Photo by Maren Wilczek
Some people seem to have a very clear vision of where they are going and where they want to get to in life. Whether or not they make it seems to be less important than having an end point to aim for. In contrast, many people don’t have a clear set of goals and find the idea of creating them quite daunting. For the people in the second camp, they often slowly get a sense that they are failing to achieve their potential. And, I find, this can lead to a negative spiral, a catch-22, where you never know if you are on track if you have no clear destination.
Richard Boyatzis, an expert on intentional change says that “we become what we dream” and that in order to do that, we need to be clear about who we wish to be and what we want to achieve in our lives. He is fully aware of how overwhelming it is to allow ourselves to dream and has come up with a series of tools that shift out out of the negative spiral and open up the creative side of our mind. There is one thing I'd recommend doing - one of Boyatzis' “Dreams of the Ideal Future” exercises - that can be very effective at helping with this. It’s also very simple. You just need to list 27 or more things you’d like to do or experience before you die.
I would encourage everyone to have a go. You may not get to 27, and that’s OK. Its less about specifics (e.g. places you’d like to visit) and more about experiences (e.g. go for a walk with a future grandchild or give a speech at your child’s wedding). It may help to explore what you would have liked to have achieved at different future life milestones, like having gone skydiving by your 75th birthday or climbed Mount Everest by the time you are 50.
I really encourage you to play with this. Time is a curious quality and most people don’t have a good sense of how quickly it passes, especially when you are focussed on other things. My vision for the future is to help people find their happy path in life and at work because being unhappy is just a sign that something needs to change! And if you want some help with seeing your future more clearly, give me a shout.
McKee, Boyatzis and Johnston, Becoming a Resonant Leader: Develop Your Emotional Intelligence, Renew Your Relationships, and Sustain Your Effectiveness, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, Mass. 2008
Photo by JC Gellidon
There are a lot of myths and legends about work, how it works and how do survive and thrive while you are there. Some of them seem more true than others but, to be honest, they are all contextual because it depends on the culture of the place you are in. What goes in one office is totally taboo in another. Whats incredible is how much these “rules” guide us and often make us very unhappy in the process. Over the years, I have encountered plenty of them, but here are 5 particularly damaging ones:
Success means having to climb the career ladder
This is something society pushes at us quite hard. It is also reinforced by going to school where we are rewarded for doing well and at the end of each year, we take a step up the ladder. By the time people get to work, this pattern is very established in our minds. The truth is, not everyone wants to or is a position to get to the “top” and sometimes it is hard admit to - either just to ourselves or in public. I often coach people who have very mixed feelings about where to go next in their careers because of this type of belief.
I need to make an amazing impression all the time.
This is a really dangerous one. Yes, avoiding mistakes, from terrible career bloopers to typos, is 100% recommended, but the fear of making mistakes can be so inhibiting, it can lead to nothing getting done at all. I talk to people who lose sleep, family and holiday time because they feel the need to make every output, every email, every presentation into a work of art.
Whats needed here is some perspective: how much does it matter? Is the extra effort worth it? For this second question, I’d challenge you to find evidence to back your answer. I know people who spend days scouring the internet for perfect images for presentations, which is lovely of course, but makes no difference to anyone in the big scheme of things. The big question for this situation is “is it really worth it?” And if it isn’t a resounding Yes” then its time to make your peace with good enough!
Saying “no” is a career killer!
This is a myth I certainly bought into in the past. I would say “yes” to anything because I thought saying “no” would totally scupper my career. I eventually learned that if you say “yes” to too many things, you just get asked to do more and more until you are so overwhelmed you start malfunctioning. And, it turns out that saying yes to something you later are unable to deliver on is the career killer, not saying no! It took me a long time to learn that one! A great way of managing your workload is to be open abut your other commitments and get feedback on priorities before you make a decision about picking up or dropping tasks.
Asking for help makes you look stupid/incompetent
This, to be honest, can be a cultural issue. I have worked in places where it was obvious that if you admitted you could do with a bit of support somehow indelibly marred your track record forevermore. Ugh! The worst thing is that not getting help when you need it can be more damaging - for the person and for the organisation. The individual gets discouraged and is likely to start to be less effective and that impacts on the organisation because its needs are being served less optimally.
