Leading From Within

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the statesman
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the statesman

Many powerful people have discussed and described leadership. The hallmarks of leadership include creating a vision, establishing a direction, and demonstrating by example how to pursue the path. As I reflect on those I consider great leaders I think of people such as Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, and Mahatma Gandhi. Certainly they were vocal, strong in presenting and pursuing their visions and voicing their passion, most definitely important aspects of leadership. However, they each learned leadership through the crucible of life which honed and prepared them for their mission. They first had to lead from within, so that their integrity shone forth and their personal power established. Without first mastering themselves, and demonstrating leadership of themselves, they would not have had the same power to shape nations.

Imagine spending over 20 years in a prison cell. The courage and the conviction required to abide the appalling conditions Mandela suffered enabled him to emerge as the statesman he is. Gandhi’s did not invent his ideas on nonviolence on a whim but as a result of years of struggle, including imprisonment, and demonstrated conviction to his values. Martin Luther King grew up with a full understanding of oppression, and knew it was dangerous to seek change, but had a vision, a dream, and was willing to back it.

To achieve leadership greatness one must, I strongly believe, lead ourselves first and foremost through and out of our own darkness. All through our life we have built up layer upon layer of programming, training, behaviours, attitudes, beliefs, addictions, emotional responses, social expectations etc. These cover up and detract from our clarity over our life purpose and the values that are core to us. We establish protective mechanisms that keep us safe, maintain security and levels of certainty, but which also rob us of the ability to align with and act in accordance with our core purpose. Cutting through the façades we have built around our soul so we can shine forth in the fullness of who we are is a powerful process and requires deep commitment to self, and personal leadership. Success in this endeavour provides the substance for and basis of our personal power. It enables us to manifest leadership to others because we have triumphed within ourselves.

Fundamentally it is pain and pleasure that motivates us to action. We avoid pain and seek pleasure, with pain taking precedence over pleasure. We grow up with experiences shaping our beliefs, attitudes, values and perceptions. We learn who we are and what behaviours are acceptable, and which are not, from our primary care givers. We associate pain with non-conformance, from failure to work within norms and social boundaries. We associate with groups (friends, colleagues, gangs etc) and learn of the rules for reward by these groups. Obedience to norms carries rewards. Breaking from the norms, being odd or different, carries penalty and pain. But a leader cannot work in the norm, as an average person, as part of the group. At some point they must assert themselves, separate from the group, and come into their own space.

Most people start learning this as teenagers, rebelling from parents and choosing another tribe to belong to. They move from one social group to another, establish different patterns and norms, and feel they are closer to being themselves. Later they discover it was their desire to belong that motivated them so they were still being managed by groups. Some never get over this, looking outside themselves to satisfy their need for acceptance and belonging rather than from within themselves.

When pursued further, the maturation process eventually leads us to question who we are, why we are here and what greater purpose we serve. The recognition of our individuality, our uniqueness, and the possibility that we have value enables us to seek within for our gifts. Discovering and being true to who we are becomes important. There is a shift from seeking love and acceptance from outside to a place where we provide that to ourselves, and become less bound to the whims of our “tribal” groups and roots. However there is also pain in this process.

Shifting our focus from outside to inside us requires us to meet and confront all our fears, insecurities, debilitating attitudes and behaviours, and find ways of putting them behind us. Some of us have powerful inner critics that berate us as our parents may have. We hear the piercing criticism from within with greater clarity than the scolding we may have experienced in younger days, which can stop us in our tracks. Whether it is the voice of our inner critic or the rigid walls of protection we have erected over the years, they stop us shining, and to truly emerge we must overcome them. If we stay bound to our insecurities we shun the opportunity to change and to transform ourselves from part of the pack to the leader we can be. If we seek to change ourselves through coercion and internal aggression and anger we have simply substituted the voices of our experience with our own tormentor. We emerge when we have found ourselves to be lovable, acceptable and perfect as we are, and truly believe that. That is not saying we are perfect. Goodness, what is perfection and who can judge that? It is saying that we are entirely acceptable as we are, that we have our own uniqueness based on who we are and what we have experienced, and everything has brought us to this point in life, and all of this is perfect and right as is.

