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.

Empowering Beliefs (part 2)

Why asking yourself ‘why’ never works – How the search for meaning steals your power

One of the great strengths of the way the human mind works is our ability to make meaning of the world around us. This happens all the time, mostly unconsciously and starts at a very young age.

You’ll have seen how young children never seem to stop asking questions that seek to understand the meaning behind things: Why is that tree green? What does that lady wear such a big hat for? Why aren’t there any more dinosaurs? You’ve probably got a few favourite examples you’ve heard yourself!

I think there’s a clear advantage to us as humans to be able to do this. As we were evolving as a species, being able to interpret and understand the world around us, to know what certain events and significant moments mean, would have been of great help. We see food that is an unusual colour and we know it probably means it’s unsafe to eat. We notice smoke and understand that it means fire is nearby. Loud and sustained shouting may mean that a violent confrontation is taking place. Three or four people heading-off in a different direction to us might mean that they know about a food source.


This pattern continues through our lives. We notice something important, or a significant event happens, and in order to make sense of it, we interpret or attach meaning to it.


And it’s also useful that this meaning-making process mostly occurs unconsciously. Imagine if you had to stop and think about everything all the time in order to understand its meaning. There wouldn’t actually be enough time left to do anything with the information! It’s important that our minds have these kind of shortcuts so that the meaning of everyday events and interactions with others isn’t something that we consciously need to analyse and interpret. Otherwise it could quickly become overwhelming to do so.

But problems can arise when the meanings that we give to significant events or moments become like rules or automatic shortcuts. When we start to believe that X always means Y. Or when we automatically interpret X as meaning Y, when a wider view of the situation or a more complete weighing of the evidence might suggest a different meaning.

In those cases, this ability to look for the meaning behind things can become a hindrance not a help. When we’re looking for the meaning behind an event or interaction and it’s not making sense or it doesn’t fit the usual pattern we’re expecting – to continue searching for it can be particularly disempowering.

Here’s some simplified examples of real-life meanings/interpretations that typically come up for my coaching clients at work:

  • My colleague never smiles at me; she doesn’t like me.
  • My team member was late for our appointment; he has no respect for my time.
  • The Board haven’t responded to my email; they can’t be interested in my idea.
  • I always feel out of place in our Executive meeting; I ‘m not the kind of person that belongs here.
  • I can’t seem to get everything done in the time available; I’m just not disciplined enough.

You can see that the pattern for this kind of thinking goes like this:

  • This thing happened; I interprete it to mean that…

This pattern becomes a problem, as I’ve said earlier, when we assume that “this” always means “that”; or when a wider view would suggest something else. AND – it becomes a really disempowering pattern when we put our focus on finding the meaning itself, but the meaning isn’t actually what’s important.


A great way to uncover whether or not you’ve got into a disempowering view of these events, is to check out if you’re asking yourself those kind of “Why” questions:

  • Why doesn’t she like me?
  • Why doesn’t he respect my time?
  • Why aren’t they interested in my idea?
  • Why can’t I be more assertive in the Executive meeting?
  • Why can’t I be more disciplined with my time?

These kind of “Why” questions are a potentially useful indicator that you’ve slipped into a disempowered mindset. In a way, it’s a kind of return to being like that little child, trying to make sense of the new and huge world around them. And wanting a grown-up to explain it all to them.

In those situations, we need to stop searching for the meaning we expected to find. We need to stop taking that automatic shortcut. Fortunately, there’s very easy way to do so. Here’s how.

For the reasons described above, us coaches very rarely ask “Why” questions of our clients. In fact, if your coach asks you a “Why” question, it’s quite likely that they think they’re spotted an unconscious meaning or interpretation of yours that is not helping you – and they’re trying to uncover it more fully.

Instead of trying to figure out the “why”, your coach will help to look beyond that automatic search.

Let’s take that first example from above. Instead of asking about: “Why doesn’t my colleague like me?”, your coach will help you shift your focus to something much more empowering – a bit like this:

Coach: What do you actually want in this situation?
Client: All I really want is a good enough relationship with her so I can do my job effectively.

Coach: What evidence would you need to see or hear to know that your working relationship was good enough?
Client: Mostly it would be that she answers my calls or gives me time when I need help with issues in her speciality.

