Coherent Teams

12 questions to answer when one important member of your team is not adapting to change or isn’t wholeheartedly on board

  1. Have you told them directly about what seems to be going on?
  2. Are they perhaps acting as the “unconscious voice of the system” – either as a safety valve that shows there is pressure in your organisation, or a warning signal that you’ve missed something significant?
  3. Is it really just them or, if you pay careful attention, are others also doing this?
  4. Is this a behavioural pattern for them that also occurs in other places and situations?
  5. Do you really need them to be any different?
  6. If the answer to 5 is “Yes”, have you actually asked them to change?
  7. If they were to change, what’s in it for them?
  8. What strengths and positive personal qualities do they have that they might apply in this situation (but aren’t currently applying)?
  9. What might they be afraid of (consciously or unconsciously), that is keeping them out of sync with your team?
  10. Can you adjust the circumstances in some way to better accommodate their preferred ways of doing things?
  11. Have you discussed this, in a ‘safe’ way, with the whole team present?
  12. What other support have you offered them to help adapt and/or get fully onboard?

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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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Good to Talk

The Zen of a great space for thinking out loud about ideas, concerns and ambitions

One of the best aspects of my work is how much people value the chance to just talk about stuff.

There are several things you have to do before, during and afterwards to make it work well, but, the most important message I’d like leaders and managers to take from this post is really simple:

having a good-quality opportunity to talk and think out loud about the things that excite, concern and drive us is a fundamental requirement for operating well and feeling good about things at work

If you’ve set this up well, people will arrive ready and raring to go, with lists, narrative notes or a thought-cloud of things they want to share.

As a coach, it’s sometimes surprising how little I actually have to do on the outside – the important part for clients is for me to ‘witness’ whatever it is they are sharing. And I’m often consciously working at not doing anything else other than witness during these times. I’m also working at not letting my opinions and my own concerns and ambitions crowd-out my attention.

Things that seem to make it a good quality opportunity for people include:

1. Environment
The actual physical space you’re in, which needs to feel fairly protected or perhaps isolated I think. Although you can do a lot towards that just by the way you interact and negotiate together about what’s to be said and how they want you to be during the saying of it

2. The Coach or Leader’s Attitude
Holding an attitude in mind where (as the coach) you can connect really well with whatever it is that you find genuinely interesting, magnificent or even puzzling about this person. This I think is the key to good, deep listening and should be what drives your body language and verbal ‘tics’ (the uh-hu’s and hmm’s etc)

3. Offering People the Chance to Just Talk
On a conscious level, people don’t always seem to know that they want the chance to just talk. So it needs to be part of the negotiations about what they want from you as their coach and I think you may sometimes need to offer it explicitly: “You know, people sometimes just want me to listen to what’s been going around in their head and in their experiences. Would that be useful for you either now or sometime?”

4. Confidentiality and Managing the Agenda
There are also the real basics, like your commitments to confidentiality and how it works if you’re this person’s boss and therefore also have to juggle your own and the organisation’s agenda as well as listening to them. Make sure you talk about these right upfront, preferably before offering an ear to someone. But do it not in an idealistic way, but in a way that includes and is explicit about the reality – what are the limits to the confidentiality you can offer this person? What are the potential conflicts with your own agenda for what you want them to achieve and what the organisation wants?

For me, being able to give someone the chance to talk about (and hear for themselves) their ideas, concerns and ambitions is an incredibly privileged and humbling experience. Instinctively (and I have more learning to do about this), my sense is that the experience of talking about these things should be really ‘zen-like’ – unadorned and aspiring to true insight.


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Beyond Impostor Syndrome

On the other side of impostor syndrome lies great possibility. Don’t just settle for the comfort of overcoming it, go beyond.

Almost everybody trying to do something challenging or worthwhile will at some point have felt that sense of Impostor Syndrome.

This is where people are looking to you to achieve something, but inside you don’t feel all that confident. You might worry that people will find out you’re just making it up as you go along, or you might somehow regard yourself as a fake because you don’t know all the answers. Or you might just tend to put down your successes to a one-off piece of luck.

Working on overcoming impostor syndrome is a great thing to do with your coach. But, my experience with clients has taught me that there’s a place even beyond that.

When I’m working with aspirational leaders who really want to make a difference and to have a positive impact, I invite them to not just settle for overcoming impostor syndrome, but to go way beyond.

On the other side is a way of leading that allows people to be really true to themselves, to not have to ‘fake’ anything and, at the same time, to be able to meet the leadership needs of the people around them. This is a gorgeous bit of work to be able to do. It’s about finding what your true strengths are, what your character is really about, and then seeing how it feels to apply that in ways that suit your circumstances.

The impact you can have when people get that you’re leading in a way that matches what they need and is totally genuine and true to who you are, is astonishing.

Like anything that’s really empowering, going beyond impostor syndrome to that place of fully-integrated leadership can be a scary transition. But, if you want it, it’s definitely worth the journey. Don’t just settle for the comfortable feeling of overcoming impostor syndrome, dare to go beyond.

