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Category: Personal Effectiveness

  1. How to stop people moaning

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    Today, it’s lucky that I only had about 3 hours of work that I HAD to get done, because I made a breakthrough in something I’ve been struggling with for years, and I needed to strike whilst the iron is hot.

    If you follow me on social media, you’ll know that my broadband is terrible. It is my second favourite topic to tweet about after L&D. I have complained, privately and publicly to anyone and everyone for about the last 5 years. My complaints have been ignored, or politely dismissed. Sometimes I’ve managed to get as far as an email exchange but things soon dwindle from their end.

    But today an actual person took interest. She gave me her direct contact details and asked me to call.

    • She LISTENED to my frustrations
    • She ASKED what I’d done so far, and about my circumstances
    • She set me a clear ACTION POINT.

    Which I put into place immediately!!!

    The terrible nature of my broadband has been a bug bear for years. It is largely outside of my control. However, what this lady was able to do was help me to find something that was WITHIN my circle of control, and challenged me to do it. If I complete the task she set me, she will then take the next step. She put the ball in my court, but has indicated she’s in the game with me.

    I’ve always been a massive fan of Steven Covey’s Circle of Concern Model – it genuinely changed my life, and reduced my stress levels considerably, and she just put something within my Circle of Control.

    It made me wonder about how many people moan about things at work? Does anything ever get done as a result of these moans, or do the moans just gradually suck the life force out of the people who work there, and so the business itself?

    It’s true that we sometimes moan about stuff that doesn’t REALLY matter. Sometimes a moan is cry for attention. Sometimes it’s a genuine frustration. Regardless of the seriousness of the moan, following these 3 steps can help eradicate them…

    If we LISTEN, and if the moan is something that doesn’t really matter, just the fact that we have been listened to may well be enough. If it isn’t, ASKING shows that you value the persons’ feelings and can again either stop the moan there OR become the first step in solving a problem. Often, like me, people feel frustrated and powerless. They actually WANT to solve the problem and are willing to take action and put the effort in, but they feel that it’s out of their hands. If they are empowered to solve the problem, they will. All they need is for someone to help them to see alternatives, expand their circle of control and hold them accountable.

    My bite size training module on Empowering Leadership touches on this as well as other useful tools.


  2. Realistic Time Management

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    I'm pretty good at managing my time, but like many things, I've only truly gotten the hang of it when I hit my 30s and had kids. My husband and I parent without a safety net (AKA extended family) so we are superb at planning and scheduling: Some days it can quite literally be one in one out, but our ability to organise things has always served us well. Of course, it's one thing planning, organising and scheduling, but the REAL trick to making it all work is to be reliable. We have to totally trust each other to do what we say we will, when we say we will.

    This is kind of background to the point I want to make.

    When I run Time Management workshops, the recurring problem is how to fit more in to an already overstuffed diary. People feel stressed and never seem to finish their to-do lists. I am not stressed and I always complete what I need to complete (barring illness or natural disaster). That's because I'm realistic.

    • I'm realistic about how long things take
    • I'm realistic about my abilities
    • I'm realistic when setting goals and agreeing outcomes with clients.

    I'm lucky I know. I work for myself so it's easier for me to take control of my workload than those who get work allocated from someone else and that undoubtedly helps.

    But my work is largely creative, and creativity doesn't tend to stick to schedules (Which can very difficult to explain to the highly qualified PRINCE2 project manager you are liasing with). Just yesterday my brain didn't properly switch on until 4pm, and then it was pretty much time to fetch the kids and go into 'mum' mode. I'd faffed around for 6 hours yet had little to show for it. 

    Today I've been a lot more focussed. I've cracked on, and if tomorrow is the same I'll have totally caught up with where I expected to be at the end of Wednesday.

    So you are probably thinking that if I can do 3 day's work in 2, I'm under-utilised. Surely I could do more work? Aren't I taking the mickey and slacking off?

    My feeling is 'NO'.

    I've been in this game long enough to know that I have brain dead days, and computer-problem days, and days when clients don't get back to me and days when I need to tend to some domestic emergency. So I factor it in. No point in pretending that it isn't going to happen, it is, so I plan for it.

