Posts

Three Bullet Leadership

How leaders can set the agenda, focus attention and create momentum – in three easy bullet-points

This is such a favourite leadership technique of mine and something that I work on with lots of clients. Rather than write a long version, I’ve practised what I preach and written the short, bullet-point version here too.

This is one of the best tips you’ll read, for any leader who wants to really set the agenda or has big changes to implement. It’s great way to focus people’s attention and help them to establish priorities. Use it at the start of something important or if you want to give it more momentum or if you need to get something unstuck.

This is also a good way of not getting too involved in the hands-on doing yourself. It’s a straightforward way of setting out your stall, of influencing what happens by being absolutely clear what the priorities are and conveying that with unwavering precision.

Here’s the technique in three easy to remember bullet-points of its own:

  • Write down your top three priorities on a wide Post-it note, in succinct and plain language, not jargon or shorthand;
  • They can be actions that need achieving, culture that needs adopting, changes that need making, or a mix of the three;
  • Say them out loud, and keep on saying them, in that same succinct and plain language whenever and wherever you can, as often as possible.

That’s it – go out and make stuff happen!


As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach. How do you set out your leadership priorities?


Great One-on-One Meetings for Busy Managers




Too much to do?

Slow is Smooth; Smooth is Fast. The 3S’s of making hard work easy.

This is a saying that I like to remember whenever I find myself frantically trying to catch-up on too much at once. Slow is smooth; smooth is fast.

I couldn’t find any definitive reference for where it originally comes from, although it often gets attributed to US Special Forces and even Napoleon is credited with saying something alone the lines of “Dress me slowly; I’m in a hurry.”

I first heard it listening to a talk from Formula racing drivers – it’s apparently a good mindset for winning races and not spilling off the track in a corner!


The principle is easy to understand.

Rushing into things gives you less chance to assess the ultra-important 3S’s:

  • Sequence (what’s the best order in which to do things);
  • Strategy (what’s the best way to do them); and
  • Simultaneity (what’s the best number of things to be doing at once).

Over the years I’ve tried to figure out if Slow is Smooth; Smooth is Fast is best applied to either standard or non-standard tasks, but I think it works equally well both with things you’re familiar with doing (but have a lot of) and tasks that are unfamiliar.

Getting into the mindset of doing this well is similar to a flow-state (the subject of a future article on this website), in that it’s not something you push or try hard at. Instead, it’s about relaxing into things. As Yoda might have said: “Don’t try too hard; just do.”

Similarly, instead of trying to catch the racing car in front of you, it’s about making sure that you take the best line through the next corner, and the next corner and the one after that. That is fast.

“You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water into a cup, it becomes the cup. Become like water.”

Bruce Lee

As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach. What’s your approach when you’ve got way too much to do and not enough time to do it?


Great One-on-One Meetings for Busy Managers




Leading from the Light Side

One change that makes all the difference to your leadership, management and personal fulfilment

Please click the image above and then right-click to download or save your copy.

One great way to really up your game, as a leader, a manager or personally, is to regularly check-out which side you’re coming from. Is your motivation coming from the Dark Side, or the Light Side? The Dark Side isn’t bad – it can be useful in the short-term and in some circumstances. But it rarely gets people what they really want. The trick is to become conscious of our Dark Side motivations and use them to initiate a change of approach. Then we can actively choose a Light Side motivation for something that we really want to achieve.


As usual, please add a comment below if they’re still open, or tweet me @nickrobcoach – how do you make sure you’re not leading from the Dark Side?


Great One-on-One Meetings for Busy Managers

Seven Essential Leadership Tools

If you’re a visual person, you’ll love this. My seven most essential leadership tools – but can you name all seven?

Each of the images in the set above represents one of my most essential leadership tools. But I haven’t named them. The challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to correctly identify each of the seven leadership tools using only the image and your own brilliant perception.


As usual, please add a comment below if they’re still open, or tweet me @nickrobcoach – how many of the seven essential leadership tools could you name; what would you add or change?


Great One-on-One Meetings for Busy Managers

More on Outcome Focus

Is this the most powerful question you can ever ask?

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

“What do you want to have happen?”

This simple outcome-focussed question can do so much:

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

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


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

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

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


And how about you?

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

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


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


Great One-on-One Meetings for Busy Managers

Can’t Keep Up?

Feel like you can’t keep up?
12 ways to simplify your leadership

Do you want to work as quickly and efficiently as possible, so you can finish early and still have time and energy to do other stuff? You’re not alone. More and more I’m seeing people who say they want to do more at work, enjoy more time with their family, and have more time to relax, but that their actual focus is on “keeping up.”

It may be that you’re temporarily in a really tricky situation and you just need to get out the other side of it. But if not; if that sense of not being able to keep up at work is persisting longer than it should, take a look at these short tips for breaking the pattern.

1. Identify your Top 1 – 3 priorities for the day

And once you’ve identified them, do these first thing in your day, or do them in your quality time, or scrub-out something else. Remember, you’ve either chosen to work on your own priorities, or you’ve chosen to forward somebody else’s agenda.