Coach: If you didn’t have that straight away, how would you go about getting it?
Client: Actually, and this has worked in the past, I’d either book time ahead with her, or check if it was OK to go directly to one of her team members.

Coach: And how do you feel now about her not smiling at you?
Client: Well, I know that smiling and being seen to be friendly is important to me; so that’s what I’m going to do myself. I’ll never really know if she likes me or not, but that isn’t what’s important here.

This is a much more empowering and useful way of interacting with the world. So next time you find yourself focussing on the “Why”, try this sequence instead:

  1. What’s actually Important to you
  2. What tangible Evidence do you need so that you’ll know when you have that important thing
  3. What Strategy (the how) will you use to get what’s actually important to you.

Trust Yourself

How to take charge of your self-doubt

Maybe I should start with a confession.

By nature, I’m actually a fairly nervous, cautious and uncertain person. People who know me well get this, and they also know that:

  1. I don’t mind people knowing it, because I’m very happy to be messily human and to live with all the flaws and imperfections that come with life; &
  2. I’m really, really good at managing my nerves, fears and uncertainties.

People who don’t know me that well tend to assume that I’m extremely confident because I choose to trust my instincts, I don’t let anything stop me, and I’ll take appropriately-managed risks in pursuit of what’s important.

But this is all learned behaviour for me.

I’ve written before about imposter-syndrome, about dealing with your gremlins and about other related topics. Explore my blog and you’ll see that this is an important area for me. Not just because it’s something I need to consciously and consistently manage myself but because it comes up again and again in my clients. Often people who are attracted to work with me because of the perceived confidence they see.


Helping people to trust themselves is a core part of my purpose.

I’m especially interested in helping those people to whom others look for inspiration. Call them leaders if you want (they rarely tend to use that term themselves, even when it’s on a nameplate outside their door). It’s just that there’s something extra about the need and responsibility to take charge of your own self-doubts when other people are depending on you. If you don’t do this, people will unconsciously sense it. They’ll be puzzled by inconsistencies in your behaviour, they’ll hesitate when you ask them to do something stretching, and they’ll be less compelling in their interactions with your clients, customers and colleagues.


If I could conjure up some kind of holy-trinity of ways to take charge of your own self-doubt, it would be the three, deceptively simple things I’ve set-out for you below. Of course there are other techniques and tools and ways of dealing with what is a natural part of the human experience, but if you can get on board with these three, nothing need ever hold you back again.

Also, I’ve set these out fairly simply, without much exposition or argument because I really want them to stand out as self-evident truths.

What I’d most like is for you to test them out in real life.

Take a couple of weeks to monitor the level and kind of self-doubt you’re experiencing. Score your self-doubts on a 1-10 scale, keep a simple journal or log, and see if your experience changes once you adopt these ideas.


Rule One: Self-Doubt has an important purpose; it’s meant to keep you safe

Your experience of self-doubt is a perfectly natural part of being human that evolved with us for a very good reason. It’s meant to keep you safe. To stop you from doing stuff that might get you killed or injured; or to stop you being ostracised from the support network of your friends, colleagues and family.

You are not wrong, stupid, weak or inadequate for experiencing self-doubt.


Rule Two: Self-Doubt is largely physiological and your body is the best tool for dealing with it

There are brain chemicals that mediate the functioning of our guts, our perceptions of the resources available to us and our moods – all at the same time. Each element of our mind-body system interacts with the others. The food we’ve eaten (or not eaten), the amount of sleep we’ve had (or not had), the movement of our bodies, the amount of oxygen in our bloodstream. It’s all in a complex and largely self-regulating system. Because of this, very simple physical changes on our part can shift our self-doubts extremely quickly. A brisk walk. A glass of water. Lifting the head. Looking at the sky. A simple meal. A few deep and controlled breaths. A chat with a friend.

If you’re experiencing self-doubt and want it to change, always, always, always start by shifting something physically.


Rule Three: Self-Doubt doesn’t go away, so learn to walk alongside it

I’ve heard people say stuff like: “You have to kill your doubts”, “You have to get rid of them, once and for all”. But if you understand the origins of this process (see Rule One, above), you’ll know that killing your self-doubts or trying to permanently get rid of them is pointless and even counter-productive. I believe it’s much better to treat your self-doubts like a kind of nervous friend. Someone who really has your best interests at heart, but maybe doesn’t quite understand everything that you want to do or achieve in your life and work.

