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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.”
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.
Try this simple experiment please:
If you answered “Yes”, and part of the timeline is inside you, you may be a Time-type A person (see diagram above).
If you answered “No” and no part of the timeline is inside you (see diagram above), you may be a Time-type B person.
The way our brains perceive, sort and use time can be quite different for different people.
As with all of this stuff, there’s no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ way of looking at time. Just differences which have varying implications.
Similarly, this way of perceiving and sorting time is just a ‘preference’ – that is, it’s not a fixed and immutable aspect of who you are, it can develop, change and adapt over time and in different circumstances.
I’ve set out below some of the key aspects of each Time-type and given some development suggestions that I typically use with my executive coaching clients.
(Time-type A = part of the timeline is inside you)
(Time-type B = no part of the timeline is inside you)
Development activities for Time-type A people often need to focus on two areas:
First, the way they plan and set goals so that they can realistically deliver something and see it through to completion.
The trick here is to deliberately and visually swing their timeline around so that it’s in front of them, just as it is for a type B person (see diagram above). Any kind of visual planning method, particularly something using ‘swim lanes’ and running from left to right seems to really help. Working backwards from the future (from right to left) having established some clear and visualised goals also helps them be realistic about what can be achieved (whether they are being overly-optimistic OR overly pessimistic).
Second, their ability to take the learning from their past experiences and to fully process the emotions associated with them.
This is a little harder to do without some training, but I like to use methods which draw-on Type-A people’s ability to be in the moment. Take them back to a past experience. Discover what learning was in it. Then remind them how they are now and what new resourcefulness they have now as a result. Then project that forward (“How might you usefully apply that in future?”).
Development activities for Time-type B people often need to focus on these areas:
First, their ability to respond swiftly at work when unexpected stuff happens.
What makes this hard for Type-B people to do is that they’re great at seeing how one thing connects to another and of the consequences. Trying to make sense of all this quickly in a crisis is tough. The trick seems to be to take advantage of their abilities to plan and decide BUT to drastically scale-down their frame of reference. It’s as if, in the diagram above, you had completely chopped-off the future time-line so the range of options they need to consider is now very small. Anything which brings that frame of reference as close in to the ‘now’ as possible will help.
Second, their ability to enjoy themselves in the now.
Simple mindfulness meditation exercises, which focus on the breath, are very useful for this if practised over time.
Similarly, focusing on sensory experiences (what my American trainers would call “getting out of your head Nick”) also help. What can you see, feel, hear and smell right now? What colours are there? What are the textures? What are the different qualities of the sounds you notice?
Hope that helps a little?
Write and tell me or tweet me @NickRobCoach to let me know which Time-type you are and whether this matches your experiences please.
I’m having an interesting experience of this at the moment, planning some expeditions for kids, the first of which goes out a week or so after I write this post.
I’d set “Watersinks Car Park” (see picture) as the finish point. In my memory, this was a lovely spot and I had enjoyed walking there. So I was quite surprised to discover, when I drove there last weekend for a final reconnoitre of our routes, that it is really quite some distance out of the way for cars!
The significant of this is that although it’d be fine, even a fun exploration, for the kids to hike there, for their parents coming to pick them-up by road, it might be tricky. There’s no mobile signal, it’s not on most satnavs and it’s a lot smaller than I remembered!
It made me think about the assumptions I was having to make about those parents’ capabilities. How good might they be at navigating by map and driving? How they might feel about driving for quite some distance, with a significant height gain (and down again) along narrow, single-track lanes, especially if the weather is bad or the car park gets full? How long might the other volunteers and I spend waiting there for people to collect their kids, with no mobile signal, no refreshments and no toilets!?
In the end, I decided to move the finishing point to somewhere (slightly) more practical. But that doesn’t come without a price. It’ll mean the kids (and potentially us adult volunteer leaders) having to trek for a couple of extra kilometres and add another 80/90 metres of ascending for them. I chatted it through with a couple of people who know their stuff, and they agreed this was better, but it’s still my decision, my responsibility. And I know that I’ll still get some people (parents and kids) moaning about or struggling with the revised finish point.
How do you decide how far you can ask people to go, in a work context?
Is your way anything like mine – which tends to be like this:
How do you know how much to compromise – and what kind of price is worth paying to get most people to the finish line, even if you don’t quite meet all of your initial ambitions?