To lead others we must lead ourselves. We must be able and capable of dealing with adversity, the naysayer, and find ways through and out of those difficulties. Our ability to deal with and manage external adversity and opposition is much greater when we have mastered the opposition that comes from within us. Our ability to lead with clarity and conviction in public is greatest when we have already managed that within ourselves in isolation. Perhaps being in prison for 20+ years is something that could benefit everyone. Certainly it provides time to reflect, see ourselves more clearly and deal with our personal demons. However not all of us need to change whole nations. We have good we can accomplish by remaining engaged in the world, but the battle within is just as real. A growing number of people are learning the benefits of meditation, yoga etc for stress relief. Some find it painful because they slow down a little and start to see themselves more clearly, and find things they judge as unacceptable or wrong with them. If we wish to lead others effectively then we must have already learned to lead from within. We must have confronted ourselves and been victorious in engaging with and being comfortable in the presence of our own voices and messages from within. We must have learned about tolerating and working through the issues that surface from our past. We can be hampered by insecurity and doubt or develop a powerful love of ourselves, warts and all. None of us can become entirely free of these things, but we can develop comfort for and appreciation of the fog we create in our lives, and find ways of charting through them. For as we move through our own internal fog we develop the capacity to lead others through theirs.

I have always found the following an inspiring statement:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Marianne Williamson, “A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles”

The more we connect with ourselves, and manifest the greatness within, the greater our capacity to work through life, deal with issues, and exhibit personal power that will inspire others. If you wish to lead others, then first lead yourself.

Where are you in the process of developing personal power and governing yourself? What barriers have prevented you achieving the success you desire? What behaviours and attitudes diminish your ability to lead others and create change within your organisation? As you learn to lead from within you also gain greater understanding of the issues and barriers faced within organisations and how to work through them.

Make Goals Count

There is little as exquisite as achieving a stretch goal!
There is little as exquisite as achieving a stretch goal!

Goals are important to planned success but are often half-heartedly approached or considered prepared when the end state is thought of an in the mind. Few individuals truly set goals in a manner that works. Even among the leadership of organisations and projects there is limited personal skill and success in goal setting. I assert that personal experience in goal setting and goal achievement leads to more effective project and strategic management. The better we are able to manage ourselves in inner leadership the better we can influence and affect positive change and results with others.

To set and achieve goals we need:

  • a sense of purpose that the goals support
  • commitment, discipline and focus; stay with the process through thick and thin
  • empathy and understanding; recognise and acknowledge cause for failures and setback and move forward without being over critical
  • willingness to change attitudes, behaviours, beliefs and our level of comfort
  • resilience; getting up as many times as we fall over
  • the ability to celebrate triumphs and grieve failures
  • to celebrate successes (milestone and final completion)

Goal Achieving Framework

To set and achieve goals it is essential we understand what we value. Energy, passion and commitment are accessible insofar as we align our goals with what really matters to us. Primary motivators in life include affiliation, power and achievement. These can have a significant impact on what we do. They are neutral regarding how we act. They are not at all inspiring. Inspiration comes from our values. They determine why we do things. They also affect the ‘how’ since they set limits on what we consider appropriate behaviour.

Values

Core Values are overarching operating philosophies we maintain regardless of how difficult circumstances may become. We typically have 3 to 5 such values. How clear are you on your core values? Do you know what you are not prepared to give up or relinquish in your quest for success in life? By clarifying our core values, some decisions are much easier to make. When we breach a core value we experience a loss of integrity, associated feelings of shame or guilt, regardless of whether we have identified the value or not.

Forces acting on us during change
Forces acting on us during change

General Values identify the relative significance of circumstances, states and ‘things’ to us at the moment. There are two forms of general value:

  • Pursuit Values: states (e.g. success) or feelings (e.g. happiness) we seek
  • Avoidance Values: states (e.g. depression) or feelings (e.g. anger) we avoid.

