Tag Archives: career development

When it’s time to stop doing and start dreaming

So, you’ve been trying to reach your goals.  Perhaps it’s your goal to find a new job. Or to attract new clients, new sales. It might be something personal, like finding a partner or conceiving a child.

But somehow, it isn’t quite happening.

If only you could push a little harder.

You think about what action you need to take next.  You identify and plan your next steps.  It all seems perfectly logical.  Easy even – just a half an hour here, a quick phone-call there.

Easy, yes, but somehow it isn’t quite happening.

You’re not taking the actions.  Or you’re taking action but not seeing the results.

The truth is, at the same time, you know you’re exhausted.  Your head is full of “shoulds” and some part of you is resisting the sense of obligation that comes with “should”.  The very thing you’re doing (or planning to do) precisely to make life easier, more comfortable, more joyful, more tailored to you is leaving you feeling exhausted, unable to rest, more joyless.

You feel the weight on your shoulders and you want to put it down.

Are you listening?

Recently, this was the experience of a client of mine.

Some part of her was pushing, assiduously, forward.  Some part of her was yearning for rest.  She wanted to make progress towards her goals but somehow she wasn’t taking action.  She was yearning for rest but never felt relaxed.  “On the one hand…” she was saying, “but on the other hand…”

Is this you, too?

We took time in our coaching to listen.  We wanted to connect with the needs she was trying to meet and to explore possibilities for meeting her needs.  The more we listened, the more we found that it is possible both to take steps to move forward and to take time to rest.

Actually, we found it was not only possible but also essential.

And there’s more.

As we found a way forward that she could sign up to – that all of her could sign up to – something else popped up.

“Maybe,” she told me, “I need to look at a larger question… not just my next career steps but also the whole of my life.”

In her struggle to carve out her next career move, a more fundamental need was not being heard.  It was time to step back from taking steps to make things happen and to ask “What is it that I really want in my life as a whole?”  This was a question about every aspect of her life – career, yes, but also leisure, family, location and more – as well as a question about the the weeks, months and years to come.

It was, in short, a time to stop doing and a time to start dreaming.

But how do you dream?

It may seem strange to some, but if you’re used to planning and taking action, it can be hard to know how to dream or even to know how to connect with the dreams you already have.  I’m writing this post today because I’d like to offer some simple ways to get started:

  • Learn from your past (or someone else’s):  Has there ever been a time in your past when you had a dream that came true?  If you have past experience of conceiving, pursuing and fulfilling your dreams, you already know what happened and can look for moments in the present that are similar to your experience in the past.  Did you see it in your mind’s eye?  Or have a feeling that something was coming your way?  Different people dream in different ways, so tapping into your own experience or getting curious about other people’s can be a valuable source of information about how you dream.  The suggestions below are a reflection of the ways in which different people envisage a new and different future;
  • Taking stock:  As a coach, I often begin a coaching assignment by helping clients to take stock using two “coaching-wheels“.  The coaching wheel supports self reflection and can help people get started who find dreaming difficult.  How content are you, for example, with your professional life?  Or your personal relationships?  A mark out of ten can be easy to assign and further reflection can help you to explore what’s working in your life and what more you want;
  • Tracking your emotions:  How are you responding to the events of your day, week, month?  When do you feel most joyful and alive?  When do your energies feel drained.  What possibilities excite you?  What ideas are joyless and laden with “shoulds” and “oughts”?  When you track your emotions in the here and now – when you really pay attention – you begin the process of understanding what you really want in your life;
  • Listening to the small voice within:  Often, when I talk with clients they already know something is off track but are pushing this message away.  They may even know what they really want but, because they don’t know how to make it happen, they carry on with life as it is.  Sometimes, listening to this inner voice is as simple as saying “yes, I’m ready to listen”.  Sometimes, it’s about carving out the kind of unscheduled downtime that allows these messages to come through.  A day with no agenda.  A walk in the countryside.  Time curled up in your arm chair with a notepad and pen;
  • Cultivating gratitude:  To cultivate gratitude is to notice those moments in your life when something meets your needs.  It might be something you do, or something someone else does or, simply, something that happens.  At first, you may want to dedicate a time to do this, keeping a gratitude diary, for example, which you write in at the end of the day.  In my experience, over time, this has morphed into a constant alertness to those things in my life which are most precious to me.  I say thank you to myself.  I say thank you to others.  My personal Facebook Page is now littered with status updates which reflect my gratitude.  (These are the ones my youngest nephew thinks are terribly long.)  To cultivate gratitude is to become more aware of those things that meet our needs and this, in turn, increases awareness of what we might want more of in future;
  • Visualise your dreams:  A notice board, a notebook or an online application can be a great place to build up a visual image of the things you dream of.  What do you see that catches your eye? It may be the different aspects of your life that you are starting to represent or more detail about a particular aspect of your life, from decorating the lounge all the way through to where you want to live or work.  It may be photos that catch your attention, or phrases… find a place to bring them together so you can build up a picture of the life you dream of;
  • Drawing inspiration from others:  Who do you most admire or envy?  Who – or what – inspires you?  Noticing your response to others can also help you to connect with everything that is important, inspiring, joyful or simply yes, that’s it! right for you.  This can be about the content of the dream (the thing they dreamt of and made happen) or about their capacity to dream (how they did the dreaming and how they realised their dream).