Sometimes, its just easiest to do it myself
This is a killer.Learning to trust others, to give guidance when needed and then stand back and let them get on with it can feel very exhausting and scary. The big fear is that they won’t do a great job and it will reflect badly on everyone. Which leads us to think that we’ll only have to re-work their efforts later, so why not do it now? That may make sense in the sort term but it’s also a terrible trap. Because you are not letting them learn how to help you, you set up a scenario where you can never step away from the tasks you always do in order to take on new challenges and grow new skills yourself. Over time, you will start to feel weighed down by the burden of all the tasks you are responsible for and maybe you will notice that your less encumbered colleagues are making better career progress than you are!
So, it’s very well worth challenging ourselves about what we believe to be true about how work works because it may help us see what is getting in the way of enjoying our time at work. Like fish having no sense of the fact that they are swimming in water, many of these beliefs are invisible to us at first. Coaching can help you explore your thoughts in a way that you may not be able to do alone. Give me a call if you want to find out more!
Image by Aarón Blanco Tejedor
Self sabotage: when we do (or don’t do) things that stop us achieving our goals. It’s when we overeat when we want to be dieting, when we don’t study when we know the qualification will open doors for us, or when we don’t write that blog post or call that recruiter even though we know it’s exactly what we need to do next. It looks crazy from the outside but somehow our minds are able to contort around the contradiction and get comfortable with it. There are lots of reasons why we self-sabotage, but here are three popular types and some suggestions on how to break the cycle:
There is something about it that scares you
This is such a funny one and hard to catch in action as its happening. Much easier to spot when you reflect back on things, especially if its more of a pattern than a one-off. Examples would be: spending so long on job applications, you miss the submission date or setting such a high bar for what you do that nothing quite gets to it - so you end up not doing anything.
If this feels familiar, ask yourself the following questions:
Out of alignment with your values or beliefs
I find this comes up a lot with people I work with. There is a part of them that actually doesn’t want what they say they want. An example of this is someone who is unwilling to put themselves forward for a promotion because they have a belief that their boss will recognise and reward them for the great work they have been doing. This may also be fuelled by having values like “respect” and “fairness” that they assume drives other people’s thinking.
What I find helps is to explore those values and beliefs and see how they could map better to the person’s hopes and dreams. For example, helping them recognise that their boss is unable to be fair and respect them if they continue to keep their ambitions a secret or forget to remind their boss of their underused skills or unobserved achievements. I worked with someone who was totally unable to complete a task they declared was really important to them because somewhere in their minds was the thought that they would give up something else they thought was important. When we exposed this thinking, it turns out that there was a way to keep this important element in their lives and they completed the task in record time.
Waiting for the muse to strike
When I decide I want to do something like write a blog post, lose a couple of pounds or go to the gym after a long (multi-year!) break, I often get lost in preparing. My best avoider technique is “researching”, which I insist on, however trivial the topic. That can allow days to slip by and even weeks if I’m not careful. The danger here is that there is always some reason why ‘today’ and ‘now’ are never the right time.
If any of this sounds familiar, you, like me, need to get underneath this kind of procrastination if you want to get around it. You will have more success with yourself if you stop letting your inner spoiled child take the upper hand. Tell yourself that no one dies from lack of cake and, equally, all writers say the best way to write is to start writing. Enough with the fooling around. You need to push through by channeling your Victorian grandmother. This approach works for the times when we know what to do but just need a bit of self discipline.
Stopping self sabotage can be challenging. It can help to get some support with breaking old habits and behaviours. I can help. I work with a tool that has an incredible track record to help people recognise their saboteur thinking and introduce new, lifelong thought patterns. Want to know more? Book some time with me and I can answer any questions you might have.
There are many times over the course of a career where we need to present ourselves differently to how we have always been. That kind of change is often triggered by a change in role or a promotion but it can also be triggered by our wanting to be seen differently. This can be very uncomfortable as it changes our relationship with our once-peers and colleagues.
For anyone who is going through this, I have some tips:
It's not always easy to reinvent yourself. Message me if this is something you need support with.
