Corporate risk – how big is too big?

Corporate risk is a tricky subject. Too little risk and the competitors will be steaming ahead. Too much risk and it scares the shareholders (and the accountants!) – unless of course it all plays out perfectly … in which case you’re the hero (for today at least)!

A certain amount of risk is essential for organisation to break new ground, put together more creative teams and stay ahead in their sector.

I recently worked with an Managing Director client where the foyer of his house (where he also has an office) was bigger than the total meterage of my own home. I was hired by the company to support this MD’s high performance as of one of the most valuable leaders in the organisation. He is super-bright, inspired, motivated and people at all levels of the company like to be in his company.

Normally my conversations with directors are quick-paced, colourful in exploring the possibilities, clear about what a best way forward would be and what ultimate outcomes would benefit the most people. This MD was known for forging forward with fresh ideas and smart hires. He’d had super-positive results in his past 2 companies. On a scale of 1-10 I’d say he was an 8.5 when it came to risk and he had a highly developed sense of this market sector, his clients needs, what the next generation of products & services was going to look like.

Here’s the top 3 things I think are worth knowing about risk having coached this MD and other leaders like him:

  • Measurement makes risk less risky: if you know the skill set of your teams, the value of your service, and the needs of your clients; if you have a deep sense of your brand, a handle on company finances and cash flow, and a sense of what you’d be willing to lose in order to gain, then the decisions that others may perceive as risky may instead feel exciting to you.
  • Discomfort can be motivating: stretching your leaders to get new systems, new schedules and new numbers out of their teams may well increase tension (and perhaps even a reaction from comfort-zone lovers), but it’s worth it if the alternative is sameness and the stretch ultimately keeps a company thriving, employing talent (who are supporting families) and increasing their client service.
  • Change & expansion cultures are healthy: all future-embracing companies would be smart to actively skill up their managers and directors to systemise the present, then invest in asking ‘so what could be next’? ‘What does more look like’? ‘How can we further meet the needs of our clients and customers’?

We’ve all heard the ‘no risk no reward’ line. It makes sense more so in today’s fast-paced markets than ever.

Or I can leave you to ponder Albert Einstein’s take on risk; he said: “A ship is always safe at shore – but that’s not what it’s built for”.

An executive coach in London: mine your diamonds

There’s something very privileged about the job of an executive coach – especially an executive coach in London. Those coaches that are sought after by executive from around the world all have one thing in common … word’s got round that they get results. When the time comes a leader doesn’t care if an executive coach went to the best coaching school, is accountable to a professional federation, or if they themselves earned multiple-7-figures in banking, media or science before changing careers.

A leader knows this: ‘you got results for my friend/colleague/associate – and I’d like you to do the same for me please’.  Simple. It’s an executive coach’s skill-set that counts. Can that coach make a speedy difference in your personal and professional life, with your mindset, your communication skills, your clarity about what you want in your future, your overall physical, mental and emotional success? Yes? So, hire them … now.

I helped a friend get her CV up to date recently – it was impressive. My only comment was ‘take your school results off your resume; experience has superseded the need for them’. It’s the same with an experienced executive coach – 15 year and 1000s of clients down the line, they have an intuition, a knowing and a set of unique tools that are so deeply entrenched in them getting results with their talented leaders in diverse industries they probably can’t even tell you what some of those tools are … they just ‘be’ coaching all day every day.

I see this in my leadership clients sometimes too. They can be so busy proving to others that they’re worthy – reading the latest leadership books, putting their teams/organisations up for awards, getting the next letters after their names (MA, PHD, MBA) – that they’ve missed the uncut diamonds just waiting to be mined inside of themselves. This is no touchy-feely kind of treasure but a profound, extraordinary sense of what a leader (CEO, MD, board member, senior director – whoever) can contribute to this time and space that no one else on the planet can.

When you actively mine those diamonds, no approval or qualifications will have prepared you for what the future can look like. You’ll live on purpose. You’ll progress though life living out of that purpose, speaking from that place, contributing from it and inspiring others. You’ll respect that although your paths are crossing with tens or hundreds of others at this very moment, their destiny isn’t yours and and some point they’ll likely uncover their own diamonds and move on into their own inspired space.

