How to Improve? Invest in yourself

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“We need to do more this year — we have to improve these results and increase our revenues…”

“Yeah, I know — do you think we need to bring in more people?”

“Yeah, but we can’t afford to”

It is a familiar, albeit horribly over-simplified story. How is it possible to do more, with the same? Or even less?

Ihad this problem personally, and therefore with my own business. I wanted to achieve, to work with different people and a variety of organisations but when I looked at the cold, hard, facts — I wasn’t operating at the level I needed or wanted to. I’m not there yet by the way, but I’m much closer now than I was three or four years ago.

The only thing I could do, was to start learning. I started reading content online, getting hold of books, listening to podcasts, watching videos on TED.com and eventually looking at different courses I could attend. I ended up negotiating my way onto an MBA in International Sports Management at Loughborough University — if you don’t ask, you don’t get!

I learned so much from the MBA, but honestly I can say I learned as much, and gained confidence from the people who attended alongside me. So many different industries, expertise, passions were in the room it was impossible not to.

When I look back at the last few years, I couldn’t say that I’ve learned more using one method than another. But what I enjoyed the most, and remember the clearest, is getting my hands dirty and trying things out, and learning from others.

I put myself in the same space as more intelligent, more experienced people who I admired and learned from. I still haven’t had a formal mentor, or personal coach, but I’ve been lucky to position myself close enough that I might have. I will be forever grateful for their time and I have committed to repay that time and effort with anyone else who finds themselves in my previous position.

One of the biggest things I have learned is that improvements I have made and the opportunities that have been presented to me have come about because of determination, but also because of my commitment and enjoyment of learning. When I apply that to businesses, or future leaders that I talk to at the moment, I see so many similarities to where I was a few years ago.

For any individual or business looking to improve, the most sustainable and cost-effective answer to this problem, is to invest in people. Invest in learning, development, growth and this will ultimately improve performance. I will come back to this another time, but a useful phrase I use is “The Score Takes Care of Itself” — Bill Walsh, the legendary former coach of the San Francisco 49ers held the philosophy that if you took care of everything that mattered, the final result and performance would take care of itself.

But don’t forget — it starts with you. If you aren’t learning, and aren’t open to learning, how can you expect the people around you to learn, and therefore to get better? Do you not want to get better?

What are you doing about it?

An old coach of mine used to repeat the famous Henry Ford phrase to me:

“If you always do what you’ve always done,

You’ll always get, what you’ve always got”

Like the best things. It really isn’t rocket-science.

If you want more from yourself, you want more from your team or your people, then learning is essential.

But before you can learn, you must want to learn. You must believe you can learn. If this is a problem for you, then the first book / podcast / video I would recommend is Carol Dweck’s Mindset

I hope you enjoy it, and enjoy the journey of discovering about yourself, your interests and that you fall back in love with learning the same way I did.

Confidence

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…is a peculiar thing. The reason I bring it up, is because having “it”, or not having “it” makes such a difference to your life, your contentedness, your performance, everything.

But where does it come from?

Since the days I was a young aspiring cricketer – one day playing for my club, being a nervous wreck – the next day playing against professionals – being confident and positive in everything I did; the subject of confidence has always fascinated me. Why could I be extremely confident one-day, and not the next? And perversely, why was I more confident when there was more on the line, than in standard weekly fixtures. I’m on a life-long journey to understand more…

Some of the people we have worked with in the last year have portrayed the most amount of ‘confidence’ in our first meetings – looking directly in the eye, firm handshakes, lots of laughs, smiles and easy engaging chatter. Sometimes this has been genuine, sometimes not. It has been down to us, to develop relationships, develop our understanding of others and establish whether what we are perceiving is authentic or not. For a service business, reliant upon relationships, sales, negotiation, persuasion – this is a critical skill.

I will keep coming back to this topic, as there is so much to discuss. But for now – an insight I want to give into my world is this. There are so many people who have come to us already, with brilliant ideas, or really strong businesses – and they are full of doubt. As some one who is involved in strategy, in mentoring, facilitating and coaching – it is often me who is first up from our end to assess a new opportunity.

There have been times where people have come in, been very directly, assured and clear on what their business is about, and critically – why they are doing what they are doing. This is so easy to perceive, as they can usually articulate themselves succinctly; are clear what support they need, and are comfortable in their own skin. They usually spend just as much time asking questions of me, of us, as we do asking them.

However, what concerns me is the number of people I have spoken to who have great ideas, or who are already running really good businesses who are either unsure of themselves, and are looking for reassurance from us. It’s like they have stumbled upon something that is earning them money, or has the possibility to create the life they want – but they need permission to go ahead and give it a crack.

