Author Archives: Natalia Shoutova


Deafening Language of Office Barricades (1 min read)

How firm is your handshake? How do you stand to project confidence?

“Body language” has crossed from FBI interview techniques to mainstream personal impact strategy. Informed by countless books, articles and courses, we can spot a “power pose” across a packed networking meeting, mirror cross our legs and arms to build rapport with our boss and sit “openly” for the 360 feedback session.

What about the language of your office space? It speaks louder than you might imagine.

Recently I was taken on a tour of a client’s office. The Board opted for an open plan office to promote “free-flowing communications” and “close teamwork”. From the doorway I could see a shantytown of oversized plants, double computer screens, multi-storey paper trays and skyscraper piles of files and empty (I think) pizza boxes. “Where are the people?” I asked my tour guide. He replied (puzzled): “Behind the desks of course”. On closer examination, I discovered all 38 employees.

Knowingly, or unknowingly, that office said in Gollum-like tones: “My private space.
KEEP AWAY. Trespassers will be prosecuted”. I understood why few employees asked for help or shared key project developments with their team. The physical barricades reflected the psychological barricades. Both intended to hide vulnerability inherent in asking for help, sharing a challenge, accepting and giving feedback.

Taking down these barricades requires time – time to build trust and connections. Move too briskly and you risk setting off the impenetrable defence barriers. I find
that as people start talking to each other the office barricades come down on their own. “Good Morning” is a good start.

What does your office space say about you and your team?

For information on communications and team coaching please contact Natalia for a free consultation.

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Helping Old and New Work Together (4 min read)

Be Do Have Coaching_OldandNew

Your organisation has grown from a nimble owner-run yacht to a powerful cargo-ship behemoth managed by a consortium. How do you maintain your course, profitability and manoeuvrability while running the engine on full power and keeping everyone on board?

Some of your crew are Old Hands – they were there pulling the ropes to safely sail through the storms of the early days. They knew every crook and cranny of the old yacht, navigating with a sextant through the darkest nights and predicting the incoming weather from observing the clouds on the horizon. On the new ship, those Old Hands are lost – so many unknown passages, the complex computer driving the engine, the autopilot keeping course using satellites, even the weather predictions are provided by algorithms. What use is their knowledge of seamanship, the seas and the sextant? The Old Hands feel redundant and insecure in their positions.

To help run the complex ship you have taken on New Crew – they have never pulled a rope in their life, but can programme the complex computer, switch on the autopilot and interpret the weather data. They do not bother to look outside the window to check whether the weather algorithm is correct. When the Old Hands tell the New Crew of the best way to ride out the ocean swells they do not listen, and instead fire more fuel into the engine to power head on through the conditions. The New Crew think that the Old Hands are redundant.

You know that to make progress the ship needs both the Old Hands and the New Crew. So how do you get them working harmoniously together – as one team?

First you identify the next destination for the ship, with clear intermediary ports along the way. You share this plan with all your crew, ask for their input and listen to their suggestions, until everyone understands the way forward. You know that not everyone will agree with you, but you do not leave the dissidents out of the discussions, because you know that this can create unhelpful fractions in the team.

You create teams that include both the Old Hands and the New Crew, helping them to understand each other’s strengths, ways of thinking and communicating – so that they can work better together. You explain to the Old Hands that the complex computer will make your ship more efficient and profitable, especially as the New Crew know how to get the best out of it; and you explain to the New Crew that some reefs are unchartered in the sophisticated navigation software, so the knowledge of the Old Hands is crucial to your safe progress.

Right from the start you aim to create an inclusive work culture where everyone is valued, information is shared and each crew is clear about their roles and responsibilities. You minimise role and boundary disputes. You encourage crew to be flexible and proactive. Fixed mindsets lose out in constantly changing economic and business climate.

Everyone in your team is encouraged and expected to keep up their training and continuously develop their knowledge. You know that even the New Crew will fall behind industry changes if they stand still. The success and progress of your ship is directly linked to the knowledge, experience and talents of your crew. You ensure that the training is always relevant and does not leave anyone out. You want your crew to see training as a reward not a chore, so you regularly combine theory with practice in rewarding team-building days.

You encourage clear and timely communications. That way any issues are brought to the surface and dealt with quickly. There is transparency and fairness in feedback and appraisals. You know that a well-placed “Thank You” goes a long way in building relationships and loyalty. When conflicts arise between crew, you mediate or find an independent party to help out, to ensure that each side feels heard and has a chance to understand the other point of view. You try not to take sides.

You lead by example and adapt your leadership style to changing circumstances. You act with fairness and integrity towards all your crew, even the ones you do not personally get on with.

Sometimes, despite all your efforts a valued crew finds it difficult to be part of your diverse team. You know when to let go and wish them well on their way.


As an executive and business coach, I regularly see tensions between the old and the new in organisations. Very few industry sectors seem immune from these pressures. For example, in manufacturing, adoption of new technology tends to cause upheavals. In retail, it is online marketing and sales. In any sector, transformation in management structure or business expansion or simply the unrelenting pace of industry change can lead to fractures in the team.

> What are your strategies for managing the tensions between the old and the new in your organisation?

> What is causing the rift – technology innovation, change of management structure, new marketing techniques?

> What advice would you give other organisations in this position?

For information on change coaching or team building please contact Natalia for a free consultation.

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Why You Want a Mixed Team and Pitfalls of Profiling (5 min read)

Be Do Have Coaching_Team Building“Balance is key to every team. It is impossible to win a football game with 11 goalkeepers.” – Sir Alex Ferguson

Imagine a team of 11 goalkeepers. It would not get very far (literally). Sure your goal posts will be impenetrable, but your team would never score. Ideally, you want a combination of specialists (attack, defence, midfield, goalkeeper) and a few multi-position players. Similarly, in sailing, it’s no good setting off with just ace navigators. Sure you’ll know which course to sail, but who would helm, trim the sails, manage the cockpit and grind at the pedestals?

Successful sport teams require an assortment of team players, combining different skill sets, strengths and personalities. In the corporate arena, this is one area where businesses often fail to capitalise their gains. Why? Like attracts like. Generally business culture is driven top down. If the MD is a result-driven extrovert, who prefers to think in big pictures, makes quick decisions and communicates in bullet points, they are likely to get on easier with someone similar. Suddenly, the board is full of fast-paced and task-focused extroverts; making it harder for their more introverted detail-orientated or people-focused colleagues to be heard (even though they may have great ideas and important points to contribute).

