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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 a second article next month (check this space for the link when that’s been written).

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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Why not make a difference when you can?

How to use simple observation skills to make someone’s day

A few experiences recently have reminded me how important this is.


I had my weekly ‘thinking morning’ in my favourite coffee shop earlier this week. New staff member is there, just finishing her training. I’m writing notes but also got my ears open and she asks the manager about the plants around the cafe. The manager says that watering the plants is on the roster, but that nobody really knows anything else about them. New staff member looks around and says: “They’re all succulents, simplest plant in the world to take care of. I’ll look after them.”

Of course, my spidey-sense is really tingling now, because here’s somebody who’s just revealed both an expertise and a sense of purpose. I decide to buy an extra coffee as an excuse to open a conversation: “I heard you mention succulents – sounds like you know your stuff about plants?

This simple bit of listening and initial nosiness was all it took for me to hear this woman’s life-story and how this was a stop-gap job until she could work as a florist. And you can tell when just hearing someone like this, being witness to their hopes is big deal! All the succulents were well looked after and sung to that morning.


Last month I had lunch with a friend who I first met as a business acquittance a few years ago. He never misses a chance to ask if I remember what I said to him back then, during what was then a tough time for him. I don’t really remember what I said, but I do remember the impression I got of him at the time, which was of someone just hanging-on by his fingertips, with the strain showing, but also with this little flame flickering inside him, of something very important he wanted to fulfil. Just looking at the way he stood and a simple bit of listening about what he was trying to achieve was enough to reveal all of this.

The way he tells it, it went something like this:

Him: “I’m not sure if I can take this anymore, and I’m at the end of my tether“.

Me: “Sometimes, all it takes to turn things around is just hanging-on a little bit more“.

And it seems that simple homily was enough, because now he does exactly what that little flame was all about.


Then an email arrives from a former client, somebody I coached nearly 15 years ago. It’s to tell me how they’ve just made the next giant step towards realising a business plan we first crafted, on a beer mat (it’s a long story, but I kept a supply of them back then for doing just that…) , all that time ago. The email includes the line: “Do you remember when you asked me about X? That was the real turning point for me.

Again, I don’t really remember what I said. But I remember thinking about how strong and determined this person was.


So, this is my really important learning.

That there are opportunities to say and do things which make a huge difference for people, just waiting around for us to grasp them. And that people will remember you did this for years and years.

All it takes is a simple bit of observation, listening to what they’re saying, taking in all the other impressions you have of this person. And reflecting back something true about them.

As it’s so possible to do this, why not do it whenever you can?


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Self-Awareness (1)

9 Expert Questions and one handy Diagram for Building great Self-Awareness

The best starting point for any development and growth at work, whether as a leader, a team member or just as your individual self, is the place of “self-awareness”.

And I’m talking here of self-awareness in a wide sense.

If you’re looking at self-awareness just as an emotional intelligence tool, then you’ll be focussed too narrowly, just on the awareness of your own feelings. What I want you to get, is a self-awareness about the whole you. That’ll include your drives, flaws, experiences, ambitions, assumptions, patterns of behaviour, values, resourcefulness and more. But also, and maybe more importantly, the big picture of what it’s like to be you. And what’s it like to experience who you are.

This kind of deep self-awareness really is essential to any kind of development. It’ll answer questions right down at a tactical level about what you want to be doing with your time and effort and how best to interact with the world. And it’ll act as a kind of beacon, keeping you heading towards the more important, bigger picture of what you’re about.

Sometimes this kind of self-awareness is forced upon us when something we’re trying to achieve goes wrong. Then we have to re-assess things on a personal level. And at other times, self-awareness comes out of a ‘gap’, a sense that something’s missing or unfulfilled.

Overcoming the uneasiness and discomfort around this kind of self-knowledge is important both to make sense of what’s happened so far and to move forward.


If you wanted to get some more self-awareness without being forced into it by that kind of circumstance, how would you go about it?

One of the best ways is to pretend to be your own observer.
Check out the diagram alongside. (If you click it and then right-click it, you should be able to download a copy.)

First, imagine ‘seeing’ a version of yourself. Get a sense of who this person is, and what’s important to them.

Second, imagine you could observe how this person goes about interacting with the world about them and with other people.

There are many things you could be observing and getting a sense of, but to get you started here’s some of the things I’ll typically be asking my clients about to help them develop their self-awareness. We talk about them as if they were another person, so instead of saying “what’s important to you”, I’ll get them to practice being an impartial observer of themselves by asking, “what’s important to this person?”.