Why dream?  Conceiving the impossible

Right now, my client may not know what she really wants, or how to make it happen.  Nonetheless, realities start with a dream.  So, as I close, I think of those who have dreamt and whose dreams have come true.

Some of them are clients of mine, men and women who have made radical career changes, who have found the sweet spot where work and family can coexist, who have realised the life they were leading was not for them and moved towards something that was more congruent or fitting.

Some of them have held dreams for society at large – dreams of inclusion and social cohesion, dreams of justice or peace, dreams for the environment we live in, dreams for our health, wealth or well-being.

All of them made something happen because, first, they imagined its existence.

If, like my client, your struggling to make something happen, could it be your time, also, to stop doing and start dreaming?

Coaching: the gift that keeps on giving

Recently, I was absolutely thrilled to discover that former coaching client, Carrie Bedingfield, has done a very successful talk which is available on TEDx.  Her subject?  How striving is costing us everything:  the profit paradox.

I thought of Carrie again recently.  I’ll come back to the “why”.  First though, I want to touch on something that coaches, and their clients, constantly grapple with:

Pondering what return you’ll get from your investment in coaching?

When you make an investment in coaching – time, money and more – you want to know that it will be worthwhile.  This is true whether you are seeking coaching for yourself or sponsoring coaching for someone in your team.

Will coaching help you with the immediate issues that have made you consider coaching as an option in the first place?  You want to know.

Will coaching lead to benefits in the long-term that make the investment worthwhile?  You want to know.

At the same time, coaching holds no guarantees.  There’s no guarantee that coaching will deliver the solutions you are hoping for.  There’s no guarantee that coaching will deliver any solutions.  Coaching, as an “act of faith” remains an expensive option.

What proof is there of the long-term benefits of coaching?

Coaches, too, grapple with this issue.

We look for studies which demonstrate the impact of coaching.  They’re out there but they’re not always easy to find and, quite quickly, they can look out of date.

Sometimes, I prefer to let clients speak about the results over time from their investment in coaching.  Carrie told me at the time what benefits she had from her investment in coaching with me.  In recent days, she’s been kind enough to add a few words about the long term impact of coaching.

This is what she had to say:

CarrieWhen I first started working with you, I was working flat out and trying to make myself available to everyone – clients, team members and others – all the time.  Paradoxically, the more I tried to make myself available to people, the more I was starting to resent people for stealing my time.  Also, I was riding the roller-coaster of other people’s emotions.  A client would be unhappy (or just express something in a way that brought us all down) and I would dive down.  A project would go well and the world was a sunny happy place.  I was feeling exhausted and I knew the approach I was taking wasn’t sustainable.

Like many people, I’m a bundle of sharp contrasts – they conflict all the time which causes wasted energy/effort or even pain.  With Dorothy, I learnt to unpick these. They all want something good for me.  If I can identify how each is trying to serve me, I can end the conflict.  Now I understand, for example, what dangers my desire to be available and my concern to protect my time are warning me against and how they’re trying to help me.  And I can set and communicate boundaries that don’t cause inconvenience for me or anyone else.

Another massive lesson for me was to take responsibility for myself only – one I share with other people all the time.  Clearly defining what I’m responsible for and what I’m not (you need to keep doing this ALL the time!) changes the energy completely and removes the emotional weight of running a service business.  Dorothy enabled me to disentangle myself from all of this and establish what I am responsible for which helps me focus effort on what I can actually change and lift the weight from my shoulders of other people’s responses which are their choice.

I didn’t think it was possible to learn something completely new or to massively grow in an area of little experience.  For me that was coaching and developing others.  I had limited beliefs about what others were capable of so I neither thought they could transform nor that I could help them do it.  I learnt by doing that actually, I could change/develop/grow/learn and that opened up a new world. All these people in my extended team could also develop amazing new talents and I could help them do it!  And that’s exactly what happened.

The work we did together had a massive impact on me at the time.  Learning to coach members of my team meant that they were able to fulfil their potential more fully and I could delegate to them.  My role changed quite quickly.  I went from being key to the provision of services to take on a leadership role and, quite quickly, to become CEO.  This opened up opportunities to do other things, such as lecturing for the University of Cambridge Judge Business School and founding 50th Generation, an incubator for meaningful, growing businesses.

It’s easy to say that, as a result of our work together (and other learning with other learning partners), I became a different person.  I think it’s more truthful, though, to say that our work together helped me to become a more effective, fun and joyful version of myself.