It’s at this point that I ask myself a question:

Is it a good/solid business, and does it either have the evidence of performance behind it, or rigorous research into the opportunity ahead?

If the answer to this is yes – then I ask myself, why is this person asking me for advice or support? Why are they not going 100% already, when they can see the opportunity ahead of them?

The only answer that I have right now, is that whatever has happened in their lives to this point – they lack the confidence to look themselves in the mirror and go, “fuck it, I can do this.”

That’s fine. But here’s the rub. ‘Going for it’ is taking a risk. You may risk financial, emotional, even physical pain sometimes when you challenge yourself. But not ‘going for it’ is also a risk, and perhaps I’d argue an even bigger one. I remember the days I used to sit in the office, or back in school and stare out of the windows dreaming about the things I wished I could be doing. I can only speak for myself here, but I know – if I was sat in an office now, and ten years from now – doing something every day that I didn’t love – I would be deeply unhappy. So to me, the risk of not doing something was the risk of becoming frustrated, annoyed, angry, affecting my personal relationships, struggling with mental health.

So you can probably already guess my answer to people when they ask me, “do you think I should pursue this?” … supposing they have already answered my first question satisfactorily; that there is a strong business opportunity, and they have weighed up how they will look after their financial and family responsibilities – my instinct is to say – “go for it, what are you waiting for?!” but instead I say … well, what do you think?

And so far, the reaction has pretty much always been the same… a smile, some blushing, and then a sheepish – it’s a silly question isn’t it?

Congruence

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Is a word that I don’t use a whole lot, but I’m coming to appreciate it more and more.

Congruence within myself, but also between us and our partners or clients. (Let me side-track for a minute. I always get uncomfortable with that word – client. To me, it is quite an old fashioned term that suggests a distance between “us” and “them.” It suggests that value is being provided by us to our clients – and it is a one-way ‘transaction.’ None of these words, or suggestions sit comfortably with me.)

A true relationship, or a congruent one – is one where value is shared equally. By now, I’m sure you will have picked up directly or indirectly – that we believe firmly that we can both do social good by our actions; but we can also create a financial stability and profit. All of which supports our purpose: to be brilliant and love what we do, and help others to do the same.

This feeds itself into our relationships, and we are learning day by day, week by week, who we want to work with, who we can and want to provide value to – but also, in return – who can provide value to us.

This value may come through learning, through profile, through shared opportunities, through financial benefits, through advocacy – and usually a mixture of all of them. As we build, grow and learn more about ourselves – we are beginning to understand the types of partners we want, and the types of working relationships we want to seek out.

Congruence in this sense, means that we will hopefully keep surrounding ourselves with people, internally and externally that share our visions and our values – but congruence personally is also important for us to be aware of. Things have moved quickly for us, and at times we can be pulled away from what we are brilliant at, and what we love to do – and we need to be mindful of this happening – because being too far away from our ‘element’ will cause stress, frustration and probably lead to a reduction in output and production – neither of which we can afford.

There is no doubt, that it can also damage our personal relationships.

I have found it immensely useful this week to reflect upon this, and understand more about our relationships and I’d encourage you to as well. If something doesn’t sit well with you, the chances are, you may need to explore it a little further and understand why there may be incongruence between you and those around you – personally and professionally.

10 Themes of Better Coaching

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10 Themes of Better Coaching

Want to improve your team?

Having spent thirteen years coaching, six years educating and mentoring coaches and a whole lifetime watching people’s behaviour, I've tried to encapsulate my thoughts on coaching, that might help if you find yourself in a coaching role…

It may read like a Tarantino screenplay — ok, so I hope it’s that good, I tend to jump all over the place, but hopefully the narrative will reveal why I have used such an order…

Presence and Care

Coaching is not about you. It is about them. The other. The team. The individual. The player. The employee. That means, check your ego at the door, and understand why you are there — to help others get the best out of themselves. So listen carefully, and be there in mind and spirit for those who have allowed you in their space.

Relationships

Our ability to build genuine relationships with others, if built on authenticity will engender honesty, respect, and trust. This will give us a great opportunity to get to the heart of the other, and understand what motivates them, and makes them tick.

Emotional Intelligence

How can we build good relationships if our Emotional Intelligence is poor? What is it? Well, simply put — it is our ability to understand others (and ourselves, i’ll come onto this) fully. What are people’s motivations? What are their dreams? What are their interests away from work/sport? What do they enjoy? How do they like to be communicated with? The more we know about others, the better the chance we have of connecting with them.