Why am I highlighting London as an executive coaching hub amongst every other international city? Mainly I suppose because that’s where I personally have had the honour of working with the most diverse range of clients I could imagine: young, old, men, women, limited (until I worked with them!), empowered, upscalers, downsizers, solopreneurs, leaders of startups and generations-old corporations.  Each extraordinary. Every one of them with diamonds now well-and-truly mined, designed, polished and sparkling with light.

An executive coach – your ROI

What’s the Return On Investment of working with an Executive Coach? This is such a juicy question. Ten years and over 1000 clients ago, as I tentatively opened my doors to my first incarnation of being an executive coach. I had very little understanding of the value I was bringing to my market. I charged accordingly at £50 to 100 an hour – where I could get that fee and I worked with some middle managers, some junior executives and many small business owners most of whom hired me out of their own salaries.

What happened? My clients thrived. There’s no other way to say it. They were already good at what they did and since most of them had genuinely never had an agenda-free, them-focussed, you-define-your-own-success kind of conversation in their lives, the executive coaching conversations worked to massive effect. My clients were promoted, they got salary increases, some moved to dream jobs, others made huge personal changes and all of them thought thoughts and took actions that they wouldn’t otherwise have known were within their sphere of choices.

How did I measure these results? It just couldn’t be done on monetary terms. How do you measure clarity, reduced anxiety, increased courage, richer conversations and raised awareness? It could only be measured through lives lived out and success stories shared.

After about 50 clients and repeatedly seeing their huge shifts, I had to put my fees up. I continued to work for individuals – authors, publishers, editors, film producers – and then increasingly I go taken on by small then large corporates. I was seeing 2 – 6 clients a day and loving every conversation and every little light-bulb moment – of which there were many.

At this time – about 2004 – I was adding to my executive coach skillset with some further study around metaphysics. Thoughts become things. What we believe is what we see. Limited thinking produces limited results; courageous thinking creates extraordinary & fast-tracked outcomes.

How did I measure the success of this extra service? Again, it couldn’t be done on monetary terms. My clients were loving it though – doubling their sales numbers, launching (and closing) new brands and some even starting families where they’d previously given up hope.

Every year I reviewed my fees and reviewed my client results until I was working with MDs, senior directors and international business owners. At this level the fact that I charged £400 an hour and £2500 a day really wasn’t that relevant to an individual or a company. If a finance president had a breakthrough realisation, his company was the 7-figure beneficiary of that. If a marketing director left a coaching session with a richer strategy, her CEO and shareholders would celebrate those results and bank the bonus.

The money and the sales were never the point – they were the measurable outcomes. The point was (and still is) that a progressive professional could hire an executive coach to expose more of their potential and make their life easier, more meaningful and more successful.

When you hire an executive coach you believe your work life and your personal choices will change for the better. If you pick an experienced executive coach this will undoubtedly be the case. Your results can be measured by the improvements in your own life then and also in the lives of your colleagues, your family & friends, and those you’ll never even know that you’ve touched and change.

A worthwhile return on investment is not just about what’s released in your own experiences, it’s ultimately about what you give back –  your ultimate life’s legacy.

Keeping it simple

As an executive coach, I’m sometimes called on when a leader, manager or company has too much going on – people, projects, development, deadlines, decisions – and they’ve passed the tipping point of working to full effectiveness. It’s not a weakness to have said ‘yes’ to so many things (or, more likely, for additional responsibilities to have been given to you because there was no one else to take them on) but too much complexity never delivers effective business results.

A call for your executive coach is a call to streamline and to simplify.

Earlier this week I had a conversation with a writer and film director. There were about 8 projects he could easily invest time in – networking, event organising, putting together his next creative team – there’s always so much going on. I asked him – why do you do what you do? He said ‘I love to write. And I love to create.’ I asked him – knowing that, what are your priorities today? He said ‘To finish this script. To get the movie made.’ And even simpler than that? … ‘To finish this script’.

Sometimes there’s a really obvious right next move; often it’s one that only you can do. That’s why it’s on your list and no-one else’s.Everything else you’re investing time in is a distraction, or a subconscious procrastination because it knows that the things only you can do will create the biggest ripple effects – and that in turn will change your world.