Carrie Bedingfield

Entrepreneur, business grower, investor, communications specialist, guest lecturer

Investing in your life and career

I thought of Carrie because I am currently putting together information about a coaching group I will be offering in the next few days for people who want to make their next career move – people who are seeking promotion within their current organisation or seeking to move from one organisation and another.  If you want to find out more, about this, click here.

Carrie’s experience demonstrates the kind of progress people make as a result of investing in their personal development.  Her testimonial exemplifies the kind of things people learn in coaching.  It also exemplifies the kind of results people can look forward to in the short-, medium- and long-term.

There’s a curious thing, too, about coaching.

Carrie’s testimonial is a reflection of just how extraordinary she is.

At the same time, in my experience, successful coaching demonstrates just how ordinary it is to be extraordinary.

Managing your boss

Portrait of Albert Einstein
Portrait of Albert Einstein



Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results

Albert Einstein





In the last couple of years, I’ve enjoyed selling things on eBay.

In recent days, however, I’ve been grappling with a fair degree of frustration.  On Tuesday, I booked a courier to collect a parcel on Wednesday.

The courier didn’t come.

On Thursday I was out and left it with my neighbours.  I checked in with them on Thursday evening.

The courier hadn’t come.

Friday?  I was at home in the morning.

The courier didn’t come.

I had a meeting in the afternoon and left the parcel with my neighbours.  (Again.)  I collected the parcel from my neighbours on my way home.  The courier made his first attempt to collect soon after.  “Everybody’s complaining today,” he told me.  I knew I was not alone.

I was all the more frustrated because this has happened a number of times in recent weeks and my attempts to engage the company concerned have generally been met with an apology and a request that I deliver the parcel to them.

Are you working for your worst boss ever?

Working for a difficult boss is a subject that comes up repeatedly.  If you’re working for your worst boss ever, you may already recognise some parallels with my courier experience.

Your boss is the boss, right?  You expect him or her to do the things bosses do.

You expect your boss to clearly define what he or she wants of you.  He doesn’t.

You expect your boss to support you in shaping an agenda for your part of the business and to help you to gain support for important initiatives.  But you can’t get time in your boss’s diary or you face a wall when you put your ideas forward.

You expect your boss to organise herself to be effective.  You expect leadership from your boss.  But the last thing you get from your boss is good, sound leadership.

You expect the boss to provide support and coaching to help you become more effective in your current role or prepare for your next role.  But all you get is criticism when you don’t do things his way.  (And how the hell are you supposed to know what his way is?  He certainly doesn’t tell you.)

Perhaps you try making requests of your boss or giving feedback.  He may agree with your assessment of the situation but nothing changes.  She may take offence at your feedback.

Over time, you feel more and more frustrated.  Perhaps you feel anxious.  Maybe, if your boss is super critical of you, you lose confidence.  Your performance starts to slide.  Or maybe you find yourself increasingly filling the gap.  Others approach you rather than seeking help from your manager.  Or you start to shape the agenda, to do the influencing, to make things happen.

What Ben knew

Recently, I met someone who had made quite an art out of working for difficult bosses.  I was intrigued to learn more.

The first thing he told me intrigued me most of all.

It hadn’t always been that way.

Early in his career, he had set out to change a difficult boss.  He was confident that his perceptions of his manager were correct and felt sure that if he only raised his concerns at more senior levels, something would be done to address the boss’s behaviour.

In a way, he told me, he got lucky.  His boss’s boss was sympathetic to his concerns.  At the same time, she also highlighted the risks of taking on someone who was so powerful within the organisation.  “You can’t change the others,” she told him.  “You can only change yourself.”

Ben (let’s call him Ben) became curious about the possibilities of what he could achieve by focusing on what he could do rather than focussing on how his boss should be different.

In his first experience, for example, he recognised that his manager had a lot of power in the organisation and a strong desire to look good.  Ben learned to make the most of his boss’s powerful position by working with him to develop initiatives that moved the organisation forward.  “Whatever his limitations” he told me, “I always treated him with the utmost respect.  I shared ideas with him and explored the implications with him.  Quite quickly, I realised I had to start small if I wanted to get him on board.  The effect was to create a pathway towards the next small initiative and the next one and the next one.  I gave credit to my boss whenever I could and, quite quickly, he started to take the credit for the way he had encouraged me.  Once this happened, he started to sing my praises around the organisation so that we both looked good.”

I asked him if this kind of strategy had always worked for him.

“No,” he told me.  “There are times when I look at a situation and ask myself what I can achieve by adjusting my own behaviour and what changes I can make.  In one job, I gave feedback to my boss and he acknowledged all the issues I raised with him – and then did nothing at all to address them.  After I’d had this conversation with him several times I thought hard about my next steps and decided that I needed to accept the situation or, if I couldn’t accept the situation, I needed to accept that I couldn’t accept the situation.   At that stage, I knew it was time for me to move on.”

