‘Unconquered’ – Invictus Inspiration

It has often been said that there is no such word as ‘can’t’. Yet ‘can’t’ is one of the commonest phrases encountered by anyone feeling fearful of change. This weekend my sons and I attended the inaugural Invictus Games in London. What a remarkable experience it was, and one that demonstrated what is possible by simply saying ‘I can’.

Invictus is the perfect title for an event designed to inspire wounded service men and women, with broken bodies, minds or spirits, that there is life after darkness and hope beyond despair. photoTaken from a seminal poem by William Ernest Henley, Invictus means ‘unconquered’. What a privilege it was to support international teams in their extraordinary efforts to conquer physical, mental and emotional wounds. We witnessed true teamwork, leadership and determination in action. This courageous energy was palpable and carried competitors, and spectators to a higher plane of joy and faith in the power of the human spirit.

Yet again the unifying power of sporting endeavour served to inspire and energise everyone who participated in the event, or who viewed it from afar. In a world often stilted by negative and alarming news, this was a breath of fresh air.

Watching the Wheelchair Basketball heats was incredible. The competitors created an electrifying atmosphere and demonstrated that it is possible to be simultaneously competitive and generous to your opponents. Travelling at great speed, whilst zipping and weaving amongst other players, some competitors tipped out of their chairs. IMG_9473 copyIn a deft movement, team mates from both sides would buzz around the fallen player and lever them back into an upright position in just seconds, with all the efficiency of a Formula 1 pit crew!

If your spirits are in need of a pick-me-up, go check out some of the coverage of the Games, you cannot fail to be inspired. And if you remember one thing only from the impact of this weekend’s events, recite to yourself the closing stanza of Henley’s poem:

“I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.”



‘Free Spirits Need not Apply’…Holding on to your soul in the corporate jungle.

“I knew from the moment I walked in there it wasn’t for me”. So said a coaching client after going to a high-powered interview for a senior job she had been invited to apply for. “I accepted the job, but realised my misgivings the first week I started, I knew I just didn’t gel with the culture”, said another client after leaving an ostensibly attractive job 9 months in. “I know I could have done the job, but I turned it down when offered because I knew I’d struggle to work with the manager in charge”, was the feedback from another client considering his career options.

There comes a point in your career where your capacity to shoe-horn yourself into a role that just doesn’t fit with your values, suddenly diminishes. It’s not even a factor of age, simply how strongly a values fit matters to you. I’ve worked with early, mid and later-stage career coaching clients on this conundrum. As many of us know from experience, doing a job for the package alone, only keeps you going for a while. Beyond that, our over-arching human need for fulfilment can take over.

‘Look into my soul….’ Is Corporate Career Match-Making the Future?

Recruitment Industry analysts were all in a fluster last summer when eHarmony announced it was making its complex matchmaking algorithm available to companies who wanted to find the platonic soul-mates who might drive their business forward.P1020989

“We don’t want you making hiring decisions based on four or five superficial data points. We want to give you 40 data points….and a much deeper connection”, said Grant Langton of eHarmony

Meanwhile, the innovative www.good.co offers individuals a personality profiling suite where you can suss out and seek companies, peers and potential jobs that are more likely to fit with your values and ideals.

Be yourself in the process, and the rest will follow.

How do you hold onto your soul as you consider new options and opportunities, whether it’s to stay where you are or try something new? In my experience, the right employer or business partner for you will encourage you to be true to yourself from the start. If however, they’ve yet to see the light, here are some tips to try:

  • Ask: What would you expect me to deliver in my first 90 days?
  • Be open: about your family and aspects of your life that are important to you (don’t give the impression you’ll be open all hours for work).
  • Find out: What other people in this organisation do in their spare time?
  • Explore: What challenges you might encounter if you take the role on?
  • Create Space: To consider an offer, ask for further meetings or conversations if you want to find out more before you sign. If they’re the right match, they’ll wait a reasonable time for you to decide.
  • Web Check: the news, chat forums and social media channels for things people are saying about the organisation. Does it all stack up with the impression you’re building?

