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Motivation for Leaders

Why my favourite go-to motivational quote still has three fatal flaws; and what leaders should do about them

This quote from Theodore Roosevelt has long been a favourite of mine for helping to motivate myself and others:

Do what you can,

Where you are,

With what you have.

– You can click and then alt-click the image above to download a copy for yourself –

Anytime I’m stuck or feeling powerless, or can’t see the route through the forest for looking at all the trees, this quote gets me unstuck and into purposeful action.

But it still has three hidden weaknesses.

Leaders who want to use this kind of thing to help other people feel motivated need to be aware of these flaws and to take extra steps to combat them.

It’s really worth doing this, especially if you’re the kind of leader who:

  1. Naturally likes to be around empowered people and to help others to raise their game; or
  2. Occasionally finds yourself wondering why other people don’t take the initiative more, or don’t work as hard as you do.

Each of the flaws I’m talking about are right there in that first line:

“Do what you can

And this is why…

1) People aren’t always aware of just what they can do, both in terms of what they have ‘permission’ to do, and in terms of their own capabilities.

2) People don’t always believe that what they can do will actually lead to the outcome that’s needed. To take a really basic example, even though someone ‘can’ make 20 sales calls today, do they truly believe that those calls will lead to the extra business they’ve been asked to generate? If not, they won’t be motivated.

3) People don’t always know in advance if the outcome that their actions might lead to is actually an outcome that they really want. It’s not so much about them not wanting to achieve a specific outcome, but more that they just don’t really, consciously know if they do want it! I believe that this hidden flaw derails more attempts to motivate people than almost anything else.


So as well as using that brilliant quote from Teddy R, leaders who want to motivate people should also be doing these four things as well:

1a) Always give the permissions up front. This is basic delegation skills. If you’re asking or expecting someone to do something, what permissions do they have or need? What resources can they access? What approaches, methods or ways of doing it can they use or not use?

1b) Help people to assess and grow their own capabilities. Which means you really do need to encourage and show people how to learn and adapt.

2. Break the unconscious rule that people make for themselves about taking action and needing to get the correct result. Help them to be more like a scientist. Any action will lead to ‘a’ result. Get people to be curious about selecting from a range of possible actions. Have them observe the results like a scientist doing an experiment. What worked, what didn’t get the expected result, what would you try next time?

3. This is perhaps the most significant one for leaders to be doing. Encourage people to live in the future a little. This outcome that you want them to help achieve – what will that be like? What will it mean for them when it’s been achieved? How will it change or affect their day-to-day experience?

This important part of motivating people is the equivalent of getting them to try on some new clothes in the mirror before they know whether or not they want them.


As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach What do you think of that Roosevelt quote? Does it help you motivate yourself and others? What also works for you?


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.


Self-Awareness (2b): Impact and Results

In your interactions with other people, do you always get the result you’d intended?

For a full copy, click the diagram above and then right-click to download or ‘Save as…’

If the first part of Self-Awareness is getting really clear about your Intention (see this article here), then the second, perhaps even more important part is to practice noticing your Impact in the form of the Result that you got.

What happens when you interact with someone else; and was it what you meant to have happen?

There’s a rule we use in my kind of coaching which says that:

The meaning of your communication is the response that you get

It’s tough rule to follow because it’s telling us that, no-matter what we said or did with someone, no matter what our intention was at the outset; what we actually communicated was exactly what the other person says it was – even if their interpretation or response was radically different from what we meant!


It is the meaning that they ascribe to your communication that counts, not yours.


Of course, this rule is only important if you want to have really effective interactions and communications with other people. If not, if you’re happy to say, “Well, I don’t care what they actually did in response, I told them what I wanted to tell them anyway,” then this rule doesn’t need to apply to you.


There are lots of communication skills that you can use to maximise your chances of making sure that the message and meaning you meant to communicate is what somebody else actually hears.

