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The “What if … ” Game

Plan for unknown, risky or even magnificent situations using the “What if … ” game. A tool for helping people venture into the unknown with their eyes open

I like my coaching with my clients to be rooted in real, tangible results, and to relate to actual experience.

So at first sight, the “What if … ” game might seem very different to that – abstract and make-believe. But here’s why it’s such a useful tool both for getting real results and for helping people to properly ‘live’ their day-to-day life and work.


First, people sometimes fail to take action, or fail to really be ‘present’ to their actual experiences, out of fear, embarrassment and shame around what could go wrong, or where they don’t feel good enough, or out of self-criticism about how things ‘should’ be.

At those times, the “What if …” game can be a great way of safely looking at and planning for the scary stuff together.

Leaders and coaches can ask:

What if your situation IS as bad as you think – what would you do about it?

What if you DID actually need to get better at doing X; how would you go about that?

What is actually the worst that could happen – and what’s the first thing you’d do if it did?

Nine times out ten, asking these kind of “What if … ” questions results in somebody really quickly reconnecting with their choice and personal agency (ability to get into action). You’ll get answers like, “Actually, if that did really happen, I’d just do X;” or, “The worst isn’t really as bad as I imagined, the really bad stuff is way, way beyond where I am!” On the tenth time, you might find someone who isn’t ready to re-empower themselves just yet, and the “What if … ” game will just get vague, non-concrete answers. Best strategy then is to simply explore more about what’s currently going on: “Tell me some more about how things are for you right now?” Give it time and space.

The 'What if ...' game can be a great way of safely looking at and planning for the scary stuff together. Click To Tweet

Second (and just as often), we can fail to take action, or forget to be in the moment, because our big, audacious goals, if achieved, would result in radical changes to our situations. This is true even though it seems really counter-intuitive – why would we not take action to make a radical change, or fail to fully experience the process of doing it, when it’s something that we wanted all along!?

But any kind of change, even positive change or growth is by definition scary – it lies deep into the unknown territory.

At those times, leaders and coaches can use the “What if … ” game as a way of safely exploring that unknown territory together. We can ask:

“What if this actually works – then what happens?”

“What if you find yourself changed in some way – how would that be?”

“What if you can’t tell how it will be until you get there?”

Any kind of change, even positive change or growth is by definition scary - it lies deep into the unknown territory. Click To Tweet

It’s human nature to either see only the outcomes we want or, more often, to not look at outcomes at all, because there’s a chance they’ll be unpleasant, scary or beyond our capabilities.

The “What if … ” game is a great tool for exploring what we might find and how we might feel when we do choose to venture into the unknown. And to go there with our eyes open to the risks and the benefits and our ability to deal with them.

Let me know if you’ve used the “What if … ” game, or something like it yourself please? What did you find?

Please leave a comment below if they’re still open at the time of reading, or tweet me @nickrobcoach

Leaders and coaches can help people to reconnect with their choice and personal agency using the 'What if ...' game Click To Tweet

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You’ll Be Fine

If there was one thing that I most want people to understand, right down in their bones, it’s that they will get through tough, difficult and challenging situations.

Sometimes, the noise of self-doubt in people’s heads is so loud that it can drown out everything else; including their sense of perspective (how difficult, really, is this thing?), and their memory of just how resourceful they’ve been in the past, and can be again now.

At those times I can see the noise of self-doubt as a little flicker behind their eyes, or a sag of their shoulders, a drop in their chin, or a reduction in their spirit.

At other times, people don’t realise how loud the self-doubt noise is. Instead of hearing it for what it is, they’re compelled by it to fight their way out or to sprint away. For those people, it’s not a loss of spirit, but a loss of reasoning and balance that the noise of self-doubt can lead to. I notice this if I find myself asking why they approached something in a strange, irrational or sub-optimal way.


As a leader or a coach, it can sometimes take you a while to grasp just how important it is to tell people really, really simple things like:

“You’ll be fine,” “I know you’ve got this,” “You’ve come through before, you can do it now.”

Saying this in the right way literally can make all the difference to someone.

