Playing to your strengths

When you are trying to improve your abilities at work, you need to find what you are less good at and then work on that.

Actually, no. Recent research has turned this whole idea of personal development on its head showing that it is far more effective to focus on the things that we like doing the most – the things that energise us. And having done so, the work is finding ways to use these strengths to our advantage. Yes we have to acknowledge our weaker spots, but rather than work trying to make these weak spots into strengths (which really doesn’t work!) we should use the things we are best at to counter.

The trouble has been in the past that we are so much better at worrying about our weaknesses than working to our strengths. And yet psychologists have known for a very long time that because we really can’t change our personality it is really very hard to change the limiting things that stem from our personality. So it is far more effective to focus on what you are good at and use those skills to overcome the blind spots.

When I first heard about this approach, I was very sceptical. There is so much nonsense being peddled that tries to make us think that making major changes in our lives are easy. And in my experience these are never what they seem. So I needed to be persuaded. And I absolutely have been. Learning about strengths and becoming qualified to use the Strengthscope tools has completely changed my entire approach to learning and growth. Nowadays my approach to coaching is to establish what energises the client and then work on ways to leverage that. I have seen how this approach can transform working relationships and make people more effective – and happier – at work. Hyperbole? Put it this way, being brought up in a decaying mill town in the north of England means I am cynical by nature and 20 years as an academic makes me demand evidence.

There’s more about the instrument I use here but if you are interested in exploring how it could make a real difference to you and your organisation, do get in touch.

One small step…

Many of us are relaxing at this time of year, but for some there is a nagging feeling that we need to make some changes in our work life. Perhaps you might be worried that you aren’t doing as well as you might. Or that there are problems with managing some people in your team. Or perhaps your relationship with your boss isn’t great.

Whatever it is, I am 100% sure you are not alone. People face work challenges all the time and it has been my absolute joy to help people through them. The key is that we already know what we need to do. We often just need someone to help us realise this, and then work out how to follow through.

And so I am suggesting you take a small step. Nothing too scary. Nothing that commits you to too much. So, what do I suggest?

Regardless of what the work problem  you are worried about, I am pretty certain to have seen it before. I have been coaching all kinds of people for 20 years now in all sorts of jobs in organisations as different as global oil companies to small auto dealerships. From the Civil Service to banks. And I’d love to be able to help you through whatever your challenges are. Why not arrange for us to have a chat? I promise to listen and help you clarify in your own mind what the issues are and how you can start doing things differently this year. Oh, and this first 30 minute conversation is completely free with no obligations whatever. More details about my approach are here. You can contact me via this form.

Go on –  this small step could be your “giant leap” forward!



Changing the world, one nudge at a time.

As a psychologist I know only too well how people are driven by a complex interwoven set of drives, preferences and biases. And anyone who has tried to manage people knows how resistant to change human beings are. The leader is driven to improve, change and create and finds it frustrating when others are not driven in the same way. Some even go so far as to say it’s impossible to change other people – you can only change yourself (and that’s hard enough!). It is definitely true that changing someone’s behaviour fundamentally is not going to happen as the result of one initiative, project or intervention. But it happens best when it is done incrementally. And this is perfectly in tune with the underlying psychological research.

So what is Nudge all about? At the heart of it is one of the most well understood notions in psychology – reinforcement. This is where behaviour is monitored in some way and the ‘correct’ behaviour reinforced through reward. The other side of the coin would be to ‘punish’ the wrong behaviour although this is far less effective than positive reinforcement. This might sound underhand or even immoral but the technique is well understood and can be used in every workplace imaginable.

What is reward?

the main thing is that reward is not necessarily financial. Everyone needs to be appreciated and we all need to be certain that we are doing the right thing. I worked for a boss who was really very nice to me and always positive. but I was never quite sure I was doing the right thing. Was I focussed on the right projects? Was my style right? Was I doing enough? When I had my annual review, he said in so many words that I was doing very well and then was specific about what he liked about what I was doing and why. This was amazingly useful and I left that meeting on a high. But it would of course been so much better if he’d managed to do this earlier! I see my role now is to reinforce when he gives me this sort of feedback. Here’s a form of words:

” Thanks for that Dave. It is sometimes hard to know in the daily pressures of work whether we are putting out efforts in the right place so I really appreciate your telling me this so I know I am on the right track.”

Another example could be when I might not be focussed on the right thing and he tells me this. So I might respond:

“Dave, this is of course a bit difficult to hear because I am clearly not quite focussed on the right things. But it is so useful to have this feedback so I know what I need to change. I will work on this and perhaps I can check back with you to make sure it is now going the way you want it?”

So. Reinforcement is the first step. More of this another day!