I’m a firm believer in being yourself in business, whether that’s in an established role, or a new one.IMG_3729 So next time you go looking for an opportunity, or you seek out new talent for your own team, listen to your heart, as well as your head, and let it guide you to your own work soul-mates.




It’s ‘dot.complicated’ – 21st Century Tech-Life Balance

Do you know what ‘FOMO’ stands for? Neither did I until recently.

Fear-Of-Missing-Out. FOMO. Another four-letter acronym (make sure you get them the right way around) to describe people who are driven to twitch for their smart phones over 100 times a day. In our always-on-always-connected digital age, we can share and like at will, but it can feel hard to keep up. IMG_5304As this Health & Safety poster demonstrates, we can become so fearful of missing out on the latest trending topics, we might even screw up our primal fight-or-flight response!  (Shared by cool news-feeders, Mashable). Whether it’s a tweet, an update, a like, an inbox alert, a direct message, a push notification, a comment-on-a-comment, or friend request, we can easily become overwhelmed by our own digital existence.


For decades, time and motion study gurus have told us how to manage our time effectively, prioritise, leave work behind and cherish our home lives. In the past 5 years, all of those ground rules have been blown apart. In the new world order, our digital lives can so easily compete for attention with our real-world lives. Could this be the end of the human race as we know it?

Mark Zuckerberg’s Sister Should Know

Having pondered these e-conundrums for sometime now, especially in trying to figure out exactly how much tech is good for me and my family, I read Dot Complicated by Randi Zuckerberg.  A friend, gave this book to me, knowing how intrigued I am by what the Digital Age means to us and how we live, work, love and parent. IMG_5373(Note, he gave me a hard-backed book, one that you can pick up and put down, not the Kindle version. Even more appealing was the fact that the book goes perfectly with my table cloth – can you spot it?)

Aesthetics aside, reading this book reminded me of the good sense I know I started out with when it came to questions about my on-line life. Achieving what Ms Zuckerberg describes as ‘Tech-Life Balance’ made me re-assess how well I live by some important principles – here goes:

  • Giving undivided attention to your loved ones is the greatest of gifts.
  • Tech should make you closer to friends, not to higher numbers of ‘friends’.
  • Going phone-less – put it down and leave it there, put it out of sight when you’re with others.
  • Technology is not the end – it’s the means to make good happen for you and others you care about.
  • Good digital habits begin at home – just like driving, what our children observe us doing will shape how they use tech as adults.
  • The World Will Not End – if you are not always on-line.

So give yourself a break, now you’ve finished reading this blog post – log-out, put your tech in a cupboard and go on outside to sample the real world, I know I am!


Photo credit: Paul Keating




Climbing Frames, not Ladders – 21st Century Careers

“You need your feet on the ground, your eyes on the horizon and your head in the clouds.”


Photo credit: Paul Keating

This was such an insightful piece of career advice from a most valued mentor. It was 2000 and my mentor could already see that the DotCom bubble was shaking up the world of work and that a new age was dawning. We were on the cusp of technological innovations epoch-making world events and social change. Fourteen year later, most traditional career development assumptions have been thrown into disarray.

Generation Flux

In what Fast Company has termed ‘Generation Flux’, career conventions no longer exist for today’s top talent. Let’s start with a bit of careers myth-busting:

  • No more career ‘ladders’ – even the biggest global employers struggle to maintain an organisational structure for longer than 24 months. Expect career ‘climbing-frames’ not ladders, IMG_4206your career may require side-steps, a few reversals, and maybe a total change in direction.
  • No perfect role models – look wide and look wisely for your career inspiration, it will never be embodied in just one person.
  • No life-long path – for many of us, our career will include at least one, if not several, changes into related and new specialisms.
  • No such thing as ‘retirement’ – slowing down, a change of pace or pursuits? That’s maybe more like it. There’s unlikely to be many who will achieve long-term golden years without the need to continue earning.