Tolle2Ben had learnt something I still find difficult.  Eckhart Tolle summed it up like this:  “When you complain you make yourself a victim.  Leave the situation, change the situation or accept it.  All else is madness.”

You could also put it this way:  “When you expect your boss to manage you, you make yourself a victim.  You need to start managing your boss.  Accept that your boss is the way s/he is, do what you can to transform your relationship with your boss, or leave your boss.  All else is madness.”

What struck me about Ben was not that he turned a blind eye to the weaknesses and failings of his line managers.  No.  He was curious about his bosses’ strengths and weaknesses.

He did, though, give up the word “should”:  he stopped telling himself that his line manager should be doing all the things that good bosses do.

My experience with my courier was a reminder that, whatever views I might have about my courier and what they should be doing, they were not.

Making your peace with working for the worst boss ever

The courier should have turned up on Wednesday but it didn’t.

I have already tried to attract attention and get the help I needed.

I’ve used the on-line chat facility and talked to people in Mumbai.

I’ve tried tweeting the UK team.

I tried writing to the courier’s Head of Customer Service.


I got no reply.

Because the issues with this courier’s service have been repeated, I spoke to the Citizens Advice Bureau.

And then I looked hard at my courier’s standard Terms and Conditions.

I was surprised to discover that, as far as the courier is concerned, the service starts once their courier has collected the parcel.  (How weird is that?!)  What’s more, they take no responsibility for events beyond their control, including mechanical failure.  (In short, if the courier’s vehicle breaks down, they won’t collect.)

The thing is, I realised that my courier isn’t going to change.

I thought about the reasons I use this particular courier and I knew they still stand.  At their best, this courier provides a good standard of service at a price that suits my customers on eBay.

I decided to add a few words to my listings on eBay – my own Terms and Conditions – to alert my clients to the possibility of delay.

And, having done this, I felt at peace.

If you’re still waiting for your boss to change you’re doing what I do when I get cross when the courier doesn’t come.  Of course it’s logical to expect my courier to come on the day scheduled.  It’s what couriers do.

But all couriers are not equal and neither are all bosses.

Instead, you will be at your most effective – and peaceful – when you take a long hard look at the boss you have and ask yourself, “Where do I go from here?”

Please let me know how you get on.

Stepping into your power as a leader

Greenwich Park
Greenwich Park

If there’s one word that has people running for the hills in our culture, it’s the word “power”.

In the world of politics, one conspicuous example of this became evident in 2008, at the beginning of a major global economic crisis.

Europe looked to Germany to provide leadership.

Germany had reason – frightening, historical reason – to hesitate to exercise its full power.

“Power” is a word which has so many negative connotations.

No surprise, then, that there’s a phenomenon I notice amongst some of my coaching clients.  You could call it walking away from your own power.

It’s easy to spot amongst the young and talented leaders I get to work with.  But it’s not confined to any age, gender, ethnicity or other group.

Are you walking away from your “power”?

You’re walking away from your own power if you have scope to take action and you’re not taking action.  This is as true in managing your life and career as it is in your role as a leader.

Of course, it sounds so simple but the reality of it – your experience of it – is far more complex.

It’s possible, for example, that you don’t even know how much power you have to take action.  You’re used to thinking of others as powerful, but you?  You just don’t see yourself in that way.

Maybe you lack the motivation to embrace the power you have.  Yes, you want to get things done and to a high standard.  But exercising power?  You think of yourself as a doer rather than as someone who can make things happen beyond the scope of anything you can do yourself.

The very idea of power may be daunting for you.  Maybe it involves giving yourself a level of permission you can barely conceive of at this stage in your life or career.  Maybe you’ve seen how others exercise their power and you know you don’t want to be like that.

Giving your power away

London's Shard
London’s Shard

One client (let’s call him Lewis) recently expressed his frustration at the decisions being made by his line manager and the impact of those decisions on his staff.  Wasn’t it obvious to his boss that the organisation’s plans were ill-conceived and would ultimately backfire?

Another client (let’s call her Maja) expressed her frustration that her organisation was doing so little to recognise her career aspirations.  Yes, she was being offered another job.  But she was painfully aware that it met the organisation’s needs much more than her own.

I asked both Lewis and Maja what conversations they were having with the boss about their concerns.

They weren’t.

They hadn’t realised that talking to the boss was even an option.

Faced with the option of talking to the boss, each one expressed concerns.

Lewis could see that his boss was heavily invested in the decision he thought was so ill-conceived.  He was probably right.  He thought that to raise his concerns would have little effect other than to irritate the boss.

Maja struggled to embrace her talents or to give herself permission to gave priority to her own preferences over those of the organisation.  In her heart of hearts, she was frustrated with her organisation precisely because she was looking to her employer to validate her need.