    That's why I always build in the 'buggeration factor' and never allocate more than 80% of my time. If I've got 4 days work planned in a week, my diary is full. Because something will cause a set back during the week. We don't live in an ideal world, we live in a real world, and real world planning takes imperfect things into account.

    So, my top 3 tips for stree-free time management are:

    1. Be realistic about how long you have and how long things actually take (not ought to take)
    2. Set realistic goals - ones that you are 99% sure you can achieve
    3. Build in the buggeration factor

    And if you want to run an interactive bite-size training session to help people plan their time better, we have everything you need!

  3. How to be Resilient

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    I’ve been struggling to write a bite-size training module on Resilience for over a year because resilience is natural to me. It’s like asking Adele how to sing, or David Beckham how to play football. They just do it.

    In trying to pin point why I’m so resilient, a number of factors come to mind:

    1. I have to be. I left home for university at 18, and (initially at least) being surrounded by strangers, I had to look after myself. There was no-one to come to my rescue if things went badly. This has continued. Though married to a massively supportive husband, it’s just us two. We don’t live close to family and we’ve moved around a bit meaning we don’t have long-standing close friends. It’s just us. We have to just deal with whatever life throws at us in the best way we can. There really is no point crying when things go wrong and waiting for someone to come to my rescue. No-one (other than my husband) will, and he can’t always do that. I must be able to get myself out of my own holes.

    2. I’m quite unemotional. Not to Mr Spock levels; I do experience happiness, sadness, frustration etc, but I’m not one of these people who experiences massive highs and lows (sometimes many times in a day – how do people cope with constant emotional rollercoaster?). I struggle to understand why people go into mourning all over again every anniversary of a loved one’s death. I mourn when the people I love die, but then it’s in the past. Likewise, I find it odd when people seem ecstatic over minor good news. Recently my car was broken into, and although I knew I should be angry or upset, but I wasn’t. I was annoyed though… my first thought was “Darn – now I can’t go to the cheese shop as planned” followed by “who do I need to tell about this to sort it out?”, which leads me to the third point…

    3. I’m practical. As is my husband. When I discovered Stephen Covey’s Circle of Concern I identified with it immediately: When faced with the unexpected, my reaction is always “what can I do about this?”. Eighteen months ago I had two large projects lined up for two different clients: One of the clients called me to apologise that it was going to have to be cancelled due to a budget review. The very next day the other client called cancelled due to major re-organisation and the fact that she was being made redundant. My reaction was to make a cup of tea, take a moment and then contact a consultancy I have a relationship with to ask if there was any associate work going. There was a little, and I was grateful for it. I can only do what I can do. These contracts were gone and I needed to find alternative work, so I did.

    4. I accept change quickly. This is related to the first 3 points. I was a bit concerned about my lack of emotion, but then realised very recently that I simply move through the ‘change curve’ very quickly – sometimes in a matter of minutes. So yes, I DO experience anger, depression etc. but they are fleeting: My (logical and practical) brain is able to quickly get to the ‘testing/bargaining’ phase and work with the new reality.

    I’m still not sure how to put this into a bite-size training module, but later in the year when I have less commissioned work, I will try.

  4. The Virtuous Cycle: Performance and Support

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    As my kids get older, I’ve noticed that the Hawthorne effect (first cited in 1958, but relating to studies conducted in the 1920’s & 30’s) is very much alive and well.

    Both of them have participated in sport of some kind or another since they started school. They do it mostly for fun, but there is also a small part of them that wants to be really good (especially in my son’s case). My son has both tennis and badminton lessons; my daughter, trampolining. They are both good (but not outstanding) in their chosen sports.

    In both the tennis and trampolining, the club is happy to take the money and they go through the motions of coaching them. The kids enjoy their time, but they aren’t passionate and although they do improve, its only slowly. The coaches spend more time with the kids (or parents) who demand their attention or have extra (private) lessons.

