There is no them, only us

Like most people, having never been to a real prison, my knowledge of the prison system was limited to the often depressing news about them and their residents. That changed last week when I had the privilege of visiting Portland prison in Dorset with the youth offending rehabilitation charity, Key4life. There I met 30 young men who were serving time at this forbidding looking prison perched on top of a windswept cliff overlooking the English Channel. It felt isolated and on the very edge.

It is easy to think of offenders as being different from us – outsiders, poorly educated, drug-addicted, violent, dangerous and well….just criminal. But spend a day with them and you will find that we are more alike than we think.

They want their lives to be better
They want to provide for, and protect, their family
They want to do meaningful work
They get frustrated about things they can’t control
They want to be respected and valued
They want to have a voice and to be heard
They want their lives to have meaning
They miss their friends and family
They grieve for those they have lost
They want to love and be loved
They want to have a place to call home

They sound a lot like you and me…perhaps we are more similar than we think.

If you think we are more alike, visit the Key4life website at www.key4life.org.uk.

You are good at your job

I am good at my jobHow hard is this  to say out loud? Acknowledging that you are good at something can be difficult – what if people disagree with you, what if you are wrong, what if they laugh at you?

I was working with a client recently who was clearly a very talented and dedicated individual. Without question they were good at their job. When I mentioned this in passing they were extremely reluctant to acknowledge the truth despite all the evidence. This got me thinking that despite all the evidence to the contrary people often lack confidence.

So what is the evidence that you are good at your job?

The signs of being good at your job are easy to see, you just need to look for them. Here are a few:-

  1. Your team respect you and work hard for you if you are a manager
  2. Your boss respects your opinion even if they disagree or override your views
  3. You get a good appraisal
  4. You have been promoted
  5. Your clients give you good feedback and come back for more
  6. Your peers respect you
  7. You got a pay rise recently
  8. You are happy at work (happy people are good at their jobs)

These are all simple things but each one is a vote to say

“You ARE good at your job”

It’s not your fault but it might be your responsibility

Seth Godin’s blog on Sunday was very short and to the point.

“It’s not your fault…but it might be your responsibility. That’s a fork in the road on the way to becoming a professional.”

I would like to add the following.

“That’s a fork in the road …”

…for deciding not to point the finger of blame.
…for accepting a leadership role in your organisation.
…for helping a colleague who is in need.
…on the way to becoming more Emotionally Intelligent.
…on the way to becoming a better person.
…on the way to a better career.

To succeed you have to accept failure

YOU CAN ONLY WIN IF YOU LEARN TO ACCEPT FAILURE.

I have just finished watching the Australian Tennis Open final between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic. One thing that occurred to me during the match was the similarity between failure in sports competition, failure in business and losing in poker.

Winning is easy to cope with (although as I saw at the poker tables last night this can lead to a fatal over-confidence), but what about failure? We all hate it right? It makes us angry and sometimes affects us long after the event.

IT’S ALL ABOUT PERCENTAGES

In most sporting fields, including golf, tennis and Formula 1, we often hear commentators and players speaking of playing a percentage game. So assuming a good tennis shot percentage is around 85% it follows that 15% of the time we will not be successful. In Formula 1 they talk about driving at 95% and in poker a 60% chance of winning a hand is almost always the right percentage play. However in poker that means we lose 40% of the time and fate being capricious and cruel, sometimes that 40% comes all at once and we lose consecutive hands where we had a statistical advantage.

Business decisions are equally at risk of failure. No business decision has a 100% guarantee. Apple’s move into mobile technology looks brilliant now, but at the time there was no promise of success. Tesco supermarket’s move into the US market might have been a very well thought out strategy but it failed. So businesses equally make percentage plays.

WE NEVER FORGET A FAILURE

What happens when we fail? We remember it well and usually vividly because they upset and disrupt our equilibrium. We cannot get out of our minds the ‘what-if’s’and the ‘if-only’s’. When we win we celebrate how smart and talented we are and then promptly forget the success.

In poker when a player gets angry and upset losing a hand where they were a statistical favorite, we say they go on tilt. Tilt can last a few minutes, days or even weeks and it can adversely impact good decision making. Tilt also happens to executives and managers as well as businesses in general.

WHAT DOES THIS TELLS US?

We are surrounded by failure. Operating in any situation where the result is not guaranteed means we must be prepared to handle failure when, and not if, it arrives. What has this got to do with Andy Murray losing? Well I am not sure why he collapsed when he was 2-love up in the 3rd set. Perhaps one of his percentage shots missed and he just was unable to let it go. One thing is certain, Andy will need to let this relative (he got to the final after all) failure go, if he is to win another grand slam.

If you are interested in learning more about handling failure and as a by-product become happier and healthier in your work, then get in touch today.