Understanding and working with personality and communication preferences which are different to yours takes more awareness, time and effort, but the rewards are more than worth it.

One of my team, a talented round the world skipper, told me a story about his race across the North Pacific. One of his crew spent hours pouring over the meteorology charts to determine the quickest course through the weather systems, always waiting for the latest update before deciding on course and unpopularly spending lots of time below deck (while his colleagues froze upstairs). This drove the skipper (who preferred big pictures and quick decisions) up the mast. But ultimately, he conceded that the team’s success was in part due to their excellent course decisions, so they worked together to obtain the best balance of detail and decisiveness, and crucially, explained to the rest of the team why this was important.

Back to the corporate world, it is worth remembering that, even within a single profession, different personality types working together bring huge advantages. Take lawyers for instance, profession of which I have direct experience. Traditionally, you would expect a high preference for detail, task-focus, logical thinking, procedures, away-from motivation, internal reference, reactive action, organisation, self-motivation and probably introversion.

However, a modern corporate lawyer would also benefit from being proactive (when the case circumstances change), options driven (to come up with a creative solution), towards motivated (to achieve specific goals set by the client), seeing the big picture (how their work fits within the commercial solution and the whole business), people-focused (to understand the client’s needs and be a good team leader) and an extrovert (winning business, negotiating clauses, presenting in court, networking with clients). One person may not be able to fill all these criteria, but a team will.

Every time I conduct DISC or Jung-typology based profiles with teams, I ask what the purpose is. Some clients request whether I can devise a profile that shows that a particular person is in the wrong role. They have already made up their mind and would like “evidence”. In my opinion, this is a dangerous game, which disempowers the leader and weakens the team. Profiles are not weapons; they are means of increasing understanding and awareness. Used as weapons, they will make people defensive, resistant to any change and suspicious. Trust will be lost. However, used to their best, they can significantly improve team cohesion, efficiency, communications and productivity.

So how can you get the best out of profiling?

– Choose the best fitting profiling instrument for your situation. There are hundreds on the market. Some are better for individual career development, others for team building, others still for understanding communication styles. Determine what objective you would like to achieve. Be as specific as possible.

– Ensure that your chosen profile instrument and its results are appropriately presented to the participants. When introducing any instrument to participants, I never use the word “Test”. “Test” implies that there are right and wrong answers. Worse still I have come across some instruments that produce “red” for “bad” results and “green” for “good” results. Those simply make the participants defensive and more resistant to change.

– Be clear with the participants the about the purpose of profiling – if you would like to improve intra-team communications with DISC, present the instrument as a means of understanding each other’s and their own communication preferences, rather than as a general personality profile. Participants will be much more open to interpreting, sharing and applying the results.

– Consider confidentiality issues. Who will see the results of profiling? Head of HR? Managers? Colleagues? This is very likely to affect how participants answer the questions, and therefore, may compromise the usefulness of profiling. In a team profiling session, it is helpful to set out at the outset that the results will be shared between team members. This manages expectations and builds trust.

– Ensure that the profiling process and its results are professionally explained and delivered. In the wrong hands, profiling is at best a waste of time and money, and in the worst scenario could be damaging for the team and its members.

– Do not label people. Explain that profiles can change over time, are highly context-specific (work, crisis, personal life, public image, self-image) and the results are generally a combination of qualities, none of which are “bad”.

– Beware of participants conforming to type. A participant who obtains a high “D” (Dominance) in DISC may use this as an excuse/explanation for being impatient and blunt with colleagues. Instead, they should be encouraged to be more aware of the impact of their style on others and more understanding of other styles.

– Pre-hire profiling results do not predict in-job levels of drive, commitment and motivation. Those factors make a HUGE difference to performance and productivity.

– Finally, it is essential to USE the information gained from profiling. Very often once the profiling exercise is completed, it is quickly forgotten about and old habits are resumed. In order to assimilate new information about themselves and others, participants need to apply it in a way that is memorable and rewarding. This is one of the reasons why we combine profiling with tailor-made team building activities run by experienced coaches who can practically demonstrate the different styles and how they can work most effectively together. The other reason is because well-thought-out team building is fun and rewarding, developing trust, respect and understanding between team members.

Be creative and get everyone involved. It helps to take your team out of the humdrum of their office life – how about sailing, adventure courses, cooking, bridge building, fire fighting, logical reasoning puzzles, making clay pots? We have discovered that sailing is fantastic for improving communication, adventure courses teach trust and there are few activities more effective than a team campfire for thawing through team tensions. The key is to make the overall experience empowering for everyone and show how their insights can be transferred to their day-to-day work.

If you would like more information on coaching, profiling or team building events please contact Natalia for a free consultation.

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Choosing Your Response (and Speed) (5 min read)

A few weeks ago I attended the Driver Awareness Course. I exceeded the speed limit by 6mph and was offered the course in place of a fixed penalty.

There were 20 of us on the course, with varied backgrounds, driving experience and offences ranging from speeding to traffic light infringements to inappropriate use of a SatNav (don’t ask…). Two gentlemen on my course have been driving for over 60 years. One of them, Pat, has never completed a driving test – Pat had learned to drive in WWII and then taught others to fly fighter planes: “This is the first time I have been caught speeding on the road. Just as well there is no Skyway Code and cameras hiding behind clouds!”.

In the “Attitudes” presentation, we talked about how thoughts and emotions affect our driving. How often do we drive while feeling rushed or upset or angry? What effect does our state of mind have on our judgment, behaviour and attitude towards other road users? Unsurprisingly, we all agreed that it is harder to be considerate and fully focused when our heads are full of negative thoughts and emotions. Similarly, commuting to work along the same route every day, it is easy to switch off to auto pilot and contemplate the looming deadline at work, last night’s argument with your partner or the mounting list of admin. Turning driving time into thinking and worrying time is not great for awareness and reaction time.

