No Comparions

You be you!

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A quick back story:

Years ago I was in a church where there was the discipline of morning prayer. You could do this at home but, if you were a “disciple”, it was better to be seen at the church building praying, anywhere from 6am to 8am.

The discipline of a morning meditation* was really good. The need to be seen? Not so much. In fact, if you missed attending for a couple of days you got the “didn’t see you at morning prayer, brother!” So there was this expectation and, as young me, there was always the pursuit of trying to be better. Again, nothing wrong with that.

One day, I overheard a friend say he got up at 4am to pray. Holy prayer mats, Batman!

Not to be outdone, I also got up at 4am to pray.

This was hard! Partly because of another church custom: fellowship.

This was coffee and food after church to be friendly to others, encourage each other and build relationships. Another plus for church and similar communities.

But going to bed after 10:30 and getting up at 4am was a tough gig. Not to be deterred, I stuck it out for a couple of weeks. But in the end, it was too much. I had to pack the 4am starts in and try and be a normal person.

A month or so after that, feeling like a failure in my prayer habits and clearly a very unspiritual disciple, I mentioned my efforts to my friend.

He laughed: “You obviously didn’t hear the whole conversation!”

“Oh?”, I responded, wondering what I had missed.

“Yeah, what I was saying was I had got up at 4am one time to try and it was hopeless. It was stupid. I get up at 6:30 every day!”

Needless to say we both had a good laugh!

It’s obvious to say we shouldn’t compare ourselves to others but we tend to do this without thinking.

Here are some things to consider next time you’re scrolling Social Media:
  1. What is their background? What do they bring to the situation you don’t know about?
  2. What do they not say? This isn’t the sin of intentional omission, it could simply be they have information, skills, knowledge they take for granted they wouldn’t even think to share. For example a blogger with experience in journalism.
  3. What effort do they put in that we can’t see? We only get to see the end product in many cases. I like it when people on YouTube give us a behind the scenes look at their set up. It brings a whole lot of context.
  4. Don’t be a literalist. This is taking everything at face value. It becomes a binary argument: this OR that. Rarely is that the case. There are so many shades of grey! (More than 50, I’d say!)
What to do:
  1. What do you admire about the person? Admiration is great, we need role models. What attributes do you see that you would like for yourself. Write them down.
  2. Allow space for yourself. You are not, and cannot, be them. You can be you. What does that mean? Write it down.
  3. What are your goals in this area? Have you defined them clearly? Write them down.
  4. What tasks need to be addressed for you to fulfil #2? (you be you)
  5. What actions can you take to start completing those tasks? When can you do the first of those tasks?
To Finish

Another erroneous comparison I have made.

I follow Yiannis Christodoulou, on Twitter (@Yiannis_83). With 83 being in his profile I assume he is 20 years younger than me. He is quite the accomplished triathlete in his age group. But I assumed he had been doing this since he was a kid. I assumed he’s been brought up swimming, running and riding for decades!

If I compare myself to him, I probably can’t emulate his feats.

Au contraire!

Read his tweet of 4 days ago:

Used with kind permission from Yiannis


He only started swimming 10 years ago! And he started to run! And yet he has achieved so much!

We can be very fickle.

We see people who have made it and we think we can do exactly the same, without knowing their background.

We also see people who are accomplished and we think we can’t emulate them, without knowing their background.

If that isn’t an endorsement for you be you, I don’t on know what is.

Don’t compare yourself to others.

Admire their feats, sure and now start where you are.


*Funny that back then we referred to meditation as new age woo-woo! (Maybe they still do!) 🙄

Also, thanks to Yiannis for allowing me to mention him and his success in his journey!

The $1 Experiment – Update

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Happy New Year! 🥳 I hope everyone is well and started the New Year with a bang!

I am sipping flat champagne out here on the patio as I write this at 10:13am. A bit early but we thought the bottle was empty and, as there was one glass left, I wasn’t going to waste it! Cheers! 🥂

So, if you have been here before, you’ll know I am running an experiment called the “$1 experiment”. The premise being I am looking to provide value free of charge but would welcome any donations people may wish to contribute if I add value.

As this is Day One of the formal experiment, December being the “soft launch”, I thought I’d give you an update of how it’s going. You can check out the details here!

Over the Christmas period I did drop my level of posts but I’ll kick that up a notch now the New Year is here.

How much have I earned so far?