General Values are associated with two fundamental drivers behind all human action: seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. If an action may result in pleasure and pain of comparable magnitudes, we tend to avoid the pain by not taking action. They may also hold the key for personal conflicts we experience. I remember identifying personal growth and peace as two values I sought. I wanted peace in my life but I never achieved it. When I examined the rules for each ‘value’ my rule for personal growth excluded the possibility of peace as I had defined it. I realised I had to change my rules or my expected state. I did both and now have peace and growth concurrently.

Managing Personal Change

Our goals require us to take action, and action necessitates change. Change unsettles. It has to! It requires us to shift established patterns, beliefs, values, and cultural and behavioural norms. The degree of change determines the impact experienced. Change impacts on us via three sources of pain: breaking attachments, breaching protections and dashing expectations.

Attachments (past) are our connections with established behaviours and relationships. Grief is pain experienced when we lose a family member. The pain associated with breaking a habit can keep us locked in. In a work environment, people have preferred patterns of work, ways they use systems, associates they enjoy working with, and some certainty in the results they can expect. They know what works, what does not, and have comfort through familiarity with where they are. Change these attachments at your peril!

Protections (present) are established to bring us security and certainty. Whether performing routines with known outcomes, acting in habitual ways (even negative behaviours) because we want specific responses from others, or being in a physical environment that is familiar, our ‘protections’ provide security for us. Our belief system can be a special form of protective mechanism. To achieve meaningful goals we often must change self-limiting beliefs. Anything that disrupts our protections becomes a source of discomfort.

Expectations (future) are aspirations that we have for the future. Examples include what our ideal partner is like, financial goals, the outcome of our next performance review, and who will be on our project team. Anything that causes our vision of the future to diminish causes pain. Expectations are attachments to the future.

Sources of pain: attachments, protections and expectations
Sources of pain: attachments, protections and expectations

Pain is a real turn off from taking action. We have a natural (and reasonable) aversion to pain. Gaining pleasure is the reason we do take action. To be successful we must associate much more pleasure than pain with taking action. We must reduce the pleasure and increase the pain of maintaining the status quo, and increase the pleasure and reduce the pain associated with the desired state. The greater the positive difference between where we want to be and where we are, the better our leverage will be. The leverage we have determines how strongly we take action.

Goal Setting Principles

General principles to apply to increase the chances of success include:

  • Get clear about ‘Why’. Before starting work, get clear and specific about why you want to take action. Establish why it is vital that you succeed, what the change will create for you, and what you will miss out if you do not succeed.
  • Specify what you will do and when. Plan the change. If this is a single step goal then this will include how, otherwise you need to map out milestones and time-frames so you can monitor and assess progress. This enables you to work on achievable chunks while maintaining a bigger picture perspective.
  • Identify who will take action or be otherwise involved. This had better have your name next to it. You are responsible for your results. However, it is also important to identify those you need to consult and involve.
  • Define ‘how’ each step will be accomplished. Get specific. The more clearly you define the tasks/steps, the better you are able to identify problems up front and ensure things are happening during execution.
  • Assess pleasure and pain of taking action. This equates to risk management at a personal level. Identify the forces operating for and against change. Consider approaches that enhance the pleasure and reduce the pain associated with achieving the goal.

Write down the goals and the plan for achieving them. This ensures the goals are not whimsical. The planning process helps internalise goals. Passion, energy and creativity is then accessible. Overwhelm the pain that prevents action with the pleasure associated with successfully accomplishing your goals.

If you are working on relationship goals the process of working with your partner and getting specific about what you seek and how you will accomplish it brings the energy and commitment of two people more clearly to bear, with fewer assumptions and miscommunications causing havoc and upsetting the process. Getting clear about what pain and pleasure is associated with the change will place you in a better position to support each other through the individual struggles you will experience.