What I want to focus on for this article is the skill of Self-Awareness, building on that first part around being clear about your Intention. Once you’ve done that, you can turn your observer’s lens towards the Results that you get:

  • When you say something to people, are they hearing what you meant them to hear – and how do you know?
  • When you do something for somebody else, do they understand why you did it, and again, how would you know?

Awareness really is the key here. Most of the other skills are about saying or doing things in a slightly different way, often to better match the other person’s style, and with a bit of experimentation almost everybody can broaden their range and learn to match it to other people.

But you won’t even know to do that if you’re not monitoring the Impact you’re having.

So that’s the Self-Awareness skill that I’d like you to practice next. It’s the red box in the diagram above. Did your interaction with another person get the Result that you Intended – and how do you know?


As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach to let me know how your Self-Awareness is doing and how you monitor the results you get from your interactions with others.


The Supportive Boss

Leaders: 7 things your struggling employee needs to hear you say

What if you’ve got someone who works for you who is struggling? They’re maybe a little overwhelmed or out of their depth. Perhaps they’ve lost their mojo. Or they’re reacting badly and you know something is up, but not quite what it is. What is that person secretly waiting to hear from you, their leader?

Here’s seven options to start with:

“I’ve got your back. What support do you need from me?”

“I know you can come through this.”

“Your concerns are genuine and I hear them.
Can we look together at how to deal with them?”

“The reason we fall over is so we can learn to get back up.
What do you want to learn from this?”

“Here’s the bigger picture of why this is important now …”

“Stop struggling.
Take a break.
Come back to it later from this [different] angle.”

“I’ve struggled with lots of things in the past myself.
I reckon we all must do at times.
Who have you asked for help?”


I hope those help a little? Please add a comment below if they’re still open, or contact me here, or tweet me @NickRobCoach especially if you’d like to add something that a struggling employee needs to hear from their leader.


Can’t Keep Up?

Feel like you can’t keep up?
12 ways to simplify your leadership

Do you want to work as quickly and efficiently as possible, so you can finish early and still have time and energy to do other stuff? You’re not alone. More and more I’m seeing people who say they want to do more at work, enjoy more time with their family, and have more time to relax, but that their actual focus is on “keeping up.”

It may be that you’re temporarily in a really tricky situation and you just need to get out the other side of it. But if not; if that sense of not being able to keep up at work is persisting longer than it should, take a look at these short tips for breaking the pattern.

1. Identify your Top 1 – 3 priorities for the day

And once you’ve identified them, do these first thing in your day, or do them in your quality time, or scrub-out something else. Remember, you’ve either chosen to work on your own priorities, or you’ve chosen to forward somebody else’s agenda.

2. 80% is More Than Good Enough

Identify what level of %age completion/quality is right for the task you’re involved with and don’t go 1% over. Perfect is the enemy of good.

3. Delegate the ‘What’ not the ‘How’

Make sure you’re only delegating ‘outcomes’ and not telling people how to achieve those outcomes. Be prepared to live with people taking a different approach to the way you might have done it. This is the ONLY option if you don’t want to, or can’t, do everything yourself – which you don’t and cant’!

4. Don’t use your Email In-tray as a To-Do app

It doesn’t work. It DOESN’T work. Email is for communication, not task-management. Get a simple to-do app and use that instead. If your email in-tray is overflowing, make a separate folder, dump everything into there and start again with a blank in-tray, this time using a separate app to record to-do’s.

5. Manage all your Emails (and other In-boxes) using the 5-Minute RAFT Formula

Everything that arrives in your various inboxes should be dealt with using the 5-minute RAFT approach, as follows:

  • R is for Reading – can you read an item in 5 minutes or less – and do you really, really need to read it? If so, read it when it arrives, otherwise, bung it into a Reading File and wait ‘til it’s a priority. Or Trash it.
  • A is for Action – can you action item in 5 minutes or less – and do you really, really need to do it? If so, action it when it arrives, otherwise, bung it into your To-Do app and do it when it’s a priority. Or Trash it.
  • F is for File – can you file an item in 5 minutes or less? If so, file it now. If not, wtf is it!?
  • T is for Trash – this is my favourite. Trash it. Hit delete. Gone and forgotten. Should be your default setting – can I legitimately just hit delete or chuck this in the bin and not get emotionally-hooked.

