Coaching Leadership

Appeal to Rationality

In a difficult conversation, it’s easy to fall into the trap of appealing to rationality. When emotions are running high, especially on one side of the conversation., then you may try for a “let’s just be rational about this”.

It’s a very similar position to asking someone to “calm down”, and likely to have about the same effect. That’s ranging from nothing, to a full and final breakdown in communication.

We fall into this trap when we are less immediately impacted by the conversation. Maybe it’s one where you’ve had time to digest the contents, whereas the other party is hearing tough news for the first time.

Quite often it’ll be when the topic is incredibly important to the other party, but is less impactful to you. It’s extremely common when you confuse a lighthearted topic with one that’s truly important to the other person. That’s a difficult conversation which you didn’t realise would be difficult, which is just about the hardest kind.

Appealing to rationality, or attempting to be logical, will not work in an emotional situation (and all situations are somewhat emotional). There’s no independent arbiter doling out correct answers. No impartial judges validating your feelings over another’s. When you move to “rationality”, this external justification is exactly what you are seeking, to the detriment of the overall conversation.

When you are reaching for this conversational gambit, you may really be attempting to slow down the conversation, bringing it back to a shared pool of understanding.

If that’s the case, just go for it. Recognise the emotion, and ask to take a moment. “Can I take a second to gather my thoughts?”, “I can see that this is a really important topic for you, what else would you like to share right now?”. “I’m keen to understand more, I’m sorry I’m not there yet”.

All these are approaches to bring you towards a productive exchange of meaning, which you won’t get with a suddenly appeal to faceless authority.

Don’t waste time being rational, when you can build a lasting an powerful human connection instead.

Coaching Leadership

Space to Fail

When you are learning a new skill, or mastering a new endeavour, you must give yourself space to fail.

If a change is going to be meaningful, there will be risk of failure. However, you can reduce your overall chance of failure by giving yourself the opportunity to make small mistakes, and learn from them.

If you don’t embrace this, then you’ll turn the situation into a binary all-or-nothing. Success / Fail. Yes / No. Put in such stark terms, you may well just choose to do nothing, which is a painful way to miss out on reaching your true potential.

Rather than letting this risk become a big thing, make it small. Embrace an amount of failure as you learn. If it’s perfect first time, then you didn’t find enough to challenge yourself.

In the Build – Measure – Learn model of the Lean Startup, you find an approach that celebrates giving this space. It pushes you to iterate quickly thorough ideas, learn what works and what doesn’t, and to then refine the outcome.

You can apply this model to your own goals and the options you consider when attempting to reach them. Don’t phrase something as all or nothing. Think about the iterative steps you’ll use. How you’ll learn from things that didn’t go so well so you’ll improve the next time.

Once you’ve started, you can correct your course. Doing it little and often means that no one experience is catastrophic. You start of failing and learning, then you start to succeed and finally you are achieving at a high level.

Give yourself space to fail, and you’ll get to success far sooner.


Reset the 5 Year Plan

A lot of people have a plan in their minds for the next few years. For some, it’s pretty nebulous, with a lot of potential outcomes. For others, it’s a strongly worded set of Goals and Outcomes, it’s their 5 Year Plan.

Now is an excellent time to stop and reflect on that plan, especially if it was at the firmer end of the spectrum. Lots of things have happened in the world over the last six months, very few of them have been business as usual.

The shock of change may have been major, or it may have impacted you little. Either way, these large societal shifts give you the chance to reassess, and to decide if now is the right time to change things up and take a different path.

Firstly, you can reflect on your goals. Do they still resonate with you? Are they still relevant in the world as it is now? Will achieving them bring you the meaning that they had when you set them?

Next, look at your reality. Are you still on the path to achieve these goals? Have you lost impetus or opportunity? What is different in your situation now as opposed to six month ago? How about compared with when you set out these goals?

This process might tell you to carry on, to double down or to totally switch track. Any of these options are great, so long as it’s the right choice for you. For a big, long-term, commitment it’s worth spending the time to make sure this option is the right choice. Sleep on it, see how you feel in the morning. Talk it through with trusted people in your life.

