Category Archives: Executive Coaching

Just getting on with it can make you more confident



aidan-turnerIn recent interviews Poldark star Aidan Turner has talked about blagging his way into the role by telling casting directors he could ride a horse.  He couldn’t really, but once he had secured the part he gave it a go.  I heard him telling the same entertaining story to Sara Cox, relishing the tale and amused by his own cheek.  My favourite part of the interview was when he said ‘I nailed it. I just pretended to be good and it turned into a real thing’.

You can hear what he said here:

By contrast, in the past few weeks I have spoken to at least five intelligent, competent, fabulous women, all of whom did not go for a promotion, take on new responsibilities or leave their comfort zone because they ‘didn’t feel ready’.  When I asked when they would feel ready the answer was always ‘in a couple of years’.  So the next question has to be ‘What will have changed in two years?’.  That’s a question that they usually can’t answer.  Why?  Because nothing will have changed in their thinking.  No matter what happens they probably still won’t feel ready in 2 years’ time.

The truth is, if we waited until we felt ready there is very little we would achieve.  Sometimes you just have to ask yourself what’s the worst that can happen*, take a deep breath and dive right in.

Getting over yourself and getting on with it is one of my favourite ways of boosting confidence. Men, like Aidan, do it all the time.  If we act confident, we are confident; we become what we think.

Confidence is something many women struggle with.  On 24th September 2016 I’ll be running a Woman flyingworkshop designed to help you understand what affects your own confidence (it’s different for everyone) and then find ways of stopping your self-doubt from getting in your way.  For more info and to book click here

And whatever you do, be more like Aidan, but please keep your shirt on!

*You could make a mistake, you might feel a bit daft, maybe even make a bit of a fool of yourself but people will respect you for having a go.  And if whatever you’re trying doesn’t go quite as well as you would have liked, you will still have had a wonderful experience that you can learn from, that will help you do even better next time and be more confident about trying

Why your lifestyle can be affecting your credibility at work

Why your lifestyle can be affecting your credibility at work

‘Nobody ever takes me seriously’ complained Rachel*. ‘I’m as qualified as they are and I’m doing a good job with clients but they treat me like the office junior. I’m really fed up with it.

‘Why don’t they take you seriously?’Messing_about_at_work

‘Because I’m a girl and the youngest person there. They’re all just sexist old farts.’

‘Well, Sally’s only a couple of years older than you. Do they take her seriously?’

‘Yes, but she’s different.’


‘I don’t know, she just is.’

I decided to park Rachel’s unflattering description of her colleagues for now and instead asked her to tell me more about Sally, how she behaves, what she says and the image she projects at work. Gradually we started to unpick why Sally is different from Rachel and why people take her seriously. Here’s the first thing Rachel identified:

‘She never crawls in to work, late, complaining about her hangovers.’

‘Do you?’

‘Sometimes.’ Rachel paused. ‘Most weeks, to be honest. I need to stop that. I need to keep my personal life to myself.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I talk a lot about what’s going at home, my boyfriend, my flatmates and what I’ve been doing with my friends.’

‘Why is that a problem?’

‘I do it too much.’ Rachel paused again. ‘It looks like I care more about what’s happening outside work. And nobody at work needs to know that I had a row with Jason, or drank too much on Saturday. It’s none of their business. It makes me look bad. I need to focus on work stuff at work and leave what’s happening at home behind me when I get to the office’

‘It sounds like you don’t always behave appropriately then’.

‘I had never thought of it like that, I was just having a laugh. But laughs at work and laughs outside are different. You can enjoy your job, but having a laugh with your colleagues isn’t the same as what you do and say when you’re having a laugh with your friends. I had never thought of that before. It’s no wonder they don’t take me seriously. They think I’m a party animal who lives in a soap opera.’ Rachel slumped back in her chair, her hands over her face. I gave her a minute or two to reflect. When she was ready I resumed the coaching session.

‘OK, so it sounds like you’re blurring the boundaries between home and work a bit too much. Is that fair?’