    In badminton, my son has been given lots of attention and praise by his coach. We get regular feedback on his progress too. He has been actively encouraged, challenged and supported from the beginning. As a result, his performance has improved at a much greater rate than in other sports, and his motivation and commitment to badminton has also increased. This of course, brings more attention from the coach, which means his performance improves, and encourages us to let him have more lessons. It’s a virtuous circle.

    virtuous circle

    Maybe managers should treat all their team members as potential champions, even when their performance is nothing special. Maybe the attention, support and challenge will motivate someone to try just a little bit harder and perform just that little bit better, just as it did in the original Hawthorne study. We all need to feel that someone is rooting for us; that we want to make someone proud.I’m not sure if my son has more natural talent for badminton than tennis, but his performance is certainly better. I don’t know if his performance led to the extra coaching support, or if the extra coaching support led to his improved performance: All I know is that the two are clearly linked and that this 'virtuous cycle' runs both ways.

    Setting goals, giving regular feedback, coaching, and motivating people are fundamental responsibilities of a coach…and of a manager. They are the things that result in high performance. If your managers need help getting into these habits, our bite-size training modules can help. Little, frequent boosts can make a huge difference to everyone's performance.

  5. Should training be compulsory?

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    It's a tough one isn't it?

    Of course, there are certain aspects of everyones job where training IS (and should be) compulsory. Anything that covers working safely or is critical to core processes is quite rightly considered non negotiable.

    But what about other skills, like communication, managing people and personal effectiveness?

    Over the years, as a society, we've become more choice driven. Overall this is a great thing. We are all adults and most of us are capable of making good choices for ourselves. Sometimes we don't. Maybe this is because we don't like some of the options, we don't see the value or it's simply not a priority. How many times have we seen the senior manager opt of out performance management training because they 'know how to do it'? But they don't know how to do it well, and this has ramifications across the organisation.

    Maybe it's just because we are comfortable where we are. It's nice in our comfort zone isn't it?

    Over the school holidays my kids were more than happy to stay at home all day playing Minecraft, watching Horrible Histories and jumping on the trampoline. It was nice and comfortable for them. Familiar. It took no effort. When I suggested doing something different they were often reluctant (unless it was expensive and involved the chance of ice-cream of course!).

    Increasingly bored and frustrated, I took a more assertive approach. I took away their choice. "This afternoon we're going orienteering" I declared one day last week.

    "But WHY???"

    "It's boring"

    "I don't want to go orienteering"

    "Why can't we just stay here?"

    But go we did, and by the time we were hunting for our third marker, Minecraft, TV and boredom were forgotten. They were racing around, smiling and laughing, fighting over who got to read the map to find the next marker, and when we had finished they were surprised that it was over so quickly. They didn't want to go home, so we extended the visit to include half an hour on the playground (also deemed 'boring' eariler in the day).

    As with many things, it was the getting started that was hard. Once they HAD started, they created their own momentum.


    Isn't that often the way with training too? People find any and every excuse not to go unless their job literally depends on it. But when they do (reluctantly) attend, the vast majority of people find it useful and enjoyable.

    So whilst the adult in me says that people should be free to choose whether to attend training and which training they want, another part of me knows that often people don't know what's good for them until they have the benefit of hindsight.

    So how do we get the balance right? Answers on a postcard (or orienteering post) please!


  6. Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway

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    Being a new manager is scary. No two ways about it. Especialy if you have found yourself in a management position almost by accident. Even if it's something you've actively worked towards, actually being responsible for people, budgets and resources is scary. We can all comment, criticise and advise when we have no direct responsibility but when it's time to 'put our money where our mouth is' - it's quite different.

    I've been a manager twice in my career, and as my business grows, I find myself increasingly in a 'management' role. In all honesty, it's not something that comes easily to me. I'm not naturally good at it, but I like to think I'm competent. And that's because I apply the training I deliver.

    • Got a difficult decision to make? - Use the decision-making tools I tell others to use.
    • Struggling to get everything done? - Eisenhower my to-do list and find people who can help me out.
    • Managing a team? - Remember all the things I teach about the importance of regular communication (even though I worry about it being 'overkill' and taking up too much of everyone's time - including my own).
    • Got to have a 'difficult' conversation? - Plan what I'm going to say, and use the structures for effective feedback (don't hope the problem will go away!)
    • Got too much work? - Say no, politely but assertively.
    • Identify a problem? - Identify possible solutions and then take it to the stakeholders if it's their decision to make rather than mine.
    • And of course, the 'golden rule' - Do as you would be done by!


