School subjects essential for business success (no – they’re not the ones you think)

February 19, 2015

gregor kick

I have a friend, Blythe Scott, who’s an artist (at . She’s made the point many times that at primary school, parents are keen to get their children to experience as many different activities as possible.

However when it comes to secondary school, the same parents are rather quick to relegate these activities to being merely hobbies, whilst ‘serious’ subjects take on a higher value in a mini rat-race of academic success.

Sir Ken Robinson has pointed out that in pretty much every culture, there’s a hierarchy of school subjects, with maths, science and language at the top, humanities in the middle…and arts and the bottom.

Prof. Howard Gardner, in his work on Multiple Intelligences points out that the academic system values a very narrow skills set, and that success can be found with a whole raft of talents, many of which simply aren’t recognised in most academic curricula.

So here are three subjects – yep, some of the ones that usually get sidelined as hobbies – that provide youngsters with skills that are critical to business and personal success.


PE and performance management

Physical Education. Something at which I was absolutely hopeless at school, and one of those subjects that can be seen as a lightweight choice for those who don’t have academic ability. Am I right…or am I right? If you’re good at the sciences and you’re pretty sporty too, you’re going to feel a moral and social obligation to be a doctor rather than a sports coach, aren’t you, whatever your heart is telling you?!

However. At a recent parents evening at my son’s school, the transferable skills that PE offers were spelled out for me.

Part of the (Scottish curriculum) course involves students gauging their own performance, measuring against their own expectations and benchmarking against others in their peer group.

They’ll then devise a plan to improve and build on that performance, and review again at regular intervals.

If this sounds faintly familiar, so it should: because it’s the same process for performance management and development that businesses follow.

Here at school level, in one of those ‘also ran’ subjects, students are building a mindset of constant performance improvement, AND developing the skills required to achieve it. And what business doesn’t want that?


Music and teamworking

Music is another subject which, unless someone is absolutely determined, becomes a nice pastime and a subject that’s dropped in favour of something deemed more job-worthy.

However, a considerable amount of research done amongst under-achieving youngsters has demonstrated that improving one’s ability in music improves all round academic ability and indeed one’s attention span and ability to focus.

Consider also the teamwork and trust that’s required in an ensemble situation, be it the full blown symphony orchestra, with its section leaders working under the overall direction of the conductor, or a small ensemble like a string quartet.

Music ensembles provide a valuable metaphor – and indeed many leadership and team working lessons – from which the business community can learn.


Art and innovation

I’ve recently devised a creativity and innovation workshop which focuses on the work of leading artists and inventors, distilling practical techniques which can be applied in the workplace to problem solving, product / service innovation and so on.

Who better to look to when considering creativity than artists, after all?

Again, at school level – art remains one of those subjects which often scores fewer brownie points than more academic subjects.

Yet there are those who suggest that teaching art should be as important as teaching language or numbers (Betty Edwards, author of ‘Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain’ being one of them), because it gives us a valuable visual vocabulary which most of us lack.

The ability to visualise. The ability to take concepts and represent them as matter. The ability to imagine and turn that imagination into something tangible. The processes involved in creating a piece of art are, in fact, the fundamental principles of creativity in any context….and creativity is the forerunner of business innovation.


So don’t be too quick to look down on subject areas that are traditionally taken by those seen to be not so academic. They may be teaching valuable life and workplace skills that the ‘clever’ kids never get to develop.

Is your focus on being busy and important? Or on actually being productive?

January 12, 2015

How busy and important are you?  I’m beginning to think that we live in a culture where we reward ourselves – and others – for being busy and important, rather than being productive.

It’s almost as if the appearance of productivity is more important than productivity itself…and that isn’t useful for the individuals caught in this mindset, or for the organisations for which they work.

Here are 5 familiar scenarios, and what they probably really mean for those involved.


“I was in the office until 11 o ‘clock last night!”

I’m sure we’ve all been aware at some point in our careers of ‘presenteeism’, and the bizarre situation that the person to stay in the office the longest gets the most kudos from managers and colleagues.