6. Under-schedule and Over-deliver

Rather then over-schedule and under-deliver! This is strongly linked with Items 1 and 12. The best way to do more is to try and do less. Focus, focus, focus. How jammed is your calendar, how hectic is your travel schedule? “Less is more” people.

7. Ask people for their ideas

Not only is this a good way to get and stay engaged with people, you’ll end up with new and different solutions that you wouldn’t have thought. Takes a bit longer in the short-term, delivers better quality and takes the load off of you in the medium-term.

8. Know and Say your Leadership Mantra

All leaders should be able to say what the strategic aim for their organisation or department is. “What we need to do is X, Y and Z.” Repeat this whenever and wherever until you’re sick of hearing it. And then repeat it some more. This way of simplifying really helps others to get behind the programme and take-up more of the effort themselves. You’ll be more than pleasantly surprised when you hear people repeating your mantra unprompted.

9. Work through People and on Tasks

And the more senior you become, the less you should be working on tasks and the more you should be working through people. Check how your current balance is on this and see if you need to spend more time leading and less time doing. See also 10 below.

10. One-to-one Meetings are your Main Tool for Working through People

There isn’t a better way to get things done than to sit down with your people individually and coach them through their own priorities. I’d give at least one day a week to doing this for every four team members I have. Use this Coaching formula:

  • What Outcomes are they working towards?
  • What’s in the Current Situation that you and they need to be aware of?
  • What Approaches have they tried or do they want to take?
  • What Support do they need?
  • How will you know when it’s Worked?

11. Build Relationships

I bang on about this all the time. Relationships are the key to getting stuff one in organisations.

“It’s not what you know.

It’s not even who you know.

It’s how well do you know the right people?”

Nick Robinson

When was the last time you prioritised coffee with a colleague just for the sake getting to know each other better?

12. Leaders think Short, Medium AND Long-term

So often we under-estimate what can be done in the long-term and over-estimate what can be done in the short-term. The key is to plan on all three time-horizons. What’s my priority for this year, for this month, for today – and how do they link together?


I hope those help a little? Give me a shout – add a comment below if they’re still open, contact me here, or tweet me @NickRobCoach if there’s something not covered or if you’d like to add one of your own tips.


How to give Moral Support and turbo-charge your leadership

I don’t see people giving enough encouragement and approval at work right now. Here’s why and what to do about it.

I don’t see enough moral support being offered around these days. Either from leaders to their people, or just between colleagues.

I mean, easy things like giving someone an affirmation: “I know you can handle this,” or offering a willing ear to really listen to what might be bothering someone.

Is it a sign of the times maybe that these simple human acts of encouragement and approval have somehow slipped from the top of our leadership and managerial agenda?

Or maybe it’s because they’re not taught as part of our management education? Which is strange, because they’re in all the good leadership and management theories. Take a look at “Transformational Leadership” for example. This is still one of the most complete and research-backed leadership models we’ve got. Right there, under the Individualized Consideration component, it says:

“the degree to which the leader attends to each follower’s needs, acts as a mentor or coach to the follower and listens to the follower’s concerns and needs. The leader gives empathy and support, keeps communication open…”

Couldn’t be clearer to me!

I reckon that what’s actually going on, so that there really isn’t enough moral support being offered around, is that it can actually seem quite a hard thing to do. It isn’t hard to do at all. But it can seem hard…


Here are some of the barriers I’ve observed that get in the way of leaders and people in general offering more moral support to others. And what to do about them.

What does offering ‘moral support’ even mean?

This is an important barrier. If you haven’t seen moral support in action, or it isn’t something you’ve too much experience of receiving yourself, then the whole idea of ‘moral support’ can seem quite alien or difficult to define. But you can break that chain.