Since the course, I have been thinking (while not driving) about how our emotions affect our working lives. The answer very much depends on how you manage your thoughts and emotions. It is helpful to recognise that between the external stimulus (such as negative feedback from your boss: “Your last presentation was not as thorough as usual”) and your reaction there is a SPACE. This space is when you get to choose your response. First, your internal response (disbelief, anger, resentment), then your external response (a sharp retort, that you might well regret later). The key is to give yourself enough headspace to decide on a response that is effective, appropriate and advantageous to you in a given situation. Bearing in mind that sometimes the best response is no response.

How do you create that helpful headspace? Here are 12 ideas – both for in the moment and for longer term action:

  1. Pause. Do you have to respond straight away? Does your boss have a point or is the comment unwarranted?
  1. Clarify instead of mindreading. Rather than jumping to your own conclusions about what was intended by the comment, ask your boss for an explanation or even for evidence to back up his statement: “What specifically did you find less thorough?”. You are gathering information that might help you understand, so listen carefully to the answer and suspend judgement. Stay calm and collected.
  1. Generate time out. Even 5 minutes after the heat of the moment will give you a different perspective and help you to come up with a considered response.
  1. Create physical space. Go for a walk outside or leave your office floor. Simply leaving the conflict environment will help.
  1. Distract your mind. Make a cup of tea or check your emails for a few minutes.
  1. Reframe. What else could he have meant by this comment? What are his intentions for saying this to me? What upsides are there? How can I learn from this? One positive is that the boss thinks that usually your presentations are thorough – so there is a hidden compliment in the feedback.
  1. Put the situation into a wider perspective. How important is this in the bigger scheme of your work life? How much will it matter in a month? This is a good time to constrain the comment – put a fence around it. The comment is an opinion of one person about a specific presentation at work. It is not a comment on your general ability at work or on your worth as a human being. Try not to over-personalise the situation or victimise yourself, as this will make you weaker.
  1. See the situation from a different angle. What does the situation look or feel like from your boss’s perspective? How would your colleague react to a similar comment? What else is happening in your organisation that might shed light on the comment? For example, is your boss stressed about the falling profits and so expects extra commitment from his team.
  1. Apply your logical brain to the issue. Consciously shift your focus from the emotional indignation to the cold facts and details of the matter. What response will be most effective in the light of your work goals? In a mind management book “The Chimp Paradox”, Prof Steve Peters distinguishes between the emotional responses of the Chimp (limbic brain) and the logical responses of the Human (frontal brain). He advises that the key is not to wrestle with the Chimp but to understand how it thinks and behaves, to be able to manage its (ultimately your) actions and responses.
  1. Do regular mind training. Mindfulness and mediation techniques have been shown to help with mind and stress management. Seeing emotions and thoughts as separate from you helps you to disengage. A helpful visualisation is to imagine that you are watching a busy road from the side verge, the various passing vehicles are your thoughts – they come and go.
  1. Center yourself. Centering is a visualisation technique originating from the Aikido martial art. In simple terms, the idea is to redirect negative energy from your emotions into positive energy to help you achieve your goal. A bit like using the energy of the tennis ball coming towards you to hit it back to your opponent. There are 3 stages: (i) Focus on your breathing (ii) Find your centre, and (iii) Redirect your energy. The technique works best with regular practice and mind management.
  1. Behave as you want to feel. Scientists have shown that we can influence our emotions and thoughts through our behaviour – so a simple act of smiling can help us to feel more positive in a challenging situation.

These techniques can also be applied at home or in the car. I found that simply smiling at a driver who has just cut you up and expects you to go into chimp mode is curiously effective and satisfying. You are in control.

If you would like more information on coaching or mind management please contact Natalia for a free consultation.

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In Defence of the Imperfect Life (2 min read)

BDH_Imperfect Life

Why does January feel like a punishment?

Every year, overnight 31 December to 1 January, we expect a magic transformation. OUT with the cluttered, disorganised, unhealthy ways of the last year; IN with the logical, squeaky clean, orderly ways of the New Year. Stand back Mary Poppins.

Tick all applicable boxes: go to gym 3 times a week, eat less and better, be more decisive, get that promotion, tidy the garage, find the dream home (with a shed), change career, establish a ‘personal brand’, save money, start own business, apply for MBA, ensure that the kids play their musical instruments every night, be ‘nice’ to the mother-in-law, bake bread, vaccinate the dog…

Everywhere you look there are clean eating recipes, highly sophisticated de-cluttering strategies, state-of-art gym memberships, successful entrepreneurs aged 19 and images of beautiful and happy people living the perfect life. Everyone else is on the life-revamp train. It’s just not right to be content with last year’s state of affairs. Change must happen now and all at once.

So does this strive for ‘perfection’ make us happy? I am not sure.

End of January is when I see more overwhelmed, dissatisfied, unhappy clients with failure written across their furrowed brows than in rest of the months put together. “If I cannot commit to going to gym 3 times a week, how can I even hope to proactively manage my career…”

Don’t get me wrong – I am all up for making positive changes – when these are well thought out, clearly defined, achievable and planned into a realistic timeframe.

Apart from the overwhelm from spreading yourself too thinly (and possibly from cutting out 3 major food groups), the chief issue with expecting wholesale life changes overnight – even on the most magic night – is the inevitable disappointment when they don’t occur. This leads to demotivation and sense of failure. Often at this stage we give up on our goals completely: “I cannot go to gym 3 times a week, so I won’t go at all”.

This January, how about taking time to count your chickens:

  1. What 2015 achievements and successes are you proud of?
  1. What challenges have you overcome?
  1. What talents, skills and strengths do these demonstrate?
  1. What’s going well right now?
  1. What or who are you grateful for?

Pat yourself on the back. You are rather amazing and successful.

If you must make resolutions, then try this:

  1. What 3 things make you happy? How can you do more of them?
  1. What one activity or obligation can you give up this year?
  1. What one small change will make a huge difference to your day?

Change is much easier and more fun when it is crossing a stream via stepping-stones than jumping blindfolded across a bottomless chasm.

Happy New Year!

If you would like more information on change coaching please contact Natalia for a free consultation.

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Looking to make a BIG Career Change? Start Small and Start Now (5 min read)

BDH_Your Choice

“I think I need a completely different career.”

Maybe because it’s nearly 2016 or perhaps because 2015 is almost done, I have been getting many more wholesale life/career change coaching requests. I am starting to feel like Father Christmas.

