Archive for August, 2011

Reflecting back and moving forward

August 31, 2011

When I coach Head Teachers, the most common benefit they say they gain from coaching is “time and space to reflect”. As we come to the end of the school holidays and begin a new term, it’s time to start anew, a time for planning and moving forward. But how do you move forward without looking at what you’re moving forward from?

Reflecting back promotes healthy questionning:

  • What has gone well that needs to be maintained?
  • What could I / we do more of?
  • What needs to change?
  • How could I / we use our resources more effectively?

What other questions do you ask yourself? Perhaps you’ve already done your reflecting back. If so, what format did this take? Was it something you did sub-consciously, or with a more structured format (e.g. Performance Management / appraisal meetings)?

So, September is just around the corner; a time for setting new goals or targets, for new beginnings. Thorough and honest self-reflection will provide you with more relevant targets.

What new targets are you setting yourself for this autumn, and how do you know they’re the best ones?

Top 3 tips

1. Make sure there’s a solid reason for the target you set. Don’t just have a target for target’s sake. Ensure it has the capacity to move you / your team / your school forward.

2. Carefully consider the benefits from achieving the target.  Make a list of these and keep them in mind as you progress; they can keep you motivated and on track!

3. Establish an ongoing reflection strategy. Spend a few minutes each week to reflect on how you’re progressing towards your target. Adjust deadlines, resource requirements, expectations, depending on what your reflections tell you.

(Photo credit: sheelamohan)

Are you making the most of who you are? (Part 2)

August 24, 2011

In Part 1 we set the scene for making lists of your skills, strengths and personal qualities. I also introduced an exercise to provide you with external feedback.

So what did you find?

  • Were there common strengths that crossed over different areas of your life?
  • Were there strengths, skills or qualities that others recognised in you, which you had on your list too?
  • Were there any surprises?
  • Has this boosted your confidence in any areas?

Interpreting the results from the ‘Ask 6 People …’ exercise

So, hopefully you gained a range of responses from this. Here’s what to do with them …

1. Look for common trends / themes – perhaps more than one person said the same thing, or there were different comments but around a common theme. How can you use this to enhance or support your own list of skills / strengths?

For example, sometimes this exercise can highlight a skill others notice in you, which you don’t see as a strength … “It’s just the norm; it’s what I usually do” … are examples of how people have responded to this outcome. Changing your perception of this area as a strength can be a good confidence booster. It can also provide you with a further area to make the most of!

2. Be aware that the odd negative comment by a family member might be more about their agenda than yours. For example, a parent / sibling may say you don’t visit often enough.

3. Look at areas where you can stretch yourself. Perhaps, for example, there’s a comment that you are good at leading meetings at work, and could be even better if you just had a bit more confidence.

4. Where people have suggested what you could do less of (question 4), is this something you can delegate?

As Ellen Degeneres once said, “sometimes you can’t see yourself clearly until you see yourself through the eyes of others.” This exercise is good for highlighting this, but needs to be acknowledged alongside your own observations. So let’s turn to these.

Interpreting your list of strengths, from different areas of your life

For each item on your list, ask yourself how often you get the opportunity to show / use this. Are you satisfied with this, or could you find more opportunities?

Example 1: If your time management at work is good, could you transfer this skill-set to your home-life (or vice versa) ?

Example 2: If you’re good at writing or being creative, how often do you have time to do this? Is it enough? How else could you maximise it? Could you offer to do some writing for someone else in return for them providing something you need (skills-swap) ?

There may be some strengths, skills or qualities you have which you don’t want to do more of, as these would be more about meeting others’ needs and ignoring your own. Be mindful of these.

Philosopher Bertrand Russell said, “anything you’re good at contributes to happiness“. So what other benefits do we find when we make the most of what we’re good at? When I apply this exercise to myself the outcomes for me are:

  • I feel more confident
  • I have a more positive outlook
  • I am more motivated / more productive
  • I have more energy

For me, maximising my potential is also about developing myself, as well as others. It’s about a level of self-awareness about my personal strengths and knowing what my emerging strengths are that I could further develop. I then use this knowledge to set appropriate goals.

What are the benefits you’ve found from this exercise, or maximising your potential in other ways?

Would love to hear your thoughts / experiences. Feel free to comment below.

(Photo credit: Kongsky)

Are you making the most of who you are? (Part 1)

August 17, 2011

I often hear, and have used, the phrase “maximising your potential” in the context of personal and professional development.

But what does it mean in practice?

From your perspective …

In order to make the most of who you are, you need to recognise what you have; your skills, strengths, qualities, etc.

How often do we do this? During training events and coaching sessions, when I ask people to list their strengths, they often find this difficult. Lack of practice? Lack of awareness? The concern about not wanting to appear big-headed? Once you get started though, it’s surprising how your list grows! And there’s nothing wrong with celebrating your talents, successes and achievements. In fact it’s very healthy!

When building your list of skills / strengths, it helps to break it down into different areas of your life:

Work – e.g. reliable, organised, time-keeping, leading meetings

Family – e.g. ability to juggle many tasks, decision-making, organisation, creativity

Friends – e.g. trustworthy, honest, reliable, spending time with them

Hobbies & interests – e.g. running, cooking, playing a musical instrument

Some skills / strengths may cross over into more than one area, as you can see from the examples above.

Have fun making up your lists! We’ll come back to these in Part 2.

From others’ perspectives …

Other people often see us in a different light to how we see ourselves; they recognise positive qualities and strengths that we don’t necessarily see.

Finding out our strengths from others is a good way to top up our own list. You could also ask yourself, “What would (my close friend) say I’m good at?”; which could elicit a few more items for your list!