I used to work with someone years ago who routinely worked for HOURS longer than anyone else in the office, and would tell us all pretty much every single morning what time he’d left the office the night before. He’d also make a point of looking at his watch in an obvious manner when the rest of us left work at a sensible hour.

Was he more productive than the rest of us? Who knows. What I DO know, though, is that he burned himself out and had a breakdown a few short years into his management role.

There are always going to be times when working long hours to meet a deadline might be required. If you find yourself saying this with any degree of frequency though – consider what’s actually going on, and where your focus is.

What people THINK they are saying here is “I work really hard. I sacrifice my free time for the company. I work harder than the rest of you. Look at ME, management – I deserve a bonus!”

Is this what’s actually going on? Or is it actually a matter of  “ I can’t or don’t manage my time so that I can actually leave work at a sensible hour. I’m a martyr to the company. I don’t actually HAVE a life outside work.”

The result is that long term you’re not doing yourself or your company any favours. You’re more likely to make mistakes because you’re tired or – as my colleague did – burn yourself out completely.


“I had 900 emails waiting for me when I got back into the office!”

Why is it that having a million emails in our inbox makes us feel important? Do we really believe that every single one demands our attention, and that everyone who sent us a message is waiting with baited breath for us to reply with our words of wisdom?

Sometimes when I’m delivering training programmes, there will be a participant who revels in telling everyone at the first break time how many emails they’ve received since the start of the programme two hours ago.

When I, or anyone else suggests that they could probably ignore some, or get themselves taken off the recipient list for others, we’re met with the response that “they couldn’t possibly do that! What if they missed something important?!”

Actually, if a matter really  IS that important and your immediate response is essential the sender will email again, or text/call you.

Again, if you find yourself saying this, consider whether or not your focus is in the right place.

What people THINK they’re saying is “I am in demand. I am important, and people want my opinion on things. I am popular – look how many people want to get in touch with me!”

It could be that they are indeed in demand. Or it might be that what they actually mean is  “Receiving lots of emails gives me a sense of importance that I don’t get otherwise. It validates me somehow.” Or “I’m afraid of being out of the loop – even if I don’t particularly need to be in the loop.”


“I need to be there for my team”

This happens quite a lot on training programmes: someone within the room will make it clear to me as facilitator (and therefore to everyone else in the room) that they are working on something extremely important, and may need to dash out or take a call at any given moment to rush to the aid of their team back in the office.

Again, to be fair, there will always be circumstances in which this is entirely reasonable. There are also times, though, when it’s not, and it’s said for effect.

What people THINK they are saying is “I’m indispensable to my team. They can’t work without me. I’m a manager, don’t you know, and therefore very important!”

To the people in the room, what they’re saying is “I’m more important than you. My work is more important than engaging with you”

Does the team really need them? Or is what they’re really saying  “I need to control my team.” Or “I’m worried that they will do well without me…and not need me” …or “I’ve actually mismanaged my team so that they can’t or won’t work without my direction. I can’t or won’t delegate responsibility”.


“I haven’t had a holiday in 10 years!”

Why do some people see sacrificing holiday time as a virtue?! Is working without a break REALLY something to be commended?

Another acquaintance of mine pretty much cancelled Christmas because of what he saw as his work requirements. His I.T. company was (and still is, I believe) working on a new piece of software. I’d bumped into him in mid December and asked what his plans for the festive season were, to which he replied “Oh, we’re working right through – we have to”.

What he THOUGHT he was saying was “I’m dedicated to my work. My groundbreaking work is extremely important”

What he was actually saying (given that he was expecting his team to similarly sacrifice their Christmas holidays and continue with the project) “I’m a slave driver. Cancel Christmas. Just call me Ebenezer Scrooge. Actually, I have no friends and family to celebrate with, so I’m making sure my team don’t enjoy themselves either.”

There is no virtue in pushing yourself (and others) to breaking point – a sensible work life balance is essential for both wellbeing and productivity.


“I wish I had the time for stuff like that, but I’m just too busy!”

Last autumn I had collected some sloes from the hedgerows with which to make sloe gin for Christmas, and was offering them to some friends in case they wanted to do the same. One of the group loudly said that she wouldn’t take any because she didn’t have time to make sloe gin. She wished she did, but she just had far too much to do.