I sometimes imagine I’m out on a hike with this friend and they’ll often point out where we might get lost, or where we might slip over. And because of them I’ll see the bit of tricky navigation, or notice the rough ground when I might not have seen or noticed that before. Then we can choose to carry on with the hike if we want to. Just helping each other out as we go.


Nick Robinson Executive Coaching - Kindness at Work

Working Kindness

Why aren’t we more kind at work, when kindness really helps?

I write this at the end of a busy month, which has given me another great opportunity to ask people about one of my current themes: kindness.

The reason I’ve been asking about kindness is down to my previous month’s coaching work. This was absolutely packed with situations where I couldn’t help thinking that maybe just a little bit of kindness would have dealt with everything even before I’d arrived!

There’s variety in my work and so it’s good that I also get to work with people in some very successful businesses and organisations where kindness is a way of doing things. In fact, some of the most successful leaders I know are very good indeed at doing kindness and I can’t help feeling that in the long-run, there’s probably a high correlation between the two.

I know there’s an emotional side to this. The sort of world I want to live in and to leave for my son, is driven by kindness. I want there to be room to care for and raise-up others to their full potential. And for me, there’s also a really practical side. I love being able to do things well, and doing them well also means doing them effectively – with efficacy, efficiency and gracefulness. If I genuinely thought that being unkind was more effective in the long run than being kind, I’d probably give it a go! But I just don’t see it. What I do see is opportunity wasted, potential unused and crucial errors being allowed.

Human beings are practically hard-wired to both take care of themselves and to take care of each other because of our evolution as social animals. The basic tools to be kind to each other, and the practical reasons for doing so, are already available to us. So, if we’re not being kind, there must be a reason. And, if there’s a reason, there’s also got to be a way to create the right conditions for more kindness.

Here’s my thoughts so far.

Unchecked self-criticsim vs. useful Purpose

In my experience as a coach, people who are critical of others in a damaging rather than useful way are often unconsciously highly-critical of themselves. With that going on in the back of their minds it’s very hard to be supportive of others. Contrast that with the joy of being around someone who has a genuine sense of Purpose, something meaningful to work on and who will carry you along in their enthusiasm.

Self-doubts and limiting beliefs vs. Connection

Some people let the self-doubts, the “I can’t”s and the “It never works for me”s, take over the focus of their attention. This self-limiting place is one where there’s no spare energy, time or resources to be kind to others. It’s a place where kindness looks dangerous, like a zero-sum game of winners and losers. They say that you become the average of the people you spend time with and it seems true to me that having quality time Connected with people who don’t think like that is a great enabler of kindness

Cultural Norms vs. Opportunities to Serve & Nurture

Perhaps one of the biggest barriers to having more kindness at work is “the way things are done around here”. Just like individuals, organisations have an unconscious set of stories, beliefs and self-criticisms. Left unchecked, Cultural Norms can become very damaging to an organisation’s ability to make the most of its people. As an antidote, creating Opportunities to Serve and Nurture, as many companies are doing with community and volunteering initiatives, is a great way to remind us just how uplifting it is to be kind and caring for others.

Unhealthy Habits vs. Resilience

Setting aside the false criticisms and limiting beliefs, it is probably true that, in the short-term, kindness comes at a cost. Time, money, effort and attention may all be involved. If somebody has habits that don’t help them to be resourceful, that make them unhealthy physically and emotionally, they may well find that the ‘cost’ of being kind is too high for them. What I’ve found is that the most Resilient people are also often the kindest. They work on themselves and that helps them be resourceful enough to help others. If you want to be kinder to others, start with being healthily kind to yourself. As they say,

You can’t pour from an empty cup

Fear vs. Choice

Fear is a very useful mechanism, designed to keep us safe and ensure our survival. People sometimes regard themselves as weak or wrong for being afraid, or for acting badly when they experience fear. When I’m with clients, I celebrate fear as another signal about something important. We can’t not have any fear; it’s part of our whole brain and body system. And without fear, there’s no courage either.

What we need are more behavioural strategies for dealing with our experience of fear. Instead of freezing like a rabbit-in-the-headlights, or lashing-out in fight mode, or running away in flight from our fear, we need Choices about how to behave.