Super-Hybrid Career Design

So how can we navigate this unfamiliar territory? Especially as for many of us, it flies in the face of everything our parents, teachers and career advisors may have told us. Here are some perspectives to consider:

  1. Eyes on the Horizon – Whether you’re employed, self-employed, in a secure career or not, always keep your eyes on the horizon for changes, and trends. What can you learn from people outside your own chosen profession or sector. What skills are growing or declining in demand? How strong is your network outside of your current role? Who would you call if you suddenly found yourself out of a job?
  2. Feet on the Ground – Are you making the most of the career you’re in? If you’re feeling stale, does anyone know and can they advise? Are you keeping your head down in denial, or actively seeking out support and opportunities that will keep you up-to-date?
  3. Head in the Clouds – Are you doing what your childhood-self hoped for? What sparks your imagination and passions beyond your current career path? Is it time to start nurturing a ‘micro-career’ (something that earns you a modest secondary income now that could turn bigger in future)? In the age of free and low-cost higher education, is there a course of study you could pursue on-line that enables you to explore a new interest?

In my life I know IMG_5356a civil engineer/restauranteur, a project manager/sports-coach, an IT specialist/property developer, a PA/florist and I married an engineer/photographer! How might your career shape up and what new paths could you explore? Look up, look out and connect with new possibilities, the future’s happening now.

‘Once more with feeling’ – Lessons from the motivationally challenged

IMG_5372If you’ve ever watched the toe-curling management practices of David Brent in ‘The Office’ you’ll probably have been reminded of at least one motivationally-challenged boss in your career.

“Not a thank you, not even a cup of coffee”, was the first thing a friend said when he summed up an end of year ‘motivational talk’ with a senior boss in the very large company he works for. After a tough year, working under very challenging conditions, and having still managed to turn in one of the top performances in his field, the end of year meeting would have been a great opportunity to say thanks and mean it. Instead, the star-performers in the team endured an hour-long monologue about the need to work even harder in the year to come,

Support and Challenge

In an age of motivational enlightenment, it’s incredible that managers still get it wrong. In their latest book, Creative Confidence, Tom and David Kelley highlight the vast chasm between ‘minimiser’ managers, who typically try to eradicate free will and creativity amongst their teams, and ‘multiplier’ leaders, who seek out the exact opposite. The best motivators I’ve met know that it doesn’t take much to bring out the best in others. Follow some of their simplest techniques to hit the sweet spot on the support and challenge continuum:


  • Ask for input –giving someone the space to share their thinking is an incredible sign of respect.
  • Make introductions – to people and forums that will hasten progress and access to the right information and experience.
  • Thank and praise often – making sure people know what they are being thanked or praised for.


  • Encourage risk taking – challenge people to have a go at opportunities they might be shying away from.
  • Raise the bar – nudge it higher when goal setting to create a stretch.
  • Put them in charge –name someone as the ‘go-to’ person for a project or leader of a meeting. Quietly coach behind the scenes.

Using this mix of techniques on a regular basis, little and often, builds immense trust, mutual respect and confidence. It’s the simplest set of techniques anyone can use, and you don’t need to wait until you’re the official ‘boss’ to have a go. So counteract the soul-crushing techniques of our hapless manager in the opening title by trying this out on all around.

‘Take a load off’- lightening your life through forgiveness.

Of the many inspirational moments Nelson Mandela’s passing has IMG_3847provided, footage of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings was the most potent for me. Established at Mandela’s request, and chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the hearings brought post-apartheid victims and abusers together, face-to-face, to listen to, express and understand the pain and suffering endured on both sides of the racial divide.

The footage and the accounts are harrowing, raw and emotional, as you would expect. Yet the light at the end of this dark process, was real, heartfelt, and freeing forgiveness. Freedom for both victims and abusers, not necessarily to forget, but to accept in the other, genuine remorse and forgiveness.