Again, I guess what she thought she was saying was ‘I work harder than you. You waste your time with frivolous things, but I have more important and demanding things to attend to.”

She just came across as a little bit patronising. It only takes 20 minutes to make half a dozen bottles of sloe gin, after all. And she was missing out – not only does it not take long to make, it’s quite fun to do and results in a wonderful festive drink that makes a nice gift for others.

One has to question why this person feels the need (fairly consistently) to point out how busy they are, and that they have have more to do than everyone else. Are they looking for respect? For sympathy? It’s hard to tell.

Here’s the thing. EVERYONE is busy…and actually EVERYONE is important in their own way.

To what extent is your focus on how busy and important you appear to everyone else…and to what extent is it on how productive you are?

If it’s the former…what can you do to refocus and make a difference?

Lost your direction? How to get back on the right path…

October 12, 2014


I’ve written a few blog posts in the past about hill walking, and how it provides so many metaphors for life.

Today, I’m thinking about being lost – physically and emotionally – and how uncomfortable and frightening that can be.

Earlier in the summer, I took part in a beginners’ course on how to map read and use a compass. Based in the stunning surroundings of the Scottish Highlands, the course not only taught valuable practical skills…yet again it provided yet more parallels with life in general.

We all feel lost sometimes. Here are three thoughts from the hills that may help.





1) You are NOT lost – you are temporarily unsure of your position

Our lovely instructor Monty made this point at the start of the day: you are NOT lost. You are just temporarily unsure of your position. At some point in the recent past, you DID know where you were: what road you were on, what hill you were climbing, what loch you had just passed.

You might have wondered off that path, deliberately or otherwise, but you are still roughly where you were. In the same country. In the same valley. On the same hill. You are not as clueless as you might imagine.

The same is true of life. To feel lost is a horrible thing. To remind yourself that there was a time when you weren’t lost and you knew where you were, when you were confident and courageous, when you had a sense of purpose and direction – is the first step in getting back there.

Being lost is temporary. You can find your way back.


2) Your got here, so you can get back 

It might not feel like it, but if you’ve managed to walk somewhere and become lost (or temporarily unsure of your position), then you CAN get back.

The longer you’ve been wandering around the more challenging it might be, but the fact remains…you got here so you can get back.

You don’t have to resign yourself to being lost forever.


3) If you’ve been lost, you can learn not to be next time

One of the reasons that I chose to go on the course was because on a few occasions when I’d been out hill walking, whilst I’d not been completely lost, I’d not been completely certain where I was. Either that or I’d just been hoping that the people around me knew where they were and what they were doing.

Well, sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t.

In life generally, simply following the next person and not really having the skills or mindset to know where you are going is not a great place to be.

Once you’ve been lost and found your way back, reflect on how you got where you got, and how you got back.

Consider what mindset and skills you might want to develop so that you don’t wander too far off your chosen path in the future…or if you do, you can navigate your way back confidently.


If you’re feeling a bit stuck about which direction to take, please feel free to contact me about life and career coaching, at

Stuck in a rut? Lifestyle changes #3: Where are you going?

July 31, 2014

Goal setting

So far in this mini series I’ve invited you to consider ‘Where are you now?’ and ‘Why are you here?’

This final part asks the apparently simple question ‘where are you going’. I say ‘apparently’ simple, because often the question, if given careful thought, is anything but.

Here are three things to think about…REALLY think about, regarding your life’s direction.


Are you REALLY going where you think you’re going?

My UK readers will remember the character of Del Trotter from the sitcom ‘Only Fools and Horses’. One of his catchphrases was ‘this time next year….we’ll be millionaires!’ usually preceding some hair brained, barely legal money making scheme which would always end in disaster.

It’s easy enough to talk yourself up and tell yourself that you’re destined for great things. Whilst maintaining a positive attitude IS important, there’s no point deluding yourself: talk is cheap – it’s your ACTIONS that will define where you go.

More than that – it’s your actions, based on decisions you’ve made, that have got you to where you are now.

So here’s the question. What trajectory are you on at the moment? Is it the one you want to be on? …and what are you actually DOING to get yourself there?