I have some previous experience with some (although by no means all) of the parents involved. So I think my assessment of their capabilities and attitudes, on average, is probably about right. At work, do you have enough understanding of people’s capabilities and of their current state of mind, to be able to judge how much you can ask of them?
One of my first thoughts, when I realised where this car park was, was to take the parents out of the equation altogether and use a couple of mini-buses instead to transport the kids ourselves. And I might do that if we want to get further off of the beaten track next year. But, for now, the mini-bus solution didn’t quite sit right with me. It’d mean me and one or more of the other volunteers doing even more work. And it’d mean less responsibility for parents, who (mostly) really enjoy getting involved.
When you’re asking people to go some way for you at work, how do you balance those kind of involvement and workload issues?
I say, let’s be as ambitious as possible AND balance out as many other factors as we can.
Perhaps the only way to get this dreadfully wrong is to not think about it intentionally in the first place!
How about you?
Fear is a very powerful motivator, a useful survival trait and a handy source of energy. But if you let your fear run the show entirely by itself and make your decisions for you, it has a nasty habit of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.
So that you don’t do that, here’s some of the most common fears I see in my coaching with people at work:
Once you can see your fears for what they are – a useful mechanism for keeping you safe – then you can decide for yourself what to do with that information and, crucially, what is the bigger picture of what you actually want to have happen.
Fear is information without the cure
John le Carré
Where you’ve got a group of people who are directly or indirectly dependent on each other for their needs, and when you can tell who does what and what their status is, then you’ve got a ‘Social Hierarchy’.
Social hierarchies guide behavior in many species, including humans, in many kinds of settings – domestic, work, and recreational. In each setting, the social hierarchy helps to define what’s considered the appropriate behaviour in that setting. Things as seemingly simple as how hard people work in your work-group are strongly influenced by the ‘social norms’ which form part of that hierarchy.
What’s also really interesting is that research shows that people’s social status strongly predicts their well-being, morbidity, and even survival!
And it seems that our brains are hard-wired to do this. In 2008, human imaging studies identified the specific brain circuitry associated with social status. Researchers found that different brain areas are activated when a person moves up or down in a pecking order. Or even when they simply look at people perceived as being their social superiors or inferiors. Circuitry activated by important events responded to a potential change in hierarchical status as much as it did to winning money – reflecting its influential role in human motivation and health.
So it’s no surprise then, that a lot of our focus and attention at work is around other people. Who said what to who, who is doing what, who’s on their way up (or down). We cannot NOT think about how our standing in the social hierarchy is affected by the actions of other people and by the events around us.
But it’s very important to realise that this hard-wired aspect of our brains and behaviour is just a survival mechanism. It’s like we’re all really still a big troop of monkeys, and the most important thing we choose to do is just to make sure that the other monkeys aren’t going to abandon, ostracise or exploit us.
This is one reason why I love that quote from Eleanor Roosevelt in the picture above: “Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people”.
Being like a kind of advanced troop of monkeys and spending all our time focussed on what other people say and do is not enough on its own. If you want to have real impact, monkey-stuff will not move things on, it will only serve to protect the overall social hierarchy. To create real progress or genuine individual advancement (which isn’t just “I win/you lose”), we need to move our focus beyond people and events, and into the realm of ideas.
Ideas which inspire new ways of doing things, which catch-on like wildfire, which disrupt the ‘norms’ – that’s where to look if you’re ready to stop just monkeying around.
What kinds of things might help you have your next great idea?
I’ve been thinking again recently about what it takes to get into that “Sweet Spot” – the point where you’re feeling right on top of your game, totally in the moment and like you’re actually making a difference.
There’s lots of things involved in achieving this it seems and those who are really interested could do worse than read the book “Flow” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Although I actually found this to be an ultimately slightly frustrating book, because it concludes, more or less, that you can’t actually ‘achieve’ a flow-state, it’s something that just happens to you. And that isn’t really good enough for the control freak in me!
Seeing as I have a great laboratory in my coaching practice, and clients who are crazy and willing enough to play around with this stuff, I’ve been looking at two of the dimensions that I reckon might required to get into that Sweet Spot. Have a go with these yourself if you’re up for some experimenting, and let me know if it helps you find your own Sweet Spot.
It’s my experience that one of the best ways to regard this, is to think in terms of familiarity. That is, the extent to which you’ve been there and done that – or not.
