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/
Photo by vitamina poleznova
Time management is so easy to talk about and so hard to do well. There are lots of tools around to help with this. Pebbles in a jar and the Eisenhower Box are two that I use a lot, to help people recognise that they need to make sure they make time for whats important to them and then get clear on what action they need to be taking versus delegating to other people.
The key starting point for time management is to get very clear on your priorities. Our lives are the sum of what we prioritise and sometimes we inadvertently focus on life’s squeaky wheels. Bronnie Ware’s The Top Five Regrets of the Dying is a sobering reminder that life marches on and its up to us to use the time we have as well as we can. According to the book, these are the top 5:
Pebbles in a Jar
With that in mind, using the Pebbles in a Jar approach, we would look at your life (the jar) and what needs to fit into it. If you fillet with sand and pebbles, the rock cannot be squeezed in.
The Eisenhower box
Once we know what is truly important, we can apply an approach like the Eisenhower Box, invented by the 34th president of the USA. He’s famous for saying “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” And his matrix helped him separate the important from the unimportant and the urgent from the not urgent. As you can see, if its not important and its not urgent, you just get rid of it!
Want to live a life with no regrets? You’ll need to make sure you are prioritising whats most important to you and just let go of the unimportant things. Simple but not always so easy!
Photo by Jeff Kingma
I speak to many people each week who suffer from a nagging doubt that they are not fulfilling their destiny. It may show up as a sense of frustration or disappointment in current circumstances, as sense of falling out of love with one’s career or it may be a lingering sense of missing out, that there is more to life if only one knew where to look for it.
As far as I am aware, there are two schools of thought on the subject: the Steve Jobs ‘do what you love” angle, where we are encouraged to believe that firstly, there is a single thing that each of us loves and, secondly, that it is possible to build a life (and income) around it. The other view is that you need to get good at something and the love for it will follow.
What's interesting is that these seemingly opposing pieces of advice are only helpful for people who have something that they know they want to do and don’t offer much in the way of crumbs for people who may have a range of things that they are mildly interested in. The British education system is not designed for what we could refer to as generalists, because it asks us to start homing in on our careers when we are in our mid-teens: first with GCSEs and then more ruthlessly with A-levels. People often make choices based on what they believe they will get good grades at or based on external guidance (parents, teachers, etc) rather than having a strong sense of self-direction.
At some point, many people who have been following this path, chaining from one near-term goal to the next - get good grades, get a degree, get a job, get a promotion, and on and on and on - wake up and wonder where they are and whether they are happy with their lives. This is summed up beautifully in the song Once in a Lifetime by the Talking Heads which encapsulates the thoughts of someone who has woken up to a life that they made unconsciously. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs model helps to explain this: they may have been focusing on the lower parts of the pyramid, addressing their physiological and safety needs and hadn't paid much attention to considering their more sophisticated needs of esteem or self-actualisation.
Helping people make sense of who they are and what their purpose is, is is something I do a lot of. I work with people when they feel that change is needed at work, either because it’s being imposed on them, due to a restructure maybe or because they feel like they are trapped. One of the key activities we do is to explore their purpose. I have already shared my preferred tools for this, which are the IKIGAI and Simon Sinek’s “What, How, Why”.
Finding your purpose is like finding your true self, the person trapped under all the weight of cultural expectations, undamaged by life's challenges, the person you were born to be. Be careful because once you meet them, your life will never be the same. You will have a glimpse of your future and there is no going back from there. Are you ready to meet the real you?
Photo by Dimitri Houtteman
We’ve all used the expressions “follow your heart” and “gut instinct” but we tend to assume that all our thinking happens in the brain. But it turns out that is not correct. Neuroscience has exposed to us that we, in fact, have two other powerful brains that guide us:
We need our brains to be working in unison. In fact, when you find that you aren’t acting in what you think is your best interests, its worth checking that your head, heart and gut are fully aligned. Given that the gut is responsible for action, procrastination’s often a sign of the brains not all being in agreement.
One way to correct this is to examine a situation you feel misaligned on from each of these perspectives:
When I first started coaching, I wanted to do it part time and get another part time job. So far, so sensible. But my heart and gut had their own plans. Every time I spoke to a recruiter about finding work in my old career, I would hear myself saying “all I really want to do is coach” and of course, that would scupper all my chances of getting work. I eventually gave up fighting it and threw myself 100% in to coaching, which I have never regretted!
When was the last time your brains were not aligned? Was you heart not in it? Did your gut tell you no? How did it go?
User-centred. Digital Transformation. Coach.