Here’s what I mean. Whenever you get a chance, tell people that you trust them, that you have faith in them: “I absolutely believe you can do this.” Tell them you approve of them: “The way you handle yourself at work is great.” Tell them you’re there for them: “I’m interested in what you have to say. If you ever want to just talk things over with anybody, I’d love to be that person.”

And if you don’t feel able to offer that kind of moral support, and you’re in any kind of leadership role, please, please keep reading…

I can’t truthfully say that to this person

Another big barrier, and often the first thing that leaders say back to me when I raise it as an issue. The person who needs moral support from you isn’t someone that you trust absolutely. You’re not really sure that they can do what’s being asked of them. You don’t really like the way they are. “And I’m not prepared to lie to them,” you’ll say.

For me, this is a practical and a creative issue.

On a practical level – has the opposite approach worked? Have you successfully managed to coax the best out of this person by NOT giving them any moral support? Has doing the opposite worked well for you – telling them that you don’t trust them, don’t approve of them, don’t have faith in their abilities?

I can see in some circumstances that the opposite approach might work, but if you want more, get creative:

Find what is true. Look hard enough to find what you can trust, what you can approve of. Be brave and trust yourself enough to take a risk, and tell them that even if they stumble at some point, you’re confident that they’ll get up and carry on; that you’ll be there if they need you. Stop complaining and raise your own game – when you take a small risk and try it, you’ll be great at it.

Who am I to offer moral support to others?

Us coaches literally love this one! It’s such a common barrier to the final step to being a great leader or manager. And almost everybody has their version of this. We tell ourselves that, because we ourselves have failed or have let ourselves down, that we can’t offer moral support to others in similar circumstances. People have said things to me like: “I’m no better than them! How can I tell them I trust them to do this, when I wouldn’t really trust myself?”

We need to take a baby-steps approach to this barrier.

First, it’s not about you, it’s about the other person. What do they need to hear from you, about them? Yes, it really helps if you are the kind of person who does believe in yourself and does act with integrity. And, people don’t really need to hear what you think about yourself, they want to hear what you feel about them.

Second, do the work yourself. Do the work. Take small steps to become the kind of leader who does what they said they would. Work on your confidence by admitting to your secret doubts and then learning to co-exist with them. Over time, learn to trust yourself completely.

I know you can do this.


Brief Lessons from Books – Ant Middleton’s ‘First Man In’

Five great lessons from ‘First Man In’ – a summary of my personal learning from the Sunday Times’ best-selling book

First in a series based on my current reading. These aren’t meant as book reviews or critiques, just as a summary of my own personal learnings that others might also find useful.


I’m lucky in that my coaching clients often send or recommend me books that they’ve found interesting. Please feel free to mention anything you’ve been reading that covers, in the broadest sense: leadership, management, coaching or other personal development and growth. Use the comments box below or tweet me @NickRobCoach with any suggestions.


Ant Middleton might not be everybody’s favourite cup of tea, but I don’t think you have to like everything about a person in order to learn from them. Buddhists have a saying: “Take what works for you, and leave the rest”, which is how I invite you to read this book for yourself.

First Man In’ is the Sunday Times’ best-selling autobiographical highlights from Ant Middleton, a British Special Forces veteran and presenter of Channel 4 tv series ‘Who Dares Wins’. Click here for non-affiliate link to Amazon UK

Check it out for yourself and explore your own views on this undoubtedly charismatic and driven man. The Guardian chose to write a ‘humorous’ digested take on this book, rather than review it, which you can read here. It’s not particularly complimentary – although that’s probably because this book is not aimed at your average Guardian reader.

The book is written in the form of a series of leadership lessons. I’ve paraphrased a lot here and changed emphasis and approach to suit myself. Anyway, enough blathering, here’s my own highly selective and subjective summary of my lessons from the book:

1. Always have a plan.

This is a great one and totally aligned with the coaching principle of being outcome-focussed. One of the first things I check with any of my clients who are stuck or struggling is just this: have you got a plan?