On the premise that you’re reading this because you’ve not yet arrived where you want to be in life, it’s important to consider the fact that continuing to do the same things as you’ve always done will bring about the same results that you’ve always got.

That’s fine if you’re happy with it. If not – something will have to change.

It could be you.


So, where do you WANT to go?

I’ve coached people who have forged on in their careers, have made a lot of money and have ‘arrived’ in the eyes of the world…but who realise in themselves that this was not the destination that they had wanted to get to. Please don’t find yourself in that boat. Invest the time in really considering where you want to go.

Some people are clear from pretty early on in their lives where they want to go and what they want to do – if this is you – that’s great.

If it’s NOT you, and you’re still a bit clueless about your life goals, my e-book Goal Setting For Success (free to download from will help. Here’s the link:

It’s obvious really: no-one goes to the station with twenty pounds and asks the man in the ticket office for a ticket for twenty pounds. They specify a destination.

And so must you.


And the next step is….

It’s only when you’ve figured out where you want to go that you can start to devise some sort of life plan to get there. I don’t mean some sort of regimented, mirthless plan that is devoid of spontaneity or flexibility, but the sort of plan that breaks big life goals into day to day tasks, and working consistently through these tasks will move you forward towards your goals.

But don’t leap to the ‘how’ too quickly. Establish your direction. Fix your destination first before setting off. Make sure you are actually heading to where you want to go.


For more on  goal setting, my e-book Goal Setting for Success is free to download here:

Stuck in a rut? Lifestyle changes #2: Why are you here?

July 16, 2014

choose your path

A few weeks ago I began this ‘In a rut’ mini series with a few questions around where you are now: that is, where are you actually, as opposed where do you like to tell people you are (or even pretend to yourself that you are).

In this second part of my blog mini series, I’m looking at three factors which play a part in WHY you are here.


1) You’ve made (or not made) decisions that have got you here

A while ago I read a book by Larry Winget called ‘Shut up, Stop Whining and Get a Life’ – if that’s not a challenging title, I don’t know what is. One of the key themes that Winget writes about is the fact that we are where we are because of things that we’ve done and decisions that we’ve made.

This might make uncomfortable reading. I read Winget’s book at a difficult point in my life and believe me, I didn’t want to take any accountability for where I was at that point: I wanted to blame anyone and everyone for putting me there.

Before I go on, let me say that I’m NOT saying (and nor is Winget) that anyone is responsible for being the victim of crime or abuse. Clearly that is NOT the case.

What I WOULD say, though, is that we have a choice as to how we respond to our circumstances in order to create better circumstances (or not, as the case may be).

Maya Angelou, the poet, philosopher, activist and generally remarkable human being who died earlier this year overcame the abuse and racism of her difficult childhood to become one of the most influential and respected women of our time.

Model Katie Piper, whose ex-boyfriend disfigured her for life in an acid attack, overcame the physical pain and emotional trauma of what had happened to her and is now a TV personality and a spokesperson for burns victims.

I could go on. The point is that both of them could have given in to misfortune, accepted that their lot in life was not a happy one, and settled into a rut of blaming others for their situation.

Others may have been responsible for these women’s situations…but they took accountability for their lives and chose to move on.

So. What decisions have you made – or shied away from – that have led to you being where you are?

What would you do differently if you could turn the clock back…and what can you do NOW?


2) You get something from being where you are

Dr Phil McGraw writes extensively on strategies for life. I was reading one of his books recently and was challenged by the idea that, if you’re not changing a situation that you’re unhappy with, there must be something about that situation that you ARE happy with, and that does something for you in some way.

Like the statement in my first point, this can be hugely challenging, and, if you’re in that situation it can be difficult to figure out what ‘the thing’ is.

By way of example, I used to work with someone who was always complaining that a pet project of his never got the support of the organisation we were working for, never received funding and therefore had never got off the ground.

He was taken aback when one of my team managed to get him the funding he needed, to the extent that he almost tried to talk himself out of the project: it was too late, there still wasn’t enough funding, and so on.