2. 80% is More Than Good Enough

Identify what level of %age completion/quality is right for the task you’re involved with and don’t go 1% over. Perfect is the enemy of good.

3. Delegate the ‘What’ not the ‘How’

Make sure you’re only delegating ‘outcomes’ and not telling people how to achieve those outcomes. Be prepared to live with people taking a different approach to the way you might have done it. This is the ONLY option if you don’t want to, or can’t, do everything yourself – which you don’t and cant’!

4. Don’t use your Email In-tray as a To-Do app

It doesn’t work. It DOESN’T work. Email is for communication, not task-management. Get a simple to-do app and use that instead. If your email in-tray is overflowing, make a separate folder, dump everything into there and start again with a blank in-tray, this time using a separate app to record to-do’s.

5. Manage all your Emails (and other In-boxes) using the 5-Minute RAFT Formula

Everything that arrives in your various inboxes should be dealt with using the 5-minute RAFT approach, as follows:

  • R is for Reading – can you read an item in 5 minutes or less – and do you really, really need to read it? If so, read it when it arrives, otherwise, bung it into a Reading File and wait ‘til it’s a priority. Or Trash it.
  • A is for Action – can you action item in 5 minutes or less – and do you really, really need to do it? If so, action it when it arrives, otherwise, bung it into your To-Do app and do it when it’s a priority. Or Trash it.
  • F is for File – can you file an item in 5 minutes or less? If so, file it now. If not, wtf is it!?
  • T is for Trash – this is my favourite. Trash it. Hit delete. Gone and forgotten. Should be your default setting – can I legitimately just hit delete or chuck this in the bin and not get emotionally-hooked.

6. Under-schedule and Over-deliver

Rather then over-schedule and under-deliver! This is strongly linked with Items 1 and 12. The best way to do more is to try and do less. Focus, focus, focus. How jammed is your calendar, how hectic is your travel schedule? “Less is more” people.

7. Ask people for their ideas

Not only is this a good way to get and stay engaged with people, you’ll end up with new and different solutions that you wouldn’t have thought. Takes a bit longer in the short-term, delivers better quality and takes the load off of you in the medium-term.

8. Know and Say your Leadership Mantra

All leaders should be able to say what the strategic aim for their organisation or department is. “What we need to do is X, Y and Z.” Repeat this whenever and wherever until you’re sick of hearing it. And then repeat it some more. This way of simplifying really helps others to get behind the programme and take-up more of the effort themselves. You’ll be more than pleasantly surprised when you hear people repeating your mantra unprompted.

9. Work through People and on Tasks

And the more senior you become, the less you should be working on tasks and the more you should be working through people. Check how your current balance is on this and see if you need to spend more time leading and less time doing. See also 10 below.

10. One-to-one Meetings are your Main Tool for Working through People

There isn’t a better way to get things done than to sit down with your people individually and coach them through their own priorities. I’d give at least one day a week to doing this for every four team members I have. Use this Coaching formula:

  • What Outcomes are they working towards?
  • What’s in the Current Situation that you and they need to be aware of?
  • What Approaches have they tried or do they want to take?
  • What Support do they need?
  • How will you know when it’s Worked?

11. Build Relationships

I bang on about this all the time. Relationships are the key to getting stuff one in organisations.

“It’s not what you know.

It’s not even who you know.

It’s how well do you know the right people?”

Nick Robinson

When was the last time you prioritised coffee with a colleague just for the sake getting to know each other better?

12. Leaders think Short, Medium AND Long-term

So often we under-estimate what can be done in the long-term and over-estimate what can be done in the short-term. The key is to plan on all three time-horizons. What’s my priority for this year, for this month, for today – and how do they link together?


I hope those help a little? Give me a shout – add a comment below if they’re still open, contact me here, or tweet me @NickRobCoach if there’s something not covered or if you’d like to add one of your own tips.


Great One-on-One Meetings for Busy Managers

Managing or Leading?

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

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

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

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


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


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

  • Planning
  • Organising
  • Leading
  • Controlling.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

The sergeant is the army
Dwight Eisenhower


Great One-on-One Meetings for Busy Managers

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?

Great One-on-One Meetings for Busy Managers

Leading Millennials and Different Generations

The only Guide you’ll ever need for Managing those Tricky and Demanding Millennials
#Irony 😉

If you looked around the world of leadership and management at the moment, you’d be forgiven for thinking that there’s a real problem in the way that people born between the mid 1980s and the early 2000s – the ‘Millennials’ – are behaving at work and in how they need to be managed.

But actually, there’s a much simpler and lazier explanation as to why so much is being written about this generation and its leaders. Since April 2016 Millennials have been the largest demographic in the western world, in the USA for example, overtaking Baby Boomers (76m people) by at least a million. If you’re a member of or a manager of this generation, that makes you an easy marketing target.

Since I’ve been coaching different generations (from people in their 80s to their late teens and everything inbetween) for over 18 years now, I didn’t want to miss out on the chance to jump on this particular rickety bandwagon. So I’ve produced my own guide on how to manage the main generational groups.


