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More on Outcome Focus

Is this the most powerful question you can ever ask?

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

“What do you want to have happen?”

This simple outcome-focussed question can do so much:

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

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


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

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

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


And how about you?

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

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


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


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How to give Moral Support and turbo-charge your leadership

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

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

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

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

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

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

Couldn’t be clearer to me!

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


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

What does offering ‘moral support’ even mean?

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

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

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

I can’t truthfully say that to this person

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

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

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

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

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

Who am I to offer moral support to others?

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

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

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

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

I know you can do this.


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Capability – Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confucius

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Behavioural Choice and Change (2/2)

Nine strategies for adopting new behaviours at work. For when you need a different way of doing things.

I wrote in a previous post about the principle in my kind of coaching that:

the person with the most flexibility is the one most likely to succeed.

That is, if leaders can adapt their approach, change their behaviours, in a way that remains authentic, then they’ll be more likely to overcome obstacles and to influence people positively. It’s also a very important consideration for those times when the way you’re currently going about things just isn’t working anymore.

If my previous post focussed on what needs to go on, inside your head, while you’re figuring out how to find and adopt new behaviours, then this post offers a simple menu you can pick from, anytime you want to try doing things differently.


First, think of something you’re trying to get done.

Maybe something which has a higher-than-usual level of challenge? Perhaps a task that involves people you find it hard to relate to? Or something which is a little outside your comfort zone? Or maybe something where you know that your usual way of doing it isn’t going to work now?

Then, go through these options – and see my notes at the end on how to choose the best one for you.

1. Think of a person who has one or two personal qualities that you either admire or reckon might be useful. How would that person behave in this situation?

2. Take a moment to reflect on what you are like at your absolute best. How would that version of you set about doing things?

3. If you remember your Monty Python and the Spanish Inquisition sketch, here’s an easy one for you – how would nobody expect you to behave?

4. When they’re faced with a task like yours, how do most people set about doing it?

5. Temporarily set-aside something that might be limiting your thinking. For example, how would you behave if time/money/quality [delete as applicable] wasn’t an issue?

6. How would you behave now if you already knew how things would work out?

7. How would you set about doing this task if you knew you couldn’t fail?

8. What’s the smallest, easiest, quickest way of doing it and how would you behave in that case?

9. If you were being outlandishly, outrageously ambitious in your behaviour, how would that change the way you do things?

The idea with this approach is to shift from only having one way of doing things, which sooner or later gets you stuck, to having a whole range of different ways of behaving. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it is possible for just about everyone. And don’t be constrained by my list – if there’s a new way of behaving that you’ve already got in mind or which isn’t covered by that list, test it out for yourself.


When you’re choosing which (new) way to behave, people often like to think about these issues:

  1. Which new way of doing things feels most authentic, like the ‘real’ me?
  2. Which way of behaving is going to be most effective given the task at hand, the people involved and the wider circumstances?
  3. Which is the most ethical way for me to behave now, all things considered?

Hope that helps? And remember, change is the only constant!


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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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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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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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Behavioural Choice and Change (1/2)

The most flexible person usually wins – how to generate choice and change in behaviours at work (1/2)

One of the things you’ll often hear me banging on about is the principle (in my kind of coaching) that:

the person with the most flexibility is the one most likely to succeed.

That is, if you can adapt your approach, change your behaviour, in a way that remains authentic, then you’ll be more likely to overcome obstacles and influence people positively.

In a leadership sense, you might hear people talking about whether or not somebody has “leadership range”, and this is the same thing. Can you adapt your leadership behaviours, the way you do leadership, to best suit the people around you, the circumstances you find yourselves in and the things you want to achieve?

When it comes to dealing with other people, it’s almost always easier to change yourself than to change others. Actually, in my view, getting others to change very often requires us to change ourselves in some way, even if its only to find a better way of communicating with them.


When you see this principle of flexibility in action, it’s a very powerful thing. People sometimes come here to my coaching studio feeling totally stuck. What they’ve got to do is create enough wiggle-room in their circumstances to get unstuck – like they need to spray some WD40 on a bolt that hasn’t been turned in a while.