‘Definitely. I forget where I am sometimes. I need to think more about what’s appropriate. Sally never talks about her social life. Ever. If she’s out with people from work she doesn’t get drunk, or gossip, or rehash things the next day. She has a good time, she’s a good laugh, but she doesn’t bring it in to work. That’s one of the things I’m doing wrong. I feel really embarrassed. I think I need to change a lot.’

It’s easy to blame others for not taking you seriously but, as always, you need to look at yourself and your own behaviour first. In your 20’s you often socialise with colleagues and that can make it hard to adopt a more professional persona when you’re back in the office. It can also be difficult to identify and maintain clear boundaries between your social life and your work life and, as with Rachel, lack of boundaries may be one of the things that undermine your credibility.

We’ll look at more factors that influence how seriously you will be taken in my next blog. You may alos want to look at recent blogs on becoming a manager: newly-promoted-and-its-all-got-weird-heres-some-help and developing your confidence as a leader: modesty-and-confidence. In the meantime, if you recognise yourself in Rachel and want to clarify your own boundaries click on the link below for a free coaching session, on me.

* All names have been changed. This story has been told with the permission of ‘Rachel’.

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Feeling meh? 5 tips for getting the career you want

Feeling meh? 5 tips for getting the career you want

I had a really good job – interesting work, well paid, lots of travel.  It ticked all of the boxes.  One day I woke up and wondered what I was doing and how I got to this point.  I felt dissatisfied, unfulfilled and started to wonder if this was all there is.  Really?  This is it?  Blimey.  Cue implosion and rapid change of direction. Many of us drift through our careers and go from job to job without really thinking about where we want to get to or what we want out of life.  Life can be something that just happens to you and you get on with it, and often it’s fine.  But what if you take control and make things happen?  Read on for my 5 tips on getting the career or business you want.

1. Decide what you want.  A few lucky people know what they want to be when they grow up from an early age and go off and do it; most of us flit from idea to idea.  At various stages in my life I would have answered the ‘what do you want to be?’ question with: nun, doctor, choreographer, fashion designer, interpreter at the UN and war correspondent.  All of which would have been totally unsuitable (except perhaps interpreter).  My sister on the other hand always said ‘nurse’ and that’s what she became as soon as she could.  WE are much more successful when we play to our strengths and interests.  So think about what you want – not your parents, friends, colleagues or teachers.  You.  And go and do it.

changing_direction_choosing_a_path2. Find out how to become whatever you want to be.  What training or qualifications do you need?  What sort of life and work experience must you have?  Who should be in your network?  How will you get to know with the people who should be in your network?  What skills should you be developing?  What funding and support is available?  How closely do your current skills and experience match the requirements of your dream job.  Then go and do all of them.

3. Get a really good mentor, someone who understands you and where you want to get to and can help you with support, encouragement and really good advice.  If you’re in a firm or company this may well be someone who is a just bit older or more experienced than you and you may just be assigned to someone. That’s OK but if you can, choose mentors who will challenge you and be really honest with you. Their feedback may hurt temporarily but understanding and acting on your shortcomings will only help you make progress.  The best mentors I ever had could be brutal sometimes but they were telling me things for the right reasons and their insights were always invaluable (thanks guys!).

4. Not everyone can become a board director or partner or the next Richard Branson.  If, for some reason, you can’t quite get to where you want to be try and find a way to get as close to it as you can.  I recently worked with a client who wanted to be an opera singer but health problems meant that she wasn’t able to perform professionally.  She carved out a very successful career in arts administration, which kept her involved in professional opera and musical theatre, and she enjoys taking part in amateur productions as well as teaching singing.  No, she’s not on stage at the Royal Opera House but she’s living and working in a world she loves.

5. It’s never too late to change direction.  There’s also never a good time to change direction.  If that’s what you really want to do just go and do it.  (Change can be very unsettling, download my tips on coaching with change here

I don’t regret any of the choices I made in my career but I do sometimes wish I had got to some places sooner.  Once I thought about what I really wanted, worked out how to get there and took the appropriate action everything clicked into place.  I would love to hear about your experiences so please share your thoughts, ideas and insights.  Or if you’ve got that ‘meh’ feeling about your career or business why not have a coaching session on me?