Studies have shown that being too comfortable means we don’t build up or maintain the resilience required to handle life and work. I’m calling this the ‘nilstress’ position.
At the other end of the scale, is the ‘distress’ position, where we’re so far out of our comfort zones, that our challenges are not able to be resolved through coping or adaptation. This may lead to anxiety, withdrawal, and depressive behavior.
In the middle, is the point that psychologist Hans Selye labelled ‘Eustress‘ – ‘Good Stress’. This occurs when we’re slightly pushed out of our comfort zones, but are not overwhelmed by it. Our goals are familiar enough but still require us to stretch. This fosters challenge and motivation and is indicated by hope and active engagement. (But note that even good stress which carries on for too long, i.e. is ‘chronic’, can be damaging to people’s health).
Chunksize refers to the size of tasks or goals you’re working on. As much as anything, it’s about how you measure or perceive that you’re making progress.
Set your Chunksize too small, and it feels like you’re crawling along, never actually getting anywhere, and just forced to work on things that are Meaningless and don’t make a difference.
Set your Chunksize too big, and every task, goal or problem just becomes totally overwhelming. If you’re stuck at this end, it may be you’ve developed a nasty case of Meaningitis!
In the middle there is the point we want to get to. At this Meaningful point, our tasks and goals are broken down into a size where we can see that we’re making progress. And where we can predict with a reasonable amount of certainty how much time and effort it’ll take to achieve our next objective.
If you can manage to put all of this together, then it might just be that you’ve hit the Sweet Spot. You’ve got challenges that take you far enough out of your comfort zone to be slightly unfamiliar and that require you to stretch. And you’ve got a chunksize set just right, so that you can see and predict how you’re making meaningful progress.
I hope you get a chance to play around with these two dimensions. Please drop me a line to let me know what you find, even (or especially) if your experience is different to mine!
You’d have been proud of me last week, because just occasionally us coaches do actually take our own advice!
When the Film ‘The Martian’ came out at the end of 2015 I was very happy to start using it as a fictional example of how to deal with potential overwhelm, overcome seemingly intractable problems and make powerful progress towards our goals.
I don’t know about you, but the thing that people always used to say to me, when I was faced with projects, tasks, problems or goals that just seemed waaaay too big to handle, was this:
Question: How do you eat an elephant?
Answer: One bite at a time.
But instead of helping, this just used to make me feel guilty and sick. Who in their right mind would eat an elephant!?
I much preferred the engineer’s approach: break the problem down into components and solve one problem at a time, and so it was great to see this exemplified in that film.
Anyway, last week, having perhaps bitten-off more than I could chew (although at least it wasn’t elephant), I did take my own advice.
You know already I’m a big fan of being focused. I reckon that solving one problem at a time is a great partner to that approach. These days, when there are so many ways in which we can be interrupted or have our attention diverted to something else, it seems that breaking things down into manageable components and then dealing with each one in turn, is a really powerful way of forging ahead.
So that’s the place to start then, if you’re faced with overwhelming projects, tasks that seem intractable, are feeling lost in the frenetic race to balance too many demands, or have big goals to achieve:
And if you’re still finding it hard to solve anything at all – and this often happens because it seems like everything is connected to and dependent on everything else – then you need to go back and think smaller at step one.
I had a very interesting coaching session this afternoon, talking with one of my clients about his time management.
Time management isn’t one of those subjects that comes up so often in my coaching sessions these days, I think because I’m more often asked to work on the less tangible but more transformational issues that help people be the best possible version of themselves as a leader.
But I still feel it’s an important topic for people to look at.
I used to run a workshop called “Creating Time”, designed for professional people who wanted to make more of themselves and their efforts at work. My opening gambit was that it isn’t actually (yet!) possible to create time and that we must instead focus on those issues around attention-control, decision-making and task-management that are part of great time management.
Some of the discussion with my client this afternoon was around how his time management system might not have evolved as his work situation had changed. We found this a really useful area to explore. We reckoned that what happens as your career progresses and the organisation grows is that:
All of this puts a great deal of demand on your time management skills and process – so they need to evolve to keep up. What worked for you as a junior manager might not be so useful as a senior leader.
These days, I’m a big believer that one person’s great Time Management System is another person’s admin nightmare. What works for me, might be really counter-productive for you.