I believe that often the solution to any difficult situation is: make a plan, stick to the course without giving up, deliver the plan.

2. Failure isn’t making a mistake; it’s letting the mistake take over and redefine who you are.

Us coaches are fond of pointing out that the only way to never make a mistake is to never do anything – which is itself a mistake! Ant Middleton says that mistakes should be accepted, self-recrimination pushed to one side rather than being allowed to run the show, and a new plan formulated. I’ve seen this before in highly-trained professionals. They never recriminate about mistakes (although they almost always take time later to review and learn from them). Instead, their immediate focus is always on making good what has gone wrong. Good stuff!

3. Know when to trust your body – and when not to

AM says that your body often tells you that it’s got nothing left, when it’s still a hundred miles from breaking. And, even when it does break, it’s also designed to heal! He says most of the battle is in your mind. I’d say that it’s worth testing your body well enough to be able to tell when you’ve reached a real physical limit, and when you haven’t.

4. The importance of waiting

We often want to act, to dive in and be doing something. Often because that’s less scary than sitting with the fear of the unknown that comes from not knowing how things will work out. AM says that waiting, waiting for things to come to fruition, or waiting for the right time to act, is a vastly under-appreciated strategy, especially when part of a plan.

5. Three steps to a positive mindset

AM says that having a positive mindset is the ultimate leadership lesson. I’m a bit wary about terms like ‘positive mindset’, not least because organisations staffed entirely by hopeless optimists don’t tend to turn out too well! But that isn’t what AM means. I think he’s talking about the state of being able to always make a difference or of always being able to move forwards. And that’s something I can get behind entirely. Here’s what is very much my own paraphrasing of his three steps:

  1. Be totally honest with yourself about who you are and what your current situation is;
  2. Accept that, in some way, you are responsible for who you are and where you find yourself;
  3. Be actively engaged in the process of addressing those aspects of yourself and your situation that you want to change.

I hope you get the chance to check out this interesting book for yourself. I got mine as Christmas present and found it a quick, easy and enjoyable read. My teenage son and I love watching the TV series ‘Who Dares Wins, also led by this author, which does a brilliant job of creating an environment in which people can really test and learn about their physical and mental resilience.


Every Time

Inspiration: 12 things to do every time if you want to go beyond your previous limits – in the form of a poem!

When I started it, I wasn’t really sure what this article would turn out to be…

In the end, it more or less wrote itself anyway. Very early one dark, rainy Monday morning when I was feeling great about things. Full of determination and ready for the week. Looking at it now, I’ve laid it out a lot like a poem, so, I guess that’s what it is!

Enjoy 🙂

Every Time

Every time you doubt yourself,
Go do it anyway.

Every time you judge yourself,
Give yourself a break.

Every time you get a chance,
Lift somebody up.

Every time you’re not enough,
Be all that you are.

Every time your dream fades,
Dream it even bigger.

Every time you need a leader,
Look into a mirror.

Every time you let us down,
Learn to ask for help.

Every time you hit a wall,
Work your way around.

Every time you’re in the wrong,
Own it.

Every time you mess up,
Fix it.

Every time you stop short,
Start again.

Every time you fall down,
Get up.

© 2018 www.nickrobinson.org


The Fast and Furious Guide to Great Rapport

How rapport and great relationships at work start just like brilliant stunt-driving

Imagine that you’re starring in an episode of the popular movie franchise ‘Fast and Furious’. You’re in a scene involving two speeding cars, possibly chasing a third vehicle, or a train or something. For some reason your task is to get somebody to step or transfer from one of those moving cars, into the other. And they’re both moving at high speed.

If you can do this, if you can successfully facilitate that step between these two speeding cars without crashing, then the day is won, or the bad guys are defeated, or something similar; anyway, in the movie it’s a good thing if you can do it.

This act, of transferring successfully between those two moving vehicles, has a lot in common with the way that great rapport starts. Roll with me on this.