Fresh perspectives @ StartUp 2015

It is only 2 weeks into 2015 and this year will see some great new businesses launched if StartUp 2015 at Somerset House in London is anything to go by. As an experienced entrepreneur myself and a government accredited SME business coach, I was invited to be one of the resident ‘meet an advisor’ on the day.

Entrepreneurs queuing for StartUp 2015 @ Somerset House, London
Entrepreneurs queuing for StartUp 2015 @ Somerset House, London

I can only say I was amazed by the huge crowds, the incredible enthusiasm and some of the great ideas I heard about. Confidentiality means I can’t share these ideas but I am really pleased that people are not only developing digital services, but also planning to manufacture and retail products.

Here are the three pieces of key advice I gave to new entrepreneurs during the day.

Who are your clients? Make sure you know who is going to be a paying client. This is a vital first step in understanding the type of people who will pay for your product or service. Before setting up your company it is really important to invest time in researching this.

How will you make money? Having paying clients is great, but you must also make sure that you can trade profitably, if not immediately then at some time in the future.

How much money do you need to get started? Often people think they need £100K or even £500k to get their business started but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Most businesses can get up and running with little or no investment. This is a good thing as you want to prove your idea is viable before making any major investments of your time, your money or someone else’s money.

…and finally I advised them to get help from the government’s Growth Voucher scheme, where they will cover 50% of the costs (up to £2,000) for strategic advice. You can use these vouchers for getting strategic business advice from me.

Contact me today to get a fresh perspective on your business.

Even World Champions need coaching!

I was talking to one of my clients (an ex-international sportsperson) recently and at one stage during our session she said “even world champions need coaches“. I was struck by how simple and yet profound this statement is. If you look at the field of sports I can’t think of a world champion or professional sportsperson or team that doesn’t have a coach – Usain Bolt, Rory McIlroy and Novac Djokavic all have coaches despite being superb world class professionals.

Why do elite sports people have coaches? Because they understand that their careers have been built on continuous learning and development. They never stop trying to find that extra fraction of a second or making that great decision in the moment. That is what makes them world class in the first place. When starting out young sports men and women are coached on the basics of their sport – focusing on the how to play. That coaching becomes increasingly more sophisticated as they improve moving from skill and techniques to strategy, mental preparation, coping with failure and dealing with success.

Most business owners are similar to elite sportspersons – they are totally committed to their business, they strive to be the best they can and they make sacrifices in their personal lives. I know for sure that when I was running my own business for 11 years, I was all these things and more. Yet I know I wasn’t a world class business owner and regret not having a coach during those years.

When is the right time for you to get your coach and become your own world champion?

Following in the footsteps of genius

Piazza Unità d'Italia
Piazza Unità d’Italia, Trieste Italy

PS-and-JoyceOn 20th October 1904, the famous Irish author James Joyce arrived in Trieste in north eastern Italy. Almost exactly 110 years later yours truly, a fellow Irishman, and his partner arrived in the very same city. While there I discovered that I shared a surprising number of similarities to Joyce. Both of us helped our clients to develop their communication skills, both taught Italians and both were authors. I also seem to have a very similar build to Joyce or at least his statue on the Via Roma as it passes over the Canal Grande. There the similarities end.

James Joyce Statue, Trieste
James Joyce Statue, Trieste

Joyce was a genius and is recognised as one of the most influential writers of the early 20th Century. His novel, Ulysses, is considered one of the most important books of modernist literature although its publication was troubled – it was banned in the US under obscenity laws and copies of his books were burnt by the US Postal Service. In his own country Ulysses while never formally banned, wasn’t published until the 1960’s. Self publishing on Amazon Kindle is tame by comparison!

Ital Svevo Statue, Trieste
Ital Svevo Statue, Trieste

In Trieste Joyce worked as an English language  teacher at the Berlitz Language School  and during the early part of his time in the city he met Ettore Schmidz, better known as Italo Svevo, author of the classic novel La Coscienza di Zeno (The Confessions of Zeno). Joyce considered Svevo to be a very talented, but underrated, novelist and encouraged him to continue writing. He eventually helped Svevo to translate Confessions into French where it was published in 1923 to great acclaim. Joyce not only helped Svevo to write and learn English but they became great friends and the main protagonist of Ulysses, Leopold Bloom, was partially based on Svevo.

There is also another very important difference between Joyce and me. When he arrived in Trieste, he left his mistress Nora Barnacle on a park bench outside the train station while he looked for somewhere to stay. While looking, he dropped into a bar for a quick drink and somehow ended up getting arrested along with some drunken English sailors. He was rescued by the Irish consul, before going back to the park to pick up his mistress who had waited all night. I expect she wasn’t very pleased and I am sure that my wife would have had something to say if I behaved this way.

With my visit over, I hope that some of Joyce’s genius has rubbed off and I can inspire my clients to achieve great things in the same way Joyce inspired and helped Italo Svevo.