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The one key skill every leader needs

The one key skill every leader needs

Jane came in to my office looking troubled. ‘I think I’m OK as a manager but how do I become a leader?’ she asked. ‘I’ve just had my appraisal and I’ve been told I need to work on my leadership skills’. I’ll cover dodgy appraisals in a later blog, this one is all about which leadership skill I think you need to start developing now.

Although many of my clients worry about their leadership skills (see here for the differences between leadership and management  they sometimes struggle to describe a good leader to me.  I don’t think that’s because there’s a lack of good leaders, rather it’s because leadership is nebulous – it’s hard to describe and get hold of but you definitely know good (and bad) leadership when you see or experience it.  So I often start by getting clients to think about leaders they admire at work, in sport, politics or life.  What do they say and do, how do they act? Why are they good leaders?  It’s an unscientific approach, sure, but the answers my clients give are pretty consistent, in fact Zenger and Folkman’s list in this article by Peter Economy contains just about all of the attributes of great leaders my clients have identified over the last 5 years:

So where do you start?  Well the good news is that most people are on track already – they are honest and have integrity (#2 on the list).  Most people also display professional and technical expertise, if they didn’t they would not be on the leadership track (#7).  Communication skills (#5 ) and relationship building ability (#6) are vital, that goes without saying and have been the subject of many of my previous blogs, like the last one.

There is one skill I wished I had developed earlier and worked hard on though. Now I see so many business owners, managers and executives struggling with the same problem: displaying a strategic perspective (#8). According to Economy ‘Great leaders have a long-term vision of the future, and they avoid getting bogged down in the here and now. While they can be tactical when necessary, they maintain the strategic outlook necessary to guide their businesses to the best future possible.’

I think this nails it.  Managers tend to focus on the here and now, ‘they do the doing’ as one of my clients calls it; leaders focus more on the future.  Letting go of the day to day, delegating, spending time on activities with a longer-term benefit and thinking ahead are all vital skills for any leader but ones that we seldom develop organically.  We’re all too busy doing the doing.

Executive_thinking_strategicallyMoving on in your career can change what we define as doing however.  I was really bored when I was first made MD, all the stuff I used to do was getting done by my highly competent team.  What happened?  Yes, I refused to let go, micromanaged and generally interfered in whatever the team was doing.  I mentioned this to a former boss who’s still a mentor of mine. He shook his head, appalled, and said ‘But that’s not your job any more, your job is to think now’. That comment completely changed my outlook. Getting paid to think? Wow! That’s what leaders do. So if you want to develop your leadership skills try cuttingdown on the doing and start thinking.

Source: Peter Economy, ‘Top Ten Skills Every Great Leader Needs to Succeed’ ,, 29 December 2014

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I’m a professional, not in sales. How do I do business development?

I’m a professional, not in sales. How do I do business development?

A client called me a couple of weeks ago lamenting the fact that he had just been promoted and was now expected to ‘do’ business development in addition to all of his other tasks. First off, he just didn’t know how but more fundamentally he felt as though ‘sales’ was a sleazy activity, unbecoming to a highly qualified, highly trained professional like himself.

Sleazy_salesmanInterestingly, it’s not just professionals who feel this way, the fact that you have to go out and generate leads and convert them into paying customers seems to shock many small business owners (including me when I first started out). If this is you read on for some help on how to get your head around business development.

We often have a knee jerk reaction to the words ‘sales’ or ‘salesman’. Just think about what words and images you associate with ‘sales’.  I’ll bet most of them aren’t very complimentary and a picture of someone with a shiny suit and a false smile just popped into your head.  But business development is more than just selling.  It’s really about raising awareness of you, your firm and the products and services you offer. It involves providing information to allow potential customers to evaluate options and make the right choice for them and then closing the deal but only when they have decided that they’re ready to buy from you.   It’s not about forcing someone to pay for stuff they don’t want, it’s about helping potential clients to make the right choices for them.  Hmm – doesn’t that sound much more palatable than selling?