Here’s some of the aspects you might be considering as you pretend to observe yourself. It’s a fairly long and deep list, so don’t feel you have to get all of this straight away:

  1. What kind of things are really important to this person?
  2. What’s the story of how they got to where they are today? And what did they have to overcome, sacrifice or achieve to get here?
  3. What are they like, at their absolute best?
  4. What qualities do they have that make them a resourceful person? What personal attributes, skills and knowledge can they call upon?
  5. What holds them back or keeps them stuck?
  6. As they interact with the world, how clear are they about what outcomes they want?
  7. Thinking of a specific interaction that you want to understand more about, what was their intention at the outset? Did what they wanted to have happen, actually happen?
  8. How wide is the range of choices they have about how they approach things; do they have one typical way of operating or a wider range?
  9. What are some of the assumptions, hidden beliefs or ‘rules’ that they have about the world, about themselves and about others?

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How to Like Yourself and be Honest about your Faults at Work

5 Steps to Effective Behaviour Change at Work – the Silver Dollar Technique

One of the (apparent) paradoxes I love about my work revolves around this little dichotomy:

1. People can’t change if they don’t like themselves;

BUT

2. People won’t change unless they’re honest about their faults.

People can’t change if they don’t like themselves. This first point is true because real change requires a positive mindset. It needs the ability to move towards something specific and attractive. If your mind is in a place where you’re constantly beating yourself up, or feeling at fault, or where you don’t like the underlying person that is really you, attempts to change just don’t work.  They get sabotaged, overtaken or drowned-out by a focus on what’s wrong.

But the second point is also true. People won’t change unless they’re honest about their faults. If my delusion that I don’t need to grow or change is so complete, where’s my motivation to change? If I can’t see myself as others see me, to understand the impact I have in the way that I do things, how do I know that a different approach might also be possible?

But seeing your faults is painful and raw. Knowing that your typical way of doing things is having a negative impact on others usually doesn’t make you feel like high-fiving yourself.

And this is the situation that about a third of my clients find themselves in when they arrive for their first coaching. They’ve come to me because their way of doing things at work is no longer getting results. Often, their behaviours are out of sync with other people, or even causing problems. If the situation has been allowed to continue for too long, this person may even have acquired a reputation for negative behaviour that precedes them; that is worse than their actual behaviour.

This is a tough situation to be in, and a hard one from which to to make effective changes.

So here’s one of my favourite techniques for resolving that dichotomy and making effective change in behaviour at work.
To learn to like yourself and all your traits, and to be honest about your faults.

I call it the Silver Dollar Approach to Behavioural Change, because (a) a Silver Dollar has two very distinct sides; and (b) I’ve got a Silver Dollar that I brought home from Las Vegas and am very fond of. This technique is so easy that you don’t even really need a Silver Dollar to make it work.

Step One – Identify a Quality

Identify a quality of yours, or a way that you tend to go about things, that you either like or don’t like (it doesn’t matter which). Let’s use a real example of something that was given to a client as negative feedback:

“Well, I’ve been told that at team meetings I can be like a bull in a china shop”.

Step Two – Give that Quality a Neutral Label

Give that quality a neutral label, one that can describe how it is, without an overly negative or overly positive connotation. It may take some exploration and discussion to find the right label. The coach’s job here is to check for neutrality in the term; beyond that, the client should be allowed to call that quality whatever they want. The label can be one word, a couple of words or even a short phrase. Here’s what came up with our bull in a china shop example:

“I suppose you could call that being Direct“.

Step Three – You’ve Got a Silver Dollar

Imagine that quality was a Silver Dollar. So now we’ve got a Silver Dollar with the quality of being “Direct“.

Now, whether you tend to hang out in Las Vegas or not, you’ll know that a Silver Dollar is a valuable thing. If you’re a cowboy, you probably keep one in your boots to pay for your funeral. In my view, everybody should have several.

Joking apart, what I’m trying to say here, is that all human qualities have value – and they also have two sides.

Step Four – the Two Sides of that Silver Dollar

So the thing about this Silver Dollar is that its value depends on where you are and on what kind of situation you find yourself in.

We can use the two sides of the Silver Dollar to think about different types of situations:

Side 1 – can be about situations when this particular Silver Dollar is really, really useful.

Side 2 – can be about situations when this particular dollar is less useful, maybe even counter-productive.

To continue our example, here we have a Silver Dollar that is about being “Direct“. Now go ahead and explore that quality:

  • What are the kind of situations at work when being Direct is really useful?
  • What kind of impact can it have when you bring out your Direct silver dollar at the right time?Now flip your dollar over:
  • In what kind of situation is Direct less useful?
  • What’s it like for other people when the Direct silver dollar comes out at the wrong time?

Step Five – We all have many Silver Dollars

This is a key step in the process. What’s often happened for people who are struggling at work is that they’ve been relying on one of their strongest qualities too much. They’ve unconsciously seen that it worked for them in the past, now they use it in all situations regardless of whether it will work or not. They’re spending the same silver dollar over and over.

