Join me as we explore my latest coaching insights.

In blogging about your leadership purpose, I declare I am a fan of Bill George’s well-known book True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership, first published in 2007 (pictured). While I agree with George that strong values, personal integrity and a strong sense of self are fundamental to effective leadership. In my view, these traits are necessary, but not sufficient, for you to be a truly great leader. While thinking about individual leadership on behalf of some of my high-performing clients, I came across ‘From Purpose To Impact’ a Harvard Business Review article by Nick Craig and Scott Snook. ‘From Purpose to Impact’ extends ‘True North’ by adding the notion that having a clear personal purpose is the key to exceptional performance and well-being as a leader.

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.

A leader’s ability to influence without authority – in the traditional sense – is rapidly becoming a hallmark of the new era in the world of work. A client recently captured the challenge of having to influence others without authority when she said: “Can you teach me how to hold someone accountable who does not report to me? If I can’t demand compliance, how do I get enthusiastic cooperation?”.

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.

In my work as an executive coach succession and the related transitions for the people on each side of the process are omnipresent. Yet much of the time neither the person trying to let go, nor the person wanting to step up, adequately understands what’s involved in successful succession and the time it takes. Successful succession takes years; it cannot be hurried. Whether it’s a matriarch or patriarch letting go to younger family members, a CEO grooming one or more potential successors, or a senior partner transitioning her/his professional practice to a junior protégé, the patterns and ingredients of success are the same.

‘Letting go’ is a sequel to my July post ‘Never good enough’, in which I explored the pros and cons of being a perfectionist. ‘Letting go’ is a way to avoid the downsides of perfectionism. While it’s hard to do, its liberating power is a skill every executive can learn to be better at, and from which you too can benefit.

‘Never good enough’ is a parody on perfectionism, my topic in this month’s post. There are up- and downsides to being a perfectionist. Read why, and how to tell the difference. Describing someone as a perfectionist might sound like a compliment, but that’s not always the case. Perfectionism is often a cause of anxiety, broken relationships and sub-optimal performance. It is human nature to strive to do something as well as you possibly can. It uplifts your self-image and draws the attention – usually the admiration – of family, friends and peers at work. Dictionaries define perfectionism as a wish for everything to be correct. But there’s a dark side to being a perfectionist. Psychologist David Burns put it this way: “Reaching for the stars, perfectionists may end up clutching at air”.

When I first heard people talking about ‘the inner game of tennis’, I didn’t pay much attention. Much less did I grasp the fundamental importance of Tim Gallwey’s 1974 now classic book about achieving peak performance in all walks of life, not just tennis. Inner game of tennisIn The Inner Game of Tennis, we learn that every game is composed of two parts, an outer game and an inner game. In the outer game, you play by a set of rules against an external opponent with the goal of winning. The outer game consists of the visible things you do and say; what others can see and hear.