When I let go of what I am,

I become what I might be.

Lao Tzu


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Famous Failures

A lot of very successful people started out with quite spectacular failures; here’s a few examples

This is a good video. Not mine, just found it on YouTube after doing some work with a client around fear of failure.

It feels a little incomplete without an erudite quote, so here’s a favourite:

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

Shakespeare, Measure for Measure


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“The Future is Here – it’s Just not Evenly Distributed”

What kind of leaders do we need to deal with today’s unparalleled pace of change?

When William Gibson, the eerily-prescient sci-fi novelist talked about the future being already here, he might have been thinking about TV reality shows, or ‘cyberspace’, or the cure for AIDS, or any number of the many other things he’s accurately predicted in his books.

However, I like to think he was describing the alarming rate at which change is coming at us, and how we’re all struggling to keep up.

Let’s be honest, though – change is not a new thing.

In about 500BC the Greek Philosopher Heraclitus suggested that ‘The only constant is change’, and I really couldn’t agree more.

Except, Heraclitus didn’t know just how fast and constant the changes would be, some two and a half thousand years later.

Take the global rate of economic growth (GDP):

  • For the first 2,000 years following Heraclitus’s lifetime,  GDP per person was pretty flat,
  • It started to steadily rise in the mid 19th century, (about the time of the Industrial Revolution)
  • For the last 100 years, it has grown exponentially, (in some decades literally doubling)

For example, somebody born in a western country around the end of World War II would have seen economic output more than triple over the course of their lifetime, while the baby-boomer generation have already felt it double in the first half of their lives:
GDP Per Capita

But what about the rate of technological change?

Technology gurus often talk about Moore’s Law – how processing power doubles every two years – but perhaps, just as important, are the rates at which people choose to adopt new technologies.

As this chart shows, when the telephone was first introduced in the USA back in 1876, it took 35 years to reach a quarter of the American population.

A little over a century later, it took the world wide web just seven years to reach the same proportion of people:

Rate of Technology Adoption

To stand any hope of managing the constant influx of change, we need to firstly, accept it, and then decide how to manage it.

Not an easy task.

Humans crave stability

Human beings are naturally inclined to predict stability. We assume that tomorrow will be roughly similar to today.

That’s why we look to our leaders to provide a stable environment and clarity of direction.

If we ignore changes in the external environment, or we fail to respond quickly enough, or we stubbornly stick to yesterday’s plans, we will fail. That is an acknowledged fact.

On the other hand, we can’t react to every single change.

Imagine the amount of energy and attention you’d need to constantly scan the ever-shifting horizon, and respond to every new development (it would bury the average business, and even huge businesses, with massive resources would likely see ‘paralysis by analysis’).

Similarly, flitting from one great idea to the next with no continuity and no sustained effort just won’t work for most organisations (even ones that sell fast-moving fashion items).

What we need now, and I mean NOW, are leaders who have the foresight to see through the background noise of constant change, and hook into the important trends, making bold decisions where necessary.

  • We need forward-thinking, infinitely-adaptable leaders with the personality to carry people through disruption after disruption.
  • We need brave, stoic leaders at the heads of our businesses and public organisations, with the force of will to keep things on track regardless of what gets thrown at them
  • We need objective, selectively-excitable leaders with the flexibility of approach to dodge around new obstacles and grab the right opportunities as they arise.

I think William Gibson was right. More and more ‘futures’ arrive all the time, and the rate of their distribution is getting faster and faster.

To be a truly great leader, you must organise your business effectively today, but lead it like tomorrow is already here.


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I’m Not as Good as You Think I am

The fleeting and subtle moments of self doubt before something big

A big part of my job as a coach is to see the potential and the magnificence in other people.
Often when we’re talking about a new role that my client is about to step up to or a significant professional or personal challenge that they are facing, they will drop hints or even be totally open about their lack of magnificence. I might hear things like:

“I’m not all that clever”  or

“I don’t really care that much about this project.”

What’s going on that they would raise that, and raise it now? Is it something as their coach that I should ask about then and there; or should we stick with exploring that new role or that big challenge itself?

It depends, of course, and I’ll usually go with a combination of gut-feel about the strength of feeling behind what they’re expressing and my knowledge of this person. Is it a pattern for them that they hedge or chip-away like that? Is it a request for support about something that (in my enthusiasm about them stepping-up) we may have overlooked or not stayed with for long enough?

I have to be aware that there’s a place where fear of what is actually possible, of just how much they might achieve or become, is actually more paralysing then the fear of what can go wrong. This is a place where the internal saboteur can become very subtle and very hard to spot.

What is it that a client is really saying when they tell me: “I’m not really as good as you think I am, you know”, and what avenue of exploration should I choose with them?

My personal rule of thumb is probably to work through a sequence of possibilities in my mind that goes something like this:

  1. Is this an opportunity to remind someone just how magnificent they already are?
  2. Is this a good chance to explore how it’s possible to be great, achieve amazing things and be frail and uncertain and human all at the same time?
  3.  What resources (internal strengths and tangible, external resources) might my client and I both need to bring to the fore right now or in the near future?