Photo: Paul Skorupskas
We’ve all had at least one: the terrible boss, the one you dreaded spending time with, who never saw you in a good light, no matter what you did. Some of them yell and scream, some pile on the tasks and some of them just ignore you. What they all have in common is that they have created a bad experience that can be very scarring.
There are lots of great tips on the internet on how to deal with this, mostly focussing on what you can do to manage them or the situation but I want to focus on the opportunities having a bad manager offers you. “Opportunities?” you say? Yes, opportunities. You may learn more from a bad boss than from a good one. Lets go through a few possibilities:
Image credit: Javier Allegue Barros
Something a lot of my clients mention when we first meet is that they never really had a career plan and that this something I can definitely relate to. Many of us follow subjects we enjoy or are good at in high school and that tends to set the direction we take for the rest of our time in formal education. Once we hit the job market we often find ourself following our guts, taking up options because they sound interesting or are better paid but rarely because they are laying a foundation for our big life plan.
Over the years many of us manage our careers with the precision of “hunt the thimble”, a party game where a blindfolded searcher has to find a hidden object being guided by temperature hints to let them know if they are getting ‘warmer’ or ‘colder’ in their pursuit. And, to be honest, this approach can take people a long way. The only time it becomes a problem is when we have to take stock and make some challenging decisions. Thats when people remember that they did have something they wanted to do and somehow they got totally sidetracked. Lockdown has had a silver lining where its unlocked peoples career hopes and dreams and allows them to wake up from the career trance they have been in.
Part of the problem is that we find it hard to conceive of the future and of ourselves in that future. FMRI studies now show that we think about our future selves in the same way as we think of other people, strangers who we are, let’s be honest, less likely to go out on a limb for. So, at a primitive, unspoken level, we totally deprioritise our future selves for whatever is temptingly on offer today. Studies in the US show that 53% of the population say they rarely or never think about the “far future” and 36% rarely or never think about something they might do in 10 years.
That said, the studies do find that some people do think about the future: from the same research in the US, 17% say they think about the world 30 years out at least once a week and 29 percent, consider a 10 year horizon at least once a week.
In my experience, both approaches have their pro’s and cons: non-planners surf the opportunities and are at the mercy of the wind and the waves in terms of where they end up. They are more likely to have trouble resisting temptations generally and may have poorer retirement plans, be less physically heathy, etc. They do build great resilience though and can adapt to change very quickly. On the other hand, people who believe it’s possible to plan ahead with any kind of certainty can struggle when their plans don’t materialise as expected. So, as ever, there is a happy middle ground we should all aspire to.
A great exercise to help the non-planners think about the future is to imagine its your 75th birthday and everyone who is important to you is there. Who is there? Someone you are close to gives a speech about all of your life’s accomplishments. What are they saying? Interestingly, you, at the age you are today, are also there. You can ask your future self for advice. What do they tell you?
Photo credit: Sasha Freemind
From time to time, all of us hit a bumpy patch on our career journeys. It could be a new boss who you just can’t seem to gel with, taking on a new role and realising the culture it totally toxic, a restructure that doesn’t have a place for you or just a creeping sense of dissatisfaction that there MUST be more to life than whatever you spend your waking hours doing. For anyone who is going through that, I offer you both my support and my best tips for getting back on track:
Photo credit: Miguel Bruna
Amaaazing! You got the gig! It’s the dream job at the company you wanted to work at since forever. Everyone is congratulating you! Such a fantastic moment. Even your parents are getting kudos out of it, just for having produced you. No pressure though. Its not like you could flub it up, right? Right? Ack!
For those who want to make a good impression, pass probation and make an impact, read on!
1. Identify your success metrics
In order to be successful in your new role you need to be clear about the metrics you want to be judged against. Are you there to raise standards, raise profile (yours or the teams), improve processes or save money? It’s critical to be clear on how your progress will be evaluated and by whom. Don’t leave yourself in the dark here.
2. How aligned are you with your formal goals?
If you are there to save money and streamline the business, are you 100% behind that vision? Or, are you secretly hoping to persuade the powers that be to take another view.