So you need a completely different career – by when do you need it?

Curiously, when it’s agreed that making the leap from litigation lawyer to baker in the final two weeks of December is a bit rushed, the timeline moves to “perhaps it can be part of my New Year’s resolutions”. Then I have to ask – what was on your last year’s resolutions list? You know the answer.

I don’t even have to ask what action they have taken since the last New Year (See Time for Change).

When your goal is too large, too nebulous, too immeasurable – your brain is overwhelmed by its sheer size and the infinite consequences (See The Art of Self-Sabotage). Break it down. What would move you closer to your ultimate goal? Suddenly, there are more possibilities. “Aaah, I just remembered my local baker has a sourdough bread making course…Maybe I can ask for it as a Christmas present. And maybe I can get that new book on sponges…”

What if the calendar system was never invented? Imagine no Mondays, no New Year. What if every sunrise was a chance for doing something new, seeing afresh, moving beyond fear? How about starting a new habit on a Tuesday? Mondays are busy getting into the new week, but Tuesdays you have more headspace. There is also less pressure. Try it.

There is the old “throwing the baby out with the bath water” syndrome. “I hate my job”. What specifically do you hate about your job? “I never know when I’ll be home, I don’t spend enough time with my kids. I am a bad mother.” There is a deeper issue here, don’t stack it all on the wrong job. And anyway, you are a bad mother according to whom? Which bigot is there to judge you? I’d like to remind you that you are doing your best, so cut yourself some slack (See The Art of Self-Sabotage).

What small action can you take now to make the situation better? A friend of mine who is a senior consultant at a Big Four accounting firm made a rule: Every Friday I go home at 6pm to spend time with my family. Importantly, he communicated this to his boss and his colleagues. The rule is respected in all but dire circumstances. Interestingly, that one small change stopped him leaving the firm.

What about other firms in the same sector – how do they stack up – say on flexible working? “They are all the same…” Talking about a sector I know well, law firms, even in the same tier, have markedly different approaches. Even different departments within these law firms have different approaches. Do your research. The best way is to talk to people who work in these firms (See Should I Change My Job?).

The grass may seem greener on the other side. Sometimes it actually is greener on the other side. Sometimes not. Sometimes it’s Astroturf. It’s best to find out before you end up playing on it.

What aspects of your current career do you enjoy? “I quite like problem solving…and working within a team”. How much problem solving and working within a team will you do as a baker? “Well, at the beginning, it will be just me. There will probably be a few problems to solve though, like fixing the second hand mixer.” Have a think and find out in practice what will your new career involve – what will an ordinary workday be like, look like, feel like…perhaps taste and smell like? Ask yourself what upsides of your current career you would like to keep in your next career.

So what attracts you to baking? “I love baking. I can see tangible results. It’s like finalising a [legal] case, but every day.” What other tangible results do you see in your current role? Sometimes, making the invisible visible – raising the awareness of what you actually achieve day-to-day increases job satisfaction. If it has the opposite effect, then you are probably treading water and it’s time to swim to the other hopefully greener shore (See Should I Change My Job?).

Change is a process, not an outcome. It starts in our head with an idea – a seed. That seed is vulnerable and will die if you do not protect and nourish it. Protect by choosing wisely to whom you disclose your idea to – some of your “friends” will doubt you (in fact they are probably transferring their own fears and self-doubts to you), others will spur you on. Nourish by feeding the idea with information and motivation.

Maintaining your motivation is key. Setting yourself achievable, specific, short-term goals will help you to measure your progress towards the ultimate goal. Think of it as stepping-stones. Each time you move to the next stepping-stone acknowledge your progress and give yourself a pat on the back.

Looking at change as a process makes it less threatening. It’s no longer a perilous chasm that you have to cross – it’s a stream with stepping-stones.

When the seed grows into a seedling, it’s time to take it outside into the sunshine and the real world. That will test out how strong it is. Give yourself the best possible chance – don’t put it out in frost. Build connections with others who understand your idea and appreciate the challenges.

In any career, and especially if you are running your own business, there will be highs and lows. It’s much easier to ride out the lows when you are on top form – so prioritise your wellbeing (See The Art of Self-Sabotage).

Put bluntly – you are the machine that will make change happen.

So what can you do right now to initiate positive lasting change? Change the way you see and treat yourself. Zoom in on your strengths and achievements. Identify three ways in which you can boost your health, mental wellbeing and fun. Most crucially, realise that your life and your career are fully in your control. You are in charge. So make it happen. Start small and start now.

“Choice not chance determines your destiny” – Aristotle

If you would like career change coaching please contact Natalia for a free consultation.

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You Made a Mistake and EVERYONE Knows It (5 min read)

Spotlight Effect | Be Do Have Coaching

Maria* requested leadership coaching. Having been recently promoted, she found herself struggling to meet her own and team responsibilities.

We talk about Maria’s role and she constructs a picture of her cobweb of bosses, peer executives and direct reports. Maria is clearly very busy, yet she hesitates to delegate – “what if they don’t do a good job, then it will be my fault – I’d rather be criticised for my own mistakes”. I ask Maria – how often do you make mistakes? She answers: “I try very hard to avoid mistakes, but sometimes they slip in. Please don’t judge me”.

Please don’t judge me. My coaching alarm bells start ringing. We continue:

Me: How often are you judged by others at work?

Maria: All the time. They notice every mistake. One major slip-up could mean the end of my career. No one else would employ me.

Me: How often are you openly criticised at work? “Openly” meaning “to your face”.

Maria: (Thinks for a while). Not that often, but I think that’s because I am quite senior. I think they all notice my mistakes and talk behind my back.

Me: How sizeable are the mistakes you are referring to?

Maria struggles to quantify her mistakes.

Me: On scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is insignificant and 10 is catastrophic. Say 1 is forgetting to double-tie your shoelaces, and 10 is accidentally switching off the life support machine.

Maria: Well, last week I forgot to insert the projected sales figures graph into the Monday morning presentation to the entire executive team. That’s about 8 on the scale.

Me: 8? How many people in the meeting commented on this?

Maria: No one. But they must have all noticed and must now think that I am an incompetent idiot.

What do you think is happening here?