And what have the sages and poets had to say about it previously – here’s a great one from Marianne Williamson often (wrongly) attributed to Nelson Mandela’s inauguration speech:

“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. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

www.marianne.com


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Dealing with Overwhelm

The best tip you will ever hear for dealing with feelings of being overwhelmed comes from a swimming survival technique known as “the Dead Man’s Float”…

Sometimes even the most capable people bite-off more than they can chew, or just find themselves somehow off-track and heading towards overwhelm.

In those cases, we can learn a lot from a survival swimming technique known as “the ‘Dead Man’s Float”.

This is a metaphor I use a lot with clients when they say things like:

“Exceptionally for me, I’m not really sure I can cope”

“I don’t know how I’m going to deal with all the business as usual and make the changes I need”

“You know what, I realise for the first time, I’m actually feeling totally overwhelmed!”

If you’ve ever seen a panicked swimmer trying to stay afloat, you’ll know what this is about. In the fear of going under, they will thrash their arms and legs around with tremendous energy. But the problem is, thrashing about is the least-effective way of staying up – and actually creates turbulence that reduces buoyancy.

The Dead Man’s Float is a survival technique used for recovery, basically to stay afloat and rest enough to survive. The swimmer lies face down in water, arms and legs spread for balance, with minimal movement. Using the body’s natural buoyancy to float and lift the head only to breathe then back to floating.

The same technique can be used to deal with feelings of overwhelm at work:

  • stop thrashing around – it creates turbulence and makes things worse
  • stop expending massive amounts of energy from fear of going under – it’s a self-fulfilling, vicious circle
  • start using your natural buoyancy:
    • put your face down and relax your neck
    • be still and calm and rest your body
    • just see if it is possible to stay afloat without really trying

You might be surprised how buoyant you really are.


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The Motivation Equation

Motivation is like a chain – only as strong as its weakest link. Here’s my top five tips for motivating yourself and others

Motivation is a chain of unconscious questions or judgements that people make about things and is only as strong as its weakest link. Here’s my shorthand for the motivation equation, followed by a look at the questions or judgements that people make, along with my top tips for boosting personal motivation and leading others.

Motivation = Self-Belief x Task-Relevance x Outcome-Value

Self-Belief = “Can I do this task well?”
In my experience, personal self-belief is the single biggest factor in motivation and often overlooked by businesses. I’ve seen people move mountains with very little stake in the outcome, just for the sheer joy of exercising their personal empowerment.

Tip 1: Always start here.

Tip 2: When you need to motivate someone who is lacking in self-belief, remember Roosevelt’s saying: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” There is always something that somebody can do. Great leaders take the time and insight to find out what that is.

Task-Relevance = “If I do this task well, will it lead to the required outcome?”
People come undone at this link for two reasons. One: they only have one strategy, one way of doing things, and they always apply that regardless of relevance. Or two: they get rabbit-in-the-headlights syndrome trying to find the ‘right’ or ‘best’ thing to do.

Tip 3: Leaders need to encourage experimentation and the principle of failing forwards. Help your people to be more like scientists, engineers or artists: think of something to do that might lead to the required outcome, try it, evaluate its success, learn from it.

Outcome-Value = “How much do I personally want that outcome?”
This is the link where leaders most often seem to come undone, because they make assumptions about what’s important to others, based on what they themselves would want. By knowing what is important to individuals it becomes easier to frame the outcome, emphasising the elements which do match what is important to other people.

Tip 4:  For people who like achievement, emphasise the positive aspects of the outcome. For people who like to avoid problems, emphasise how this outcome will avoid something bad. If you’re talking to a group of people, mention both!

People are generally not that good at imagining forward to what things will be like when an outcome is actually achieved. Often, it seems to me, because they are focussed on the first two links in the motivation chain. I don’t think people actually do very much evaluating of what they really want or how things will be after something is achieved.

Tip 5: Good leaders paint a picture of how things will be once an outcome is achieved. They give people a feel for both the positive aspects and the problems-avoided by it (see Tip 4). They talk about what people will see and hear on the outside (the evidence) and how people might feel inside (the intrinsic reward).


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Are You a Leader?

Test yourself against these contemporary definitions of leadership and see if you fit the bill

Ask 10 professors and business gurus for a definition of leadership and you’ll get at least 20 different answers. These will range from the gnomic:

The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails.
John Maxwell
(that’s great John, will be useful next time I’m out sailing)

… to the prosaic:

 The ability to influence a group toward the achievement of a vision or a set of goals.
Robbins & Judge
(see ‘Organizational Behavior’, pub Pearson – really useful book though)

I’m such a simpleton and always so keen to get on and actually do things, that I need something a little easier to remember, straightforward to apply and easy to share. So here’s my definition. A leader is:

Anybody who wants to do something important
and needs other people to help.

How do you frame your own brand of leadership, and what does it mean to you?


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