There’s a classic story (which is worth repeating …) about a professor who held up to his students an empty glass jar. Into it he placed some large rocks up to the rim. He then help up the jar and said ‘is it full?’. The students nodded ‘yes’. Next the professor took out a bag of pebbles and poured them into the jar. The pebbles found their way in around the spaces of the large rocks. ‘Is it full now?’ he asked. The students nodded ‘yes’. The professor then took out a bag of sand. He poured the sand into the jar and it filled in the spaces around the pebbles. He held up the jar, ‘Is it full now?’. The students nodded ‘yes’. The professor took out a beaker of water, he slowly poured it into the glass jar. The water meandered its way around the spaces of the rocks, the pebbles and the sand until it reached the rim of the jar. ‘Ok, so now it’s full’, said the professor, ‘So, what’s the lesson’?

One student raised her hand and said ‘Is it that we can achieve more than we think – but sometimes have to find new ways to do so?’. ‘A good answer, anyone else?’ said the professor. Another student put up his hand, ‘Could it be that if we assume a question means ‘more of the same’ we’re missing an opportunity?’. ‘Another good answer’ said the professor, ‘And here’s the lesson I want you to take away from today: I could only put as much into this glass jar if I started with the big stuff. In any other order, this quantity of rocks, pebbles, sand and water could not be contained. Prioritise the big things into your life – health, fitness, a vision, connection – and all the rest will fall into place around it’.

As an executive coach, I couldn’t have put it better myself!

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Leonardo da Vinci

Your Ceiling of Success

You know how sometimes it takes an intensity of the same thing to occur multiple times before the penny drops? Like 5 super-valuable executives leave the company within a 3 month period before a CEO recognises that they’ve all been reporting to the same undeveloped senior director. Or targets go unmet over 6 terms in a sales department although the training’s great, before the issue is pinpointed that the client relationship management software has glitches and requires an investment and update.

Recently I had an influx of  senior executives, from a range of companies and backgrounds but who had all excelled in their roles early in their careers. It took me a while to recognise the pattern –   each of them was in his or her early 40s; they were directing their business sectors, if not MDing the entire company; they were effective in their role and respected within the company; each was happy personally, in a committed partnership with children; and crucially … each had come to a point where their apparent personal & professional success was no longer fully satisfying.

There’s a program that I work on with senior executives called The 7 Steps to Personal & Professional Freedom (you can get the simple version in my book of the same title – available on, and the first step is always Clear & Courageous Thinking. It’s what we do, consciously or otherwise, when we imagine the outcome we want for our lives. Many people picture a version of what they’ve seen their parents achieve (so doctor’s children become doctors, teacher’s children go into teaching)  and expand on it a little. Others have dreams as children with no model present in their family or social groups (the daughter of a miner becomes a entrepreneur, or the son of a plumber becomes a lawyer).

Wherever I see high achievement in executives in their late 30s and early 40s, there’s been a clear thinking process since childhood, which has often involved bigger-than-average risk and action taking to get there – that’s the courageous part –  (so they might have moved country with small children whilst in their 30s in order to say ‘yes’ to the next corporate step up; or they might have taken a temporary salary cut at a key point in their career in order to shift from an creative path to a commercial path because it looked as though there might be more longevity and opportunity there in the long run).

Here’s the challenge though – those who have held a clear and courageous vision since childhood often achieve the outcome within 10-15 years of their post-university career. And that doesn’t fit with the historic story of ‘work until your 60, then retire rich and happy’. They’re already rich and happy and they’re only 42 years old! These executive are managing a ceiling of success because they had no clue to imaging bigger, brighter or more purposeful.

Breaking through the ceiling is where a successful director will ask ‘so what does ‘more’ look like?’, or ‘how do I add meaning to my ambition?’, or ‘what if I took all my transferable skills and knowledge and started again from ground up?’. It’s a beautiful piece of new, clear and courageous thinking; the next step of expansion. And, similar to when they were children, the adventure’s just beginning and the sky’s no limit!

Coaching conscious leaders

It takes an aware and bold leader to continue to step into areas of discomfort as they stretch themselves in the name of personal & professional development. They know already the link between self development and higher results – and they make conscious decisions to commit the time and effort to the ongoing refinement of thoughts, words, actions, skills.