When you make a conscious choice to review your goals, then you’ll be re-energised and set-up on the path to success. Certainly a worthy endeavour for an afternoon or two!

Book Review Leadership

The Art of Leadership

Michael Lopp’s new book has just been released. The Art of Leadership, Small Things Done Well. I’ve had it on pre-order since December, so I was very excited to get it into my hands.

It’s a collection of thirty small things you can do as a leader to build trust and respect in a team. The book is structured around three stages of leadership in organisations, a Manager, Director and Executive.

Lopp takes you through the journey from Individual Contributor, to a Manager leading a team, a Director who is leading Managers, and an Executive who’s accountable for the direction of the company. Each of the small things is especially relevant to a leader at that specific level, but is still something to keep in your toolkit as you move on to greater spans of control.

It covers pitfalls (New Manager Death Spiral) and sometimes unexpected areas of focus (when recruiting, spend an hour per day per open role). Communication is a key theme, whether that’s how to hold effective 1-2-1s, to say the hard thing or how to communicate difficult change through a large org. It recognises that you’ll be bad at each of these roles for at least a few years until you master them, so embrace failures, learn from them and growth through the experience.

If you already follow Rands, then you’ll be familiar with a lot of this content from his excellent blog. The book takes this to a next level, grouping, ordering and curating a common set of advice that is important for all leaders.

It’s a powerful book, it’s easy to read and it’s something you’ll be excited to revisit and dip back in to for years to come.


Losing it hurts more

The pain of losing something we have is about twice as great as the pleasure that comes from gaining something new.

This idea was first formalised by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky as Loss Aversion. It’s the idea that we prefer to avoid the loss of something, over achieving an equivalent gain.

This limitation in thinking can quite easily cause us to baseline our position badly. It may stop us making a valuable change as we hold on too tightly to something we already have, or it might stop you going after a valuable opportunity because you fear losing something you already have.

You can run through a number of experiments to see how much you are affected by Loss Aversion. For a simple test, think about an item you own. Pick something that doesn’t have a large sentimental value, and that can easily be replaced. Maybe think about a TV or other electrical utility item. Imagine losing it or breaking it. How do you feel?

Now imagine that you win a new version, modern, up-to-date and better than your current model. How would that make you feel?

If you feel worse with the Loss, then that’s an example of a type of Loss Aversion. It’s very common. I’m happy with my current TV, and I’d certainly feel worse losing it.

To escape from the effect, you can frame goals and outcomes differently. Looking at the cost of things as an example. Would you prefer a £10 discount or would you prefer to avoid a £10 surcharge? Most of us prefer to avoid the surcharge, as we see that as a loss.

When you’re being coached, you’ll find it’s a lot more powerful to phrase your goals in positive terms. If a goal might cost you something to achieve it, try and baseline the goal so you don’t phrase it as including a loss.

As an example, think about investing time and effort in yourself, rather than spending money for an uncertain gain, or giving up your weekends. Don’t be forced to exercise (losing free will), but be thankful for the opportunity to improve your fitness.

Framing in this way will move you away from Loss Aversion, and give you the tools for success in your chosen endeavour.

Coaching Leadership


What is interfering with you reaching the pinnacle of your performance? Where is the noise coming from? What’s the one thing you can do right now to cut some of it out?

Interference is the heat and light that blinds you, stopping you achieving your full potential. This fundamental idea was shared by Timothy Gallwey, writer of the Inner Game, a classic text of modern coaching practice.

It’s a simple concept, your Performance is equal to your Potential minus the Interference.

You can take steps to increase your potential over time, by learning, choosing to reflect and grow rather than just do.

You can also perform better by cutting down on the interference. It might be your own self-doubt, or the nay-saying of those around you. Maybe it’s distractions in the environment, where too many options pull you in different directions. Possibly you don’t know what the end goal is, it’s too fuzzy and uncertain to progress.

Stop now and take five minutes. Where’s the interference right now? What can you do to reduce it, dialling down the background noise?

If you know where the interference is coming from, you can block it out and achieve your full potential, turning in to true high performance.