So far I’ve had two donations! This has equated (after fees from Stripe) to $2.04 into my account. Thanks to Ryan and Glenn! 🙏

I’m certainly not retiring any time soon. But it’ll be fun to see how this goes over the next 365 days.

Plans to increase the value for 2022

My aim is to provide new tools every week, so 52 new tools by year’s end. These will cover topics such as:

  • leading people
  • managing teams
  • developing habits
  • personal effectiveness
  • developing a better mindset
  • dealing with different personalities

If there is something you’re interested in that may fit into one of the above topics, let me know in the comments and I’ll do some research and maybe develop a tool people can use to improve their effectiveness.

The blog part of the website will always be free with donations accepted if you feel there is value in what I provide.

I will be developing some products for payment but they will be clearly defined and apart from the blog.

Have an awesome 2022 everyone.

Closing the Learning Loop

One of the dilemmas of trainers is in ensuring people to retain and apply the learning they have experienced.

This is one of my bug bears where I don’t want to spend time with a group, get great evaluations and feel they’ve “got it” only to find very little has been applied. I mean, application is the whole point.

I feel there is an open loop to learning that can be easily closed.

It’s back on the job, where the pressure of the work day and volume of requests do their very best to limit the time and effectiveness of embedding the learning.

People want to apply what they have learned because they remember what the benefit is. It’s having the time and clarity of what to do.

To that end, I have created a “Today I Learned” template.

This is a simple tool designed to allow a learner to have conversation on paper to make sure they are closing the loops to their learning.

It starts with a simple:

Today I Learned… and asks the learner to write down what the learning was. It could be a concept (Today I Learned … how to create an effective meeting agenda) to a whole workshop (Today I Learned … CPR).

So Now I Can … It then asks the learner what that means. This clarifies the purpose and benefit of the learning.

  • So now I can … set up meetings effectively … to help me stay on track.
  • So now I can … administer CPR if it’s needed … and save someone’s life.

I also suggest writing this in a format where you can explain it to others. This also helps in embedding the information.

But now back to work …

So you’ve just completed the best course you’ve ever attended and you’re keen to get stuck into it back at work (maybe CPR (above) was the wrong example to be keen about! 🙄)

But now, back at work with the pressures and demands, Ebbinghaus’s Forgetting Curve comes into mess things up! Elements are forgotten. We lose confidence and focus on the information just learned. It all becomes too hard and we hope we don’t need to administer CPR for at least 12 months.

To counter this, I’ve added the element of:

But I have questions … this allows the individual to acknowledge they had the training and gained some value. But now what do they do when they need to apply the skills/knowledge? It can all get a bit fuzzy, which means questions will arise.

  • Do I pull out the checklist first or do I go straight into CPR?
  • What if I get a stage the wrong way round?
  • “What if …, What if … What if …”

This section allows the learner to write down what’s in their head. Often in writing it out, the answer will become clear. Other times it may require contact with the trainer. (I’d be more than happy to help clarify concepts with a learner after a workshop. Their effectiveness back at work is the whole point, after all!)

The last two sections are:

  1. What is preventing me: a list of things that might be getting in the way
  2. What I plan to do is: a set of steps to overcome the preventions and create momentum

Finally

This is also intended as a coaching plan. Using it with a learner, it helps clarify the issues that are preventing improved performance or blocks to developing a skill. A good coach can work through each section and allow the learner to develop their own solutions.

You can find a copy on the Resources Page. I hope you find it helpful.

I’d be keen to get your thoughts. Have you developed something similar?

If you found this and other material here useful, consider dropping $1 in the cup! And tell a few friends! 🙏

Have a Growth Mindset … for others!

I was speaking with an ex-colleague a few months ago, and they shared with me something that happened to her at work.

Her supervisor told her to “… get a growth mindset. You have a fixed mindset and you need a growth mindset!” Her response, not sure if it was verbal or just to herself, was, “My mindset is my own business!”

Telling is not developing!

It made me think of how we assess others. When I think of fixed vs growth mindset I apply it to myself. What areas do I need to grow in? (still looking at you, touch-typing!)

But this interaction made me think how managers and leaders (and co-workers for that matter) consider those around them. Do they have a fixed mindset about others, even if they have a growth mindset about themselves?

Does considering oneself to have a growth mindset, create a level of false superiority over those one thinks have fixed mindset. I say false, because anyone with a true growth mindset would be considerate of others and work with them, not talk down to, or about, them.