Lewis, Maja, were both giving their power away.

Your power to what?

What power did Lewis have?  What power did Maja have?  Each one had far more power than they realised.  At the same time, each one had a particular idea of power that got in the way.

Each one saw power as something you exercise when you know precisely what the outcome will be.

Lewis didn’t speak to his boss because the only reason he could see to do this, was to persuade his boss to change her mind.  He thought she wouldn’t change her mind so he didn’t exercise his power to talk.

Maja didn’t speak to her boss because she wasn’t confident her employers would support her career aspirations.  She thought that learning her employers had different plans for her than she had for herself would put her at a disadvantage.

Neither Lewis nor Maja understood that our power to take action does not guarantee a particular result.  Instead, it opens up a conversation.

At times, the conversation leads us towards an outcome we desire.  The boss sees the validity of our arguments and changes his or her decision.  Our employer expresses support for our career aspirations and starts to collaborate in finding the job we want.

What’s more, as well as leading us towards our desired outcomes, the conversation can lead to larger outcomes than we anticipated.  When the boss listens to our arguments and finds them valid, the relationship is changed.  We make a step – however large or small – towards a relationship of partnership with our line manager and our power to influence is increased.  Or, finding our employer supports us in our aspirations, we discover our true worth in the eyes of the organisation.  We also take a powerful step towards finding a role in which we can work to our strengths.

At times, the conversation does not deliver what we hoped for and still, it delivers.  Perhaps the boss remains blind to our concerns.  We feel frustrated at the boss’s lack of insight or the requirement placed on us to do something we have so little faith in.  Still, by having the conversation, we learn something about our boss or about our own ability (or lack of) to persuade.  Perhaps we learn how little our employer supports us in our own career aspirations.  At first, we feel thrown back, betrayed.  We may find it painful to realise that we need to look after our own interests in an organisation that isn’t invested in us.

In the short term, and especially when we first step into our power to hold the conversation, we may feel disappointed precisely by (as we see it) our lack of power.

Over time, though, if we continue to exercise our power, we discover that each time we do so, whilst the immediate outcome may or may not be what we wanted, we are better informed and have more choices than were open to us before we exercised our power.  We discover, too, that the world did not fall apart because we spoke up and didn’t get the outcome we were hoping for.  Increasingly, we feel empowered.

Embracing your power to make a positive difference

London City seen across the Thames
London City seen across the Thames

Whenever you walk away from your power, you walk away from your power to make a positive difference.  You do this, even when you are motivated by a desire to avoid the misuse of power.

You also walk away from your power to take small actions that make a big (and positive) difference.

Whilst Lewis may not succeed in persuading his boss to change her mind, to say no to holding a conversation could be to say no to being the one person speaking up on behalf of his team.

Whilst Maja may or may not get the response she wants, to say no to holding a conversation is to say no to seeking a way to fulfil her potential.  This, in turn, could mean failing to make her full contribution to others.

I wonder, what’s your relationship with power?

Finding a way past frustration to your next senior promotion

Blog Jeju 11

This year, I have worked on a number of projects with client organisations who want to nurture and develop their high potential leaders.  It’s an endeavour that’s full of pitfalls for everyone involved, though this is a topic for any number of other posts.  Today I’ll pick just one to explore, which seems timely as Christmas approaches.

One of the people I worked with this year was John.  We’ll call him John, though he could have been called any number of names.  Indeed, he could have been any number of people I met this year.

John’s employers were sponsoring a leadership assessment as part of their High Potential Leader programme.  The interview technique involved asking for examples of recent successes and he described a complex project, fraught with difficulties, which he had led to a successful conclusion on behalf of his employer.  Based on the evidence he gave, I was confident that he had a strong and rounded skills set and was ready for his next promotion.

At the same time, John’s work had left him feeling exhausted.  As he looked around him, he could see that successive reorganisations had reduced the number of opportunities available going forward.  What’s more, having nominated him to take part in their HiPo programme, his employers seemed to be leaving him to it and this was fuelling a creeping resentment on John’s part.

Waiting for your next senior promotion?

If you’re feeling ready for your next promotion, it’s possible that you can relate to John’s experience.

Maybe, initially, you felt really pleased to recognise that you’re ready for the next challenge.  However, as time has gone on and without being able to see your way to your next job, you have started to feel bored in your current role, or frustrated with the long wait for an appropriate opportunity to come up.

If you’ve had successes like John has, you may share his sense of resentment.  After all the things  you’ve done for your employer (and all the personal sacrifices you’ve made in order to do them), it’s hard to see how little is coming back the other way.  No thanks.  No offers of help to move to the next level.  No recognition, even, that just because you’ve handled one big hairy project well, you may not want to take on another.