This is especially true in businesses and organisations, which are themselves social systems and quite like the circumstances of our evolution as social animals. What makes us successful in those circumstances is co-operation with others. To co-operate well, we need more and better choices about how we behave. And one of the most important behavioural strategies is kindness.

Defining Planning Timescales Using the Rules of Threes

Productivity, Prioritisation and the Rule of Threes

Using the rule of threes to be productive, prioritise effectively and stay focussed

Over the last few years I’ve been finding the Rule of Threes to be really helpful in being productive and setting priorities. And it’s often a tool I’ll reach for if I’m coaching someone who feels they’re struggling to be productive or who would like to achieve more important stuff.

The Rule of Threes itself is really simple – things feels more stable, more rounded and more dynamic when presented in threes. Just as a three-legged stool doesn’t wobble, so the rule of threes is usually a good platform to build on.

Here’s how I use the Rule of Threes to be more productive, to help set priorities and to stay focussed along the way.

First, I use it to help define my planning timescales.

I’ll look at Long-term, Medium-Term and Short-Term priorities for me, my work and my family. For each of my timescales, I’ll set-out what I want to achieve, what I don’t want to do, and how I want the experience to be along the way.

Here are the timescales I use – you should define your own. If you click the main picture at the top of this post, you can download a pictorial version.

1. Long-term

  • Ten years
  • Five years
  • Two years

2. Medium-term

  • This year
  • Six months
  • Two months

3. Short-term

  • This month
  • This week
  • Today

Second, I’ll use the Rule of Threes to help decide the scope of what I’m planning.

For me, that often looks something like the sketch below, and for each of my timescales, it includes:

  1. What do I want to achieve? (which for me is different from what I need to get done)
  2. What do I choose not to do? (this is one of the keys to staying focussed, and demands as much attention as your achievements)
  3. How do I want to BE? (which is about the quality of existence I want to experience)

Scope of Rules of Three in Productivity

Third, I’ll use the Rule of Threes to focus my efforts.

For each of my timescales, I’ll set-out the top three priorities that I want to cover. For example, each day I write out the top three things I want to achieve that day. (Sometimes I’ll even go mad and add three things I’m not going to do that day and three qualities I’d like to experience).

Here’s what the first bit of writing in your daily planner needs to look like – it really is this simple. If you want to stay focussed and achieve more important things, please, please try this:

  1. First important thing I want to achieve today
  2. Second important thing I want to achieve today
  3. Third important thing I want to achieve today

It doesn’t mean I can’t do other things that day. Nor does it mean (as some people suggest) that you have to do those three things first. I often find that there are some priority items that just have to wait until later in the day. For me, the top three priority items are just those things that are most important to me that day and in the context of my longer-term plans.


And that would be a good place to finish, since I’ve given you three ways to use the Rule of Threes in being productive. Instead though, I’m going to break that rule and suggest another area where it’s helpful in terms of productivity, prioritisation and fulfilment, which is:

Fourth: Reflecting, using the rule of threes to embed learning and boost change.

It can be useful, in all of this planning ahead, to take stock of things as you go. To make sure that it doesn’t all feel like the dead-weight of obligation, and to ensure that you’re being flexible. Being productive is about keeping focussed on the straight and narrow. But it’s also about making timely corrective actions; just trimming the sails as you go. Here’s my framework for that:

  1. Review – How did I do? You can do this for each of your timescales (see First Step, above)
  2. Refresh – what would revitalise me?
  3. Revise – what priorities do I need to change?

So, I might have broken the rule of three with that fourth section, but at least they all start with an R – I do try to think of this stuff…

Productivity and Moral Self-Licensing

One (more) reason why people don’t straight-away do what they’ve said they would – and what to do about it

If you’ve ever been in a long meeting where lots of actions where agreed, and then found yourself wondering why people haven’t followed-through on those actions – or if you’ve ever spent a fair bit of time and effort making a to-do list yourself, only to then bunk-off instead of actually getting on with it – then you might find this useful.

In simple terms, Moral Self-Licensing is when people unconsciously allow themselves to indulge after they’ve done something positive.

Research suggests that it affects individual behaviour in a variety of contexts, including: consumer purchases, political opinions, charitable giving, energy policy, job hiring, racial attitudes, health-related decision-making, risky sexual behavior, alcohol consumption and diet.