The fact is that many senior positions, or running your own business, will involve building relationships with potential customers and maintaining relationships with existing and past customers. So start by changing how you think about sales: forget the selling bit and focus on developing great relationships and providing great service then, guess what, you’ll also be great at business development.

I’ll be adding some more on business development, networking, building relationships and, yes, selling over the coming weeks so watch out for future blogs, helpsheets and e-books.   In the meantime why not have a free coaching session on me?

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Alchemy A-Z of being in business: M is for management

Alchemy A-Z of being in business: M is for management

i_stock_managementA lot of people make a distinction between leadership and management. You’ll often hear that leadership is about setting the vision, the big picture stuff, inspiring and motivating people while management is about getting things done. I am not so sure that you can separate them so cleanly. Leadership isn’t always glamorous, management isn’t always drudgery. In fact the best managers are able to get things done by inspiring and motivating people; the best leaders of course deliver on what they have promised.

For me the distinction lies in the focus, leaders are looking further ahead; managers are closer to the action and make sure that things get done on time. If a leader is thinking strategically, managers tend to think operationally: how will we actually execute those grand plans?

I have read hundreds of management books and very few deal with getting things done well, on time and on budget so here are my 6 top tips for being a good manager.

  1. Understand the requirements. What is the purpose of the activity or project? What are the timescales and budget you’re working to? What sort of quality is expected? What are the consequences of it going wrong? What are the benefits of getting it right?
  2. Be clear in communicating all of the above to whoever is involved in the activity or project. As I said in my last post, set the overall context as well as the specific requirement so that the team understands where what they’re working on fits in. Make sure people know why they’re being asked to do something. If there isn’t a good reason think about whether you really do need them to do it.
  3. Get buy-in early on in the project. This is closely linked to item 2. If people don’t see the point of what they’re being asked to do, don’t understand it or think it’s a waste of time then guess what? It won’t get done. A good way to get buy-in is to involve people as early as you can, give them a reasonable say in how things will be done and get their advice on the best way of proceeding. It’s those at the sharp end who can quickly identify the flaws in the grand strategy and come up with ways of addressing them.
  4. Have a clear, shared plan. Identify everything that needs to be done, assign the appropriate people to perform the given tasks, make sure they have all of the tools and resources they need and set a clear, realistic deadline by when the given tasks are to be achieved. Everyone involved should come together at key project milestones to review progress, revisit the plan and make sure that everything is still on track. If not, the plan can and should be altered to bring everything back in line.
  5. Leave people to get on with it. Never, ever micro-manage BUT make sure you check in from time to time to make sure that everything is OK. Use open questions when you check in. ‘Is everything OK?’ will usually get a yes, ‘How are you doing?’ or ‘What problems are you having?’ will usually lead to a useful discussion about the issues.
  6. Acknowledge achievement and celebrate success. Completing a project, winning a piece of business, hitting targets, finding the perfect person to fill a vacancy and other , perhaps everyday, business milestones are worthy of note. Take the time to thank everyone involved for a job well done and mark the occasion somehow – even making the coffee or bringing in a box of cakes can make the team feel that you appreciate them.

Managing people and getting things done can be tricky, especially if you’re new to it or have never been managed well yourself.  It can be hepful to get a third-party view so why not try one of our free coaching sessions? Just  click on the link below and we’ll be in touch.

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Alchemy A-Z of being in business: L is for leadership

Alchemy A-Z of being in business: L is for leadership

ChefOne of my clients is struggling with her team, she can’t seem to get them to do what she needs them to do and to be honest they are running rings around her, costing her clients, money, time and stressing her out. In one of our sessions I asked when she was going to step up and be a leader. She rolled her eyes and told me that leaders are born not made, and she was not born to lead. I rolled my eyes right back at her and asked her why she was bothering to run her own business then; if she was born to follow (a safe assumption if she was not born to lead) then surely she should go and get a low level job and be told what to do all day every day? There followed a really interesting conversation on who leaders are, why people want to follow them and what great leaders do and she’s now working hard on being a good leader. The truth is that anyone trying to run anything (e.g. a business, a department, a team) is by definition in a leadership role. And it’s also true that while some people are better, more natural leaders than others everyone can become a leader in some way; we can all improve our leadership skills.