Maria’s worst critic is herself. When she asked me not to judge her, she was in reality judging herself, feeding her self-doubt, performance anxiety and fear of being found out. She also believes that everyone notices her every mistake and judges her negatively on it. Even more so now that she has been promoted. Maria has a tendency to catastrophise – “No one else would employ me”. Her perfectionist streak, anxiety and fear of losing control is driving her into the ground with work overload and exhaustion. Maria has lost perspective on her new role and its responsibilities – she is trying to do two jobs at the same time, bringing the framework of her previous role to her new role. Understandably, looking after her wellbeing has dropped to the bottom of the priority pile.

Have you ever been in Maria’s shoes?

There are many themes for discussion here, to which I will return in later posts. In this post, I will focus on the Spotlight Effect.

Spotlight Effect is our tendency to overestimate the impact of our behaviour, appearance and performance on others. Back in 1999, scientists at the Cornell University (Gilovich et al., 2000) carried out a series of experiments on the Spotlight Effect, including one where they arranged for a candidate to arrive late to a meeting wearing an embarrassing t-shirt. They then asked the late candidate to estimate what percentage of people in the meeting had noticed the embarrassing t-shirt.

The candidate estimated 50%. In fact only around 25% noticed the t-shirt. Since we are the centre of our own world, we have a tendency to forget that we are not the centre of everyone else’s world. This tendency is especially prominent when we do something atypical.

Maria is acutely aware of every mistake that she makes and she gives disproportionate weigh to its impact. She also assumes that everyone else has the same perception and knowledge of her mistake (self-as-target bias) – she is using her own experiences, thoughts and beliefs to estimate (guess) what the others are thinking. Maria is mind reading. Feeling that she is constantly in the spotlight and a target for criticism puts Maria under an enormous pressure to perform. Ironically, this pressure increases her level of overwhelm and exhaustion, making it more likely that she will make more mistakes.

The first step is to become aware of this bias and to gain perspective. Next time you are caught in the spotlight, ask yourself for concrete evidence of what the others are thinking. Try to remain objective – if you expect a negative response your brain will instinctively look for negative evidence to support your (possibly erroneous) belief. So if no one commented on the absence of the projected sales figures graph, perhaps not everyone noticed. Perhaps no one noticed. Get out of your head and refrain from imposing your thoughts on others. What seems important or embarrassing to you may not be so to others.

Mistakes will happen. It’s how you deal with them that counts. Certain mistakes may benefit from timely disclosure to the relevant parties to minimise the negative consequences. Other mistakes require an apology or quick action on your behalf. Others may balloon in your head, but have no actual impact on others. If in doubt, effective and timely communication is crucial. Your integrity and reputation may be at stake. For a recent example, see the VW emissions scandal.

Analyse the actual impact of your mistake – what’s the worst that can happen? How important will it be in a month’s time? How important is it in the grand scheme of your work? Who else may be affected? When was the previous time you made a similar mistake – what where the consequences and how did you deal with them?

Consider what mitigating measures you can take to minimise the potential damage. What stakeholders do you need to communicate with? Make a concrete plan to resolve the issue. Identify what you can learn from your mistake and how you can adapt your working practices to minimise the chance of it happening again. However, refrain from ruminating on the mistake – churning it in your head will not resolve the matter; conversely, it may further entrench the problematic thought patterns, rather than give you the headspace to come up with a solution. (See The Art of Self-Sabotage)

Remember you have a choice as to how you respond, so take proactive decisions, rather than “head in the sand” or “let’s see what happens” approach. Victim-mentality disempowers you. (See Time for Change)

Challenge your generalisations. “No one will employ me”. No one? “They all noticed my mistake” All? What’s your evidence for that?

It is important to realise that the negative perception issue originates within you – not from outside. Being too critical of yourself or doubting your abilities will filter how you think other perceive you. It’s time for self-building work. And if you find below questions awkward, get a coach to help you.

– Write down three achievements that you are proud of?

– What skills, strengths and talents these demonstrate?

– Write down three challenges that you have overcome?

– Identify what resources and strengths you employed.

– Work out strategies to make more effective use of your skills, strengths and talents.

– What areas could you develop further?

– What work tasks do you shy away from because you lack confidence in your abilities?

– What would help to grow your abilities in this area?

– Come up with concrete strategies to develop your confidence and abilities. (See Teaching Old Dog New Tricks for more ideas)

Neglecting your physical and mental wellbeing is a form of self-sabotage. Set aside enough time and headspace to look after your wellbeing – fitness, nutrition, sleep, time for relaxation and holidays. Being on top form will enable you to perform better and feel more positive about yourself. In turn, this will help you to project the best version of yourself to others. (See The Art of Self-Sabotage)

The flip side of the Spotlight Effect is that your positive contributions may also be less noticeable to others than they are to you. So you may need to make more effort to bring them to their attention. Such as the excellent project you have just completed or the fact that your marketing initiative is responsible for the booming sales figures last week.

If you would like coaching on any of the issues discussed in this article please contact Natalia for a free consultation.

*name changed, my client gave me permission to write this article for the benefit of others in a similar position

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Team Work in a Hurricane (8 min read)

“If you want to go fast – go alone.

If you want to go far – go together.”

– African Proverb

Exactly two years ago, I braced against the helming cage as another colossal wave ploughed into our 70ft sailing yacht. I only just managed to yell “Hold On!” to the crew in the cockpit before being completely submerged in freezing water. My knees buckled and my safety lines strained under the enormous load. My lifejacket inflated making it harder to breathe but gratefully jamming me within the helming cage. With the compass now underwater, I was helming blind through the foam and spray. For a second, I saw the wind-reading peak at 218mph, then returning to a more reasonable 86mph. In an inundated dry suit, with eyes red sore from the salt and frozen helming hands, I still had control of the boat.

We were deep in the Southern Ocean, 2,000 miles from western coast of Australia, not even half way through our round the world sailing race. That week not one but three violent lows came together to bring hurricane-force winds, massive swell and precipitous waves. I was a watch leader with a team of eight. At the time, my sole goal and purpose was to keep my team and the boat safe. We managed incredibly well – not only to stay safe, but to keep racing through the lows. In fact the decision to keep racing was probably key to assuring our safety.

