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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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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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Self-Awareness (2a)

How do you make people feel? The importance of Intention in our interactions and four key hints for leaders who want better Impact.

As a leader, manager, colleague or supplier to other people, the personal impact that you have on others is perhaps the single biggest determinant of the quality of your relationship with them. And it’s that relationship which will make or break the success of what you’re trying to achieve.

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
Maya Angelou

If you click the diagram at the top of this article you can download or save a copy. You’ll see that there’s two important aspects to the Impact that we have on other people:

  1. Intention. This is about what we’re trying to achieve when we have an interaction with someone else;
  2. Result. What outcome did we actually get (which might be different from our intention).

For great self-awareness, we need to be conscious of both of these aspects of our impact on others. This article is going to look at 1.Intention, and I’ll cover 2.Result in a later one.

I like to break it down into those two steps because we’re often operating on a kind of autopilot when it comes to our interactions with others. But the issue here is that you can’t not have an impact on another person. They WILL notice how you made them feel, even if it was that you made them feel nothing.

If your relationship is a purely transactional one, no emotional content, no ongoing interactions likely, no need to trade favours or if they’ve no choice about helping you, then I suppose you could safely skip all of this stage. But how many purely transactional relationships can you actually think of? For most of us, and I would argue most of the time, the personal impact that we have on someone, even when we’re just asking for a task to be done, is hugely important to getting those things done well.

So be very clear about what your intention is before you start an interaction, or before you respond to one.

Sometimes leaders need a bit of a framework for their personal interactions. Below you’ll find my simplified cheat-sheet for the kind of impacts that leaders should be looking to create whenever they have an interaction with someone.

To boost your own self-awareness of the impact you have on others, start being really conscious about the intentions behind your interactions. The key question to answer is this:

“As I interact with [person], as well as the ‘transactional’ reason for doing so, what kind of impact do I want to have on them?”

I would argue that any leader should be intending to have one of these four impacts in each of their interactions with others:

  1. to have them experience clarity and direction
  2. to have them be inspired
  3. to have them feel nurtured, cared-for or looked-after
  4. to have them be empowered and be growing.

How about you, what impact do you intentionally want to have in your next interaction?


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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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