Hating is Heavy

One of the greatest weights that people can carry around with them is hatred. Hatred of any other person or group of people. Even in the supposedly civilised domain of the workplace, I continue to be amazed by the strength of feeling people harbour against others whom by they feel have wronged them. Consequently many coaching conversations start with trying to step into another person’s shoes to seek understanding as to why they may have behaved less than perfectly. The simple, inconvenient truth is that, as humans, we are inherently flawed and imperfect.

With this in mind, here are some simple questions to ask yourself, that might just help to lighten your own load.

  • What is hatred costing you? If you’re hating, you’re probably over-thinking others’ motives. Are you over-suspicious, increasingly cynical or putting great effort into ‘ignoring’ the hated one.
  • What exactly do you hate? I often discover, it’s something specifically that was done or said at a particular point in time. So it’s rarely the case that it’s the ‘whole’ person that is hated.
  • What do you ‘not hate’? On closer analysis, there will be aspects of a person that are deserving of hate, but worthy of understanding.

First Steps

  1. Say it out loud – this is where a coaching conversation comes in. It’s what some psychologists call ‘clearing’. Letting you get it all ‘off your chest’ in a safe environment.
  2. Listen to yourself – how do you respond to the three ‘what’ questions above?
  3. What are you up for? – exploring what truth and reconciliation could bring to you?
  4. What will you do next? – deciding on the very next steps that you can take.

As a coach I am sometimes asked to facilitate conversations between people whose working relationship is, at best, not as good as it could be. In other cases the relationship may have broken down considerably. Whatever the starting point, it can be helpful to have an independent person there to help kick-start communication.

I have always found, that once these brave first steps have been taken, people find their own way together. Maybe not everyone finds everlasting happiness, but with a lightened load, they can renew their energy for moving forward.

So take a moment to reflect on what the great Madiba strived for. What might we all be capable of achieving with just a drop more forgiveness?

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” 
― Nelson MandelaLong Walk to Freedom

“Stop the world for just a minute please” – grounding for beginners

Constantly feel you’re tackling life’s challenges from the back foot? Frustrated by not giving your best when the stakes are high? Regularly saying “yes” to others when inside you’re screaming “nooooooo!!!”

In the whirlwind of life, work, family and finances, it can feel like you’re in a state of border-line chaos, never quite in charge of your own destiny. Thoughts, ideas and plans that are important to you, pushed to the back of the queue, everyone else’s priorities in front of yours.

Spot the Symptoms

  • Not speaking up about something that’s important to you
  • Getting defensive and flying off-the handle more than you used to
  • Getting flustered and going quiet
  • Getting flustered and never shutting up!

These behaviours can besiege us when we’re consumed by our gremlins. Gremlins are the negative, unhelpful inner voices that crop up when we feel stressed. When they speak, they distract us from being fully resourceful. Yet, with some simple tricks and techniques, it is possible to regain command of the situation by re-discovering your energy, eloquence and sense of inner-calm when it counts. This is what I call ‘Grounding’.


When you’re grounded, you have energy to think, make contributions that do you justice, challenge constructively, or remain calm when others become heated. It’s a state we are all capable of achieving. Follow a few simple steps and you can easily regain your grounding, even in the midst of a meeting, a tense encounter, or a formal presentation. Here’s how…

Feet on the Ground

  1. Whether standing or sitting, make sure both feet are firmly on the ground beneath you, roughly hip distance apart. (Avoid standing or sitting with tightly crossed legs.)
  2. Next pay attention to your middle-up. Eyes forward, chin at right angles to neck, and spine extended. (Imagine you have a helium-filled ballon attached to the top of your head, it will help you stretch out.)
  3. Check your breathing. In through your mouth, out through your nose.
  4. Hands in front – loosely clasped in front of you, or lightly clasped on the table, or in your lap. (Not in your pockets, behind your back, folded in front of you or on your hips.)

