The Motivation Equation and Self-Belief (part 1 of a series)

How to define the outcome and establish your evidence in order to get more Self-Belief and better Motivation at work

I’ve written before about The Motivation Equation and how leaders can use it to motivate themselves and others to get great results and feel good about their work.

In that original article, I said that motivation is like a chain. Our overall willingness to get stuff done and our overall feelings about our ability to achieve things are only as strong as the weakest link in that chain. In other words, in order to spur ourselves and others into action and to feel good about the ambition behind it, we first need to make sure that each of the components of the Motivation Equation as strong as possible.

Here’s the overall equation: The Motivation Equation: Motivation = Self-Belief x Task-Relevance x Outcome Value Click To Tweet

We can think of each of the links as a kind of question or judgement that people make about themselves and their situation. For example, in the Task-Relevance link, people might ask themselves: “If I do this task well, will it lead to the outcome that’s required?

This series of articles will take that much further and deeper, in a bite-size way, by looking at each of the links in turn, starting with Self-Belief.


Healthy Self-Belief – Steps 1 and 2

If you want to motivate yourself or someone else to have more self-belief – either as a way to increase motivation, or just because the right amount of self-belief is usually a good thing – you’ll find the first of my seven essential steps to healthy self-belief set out below.

In terms of our overall Motivation Equation, the question that people ask themselves or the judgement that they’ll be making about themselves or their situation for the Self-Belief link in the chain, is this:

Self-Belief is about asking ourselves, 'Can I do this task well?' Click To Tweet

One thing that’s really worth emphasising at the outset is that self-belief is highly-contextual. That is, it depends on what we’re doing, where we’re trying to do it and what our situation is at the time. This is one of the reasons why self-belief can vary so much over time. It’s also why my first essential step is about getting really clear about that context:

1. Define the Outcome

What exactly is it that you’re trying to do?

You might be surprised at the number of people I coach who’re not feeling good about their self-belief precisely because they haven’t been clear enough about what, specifically, it is that they’re trying to achieve.

I think that this is partly a kind of defence mechanism – if we’ve been vague about what we’re trying to get done, then we can be similarly vague about whether or not we actually succeed. But that kind of hedging your bets, not being clear about the outcome you want, or avoiding getting too specific makes it much more likely that your motivation will be similarly ill-defined.

So don’t be vague, get clear about the outcome you want to achieve. What exactly is it that you’re trying to do?

For most people, it can also really help to then consider step 2:

2. Establish your Evidence

How will you know when you’ve done it well?

Again, this is such a simple step, but one that can often get overlooked. It’s also one of the reasons why I encourage people to celebrate and mark the occasion when they’ve achieved something significant. By looking back at it in this way, people get used to evaluating things in a much more rounded way, including the emotions involved in that accomplishment as well as the hard data.

I think also, that one of the reasons why we might avoid doing that kind of post-achievement reflection is because things rarely go as well as our secret desires had hoped for. There’s usually some wrinkle, or some aspect that wasn’t as perfect as we might have hoped.

So don’t wait until afterwards to set-up those measures. Have them be transparent right from the outset. Ask yourself these questions:

  • How will I know when I’ve done this task as well as I’d like to?
  • What will I see, hear and feel that will tell me I’ve achieved it as I’d like to?

And remember to reflect on and celebrate those things afterwards too!


In summary:

The first two steps towards healthy self-belief are: 1. Define the Outcome and 2. Establish your Evidence. Click To Tweet

In the next article, I’ll continue with the Self-Belief link in the motivational chain and will look at:

  • Enabling Beliefs – what we believe enables us to do something well
  • Reason Beliefs – what we believe is the reason for being able to do something well.

I hope that’s been helpful in some way and that this bite-size approach works for you. Please look out for the forthcoming articles in this series. As they’re published, I’ll hyperlink them here.

As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach. Tell me about your own experience of motivation and self-belief, either as a leader working with other people, or for you personally?


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Connection Overload

Is conflict at work happening because people are overwhelmed by all the relationships they need to manage?

Talking with a client recently about the number of connections with customers and team members that he was dealing with gave me an insight into a problem I’ve been seeing more of just recently. The problem is this:

Sometimes, people who are great leaders, who are brilliant at their job and whose teams are delivering great results, can simultaneously have really poor relationships with their peer group of other leaders.

Why is that?

It seems weird to me that people with the interpersonal abilities to lead and manage so successfully aren’t also able to get on well with their colleagues. Somebody with those skills would be capable of great influencing, of good listening, of super coaching. So why weren’t they always being welcomed around the boardroom table as well?