The point was, he seemed to ENJOY being able to moan about not having the funding. It’d be a fantastic project…but THEY wouldn’t let it happen. He could have achieved something…but THEY wouldn’t let him.

With the funding in place, he had lost the ‘they’ he liked to blame.

On a another note, I had a friend who often found herself being asked at work to deliver high profile projects to very tight deadlines. She was great at her job and always delivered.

However, what started to happen more and more often was that other people who hadn’t managed their time properly would turn to her for help at the last minute.

She was becoming stressed and exhausted to the point of making herself ill. And yet…..part of her really liked to be the caped crusader who could fly in at the last minute and save the day.

Think carefully: if you’re not happy about a situation but haven’t don’t anything about it, what is that situation doing for you? 

Are you prepared to lose that ‘thing’ in order to create a better situation?


3) You don’t realise you have a choice

This is always a tough one – so many people don’t realise that they have a choice.

OK, so sometimes in life that choice is between a rock and a hard place, but there almost always is a choice, even if that choice is just about deciding on your attitude in response to a situation that’s not of your making.

‘I’ve got no choice’. It’s the voice of defeat. Of dejection. Of giving up.

We’ve all been there and heard that voice from ourselves at some point…but it’s a voice that lies. We have choices. If we’re brave enough to make them.

Where in the past (or even now) are you telling yourself that ‘you have no choice?’

Look again. They are there somewhere. Ask yourself: if you did have choices … what choices would those be?


Next time I’ll be looking at ‘what’s your destination’…. join me then!!

Stuck in a Rut? Lifestyle changes #1: Where are you now?

June 11, 2014

Stuck in a Rut

I’ve been doing a lot of corporate work recently on culture change. Companies, it seems, are increasingly realising that ‘the way it is’ doesn’t have to be ‘the way it is’, and that steps can be taken, in time, to turn it into ‘the way you want it to be’…or at least, something close to that.

The whole corporate process has had me thinking about our PERSONAL environment, and the extent to which we accept our circumstances and lifestyle as just the way it is, and the extent to which we can do something about it.

Or, in short, do we recognise when we’re ‘in a rut’ and are we prepared to DO something about it and get out?

This is the first of a three part mini-series where I’ll be looking at ‘Where, Why and What?’ : ‘Where are you now?’, ‘Why are you here?’ And ‘What’s your destination?’

In this first ‘episode’, I’m going to be inviting you to consider where you are now.  And as always, I’m speaking as much to myself as to anyone else here.


Where are you now? Actually?

Take a look around. Where are you? I don’t necessarily mean ‘in the office’, ‘in my kitchen’ or whatever, I mean where are you REALLY, in terms of your lifestyle, and is it where you want to be?

It’s actually quite a difficult question to answer, particularly if you bear in mind that you’re not where you tell other people you are…you’re where you actually are.

What do I mean by that? Well, it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing your own hype sometimes – maintaining a persona and an image that might not accurately reflect what’s going on in your life.

So…where are you?


The ‘boiling frog’

Most of you will have heard the urban myth about the boiling frog.

Rumour has it that if you put a frog in boiling water (don’t try this at home, folks!) it will leap out immediately, as the water’s too hot. However, apparently if you put the frog in a pan of cold water and bring it to the boil the frog will remain in the pan as the water gradually gets hotter, and will eventually boil to death (grim, eh?)

Whether or not this is true is neither here nor there. The point is that so many of us find ourselves like the frog in the gradually warming pan of water – we don’t realise what’s going on until it’s too late. The gradual evolution of a lacklustre lifestyle or poor habit has taken us unawares.

We might wake up one day and think “Hang on, how on earth did I get HERE?”

Or we might not. We might just chunter on, oblivious.

So where are you?

Which aspects of your life are you happy with….and which have you let slip, possibly without realising?

What did you used to enjoy doing, that you don’t do now?

What are you not doing that you know you really SHOULD be doing?

….What excuses are you making for not doing those things?


My mum’s a bit deaf…

Bizarre though it is, my mother’s unacknowledged deafness is also relevant here. She’s in her 70s, and although she really IS getting hard of hearing (answering a totally different question to the one that’s been asked, not hearing something until the 3rd or 4th repetition etc etc) she steadfastly refuses to admit that she has a problem.