Follow this 4 point checklist and you will subtly shift yourself into a grounded position. Now the oxygen can flow to your brain, making you more alert, able to process information, and more able to accurately interpret the feelings and emotions of those around you.

The best thing of all is that no-one else will be aware that you’re making these changes! The only thing they’ll notice is you standing tall, speaking with confidence, clarity and respect. Meantime, you’ve put yourself in a position where you can summon the energy to listen more effectively, ask pertinent questions and make assertive statements about your ideas, opinions and recommendations.

Have a go, see what regaining your grounding brings for you.


“Can I have a word?…” – The Elusive Art of Feedback

If there’s one life skill everyone needs to learn, it’s the art of giving feedback. Track back through any disagreement, fall-out, walk-out or other any other act of frustration, and you’re bound to discover a resounding lack of skilful feedback somewhere along the line.

Back in the day when I was in HR management, the first question I’d ask anyone coming for advice on how to deal with a recalcitrant employee/boss/colleague* (*delete as appropriate) was, “have you told them?” Invariably the answers would include: “well, sort of…”; “they should have picked it up by now….”; “there’s no point in trying….”; “here’s a copy of the warning letter….”; “I tried but they ignored me…”. Ranging from the meek and inoffensive through to the downright brutal, feedback was generally too little, too late, and poorly constructed.IMG_1771


The admirable relationship counselling organisation, Relate, conducted some fascinating research into how couples respond to feedback from each other.

  • 4:1 – In a reasonably stable relationship, one partner needed to hear four pieces of complimentary feedback, in order to accept one piece of constructive criticism.
  • 7:1 – In a rockier relationship, where one or both partners were mistrusting, there needed to be at least seven complimentary pieces of feedback given, in order for one piece of constructive criticism to be heard and accepted.

At home or at work, we need feedback to stay sane. Some of us ‘need’ positive feedback to maintain self-esteem. Other personality types expect feedback less often but want to know exactly how they are performing. One thing is for sure, from the age of 5 years onwards, the frequency of feedback we receive declines and what feedback we do get tends to be more about criticism than praise. So here are some top coaching tips that will help you hone your feedback skills.

Positive Feedback

  • Spot opportunities. Let people know when you like what they’ve done. Think of this as building up the emotional bank account. (But don’t over-do it or you’ll just come across as patronising.)
  • Be descriptive. “I really like the way you handled that meeting, you asked some good questions and made sure everyone could contribute”. (This is much more helpful than “good job”!)
  • Mean it. If you genuinely think something’s worth praising, act on it. (Don’t go dishing it out when you don’t really mean it, people will soon see through it.)
  • Own it. If someone impresses you, tell them in person, don’t just expect to pass it on via their boss or colleague.

Constructive Criticism

  • Notice it. When do you think or feel something needs addressing? How often do you act on it. Is it something you can let go as a one-off. Twice? Maybe a coincidence. Three times or more? This is a pattern and you need to act quickly.
  • Do not criticise in public. Whether you book a time and a place to review the incident, or need to feedback on the spot, make sure you don’t have an audience.
  • Ask them first. If there’s time, ask them how they thought it went. They may show insight straight away, and if not, at least you know how much work you need to do to fill the gap.
  • Grasp the nettle. Sometimes things need nipping in the bud. Don’t sit on guilty knowledge when you know you have a moral or professional duty to act. Giving feedback is at times a courageous act, but better to raise the issue than to let it fester.

Giving feedback is one of the major topics that almost always comes up in coaching. People invariably don’t get enough feedback full stop. Or if they do, it’s poorly formulated and destructive. So here’s a challenge, over the next week, see if you can give out at least four pieces of positive feedback, to colleagues, family, people in shops or restaurants, whoever deserves it. They might not always hug you on the spot, or even thank you, but you will be leaving a warm, quiet glow behind you. Go on, we might just change the world!