Most leaders I’ve worked with are:

  • Clear thinkers – the conversations they’re having in the moment have a ‘how is this contributing to the biggest future’ slant on them
  • Resilient – they don’t take knock-backs personally. They learn, adjust, get up and approach again from a different angle
  • Risk takers – the next steps are calculated and when the key people are in the position they’re going

Beyond this awareness are servant leaders who in addition:

  • Engage their heart – they consider the individuals, they go beyond ‘biggest future’ to ‘legacy’
  • Emit authenticity – they’re healthy, disciplined, inspired and conscious that ‘all of it’ (people, attitude, ethos, standards, respect …) contributes to ultimate success and results
  • Live accountably – there’s no blaming; just the highest personal standards of clarity, impeccable speech & motivation and they ‘be the change they want to see’

In a recent conversation I heard this: ‘most of the adults I work with use the same emotional  strategies they were using in their teens’. Thankfully that’s not my own experience with my clients, but I get what he meant in saying that.

If you take 100% responsibility for evolving into the sort of person who can be, do, have and achieve the things you dream about, you can experience the freedom that goes with it; because then everything’s something you can do something about.

Coaching conscious leadership is tough head, heart & soul work. Persistence in strengthening those skill-sets though brings with it unparalleled results, extraordinary rewards and individuals who literally become beacons in their lifetime.

Wow, December Already … Now What?

If I were to knock on your office door tomorrow and say this:  ’Knowing that you’re guaranteed to succeed, what is your plan – personal & professional – for 2012?

  • Would you know your answer?
  • Would you smile with excitement and be able to rattle off the details?
  • And are the people who’re going to support you in those changes already briefed and onside?

If the answer to those 3 points is ‘yes’, then congratulations, you can save yourself 2 minutes by skipping the rest of this blog and going back to your joyous state of clarity & attracting the dream!

For those who aren’t clear about what you’d like to see manifest before December 2012, that’s ok, welcome to the tribe!

Forward planning doesn’t have to be a laborious, drawn out kind of process, however, if you want a significantly improved version of this year though, trust me the 30 minutes you invest in this little exercise will be the most precious time you’ve spent … ever. Here’s the strategy:

  • Book a 30 minute meeting with yourself within the next 7 days and write it into your diary (because if it’s in there and you treat yourself with the respect you treat other people, you’ll stick to it!)
  • Go somewhere quiet whether it’s in the office or in the house, or out to a favorite hide away in a library or a coffee shop (and put your I’m-serious-don’t-bother-me face on so that people know to keep their distance)
  • Ask What Do I Want? …. and with your blank paper and pen at the ready, let this simplest and most powerful question in the world sink beyond your intellect and into your heart & soul … just wait … then
  • Write your thoughts down, and if it helps use these 8 headings: Career; Finances; Relationship; Friends & Family; Health; Recreation; Personal Growth; Service to Others (if you’re not that structured, just let all the ideas in your mind find their own words and form on the page)
  • Hold the mindset of ‘I’m guaranteed to succeed’ – and write from that place of trusting (because for sure your sub-conscious has a field day during these tasks with ‘but … well you can’t because … what will people say … how are you qualified … who’s going to listen … it’s never been done’). Be courageous with the intentions of your future.

When you’re finished the excercise – that’s round 1 done. Congratulations!

Round 2 happens over the next 5 days, when once a day for 10 minutes you re-read your vision and check in with yourself how that feels. Picture yourself living the reality that you’ve created for yourself and remind yourself ‘I’m guaranteed to succeed!’.

The trick with all of this mindset mastery is to keep away from the ‘how’. It’s counter-intuitive I know, but when we learn the skill of holding intentions without limiting the outcomes by leading with our intellect, that’s when we tap into ‘success with soul’, infinite possibility and extraordinary & speedy results.

Round 3 happens by paying attention to how the thoughts you think and the actions you take over the rest of this month are subtly reframed and purposeful. Regularly read and meditate on your 2012 plan throughout December and on through the beginning of the new year. Relax about how it’s going to play out.

It IS going to play out.