Big Goals, Small Steps

Set yourself a big, scary goal. Something that’s truly transformative and impactful. Go big, shoot for the Moon, change the world. Say it out loud.

Now pause. Examine the statement you’ve just made. What are you feeling?

It’s probably a mix of things. Scared. Uncertain. Overwhelmed? All of these feelings are natural, by stating a goal you’ve built some commitment towards it, invested yourself in it.

We have a dozen different sayings around tackling tough challenges, because it’s a constant enduring theme of the human condition. Pick your favourite, whether it’s eating Elephants (one bite at a time!) or going on the longest journey, starting with that single step.

These ideas boil down to the same basic premise. Break down the goal. Find a small initial action to take. Reward yourself for this achievement, then do it again. Keep going, keep improving and eventually you’ll look back on a great success.

What’s your big scary goal? What’s the first small step you are going to take to achieve it?

Coaching Leadership

Flywheel of Change

Flywheels store up mechanical energy, and let you use it in a different way. They are big and heavy, and hard to get going. Once up and spinning, they’ll keep going with only small and regular top-ups.

If you are attempting to drive change, either personal, organisational or societal, then much like a flywheel, starting will be the hardest thing.

A great and tumultuous effort might just be enough to nudge the wheel forwards a tiny bit, but if left there it will quickly settle down to stillness once more.

One large effort is not enough. Nor will sporadic and unplanned pushes work, too much will go into getting the turning started, rather than speeding it up.

The large push will be exhausting, but sometimes that’s worth doing to get going. To then drive the change to completion, use a strategy that builds momentum.

Find the repeatable efforts that you can maintain over the long run. Engage daily or weekly, make it a routine part of your schedule. Get to the point where it’s something you miss if you don’t do it. Setup some larger efforts, with time to plan before and recover after.

Change is hard, so be smart about building up that energy, and use it for good!


Wave a Magic Wand

The Magic Wand is a powerful technique that opens you up to the full range of possibilities. It clears everything out of the way that can slow you down or prevent your progress, and empowers you to take that first step.

When you wave your Magic Wand, you imagine what the fulfilment of your dreams will look like, the great outcomes of achieving your goals. You jump over anything on the path to get there, so you see and feel what success is like.

Once you’ve done that, then you can return to where you are now, recognise the steps you might take and the opportunities you have available. You can take all of these, smash down any barriers and start your journey.

To take the first step, sometimes you need to see where the finishing line is. Wave your wand to get started, and let that magic help you make the first move.


What do you value?

When we look at our reality, stopping to think about where we are now, then understanding our core values is a key stepping stone towards making lasting positive change.

There is no point chasing goals that will leave us unfulfilled. There’s no reason for you to do something that will not make you happy in the long run.

Value mapping is a powerful exercise to help you understand what is truly important. Is it friendship, family or companionship. Do you seek comfort or relish a challenge. Is security important to you, and is that wealth or health. Do you seek recognition in your field, or to make quiet yet significant impact?

It’s easy to say all these things are important, so we must seek to prioritise. First take ten minutes to write out all the things that come to mind as an important value to you. If that’s hard, don’t worry. There are lots of lists online to start from, scan a couple and pick some terms that resonate.

The initial goal is to get everything onto paper. Look for concepts that resonate, and be brutally honest with yourself when you are choosing what matters to you. Go with an open mind, seek what is right rather than what you hope would look good to an external observer.

By now, you might have a lengthy list. That’s especially likely if you’ve not really done this exercise before. Many core values will have positive associations, so your short list can be quite long!

The next stage is to whittle it down. Aim for a top 5, and certainly no more than a top 10. This might be hard, particularly when cutting down to the final few. Trade off pairs, removing the one that speaks to you less. If you need to, build a bracket and cut out a swathe at a time.

This list of five values might be enough. It’ll give you a strong view of what’s important to you, what will drive your thinking and what will be a great success in the future.

If you are ready, you can also rank this final list, sorting the values to find out what is truly most important to you.

Now you know what matters, you are ready for the next step in your transformation. You can rework your goals to align with your values and look forwards to powerful and long lasting positive growth.