In truth, if you’ve been working as hard as John had, you may be feeling physically exhausted and emotionally drained.  This is especially likely to be true if, in order to do what you did, you had to draw on strengths that are in your repertoire but which don’t speak to your true self – the things you most love to do.  This, too, will fuel your resentment:  after you’ve given so much time and effort to make a success of something you don’t even enjoy very much?!  You may wondering when it will be your turn to do something you really enjoy.

When it’s time to change your career management strategy

I think I was drawn to John (and others like him) because I recognised myself in him.  There was a time in my career when people would express surprise when I was promoted (“I thought you were already [insert more senior job title.]”)  I was often last in my peer group to be promoted, even though I was seen by my peers as someone who could be relied on to deliver.

At the same time, I’m aware that John was making a classic career management mistake.

He was waiting for the next job to come to him.

Sunset on Jeju Island
Sunset on Jeju Island

Let’s be clear, early in his career, jobs had come to him.  John was purposeful.  He got things done.  He was skilled in handling objectives and getting people on board.  Team members loved him.  Because of these and other skills he stood out amongst his peer group and was often sought out for interesting projects.

Increasingly, John needed to use a different career management strategy, because promotion at senior levels is different.  Whereas John stood out by a country mile in a junior peer group, there were more people to match his talents in his more senior peer groups and all of them chasing a smaller pool of more senior jobs.

There was more.  Early in his career, it was enough for John’s immediate manager to be impressed for the opportunities to appear out of nowhere.  At his current level, the stakes were higher for his organisation and the jobs were spread more thinly and widely.  He hadn’t realised that, as well as networking with senior stakeholders to gain buy-in to important projects, he also needed to ask for their support to progress in his career.

Jeju, at the covered market
Jeju, at the covered market

What’s driving your career management strategy?

To me, what was more important to John than a change of career management strategy was this:  the reasons behind his strategy.  I was pleased to have the opportunity to explore this with him in our feedback session.

What quickly emerged was that, fundamentally, John was looking after his employer’s interests but he wasn’t looking after his own.  Somehow, he imagined that if he did a good job for his employer they would do a good job for him.

This was partly a reflection of his early experience.  When he’d done a good job for his employer they had done a good job for him.

This was partly a reflection of his early experience… but only partly.

John realised that, to a significant degree, he wasn’t giving himself permission to look after his own interests.  To seek out a job, yes, in which he could contribute to the success and progress of his organisation.  But also to seek out a job he would really enjoy and which would lead him towards other jobs which really worked to his natural strengths.

Armed with this insight, John realised that he needed to increase his permission levels before he could truly follow through on changes to his career management strategy.

Filling your own cup first

On the surface, this posting has been about finding your next promotion.

At the same time, the principle that applies when managing your career, applies in every sphere of life.  We have to fill our own cup first.

John was doing a good job for his organisation.  His organisation wanted him to do more of the same.  But the projects he was executing so successfully were proving exhausting.  Yes, he could do them, but they weren’t really his bag.  They were missing key elements of his ideal job.

As a more general principle, whether as a leader or in life, it helps to know that if you want to give to others, it helps first to give to yourself.  It’s easier to give with a glad and pure heart when our own cups are already full.  As Christmas approaches, it seems particularly timely to remember this principle.

I want to end by saying, in all humility, that I don’t always get this right myself.  Recently, after a challenging year in 2013 and a challenging start to 2014, I have been taking time refill my cup.  This is one reason why I have been silent on the blog for some weeks now.

I also invite you to ask yourself, are there any areas of your personal or professional life in which your cup is half full?

I’m glad to be back.  I hope you are still with me.  And I sent you my heartfelt wishes for your own emotional, mental and physical well-being this Christmas and throughout the coming year.


In the covered market on Jeju Island
In the covered market on Jeju Island

PS  In case you’re wondering, the photos in today’s blog are from a recent holiday I took in South Korea.  Just one way in which I have been filling my own cup first!

Changing jobs? Finding your ideal job

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There’s been a bit of a theme recently amongst my coaching clients.  Come to that, there’s been a bit of a theme amongst friends, too.  People are on the move… looking for a new job.

A client has taken redundancy from his employer of some twenty years and is wondering whether to seek a similar job elsewhere and, if not, what else might beckon.

A young friend is looking for a job that matches her skills and preferences.  She’s not sure where it exists.  She’s not sure where to find it.

A friend is aware that he’s done what he came to do in his current role and wants to find his next challenge.  He can see it’s not easily available in his current organisation .

Are you looking for your next job – and struggling?

Maybe you love your current job but struggle with the quality of leadership from above.  You’d like it to change.  It’s not changing.  Slowly you’re realising that you need to put up and shut up – or pack your bags and move on.

Maybe you have done everything you came to do in your current job and can see that there isn’t an opportunity in your current organisation that matches your skills or leaves you with a glad heart and ready to go.

Maybe you feel a tension in your current role between those things that really excite you and those things that are most important to your boss.  You want to be doing work that fulfils you as well as doing a good job for your employer.