3. Whats the organisational/departmental view on meeting objectives?
All organisations have their unique tolerances for performance, and some can be surprisingly harsh or gentle. It pays to do some digging and get the lie of the land where you are.
4. Whose feathers will your success ruffle?
Who is going to welcome those improvements and who is going to be less than impressed? This is where the politics lives. Become a great detective to see what matters to who.
5. Make your presence known
Get out and meet as many people as you can. Ask everyone if there is someone else you need to meet. Take notes. My experience is that everyone tells you everything you need to succeed in the first few weeks. You are just too overwhelmed to take it in. Keep reviewing your notes. It’s all in there.
6. Listen as if your life depended on it
People blossom when they feel heard. Listen to everyone and acknowledge their truth, even if it doesn’t resonate or make sense to you. Ask them what they would do if they were you. You’ll be amazed at what you hear.
7. Set goals and hold yourself to account
What do you want to achieve in your first 30, 60, 90 days? And after that? What happens if you don’t? If you can’t trust yourself to deliver, how can your team, peers and stakeholders depend on you?
8. Ask for help
It’s easy to assume that asking for help exposes your weaknesses publicly. And it might do, but whats the alternative? If you don’t ask for help and don’t achieve your goals, you run the risk of falling flat on your face and that is never a winning look. So swallow your pride and get help when you need it. Too tip: make sure you acknowledge all your sources so they are even more inclined to help in the future.
It’s easy to compare ourselves to “great leaders” and feel too aware of how we fall short. But being a leader depends so much more on staying calm and being your best self than it does on specific skills (that you can hone throughout your career) such as public speaking. Do your homework (follow these 8 tips) and keep your nerve and you have every chance of being the great leader you know you can be.
Photo credit: Ryoji Iwata
A topic that has come up a lot with clients recently is about how poorly matched they feel with the career market. Sometimes this is easily addressed by a closer examination of the market, acknowledging all the variables such as organisational size, agency vs in-house working style, digital maturity level, public, private, not-for-profit, etc because, honestly there are pockets in that landscape that are nothing like each other in any dimension.
But sometimes it’s about roles and seniority and the expectations that weigh them down. Is it possible to be a senior and not line manage and even if it is, what is the career progression beyond that for someone who doesn’t want to “be in charge of” other people?
I gently nudge the conversation towards getting clearer about strengths and weaknesses, needs and desires until we have a fuller picture: they have a much better idea of the puzzle piece shaper they really are and are then able to scour the market to see where they fit.
Inside all of us is a very unique being and life tends to try to make us forget that. Once you get back in touch with the “real” you, you will find any attempts to downplay it start to backfire on you and the only way is to move forward and honour yourself. It’s the route to your happy path. Best get started now!
Photo by Sven Mieke
We all understand the concept of physical fitness and have a sense of where we are with that. We know that good physical fitness can help us avoid risk of heart disease, strokes and other chronic illnesses, improve strength and flexibility, help us maintain a lower body weight and lower blood pressure, depression and even dementia.
What we understand less well is the concept of mental fitness. It is a measure of our ability to deal with life’s challenges in a way that allows us to bounce back rather than be knocked over when things don’t go to plan. Unlike physical fitness which relates to muscular strength, mental fitness is about building strong positive, constructive neural pathways that allow us to view the world more objectively and in a more positive light. Mental fitness gives you the ability to silence the negative thoughts and access the bounty of your higher mind, the place where your best thinking and emotional intelligence lives. Like a swimmer who is more powerful in the water than they are on land, we may be mentally strong in some circumstances and less capable in others.
There are three steps to mental fitness:
Sounds easy but it turns out to be very hard to do in the moment because our survival impulses are very powerful and can happen before we have time to really process whats going on.
Positive Intelligence©, a 6-week intensive mental fitness program that came out of Stanford University and is firmly built on neuroscience, cognitive and positive psychology, and performance science offers a simple toolkit that gives you:
The program has been used by hundreds of thousands of people already and has yielded significant measurable results for a number of organisations including*:
Want to know more? Find out about your saboteurs here and then book a call with me and we can talk about your results - in a complimentary session, of course!
* Figures from https://www.positiveintelligence.com/program/
User-centred. Digital Transformation. Coach.