Self-Awareness

This is where Tarantino comes into play. In reality, this should probably be number one. But most people who are in coaching roles, don’t understand this requirement until they are usually thrown right in…

“Hey, we’ve delighted with the work you’ve been doing and the results you've achieved. We’d like to give you a promotion to recognise you. Oh, by the way, you’re now managing that team of 20…”

The first time I was working with a group, I remember being nervous and sweating all the way there, worried that I was going to be ignored or rejected by everyone in front of me. Sometimes they did (and still do!) but it’s happening less and less… which must be a good sign.

Self-awareness

...is absolutely critical for success as a coach. Ultimately, if we don’t understand ourselves, our motivations, they way we prefer to communicate, our personality, our objectives, our biases, then we don’t have much chance of understanding anyone else’s.

I can’t understate how important this is.

Purpose

What are we here for? What is this session about? What are we trying to achieve here? Why are we all in this room together? What is my team trying to achieve? The clearer we are on the objective, and the more ownership each individual has, the more likely we are to achieve it.

Limiting Beliefs

What is getting in the way? What is stopping them achieving their goals? Chances are, we are never, ever, going to find this out without a lot of the steps above, as the individual won’t trust us enough to divulge this potentially difficult, damaging, personal or embarrassing information. Sometimes at this point, it can get very personal and it is ourresponsibility as coaches to help, to facilitate and if there is something serious, ensure that the appropriate steps are taken to find the right support.

If the limiting belief is relevant to their role, then understanding exactly what it is, will reveal what is holding someone back and gives us the key to unlocking their performance.

 

Strategy

Once a relationship is formed and trust is built, it’s time to look at creating a strategy. The clearer and more specific the better, as the individual will be able to measure their performance and their progress and see that the steps they are taking are bringing them closer to the goal. The coaching role is not here to ‘tell’ the person what they should be aiming for, it is ideally to facilitate a conversation and a plan, where the athlete or the employee has total ownership.

Behaviour and Language

At the outset, it is vital to identify what specific behaviour change the individual is going to take to move towards their goals. Changing behaviour can be a challenging thing, so it is often sensible to start with something small and observable, so as not to demotivate the individual or make it too difficult. Slowly, slowly, catchy monkey is often the best option here. A great way to observe progress, or to gain an insight is to listen specifically to the language being used, “I can’t…” or “I hate…” are obviously big warning signs, whereas “I haven’t quite got the hang of that yet,” or “It is difficult, but I am determined…” It may sound very simple, but language gives the game away.

Support

It is helpful at this stage, to help the individual resonate with their purpose, their reason for embarking on this journey in the first place. Are they trying to win a place in the Olympics? Are they hoping to get a promotion, or clinch a deal? Are they hoping to develop a healthier lifestyle?

Our role now shifts to somewhat of a mirror, to reflect back what we are observing, or what language they are using. This will highlight the behaviour that is happening and the progress, or lack thereof that is being made.

Whilst confidence and motivation is important here, it is also essentially that we are forthcoming and honest during this stage (and all stages) — but particularly now, as it might result in a challenging conversation. We can’t shy away from that, but we have to be careful how and when it occurs. If you have built up a solid relationship, then you should have a great opportunity at most points, but if it is a little bit tricky, you might reach out for some advice — confidentially of course.

Leadership

The final theme, and really a principle is the development and creation of a leader. I mean, why would be coaching at all otherwise? The opportunity to support others to be independent, confident, passionate executers of their craft is one of the most joyful experiences of coaching. When the individual succeeds, most often it will be through sharing and demonstrating what has got them to this point. They should be exhibiting behaviour and using language that influences others in a positive way, and ultimately be more fulfilled, committed beings.

If you would like some support to develop your coaching, or for your organisation to develop a coaching culture, please send me a message, it would be great to hear from you — drop me a line at stephen@thegameplan.io

If you enjoyed reading this, it would be awesome if you could share it with someone who might also find it useful.

Back Your Strengths: You Are Brilliant

When we are surrounded by negativity, fear and doubt — it is essential to focus on what we are actually brilliant at.

I don’t know if this is just me, but I was brought up to believe that we are all born with the potential to be brilliant. I won’t go too deep, but, if we didn’t have potential, what exactly would be the point..?

Ask yourself this question: What are you brilliant at?

Better than anyone you know? When a group gets together, what is it that you bring to the table? Is it your insight? Maybe it’s your humour, your bravery, your courage, or your ability to analyse and identify opportunities? One of the exercises we ask people to do during our Mindset course, is to explain to the group what their greatest strengths are as a leader. Do you know what happens? …

Silence.