It has to be said in a way that has significance:

  • First, you have to mean it; you have to ‘see’ just how resourceful and capable people are. And if you can’t see how amazing any one person is, then you’re not looking (or leading or coaching) properly.
  • Second, you have to believe it about yourself too. Perhaps this is the hardest part, because the right to tell others that they’ll be fine has to be earned by doing your own development work; properly hearing your own self-doubts for what they are and not being ruled or directed by them.
The right to tell others that 'they’ll be fine' has to be earned by doing your own development work Click To Tweet

If you can do that, if you can say to others in their difficult moments, “You’ll be fine,” and say it with significance and meaning and self-belief, it’s a fantastic gift to both of you. You can help silence the noise of the self-doubt and help return someone to their full power. That’s proper leadership.

Let me know if you’ve noticed any of this too please – or what you’re discovering about how important it is to remind others of their brilliance?.

Please leave a comment below if they’re still open at the time of reading, or tweet me @nickrobcoach

The importance of telling people they'll be fine - and saying it with significance, meaning and real self-belief! Click To Tweet

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Improvise, Adapt, Overcome

Useful motivation or unhelpful bullshit – how do you know?

Readers will recognise this as the unofficial motto of the US Marine Corps (and also the humorous Bear Grylls meme of a few years ago).

It was in my mind for no real reason as I woke today, feeling more than usually get-up-and-go-ish.

I often treat this kind of Improvise, Adapt, Overcome stuff with a bit of caution. In particular, how do you know when:

  • It’s a genuine sense of resourcefulness, that you really mean it and are ready to deal with whatever life and works throws your way; or
  • You’re just bullshitting yourself and don’t really feel ready to overcome anything – but desperately think you should be?

Some people would say that it’s an important distinction to make.

Because if you’re not feeling especially resourceful, but are unconsciously telling yourself that you should be able to deal with whatever comes your way, then you’re actually just setting yourself up to fail.

The more I do this coaching work, the less sure I am about the usefulness of this kind of distinction.

I’ve seen lots of people move mountains by telling themselves they should be able to Improvise, Adapt and Overcome, even when it really ups the stakes of failure for them. Equally, I’ve seen people frozen into inaction by trying to live up to some impossible standard.

Perhaps the following is the best way to test the usefulness of these kind of mottos and slogans. My definition of empowerment is this:

Empowerment is the power to make decisions and take actions that affect our circumstances Click To Tweet

So does this kind of thing help you to make decisions and take actions that affect your circumstance?

If yes, go for it, maybe even get the tattoo!
If not, drop it, this one’s not for us; instead, work on what you want to have happen until you’re really clear about that.

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

Tell me about your own favourite motto and whether or not this kind of thing helps you to be empowered? Click To Tweet

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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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More on Outcome Focus

Is this the most powerful question you can ever ask?

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

“What do you want to have happen?”

This simple outcome-focussed question can do so much:

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

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


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

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

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


And how about you?

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

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


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


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Empowering Beliefs (part 3)

How to get real about empowering yourself, by training your mind to filter and focus your attention

If you want to adopt ways of thinking and behaving that get great results and satisfaction (to empower yourself), or to help other people to do the same, here’s the third article in my series which looks at what we call ‘Empowering Beliefs’. These are the unconscious thought processes that can either really help or really hinder us.


This part is about how we can selectively focus and filter our attention towards the ways of thinking that empower us.


An immediate side-benefit of this kind of approach is that it tends to crowd out or silence some of that self-doubt that can otherwise creep in and undermine us.

What I’ve set out here for you is a really simple and effective approach. The key to why it works is that:

a) We rarely actually stop and consider what exactly we want to be ’empowered’ about. Just pausing and consciously putting into words the kind of ability or capability or attitude that we’d like to be operating is itself a powerful act;

b) This approach breaks things down into steps. You don’t need to follow them exactly, some back and forth is OK but, generally speaking, the steps I’ve set out here move from a kind of general sense of wanting to be able to do something, or behave in a certain way, towards getting a real concrete feeling of what that means;

c) It starts with getting clear about what kind of ability, capability or attitude you would like to have. If you’ve read some of my other stuff, you’ll know that this getting clear about what you want is an “Outcome” – and being clear about desired outcomes is the single most important thing you can do (in my not-so-humble opinion). It isn’t what you want to stop or be less of. It isn’t what you might feel you’re not good at. It’s about asking ourselves, “In what way do I want to empower myself?”

d) Lastly, because it works in steps and helps direct our focus in a positive way towards what we want, you can use this process, pretty much as it’s written here with other people, whenever you want to help them to empower themselves.