The CEO and Business Leaders’ Solutions to Simplify

When conducting seminars and workshops for leaders of medium and large companies, occasionally I’ll meet a“revealer.” These are the people who will speak out about their success process without being nervous of disclosing techniques.

It’s a positive trait, and one where I can take the opportunity to further explore a leader’s strategies: “How did you do it?”, “What were your biggest challenges”, “what kept you motivated”.

For some it was the right timing, for others they brought the right team around them, and for others still they acted ‘consciously’ as much as possible, constantly refining their vision and leadership until the point of breakthrough. Without exception though every successful leader I speak to hasdeveloped methods of belief and persistence and they’ve invested time… A LOT of time.

Some talk about the early days when 16 to 20 hour days were required just to meet their objectives for the month! We’ve all touched on a bit of that madness, but sustaining this sort of time commitment is a catalyst for a breakdown. So …

How do we create sustainable success? How do we accomplish growth over short and long periodswith the least effort possible? How do we use our unique talents in the most effective way to lead and to inspire increase?

The secret … simplify!

Here’s what the “revealers”, and the more reserved leaders, say about cultivating simplicity:

  • Develop deep intuition:
    Don’t be guided by your impulses or by a range of opinions from others who aren’t fully invested in the vision or the outcome. Relax, sit down, and ask yourself, “how does this process / decision contribute to the big picture”, “what other choices and resources do I have available”, “Is this the most efficient& effective way to proceed?”
  • Delegate efficiently:
    Micro-managing is limiting. You can pioneer a new process … but then source someone who’s gifted in that area to do subsequent repetitions – a designer, administrator, presenter, team-builder or technical genius. They needn’t be in-house. Train them, empower them and trust them to do what they do best. And you? You move forward and do what you do best.
  • Embrace technology:
    Banking, accounting, communicating, sharing, updating, planning, storing, processing — there are some awesome technologies out there (and more cost effective and innovative than in-house teams sometimes)that aren’t taken advantage of by the biggest companies. Embracing technology may take some investment but when it streamlines your business and reduces your long-term costs – you’ll be glad you were smart and brave ‘back then’ to make the shift.
  • Honour deadlines:
    Put a limit on how much time you spend on marketing, financing, recruiting, innovating, delivering and conducting meetings. The goal here is to keep to a flow of innovation, development, launching, feedback and refinement. The ‘pressure’ of a deadline can expose extraordinary creativity. And I’ve seen inspired leaders ‘un-develop’ their perfectionist tendencies and create rapid growth using the mantra ‘good is good enough’.
  • Collaborate:
    The best strategic partnerships will shortcut the amount of time you spend looking for new customers, suppliers, vendors, networks and systems. The future of successful business is becoming less about secrecy and competition and shifting more towards rich customer relationship, service, sharing, collaborating, empathetic joint ventures and transparentshared knowledge.

When enough’s enough: business leaders going AWOL!

Absent Without Leave (AWOL) is a military term used when a soldier is absent from where he/she should be but without intent to desert.

I started this week with a list of ‘must do’s’ deadlined for the end of this month. Program development, video re-records, radio show interviews, updates from my team … all this amongst doing the one thing I love most in my business  – executive coaching with my amazing leadership, business owner and professionals clients!

I looked at the list on Monday morning, looked at the spaces in my schedule this week and you know what I did? – I scrumpled the list up tightly and binned it. ’I’m only going to do what I love this week’ I said.

So, in the gaps on Monday I finished reading ‘The Bond’ by Lynne McTaggart. In the gaps on Tuesday I started reading my first Marshall Goldsmith book (hmmm – me likey!). Wednesday followed pattern and was rounded off with an hours drive south to have supper with an inspiring friend I hadn’t seen in nearly a year.

On my drive back north through the Fife fields & farmland I just had this massive sense of gratefulness. The sun was shining on the half-harvested barley fields, I was tapping back into a sense of creativity that’s been the catalyst for up-levelling my business on more than one occasion over the past decade, and my calmness quotient was overflowing because I CAN go AWOL once in a while and everything won’t come crashing down around me.

But what if you don’t work for yourself and you’re not the boss? What if you’re in a corporate role, directing a team, with projects to complete and accountable for meeting targets and the company depends on your results? Is AWOL an option?

