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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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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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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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10 Ways to be a Smarter Leader

How to be Smart in a World of Dumb Leaders

Thank you for reading this. There is so much to be done in the way that some people lead and run businesses and organisations, that it really needs folks to spread the word about how things could be instead.

So many times I’ll be sitting in a work-group observing, or be finding-out second-hand about something a leader has said or done that just makes me cringe: “Ouch! Why did they need to say or do it that way?” You’ve probably seen or heard about something similar yourself?

I just looked back through my notes over the last few months to find these ten examples of what I reckon are the most important differences between Smart and Dumb leaders – it wasn’t hard to find these!

Please get out there and spread the word. Let’s have much more smart leadership.

Dumb Leaders: Smart Leaders:
Pretend to know all the answers Are brave enough to ask the tough questions
Struggle to hide their weaknesses Use their vulnerabilities as a chance to learn from and develop others
Never stop to see themselves how others see them Take the time to walk in different worlds and explore multiple viewpoints
Inflict their mood-swings on everyone else Successfully manage their emotions, to help read and influence the moods of others
Always look for the heroic, Hail Mary long shots Make sure the daily grind is being done well, to make the most of the right opportunities
Will happily, noisily and frequently tell you what they think – and even what you think Apply the principal of one mouth, two ears – seek to listen and understand before being understood
Don’t care who you are nor what’s important to you See each team member as an individual deserving of their attention
Slap-down ideas and actions that don’t fit into their way of doing things Encourage creative thinking and prudent risk-taking
Keep their plans secret Know how to use their vision of the future to motivate and inspire people
Have low standards for their own behaviours and will justify doing as they want, when they want Role-model the kind of high ethical behaviour that instils pride and earns respect and trust.

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Personal Development Basics

Angry, Anxious, or Chaotic?
Three simple techniques for when you really need to kick-start some personal change

Sometimes before you can do any significant behaviour change and development, you first need to shift your state to be a little more positive or flexible. Or perhaps you just need to get yourself out of a temporary ‘stuckness’. Here are my favourite quick and easy actions to create some space, order and momentum. You’ll still need to do the developmental work and growth that leads to longer-term, sustainable change, but these simple actions often seem to help get that started.

Click here to download as a pdf


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Overcoming Self-Doubt

Nine Lies the Gremlin likes to tell you that create self-doubt and sabotage your confidence

Lie 1:
You’re the only one who feels out of their depth, doesn’t deserve to be there or thinks they’re not up to the task

The Gremlin is a shorthand term we use for the process of self-doubt, inner-criticism or limiting self-beliefs that people experience. If there’s one thing that’s helped me have more empathy and understanding in the 17 years I’ve been doing this job, it’s the realisation that everybody experiences this process at one time or another. Step one in working with the Gremlin is to accept that this process operates for all of us – this knowledge allows us to be more accepting of other people and more empowering towards ourselves.


Lie 2:
You’re peculiar even for thinking about the process of self-doubt and self-sabotage, let alone for wanting to work on it

Imagine for a moment that you are one of the very first human-being-like creatures, sitting outside your cave one pleasant summer’s evening over 100,000 years ago. You notice that the tall grass in front of you is waving about. Do you (a) assume it’s the evening breeze gently moving the grass, or (b) assume it’s a rather large tiger looking for supper and that you’re on the menu!?
Clearly it’s safer to assume that there’s a possible threat on the horizon. All of us alive today evolved from those early humanoids whose survival depended on being aware of daily threats to their very existence. Later, as our early ancestors developed into social groupings, emotional threats to our place in the tribe were also important to avoid.
So our brains evolved to rapidly and automatically scan for existential threats and it’s this same ‘monkey-brain’ mechanism that today still seeks to keep us safe from physical and emotional harm. Nowadays, the actual physical threats are reduced and it’s the emotional ones that mostly concern us: “I might look stupid”, “I should be more self-assured”, I’m not a good enough X…”. Fortunately, we also have more evolved higher-brain cognitive abilities and can think and work our way past this Gremlin process.