    Just because these things don't always come naturally to me, they sometimes feel awkward and forced. But that's the thing.... they FEEL awkward and forced to me. The people I'm working with or managing don't know how I feel. They only hear what I say and see what I do... and it isn't as bad as it feels.

    We all have to start somewhere, and we only get good at something by practising. At some point, there has to be a 'first time', and that's why I say to new managers go back to your training (and if you haven't had any) get some advice, take a moment to think about what you will do, then do it.

    It almost ceratinly won't be as bad as you expect, and you will probably do more good by being brave and dealing with the situation than if you just bury your head and wait for things to get sorted.

    As Yoda said "Do or Do Not - there is no Try".


  7. Oops! Delegation goes wrong

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    My son goes to swimming lessons with his friend. So we and the friend's parents alternate taking them. This week it was their turn.

    Being a mum who believes in raising my kids to be independent, I delegated the task of getting swimming things ready to my son. I quickly checked his bag when he said he had everything. He did. The bag was placed in the hall and he picked it up when his lift arrived.

    Fast forward an hour, and his friend's Dad is explaining how he coped with my son having no towel, no goggles and no clean pants. (He did very well I think!).


    How could this be? I saw the bag packed full of the right things before he went? Simple. He had placed his swimming bag next to the almost identical bag of his sister which she had dumped in the hall after netball, and picked up the wrong one! Thankfully he was wearing his trunks under his trousers, or there'd have been no swimming at all.

    So, my attempts at delegation failed. I got it almost right, I delegated authority (to decide what to pack) and responsibility (for doing the tasks in a timely manner)  but I should never have delegated accountability - yet. That should still have been mine for a little while longer. If I had held on to that, someone else (i.e. the friend's father) wouldn't have had to sort out the problem.

    It's a timely lesson about how tricky delegation can be, even in seemingly simple situations. Of course, that doesn't mean I go back to packing everything for him. It simply means I take more care (and build in more checks) next time, until I'm happy that I can fully step away. Managers can also find it hard to delegate, and when things go wrong (as they often do at the start), they decide that they can't, and go back to doing everything themselves. That's when they get overwhelmed. Delegating takes time, and perseverance, and we have a bite-size training session that can help them to learn how to delegate effectively.

  8. Making Time

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    Running a launch session for a new management development programme last week, the question "How am I supposed to find time to fit this in on top of everything else?" was raised. It's not unusual. We are all busy, so being expected to complete pre and post-course work AS WELL AS attend workshops can feel overwhelming.

    It isn't easy. I'm not going to pretend otherwise. But it is possible.

    making time

    Making time to do those 'important but not necessarily urgent' things such as personal development, business planning, team building etc. requires you to do three things:

    1. Plan. You need to set aside time in your day/week/month. Choose a time when you are least likely to get dragged into other things (so Monday morning isn't likely to be good for most people), and when there are plenty of other people around to deal with unexpected emergencies. Give people notice that you aren't going to be available. Be realistic about how much time you can set aside in one go, as that makes number 2 easier.
    2. Protect. Protect that time in your diary as if it were a hospital appointment, or a date with Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie. You wouldn't give THAT up on a whim would you? If possible, work somewhere else... at home, in a meeting room - anywhere where you won't be constantly interupted by people, your phone or your email. Switch your devices OFF.
    3. Prioritise (and Persevere!) If you get put under pressure to discard your plans and deal with (yet another) emergency, resist the urge to save the day, and take a step back. Pause. Think. Is this the very best use of your time? Is there another way that this emergency can be dealt with? Does it have to be you? Does it have to be now? If you give up your precious (supposedly protected) time, when will you get it back?


    For most us, no-one is going to die or come to serious harm if we don't immediately stop what we're doing and respond to someone elses emergency. Of course, if this IS the case, then drop what you're doing and go! 