Thinking about what my client had been saying, and about the sheer volume of connections he mentioned, made me wonder about this question:

Can people be overloaded by the amount of interpersonal connections they need to manage, so that their ability to have successful relationships in all areas is impaired?

In trying to answer that question, I remembered some research I’d seen around Dunbar’s Number and Compassion Fatigue…


Readers are probably familiar with Dunbar’s Number:

the cognitive limit to the number of people we can maintain stable social relationships with

The limit is thought to be around 150 people – for relationships in which an individual knows who each person is and how each person relates to every other person. (For those people we don’t have a ‘persistent’ relationship with – don’t interact with them that often –  the number could be higher.) I wonder how close some of us get to the limits of Dunbar’s Number, when we consider all of the client, supplier, colleague and team-member relationships we need to focus on? 150 isn’t a huge number. If you added up all the people you need to regularly connect well with, what does it come to?


Research also shows that there are limits to Empathy too.

Empathy: the ability to understand and share the feeling of others.

Empathy is limited in a number of ways, two of which are significant here:

  1. Empathy is limited in that it depletes our mental resources – the effort of keeping information in mind is mentally and physically draining. This is why people in caring professions are warned about the dangers of compassion fatigue – a subject I’ve written about previously here.
  2. Empathy is also limited in that it’s a finite resource until refreshed. Using empathy in one area of our work and lives reduces the amount available for other areas. This was shown by a study (click here) in which people who reported taking time to listen to colleagues’ problems and worries and helping others with heavy workloads felt less capable of connecting with their families. They felt too emotionally drained and burdened by work-related pressures to also be empathic at home.

Putting together the Dunbar’s number data and this sense of empathy as a limited resource, made at least part of this issue clearer for me. This is why some clients – often those who are otherwise great leaders – might sometimes struggle to be effective in relating to their wider peer-group. It’s quite possible that they are overwhelmed by the volume and range of relationships they need to manage.

If you’re at the head of an organisation, and you notice that some of your team leaders don’t seem to be getting on with each other, this idea of connection-overload might be one place to look.

Some questions to ask might include:

  • Are some of your team leaders having to spread their cognitive powers too thin, having to ‘know’ the preferences etc of too many people?
  • Is their empathy overloaded – their ability to relate well to others simply depleted?

As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach. Tell me about connection-overload in your organisation or for you personally. Where are the limits of your empathy? What’s your own Dunbar’s Number?


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Mission, Vision and Strategy Explained on One Page

Everybody is getting Mission, Vision and Strategy mixed-up and wrong – so here’s a handy one-page guide.

I don’t do much strategy work these days, in favour of my one-to-one and team work. But, I do get a little fed-up with all the remedial team and leadership coaching I need to do which is partly driven by organisations getting some of their structural factors wrong.

In particular, nobody seems to understand how Mission, Vision and Strategy should play nicely together, cascading from the top down. Other stuff that really bugs me includes:

  1. Why do organisations work on their values without having a good idea what their purpose is first? No wonder their people are confused about what their priorities are and how they should be behaving!
  2. And why don’t businesses get their long-term mission straight, before thinking about the mid-term or immediate future?
  3. Why does nobody seem to have a compelling vision now, instead of “Oh, let’s just carry on as before but maybe do a bit more of it.“?
  4. Why is everybody so terrified of doing proper competitive analysis that their strategy is really just a list of stuff they were going to do anyway, instead of a way to win in their marketplace?

Anyway, rather than just rant, I thought if I put it all on a handy one-page guide, that might actually be useful. Click the image above and then alt-click it to save as or download your copy.

As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach. Tell me I’m wrong, and that your organisation has a proper, cascading Mission, Vision and Strategy covering all the points I’ve listed.


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“Thanks, your work was almost adequate”

What should leaders say and do when someone’s work is disappointing?

The comedian Henning Wehn performs a joke about a German baby that doesn’t speak at all until it’s five years old – and only then to complain that things are no longer satisfactory.

Here he is delivering the punchline to Alan Davies’ setup on BBC’s QI:

This joke actually tells us a lot about the causes of a problem that leaders sometimes share with me – what should you actually say when someone delivers a rather disappointing piece of work and then expects some praise or thanks from you?

My challenge to those leaders when they raise this issue is this – have you been a bit like that German baby and been too silent until now?

By which I mean the following:

  • Have you previously set out clear enough expectations of what a great solution to this work would look like?
  • Have you previously given this person enough positive feedback so that they know what their strengths are and how much you value them?
  • Have you previously spent enough time coaching and developing this person, so that they’re definitely capable of delivering what’s required?

If you can’t honestly put your hand on your heart and say “Yes, I have previously done enough of that”, then you’ve been too much like that German baby and have spent too long being silent because things were tolerable before.