When working with others to achieve goals (e.g. on projects) remember you need:

  • clarity about intent, purpose and process
  • vigilance to uncover sources of resistance
  • creativity and empathy to find workable solutions to assist people (your own self when pursuing individual goals) past the resistance
  • communication (2-way) so that understanding and clarity can be developed and maintained
  • celebration to applaud success

Conclusion

The concepts are easy. The practice is not so easy. If you associate pleasure with planning and goals setting, it may become a powerful ally in your life. Overcome the resistance that impedes change. Decide to make your time on this planet count. These principles apply to relationships, projects and organisations so any success at the personal level supports you in other environments.

I challenge you to:

  • Get clear about what you want to achieve and why
  • Create leverage around the reasons for change
  • Get on with it
  • Take up my offer of a free coaching session to get started

Am I Ready for Coaching?

Coaching session
Am I ready for coaching?

The greater your responsibility, the greater the pressure on you to focus on and address external matters. You focus on meeting work and family obligations and duties, attempt to satisfy and maintain the demands of many relationships, and then you address what matters to you with whatever time remains. Do you wish you had time and space to delve into what really matters to you? Do you have facets of your business and personal life and performance that would benefit from genuine attention? Could you benefit from a safe, confidential space with a trusted confidant? If you answer ‘yes’ to any of these questions, you can definitely benefit from coaching.

Coaching is a fabulous way to take charge of your life, improve personal performance, own a new work role, strengthen relationships, deal with conflicts, manage a transition, develop personal capabilities, pursue stretch goals, and manifest dreams.

Getting the most out of coaching requires preparation. Having the right mindset and approach enables you to gain the most from coaching. You are READY or best prepared for coaching IF you are willing to:

  • take real action to create your own results;
  • eradicate old, redundant and limiting habits, thought patterns and beliefs;
  • be challenged in thought, feeling and behaviour;
  • take responsibility for your own results;
  • drop excuses for poor performance;
  • be open to self-directed learning of new skills and ideas.

OR

  • at least wish to occupy this growth space and develop these capabilities.

As your coach, I create a confidential space within which you experience unrestricted self-governance. You set the agenda. You work on what matters to you. It may be quite an unfamiliar experience to be in an environment where you focus solely on what matters to you without anyone else taking any degree of responsibility for what you do or create for yourself.

Coaching will enable you to enter new, previously unexplored, territory. I support and enable you by walking alongside you as your guide. I use questions to assist your exploration, expand your thinking, and confront new possibilities. I provide space for you to consider and reflect, generate insights, and develop approaches and ideas that work for you. Being with “not knowing” is integral to the coaching process. It precedes insight, the generation of one’s own solution that meets your unique approach and learning style, and which you own because they are your own ‘Eureka’ moments. A major outcome of coaching is your strengthened self-awareness and your capacity to intervene on yourself when you recognise you are undermining your own performance. Coaching is offered to support you generate ideas and pursue solutions. Are you ready for the benefits that coaching can offer you?

Being “ready for coaching” also considers how to prepare for a session, the first in particular. One of the tools that can assist you be ready for coaching is the Pre-Coaching Questionnaire. It is a simple process to assist you clarify and focus on what matters to you. While it provides me, your coach, with useful information, it is primarily offered to support your preparation for coaching. You benefit from completing it more than I do.

Coaching may be used to establish and pursue goals over an engagement (an agreed series of coaching sessions) or to address burning issues a session at a time. It can also be a combination of these and other possibilities. When you turn up for a coaching session, it is great if you already know what you want to work on, and are prepared to work. If you are not clear on what to work on, at least be prepared to work, to think, to be challenged, so that I may assist you gain the clarity that is eluding you. We will partner together in creating the purpose of the session, and ensuring you walk away satisfied with the time we spend together.

If coaching is right for you, or you wish to explore how it may help you, fill in the Pre-Coaching Questionnaire (click here for the questionnaire), and book a free initial coaching session with me, Stephen (click here to book a coaching session).

