that they are doing something worthwhile, something that makes a difference. Having overcome obstacles, that belief in making a difference of some kind gets you beyond zero and into plus territory. And that’s where the cool stuff is.


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Strategic Marketing

If you’re struggling to stand out in your marketplace, try going the extra mile.
It’s never crowded there!

Click the picture above and then right-click to download and save your copy.


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Self-Awareness – A Primer

Self-Awareness is the best start for leadership development. But how do you get that? What should you look for; and how?

The ancient Greeks had the phrase “Know thyself” chiselled on the doorway to the temple of Apollo at Delphi. Real knowledge, insight and understanding about important events and people in the world around them wasn’t possible they reckoned, without first having the foundation of self-knowledge.

If that’s still true today, how do you actually go about getting self-awareness? What should you look for; and how do you do it?

I think there’s perhaps three or more important areas to consider and I’ve set out some of those below. These are often used as early as the second or third phase in my coaching approach, as they’re so fundamental to the development work we need to do after that.

This is a fairly long post for me, over 1,200 words, because I wanted to give you a rounded sense of where to be looking, what to be listening for and how it feels to be embarking, in a structured way, on this kind of self-knowledge work. What I’ve written here isn’t the only way to go about it, and even at over 1,200 words this is still only a very quick jog around the park. Anyway, I hope you find it helpful in some way.

1. Your Values

These are the things that, at the moment at least, are intrinsically important to you. They can or might change over time or in a different context. Some may be more important than others, and that also can be fluid but, most of the time, they’re fairly consistent. Here’s my own top 5 Values:

  1. Making a difference / Usefulness / Legacy
  2. Excellence / Strive to be the best / Learn-Apply
  3. Congruence / Authenticity / Be true to yourself
  4. Independence / Self-reliance / Go do it
  5. Balance / Harmony / Wholeness

Note that these are in ‘strings’ of words, separated by “/” because often one word by itself isn’t enough to capture everything about a particular value.

A simple way to start to uncover your own values would be to remember a time, at work or at home, when things felt like they were going great, or just right, or were especially poignant in some way. What were the circumstances of that time? What was going on around you, who was present, how did you feel?

The chances are that during that time several of your values were being quite strongly upheld. People can often begin to identify those values by reflecting on that time and getting curious about what made it so great for them.

2. Your Thought Patterns

This is about how your (mostly unconscious) mind filters out what is useful information and what isn’t and how it then represents that information, so that you can make sense of the world around you.

Since this process happens very fast and mostly unconsciously, one of the best ways to uncover your own patterns is by way of a kind of compare and contrast with other people. Look at the way they do things, and see how it compares with your own way.

Here are two examples of the kinds of things to consider:

  1. Are you motivated into action more by (a) the chance to achieve a goal; or (b) the need to solve or avoid a problem?
  2. Do you prefer (a) to have lots of choice and variety, creating different possibilities in the way you go about things, or (b) do you prefer to stick to a tried and tested process?

Another important pattern became obvious to me when I got a new Satnav. My old one used to show me a map of my whole route when it had finished plotting. Only after you’d seen that ‘big picture’ screen, did it let you start navigating. But my new satnav didn’t give you that overview. Once it’d plotted a route, it just went straight to “Turn left”. I really found it difficult to trust the new satnav and would often ask my wife to just check the ‘big picture’ of the route in our tatty old road atlas, which she hated doing. Turns out, I’ve got a strong preference for thinking in big picture terms and, until I’ve done that, it’s really hard for me to get into the detail, even though I’ve trained myself (I’m an ex-accountant!) to work with detail. And my wife is the opposite, she’s fascinated by the detail, so she hated being asked to check the big picture of the route.

Again, these factors are not immutable, they can change and be changed. It’s important to not ‘adopt’ them as fixed determinants and to not use them to pigeonhole yourself or others, or to excuse bad behaviour.

It’s possible, although I don’t think it’s often that necessary, to go through about 20 or so of those key patterns as part of the coaching process in in easy conversational way with me. I don’t often do that, because I’d rather people take responsibility for their own self-knowledge than have me or some anonymous psychometric test do it for them.

As well as the kind of thought patterns I’ve described here, you could also look at key aspects of personality, such as introversion or extraversion. The important thing is to just look, listen, feel and think your way a little more consciously than normal really. The psychologist Carl Jung said “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

3. Your Fears, Doubts and Limiting Beliefs

What holds you back? What doubts do you have about yourself, your abilities, the kind of person you are, the way others might see you?

What things are you so unconsciously afraid of, that you’ll automatically come out fighting, even when that isn’t the best way to do things?

In what way do you sell yourself short? Or sabotage your own efforts?

What unwritten rules have you made up about how you have to “be” (e.g. a favourite of mine: “I have to be strong”)?

What shame or hurt are you carrying around about past experiences that made you feel inadequate?

I love working with fears, doubts and limiting beliefs because I see them not as ‘bad’ things, but as really useful data about what’s important to people and about how they might really shine, if they want to.

If you’re ready now to start uncovering some of your own possible fears, doubts and limiting beliefs, try completing some of the sentences below. Do it fast and without too much conscious thought:

I’m often too …………………

I need to be more …………………

I can’t seem to …………………

I should stop (or start) …………………

I mustn’t keep …………………

I shouldn’t always …………………

I must be less …………………

Every time I try to do ………….…….,   ……………. happens

I want to …………………, but that’s just the way things are

I don’t deserve to …………………

I ought to …………………

If you find anything at all, start celebrating, because that just might be the bit of self-knowledge that opens all the other doors. And if completing the sentences didn’t uncover anything for you, just try going back to those questions I’ve posed at the start of section 3 above and become curious about how any of those might apply to you.


After working through those three key areas, the next level of self-knowledge is to get really clear about what’s even more important to you than your patterns of thinking and your doubts and fears and about how you might apply your values to your life and your work.


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