In terms of productivity, the influence of Moral Self-Licensing is likely to mean a slump in achieving things between the planning and the doing stages. My experience with individual and team clients is that the effect is particularly pronounced when:

  • The issues that people were agreeing upon or planning actions for were especially difficult or threatening to address. This means that they feel unusually positive about having finally got down to addressing them and are (unconsciously) more likely to give themselves moral self-license to be ‘indulgent’ afterwards;
  • Physical energy levels are low and/or have been lowered by the planning or to-do-listing activities (especially likely when long journeys or stodgy meals are involved I suspect). I don’t know if there’s research to support this, but I’ve often thought that low energy levels are likely to reduce the threshold for moral self-license, since our mind/body systems are designed to look after our short-term survival and to prioritise food and rest now.

So what can you do if you notice that there’s a productivity slump between the planning and the action stages?

  1. Plan for it
    Since the tendency to be indulgent after we’ve done something positive is such a widespread and unconscious phenomena, it makes sense to me to expect it to happen. When you’ve had people in meetings and you all agree on a list of actions, why not explicitly agree an ‘indulgency period’ during which nobody is required to actually do anything productive until they’ve given themselves a treat of some kind;
  2. Actively be Rested and Healthy
    If it’s true that the productivity slump caused by moral self-license is more pronounced when people are already tired, then we can prepare for that by taking active steps to be properly rested and healthy. Less coffee and more naps, perhaps?
  3. Delegate
    Have somebody who wasn’t at the meeting, and who therefore won’t be experiencing their own moral self-license indulgence (at least, not yet), be responsible for reminding about, chasing and/or kick-starting the actions;
  4. Organise
    Make sure that your meetings, your decision-making-processes and the techniques you use to organise actions are as effective and as frictionless as possible. Consider using trained facilitators to help design agendas and processes. The less this feels like an effort, the less likely people are to indulge afterwards;
  5. Don’t Procrastinate
    The longer you put-off or fail to address difficult issues and tasks, the more you’re unconsciously likely to feel that you deserve an indulgence after you finally get around to deciding to do something about them.

 

Using Emotional Intelligence (EQ) to Review your Year

How to review your performance this year using Emotional Intelligence (EQ) to help personal growth and get better results

If you’re about to review your performance over the last year or so, you could try doing so through an Emotional Intelligence (or EQ) lens.

EQ is one of my favourite ways of looking at how well I’m doing, because it suits a behavioural approach (my actions and their impact).  It supports a deeper understand of what drives those actions and what does or doesn’t make them effective in my interactions with others. Plus, there’s research to show that high levels of EQ are correlated with individual success and performance in a work context.

Although definitions vary, in my view you could regard Emotional Intelligence as the ability to be aware of and manage our own feelings and emotions, to be aware of and able to influence other people and to balance behaviours which benefit us individually with those that benefit the team and organisation.

If you want to have a go at reviewing your own performance in EQ terms over the year, click-on and download the blank spider chart at the top of this article and then score yourself on the following seven elements. These come from one of my preferred models of EQ, established by two British authors from Henley Management College in their book Making sense of emotional intelligence.

Score yourself from 0 – 10 and then mark it in the chart. See my example below if you’re unfamiliar with this kind of spider chart.

How well do you feel you did during the last year?

  1. Self-Awareness
    The awareness of your own feelings and the ability to recognise and manage these.
  2. Emotional Resilience
    The ability to perform well and consistently in a range of situations and when under pressure.
  3. Motivation
    The drive and energy which you have to achieve results, balance short and long-term goals and pursue your goals in the face of challenge and rejection.
  4. Interpersonal Sensitivity
    The ability to be aware of the needs and feelings of others and to use this awareness effectively in interacting with them and arriving at decisions impacting on them.
  5. Influence
    The ability to persuade others to change their viewpoints on a problem, issue or decision.
  6. Intuitiveness
    The ability to use insight and interaction to arrive at and implement decisions when faced with ambiguous or incomplete information.
  7. Conscientiousness and Integrity
    The ability to display commitment to a course of action in the face of challenge, to act consistently and in line with understood ethical requirements.

Here’s my own; got some work to do on actually seeing stuff through to completion and being more considerate of how my actions affect others.
 

Choice Not Control

Whether you feel in or out of control, it’s probably an illusion. What you choose is what really counts

 

Personal Energy, Balance & Priorities

If you’re someone who loves their work, how do you re-energise your personal priorities and keep your sense of balance?