In summary, you are ready for coaching when you:

  1. recognise that you will benefit, get real value, from coaching;
  2. have the mindset and attitudes, or the desire to have such, that would make coaching work for you; and
  3. are prepared to get as much from a session as you can, knowing what you wish to work on, or at least being prepared to work with your coach to develop that clarity.

Offer: Free Coaching Session With Stephen

If you have never had a coaching session with me, you are invited to experience a free coaching session. To take up this offer, complete and submit the Pre-Coaching Questionnaire (click here for the questionnaire) and then book the free (up to 90 minutes) session (click here to book the session).

Reclaiming Self, Again

Dark, dreary and forlorn
When all seems dark and dreary… how do I find and reclaim myself?

The world seems dark, closing in around me. My vision has dimmed. My inner emotional and mental turmoil grows. Dense, dark clouds of desperation choke me. I feel like I am losing myself, my grip on reality, and wonder how or why I should carry on. And only moments ago I felt okay. What changed? Why am I pitching and tossing as though I am in a tiny boat on a raging ocean storm? Where is my virtue? Why has my positive sense of self vanished? Why do I feel abandoned and alone? Is there a way out of this seemingly impenetrable darkness? Why can’t light flood in as easily as the darkness? What am I to do?

Ever known moments or periods like that? I have. It can seem like goodness has evaporated and darkness is all that is available. What causes such experiences? How can such moments/periods be overcome? Answering questions such as these was part of the motivation behind my book, Appreciate the fog: embrace change with power and purpose. I continue to experience and learn.

Many things can create the loss of light, disconnection from what feels positive and good, and plunge us into chaos, confusion, and uncertainty. Trauma certainly can. New trauma messes with our sense of safety and trust. Events may remind us of past trauma and return us emotionally and mentally to old states. Loss, and the accompanying grief, is another trigger. Losing someone through death, capability through illness or accident, a job through retrenchment, or any number of other sources, can cause us to question life, purpose, and our place in the scheme of things. Shame can trigger the downward spiral or dramatic plunge, as the case may be. It could be through returning to an old habit, one we thought we had beaten, or being reminded of something we have done that we regret. Shame can also accentuate the downward process initiated by other causes. This one has a fabulous ally in the descent into darkness, our inner critic, who, through shame, has received a package of evidence of our uselessness as an individual. We may have a massive job disentangling ourselves from our critic’s habitual negative messages before we can even consider climbing out of the pit. The critic is such a potent voice, and if we attack the critic for being critical, it only serves to strengthen the critic and deepen the hole we are in. There are many other triggers that can take us down.

With the brain surgery I had several years ago came a raft of such roller-coaster experiences. It was traumatic in the extreme, far more so than it actually seemed to be. One moment I was fine. The next I learned I had a life threatening tumour, and had life-saving and life-changing surgery with loss of physical function and capability. It is all invisible disability, but I know it is there. So does my critic. Every now and then I find myself back in the negative soup, needing to yet again extricate myself. In response to the trauma, I found myself plunged back into unproductive patterns I hadn’t seen since I was a teenager where I had little trust that I would be okay. For all the miraculous outcome of the surgical intervention, a brain tumour does highlight safety concerns, and I found myself working with very old patterns and attitudes: isolation, distrust of others and life in general, and a generally bleak mental outlook. “There goes 30+ years of personal work down the toilet” was one of my evaluative internal comments. “Hey, I have written a book about this stuff. How could I get caught in this trap?” Pretty easily actually. The brain never drops old wiring. We may manage to create new pathways and implement new habits, including mental and emotional responses, that are useful and forward moving. In some ways trauma can unearth disused paths and bring them back into use. The difference this time however is that I have worked my way through and out before.  I am armed with that knowledge and capacity. This whole process became another chance to bed down the restorative processes, and heal past old hurts at a deeper level.