Lie 3:
There’s nothing you can do about feelings of self-doubt and lack of confidence; it’s just the way you are

This is one of the most powerful lies the Gremlin tells us. Remember, this is an evolved process that is trying to keep you safe from physical and emotional harm. Outside of actual clear and present danger, its logic is flawed but powerfully simple: change is dangerous; the status quo is known and therefore safe; therefore avoid the unknown and protect the status quo at all costs. Change, and your own attempts to change and grow, are a big threat to the Gremlin.
This is why the most important step in working past this process is to begin recognising it for what it is – a safety mechanism evolved to protect the status quo. We can work with this most easily by looking out for the kind of phrases the Gremlin likes to whisper in our inner ear: (“I shouldn’t be so…”, “I must be a better X…”, “I can’t ever do Y again…”, “I mustn’t keep…”).


Lie 4:
If you were happier or were doing more meaningful work, you wouldn’t experience so much self-doubt or lack confidence

There’s a great poem by Marianne Williamson that begins

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”

I think this poem is a great way of reminding ourselves that this Gremlin process will also operate to sabotage the good stuff and make us doubt the good times, just as much as the bad. It operates to protect the status quo – positive work and fulfillment and the growth they can lead to are perhaps even more of a threat to that.


Lie 5:
You need a really well thought-out argument to counter your Limiting Self-Beliefs

Take one of the most frequent things I hear from people’s Gremlins, which is something like this: “I’m the only one around the senior management table who isn’t really on top of things”.

To counter this, people often run through the opposite arguments: I am qualified in my subject; I have got years of experience; I did do the preparation for the meeting; I do take the time to keep up with what’s going on.
But why don’t these arguments always work?
The problem is that the Gremlin process uses your strengths against you.
So conscientious people never feel they’ve done enough preparation. Or people who are great at analysis see all the flaws in their own case. Or people with high levels of empathy sense the doubt and confusion in others and assume it’s about them.
Because it uses the very characteristics that make you a strong person, you can never fight the Gremlin head-on and you shouldn’t try. One of my trainers told me it’s like this:

Never wrestle with a pig, because the pig just enjoys it and you both end-up covered in muck!


Lie 6:
You automatically feel like this all the time

The Gremlin process sits in the parts of our brains that autonomously scan for threats and trigger our emotions. So it works incredibly fast. Especially when compared with the logical ‘higher-level’ brain functions. This speed and autonomy can make it feel like it’s always there, even when it’s not.

To free ourselves from feeling that we have these self-doubts, limiting beliefs and lack of confidence all the time, we need to practise spotting the Gremlins ahead of when they are likely to happen. This way we can use the more recently-evolved and higher-level parts of our brains to determine in advance what we actually want.


Lie 7:
You need to get rid of your Gremlins once and for all

This is another way the Gremlin likes to try and set us up to fail – and therefore preserve the status quo. Remember, this whole process exists to keep us safe from physical and emotional harm. In the right circumstances, it’s a useful trait. Even if it were possible to be rid of this process (and I don’t think it is), trying to get rid of it just denies the reason for it being there in the first place!
Instead of getting rid of the Gremlin process, our development and growth actually depends upon seeing it for what it is and learning to co-exist with it.


Lie 8:
You are weak; All your previous efforts to overcome this have failed; Better just to avoid challenging situations

Put the gremlins to one side for a while and get curious about just what it is that this process is trying to protect you from. Often the (warped) logic is pretty easy to follow. For example: If you believe you’re weak you won’t try, if you don’t try you can’t fail, if you don’t fail you won’t get hurt.
Or: If you avoid challenging situations you won’t have to let your assertive side show, if people saw how assertive you really can be they might not like you and then you’d be alone and isolated.
Taking the time to understand just what this previously unconscious process has been trying to protect you from is a great way of not letting the Gremlin run the show for you. Once you know what it’s been trying to protect you from, then you can decide consciously for yourself whether you really need that kind of protection.


Lie 9:
You should be ashamed of your self-doubt and lack of confidence

I’ve left this one ‘til last because it’s a particularly insidious lie. So that you don’t do something practical to work on the process, the Gremlin actually judges you badly for its own existence. In effect, you can have a Gremlin about your Gremlins!
There’s nothing to be ashamed of for having self-doubt and not having as much confidence as you’d like, for all the reasons discussed above.

Working with this process is about making it transparent and learning to co-exist with it. Beyond that, become curious about your own future.

When you learn to co-exist with your Gremlin, so that you see it there for what it is, and it’s useful when it is useful but doesn’t stop you when it’s not useful – then; what might be possible for you?


Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt

William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure


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