I’ve always got a lot of satisfaction and motivation from the jobs I’ve done.

Yes, some jobs have been way better than others and, no, I haven’t always enjoyed everything but on the whole I feel I’ve been lucky enough to never have a job that I didn’t feel energised by.

Personally, I’m not a big fan of the term “work-life balance” because, for me at least, I don’t really want the two to be as separate as that phrase implies. I don’t want to have to separate “work” from my “life” because I want meaningful work that is an integral part of my everyday existence. I don’t want to have to switch-off part of who I really am when I’m at work and I don’t want to have to put away my dreams and ambitions about work when I’m not in the office.


Thankfully I’m not the only one who wants meaningful work that they can really throw themselves into. I know this is true, because I’ve coached with lots of other people who are like it too.

But how do you sustain this intensity? How do you have work that you can really give yourself to, but also not lose sight of why you’re actually doing that?

The people I’ve coached with who have solved this, do actually go for something you could describe as a kind of “balance”. However, for them it doesn’t seem to be about work-life balance. Instead, I think it’s about two or three different but important kinds of balance:

1. Don’t try to have all your impact in one place.
Whatever the meaning is that you find in your work, whatever it is that you’re here to give to the world, spread it around a bit. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. If all of your life-purpose goes into one workplace, you’re at the mercy of the ebbs and flows of that place. And you also risk your laser focus becoming too bright and hot in one small spot.

2. Think in cycles.
When you step back and take a look, pretty much everything in our world goes in cycles: day-night; Spring-Summer-Autumn-Winter; work-eat-sleep. It’s as if life is all inter-connected sine waves. Nature shows us that there are times to push hard up the slope and there are times to coast easily down the other side. Make sure that your tendency to be always on, always pushing, isn’t getting in the way of your own natural cycle.

3. Raise your head and remember what’s really important.
I’ve written before about how finding purpose is really about finding what we’re good at and doing that (see here). It is possible, however, to get stuck in that virtuous circle of getting even better at what you’re great at, so that you enjoy it and do even more of it. If you’re working really hard because you like being energised by and finding meaning in your work, raise your head from the flywheel long enough to remember that work isn’t the only way to be energised and find meaning. Similarly, if you’re working really hard because you want to give the kids a great future, just remember that working really hard isn’t the only way to do that – and that you might be there just out of habit
 

Relationships and Onboarding

Why newly appointed leaders sometimes fail to get things done or don’t live up to expectations

A new boss of mine (somebody I liked and respected right from the start) once told me that he now made it a policy to under promise and over-deliver in his first six months in a job. He talked about the expectations that everybody has for you when you start a senior position, especially if you’ve got there because of outstanding performance in your previous role. He also talked about the pressure you might put yourself under, from wanting to make the most of your next great opportunity, to being concerned about keeping your track-record up to scratch.

Since then, I’ve done a lot of coaching with people newly promoted or recently appointed to those kind of jobs. From what I’ve seen, I reckon that my boss was spot-on. Those expectations and the self-pressure are probably two out of three of the main reasons why newly appointed leaders don’t achieve as much as you anticipated.

But the third reason is probably the most important…


Newly appointed leaders can sometimes have a habit of underestimating just how much of their ability to get things done in their old role was down to the depth and strength of their relationships with the people around them.


It seems that it’s not what you know, but neither is it who you know – it’s actually how well you know people.

The depths and strengths of those relationships are like the oil in the engine when it comes to getting things done. You don’t notice when the oil is up to temperature and is at the right level – the engine just works. But take it away and everything grinds to a halt.

So if you’ve got somebody who is relatively new to their position and they’re not delivering as much or as well as you’d hoped, this is the first place to look if you want to coach them. Here are some things to check out:

  • Have they had a chance to get to know people in the business as well as they need to?
  • Has their own desire to succeed got in the way of building lasting relationships with key people?
  • Are other people just operating from a pre-judgement about this new person’s reputation or building too much on the basis of the expectations you’ve expressed? (I’ve often heard board members say things like: “It’ll be OK when X gets here, they’ll sort everything out in a jiffy”)
  • Look for ways to increase the quality and frequency of opportunities for people to connect with this new person, without creating lots of new tasks/expectations.
  • Are they really a ‘fit’ culturally?
  • Do they need help in balancing out their task/relationships skills?