Maybe you’ve closed a door and want to open a new one.  You know you could find the same job again in another organisation.  You’re wondering if you can find something, at this stage in your life, that draws on more of who you are.

Before you start applying for jobs

Peter was disappointed at the poor response when he started to apply for jobs.  He had taken care to write a CV that he thought would appeal to potential employers.  It was clear he was a seasoned professional with a string of achievements scattered throughout his career.

Peter was also assiduous in looking for jobs, signing up to job boards, scanning papers, talking with recruitment agents in his field.  His search for his next job was starting to take so much of his time it felt like a second job.

He was getting some response and had been called to interviews.  However, despite his significant investment in applying for jobs and attending interviews, he wasn’t making the second cut.

What’s more, although he’d been to a number of interviews, he had yet to feel really excited about any of the jobs he’d applied for.

What was going wrong?  Peter was spending too much of his time trying to appeal to potential employers and not enough time thinking about what he needed in a job to make it something he could gladly sink his teeth into.

He needed to know more about his ideal job.  He needed to find out where his ideal job might exist.  Only then could he start to make his investment in applying for jobs really count.

First steps to finding the job that’s right for you

Working with clients at my coaching clinic in Harley Street, I have enjoyed helping people to identify next steps that are uniquely tailored to each person.  I thought I’d share some of them with you.  As you read, I invite you to ask yourself if any of these actions is right for you as a next step to finding the job that’s right for you:

Jaspar had a broad idea of the field he wanted to work in and also what he thought he could contribute in his chosen field. However, he didn’t know what organisations might offer the kind of job he wanted and his description of what he wanted was so vague that people were struggling to help him.  I invited him to write a single statement which crystallised – for himself and others – what he really wanted.  Initially, he asked friends for feedback about how clear his statement was.  Quite soon, he was able to use it to ask people where he might find the kind of job he most wanted.

Henry was quite clear about the kind of job she wanted and wanted to know if her CV was selling her as the right candidate for her ideal job.  I invited her to write a summary statement at the start of her CV that would make it clear to a potential employer what problems, in their organisation, she most wanted to solve.  Her revised CV started to attract more interest from headhunters and potential employers.  More than ever before, she found that she was finding her way to the right kind of conversations about opportunities which matched her ideal.

When Navim wanted to explore new directions I borrowed from a friend who had trodden the same uncertain path.  I asked Navim to write down all the the things that he most enjoyed doing – the things he would love to spend his time doing if only he could find a way to make them pay.  His list provided a basis for exploration into options that would give him financial ease and security whilst also gladdening his heart.

Creating a career that fulfils you


This picture was a favourite with participants - by Graham Ogilvie
This picture was a favourite with participants – by Graham Ogilvie

Last week I enjoyed working alongside Graham Ogilvie at a one-day event with leaders in the NHS to reflect on their learning from some of the NHS’s core leadership programmes.  Graham is someone whose career is almost bound to raise eyebrows.  (“How on earth did you come to do that?”)  Graham has made a great career out of turning the verbal into the pictorial – taking the key messages from training events, conferences and more and turning them into cartoons.  It seems unlikely that anybody ever said to him, “Son, what you need to do with your career is this…”

Always interesting to me, it happens that I’ve been reflecting on career directions quite intensely recently.  One client organisation has asked me to put together an outline programme to help members to identify next steps in their career.  Coaching clients are raising questions, from “What can I do to move towards greater fulfilment and peace of mind?” to “How can I create fulfilment in my forthcoming retirement and give something back?”  (Yes, the age-range of my clients is broad).  Another client has asked me to help create clarity for leaders across the organisation about their forward career paths.  As the French say, “Jamais deux sans trois.”

Struggling to identify next steps in your career?

Graham, and others like him, epitomises an aspiration many people have – most of us want to find fulfilment in our lives and careers.  Somehow, he’s managed to create a job for which there was no Job Description and to turn it into a career that is fun, profitable and fulfilling.  But if you’re unsure of your own next steps, you know it’s not always so easy.  Sometimes, it’s hard to see which way to go.

Perhaps you have an expensive education in Speciality X but are finding that jobs are scarce in your field.  Or perhaps you’ve been successful so far but don’t much like the speciality you’ve chosen.  Or you face stark choices and don’t know which way to go.

Perhaps you’ve achieved some – all, even – of the goals you set yourself a few years ago.  The trouble is, you’re not having as much fun as you thought you would.  Or you don’t know where to go next.

Maybe you’re loving what you’re doing and still, you face a choice.  Do you carry on as the “person who does” or step into the unknown territory of leadership?  Perhaps you’re already in a leadership role but something’s not working for you or you’re wondering “What next?”

Perhaps your greatest joy is on the side.  Perhaps it comes from the project you are involved in at work rather from the areas of your work that your employer is most concerned to monitor, manage and reward.  Perhaps it really is on the side – coming from a hobby that no-one pays you for.