The coach’s job at this point is to explore a number of other qualities that this client also has. Look for qualities, ways of being, typical styles of doing things. And especially listen out for qualities of theirs that the client might not like.

For example: “I can sometimes doubt myself and I try hard not to show it”, can become the quality of “Intuition“. And being able to say in a meeting: “Actually, my intuition tells me there’s something we don’t quite understand here”, is a great partner to the quality of being “Direct“.

Keep going until you’ve identified number of qualities and have explored when they’re most useful and when they’re less useful.


The thing I love most about this technique is that you’re not so much asking someone to change, as actually helping them to bring out different aspects of who they really are, at times when that is useful for them. For me, this resolves the dichotomy I mentioned at the start, because you can both like all the qualities that represent your behaviours and be open to how they impact other people.


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Empowering Beliefs (part 2)

Why asking yourself ‘why’ never works – How the search for meaning steals your power

One of the great strengths of the way the human mind works is our ability to make meaning of the world around us. This happens all the time, mostly unconsciously and starts at a very young age.

You’ll have seen how young children never seem to stop asking questions that seek to understand the meaning behind things: Why is that tree green? What does that lady wear such a big hat for? Why aren’t there any more dinosaurs? You’ve probably got a few favourite examples you’ve heard yourself!

I think there’s a clear advantage to us as humans to be able to do this. As we were evolving as a species, being able to interpret and understand the world around us, to know what certain events and significant moments mean, would have been of great help. We see food that is an unusual colour and we know it probably means it’s unsafe to eat. We notice smoke and understand that it means fire is nearby. Loud and sustained shouting may mean that a violent confrontation is taking place. Three or four people heading-off in a different direction to us might mean that they know about a food source.


This pattern continues through our lives. We notice something important, or a significant event happens, and in order to make sense of it, we interpret or attach meaning to it.


And it’s also useful that this meaning-making process mostly occurs unconsciously. Imagine if you had to stop and think about everything all the time in order to understand its meaning. There wouldn’t actually be enough time left to do anything with the information! It’s important that our minds have these kind of shortcuts so that the meaning of everyday events and interactions with others isn’t something that we consciously need to analyse and interpret. Otherwise it could quickly become overwhelming to do so.

But problems can arise when the meanings that we give to significant events or moments become like rules or automatic shortcuts. When we start to believe that X always means Y. Or when we automatically interpret X as meaning Y, when a wider view of the situation or a more complete weighing of the evidence might suggest a different meaning.

In those cases, this ability to look for the meaning behind things can become a hindrance not a help. When we’re looking for the meaning behind an event or interaction and it’s not making sense or it doesn’t fit the usual pattern we’re expecting – to continue searching for it can be particularly disempowering.

Here’s some simplified examples of real-life meanings/interpretations that typically come up for my coaching clients at work:

  • My colleague never smiles at me; she doesn’t like me.
  • My team member was late for our appointment; he has no respect for my time.
  • The Board haven’t responded to my email; they can’t be interested in my idea.
  • I always feel out of place in our Executive meeting; I ‘m not the kind of person that belongs here.
  • I can’t seem to get everything done in the time available; I’m just not disciplined enough.

You can see that the pattern for this kind of thinking goes like this:

  • This thing happened; I interprete it to mean that…

This pattern becomes a problem, as I’ve said earlier, when we assume that “this” always means “that”; or when a wider view would suggest something else. AND – it becomes a really disempowering pattern when we put our focus on finding the meaning itself, but the meaning isn’t actually what’s important.


A great way to uncover whether or not you’ve got into a disempowering view of these events, is to check out if you’re asking yourself those kind of “Why” questions:

  • Why doesn’t she like me?
  • Why doesn’t he respect my time?
  • Why aren’t they interested in my idea?
  • Why can’t I be more assertive in the Executive meeting?
  • Why can’t I be more disciplined with my time?

These kind of “Why” questions are a potentially useful indicator that you’ve slipped into a disempowered mindset. In a way, it’s a kind of return to being like that little child, trying to make sense of the new and huge world around them. And wanting a grown-up to explain it all to them.

In those situations, we need to stop searching for the meaning we expected to find. We need to stop taking that automatic shortcut. Fortunately, there’s very easy way to do so. Here’s how.

For the reasons described above, us coaches very rarely ask “Why” questions of our clients. In fact, if your coach asks you a “Why” question, it’s quite likely that they think they’re spotted an unconscious meaning or interpretation of yours that is not helping you – and they’re trying to uncover it more fully.

Instead of trying to figure out the “why”, your coach will help to look beyond that automatic search.

Let’s take that first example from above. Instead of asking about: “Why doesn’t my colleague like me?”, your coach will help you shift your focus to something much more empowering – a bit like this:

Coach: What do you actually want in this situation?
Client: All I really want is a good enough relationship with her so I can do my job effectively.