And the best way to create that wiggle-room, that all-important flexibility, is to work on behavioural choices . On having different ways of going about things.


It seems to me to go a bit like this:

  1. If you’ve only got one way of doing things, then sooner or later you’re going to get stuck.
  2. If you’ve only got two ways of going about things, then sooner or later you’ll face a dilemma.
  3. When you’ve got three or more options, then you’ve got the ability to select what to do and how to do it, in a way most likely to suit the circumstances. Now you have choice.

I’m going to split the rest of this article into two, so I can tackle it with a bit of depth.

Carry on reading below to find out just what it is we’re talking about when we ask people to create choices in their behaviours. What is behaviour? What needs to be going on on the inside (mostly in our heads) and on the outside, when we’re looking for behavioural choice and change?

And then I’ll give some easy ways to actually generate more behavioural choices in this second article next month.

What Behaviour Is

In my very simplistic definition, behaviour has got two important dimensions.

First, the dimension of behaviour that most people consider (because it’s ultimately the only part that you’ll ever experience of somebody else’s behaviour) is what happens on the outside, and it’s this:

what you say and what you do.

This first, outside dimension, of behaviour is the one that most people start with when they’re looking for change. And it’s the kind of thing that’ll get reported to you in a 360 feedback or an appraisal. It’s also almost always the wrong place to start when you’re wanting to generate choice and change.

Where you should be starting, is with the second, far more interesting part of behaviour:

what happens on the inside, to generate what you say and what you do.

From a behavioural point of view, what happens on the inside to determine what you say and do on the outside has got four key factors. I’m summarising like crazy here, just to give you some useful headlines about this stuff. In a coaching session we’d dive into these and have a fun time exploring around each of them quite a bit. And I also know from experience that if you’re reading this because you might want to help yourself or others to create more behavioural choices and to see some kind of positive change in your outcomes, then even just working with this at a headline level can create a great deal of new wiggle-room for you. The four factors of behaviour on the inside to consider are these:

1. Why you do it (what’s your MOTIVATION?)

2. What Outcome you want to achieve (what’s your INTENTION?)

3. The Sequence of words and actions you might take to carry this out (Your STRATEGY)

4. What Evidence will you need to see, hear or feel to know that it’s working (what CRITERIA need to be satisfied?)

Just asking some basic questions and having a few moments reflection on each of those four factors can often be enough to generate new choices and the flexibility to succeed.


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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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What Time-type Are You?

How to use your brain’s view of time to understand and develop yourself at work – The Ultimate Guide

Try this simple experiment please:

  1. Stand-up.
  2. Now point to where the Future is.
  3. And now point to where the Past is.
  4. Now imagine the past and the future connected by a line.
  5. Does any part of that line run through your body?

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 Characteristics

(Time-type A = part of the timeline is inside you)

  • Usually able to stay very focused in times of crises or when chaos surrounds them
  • Great at “Just do it now” and of getting into action
  • Able to be ‘in the moment’ and enjoy life as it unfolds
  • Good at starting things spontaneously
  • May avoid setting goals or deadlines (or set unrealistic ones)
  • Tend not to plan things step-by-step or to think through the consequences of things
  • Like to keep their options open and may resist commitments or find decisions hard work
  • Unless they’ve worked on this (and most of my clients have) they can tend to be late and will regard even fairly big amounts of lateness as being “roughly on time”.

Time-type B Characteristics

(Time-type B = no part of the timeline is inside you)

  • Usually great at seeing projects through to completion
  • Tend to plan thoroughly, drawing on their learning from past experiences
  • Often live an orderly, planned life
  • Like to work to realistic timetables and will expect others to set and stick to deadlines
  • Will arrive on time and/or feel very bad about being even slightly late
  • Can see how events are related to each other
  • Find it hard to respond swiftly to a crisis
  • May struggle to focus in chaotic surroundings
  • Often find it difficult to be ‘in the moment’.

Development Suggestions

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.


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