Perhaps you’re one of the many people who have been affected by our deep global recession… young and unable to practice the profession you trained for, mid career and finding your way forward after redundancy, ambitious and wanting to catch up after setbacks.

The thing is, you know that you’re not emotionally fulfilled and you know you have more to give.  At the same time, you don’t know where to go next.

Life at Malt House Farm

You may not know that I grew up on a farm.  My father started farming in the 1920s and my mother met him when she came to Berkshire to work.  They married in 1957 and farmed until they retired in 1980.  I have a photo of my mother, at hay-making time, which hangs on my office wall.  The stray bits of hay in her hair are a reminder of a time of year we all enjoyed and I also notice a certain steely glint in my mother’s eyes which remains to this day.

I’ve noticed how many of my clients have views about their careers which reflect the views and experience of past generations of parents and grandparents.  Things like “I need to get a steady job that will provide for me and my family until I retire”, “If I don’t get on the right ladder at the beginning of my career I won’t be successful” and “I need to have clear career goals from the beginning of my career in order to make the right choices in the here and now.”  There are even some more recent concerns that can go unseen because they are so widely held.  “I need to show I can earn at least as much as my (partner, peers, parents etc.) otherwise people will think less of me”, for example, and “I am what I do – I need to do something impressive if I want people to like me or admire me.”

The thing is, these beliefs – and others like them – come from our need to feel safe and secure and yet, at the same time, they fuel the very anxieties we seek to avoid.  They make us wonder if we’re on the right ladder, and worry that if we’re not, we’ve missed our chance to have a fulfilling career.  They make us try to plan for a future which may be radically different from anything we can imagine right now – and worry when we don’t have the answers.  They make us make job choices to meet needs we can meet more easily in different ways;  which may even have been met already if we only dare to notice how much we are already loved and admired.

In writing this posting I want to bring care to the parts of us that seek security, acceptance and more.  These needs are both primal and primitive.  We are here because we have given priority to our need for safety and because we continue to do so.  What’s more, career or no career, each one of us has a need for love and acceptance.  Many people, early in their career, focus on adapting to the roles they find themselves in in order to secure a living and to achieve some measure of acceptance from their employer.

But this is only part of what we desire.

As much as we’re hard-wired to worry about our most fundamental needs for security, nourishment and more, we also have needs for fulfilment, for self-expression, to make a difference by what we do.  If we listen only to our worries, we may feel empty and unfulfilled.  Over time, our lack of fulfilment or our desire for something more motivates us to seek new avenues.

Your perfect career is about who you are

As much as we spend our education acquiring knowledge and skills, our success at work is driven by far more than any book learning.

At work, employers are often concerned with our behaviour – do we demonstrate the behaviours we need to be successful in our current job?  A great deal of research has shown that whilst our knowledge and technical skills are important, especially early in our career, there’s a great deal more that fuels our behaviour.

More fundamentally, our behaviours reflect a set of values that we hold about what’s important to us.  They reflect all sorts of hidden (and sometimes limiting) beliefs – what some thinkers call our “world view”.  They reflect our sense of who we are and what we’re here to do – our identity and purpose.

There is bad news.

Sometimes, for example, we don’t know what values we hold and this makes it hard to seek out opportunities which really meet our need for fulfilment.  Sometimes we have a sense of identity which is frozen in time and out of kilter with who we really are.  Sometimes we are held back by limiting beliefs which remain out of view.

There is good news, too.

The good news is that we are most likely to be successful in our careers by being ourselves.  The good news is that the more we understand ourselves – our underlying values, our natural strengths, our core purpose – the more we can seek out and move towards opportunities that fulfil us.  These are jobs in which, moreover, we find greater ease.

The good news is, too, that we get to explore who we are and examine old beliefs about ourselves and about the world at large and, in doing so, we increase the likelihood that we will find both career success and personal fulfilment.

Following your bliss

Joseph Campbell, author of The Power of Myth and The Hero with a Thousand Faces calls this process “following your bliss”.  I shared this phrase with Graham Ogilvie when we met last week, because it seemed to me that his description of his personal journey was a perfect example.  Graham told me that, each time he faced a choice, he chose the option that was most appealing to him at the time.

In truth, as much as many people tell their children to choose wisely, past generations are littered with people whose lives have been touched be serendipity, synchronicity and more… and it all worked out in the end.

My father, for example, became a farmer because he was told, for the sake of his health, to leave his office job and to work outside.  He was already lodging at Malt House Farm and was able to take up a job because his friend Harry, the landlady’s nephew, wanted to leave farming.  Years later my mother became a farmer because she fell in love.

Perhaps you have stories, too, of people of whom you could ask, “How did they get from there to here?”  If you do, please share them using the comment box below so that they can be an inspiration for us all.

And as I close, I want to ask you, what choices are beckoning you at this time?  And how is your heart responding?  Your head?  Your gut?