Here’s how you can use this approach.

1. Empowering Ability

Start by thinking about what you want to be able to do, or to be capable of doing, or what kind of attitude of mind you’d like to adopt. I’ve put it like that, in three slightly different forms, just so that we cover all the ways that people tend to think about these things. If you want to be really focused, or just to have an easy way of remembering how to do this with others, you can simply ask:

What do I want to be able to do?

And let’s call your answer to that question the [Ability].

I’ll put it in square brackets like that below as well, so you can track through what’s going on.

We can also use a real-life example from a client I worked with last week, whose answer was, “I want to be able to concentrate.”

2. Focusing and filtering our attention towards empowerment

Once we know a little about what it is we want to be able to do, then we can start using the way that our minds naturally focus on what’s important to us and filter out other stuff to start getting a handle on empowering ourselves. And since everybody approaches things in a slightly different way, you can use this approach to help somebody else apply an ability even if their best way of doing it would be different from yours. For this step, we would ask:

When I’m [doing Ability], what’s important to me?

And I’m going to call your answer to that question the [Criteria] because it reveals how you’ll judge whether you’ve got that ability.

Now we’re starting to get a real handle on what is wanted and to reveal the way that this person wants to approach having it.

To continue the example from above, I asked my client, “When you’re concentrating, what’s important to you?” And the answer came back, “That I’m working through until it’s finished.” So that’s how he’ll judge whether or not he’s concentrating – is he working through until it’s finished.

3. Defining the way we want to empower ourselves

Next, we get even clearer about what this means. We’ll ask:

What is [Criteria]?

I hope you can track through all this stuff in square brackets OK easily enough. To continue with that example from my client, I asked him, “What is ‘working through until its finished’?”

I could also have asked what does it mean to ‘work through until its finished’, or something like that. The crucial things are to (a) use the same words as him and not paraphrase; and (b) just to start getting more and more meaning and definition. What we’re doing here is taking a desired capability, an ’empowerment’ out of the vague and unconscious and into the real world. That’s where the power is in this work.

4. Focusing our minds on the evidence that will tell us we’re empowered

The last step in this part of the empowering beliefs process, is to get as concrete and real as possible about what kind evidence we want our minds to be scanning for. It’s almost like we’re programming ourselves to put aside doubts, fears and fantasy, and to start getting real.

The way to do it is to take that [Criteria] from above and ask something like this:

What do I see, hear or feel when I’m [Criteria]?

I’m going to call your answer to that, the [Evidence].

And to continue that real life example, I asked my client, “What do you see, or hear or feel when you’re ‘working through until it’s finished’?”

5. Next steps

After you’ve gone through steps 1-4 above, that’s often enough to shift things quite some way towards having that ability or capability or attitude of mind. My client who wanted the ability to concentrate, which meant working though until it’s finished, was able to use the evidence part as a kind of series of signposts to help him concentrate.

Usually people need a bit more than that and it’s necessary to ask something like this:

Now I know that the [Ability] I want is about [Criteria] and that I’ll recognise it from [the Evidence], what are the next steps I might take to empower myself?

Try some of this for yourself. Think of an ability, a capability, or an attitude of mind that you’d like to have, and track it through the steps above. Let me know how you get on please.


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Overcoming Obstacles

There’s no obstacle that can’t be overcome – the second most important thing that any leader should believe

(click the image above and then right-click it to save or download your copy.)

If you’d like to feel more able to overcome obstacles, and have more confidence that you can tackle anything that life and work throws at you, try working through these easy questions in the order given:

What do you personally mean by “overcoming obstacles”?

What would you see, hear or feel that lets you know you are overcoming obstacles?

When you are overcoming obstacles, what is important to you?
(and write that answer down – I’m going to refer to it as X in the next few questions)

Then answer either both of or whichever of these questions make the most sense:

What enables someone to have X?  Or…
What is necessary for there to be X?

And then answer either both of or whichever of these questions make the most sense:

Why is X important?  Or…
What does X lead to or make possible?

Write down as much of your answers as you can and keep coming back to them to get a deeper feel for what’s important to you around overcoming obstacles.
If you can, explore these questions with other people too.

It’s a great group exercise too, so if you want to lead a session with your team, have them work through those questions in pairs.

Think back to previous times when you’ve overcome something difficult. How many of the factors I’ve asked about in the questions above were present at that time? What else have you learnt from previous experiences when you overcame obstacles? Also, what might you need to Unlearn?