Consider terms like:

  • that’s the good old Tom we know
  • she’ll never change
  • they’ve always been like that
  • you need to have a good think about your future (meaning someone is fixed in their current situation)

If we are in a fixed mindset about others, our coaching and interactions will bear this out. We will coach with a limited view of achieving outcomes. Because “they’ll never change” we don’t look for alternative solutions or coaching methods. And even if we do sometimes, it’s simply to prove they can’t change! The good old, “I’ve tried everything!” approach (personal experience!).

If we are providing feedback to our manager on our team’s performance, our report will be governed by our view of them. This goes both ways, by the way. It’s called the “horns and halo” effect.

There is a great video on the Ladder of Inference by Cheryl Williams. Suffice to say, we behave in accordance with our assumptions of others.

And then, what do you do when you’re in this situation? It can be difficult to change our views because we have built up such database of evidence in coming to our conclusions assumptions. We develop blindspots to what people do well, so their fixed mindset behaviours are highlighted while their growth mindset behaviours are diminished.

Conclusion

We absolutely need a growth mindset around our own performance.

We also, perhaps more importantly, need to have a growth mindset with our colleagues, direct reports and those we interact with at work.

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Avoid These Two Coaching Mistakes

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Imagine your team. Imagine their performance mapped along a bell curve. It’s likely you’ll have a fairly common distribution.

You’ll have some at the right hand side, killing it. Mostly having good days, weeks and months. A good proportion will be in the mid range. What Kim Scott in Radical Candor* calls Rockstars! (Ch. 3, p 43). And on the left hand side of the bell curve are those who are not quite making it.

It’s these team members I want to address here because I have done what I’m about to describe (to my shame). If you make these mistakes it will cost you time, money, productivity and customer service.

The good news is … it’s all avoidable!

Mistake OnE: Fixed vs growth mindset!

Not theirs, yours! As coaches we can have an opinion of a direct report that they:

  • cannot grow
  • will not come to terms with a change
  • have always been this way
  • will never change

With this mindset, how do you think the coaching will go? Even if you are determined to be a good, objective and supportive coach, can you overcome the mindset? I’d suggest it’s harder than we think. I know most, if not all, coaches don’t want to be in this situation.

How to change the mindset to coach effectively?

As always, the following is going to depend a lot on your relationship with the individual. If you have a good, respectful relationship, options open up.

  • Have a conversation with your direct report and be open about your concerns.
  • Be open about you own thoughts and ask them for help – it may be more of a molehill than the mountain you’ve imagined.
  • Even if they agree with you, don’t take the easy way out too quickly. That’s just a path of least resistance. Stay with them and work with them on the solution. This is, in part, how you become a good/great coach. It’s when others look at your results and wonder :“How the hell did you get through to them? I’ve been trying for years!”
  • Dig deeper into what could be the learning, attitudinal or habitual issue. Many times we have performance issues due to a habit or belief. We don’t realise it because it’s in the subconscious. You don’t need to be a psychologist or therapist. Learn to ask good questions.

Over to you: what would you suggest?

Mistake Two: Average is the Enemy

Let’s imagine for a moment we have a person working for us who is on the left had side of the middle of the bell curve: they are considered a low performer.

At a minimum, we’d like them to hit the middle line. We’d like them to meet the goals of the role. We help them do this though coaching, performance management, counselling, training. A myriad of technologies.

Some people take to this like a duck to water. A little bit of coaching and development and they close the gap. Others take longer, like crawling across cut glass.

But let’s assume a happy ending and the performance gap closes.

What happens now?

What normally happens when we coach someone from the left hand side to the middle? From low performance to acceptable performance?

We stop the coaching and start monitoring and supporting.

We have just coached a below average performer to be … average!

The result being they will hover between just below and just above the acceptable level. As a leader we will deem this “okay”. Or, worse, we will be watching them like a hawk to re-start the performance management process again. That’ll make them feel comfortable! 😉

Why stop there?

You’ve just helped someone improve their performance. They may be keen to go further, to become a high performer.

What are your next steps?

Here are some thoughts.

  • Continue to engage with them about broadening their skills around particular aspects of the role. Aspects they may be able to improve quickly.
  • If it’s sales and service, help them with questioning and listening skills. Role play tough situations. Help them get comfortable with higher performance, so it becomes the new norm for them. So even with some dip in performance, they’ll still be above average!
  • Continue to provide feedback when they do something (positive) they hadn’t done before.
  • Partner them with a high performance colleague who has a bent for coaching and developing others. (Caution: some high performers hit their targets because they are left alone to get on with their work. Unless developing others is part of their development, I’d avoid these, at least at first! Again, first hand experience!)
  • Get them to log their achievements. It’s not an extra task, journaling is a very effective way of improving performance. This helps them reinforce their progress. These insights can also be used as tools in coaching sessions when looking to help them replicate good practices and habits.