You’ll see in the table below, that I’ve set out each generational group (Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z) together with their: Wants, Needs, Flaws and Super Powers.

And I’ve also given a series of four Top Tips for the Leaders of each generational group.

I’ve based this analysis on both my years of experience in working with different people and on some of the actual real research into what motivates and makes people tick. The definitions of the generations are vague (it’s done by marketing people…), and the birth years tend to overlap quite a lot; sorry.

If you have several different generations in your workplace, or are struggling to successfuly lead people from the Millennial group, then I hope this will help.


Click the picture below and then right-click it and select “Save as…” to download your own copy:

Great One-on-One Meetings for Busy Managers

Decision-Making and Ketchup

Why nature wants your decision-making process to be fast and frugal and how this is a problem at work

Nature wants your decision-making process to be fast and frugal.

Fast, because the primary purpose of your life, from nature’s evolutionary point of view, is to survive long enough to successfully reproduce. And most choices that might have affected your caveman ancestor’s chances of survival required fast and decisive responses.

Frugal, because the brain accounts for about 20% of our body’s energy usage.
If you waste too much mental effort deciding whether to hunt for game, collect berries or set-out fishing nets, you’ll be needing to collect even more food to refuel your brain.

This can cause a great deal of difficulty when we are faced at work or in our personal lives with a wide range of possible choices.

Have you ever had trouble trying to decide what  to buy in a supermarket? Experiments have shown that when shoppers are presented with a large  amount of potential consumer choices (e.g. chocolates, jam flavors) people actually end up making fewer purchases, and are less satisfied.

There was an episode of the Simpsons where the family visited a new supermarket called”Monstromart”; slogan: “where shopping is a baffling ordeal”. Product choice was unlimited, shelving reached the ceiling, nutmeg came in 12lb boxes and the express checkout had a sign reading, “1,000 items or less”. In the end the Simpsons returned to Apu’s Kwok-E-Mart.

And of course, The Simpson’s is a great mirror for real life. At one point in the last few years, the UK supermarket chain Tesco used to offer 28 tomato ketchups!


In an attempt to cope with the large amount of information and potential choices that we are presented with on a daily basis, we tend to rely on so-called “heuristics” (rules of thumb or mental short-cuts) that help guide our decision-making. In essence, heuristics are decision-making tools that save effort by ignoring some information. They act to reduce and simplify the mental processing of cues and information from our environment.


You’ll have possibly been under the the effects of these heuristics in your own decision-making when you:

  • Picked the same thing that you chose last-time, without even really thinking about it
  • Chose the option that most embodies the kind of thing you wanted (e.g. Heinz for ketchup)
  • Chose the option that you were most recently made aware of, or for which you most recently received information.

We shouldn’t think of these heuristics as a ‘bad thing’ by themselves. Other researchers have argued that  such smart and adaptive heuristics have successfully guided our decision making in various uncertain environments over millions of years of human evolution. When pressured for time and faced with many competing options, “fast and frugal” decision making can potentially enhance the quality of our decisions.

Problems with this at work can arise when we’re not aware of this innate drive for fast and frugal decision-making.

Think back to the last management or board meeting you were in when you were faced with an important decision. Did you feel energised or tired by the process? What was your sense of time during the decision-making: fast, slow, rushed, dragging?

The chances are, that if you felt tired and that time dragged, then you were under nature’s influence to have your decisions be fast and frugal.

If the decision you were all making was complex and important enough to require the attention of the management team or board in the first place, it may be that those heuristic mental short-cuts are not the best way to approach things. The consequences of bad decisions can be severe. Research shows that in business the top five casualties of poor decision-making are customer loyalty, company reputation among customers, profits, company productivity and customer service. And in some working environments they can literally be the difference between life and death.

There are a great many decision-making techniques that can help overcome these shortfalls (some of which I’ve written about previously), but for now, I want to focus just on your awareness of this issue. Here are some of my most significant bits of learning about countering the downsides of these heuristics in decision-making at work:

1. Be aware of people’s innate drive to have their decision-making be ‘fast and frugal’. Is it right, given the decision that you have in front of you, to take a fast and frugal approach? Or is this something that demands a greater investment of time and resources?

2. Don’t be blinded by a dazzling array of seemingly different options. Often the differentiation between various choices is not as significant as it seems (Heinz’ reduced-salt ketchup is possibly pretty much the same as Tesco’s own brand…).
If necessary, categorise your choices so that you can more easily see where the real differences are.

3. Rather than trying to close or narrow the choices down too quickly, open them out first. This is something I learned from being around creative people, who tend to be much slower to close down their options. Although this means they tend to take longer to get things going, I think it can produce new solutions to previously intractable problems. So open it out first – we might be faced with a choice of 28 different kinds of ketchup, but is ketchup really what we need right now?

4. Look out for information about your options that isn’t readily available. Dig a bit. This is the power behind the increasing use of ‘big data’ mining. Even if you don’t have access to big data, try to overcome the ‘reduce and simplify’ tendency that nature would like you to use in her fast and frugal approach to dealing with information.

Great One-on-One Meetings for Busy Managers