Claiming that the doctor has told her that she’s fine “as long as people are looking directly at her and speaking clearly” (which I find hard to believe, quite frankly) in her mind, it’s everyone else’s problem: we ought to be speaking louder, more clearly …and my husband ought to do something about his Scottish accent.

There are two things to consider here. The thing is, if my mum had experienced this level of hearing loss overnight, she’d have been worried and addressed the issue.

The fact that it’s happened gradually over the years (not unlike the boiling frog) means that she’s barely recognised the incremental loss of hearing. It’s crept up on her.

The second thing is that according to her, if everyone else modifies their behaviour it would be fine.

Now it has to be said here that she may have a point – maybe it IS everyone else’s problem – we‘re the ones after all who get frustrated at having to repeat things and consistently talk in a voice several decibels louder than normal.

However, the fact is she IS missing out – we see her not taking part in a conversation that she would have taken an active part in in the past, not laughing along with everyone else at a joke, getting upset when her grandchildren give up trying to communicate with her because they know she won’t hear them. We see her, and we wonder WHY she won’t just go and get a hearing aid.

What are you in denial about?

And are you telling yourself that everything’s actually fine, despite evidence to the contrary?

Are you telling yourself that if everyone else would change (and they won’t, by the way), things would be just peachy?

….What factors are you writing off as other people’s fault or problem, when it’s actually YOUR responsibility to address them?


“I wasted the weekend”

One of the people on the village pub quiz team I’m part of is a keen hill walker. A few weeks ago he had said he was going to climb a particular mountain. When I asked the following week how his walk had been, he said that he’d not got out of bed early enough, and had ended up “wasting the weekend.”

This ‘waste’ appears to have involved doing a bit of gardening and generally pottering around.

Now, to many of us, that might have appeared a reasonably productive weekend – at least he’d managed to make some headway with the weeding.

However, it wasn’t what he’d planned to do. He was doing something…but not what he wanted.

Lifestyle is as much about what we don’t do as what we do. Wasting a weekend once in a while isn’t a life changing fiasco. But wasting EVERY weekend, and not being mindful about what you’re doing with your time IS. It’s the sort of hidden waste that can catch you unawares.

So…what are YOU wasting? Time? Money? Relationships?

What have you said you’d do that you just haven’t got round to?

Where’s your energy being spent?

…Where, on what, and on whom is it being wasted?


Next time we’ll have a look at WHY you’re where you are. Some of the answers might surprise you.



The Resilient Leader

January 31, 2014

Developing a strong and healthy mindset for today’s business challenges.

Have we been doing leadership training to death? Are we management modelled-out with regard to the bewildering array of personality profile questionnaires, ‘How Tos’ and books on the issue?

Well actually… probably not: leadership skills are something that we can and should continue to develop throughout our careers.

However, we’re increasingly finding in our learning and development work that something else is creeping into the mix. The world we live in is changing and the way we do business is changing. Increasingly, it means that leaders must be able to deal with the flux and ambiguity that change can create. They need to be able to develop the PERSONAL strength to succeed even in the face of increasing competition and to bounce back from the challenges and barriers they may face.

Low levels of employee engagement and productivity were identified as the biggest HR challenge in 2013 (research from talent and career management company Right Management 2013) and 59% of adults say they are more stressed now than they were 5 years ago (research from the Mental Health Foundation 2013).

In short, today’s business environment requires a different type of leader – one who remains strong and focused in the face of the rigorous and relentless challenges of today’s world.

The question is, how do we build that mindset amongst leaders? More importantly, how do we build a HEALTHY leadership mindset that capitalises on strengths without leading to burnout, and which maintains core values to boost performance and productivity?


1) Recognise how resilient (or otherwise) you are

Recognising how resilient you are – and being brutally honest about that – is a key factor in building a strong and healthy mindset to handle the rigours of day to day business (and personal) challenges. By resilience, I don’t just mean and ‘I’m still standing in the face of the onslaught’ approach, we mean a mindset that enables you to perform well whatever the circumstances around you.