Over to you: What have you seen work effectively?

Summary

As a coach we need to own our actions and mindsets. These mistakes cost you, the direct report and the company, money and misery.

As I confessed earlier, I’ve made these errors. (And maybe it’s just me!)

A common phrase these days is #IYKYK (if you know, you know).

Be on the lookout for your own mindset and, when you’re coaching someone who’s below par, enjoy the process of coaching them to high performance, not just average.

What have been your experiences? Have you seen this/done this? Prepared to share? 😉

*affiliate link

When you’re down … and troubled …

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(hat tip to Carole King)

You know those times when you’re facing a challenge and you wonder if you’re up to it? All you see is the challenge and little of the opportunity?

I had that a few years ago.

In 2007, I’d joined an Engineering Group as Head of Human Resources and, on day one, I was tasked with creating an emerging leaders learning retreat … in 6 weeks time.

Holy shit!

It was possibly partly a test. It is a tough industry and they were looking to see what I could do. Could I do this? So much to do and organise and it was just me. No staff. No support. The PAs of the Execs didn’t know me so no favours were coming from that area.

I had to think about selecting the participants with some logic. My experience in Learning & Development required me to have learning outcomes, behavioural change and get the right people in the room.

I had to develop the program. Organise the guest speakers. Locate a venue with catering. Establish costings along with submissions for approval. Back and forth discussions with the COO and the CFO on “Why this?” and “Why that?” and “Can’t you do this cheaper?” (Good times!)

Plus, the other parts of the HR job in general. I was the first HR Manager at the time so everyone wanted a piece of me.

Remembering significant achievements can help you when you’re feeling flat, demotivated and useless. Hey, we all do at times. Have you ever been asked what your greatest achievements are and, in the moment, come up blank? Or maybe you just dismiss them? Yep, me too! 😉

Here’s what I’ve started doing …

  1. Open up your note app of choice, in my case it’s Apple Notes, but feel free to use a physical notebook.
  2. Write down all the achievements you have been responsible for. Could be something you led or played a significant role in (work or personal).
  3. Think about the achievement and how you “felt”. Make sure to write down how you felt at the time. If you can, bask in that glory for a minute, and re-live the emotion. Emotions are great motivators!
  4. Write that down next to the achievement. “I changed “x” to “y” and it was bloody hard work but in that moment I felt on top of the world!”
  5. Keep it visible. If you use something like Apple Notes, you can pin that to the top of your notes so it’s always there to see and re-read!
  6. If you use a physical notebook, place a tab on the page (pages 🙌) so you can refer to it when you need to.
  7. When you’re having a tough day or simply faced with a challenge, take 5 minutes to review these achievements, feel the emotion and gratitude you had at the time. Feel “on top of the world again!”
  8. You did it then, you can do it now!

Outcome: The Emerging Leaders Workshop

Over 3 days, we had 20+ emerging leaders on the program. They had come from all over Australia, Vietnam and Dubai.

We walked them through a business case study and allowed them to interact with each other, challenge each other and develop plans to become better.

We developed some business “truths” and created stronger relationships between the offices and the various engineering disciplines.

I think the CFO and COO were mildly stunned I had pulled it off and were very happy with the outcomes.

That experience is one I remember when faced with a challenge today. I’ve done it before, I can do it again. Even writing this out has been beneficial.

Maybe there is a Step 9! 😉

Change Win-Lose to Win-Learn

No-one likes losing. I don’t! I generally feel like I’ve take a step backwards. Those I work with may have lost a little faith.

Maybe. Maybe not.

I think it’s apocryphal but if it took 10,000 failures for Edison to invent the light bulb, noting each time that, “well, that didn’t work”, and then “that didn’t work” – 10,000 times, it was all learning, not losing.