I would go so far as to argue that if you’re in charge of anything you are obliged to improve your leadership skills – you owe it to yourself, your team and the project. If your team aren’t doing a good job then it’s safe to assume that you’re doing a lousy job of leading them. There are countless books and articles on becoming a better leader (my current favourite is The Servant Leader by James A. Autry) but here are my top tips:

  • Accept that not everyone will like you. They won’t all like you whether you’re in charge or not so you might as well have their respect if nothing else.
  • Remember that respect is earned through expertise, track record, reputation and the way we treat others. You might still be working on your expertise or track record but we can all treat those around us with kindness and respect.
  • Treating people well doesn’t mean you have to be a pushover. Remember some of the great teachers you had at school? They probably set clear boundaries and expectations, the class knew exactly how far they could go and what was expected of them. The best teachers at my school dealt kindly but firmly with any bad behaviour or poor performance but knew when to relax and let us have some fun.   We did well in their classes and enjoyed being taught by them. That approach works well in business too.
  • Become a great communicator. Be clear about what you want, when you want it and why you want it. Set the overall context as well as the specific requirement so that the team understands where what they’re working on fits in. Make sure people know why they’re being asked to do something. If there isn’t a good reason think about whether you do need them to do it.
  • Delegate don’t abdicate. Whatever your team is working on is still your overall responsibility so check in with them regularly and make sure that they’re on track – help them out whenever you can; give them what they need to do a great job for you.
  • Be consistent, there’s nothing worse than a leader who blows hot and cold.

How’s my client doing? Well she’s getting there and her business is reaping the benefit.

For more information on how coaching can help you be a better leader please get in touch for a no-obligation chat. You can do this by calling me on 01235 861 311 or emailing me at   I look forward to hearing from you.

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Feel like you don’t know enough? Here’s what to do about it

Feel like you don’t know enough? Here’s what to do about it

When I qualified as an accountant rather than being proud of myself I was terrified. I was immediately promoted, given a big pay rise and offered the keys to a company car (even though I couldn’t drive at the time). I was also given much more responsibility and expected to up my game considerably – no more study leave, no more cutting me slack because I was a trainee. ‘Now you’re qualified you should….’ was a sentence opener that I came to dread because it usually led to me feeling very, very stupid and inexperienced.
That piece of paper suddenly cast me as an expert when really I felt like a dunce. It was the same whenever I changed jobs and acquired new responsibilities. What I didn’t know is that many newly promoted people feel the same – they’ve spent years learning how to be good at something but now they’re managers or partners the job is different and they need to develop a whole range of new skills and experiences. If that happens to you read on to find out why and what you can do about it.

Let’s start with why.

When we achieve the holy grail of qualification we’re no longer a junior or a trainee, our charge-out rate goes up and so do expectations – people who were senior to us even start treating us more like equals. But we don’t know any more than we did yesterday when we were still waiting for our results!

Because we’re suddenly expected to do more and know more we tend to become very aware of all the things that we just don’t know. We’ve moved into in a state psychologists call ‘conscious incompetence’ and started to focus on how little we understand rather than how much we know. And it feels horrible. We want unconscious competence, when you can do things naturally and well,l but that seems like a long way off.

How do you fix it?

Firstly, accept it; it happens to everyone. New roles are challenging and unsettling, that’s just a fact (see my helpsheet on coping with change for more info). Remember that it will get easier with time but you can help things along.