Rapport: ‘a close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned are in sync with each other, understand each other’s feelings or ideas, and communicate smoothly.’


If you can get great rapport between yourself and another person at work, everything you need and want to achieve together just becomes so much easier.


But what if that rapport is not coming naturally, or if you’re unsure how to go about it, where should you start?

This is where our Fast and Furious car transfer comes into its own.

Imagine for a moment that you and your colleague are the two moving cars and that the act of stepping successfully from one car to the other is your relationship. Will it transfer successfully? Or will it plunge to its doom between the two and be left in the wreckage on the highway?

If you really did have to facilitate that rolling transfer, how would you go about it?


Before you did anything else, you’d make sure that you came alongside each other, and were then travelling at the same speed and in the same direction. In a real-life rapport-building situation this is the equivalent of:

  1. Reading and understanding the other person’s Emotional State; and
  2. Matching that Emotional State yourself, in a way that isn’t fake.

Let’s drive along that road in a little more detail…

First, reading and understanding the other person’s Emotional State.

People want to be understood. This is why we say things like: “He just gets me,” when we’re talking about our best relationships. And the best way to understand other people is to observe and listen to them.

In the early stages of a rapport-building situation, this is easier to do than you might think. Research shows that humans are evolved to recognise at least six separate basic emotions just from seeing facial characteristics alone – and possibly as many as 21. And more recent research shows that hearing the emotional content in what people say might actually be even more accurately evolved in humans. I’ve put some links about this stuff at the end of the article, in case you’d like to read around a bit more.

The key to doing the early stages of rapport-building well is just to give your naturally-evolved abilities a brief moment to operate. Think of yourself as the second car in our Fast and Furious episode. Your colleague is driving along as the first car. If you wanted to pull alongside them at speed, it’d take you a moment or two to judge how fast they were going and in what direction they were headed.

If you want to have better rapport with people, make sure you take that moment to look and listen and assess their Emotional State before you do anything else.

Second, matching that Emotional State yourself, in a way that isn’t fake.

It seems to me that this is the point where a lot of people come unstuck in trying to have better rapport. What if the other person’s current emotional state is different from yours? What if, for example, they seem quite grumpy, but you’re feeling good about things and would just quite like to get on with whatever work task needs their input? Or what if you think that the task you both need to be getting on with requires one emotional state – “steadiness” for example – but the other person seems anything but ‘steady’?

In these situations people seem to tell themselves that they can’t suddenly change their emotional state to match the other person’s because that would be like lying or faking it, and (a) I don’t know how to do that and (b) they’ll see through it anyway. Or we throw our hands up and ask why, just for once, the other person can’t be the one who changes their emotional state to match mine!

These are important issues and I’d definitely want to tackle them in order to have better relationships at work. But in a context where your immediate goal is to start having great rapport, it’s futile to address them now. They’re the equivalent of pulling almost alongside the other speeding car and shouting over at them: “I want to head in a different direction.” Or: “Change your speed to match mine.” But they can’t hear you – they’re in a speeding car!

Better, to nudge your speed and direction closer to theirs, and then have the conversation about where you’re headed, and how fast you should be going.

And instead of worrying about looking or being fake when you’re seeking to match someone else’s Emotional State – find your own real close equivalence, and then be that; it’ll be close enough to work.

So, if the other person looks and sounds like they’re ‘grumpy’ and you’re not feeling the grumps yourself, find something close to it that you can relate to, like ‘sombre’, or ‘serious’. Find the part of you that truly is at times ‘serious’. You know what that looks and feels and sounds like and there will be times when you’ve genuinely been that. This’ll be a close enough match; your cars will be wobbling and twitching at high-speed, but you’ll be close enough to connect in a way that really counts. And you won’t end up too fast, or too furious.

Drive well people 🙂

Off-site research and article links:

Evolution of facial expressions

Mapping facial expressions for 21 emotions

Does your voice reveal more emotion than your face

 


Leadership and Physical Intelligence

How’s your Physical Intelligence – and how does this affect your ability to lead others?