Coach: What evidence would you need to see or hear to know that your working relationship was good enough?
Client: Mostly it would be that she answers my calls or gives me time when I need help with issues in her speciality.

Coach: If you didn’t have that straight away, how would you go about getting it?
Client: Actually, and this has worked in the past, I’d either book time ahead with her, or check if it was OK to go directly to one of her team members.

Coach: And how do you feel now about her not smiling at you?
Client: Well, I know that smiling and being seen to be friendly is important to me; so that’s what I’m going to do myself. I’ll never really know if she likes me or not, but that isn’t what’s important here.

This is a much more empowering and useful way of interacting with the world. So next time you find yourself focussing on the “Why”, try this sequence instead:

  1. What’s actually Important to you
  2. What tangible Evidence do you need so that you’ll know when you have that important thing
  3. What Strategy (the how) will you use to get what’s actually important to you.

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Trust Yourself

How to take charge of your self-doubt

Maybe I should start with a confession.

By nature, I’m actually a fairly nervous, cautious and uncertain person. People who know me well get this, and they also know that:

  1. I don’t mind people knowing it, because I’m very happy to be messily human and to live with all the flaws and imperfections that come with life; &
  2. I’m really, really good at managing my nerves, fears and uncertainties.

People who don’t know me that well tend to assume that I’m extremely confident because I choose to trust my instincts, I don’t let anything stop me, and I’ll take appropriately-managed risks in pursuit of what’s important.

But this is all learned behaviour for me.

I’ve written before about imposter-syndrome, about dealing with your gremlins and about other related topics. Explore my blog and you’ll see that this is an important area for me. Not just because it’s something I need to consciously and consistently manage myself but because it comes up again and again in my clients. Often people who are attracted to work with me because of the perceived confidence they see.


Helping people to trust themselves is a core part of my purpose.

I’m especially interested in helping those people to whom others look for inspiration. Call them leaders if you want (they rarely tend to use that term themselves, even when it’s on a nameplate outside their door). It’s just that there’s something extra about the need and responsibility to take charge of your own self-doubts when other people are depending on you. If you don’t do this, people will unconsciously sense it. They’ll be puzzled by inconsistencies in your behaviour, they’ll hesitate when you ask them to do something stretching, and they’ll be less compelling in their interactions with your clients, customers and colleagues.


If I could conjure up some kind of holy-trinity of ways to take charge of your own self-doubt, it would be the three, deceptively simple things I’ve set-out for you below. Of course there are other techniques and tools and ways of dealing with what is a natural part of the human experience, but if you can get on board with these three, nothing need ever hold you back again.

Also, I’ve set these out fairly simply, without much exposition or argument because I really want them to stand out as self-evident truths.

What I’d most like is for you to test them out in real life.

Take a couple of weeks to monitor the level and kind of self-doubt you’re experiencing. Score your self-doubts on a 1-10 scale, keep a simple journal or log, and see if your experience changes once you adopt these ideas.


Rule One: Self-Doubt has an important purpose; it’s meant to keep you safe

Your experience of self-doubt is a perfectly natural part of being human that evolved with us for a very good reason. It’s meant to keep you safe. To stop you from doing stuff that might get you killed or injured; or to stop you being ostracised from the support network of your friends, colleagues and family.

You are not wrong, stupid, weak or inadequate for experiencing self-doubt.


Rule Two: Self-Doubt is largely physiological and your body is the best tool for dealing with it

There are brain chemicals that mediate the functioning of our guts, our perceptions of the resources available to us and our moods – all at the same time. Each element of our mind-body system interacts with the others. The food we’ve eaten (or not eaten), the amount of sleep we’ve had (or not had), the movement of our bodies, the amount of oxygen in our bloodstream. It’s all in a complex and largely self-regulating system. Because of this, very simple physical changes on our part can shift our self-doubts extremely quickly. A brisk walk. A glass of water. Lifting the head. Looking at the sky. A simple meal. A few deep and controlled breaths. A chat with a friend.

If you’re experiencing self-doubt and want it to change, always, always, always start by shifting something physically.


Rule Three: Self-Doubt doesn’t go away, so learn to walk alongside it

I’ve heard people say stuff like: “You have to kill your doubts”, “You have to get rid of them, once and for all”. But if you understand the origins of this process (see Rule One, above), you’ll know that killing your self-doubts or trying to permanently get rid of them is pointless and even counter-productive. I believe it’s much better to treat your self-doubts like a kind of nervous friend. Someone who really has your best interests at heart, but maybe doesn’t quite understand everything that you want to do or achieve in your life and work.

I sometimes imagine I’m out on a hike with this friend and they’ll often point out where we might get lost, or where we might slip over. And because of them I’ll see the bit of tricky navigation, or notice the rough ground when I might not have seen or noticed that before. Then we can choose to carry on with the hike if we want to. Just helping each other out as we go.


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