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Today's post, Experience shapes leadership at every level, explains why growing as a leader requires on-the-job experiences that become progressively more challenging as you transition from one level to the next. Research – and my coaching work with hundreds of clients – show the most effective way to advance your career is through on-the-job experiences that develop your competencies and confidence as you move from one level to the next.

As a leader you need to ask yourself three questions about your network and score of your answers out of 5: [1] How important is the quality of your network to accomplishing your goals, [2] How do you rate the quality of your current network, and [3] How smartly do you work to maximise your network advantages?

Typically, I hear executives answer 4–5, 3–2, and 1–2, respectively. If you’re like most, you are in this zone, so read on…

Richard Branson's 'Dear Stranger' letter is a profound piece published on 3 February 2017. I found Dear Stranger on Happiness, a Virgin blog, packed with wise ideas shared by inspiring people. In publishing Dear Stranger on Letting Go. Stepping Up. I acknowledge Richard Branson and the original source, Dear Stranger, a 2015 collection of inspirational, heartfelt letters to an imagined stranger from many authors, collated by Mind, a mental health charity.

Getting from good to great explains why and how to super-charge your career success. Most of us will remember the story of the hedgehog and the fox as a metaphor for how to succeed in business. This post shares my experience in applying the secret of the hedgehog’s success to your career. While the origins of the story of the hedgehog and the fox – as in many things – lie in ancient Greece, the modern incarnation of the idea stems from Good to Great, a best-selling book by Jim Collins that has stood the test of time. The Greek poem held that ‘The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing’.

Today I explain why there’s no paradox in being humble and I share my insights on why being humble is so important to you as a leader. This is particularly true with the challenges leaders face today. And especially when it comes to taking people with you in times of uncertainty, rapid change and stringency. Being humble is a key attribute required to meet these challenges. So, what does humility mean? Allow me to elaborate.

Insights from the past year comes with my best wishes to all readers of Letting Go. Stepping Up. I've selected these insights from posts of the past year to highlight my clients' opportunities and challenges.

The virtue of gratitude

When was the last time you said thank you to a member of your staff, a service provider, or your partner? I mean truly said ‘thank you’ in the way you expressed your gratitude, even if the reason for saying ‘thank you’ was in response to a mundane act? Were your words perfunctory and robotic? Or did they generate a positive emotion in the recipient ­– and in you? For far too many people, saying thank you is now just a sign of good manners, rather than a virtue. Gratitude in its deepest sense has largely been lost. Don’t let this happen to you.

Overcoming your fear of failure is the sequel to my earlier post on fear of failure. Overcoming your fear of failure is not easy, but it can be done, especially if you are determined to take your personal and professional development to the next level. There is no magic pill that will prevent fear of failure. Equally, don’t think you should be trying to become fearless. Take the middle ground: Be willing to face, investigate and address your fears.

Thank you for the feedback is written to help you get a good deal more from the feedback you receive.

It’s a well-known saying that bread is the staff of life. I say feedback is as important to psychological and social wellbeing, as good bread is to nutritional and physical health. To be useful, bread must be ingested, digested and absorbed – and in a biblical sense, thanks given. So too with feedback, it must be received, understood and acted on – and the receipt of feedback must be acknowledged and the feedback giver thanked. Trouble is, all too often feedback doesn’t work in this way. 

Confirmation bias is the well-known tendency to selectively attend to information that will reinforce pre-existing beliefs or ideas while ignoring good evidence to the contrary. As Warren Buffet says

‘What the human being is best at doing is interpreting all new information so that their prior conclusions remain intact’.

A synonym for confirmation bias is myside bias, which connotes the deep, personal nature of this particular form of bias. Of the dozen or so biases that can negatively influence our decision-making, the myside type is amongst the most important and insidious. In this post, I explain why it occurs, the consequences of succumbing, and how to avoid it.

To stay relevant as a successful leader you must develop on the job. You can never stop seeking stretch assignments and leveraging on-the-job opportunities to improve. What made you a successful leader in the past is no formula for your future success. And may even be detrimental, if pursued blindly. Research shows in today’s and tomorrow’s worlds, leadership success depends on your curiosity and willingness to risk and step out of your comfort zone. This includes your ability to adapt and therefore remain relevant.

The title of this post Use unconventional strategies to reinvent yourself, refers to the fact that more and more people are seeking major changes in their lives and careers, i.e. to reinvent themselves. Whether it’s at the stage of the so-called mid-life crisis or later, when the conventional age of ‘retirement’ arrives, the prospect of this change engenders feelings of confusion, loss, fear, and worry.

Relationships seldom evolve as planned or expected. Conflict and succession are fellow travellers. Whether the succession relationship is between two people, e.g. between incumbent and putative successor, or in a group like a family business, a professional partnership or an executive team, research and experience show that prevention is better than cure. The fundamental cause of conflict in all of these situations is poor alignment of expectations and assumptions by the incumbent and/or the successor. In addition, others connected with this relationship can confound the situation by their behaviours towards the incumbent and the successor.

Mental models determine your thought processes about how things work. They shape your behaviours: how you work, solve problems, relate to people and think about yourself. Mental models are ingrained, fixed structures founded in your beliefs, habits, scripts and biases. They tell you what’s worked for you in the past – and therefore what you should do in a particular situation now. However, these mental models pose a challenge.

When was the last time you said thank you to a member of your staff, a service provider, or your partner? I mean truly said ‘thank you’ in the way you expressed your gratitude, even if the reason for saying ‘thank you’ was in response to a mundane act? Were your words perfunctory and robotic? Or did they generate a positive emotion in the recipient ­– and in you?

These holiday thoughts come with my best wishes to all readers of Letting Go. Stepping Up. In reflecting on the past year, what I continue to learn from working with my clients, and what might be ahead, five of my most popular posts capture many of the insights. It’s a privilege to share them with you.

How effectively do you bounce back from disappointment or failure? Your answer almost certainly depends on whether you are looking through a lens of problems or a lens of possibilities. Setbacks are inevitable in your life and career, so you must decide on how you respond if you are going to bounce back. Carol Dweck, a leading organisational psychologist, explains the essential difference between these two lenses. Either you see problems, or you see possibilities when faced with adversity. Put another way, you can either behave in ways that reflect helplessness and surrender to external forces over which you believe you have no means of control. Or you can be adaptive and make every effort gain mastery of the situation by believing you are in control of your destiny. For an in-depth review of how these differences play out in patterns of behaviour, I recommend this paper by Carol Dweck.

Succeeding in today’s business environment of ever-increasing pressure and unexpected change requires grit, hardiness and resilience. This post is about resilience. It is the least understood and probably the most important of these three traits because of the dire personal and professional consequences of a lack of resilience. Having grit, hardiness and resilience are essential ingredients of sustaining high performance, but they are not the same. Grit is the will and capacity to hang in there; hardiness is the physical and mental toughness to do so; and resilience is the ability to bounce back from setbacks and stress.