I’ve long been interested in the idea of different types of intelligence. The developmental psychologist Howard Gardener described eight “modalities” of intelligence (which he later expanded to include two more), one of which is ‘Bodily-kinesthetic’ intelligence:

Gardner describes this as control of one’s physical movement and the capacity to handle objects skilfully. This also includes a sense of timing, a clear sense of the goal of a physical action, along with the ability to train responses. He believes that people who have high bodily-kinesthetic intelligence are generally good at physical activities such as sports, dance, acting, and making things.

Click here to see Gardner’s book on Amazon (not an affiliate link).

Whether or not you believe it’s actually an ‘Intelligence’, you’ve probably been around people who are really great at using their bodies. They can hit a tennis ball right by you without seeming to try. Or they can insert a needle into a worried patient’s arm in one easy motion. Or they can make great choices about their own physical health, in a way that sustains them really well.
What other kinds of physical intelligence or smartness have you noticed in yourself or others?

I learned from studying Emotional Intelligence, that you can think about each of your own intelligences as having two components:

First, a ‘Capacity‘. This is like the limit of your own intelligence (whether it’s Intellectual, Emotional or Physical etc). For some aspects of each of those intelligences, research suggests that your capacity is fixed – that is, it can’t be increased. What you’re born with may be what you’re stuck with. For other aspects, your capacity can be increased – you can stretch the limit and develop new capacities.

Second, there’s a ‘Utilisation‘. This is how much you use your current capacity. If you want to improve your intelligence, be it Intellectual, Emotional or Physical etc, making sure you’re actually already using all that you can use is probably the best place to start.

As I get older and my body stops taking care of itself quite as automatically as it did when I was younger, I’ve become more interested in aspects of physical intelligence. I’m lucky to have a wide spread of ages and occupations and interests amongst my coaching clients, so this is something I often just get a little curious about with them. What do they do to take care of themselves physically? How does their physical being impact on their presence as a leader? Are there links for them (as the evidence seems to suggest) between their physical intelligence and their emotional resilience?


If I bring to mind a dozen or so people I know really well who I’d regard as great leaders, it seems pretty clear to me that they have a good range of several of Gardner’s Intelligence Modalities. They’re smart people and they’ve worked at that. They are good at building relationships with others and they’ve worked at that too. And they all do something to maintain or even increase the utilisation of their own physical capacity.


What’s also interesting for me, is the range of things that these leaders do to utilise their physical being. There’s all the middle-aged cyclists of course. And there are swimmers and runners and tennis players and footballers and hikers and so on. But then there are also dancers and yoga practitioners and tai-chi masters and Nia movers and Five Rhythms people. The range of things that people do to be in great relationship with their bodies is huge.

This is not just about “fitness” – although being fit certainly seems to be part of Physical Intelligence. It’s more than just that though; it’s also about being aligned with and being fully part of our physical being, our bodies, as well as our mental and emotional existence. Without that, it’s hard to be a complete person – which is another important aspect of being a great leader.


It also seems to me that people who have a good relationship with their own bodies are more confident in their dealings with others, are less likely to get hijacked by their own knee-jerk responses and are generally happier and therefore more pleasant to be around.


What’s your view? Does your physical intelligence have anything at all to do with your ability to lead others, or to be successful in your work?

What’s the key? If you believed that physical intelligence IS important to leadership and general success at work and in life, and you wanted to improve your own where should you start?

In my personal experience, it’s all too easy to make this difficult. In the past I’ve managed to fill my own attempts to get physically smarter with all kinds of unhelpful beliefs about how much ‘should’ be possible for me. Or about how I need to keep the shambolic, beginner stages private. Or I’ve even fallen into the ‘no pain, no gain’ trap!

If we reflect back on my earlier points about Capacity and Utilisation, we’re actually talking about learning new stuff here – even if, in this case, it’s our bodies that are doing the learning. And the best learning is messy, playful, gentle and spontaneous.

Is that the way to improved physical intelligence?