Your choices now that the disappointing work has been delivered are much narrower than before. And – and this is really important – the blame probably lays at your feet, because it means you’ve likely missed one of the factors I’ve described above.

I’ve spent lots of years not quite living up to my own standards as a leader and have coached loads of others through similar situations, so I have some experience. Here’s how I would chart my way through a ‘disappointing output’ situation:

  1. Say a proper thank you, like you mean it;
  2. Own up in a neutral and non-complaining way: “This is different from my expectations, can we talk through that?”
  3. Be specific: “I was expecting ‘A’ and this looks like ‘X’.”
  4. Ask for what you now need. If you can live with the output as it is, but want it to be better next time, skip this stage and the next. If not, you need to say something like: “I do need this to meet the following criteria (and list them), so I will need you to re-work it please.”
  5. Ask them to describe their version of that output ‘X’, by saying something like: “Tell me how you’ll know that you’ve done a great job on this, before it gets to me?”
  6. Ask for what they need from you: “What support, resources or information might you need from me, so that you can do a great job with work like this?”

Leading is a tough job. And even when you have done everything I’ve suggested above, people will still deliver disappointing outputs to you, for a whole load of reasons. Don’t be too tough on yourself though, despite my accusing you of being like that German baby!

My point is, it isn’t necessarily your fault, but it is your responsibility. If you want to be a great leader, and you’re not getting the results you want – try a different way. And if that doesn’t work, try another.

And don’t be afraid to seek that support that you need, so you can be as resourceful and flexible in your approach as you need to be.

As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach. Tell me how you normally tackle this situation, and how that usually works out for you?


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Efficient + Effective = Elegant

Why a stripped-back approach and a deep understanding of function is the most graceful way to empower people

I’ve been aiming to follow the formula in the title of this post for as long as I can remember but it was first put into words for me by the brilliant Derek Jackson and Fran Burgess who are now, unfortunately for the rest of us, retired from their training work.


Efficient + Effective = Elegant

Fran and Derek sketched it out on their whiteboard, talking about how:

  • Efficiencyworking with speed and economy; would combine with
  • Effectivenessbeing capable of producing the desired result; to produce
  • Elegancesimultaneously excellent and graceful.

This state of elegance was what I’d been after in my work, well, for ever!

I remembered a couple of occasions, back when I had a proper job, when I’d come close to this. Leading a team handling some really complex and high-pressure tasks where we were really getting great results with limited resources and where it’d felt just … easy.

Looking at Fran and Derek’s whiteboard in that classroom, I wasn’t really seeing their notes, but was remembering that experience at work which had felt – and I say this as a 6’2″, 100kg clumsy person – like doing ballet!


My wife is a designer and this combination of Efficiency + Effectiveness = Elegance is something you often come across in the worlds of design and architecture.

At the time of my studies with Derek and Fran, the Millau Viaduct – which is featured at the top of this post – was just being completed by Foster and Partners. This stunning bridge, still the world’s tallest at the time of writing, is part of the French autoroute from Paris to Béziers across the Massif Central, crossing the River Tarn between two high plateaux. In describing the bridge, Foster talks about a fascination with the relationship between function, technology and aesthetics in a graceful structural form. Foster and Partners said that they had a choice between two possible structural approaches: (1) to cross the river; or (2) to span the 2.46 kilometres from one plateau to the other. They wrote that although geologically it was the river that created the landscape, it is very narrow at that point, and so it was the second option, to go plateau to plateau, that provided the most economical and elegant solution.


One of my favourite writers, Ernest Hemingway, describes how his writing process is similar in that he would ruthlessly go back over his work and remove “whatever didn’t need to be there”. He talked about how he would sometimes strip away the unnecessary almost to the point where readers would need to invent some of the details for themselves. Hemingway’s writing, for me anyway, has a kind of aliveness I feel can almost touch, whether it’s in a small but “clean and well-lighted” cafe, or hiking over a Spanish hill with a heavy pack.

I love this kind of stripping back and removing the unnecessary. Or as Foster might put it, reading the landscape well enough to see what combination of technology and aesthetics would provide the right function in the most economical and elegant structure. This approach is what I want for my coaching work. It’s why I’ve had to boil down and boil down what I know until the real essence appears.

This is also why I don’t introduce a complex model of how to do something, when a simple coaching question will get the same result. Instead of a slow, laborious trudge, it’s just being sufficiently curious about how somebody might achieve something to begin unleashing their potential – and not showing-off mine.

It’s also why there are lots of times when I don’t even need to ask that simple coaching question. In the right relationship, with the right degree of trust and respect, I often find that a simple shift of my head or a slightly raised eyebrow is as good as asking the most brilliant question. Sometimes, I even think my eyebrow is better at asking the right question than my brain is!