Looking back, these are the lessons to effective teamwork in a ‘hurricane’, whether you are sailing or leading a team through turbulent times:

1. Effective Communication. In hurricane-force winds speaking is not possible. Even shouting is drowned out by the wind and the waves. Balaclavas, spray hoods and scarfs make lip and facial reading challenging. Body language becomes key. In demanding conditions, it is tempting to shut down and not communicate. However, that will endanger the entire team as the boat can only run safely when everyone understands each other and the sailing instructions.

First, to get their attention, you would come up to the other person and look them in the eyes. You speak clearly and concisely, asking if the other person understood the message. Then you listen actively and globally – picking up verbal, tonal and body language clues. You listen to understand without interrupting.

Body signals can also be misunderstood. We had a multi-cultural team. To one person, a nod signifies “yes”, to another “no”. Once I made a “T” sign with my hands to the team member on the bow asking them to check sail trim, that team member passed back the message: “Yes please, white 2 sugars”. Agree on the meaning of signals at the outset.

2. Common Goals. We were racing. However, the goal “racing” meant different things to different team members. For some it meant, “we race to win at all cost”, to others “we race provided we all have fun”, for others still “we race provided I get to learn as much as possible”. Different interpretations of the same goal caused tensions and conflicts. Team members who wanted to win at all cost argued that we should put only the best drivers on the helm. This annoyed team members who wanted to learn to helm. As watch leader, I had my own goal and responsibility to keep the boat and team safe, so I did not put up our kite (bigger sail) if I thought as a team we could not handle it. This annoyed team members who wanted to win at all cost.

So we had a team meeting and thrashed out a set of common goals, identifying exactly what they meant for each crew and establishing an order of priority – Safety, Performance, Learning, Fun. As the crew changed every leg of the race, we had another team meeting to establish our common goals for the next leg. We did not fix the goals in stone. If the conditions changed mid-leg, we would re-open the meeting and come up with new goals or order of priority. Ensuring that each team member agreed on the meaning and bought into the goal.

3. Preparation and Continuous Coaching. Happily, the Southern Ocean lows were preceded by a big storm just of Cape of Good Hope. We had ample practice running the boat in strong winds and huge waves. More crucially, the team were mentally prepared for the next onslaught.

We all had basic training before setting off on the race, however, for new crew on that leg that training was months ago. So as watch leader, my job was to bring the new joiners up to speed as quickly as possible through intensive coaching and training. Our team was only as strong as its weakest member. The coaching and training maximised the strengths and talents of both the learners and the coaches. So if you are an ace driver, you will be coaching new joiners to helm. If you are particularly patient, you will taught to repair sails.

The coaching continued into the last of day of the race.

4. Culture of Support, Trust and Respect. There were no hydraulics or electric deck equipment on our boat. Everything was done by hand and through human strength. A single headsail weighed 350kg, so you needed most of the watch to lift it out of the sail locker and you really wanted to be sure that your teammates would not drop it on your head. During these lows, we only had two drivers on my watch – my helming buddy and me, as our third capable helm was injured in the previous storm. We were often helming blind through the waves and spray. As one of us drove, the other would be their “eyes” spotting the course ahead.

Such trust and respect build over time working with each other. They can be nurtured by encouraging a supporting and trusting team culture. We asked team members to look out for each other – “Is her safety line fixed? Is he getting too cold?” Coaching each other in different skills also helped to establish trust and respect amongst team members. Some degree of competition within a team can boost performance (“I will strive to helm straighter than him”), however, too much competition can result in mistrust and break the team apart. Most importantly, we never stopped talking to each other, even when the topic was tough.

5. Defining Roles and Responsibilities. Shouting against wind and waves to decide who is doing what is not effective and in a storm simply dangerous. At the outset, we decided on primary roles and responsibilities for each team member, with a clear back up plan for role changes in case someone was injured or on “mother duty” (cooking below deck). Each role was defined and clear-cut to minimise unhealthy competition and territory clashes. Even more importantly, each team member felt that they had a crucial role to play in the safety and performance of the boat, helping to maintain high engagement and morale.

We had a rota for more mundane duties – cooking, cleaning, engineering, navigation, media. All roles were valued and important. Every team member, including the watch leaders, was on this rota. To manage resources effectively, it was explicit that in challenging conditions watch leaders would be up on deck rather than on rota duties below. The rota provided a sense of equality and fairness.

6. Effective Conflict Management. When you are freezing cold, exhausted, hungry and beaten up tempers fray easily. Even something as trivial as someone standing on your foot or spilling your warm drink can degenerate into a shouting match. Getting the issue out in the open helps to move towards resolution. More dangerous are the simmering tensions below the surface. Once communication breaks down it is more difficult to move forward.

In calm waters, my conflict resolution strategy was dealing with tensions as soon as possible by talking to each warring party separately, understanding each point of view, finding common ground and facilitating discussions. In a storm, boat and team safety took priority and there was no time for discussions. Sending a team member below deck or separating roles was not practicable, as often everyone had to work together to make the boat sail. So what’s the answer? Being blunt worked for me: “I understand that you don’t see eye to eye. Right now, we are in a big storm 2,000 miles from land and we have to work together to keep the boat safe. Once conditions settle down we can talk about this further”.

As our team communications and goal setting improved, the number of serious conflicts declined. We also found that clearly defining each team member’s role and responsibilities helped to minimise territory disputes.

7. Adaptive Leadership. Knowing when to push and when to keep back. I’ll be honest with you – sailing through massive swell, battered by enormous waves and hurricane-force winds was really frightening. My knees shook on many occasions. Some dark nights, I even wondered whether we would see the sunrise in one piece. But I never let my team know that my confidence wavered. That time my role was to lead by example – to show resolve, skill, confidence, support and constant presence on the front line.

It was infectious. My cockpit team did not have to sit on the high side getting soaked, frozen and thrashed against the deck gear – they could have taken turns going down below into the protected cabin. But they all stayed up – to show support for the two drivers on the helm – because we were one team.

Later, when the wind abated, we sprung into action changing sails on the foredeck. It was time to push my team hard and motivate. Once we settled, it was time to back off and let the team members take on their roles, to reclaim their confidence and responsibilities. I delegated the lead to another team member and sat quietly at the back of the helm.