The fear of the new

I posted a selfie on Twitter last week from my last lecture of the term. I don’t usually do this but it was a special occasion; I am changing jobs and my new role doesn’t currently have me scheduled to deliver mainstream teaching. This may well change but, as it stands, after nearly 20 years that might well have been my last lecture. The significance of this is that I have built my career on being able to do certain things and (in all modesty) delivering engaging lectures has been something I have been known for all this time. And now I will not have this. So realising the change that is coming has left me in an unsettled frame of mind. I am very much looking forward to my new job, but part of me is looking back and taking stock.

I know this is natural and (mostly) healthy thing to do. We are creatures of habit and we like familiar things around us; we create our own little world at work consisting of the route to the office, people we greet in the morning, where we buy our coffee, the corridors we walk down. So even though we sometimes find that routine makes us bored, it is also comforting. When these routines are broken, it is unsettling, disturbing and can even trigger quite severe reactions.

On the other hand, we all change, all of the time. We learn new skills and hopefully get better at things through experience. More to the point, the role of the leader is to encourage change or else they probably aren’t really leading. But my current frame of mind has brought the reminder that when changes affect an individual, there is something very similar to a “fight or flight” response and I have remembered how uncomfortable this can be. For the person who has decided that a change is needed (the leader or manager), it is easy to forget the impact changes can have on those on whom it is imposed and leaders should remember this. It comes down to one of the absolute basics of great management – empathy. “What would this look like to the other person?”. It is not sympathy “poor things”, but a hard-headed analysis of how things appear from the other side of the desk which can then inform how you approach it. This is at the core of persuasion and influence.

So my point in this blog is a reminder to think about how everything you do will appear to the people concerned – especially when these appear to be minor changes to you.

Getting (some) things done

I have an admission to make. I left work yesterday without having finished all the tasks I wanted to. The reason I can say for certain that this happened is because I actually do this every day. In fact, having coached dozens of executives, discussed this with hundreds of managers I have trained – including many super high achievers, I don’t think any of them ever finish everything before they leave the office.

But sometimes you think you have done everything perhaps when you go on holiday. I would argue this is usually that you have set yourself things to do before going on holiday – a sensible strategy of ourselves – but this does not mean you have completely finished absolutely everything. But surely super effective people who are promoted manage to finish every thing by working late, weekends or getting up extremely early? Actually no. The reason being there are so many demands on us, so many things to do, so many possibilities to follow, so many requests or orders to follow, we cannot possibly do everything. The amount of things to do expands infinitely and is possibly even increases when we are good at our job because colleagues and customers look to us to make things happen.

So here’s a radical idea; if you have genuinely finished everything every day, I would suggest that you are in trouble. Why?

I can only assume that if you thing you have finished everything, you should perhaps be doing more than you realise. Or maybe you aren’t being trusted. Or perhaps your job isn’t important. The long term result is the same in all cases – you aren’t going to have that job for much longer.

So what’s the answer?

This is going to sound simple, banal, obvious – but believe me the answer is as simple as this:

Because you can’t do everything, you need to make sure that the stuff you do do is the important stuff.

So all you need to do is:

  1. know what the important stuff is
  2. do the important stuff first
  3. only do the unimportant stuff when the important stuff is done.

So, there you have it. I can almost sense the cynicism – a business school professor thinks that work is easy. But this isn’t just me – I have used this approach with many people I am coaching and it can have a transformational impact on their wellbeing. Knowing that the important things are done and that the pile to things undone can wait prevents a major source of worry.

So the trick is to really understand what is important, what it is YOU want to achieve and also account what the organisation wants you to do. The list that results from this thinking is your task list. Then don’t be distracted, out off course or bullied away from what you have decided. If you’ve done it right, you will be happy to leave your office with some things left undone. knowing that the important stuff for you and your employer has been done.

More about me at

Why would anyone need coaching?

I was asked today what and who coaching was for. It’s a great question and one I haven’t really covered on my main website. So here goes:

This is not an exhaustive list but here are some of the issues people come to me with:

  • I’ve promoted to line manage people for the first time and don’t know how to do it
  • My boss is an idiot – how do I cope with him?
  • I need to be more persuasive
  • I feel overwhelmed by my work
  • I think I need to change career
  • I am really unhappy at work and don’t know why
  • I think I waste a lot of my time at work
  • I can’t make decisions
  • My decisions are often bad ones
  • My team isn’t working together very well
  • I have a very difficult person to manage
  • I need to make some changes at work
  • How can I be more efficient


I won’t give you an answer right away – really good coaches don’t. I can offer advice and ideas. But the main thing I do is to help you find the solutions yourself. Every time I have coached, it has worked. People find answers, techniques, changes, styles within themselves. What I do is help people find them.

If you have challenges like these, why not get in touch using this form?