There’s even more you can do to embed these beliefs and empower yourself, including some of the less transformational but more practical things like, what do I actually need to DO. Have an experiment yourself and go overcome stuff!


I said in the heading that this is only the second most important thing that any leader should believe. That’s because you can’t get anything worthwhile done without overcoming obstacles, BUT even a cast-iron belief in doing so only gets you so far. It’s like repaying a debt. Okay, you clear what’s owed, but having overcome that obstacle, now you’re just back at zero. At square one.

As well as believing they can overcome obstacles, great leaders also believe that they are doing something worthwhile, something that makes a difference. Having overcome obstacles, that belief in making a difference of some kind gets you beyond zero and into plus territory. And that’s where the cool stuff is.


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FOMO, FOLS and FEAR

FOMO, FOLS and others; 20 common fears that will control your life and work if you let them

Fear is a very powerful motivator, a useful survival trait and a handy source of energy. But if you let your fear run the show entirely by itself and make your decisions for you, it has a nasty habit of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So that you don’t do that, here’s some of the most common fears I see in my coaching with people at work:

  1. FOMO: Fear of Missing Out
  2. FOLB: Fear of Lagging Behind
  3. FOLS: Fear of Looking Stupid
  4. FOMM: Fear of Making Mistakes
  5. FOSO: Fear of Standing Out
  6. FOTO: Fear of Telling Offs
  7. FOBO: Fear of Being Ordinary
  8. FOLD: Fear of Letting Down
  9. FOBI: Fear of Being Inadequate
  10. FOGO: Fear of Getting Overwhelmed
  11. FOBU: Fear of Being Unworthy
  12. FOSH: Fear of Suffering Hurt
  13. FOLC: Fear of Losing Control
  14. FOFI: Fear of Facing Isolation
  15. FOES: Fear of Extreme Success
  16. FOBR: Fear of Being Responsible
  17. FOGP: Fear of Gratuitous Praise
  18. FOSH: Fear of Seeking Help
  19. FOLR: Fear of Lacking Resources
  20. FORD: Fear of Regretting Decisions

Once you can see your fears for what they are – a useful mechanism for keeping you safe – then you can decide for yourself what to do with that information and, crucially, what is the bigger picture of what you actually want to have happen.

Fear is information without the cure
John le Carré

 


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Leadership by Enablement

The four R’s of leading by enabling others: resources, reputation, resilience and range

I’m a big fan of leaders who make it their primary purpose to help other people get stuff done.

Download your copy of the image above (click and then right-click to save it) to see the big four R’s of leading by enabling others, together with some of my suggestions for how you might actually set about doing that.


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Leadership, Power and Empowerment

What leaders should really be doing if they want to empower people, and five coaching questions that help

Actually, I don’t really believe you can empower anybody else, I think they have to do it for themselves. If you’re lucky as a leader, there are times when you might just be able to create the conditions that make it possible for someone to empower themselves.

I love the quote in the picture above. For me, it says almost everything about how leaders should go about creating those conditions – give away your own power.

I reckon there are two crucial ways that leaders ought to be giving away their power, if they do want others to empower themselves:

  1. Give people “Agency” – that is, the ability to take action or exert power
  2. Give people “Choice of Attention” – that is, the freedom to decide where and how they direct their focus and efforts.

I’ve done plenty of leadership roles myself and I can tell you, when things really matter, when the outcome is an important one or when there are big things at risk, giving away power in those two ways can be absolutely terrifying!

It’s also the only way to absolutely get the best out of others, to stop feeling that you’re the only one who works at 100% and to grow beyond the limits of your own abilities.

If you’re a leader who would like to begin giving away more of your own power, so that you can get the absolute best from the people who work with you, have a ponder on these coaching questions:

  • Where could you give people more Agency and Choice of Attention straight away, without having to really worry too much about it?
  • What would be the benefits to you and your organisation, if the people around you started to be more self-empowered?
  • If you did give away some more of your power and it works, it gets the results you want, how would you feel about that?
  • What’s your greatest fear about giving away your power, about giving people more Agency and more Choice of Attention – what frightens you about that?
  • Thinking about the fears you identified in that previous question, what kind of new, additional or different kind of power do YOU need, so that those fears evaporate or turn out to be groundless?

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