I really like David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) approach and I’ve been using it since 2015. But, it has a really steep learning curve and requires at least a couple of dedicated days (if not more) to implement. It also needs constant attention and discipline. And, of course GTD is a task-management system, not a time-management one. Great time-management also requires those additional aspects of attention-control and decision-making I mentioned earlier.
On the whole, I think people should experiment with their own systems and adapt them to suit their own circumstances and preferences.
But that said, are there any principles or general rules of thumb which people should look at if they want to evolve or upgrade their own approach to Time Management? Here are a few things that might be useful to consider:
1. Do you feel in control?
If not, then you need to change part of your system so that you can clearly see where you need to take control.
2. Is your brain clear, rested and able to create solutions and face tough decisions?
There are two aspects to this, I reckon. First (and I think this is from David Allen’s book) your brain shouldn’t be your main tool for remembering stuff. It’s the best thing you’ve got for finding solutions and making decisions. Use some other system for remembering stuff.
Second, if part of your schedule doesn’t include time for you to be healthy, happy and whole, you’ll be operating at way below maximum potential – and who wants to function like that!?
3. Do you have one place, one reference point, that captures ALL of your to-do’s?
I know some systems don’t advocate this, but it’s one point I strongly recommend. Those of us who are responsible, can-do people, who want to make a difference and be at our best, should not be spending any of our attention or our ‘worry-quota’ on wondering if there’s something we’ve forgotten.
4. Do you consciously know what you’ve decided NOT to do?
This is kind of a follow-on point from 3. Having some certainty that you know everything that needs doing, can enable you to focus on what leaders should be focussing on – deciding what gets done and what doesn’t.
5. Does your system help you decide in what Sequence to do things?
For some people, sequence comes quite naturally. Actually, for about 40% of the working population, it’s one of the first things that comes to mind when deciding priorities. People who are natural sequencers need a system that allows them to work with this transparently, but which also takes into account importance – because of course the first thing that could be done isn’t necessarily the first thing that should be done.
People whose natural preference is not to work in sequence (and that’s also about 40% of the working population) need systems that give them a bit more flexibility, so that they don’t feel the time management system itself has ended-up railroading all their decisions. I personally feel that this is where a lot of time management falls down, forcing people to work in ways which run counter to their natural strengths.
6. Does your system support your oversight of other people’s activities?
I know leaders in very senior positions who have responsibility for up to 20 other people – who themselves are leading teams too. These are big spans of control. When I’ve been in similar situations, I’ve actually really enjoyed the buzz of it, of being at the service of those people, making sure that they can do what they need to do. And I think it’s a powerful way to make a difference. And, you soon find that you need some kind of system which helps you see progress on some important tasks, but which also helps you coach, guide and support those people. The rise of Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) as a way of doing this is part of an organisational response to these issues that goes back over 20 years.
Bottom-line – choose a system which supports your style of leadership, in your circumstances.
7. Do you have a way for deciding what task is most deserving of your attention right now?
And does that way of prioritising actually get the results that you want – if not, how might you need to change it?
8. Do you have ways of controlling your attention?
This is absolutely essential if you want to get the most out of your problem-solving and higher-cognitive functions. The distractions caused by email and other forms of interruptions will steal your day out from under your nose if you let them. Please find structures and ways of doing things that don’t have you working on some kind of knee-jerk autopilot, pulled all over the place by less important interruptions.
I’m sure we just scratched the surface of how your time management systems need to evolve as your career progresses, and of the general principles that need to support great time management. Let me know what else is important for you?
Actually, I don’t really believe you can empower anybody else, I think they have to do it for themselves. If you’re lucky as a leader, there are times when you might just be able to create the conditions that make it possible for someone to empower themselves.
I love the quote in the picture above. For me, it says almost everything about how leaders should go about creating those conditions – give away your own power.
I reckon there are two crucial ways that leaders ought to be giving away their power, if they do want others to empower themselves:
I’ve done plenty of leadership roles myself and I can tell you, when things really matter, when the outcome is an important one or when there are big things at risk, giving away power in those two ways can be absolutely terrifying!
It’s also the only way to absolutely get the best out of others, to stop feeling that you’re the only one who works at 100% and to grow beyond the limits of your own abilities.
If you’re a leader who would like to begin giving away more of your own power, so that you can get the absolute best from the people who work with you, have a ponder on these coaching questions: