Category Archives: Executive Coaching

Staying off that yellow brick road!

The first of the two key elements in effectiveness, at least as I’m defining it, is knowing what we need to be doing. And this covers the full spectrum, from the purpose behind our work all the way down to the best use of our time on a given day.

As I’ve been working through this process, I’ve learned (at least) a couple of things about my biases and preferences in this regard. I tend to veer towards what I ‘should’ be doing and I seem to crave structure.

I realise these are two separate things but they are connected in a certain sense. And, they’re not always faults necessarily, depending on how flexible and aware I am at any given time.

Every now and again, it’s seems appealing to be able to present our situation to someone else and ask what we should be doing next. Almost like our desire to get a prescribed medicine when we visit our doctor. We’re hoping that our own ‘yellow brick road‘ will be revealed ahead of us.

And that’s where I find myself on questions of making a successful business more successful, of making valuable offerings more valuable and available to more people, of delighting happy clients in a new and unexpected way. Maybe it’s time to suspend the urge to think about what I ‘should’ be doing and to leave the goals and project plans aside for a while? Maybe it’s time to pause, and listen, to both my valued clients and to my own instincts?

Maybe this dilemma is relevant only to me or maybe you also recognise your own situation as you read this. What I’m thinking now is how I want to avoid any road lined with yellow bricks and how I might be better paving my own path.

You want to know the secret to success? Here it is!!

Surfing the internet is such a wonderful alternative to work! If I didn’t check myself, I could easily spend several hours every day consuming the fascinating, educational and useful content that is generated from all manner of inspired sources.

Social media platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook have made it easy for us to sit back and ingest content as an endless stream of links and recommendations are flung at us from our friends and contacts. It’s difficult to switch it off. Join the conversation, man!

Yesterday, one such link was highlighted by someone in my network, and when I saw it I couldn’t help laughing. It was introduced as ‘3 tips on how to be an expert’. Are you curious now? Would you like to know how to be an expert (and it’s just three quick tips!)

Well, here’s my tip: be an expert.

That’s it. No more. No techniques, short-cuts or magic potions. It takes time and effort and work and practice. And you don’t get to decide if you’re an expert or not. It’s a subjective judgement from someone else.

I have a problem with the concept of the ‘expert’ in any event. Very few people can truly be deemed to be experts in areas of life and business that impact us all. Everyone can claim legitimately to be an expert in being themselves. Beyond that, it gets fuzzy.

You’re still curious about the three tips though, aren’t you? Well, here’s the first tip: “Call yourself an expert”.

That’s right. Call yourself an expert! Apparently, if you start describing yourself as an expert, then others will begin to see you as such. Magic, right! Who knew it was so easy?

Oh dear.

This is part of a larger problem we have, which is sometimes called the sucker’s hierarchy. There will always be someone else willing and eager to believe what we tell them when our message is offering them a faster/easier/cheaper way to their holy grail. And don’t think that you’re immune to it. We all have blind spots. We all can be suckers given the right circumstances.

Most of us learn the hard way. We discover that the Wizard of Oz is just a little guy pulling a few strings behind a curtain. We feel conned and move on. But many don’t. And unfortunately, too many people are trying to make a living by selling to (exploiting?) these people. Often deliberately, sometimes without considered intention.

Still interested in the other two tips? Here they are, and you know what, they’re actually not that bad!

Don’t tell me what to do! (Now show me what I need to be doing)

It seems most of us resent being told what to do. We don’t like taking orders. We often recoil and end up resisting the path that has been laid out for us.

And yet.

And yet, when comes to solving our problems, we seek out someone to give us advice. We complain, sometimes to ourselves but often to others, when ‘proper’ advice isn’t available. It’s as if we’re being cheated.

How do we reconcile this apparent paradox? As long as we pretend to ourselves that the advice we get from others was actually down to our own initiative and ingenuity, then we’re ok. We’ve bought in to it. We feel good.

This is actually the key to good management, to good parenting, to good mentoring. The perception of ownership is all important.

How effective can we be if we’re dancing to someone else’s tune?

One critical factor in growing our effectiveness is how much control we have over how we spend our time, how we expend our energy and how we focus our efforts.

Some might see this as a function of the roles that we have. If we’re working for a particularly directive boss, for example, then we give up some of that control, often in a willing trade for predictability, security and responsibility.

The control we do have, or don’t have, is tested in a number of different ways but one area that’s common to almost all of us is how we manage the seemingly endless flow of incoming messages and requests. Jeff Jarvis suggests bringing back the busy signal in this excellent analysis of our 21st century dilemma.

This strikes me as a design challenge for all of us. How do we structure how we work and how we want to work with others? How do we set expectations and negotiate agreements with those who need our help?

Like Jeff, I don’t have any universal solutions for this. I do see it though as an area we need to review on a regular basis and be honest about what’s working and not working for us. It is possible to develop certain practices over time that work well for ourselves and for others, and most of these are found through experimentation.

Did you spot Seth Godin’s suggestion in the comments of Jeff’s piece? Stamps! Now there’s an interesting idea. For the next five messages/requests you send to someone today, ask yourself how much would you be willing to spend on a stamp that would guarantee delivery and the attention of the recipient. That practice alone would help us clarify the relative importance of a lot of our communications.

Why navigating through fog needs company

January tends to be a month where a lot of time is spent on setting goals and objectives. A new year is opening up and is, for many, a blank canvas on which to paint a new picture. Most of us feel a rush of enthusiasm and a sense of possibility at the start of a new year.

So why have I found it so hard to come up with goals and objectives for 2012? Why haven’t I kicked off my planned evaluation of different systems, philosophies and techniques around goal setting and long-term objectives?

Because I’m not yet clear on what I want to do.

And here’s the thing. I’m probably not that different from most people in that regard. We often say we’re clear or act as if we know where we’re going. But it seems that we rarely, actually, really, do.

This comes back to the two sides of the effectiveness coin: understanding what we need to be doing and then getting it done. There’s no point perfecting my getting-it-done technique if I’m unclear on what I need to be doing.

What am I doing to address this? I’ve been working hard on some of the tough, and exciting, questions behind my business. What’s the next phase of its development? Should I/we be adding new offerings? What’s the long-term ideal?

Fun questions. Scary questions, especially if you’re obsessing and working through these on your own. And that’s where I’m fortunate. I have a support team that are helping me through this.

I’ve been banging on about the need for a support structure for a while. I’ve given talks on the topic and have nudged and cajoled many into taking action on this. Bottom line: every ambitious, progressive individual in the world of work needs a personal support system. Think of it as a personal board of advisors, there to challenge and support you, to hold you to account, and to assist you on the road to doing your best work.

I’m blessed. I have access to a network of really good people, knowledgable about business and how to support individuals. But it’s important to note that they didn’t just drop down from the sky. They didn’t magically appear as a result of my making a call to the Government Department for Support (not that it exists). I’ve built this support over the past couple of years and, interestingly, most of the people who are now supporting me I hadn’t even met four years ago. Some I didn’t know just one year ago.

So, the goals are coming. They’ll be clarified, scoped and broken down. Targets will be set and various techniques will be employed. But not until I’m clear on where we’re going.

Back to work!

It’s time to bank the positives

One of the most useful concepts I’ve come across in recent years is that of ‘banking’ the positive feelings and achievements you experience.

If you’ve ever watched The Weakest Link, you know exactly what I mean.

Unfortunately, many of us don’t do this often enough. We’re more likely to focus on the negatives, on what we didn’t do or could have done better. Even worse, we don’t give ourselves time to stop and reflect as we’re stuck in the latest thing, whatever that is.

This is especially relevant to those of us who aren’t as confident as we should be. Lack of confidence opens the door to our fears and self-doubts. And this ultimately means we don’t do the work of which we are capable.

Fear, in and of itself, isn’t a bad thing. It screws us up though when we listen too closely to it and retreat. I’ve learned that getting rid of fear isn’t what we need, but instead learning to feel it, hear it and drive on as we should.

We often think that successful people don’t experience fear, or doubt, or a lack of confidence. But that’s not true.

I was fascinated by this tweet from Tom Peters, from a conversation with Hugh MacLeod. Even guys like Tom feel it.

This is why banking the positives is so important. It’s like building our self-esteem muscles, it’s like drinking a confidence potion, it’s like eating a self-belief bar. We have to feed and develop our sense of capability.

So, here’s my list of things to bank from one of the most eventful and adventurous years of my life, 2011. And yes, there are personal things here. They all count. I don’t become a different person when I’m working or when I’m with my family.

(in no order of significance)

  • Running (and enjoying) the New York marathon
  • Being the keynote speaker at a conference in St. Petersburg, Russia
  • Successfully parenting our newborn boy through to his first birthday (with no apparent damage to him, me or my wife!)
  • Building Smarter Egg’s best business year so far
  • Being interviewed live on George Lee’s The Business show on RTE
  • Doing my best ever work (in my own view and based on client feedback)
  • Taking some hard decisions (and sticking with them) about refining my business, including saying no to paid work
  • Appearing on RTE TV’s Nationwide on a special show about a Smarter Egg – UmNumNum
  • Growing my circle of friends, clients, collaborators and trusted advisors.

I’m probably forgetting a few. And I might be offending some people by their omission. But that’s not a bad list.

And just because I’ve listed all of those cool things, please don’t get the feeling that it’s been all sweetness and light. I’ve had some really, really shit days. And some dark ones. But, hey, we’re here now and I feel good enough about what I’m banking to reward myself with a mince pie.

Why don’t you do the same? Bank your positives from the year and enjoy your Christmas holidays even more. You might even feel brave enough to share your list. Go for it.

Want to be more successful? Listen to audiobooks.


There is a quote, which is often attributed to Mark Twain, that goes something like this:

A person who doesn’t read has no advantage over one who can’t.

The truth is that most of us don’t read very much at all. And for those that do, a lot of that reading time is spent with newspapers, magazines or miscellaneous work-related papers and articles.

Most people don’t read books. Most business people don’t read enough books. Yet, if you ask them, they will admit that they should read more. Common reasons that business people will give are not having enough time, not knowing what books to read and not finding books that interest them.

Continue reading

Two questions you need to ask yourself every day


Q1: How would you like to feel when your work is done today?

Got it?

Q2: What actions could you take now to maximise the likelihood of feeling like that?

The answer to Q2 will probably include stuff you don’t feel like doing now.

You have two choices: face up to what you need to do  & do it now OR think about it but do something else.

So, how do you think that latter option will make you feel?

The underrated value of quitting

I quit!!

There has rarely been a better time to quit. Everything appears to be changing. And changing faster than we ever expected. Old models are crumbling. Some new ones are emerging. There’s a lot of chaos in between.

If you have been worried about the social impact of quitting, then maybe this is as good as it gets. With the impact of the economic recession now at its peak, behaviours and expectations have changed. Displays of wealth are embarassing. Frugality is the new chic. Austerity is the new religion. Or so it appears at this point, at the turn of the year, indeed the decade.

But what is it that you should quit? In The Dip: The Extraordinary Benefits of Knowing When to Quit and When to Stick, Seth Godin asks whether you are in a ‘dip’ or a cul-de-sac. And his message is simple: if you’re in a cul-de-sac, it’s time to quit; if you’re in a dip, keep going.

Most of us probably have some dips and cul-de-sacs. We are irrationally compelled to have more than one. We need to figure out which is which. And we need to do it quickly.

Many business people are hanging on. Hanging on for the recession to go away. Hanging on until the good old days come back. If you’re hanging on for the return of 100% mortgages, you probably don’t need to be told that’s a cul-de-sac. And you do need to quit.

But some are surviving. They’re making progress, albeit modest progress. And many may not be realising financial gain. And their biggest question right now is: am I in a dip or a cul-de-sac?


The good news is that quitting the cul-de-sacs gives you more energy to push through the dips. As Godin says, we can’t be the best in the world (our world) at everything. The world needs us to be the best at something though. There we need to dominate. Elsewhere, we should probably leave.

You may well be working on your plans for 2010. You’re probably calling it a strategy. How many of those plans involve continuing down a cul-de-sac? Be honest. If you can’t, ask others. Ask your boss. Ask your customers. Ask those who won’t tell what you want to hear.

Here’s a great question: if we could start all over again from January 1st, how would we do it? Knowing now what we do, what wouldn’t we have got involved in or started?

Got the answers? Great.

Quit the cul-de-sacs. Embrace the dips. What’s stopping you?

The elasticity of time


Even though I use a quote from Albert Einstein elsewhere on this site, this post is not an exploration of his theory of relativity!

In recent weeks I have experienced both the total relaxation of holidays and the hectic busyness of a very full work schedule. Every day that passed apparently had the same number of hours on the clock. But it certainly didn’t feel that way.

The clock ticks at the same pace all the time. Each day comes and goes. The sun rises and then sets. Newspapers land in the stores with a new date.  Yet, time can feel so elastic.

On some holidays, with days of unstructured relaxation lying ahead, time can appear to be infinite. And many of us will tend to act as if there is an unlimited supply of time. But the clock is ticking at the same pace.

When we are under pressure, facing a deadline, or have over-committed ourselves, it feels like time is in very short supply. We work to maximise the output of every single minute. Yet, the clock is ticking at the same pace.

From working closely with people in our ‘Overcoming Procrastination’ workshops, I have noticed that our varying perception of the value of time can lie at the root of many non-productive behaviours. Why do we treat our time as being precious and valuable one day, yet the following day act as if it is a commodity with an infinite supply?

Finding a more consistent or level balance on how we value our time can be hugely effective in helping us get into a productive mode and ultimately, achieve our targets and goals. If we can find our optimal ‘sense of urgency’ and ensure that it is sustainable, then we will have developed a very productive habit.

The ‘sense of urgency’ label may have become a cliche in many business circles but I think it accurately captures a critical point of human behaviour. Of course, it’s easy to abuse the concept, especially in corporate environments where ‘sense of urgency’ is measured as a required competency. I have seen many expend a lot of energy in creating a storm of dust but ultimately achieving very little.

So, here’s a key question: what is the optimal level of urgency that gets you moving on what you need to do but doesn’t tire you too quickly?

In recent months, I have developed the habit of a daily reflection, mostly completed before I begin my work. At present, I reflect on four points under the heading of ‘sense of urgency’:

  1. My time is not infinite
  2. Today will never come again
  3. Now is the time to act
  4. I am at my best when I move with purpose

What works for you when you work to arm yourself with your optimal sense of urgency?