The best thing about the Millau Viaduct isn’t that it’s a brilliant piece of architecture. It isn’t Foster and Partners that are making the crossing. The best thing about that Viaduct is that it enables you and I to cross from one high plateau to the next. And to enjoy the experience and to feel alive.


As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach.


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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?


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Leading by Standing Back

The fireworks school of leading and delegating: light blue touch-paper AND STAND WELL BACK

As I write this, it’s coming around to fireworks season here.

It’s been a little while since I lit any real explosive-based fireworks of my own, but I’m reminded of the safety label:

Light blue touch-paper and stand well back

The “… stand well back” bit is sticking in my mind at the moment, because it’s such a great metaphor for leading and delegating.

Readers of this website will know I’m a big fan of the type of leadership and delegation that inspires people – in a firework sense, the type that lights them up. Or, even better, that helps them to light themselves up.

What is often overlooked, perhaps especially by enthusiastic leaders who are good at creating the lighting-up part, is the “… stand well back” bit.

But this standing well back and watching what happens when you’ve inspired someone or helped them to light themselves up is quite possibly the most important part. This is when people get to learn by and for themselves just what they’re capable of. I’d go so far as to say that you can’t really delegate properly, if you’re not doing the stand well back part.


In a firework, the potential energy of its chemicals only fulfils its purpose when it takes to the sky. For the people you are leading, this is when they start to become all that they can be. Like a firework, part of this is unpredictable. You don’t really know how well people will do. You can’t entirely tell if they’ll blaze a trail, just phizzle-out or explode in your face.

But people are even better than fireworks. If they fail, they’ll try again. If they light up the sky, they can do it again and again. And when they do, they’ll never forget who stood back far enough to make that possible.


As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach. What’s the leadership or delegation challenge for you, in knowing when and how to stand well back?


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Leading Comes LAST

First you listen, then you learn, then you help, and then you can LEAD

Click the picture above and then right-click or hold to download your copy.

I love this principle, which I first learned only recently.

It comes from this article in The Atlantic, and is my paraphrasing of a quote from former US Defence Secretary James Mattis, summarising George Washington’s leadership approach.

As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach. What’s your current leadership challenge?


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Leadership, Role-modelling and Behaviour

Leaders cannot NOT be role-models – so be the right kind

I know I keep banging on about this, but Behaviour is such an important thing for leaders to get right.

If you have any kind of authority, responsibility, power or even visibility in your organisation, other people will base their own Behaviour on yours.

This applies whether or not you’re formally called a ‘leader’ or ‘manager’ or whatever. You cannot not be a role-model; so be the right kind.

If you want to know who in your organisation sets the standard for how things are done and what’s the right way to Behave with each other – take a look in the mirror. If you find yourself complaining or worrying about some aspect of the culture in your business, the person looking back at you from that mirror is the one who sets the tone.


People sometimes ask me, “Well, what do you even mean by ‘Behaviour’?”

The answer is simple – everything you do and everything you say.


What makes things tough for leaders and anybody who wants to manage their own Behaviour, is that what you say and do on the outside is actually the end result of a long chain of stuff that happens inside our heads and bodies – and which is often largely unconscious.

To make a start in managing your own Behaviour I recommend two simple actions:

  • First, as you interact with others, be very clear about what outcome you want to achieve. Behaviour without Intention is not managed. Remember:

You cannot hit a target which is not there

  • Second, have some kind of ‘Reflective’ practice. The best way is to keep a diary or journal where you can reflect on your day and set your intentions for the next.

You know yourself mostly by your thoughts. Everyone else in the world knows you only by your actions. Remember this when you feel misunderstood. You have to do or say something for others to know how you feel.

James Clear

As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach.

What aspects of being a role-model, or of Behaviour at work are important to you?


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One Page Leadership

What should leaders actually *do*?
The whole of Leadership on one page, free download, no sign-ups.

Click the picture above and then right-click and select ‘Save as…’ to download your copy.

Inspired by some work a client organisation was doing this week, I wanted to get the whole of my mental leadership checklist to fit on one page.

These are the factors I’ll typically run through when I’m coaching someone in a leadership role and want to help make sure they’re covering all the bases that their role demands.

It’s useful for newly-appointed leaders and well-established leaders who want to keep their approach fresh.

This is not the only way of thinking about leadership, but if you include all of these aspects, you can’t go too far wrong.

(This simple structure can also be especially useful in situations where people don’t already think of themselves as “leaders”, even when they’re responsible for and reliant on the work of several other people.)

As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach.

  • What aspects of your own leadership do you like to regularly check on
  • What advice would you give to other people who aren’t sure about their leadership?

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