Another aspect of effective leadership is putting your hand up when you mess up and asking for help. One night I steered too sharply down a wave and even with my whole body weight (granted 52kg versus 34 tonnes boat) I could not get the helm back to neutral. The boat was dangerously heading nose down into the wave trough and the wave ahead. I yelped for help and my helm buddy grabbed the wheel just in time to pull it back. Had I tried to “save face”, the team would have lost confidence in me. As such they laughed and served me more porridge the next morning for extra strength.

Then there was the time I left a halyard end (rope for hoisting a sail) 30 metres up the mast in choppy seas, but that’s another story.

8. Morale. How happy would you be careering down colossal waves, submerged in tonnes of freezing water every few minutes, gathering enormous black bruises from conflicts with deck gear?

The hallowed biscuit team appeared out of the companion hatch, a team member on high side undid one of his safety lines to grab the tin (we all had at least two safety lines attaching us to the boat). At that moment a huge wave came over the boat, sweeping everyone into the cockpit. The biscuit tin man was swimming in the inundated cockpit with bloody split lip and three others riding on top of him, but he held onto the biscuit tin. We all laughed so hard we forgot about the cold wet fear. Small things matter and humour is great at maintaining morale and team spirit.

An army marches on its stomach. Freshly cooked hot food was crucial to morale. So even in the harshest conditions, the “mothers” still baked fresh bread during the night.

I mentioned that the decision to keep racing was probably key to assuring our safety. Why? Because we had a purpose to keep performing, to keep sailing the best we could, which kept the team busy and maintained morale. Had we battened down the hatches and stayed below awaiting the end of the storm, mentally, we would have given up and would have been weaker in the event of emergency.

Continuous coaching and training support helped to maintain morale. As did regular team meetings, clear roles and responsibilities, effective conflict resolution strategy and open communication channels. Team members felt that they were directly contributing to our shared goals, they felt valued and so they fully engaged in their roles.

Sailing is fantastic for developing effective teamwork, communication, leadership and interpersonal skills. Fortunately, you do not have to sail round the world to reap the benefits. For more information on Be Do Have Coaching Teamwork Workshops and Sailing & Coaching Team Events both on and off the water, please contact Natalia.

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No Grit No Pearl (2 min read)

No Grit No Pearl | Be Do Have Coaching

What beliefs underpin successful businesses?

Working with a number of thriving start-ups, I ask that question every day. I noticed some shared principles. Their founders have a core belief in themselves and their vision, which helps them to keep going and overcome incessant challenges. They also show up every day, whether the tide is in or out.

Starting your own business does not come with guarantees. At the beginning, there are just your ideas and dreams, some experience, a burning desire to create your own enterprise – your pearl – and most importantly the belief that you can do it and that it will succeed. Without that belief nothing is possible.

You start with a shell and some grit. You are not sure if that’s the right shell or enough grit, but you give it a go. Putting all your time, energy and resources into cultivating your perfect pearl.

For a long time nothing happens. Some days you are come close to losing faith in yourself – perhaps the shell is wrong or the grit is too coarse?

But your belief in your dream never wavers. Others think you are foolish or crazy. Who creates a pearl from some grit and a shell? You defend your dream and press on.

One day you see a glimmer of pearlescent dust in the grit and stare at it speechless.

You nourish the pearl in your tiny tub filled with seawater. Just as your infant pearl starts to take form the cat knocks over the tub breaking apart the weak structure. Undeterred, you pick up the pieces and start again. This time you fix down the tub and put a net over it.

Day and night you look after the pearl. As it grows bigger and brighter your heart swells with pride and joy.

Then the day comes when you know you have to give your pearl to the sea – so it can grow bigger and stronger. You let it go hoping that it survives the surf and escapes the teeth of hungry creatures.

For a short while, you stand on the shore looking out believing that your pearl will succeed. Then you turn your back to the sea, pick up some more grit, find another shell and start again.


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In Pursuit of Productivity (7 min read)

In Pursuit of Productivity | Be Do Have Coaching

Client: I am busy all the time, rushing from one thing to another. Sorting several things at a time. Sometimes they are not even my things, but I feel bad saying no. My to-do-list keeps getting longer. Some evenings when I am slumped exhausted on the sofa, I look back and think ‘what have I actually achieved today?’

Last week I wrote about poor time management being a strategy of self-sabotage. Very shortly after sending out the article to my mailing list, I received the above call from one of my existing clients. Curiously, time management has not come up in our coaching conversations. My client is a high-level executive (with 3 young kids in tow) who always appeared to be super organised and in full control. And before you jump to gender conclusions, my client is male and looks after his kids full time two weeks a month.

I would like to share with you some of the things we talked about. We focused on my client’s work life.

Time management is about managing our productivity rather than managing time. More specifically, it involves managing our attention span and concentration – both limited resources. While everyone has 24 hours each day, there may be only 3 or 4 hours of active attention. It is very tempting to multi-task during hours of active attention. So you get more done, right? Wrong. Multi-tasking can actually decrease productivity and accuracy as we reach capacity limits of our conscious mind and working memory.

In the oft-misquoted article ‘The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on our Capacity for Processing Information’, cognitive psychologist George Miller observed that humans are generally able to hold only seven plus or minus two units of information in their short-term memory. So get into ‘monotasking’ mindset. Undivided attention is particularly important where accuracy is important.

Added to our internal limitations, there are external distractions, which interrupt the flow of our tasks and thought processes. Each day we are swamped with information from countless channels – emails, news, phone calls, adverts, meetings, social media updates. There are queries and updates from colleagues, family and friends. No wonder we are always playing catch up.

So given these limitations how do we get the important things done on time and efficiently?

What is prioritising and how do I do it?

Prioritising is working out what is important to you in each area of your life – personal, professional, family, friends, hobbies, fitness and wellbeing. Taking each area in turn, identify what you would like (or need) to achieve. Ensure that these goals are specific, achievable and measureable (SMART goals). Why? See The Art of Self-Sabotage.

Eisenhower’s Important/Urgent decision matrix is a useful tool for prioritising – divide tasks into 4 categories:

  1. Important and urgent
  2. Important but not urgent
  3. Urgent but not important, and
  4. Not important and not urgent.