Meetings with Meaning

“Why doesn’t work happen at work?”

In his 2010 TED Talk, Jason Fried, founder of the software sensation 37Signals, spoke with despair about the scourge of workplace productivity, what he refers to as “M&Ms”. No, he wasn’t referring to people hyped-up on multi-coloured sweets. M&Ms is his warning code for “Managers and meetings”!

Who would have thought that in the age of hyper-speed digital communications, in the always-on, globally-connected business world, so many people would still not have mastered managing meetings with meaning? Many of my coaching clients still say that their real work doesn’t get done at work. It seems their breakthrough thinking, planning and getting agreement to decisions, happens outside of meetings. And yet it’s back-to-back meeting time that fills most of the core hours in their diary.

Which of the following is closest to your experience of workplace meetings?

A – Everyone is 100% engaged and keeps the meeting productive.

B – At least 70% of those assembled participate and make constructive contributions.

C – You just about manage to stay tuned-in for 50% of the time.

D – You’re there in body, but thinking about and doing other things.

E – Bored to tears and consumed by gnawing frustration.


If A or B apply to you, well done, you clearly work with colleagues who have a healthy approach to meetings! Meetings with purpose, participation, practical application and outputs. Commiserations if you rank C-E. It might help to reflect on these questions:

  • Why do I turn up to these meetings? Is it the best use of my energy and expertise to go along? What would really be the worst thing that could happen if I sent my apologies?
  • Do I go just because I feel I have to? If so, what assumptions do you need to challenge and with whom?
  • If you had the power to change the way the meetings are run, what would you recommend?
  • Is a meeting the most productive mechanism for getting things moving? Where and when does the really productive stuff actually happen and what can you do to capitalise on this?

Thinking with Your Hands

Recently I’ve been working with clients who want to re-invent how they lead meetings with their teams. Coaching has focused on completely re-thinking the purpose of workplace gatherings of all types. Most of all, we’ve looked at designing these activities with team members and project deliverables in mind.

When the director of a manufacturing business wanted to revise the business strategy, we designed a half day workshop full of creative thinking techniques using lots of practical resources. Despite some initial cynicism from those assembled, people soon discovered that they could articulate and refine their ideas far more powerfully by creating prototypes and pictures out of lego and junk. The output from this session connected people to the ideas, decisions and plans far more deeply than a traditional boardroom marathon could ever have achieved. The outputs and ideas live on in 3D models and photographs, not just dry words lost in a set of minutes.

If you’d like to discover more about creating meetings with meaning, sign up to our ‘Thinking with Your Hands’ workshop at the Return on Innovation Conference at the fabulous Tyneside Cinema in Newcastle in November. You’ll also be treated to an array of inspirational speakers and lots of other high action workshops. You need never endure boardroom boredom again!





“Do what you love, and the rest will follow”

What’s the soundtrack to your life? If you browse through your music collection, what are the top favourites that you go back to time and time again? I remember the first time I heard and saw Blondie on Top of the Pops and was blown away. An amazing woman with an amazing voice – who created iconic music. Today I was privileged to attend a talk by the man who discovered Debbie Harry, Terry Ellis.

Terry has a captivating life story and a career imprint that has touched so many lives around the world. Through his music businesses, including Chrysalis records, he has brought iconic music to our ears. Led Zepplin, Jethro Tull, David Bowie, Billy Idol and Procol Harum are just some of the careers he helped to found and shape.

In amongst his enthralling life story, the sounds bites and video clips, the most resonant insight he shared was that he had never designed or planned his career, he simply followed his love of music and his passion for bringing it to the fore for others to enjoy. “Musicians don’t go into the Music Business to make money, they join it to make music because it’s what they love”. Success, money and fame may follow, but that’s not what got them started or drives them to carry on over decades.

Back to the headline quote from Terry Ellis, “Do what you love and the rest will follow”. How much does this apply to you?