More recently, a product called WD-40, has that name because the first 39 versions did not achieve what the creators were developing! (HT to Michelle Ockers of Learning Uncut)

I attended a leadership course a couple of years ago and here are my bullet points I rediscovered while re-organising my reference material (bracketed notes are my thoughts now):

– There is always more than one perspective, you may need to change lenses (this can be tough, especially in a topic you thought you had sorted already but …)
– There’s generally more than one “right” answer (and rather than thinking we were wrong or fell short, maybe we just added a cool new tool to our toolkit.)
– And, building on that, don’t stop at the first “right” answer you find (always ask, at least initially, “And what else …?”)
– Learn to sell your “photos”, or, in management terms, your vision (the “photo” reference may have come from a story in the course which I cannot recall)
– Don’t be afraid to make mistakes (this is a well worn truism, still true though)
– Break the pattern (people maybe more comfortable with unhappiness than uncertainty (Tim Ferris, 4 Hour Work Week, p xx). Breaking the patterns may need broad shoulders for a while. People are comfortable with their own patterns.)
– Reframe the problem to be an opportunity (e.g. what can I learn from this gap?)

Every time we look at what we have done and critically analyse it, we give ourselves the opportunity to learn something new:
– about ourselves and
– about those we work with.

Maybe it’s Not the To Do List

When it comes to productivity and to do lists, there is a plethora of apps and processes that promise to alleviate us of our stress and make our lives so much better.

Many of these tools help us accomplish those things. But there are also situations where we look at our list, whether it’s in a notebook, on an app or in our head and we still get overwhelmed. There is just too much to do and not enough time. Apparently, the ancient Romans had the same issue!

I’ve been pondering if there is a root cause. Something besides the number of tasks and the time we have. Even the most disciplined people can “fall off the wagon” and need to get back in control. What causes this?

The founder of Ness Labs, Anne-Laure Le Cunff (@anthilemoon) has just begun a YouTube channel and she discusses three types of motivation when it comes to procrastination. One of which I want to discuss here: perceived abilities.

If we look at our to do lists we see a lot of tasks that come within the brief of our job, whether that job is your employment or a more casual (non-KPI’d) role, like being a dad or a friend or a maintenance guy around the house (I have the fix the headlight on my car! Update: it’s fixed! 🙌).

We can look at the list of tasks and some are relatively easy to do. For me, presenting in public comes relatively easy, simply because I’ve done it so many times and feedback has been good (or, perhaps, polite! 😉). Therefore, if someone asks me to do a presentation, I’m not going to get too anxious, in fact, I’ll probably look forward to it! Weird huh?).

In another area of my role, as a Change Analyst, I’m relatively new to the function and I’m working on an IT project, which is also new to me. I’ve been asked to develop a change plan. Not something I’ve done before. I have been given guidance and a template and plenty of support. I still procrastinate and look at the task, not with dread, but certainly with a little less confidence than giving a presentation. There are so many elements that go into a change plan I don’t really know where to start, or what is enough information and what might be too much.

As I develop my change analyst skills, this will become easier. We grow, even if subconsciously, in the things we repeatedly do.

Therefore, when I suggest the list isn’t the problem, I’m suggesting it might be the skill set required to complete the tasks on the list. Brian Tracy authored the book, “Eat That Frog” to help people get over the toughest task of the day early. My question is, “Why is it tough?” Referring back to Anne-Laure‘s* video, she also discusses two other motivational areas: head and heart. She explains it better than I can, so head on over to the video (and subscribe while you’re there).

For many of us, me included, a long list can cause anxiety in and of itself. But then, as you decide which task to tackle first (or second, or third …), you need to be aware of what skills you have to complete the task. And what skills you need. And once you have decided that, what are you going to do about it to become more competent, less anxious and enjoy the task more.

Here’s my Plan

My process will be to look at tasks and batch them. As Tim Ferriss* (among others) has written and spoken of time and time again you don’t need to know everything about a topic, you just need to know the top 20-30% of things (Tim refers to speaking Japanese and how many words you really need to learn!) To me this means: what skills do many of these tasks require and what skills do I need to develop.

Touch Typing

I have been procrastinating on touch typing. Why? Even though I am making small progress, I just want to be able to do it now! I start and stop with the practice. I know becoming competent will benefit me, especially as my mind races with thoughts that I cannot get out quick enough.

Learning how to develop a Zettelkasten

Another is developing a Zettelkasten approach to note taking to help me learn more, with more interest and, in the long run, learn quicker.

Both of the above would help me develop change plans better, as one example, and through more effective research and developing ideas.

The list itself, at least for me, isn’t the basic issue. It’s having or developing the skills I need to complete the tasks on the list; whether I am looking at the larger outcome (Change Plan) or breaking it down to smaller tasks.

Coming Up: How Developing the Skills adds to the Time to Complete Tasks

*shameless name dropping! 🙂