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?
Something that comes up a lot in client conversations is out of the blue experiences, where people think everything was ticking along nicely and it turns out that wasn’t the case. I had a boss once who, for over a year, reassured me when I frequently asked if there was anything I should be doing that I wasn’t doing that I was doing a great job - only to recount in granular detail every error I had made (including not being charismatic enough) during my exit interview when it was impossible for me to do anything about it in that organisation.
I am also haunted by the memory of giving unexpected end of year feedback to a colleague who wholeheartedly believed they were doing a great job, so I am not holding myself up as being a model for getting any of this right. However, I would like to assure you that I was very careful not to make that particular error again.
We are all really hesitant about giving bad feedback to others and often either avoid it altogether or soften the blow so much the message gets lost. What we are doing by not giving feedback is not allowing that person to learn and grow. Humans learn by trial and error and if you break the feedback loop, you are in fact denying them them the chance to become better.
There are many ways of giving feedback and we need to find our own style. Here are a few techniques you can try (and one to avoid!)
This is an approach from Marshall Goldsmith, who suggests that you couch the information is terms of “what might be great to try in the future” rather than what wen’t wrong in the past. It implies that you believe they can change and that you want the best for them. Its a great technique!
This is more of a generalised approach rather than a technique. Its good to start with checking in with the other person - what do they think is going well and whats not going so well? In my experience, most people have doubts and just need a safe environment to air them. That neatly segues into the opportunity to explore alternative ways of tackling a problem.
5 Word Review
This was a method created by one of the founders of of Kayak.com. You solicit feedback from a colleagues or your manager but their contribution is limited to 5 words and they need to cover what you are doing well and what could benefit from improvement. You meet to talk about it for an hour, ideally. Nothing is written down, so its not on anyone’s record. Repeat multiple times.
The DESC technique is a nice structure to support you when you give feedback:
Tell a story
Telling a story about yourself or another person who had a similar experience that led to a happy outcome is a technique that works for people of all ages to illustrate a better approach to a common set of circumstances. It also helps them to recognise that they are not alone in misjudging a situation, which helps to reduce the natural tendency to become defensive. I leave it up to you to decide how grounded the story has to be in reality, but do remember people have a sixth sense for deception!
And the one to avoid? Its the feedback sandwich - where you offer praise then tuck in the criticism and follow up with more praise. It is very popular (having been recommended for years now) but super confusing for the receiver. They either just hear the positives or they brace themselves for the second punch and let the good sentiments fly past unheard.
I hope this inspires you to give feedback more often. And to see it as a gift rather than as a negative experience for you and for the recipient. Instead, look upon it as something that helps them grow better and stronger, like fertiliser for the soul.
Photo by CDC
It appears that viruses are a lot smarter than we might give them credit for. And they are remarkably singleminded: their whole lifecycle and survival strategy is focussed on making as many people ill as possible. A fascinating tactic they employ is one where they are able to manipulate the behaviour of their hosts in order to further their own interests. There is now evidence that people become measurably more social when they are first infected and most contagious and this significantly helps the virus achieve its goal of infecting as many people as possible.
They are cleverly good at taking advantage of the fact that humans are ecosystems, with millions of microorganisms, many of which live in our gut. We are vastly outnumbered by them - possibly as many as three times more than what we might consider to be our human selves. This vast collection of microbiota is largely made up of bacteria, fungi and even viruses that symbiotically help our bodies to function efficiently.
Viruses have a lot in common with our internal saboteur thoughts: they too are parasites and are acting in their own best interests and not ours. They often are so good at persuading us that they are our own thoughts that we assume they are. They are 100% focussed on winning now and have no interest in the long term, so they egg us on to do and say things that feel satisfying in the moment: lose our tempers, over eat, make a clever but barbed comment but they have no care, like all parasites, about the long term prospects of their hosts.
Saboteur thoughts come from the part of our brain that is less evolved (brainstem) that deals with self preservation and reacts at lighting speed to handle any perceived threats. It takes a short term view and is totally focussed on keeping us alive. Our saboteur thoughts are the strategies that we developed as small children that kept us safe when we were tiny and the world seemed very threatening even if we grew up in kind loving households. These childish rules of thumb - the ones that encourage us to say yes when we ought to say no or letting a desire for doing everything perfectly (or not at all) stops you getting anything done - are not fit for purpose in the adult lives we end up leading and they end up undermining us.
To break free of them, we need to recognised them as being good ideas who have outlived their sell by date who now reside in our minds and masquerade as our own thoughts which should be coming from our higher brain (neo cortex). Fortunately, like getting a vaccine, there is something you can do:
Want to know more about silencing your saboteurs? Take the saboteur assessment and then let's talk about how we can work together using the Positive Intelligence method to silence your saboteurs for good.
Mahatma Ghandi, a man many of us see as an incredible leader and role model, is credited with challenging us to the "be the change you want to see in the world". Apparently, he was never heard to have used that phrase, but as it is very aligned with what he could have said, its a helpful inspiring sentiment for us all to remember.
What he did say was: “We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.”
People come to work with me because something in their work-life isn't working for them, their efforts are not yielding the rewards they were expecting. This applies to groups as well as individuals. The conversations often start of with identifying poor attitudes, habits or behaviours in others. There is normally a lot of "evidence" to suggest that if these other people behaved differently, the world would be a better place, for my clients and often for others. If only the other person/people listened more, or was less of a control freak or whatever.
This ties in with Stephen Covey's concept of the circles of influence and concern, where he advises us to focus on the things we have direct control over and step away from fretting about the things we have no control over.
Be the change you want to see is a call to focus on the difference you can make to the one thing you have a lot of control over: yourself. If we want our colleagues to listen to us, we can start by listening to them. And if we want our leaders to trust us, we need to demonstrate that we are willing to reciprocate and trust them. It takes courage to take the first step, to be vulnerable and to be generous without having any certainty that we will see any benefits.
My challenge for all of us is to be the change you want to see, because if you are different, people will notice and respond to you differently. You may get a variety of reactions, some good and some less good, but you will be able to stay confident and strong, knowing that you are the best role model for whats important to you.
Covey, S, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, Simon Schuster Ltd Uk, 1990.
User-centred. Digital Transformation. Coach.