So, how can we reclaim ourselves at such times? This is the equivalent of redeeming ourselves from hell, the turmoil created within one’s psyche by mental and emotional processes gone awry. Some examples of methods for reclaiming self include:

Implement new positive routines. These have the effect of reminding ourselves we matter and provide positive feedback and self-care. For me, something as simple as stopping each hour to do a few stretches that break up my day of sitting and working on the computer makes a massive difference to my sense of self and my outlook.

Inventory the qualities and virtues you seem to have lost, and reclaim them. When I hit these sorts of dark places I tend to lose playfulness, trust, hope, delight, innocence, many other child-like qualities. The world seems to be too big, bad and unsafe, so they get stowed for a brighter day. Without them the brighter day doesn’t actually happen. Check in on what you don’t seem to have access to, because you have hidden them away, and reclaim them. Bring them back into active use. For me I metaphorically throw my items into a sack I carry on my back. To reclaim them I go through a process of recognising that has happened, and mentally opening and exploring my sack to find the qualities I want back. Sometimes I use a physical bag full of items and enact the process to strengthen my mental and emotional connection to reclaiming myself. That has a great effect in opening my awareness, establishing the importance of the qualities I am reclaiming, and reasserting them as valuable and available in my life. The world gets brighter in that moment.

Practice loving and accepting yourself. A simple way of doing this is to say: “I love myself and I accept myself, even though I don’t understand myself… and I forgive myself.” You could even list the things you find difficult to understand about yourself. This phrase asserts love and acceptance without judging yourself as good or bad . You can up the experience by standing at a mirror, taking up your own gaze, and then saying it. Do this multiple times and notice your inner response to yourself saying such a simple statement. I find this is an invaluable feedback mechanism. Any difficulty I have when holding my own gaze and saying this statement quickly informs me how strongly judgemental and unaccepting I am of myself in that moment. Staying with myself, when it is difficult, and finding a way back to loving and accepting myself, is a powerful, valuable, and often challenging, investment in self.

Phone a friend. Reaching out can be an incredibly difficult action when surrounded by your judgement of how pathetic you are. A real friend loves and accepts you even when you don’t know how to. It is a great lifeline to have and call on when the moment requires it. If you don’t have a friend available in the moment of crisis, call a helpline or see a counsellor. All these options are positive steps that say “I want and deserve better for myself.”

Gratitude. Find and name a few things for which you are truly grateful. If you can’t find anything, ask yourself what you could be grateful for, and then be grateful for that, and for asking the question. If you have done any of the previous actions, or anything else that works for you, express gratitude to yourself for doing them, for investing in yourself. Work with whatever small sliver you can find, and build on it.

Practice while the going is good. Build up your capacity to reclaim yourself when you don’t need to. It is easier to hit those negative experiences if you are already resourced. As challenging as my process of working through my surgery and aftermath has been, it has been much easier for having already established mechanisms for reclaiming myself. There have been times when, regardless of all I know, I wondered what the point was, but underneath I have known there is a point, and I that I could find my way back.

These are by no means all you can do. What are ways that work when you need to reclaim yourself?

Refer to “Reclaiming Self” for an earlier article on the same subject.

Power In Goals

Engage your brain to achieve your goals
Engage your brain to achieve your goals

Neuroscience increasingly provides fabulous insight into what the brain actually needs for our performance to improve. As a coach, I am aware of how individuals and teams can improve their capacities as they establish goals that engage the brain, and then they work to keep the brain engaged in pursuing their ambitions. By recognising goals as personal and/or team developmental opportunities and approaching them with the correct mind-set much power can be developed.

SMART goals have been written about endlessly, with more ways of applying words to the acronym than I have been able to keep up with. The version I have adopted is Specific, Measurable, Agreed to, Realistic, and Time Bound. It is a great formula, and is used with success in pursuing individual and team goals the world over. Projects use SMART goals to define high-level goals for the project, and the goals that define results needed from each phase, milestone and work package. In many respects, these goals can be considered Checklist Goals, short- to medium-term goals that must be satisfied for the project to be delivered, and achieving them signifies some degree of delivery has been realised. Checklist goals have a lot of clarity about HOW they will be achieved. The clarity of how to progress, and then the tangible, relatively short time frame for delivery really works well for our brains. They get the brain fired up and engaged in a pattern now recognised with staying focused and on task.