Tasks in category 1 are fire fighting. Aim to spend most of your active attention and time in category 2 – completing important tasks before they become urgent and hijack your schedule. Category 3 is a curious one – ask yourself, what are the benefits of completing those urgent yet unimportant tasks?

“Lunch is for wimps” – Gordon Gekko in Wall Street

Tasks in category 4 ‘Not important and not urgent’ often get forgotten, so it is crucial to ensure that correct tasks end up in this category. My client’s category 4 list included taking lunch, planning next holiday, dentist check up, going to gym, drink with friends and meditation.

Much research has been done since Gordon Gekko proclaimed ‘Lunch is for wimps’ in 1987 film Wall Street. We are more productive when we look after our physical and mental wellbeing – that includes appropriate nutrition, fitness, rest, stress-management, socialising and fun activities. Ask yourself whether some of category 4 activities really belong in category 2 ‘Important but not urgent’. Spreading yourself too thin erodes productivity.

Where do I start?

Once you know your priorities and goals, the next step is to schedule them into your day, week, month and year. David Allen’s ‘two-minute rule’ provides quick productivity wins – if an action can be done in two minutes or less, do it right then because it will take longer to organise it and review it if you postpone it.

A certain level of preparation helps us to be more productive during completion of tasks. However, beware of procrastinating by over-preparing. You may never feel completely ready to begin, so stop sharpening the pencil and make your mark.

Start with tasks that will have the greatest impact on the results – moving you closer to achievement of your priorities and goals. Under the Pareto Principle, 20% of tasks produce 80% of results. Evaluate which of the high-impact tasks can be completed in shortest time and do them first.

“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is the probable reason so few engage in it” – Henry Ford

Schedule your work according to your attention level. Start by identifying times of the day when you have the best attention span and concentration, and plan to complete more challenging tasks during that time (for example, writing a technical report or number crunching). Leave the less demanding tasks (checking emails, answering everyday queries from colleagues) to your low attention periods. In “How to be a Productivity Ninja…”, Graham Allcott advises separating thinking from doing, since thinking about the solution often takes more time and attention than actually putting the solution in place.

If attention span is an issue or you need to check your emails regularly, try the Pomodoro Technique – break down work into 25-minute chunks with 5-minute breaks in between.

What if the task is important but really uninteresting?

Ask yourself: Realistically, how long do I need to complete the task? Often tasks get put aside because we overestimate how long they will take. Once you estimated the time required, cut it by a third and begin. Have you heard of Parkinson’s Law? Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.

“If the first thing that you do when you wake up in the morning is to eat a live frog, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that’s probably the worst thing that’s going to happen to you all day long” – Mark Twain

So ‘eat a live frog’ by completing first thing in the morning that uninteresting yet important task you have been avoiding. Brian Tracy (in Eat That Frog!) added two corollaries to this rule: if there are multiple frogs, eat the ugliest one first; and if the frog is very ugly, don’t look at it for too long, just eat it!

Another strategy is the three Ds – Do, Delegate or Ditch It. Having endlessly reappearing items on your to-do-list saps energy and motivation, and hinders completion of other tasks.

How do I boost my productivity?

There are a number of short cuts to short-term concentration gains, such as caffeine, changing tasks and engineering urgency by leaving tasks to the deadline. However, in medium to long-term, these strategies reduce productivity. Looking after your physical and mental wellbeing through enough rest, maintaining fitness, ensuring appropriate nutrition and regularly exercising your brain (see Teaching Old Dog New Tricks) will help you to maintain and develop your cognitive and physical capacities.

Drawing on your strengths and learning new skills are great ways of expanding your capacity and productivity. Consider what one skill would help you achieve more in your professional life? Which strengths are you underusing?

Are you a perfectionist? Do you worry about how others will judge your work? Often as the project nears completion, internal resistance and self-doubt slow down our progress and may even stop us finishing. Once you checked it twice, ship it. In Linchpin, Seth Godin observes that ‘the only purpose of starting is to finish, and while the projects we do are never really finished, they must ship’. What do you think about that?

During information overload, sorting information into ‘chunks’ makes it easier to remember, organise and process large amounts of incoming data. George Miller’s experiments on short-term memory span deal with ‘units’ of information, rather than volume of information. In Your Brain at Work, David Rock advises simplifying information by approximating and focusing on an idea’s salient elements. Just remember that some details will be lost during chunking and simplifying processes. The map you are building is not the territory, so if some elements need clarifying you may need to go back to the original data.

“Joining a Facebook group about productivity is like buying a chair about jogging” – Merlin Mann

Use technology to your advantage – there are great Apps for brain training, list making, organising your calendar and looking after your fitness and wellbeing. However, be picky and ensure that technology is adding to your productivity rather than to information bottleneck.

How do I minimise distractions?

Our time, concentration and attention are limited resources, so it is vital we use them wisely and protect them from interruptions and distractions.

Start by creating the most productive environment for your work – for some that means having a super organised desk, for others it is about minimising surrounding noise. Identify what environmental factors seep your productivity and address them. For my client, having a photo of his kids on his desk motivates and focuses him to be more productive at work.

Often our own minds create the most persistent distractions. Unrelated thoughts interrupting workflow, a sudden desire to check your emails, wondering what’s for dinner, cloud watching or even blindly panicking about the impending deadline. With thoughts, active resistance is futile. It is often more effective to acknowledge the thought, and gently return your mind to the original task. Regular meditation can help to train the mind and maintain focus.

Internet, emails and social media are great servants but terrible masters. Set up a ‘do not disturb’ mode by fixing specific time limits and lockouts on email checking, internet browsing, social media updates, answering phone calls and queries from others. If external interruptions are an issue, let others know that you will be unavailable during certain times of the day and request co-operation from your colleagues and family.

What if unplanned events disrupt my plan?

Even the best-made plans are not immune to disruption, so do not carve them in stone. Stay flexible and adaptable. Review your plans regularly to ensure that they reflect your current priorities and external circumstances. Most importantly, do not beat yourself up when you do not complete your to-do-list by the end of the day. Re-draft it and start afresh the next day.

There is one final thing – love what you do.

No amount of productivity strategies can equal the motivation and drive of doing something that you are passionate about. Don’t love what you do? See Time for Change and Should I Change my Job?

Would you like help with productivity or to learn more about Natalia’s coaching?

Contact Natalia

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