It’s a tough one to answer. In my 10 years of coaching executives I haven’t met a single professional who hasn’t at some point considered jumping ship or initiating an ‘extreme career change’. Some, have been on the edge of quitting, are disillusioned, or just down-right exhausted from a no-respite, limited-appreciation corporate culture.

Question is … where does the responsibility lie for the intellectual, emotional and spiritual health of a workforce? Is it with a business to ensure all it’s leaders remain engaged and motivated? Or with the individual to manage their ongoing career goals within their overall life expectations? A bit of both, however, my experience would encourage the latter – it can only be YOU who decides what works best for you and only you can know fully the elements of your life that impact your decision to stay, go or re-design your position.

Here’s what I also know to be true:

  • Getting clear about what you want – hours, pay, projects, team make up, opportunities to progress, increase or decrease in responsibilities, reporting lines, work-life balance – is the key to being able to communicate that over time to your business. If you don’t know, they can’t help you.
  • Negotiating regular professional changes inside your company – preferably while you’re calm enough to be factual and highlight the benefits on all sides – keeps you and your company fresh and constantly looking for a collaborative and positive future.
  • Extending flexibility as individually required within your team enhances their motivation to work and, by extension, your satisfaction because more is achieved in less time.

The lesson here: AWOL in corporate cultures is for extreme cases only. And WAY before you reach that stage … get thinking, get talking, get feeling; take responsibility, and take action … and get an independent professional involved. Executive coaches are here to support leaders each step until they’re entirely living their Personal & Professional Freedom!

Successful Leadership – Get Plugged In!

I’ve often heard when working with a corporate leadership client – ‘well I haven’t told anyone I’m working with you – I don’t want them to know there’s a problem’. And I have to ask myself ‘where has this message come from’ because I certainly don’t work with clients because there’s a problem (nor do any of my associate executive coaches) – I work with clients who are whole, capable, already successful AND have unreleased potential.

And here’s the thing – everyone I know has unreleased potential, even the highest fliers in their field – JK Rowling, Bill Gates, Paul Polman (CEO Unilever), Larry Page & Sergey Brin (Founders, Google), Roger Federer – whether sport, business or creative arts there never comes a point when you can say, ‘I know all I could ever know’ or ‘I have contributed all I’m able to contribute’.

The shift I work with my clients on is to become conscious of their infinite power to create and contribute. You see 99.9% of people on our planet don’t yet know that with every thought they think, they create something – thoughts are things. So we meander through life with unchecked thinking – what will I write in that proposal, I wish I had a different boss, wouldn’t it be great to win the lottery, who would I date if I could choose anyone at all, what shall I have for dinner tonight, oh, yes, that proposal – having no idea that these thoughts are creating an attraction to the outcome as we think them.

Also, about 97% of the thoughts that occur in our mind happen at a subconscious level. Anything that has to happen frequently – movement, driving, assessing a persons status, choosing the words we speak out, our emotional response to seeing lovers kissing – is predominantly in the domain of the automated part of ourselves. To actively manage what we’re creating, we have to override some of that automation (where there are limited beliefs) with some new likelihoods.

Infinite possibilities come from our ability to tap into our soul – the design of who we are in connection to all that is. It’s like a toaster plugging into the electricity supply – it can only do what it’s designed to do by having this network of power run through it. And that electricity is always there – just waiting. It doesn’t care if it’s powering a kettle, an iMac, a hairdryer or a mobile phone. It just gives out the essence of what it is to allow a product to be of service.

Same thing applies with Infinite Possibility (or universal potential) – our soul’s the plug by which we get consciously connected to it. And the ‘flow’ we connect to doesn’t make choices around worthiness, status or level to which we aspire; it’s just fully available to everyone  – man, woman, rich, poor, clear, confused, young, old – all cultures, all abilities, all visions.

So when you’re considering what it takes for you to be even more of a successful leader that you already are, ask your executive ‘electrician’ about how to connect your soul to unlimited Source energy. Infinite Possibility is what dynamic, fluent, innovative leadership is all about. Make the shift from unconscious to conscious business leadership; from ambition to meaning; and from seeing problems to acknowledging unreleased potential.