    Unexpected events happen all the time. How many truly need immediate attention? Can you acknowledge the issue or put in a temporaly solution quickly? Are you solving someone elses problem? Should it even be you who is dealing with it?

    What's the worst that will happen if you DON'T attend to it immediately? 

    When we constantly fire-fight we can feel important, but it's exhausting and things never improve. Only by making time to deal with the important stuff can we ever make things better for ourselves, our colleagues, our organisations and our customers.

    If you want to take back control of your time, why not download our self-study workbook

  9. Leadership YOUR Way

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    Many of you know that I'm a zumbaholic, but this isn't really a post inspired by my favourite exercise. It's more about something I've noticed about a number of ladies who are part of a 'bootcamp' programme and links to personal effectiveness and leadership.

    Lots of ladies have joined the bootcamp programme and are getting great results. What I've noticed though is that in most cases their basic body shape doesn't change: they are simply slimmer, fitter versions of the shape they were before. Women with no waist still have no waist, though they may be two sizes smaller. Pear shaped women are still pears - just slimmer and lighter pears. When I lose weight, I struggle to lose it from my belly, but my legs and hips slim down. My sister gets a flat stomach with ease, but struggles around her hips. Even the fitness instructor who is fabulously fit and toned, stays curvy. It's the way we are built. 

    body shape

    I accept that unless I do something very radical (and very hard work!), I won't have a flat stomach, and even then there's no guarantee. So in the summer I wear shorts with long, swinging tops to make the best of what I have: slim legs. My sister wears crop tops with capri pants to show off her flat stomach and looks fab. 

    Leadership style is like that too. We are the way we are, but that's not to say that we shouldn't strive to be the best versions of ourselves as possible. Credible leaders are authentic: they accept who they are, make the best use of their strengths and proactively manage areas where they aren't naturally strong either by delegating, developing themselves or compensating in some other way. They are very self-aware and set an example by being the best they can be rather than striving for perfection. This makes them more 'real' and so people are more inclined to trust them. When a team trusts its leader, engagement increases and great things start to happen.

    So, if you want your leaders to go from good to great, help them to be the best version of themselves that they can be by developing Credible Leadership.

  10. An emotionally intelligent anniversary celebration

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    It was my wedding anniversary at the weekend. We had hoped to celebrate with a meal at our favourite restaurant, The Galleria. Living 100 miles away from nearest family members and having two primary school-age kids means that we very rarely get to go out as a couple. Our anniversary is the one time we really try to. Unfortunately, we weren't able to this year. Our usual babysitter was on holiday and although (for a short while) we thought we had found a compromise solution, it wasn't meant to be. 

    An emotionally intelligent way to handle this situation is to recognise how we felt and accept that it was disappointing. Then we interpretted why we felt this way...because we were missing out on a nice meal and being a couple (rather than Mum and Dad). So then we had a decision to make: be annoyed all night or find an alternative. Most people know what I fan I am of Steven Covey's Circle of Concern, and if you want to behave in an emotionally intelligent way, this is a great place to start. The chance of babysitters was gone. No point wishing it was different or hoping for a solution to fall from the sky. It was not within our circle of control. However, having a nice meal, just the two of us, was.

    So, we took action.

    • We popped to the local butchers, bought two fillet steaks and blew the dust off the Amarone. 
    • We fed the kids separately (we normally eat together as a family) and set them up with a film in the lounge.
    • We got showered and put on nice clothes. I did my hair and make up.
    • We had a nice meal, just the two us.

    OK, it wasn't the evening we'd hoped for, but it WAS a nice evening.


    It would have been easy to let our disappointment become the focus of our evening, but we didn't. We STILL wouldn't be going out, and we'd have been miserable too. However, many people do allow set backs to take all of their energy, but in the end, what is accomplished by that? 

    Helping people to take a more emotionally intelligent approach to work (and indeed life in general) can aid problem solving, decision making, teamwork and relationships as well as have a positive impact on tangible results. I'm not the most emotionally intelligent person I know by a long way, but I recognise when I'm behaving that way, and the benefits that it brings. You can raise awareness of Emotional Intelligence in your leaders and teams with our half-day training session. Why not take a look and think about how it could benefit you?