SMARTI goals are a special form of goal, the Stretch Goal. The ‘I‘ for Inspiring, recognises that real change comes from doing something outstanding, something almost impossible. J. F. Kennedy provided a very clear SMARTI goal when he stated that Americans would land on the moon before the end of the decade (1960’s). The power of his statement inspired the nation, indeed the world, and provided a fantastic aspiration that galvanised years of research, development, action and delivery. The inspirational component provided a common purpose and direction that aligned countless teams of people to make landing on the moon a reality. What really worked for the moon landing was the combination of inspirational element that clearly spelled out the aspiration, and the planning detail that spelled out how to achieve the goal, as the how came clearer. An important aspect of sound planning is that it progressively elaborates on the detail and irons out the kinks in approach, addressing work to be done, risks to address, and who will do what when.

Performance against Stretch Goals is undermined by a lack of planning detail on ‘how’ to achieve the goal. Neuroscience has discovered that Stretch Goals do not fire the brain in the same way that a Checklist Goal does. The long-term nature of the Stretch Goal and the frequent lack of substance on how to achieve it means the brain does not engage as it does with the short-term goal. It is a contributing factor for why energy and focus drops for Stretch Goals and they get dropped after a while. Science is showing more clearly that Stretch Goals must be supported by ongoing attention on how to achieve them, effectively engaging the brain with some clarity on ‘how’, and with recognition that there will be obstacles to overcome for them to have lasting motivational power.

When I work with coachees on their goals I ensure that their stretch goals are aspirational, and that there is sufficient detail developed on how to achieve the goal for the coachee to stay engaged, and performance can be monitored. Not only is it important to know how you will achieve something, it also matters that you recognise and acknowledge progress, or its lack, and regularly fine tune your behaviours to align with your purpose. Much of the power of coaching comes from a coachee owning their results and recognising what they are doing that is making the difference. Goals can be short-, medium-, or long-term in nature. It is the ownership and commitment to our goals, the responsibility we hold for their success, and the action we take to deliver them that strengthens our power, our ‘ability to take meaningful action’.

Make goals work for you. Include an aspirational component that inspires you to action, and develop the detail so that you can stay engaged and monitor your performance.

Building Resilience

Lone palm
Bend rather than break, a quality of resilience

The idea of developing resilience has been embraced by many businesses only to be put on the back burner, with so many other good ideas, as the requirement for a longer-term commitment and conscious effort became evident. Those organisations that are mature enough to commit energy and resource to the long haul do realise value beyond what any short-term initiative could enjoy.

The ability to actually hang in for the long-haul, exert energy and attention over time, even when apparent benefits are not immediately noticed, is a quality of resilience, whether speaking of individuals, teams or organisations. Resilience enables us to bend without breaking, and to adapt and find our way to back to the surface when immersed in a flood of trial, trauma, adversity or other challenges. Like a muscle, resilience is developed with practice, by engaging with “reasonable” amounts of stress. Developing resilience facilitates the growth of self-esteem, self-efficacy and other intra-personal capacities. As we develop our own resilience we are then better placed to lead teams and organisations, and support the development of resilience in others.

I have just finished reading “Long Walk to Freedom”, the autobiography of Nelson Mandela, and as a result have found myself reflecting on the subject of resilience. Unwavering in his commitment to the freedom of his people, a concept placed higher in his value system than personal freedom, Nelson passed through 27 years of imprisonment to come out conqueror. I specifically don’t say “suffered through”. Suffering is a choice. While he certainly experienced significant trauma, his capacity to reframe his moment-by-moment experience within the context of his higher purpose gave his life meaning and shifted his experience from what could have been severe suffering to clean struggle. While not a perfect being, and he does admit to many flaws, Nelson consciously looked for the response from within himself that would create the most significant, beneficial outcome. As he struggled under significant oppression, he sought to move from fear to love, consciously chose powerful responses over fear-based reactions, and maintained a consistent internal dialogue regarding purpose and meaning regardless of external pressures to change his core beliefs. His struggle brought meaning, and ultimately victory, though the latter is never assured.