1. Think about what skills and experience you need to develop (maybe talk to your boss, someone responsible for talent management or even someone in the year ahead of you) and decide how you’re going to do it. It’s important here to think about what interests you – if you’re rubbish at tax and have zero interest in that area of expertise then don’t go there even if there are opportunities available; instead find something you enjoy and focus on that. Don’t forget that study after study shows that we are more successful and experience less stress when we enjoy what we do. Then ask your firm to provide you with a mentor and help pay for any additional training you need. Don’t wait for appraisal time; be proactive – do it as soon as you are ready. It shows you’re keen to get on.

2. It might help to find a coping mechanism. My nightmare scenario was being at a networking or other meeting and someone asking me a question I couldn’t answer. It happened all the time and I felt so embarrassed and useless. It was the same when I started coaching too. People can usually tell if you’re bluffing so don’t try and bluster your way out of it. In reality there’s absolutely nothing wrong with saying you don’t know something; it’s better to be honest yet constructive.

What to say.

Here are some of the lines I’ve used to get me over that awkward ‘I don’t know!’ moment:

‘It would be unprofessional of me to answer that without having much more information. I offer a free initial consultation, shall we find a time for you to come into the office and we can start to explore the issue?’
‘You know tax/VAT/whatever is really complicated and it’s not my area of expertise. Why don’t I get someone from our tax/VAT/whatever department to give you a call?’
‘That sounds tricky! Let me give you a call to arrange a meeting to talk about in more detail. Have you got a card?’
‘We can’t really talk here, why don’t we meet for a coffee and talk about that in more detail?’
‘You know I’m not sure about that. Let me check it out and give you a call in a day or two (or whatever timescale is appropriate).’
Just make sure that you do get back to them! Failing to follow up as promised is much, much worse than not being able to answer a technical question.

3. Get over yourself! We’re all nervous at one time or another and we seldom feel like we know enough about anything. But if you stretch yourself and get away from that comfort zone you’ll find that it gets easier to to deal with new situations and challenges. Why not take a deep breath and just do it?

I hope you find this useful. If you’d like support and advice tailored just for you, our confidential coaching sessions help professionals improve confidence, leadership skills and all-round performance. Book your free coaching session here.

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Why undervaluing your achievements saps your confidence

Why undervaluing your achievements saps your confidence

‘It was nothing, anyone could have done it’.

WomanhidingEver wondered why you’ve been promoted, got a great new job or been asked to work on that brilliant project?

I have.  I’ve struggled with confidence my whole life; I could never believe that I was capable of the things others saw in me. In fact I once talked myself out of a brilliant job with a major consulting firm by telling the interviewer that I couldn’t believe they were even considering little old me for the role.  I had the job in the bag until I dropped that bombshell.

Not everyone is as outspoken (stupid?) as I was, but many women in the workplace (and some men) seem baffled by their own successes, and deep down, don’t feel that they deserve to be where they are.  If you ever feel that way, read on.

When we’re successful we sometimes think that if we did it surely anyone could have done the same?  Not so.  Most people did not do it.  Most people do not pass difficult exams over and over again.  Not everyone does a great job, day in and day out; many people just do enough to get by.

You on the other hand did pass your exams and are doing a great job.  So why do you belittle what you achieved?  Why aren’t you proud of yourself? (I’m not talking about arrogance here – you can be proud of what you’ve done without seeming cocky or overbearing). The fact is that awareness of and pride in your own achievements can be the starting point for building confidence and having a great career.

Our accomplishments and achievements are what psychologists call ‘mastery experiences’, knowing we have done things well in the past increases our belief that we will be able to do similar things well in the future and that increases confidence.

Knowing that we have done things well, and acknowledging the achievement are of course two different things, and for many people recognising success is at odds with our desire to seem modest.  However we often take modesty too far; there really is nothing wrong with quietly knowing how good we are.

So the next time your boss compliments you on a job well done, instead of shrugging and saying ‘anyone could have done that’ or ‘oh it was nothing’, smile, say thank you and remember that it was you who actually got on and did it!  And when you need a confidence boost draw on those memories of jobs well done and past successes to help you cope with new challenges.

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