A useful task I’ve used before to gain feedback from others is “Ask 6 People 6 Questions”. Here’s how it works …

1. Make a list of at least* 6 people from different areas of your life (work, family, friends, clubs, associations, etc). The more varied the better; it will give you a good cross-section of responses and potentially more strengths / qualities / skills. Make sure they are people you believe will give you an honest response to your questions, and not just say what they think you want to hear.

*Thinking of more than 6 helps if some people you ask don’t have time.

2. Provide them with a list of the following questions:

  • What am I good at?
  • When have you seen me at my best?
  • What should I do more of?
  • What should I do less of?
  • What can you rely on me for?
  • Where do you think I can stretch myself?

They are suitably vague and non-leading. Encourage your responders to answer the questions as fully as they can.

3. If they (or you) want the responses to be anonymous, you could ask a trusted friend / colleague if the responses could be emailed (or posted) to them. The friend will then collate the responses and send you them, with names omitted. I usually find people don’t want / need to do this, but it’s entirely up to you. Do what works best.

Some of these questions may give you responses that highlight areas that you see as ‘weaknesses’. We’ll come back to this in Part 2, when I will look at interpreting the results from this exercise, as well as what to do with the lists you have devised for yourself.

In the meantime, make a note of the things you do well over the coming week, and make sure these things are somewhere on your lists. Also listen out for positive feedback from others. Does this reflect a skill / strength you’ve so far omitted?

(Photo credit: Danilo Rizzuti)

The value of values

August 11, 2011

It was heartening to see community members and businesses in Clapham joining forces, and using the power of social media positively, to help with the clear up following the looting and wanton violence of the London riots earlier this week.  As I write this, I am hearing of more examples of communities coming together using Twitter and Facebook to co-ordinate clear-up operations.

So what’s important to these people? What values do they hold that are driving them to lend their support? Fairness perhaps, or community spirit?

Values are what drive your decisions and your behaviour, such as the passionate response from the Hackney woman during the riots. Values affect how you choose your friends, what hobbies/interests you pursue, and may also affect which jobs/car you go for.

Values are important because you use them to evaluate yourself and others. For example, if one of your values is honesty, you are more likely to hand in a wallet you find in the street to a local police station. You are also going to get a sense of satisfaction from doing so, which makes you feel good. Hence, you evaluate this action positively. On the other hand, if you see someone taking something that isn’t theirs, you will feel a sense of discomfort and evaluate their actions negatively.

Choosing activities that align with our values results in us feeling happier, more fulfilled and more comfortable in our own skin. If the activities we engage in don’t support our values, then we find ourselves in conflict.

Business and organisations often promote their own values, although these aren’t always written down! An example here could be a company that (quietly) values people who work longer hours. This can promote inner conflict if you value a good work-life balance, as well as affecting your health!

Within businesses, leaders will often lead their teams according to their own value systems. So if they are internally motivated and don’t require regular feedback on how well they are doing, their default position may be that they don’t see the value in providing feedback to their team members. For a team member who values, and is motivated by, regular feedback – he/she is likely to become unhappy, demotivated and perhaps disillusioned.

How aware of our values are we?

Do you know what your values are? These can be different for different areas of your life, and there can be common ones too.

Working out your values

1. Divide your life up into areas. For example:

  • work
  • family
  • friends
  • hobbies/interests, etc.

2. For each area, list what is important to you. For example:

  • companionship
  • security
  • honesty
  • wealth
  • trust

3. Examine the list(s) closely and ask yourself if there’s anything missing. Do you need to add something? For example:

  • adventure
  • success
  • freedom
  • fairness

4. Arrange your list in order of importance. Ask yourself, “Is ‘A’ more important than ‘B’?” Or “If I had to choose ‘B’ or ‘C’, which would be most important?”

Follow-up …

Score each item on the list as a percentage in terms of how well that value is being met. For example, if success is important to you in the workplace, how successful do you feel you are with your role/tasks? 100%? … 50%? … 75%?

Any area with a low score is worthy of the question: “What needs to change to ensure this value is met?”

(Photo credit: graur razvan ionut)

Some women CAN read maps!

August 3, 2011

If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a comment or inference that, because you’re a woman, you can’t read maps (or because you’re a man, you don’t listen), then you may understand the frustration and annoyance that goes with this kind of generalisation. (I actually happen to be very good at reading maps!)

Yes, men and women are different, and there are several books available to suggest reasons why. You may have your own favourite.

Such general statements come about as a result of our ability to make generalisations as we interact with the world around us. As a child, we learn labels for things in our immediate environment; door, chair, bed, shoes, etc. Initially, we assume that word represents that particular item only, until we come across other doors, shoes, chairs. Then we use this information to generalise. We quickly learn that ‘door’ could come in many forms and sizes.

Fortunately, the ability to generalise saves us from re-learning things over and over again. However, we need to err on the side of caution when making generalisations regarding human behaviour.

I recently overheard a comment that ALL drivers of a certain make of car were reckless and dangerous, after the person making the comment had been “cut up” by the driver of such a car. This type of statement gives an unhelpful label to such car owners, and can lead to further prejudice if not checked.


If you hear yourself making generalisations, listen out for the verbal clues that can accompany them. For example: use of the following words … all, every, never, always…

  • He/She never delivers a good presentation
  • Every time I make a suggestion, you ignore it
  • I always receive negative feedback when I try to introduce something new

This unhelpful language often limits us to take action, move forward, choose something different, and see the positive actions of others.

So, whenever  you hear yourself making general statements, ask yourself the following:

  • Never? / Always? / Every time?
  • How helpful is this statement to me?

Which unhelpful generalisations have you heard / made recently?