In “Man’s Search for Meaning”, writing from his personal experiences and his professional background as a psychologist, Viktor E. Frankl asserts that it is those who found meaning in the adversity that they experienced who were best able to survive the traumas of the World War II concentration camps.

Some well recognised techniques for developing resilience include:

  • cognitive reappraisal: re-framing negative experiences using a more positive perspective
  • mindfulness meditation: develop the capacity to observe stimuli and the physical, emotional and mental responses in an impartial way that enables objective detachment and an increases one’s capacity to stay present
  • aerobic exercise: well recognised for reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety, and improving mental capacities of attention, memory, decision-making and planning.
  • Stress inoculation: taking on increasingly difficult challenges in a deliberate manner to develop the resilience muscle
  • Backing of trusted people (without advice): increases self-confidence, provides a safety net and supports the development of problem solving, reappraisal and actively engaging with challenges

How resilient are you? How do you handle the challenges that come your way? Do you find your inner mettle in times of challenge, or do you look for external circumstances and people to blame? What strategies have you got in place to develop your capacity further?

Easier Can Be Better

Taking the easier course of action
Easier can sometimes better

Tremendous energy can be poured into changing old patterns and behaviours. When you identify some quality of yourself that is not working for you, the tendency is to place enormous attention on changing it to a satisfactory behaviour. For most of us, that is accompanied by our internal critic working overtime, that voice within us that speaks into our middle ear about how we don’t measure up, won’t amount to much, and are under performing. The more effort we exert to change, the greater this voice that articulates all the accumulated negative feedback of our past becomes. It can become a riot in our mind. Even without the critic, and there appear to be the fortunate few with that blessed silence, focussing on changing old patterns tends to be a long and relatively unrewarding process.

Neuroscience has identified that once a neural pathway is established, and only a few repetitions are needed for the brain to adopt and establish a new pathway, it is almost impossible to remove. The best approach for change is to bed down another pathway, and place attention on asserting that behaviour until it becomes dominant. Rather than remove the old pathway, the idea is to create a newer, more productive, and more frequently used, pathway that makes the less productive pathway irrelevant through disuse.

I had an experience of this recently. Following significant surgery I had earlier last year I have found my confidence when facilitating groups markedly diminished. The degree of nervousness prior to running a session was significantly greater than my pre-surgery experience, and after I completed a session I found my critic undermining me for the most insignificant of reasons. However, when I was actually in front of the group running the session I had almost none of those issues, finding myself comfortable and increasingly fluent in my facilitation. On a recent weekend programme, the struggle against these before and after pain-laden attacks on my psyche were particularly pronounced. Rather than fretting over the behaviours that were undermining me, I shifted my focus by firstly sharing very simply with others I trusted that I was anxious, struggling, and otherwise authentically expressing and naming my experience in the moment. This had the effect of diminishing the energy building up around the anxiety, and curbed it. I then found that my capacity within a session improved because my warm up to it was cleaner, and the post-session internal shame game also diminished. As the multi-day programme unfolded I continued this practice and found that the confidence was easier to achieve as I owned my anxiety without making a big deal of it. I consciously placed my attention on the outcome I was seeking, a fluid and confident facilitation session. My focus and attention was very much placed on the outcome I sought rather than on changing the old pattern of anxiety, and the transition felt relatively smooth.

When you have an unproductive behaviour that is dominating you, perhaps you can identify what you would prefer to do instead, and find ways of asserting that behaviour, rather than condemning and “changing” the old one. Some ways of supporting and enabling such change in oneself can be journalling, enlisting the support of a coach, and developing awareness of your inner mental and emotional world to determine the most opportune intervention to offer yourself.