People look around the room sheepishly and often look down, away from each other, shy of being the first person to be “arrogant” enough to say what they are brilliant at. Just think about how ridiculous this is. What do you think happens when we ask, “hey, let’s go around the room and mention one or two areas you’d like to develop in yourself or your leadership?” Straight away people jump in and are only too happy to share their weaknesses, or things they need to improve. Of course, we don’t let anyone do this, but it helps illustrate the point:

People are more accepting and willing to admit their weaknesses, than their strengths.

To me, it really comes down to self-awareness. If you truly understand who you are, and who you are becoming — you learn to accept what you are brilliant at, and what you struggle with. So rather than listening to your boss, your partner, your parents, your coach or your teacher continually reinforce your limiting beliefs, you develop a resilience in yourself that no-one can shake. This is confidence. Not arrogance, but confidence.

To illustrate, I’m going to share some of my story.

I came from an Irish family, was educated in Birmingham (UK) and never wanted for much — now I believe it is my responsibility to recognise how lucky I am to have the opportunities I’ve had, and make the most out of them. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to come from a two-parent, supportive household, be educated well and play lots of sport — so I’ve had a greater opportunity than most to explore my different interests and abilities and find something that I believe is both my passion and my purpose in life.

You could stand back and say ‘I’m lucky’ — but I’ve worked pretty hard to find out what I’m good at, and what I’m absolutely rubbish at too! I can’t remember at any point in education, going beyond the skills and talking with teachers, or other students about who we were as people, who we admired, what we aspired to become. We were all far too busy trying to pass the next test, and get a good grade. Never were we encouraged to develop our self-awareness, with the result being that a lot of people I’ve met are doing jobs they don’t like and aren’t close to fulfilling their potential.

Selfishly, my ego and I have always held the belief that I could trigger a positive impact in people’s lives, which is why I am so attracted to coaching and strategy. I learned through sport, that I could help people see things clearly, to understand themselves, to understand their contexts, to make better decisions under pressure and surprising even to me, to help them become better people — the people that they ultimately want to become.

It was through sport, and particularly through coaching that I was able to get out of a dark place following the sudden death of my old-man 10 years ago. A friend needed help with a sports team, knew I wasn’t up to much (other than gambling too much, drinking too heavily and generally being an arsehole) and asked me to get involved. Little did I know, that I’d fall in love with it and go on the journey I have. Over that time, I have coached international athletes, mentored and tutored international coaches, won some trophies as a player and a coach, built fantastic relationships, and coached people in managerial roles or running businesses. By no means have I gotten everything right. In many cases I have over-stepped the mark, and sometimes communicated or behaved in ways that haven’t had the desired result. But each and every time I have tried to learn and improve.

When I allow myself the time to reflect, it’s brilliant to be able to look back on all of that and know that I’ve impacted positively on many people’s lives, and helped steer some away from the ‘dark places’ I visited briefly.

What I have been able to find is my true purpose, and through this, understand my strengths. I’ve no problem speaking in front of people, saying what I think, or motivating others — but really, my greatest strength lies in seeing the potential in people, sometimes when they can’t see it themselves, and guiding, facilitating and inspiring them to be bold enough to chase and fulfil their dreams. This is either collectively as a team, and understanding what the group of people are capable of delivering, or with an individual who needs support, a sounding board and sometimes brutal honesty to help them progress.

It has been incredibly liberating and enjoyable for me to have found something that I love to do, and something that I am brilliant at. To also have the opportunity to create an income from it is the icing on the cake.

Understanding and finding your purpose and then accepting your strengths as much as your weaknesses is hugely comforting and powerful. It is easier to find flow and be productive; to fit into a team environment, and far easier to contribute effectively to a group or organisation.

So. I have shared what (I believe) I am brilliant at. Why don’t you? Take a minute to jot down in the comments section, or click reply and try and put your greatest strength(s) in one sentence, or in three bullet points — whatever comes most naturally to you.

For some of you, it will come easily — and if it does you should be proud, I hope you are making best use of your strengths, every day.

For those of you that find it more difficult, or maybe you are too shy to say it out-loud, I want you to humour me and try a couple of things:

  1. Speak to 5 people who know you best — your boss, your peers, your team, your parents, your best friends, your partner and ask them: ‘out of everything, what is it about me that makes me brilliant?’ You might start to see a pattern…
  2. If that doesn’t work, then you’re going to have to work a bit harder. Why not write down 10 things that you either love to do, or want to try. Give yourself a reasonable period of time, and go and do them. In the moment ,or after the moment, take some time to reflect and think, ‘why did I enjoy that so much? What is it that I’m brilliant at?’

Failing that, please get in touch - I’d love to help.

Stephen