Your levels of resilience are going to involve a number of factors, among them how in control or autonomous you feel about your current situation (and how you feel about your levels of autonomy): your ‘feedback focus’ – do you have a healthy balance between your self-perception / self confidence and other people’s perception of you: how do you respond to challenges, how quickly do you recover from a setback or disagreement and so on.

How aware are you of your OWN levels of resilience?


2) Recognise what triggers you to ‘de-rail’

Last year I wrote a short paper on ‘Leadership in Crisis’ based on research I’d done on leadership behaviours in the emergency services. (The paper, by the way, is a free download at Never Mind the Buzzwords, at

One of the themes to emerge from that research was that leaders in extreme situations recognise when their stress levels are becoming a problem, and they do something about it. They DO NOT soldier on regardless, as to do so could mean endangering their own lives and the lives of others.

The ability to recognise both emotional and physical signals that might build up and throw you off balance is clearly crucial – and yet most of us are too busy or pre-occupied most of the time to recognise what our own bodies and minds are trying to tell us in any given situation.

Recognising what triggers you necessitates the ability to pause from time to time and focus on NOW before charging forward.

PAUSE now – stop reading this for a minute and register what physical / emotional / psychological signals your own body is giving you now.


3) Acknowledge….and move forward

Obviously, it’s not enough merely to recognise what your body and mind are telling you: it’s a question of acknowledging these physical, psychological and emotional signals (they are what they are, after all) and then consciously deciding what to do.

Developing strategies for building resilience are inevitably determined by the individual in question: changing thought patterns, learning to focus, changing behavioural responses, re-discovering core strengths and values to be leveraged in times of challenge – all will be highly personal.

Building resilience requires conscious awareness and action, but its benefits are pretty obvious: more self awareness, better focus, better quality thinking, more productivity.

And those are benefits not just for your organisation but for you too.

 For more information on our ‘Resilient Leader’ programme, combining the latest research on neuroscience, wellbeing and personal resilience with business best practice and experiential learning, please contact or



How to study for exams

March 26, 2013

With exams just around the corner, many young people are starting to worry about how to study and revise, how to remember what they’ve learned, and how to make a good account of themselves in their exams.

Knowing how to study is a life skill: the principles are exactly the same at school as at college, university and even when you’re taking professional exams in the workplace. Learn the core skills NOW, and they’ll serve you well in the future.

Here are five top tips to help you to prepare for your exams:

1) Make a plan. And follow it.

Having a clear plan for how to prepare for exams and knowing how to study can help to minimise stress, so invest a little time to draw up a realistic study schedule.

Make your study plan / timetable when you’re in a calm frame of mind. Don’t wait until you’re in a panic and then jump from subject to subject trying to cram it all in.

Set yourself a timetable, and schedule in breaks, which will allow your subconscious to ‘digest’ the information you’ve studied.

2) Know your learning style.

Some people learn best from what they hear (auditory learners) some from what they see (visual) and some through what they do (haptic). Play to your strengths:

Visual learners

  • Capture the information you need to study and remember visually. Mind maps are a good example (look up Tony Buzan and mind maps). It’ll be easier for you to remember a visual image of a colourful mind map than a string of facts.
  • Use drawings and illustrations to help you.
  • Represent key facts in a flow chart: historical facts, for example, or the plot line of a play or novel.
  • Turn your information into something you can LOOK AT.

Auditory Learners

  • Consider recording yourself reading information onto your phone, and listening to it.
  • Read your study notes out loud to yourself so you can hear it.
  • Think about listening to music as you study, BUT be careful that you’re not listening to songs that will distract you.
  • Turn your study notes into something you can HEAR.

Haptic learners

  • The act of creating a mind map or flow chart with your information can be helpful to you.
  • Changing your location as you study may also help: if you remember, for example, being in the kitchen drinking a cup of tea, this can help to trigger memories of the thing you were studying at the time.
  • Associate your information with something you DO.

3) Check your understanding.

Test yourself. Pause from time to time and take a moment to remember what you’ve just studied – don’t just relentlessly plough on.

Look through past papers to see the types of question that are asked so that you’re familiar with the layout of the exam paper itself, and the style of the questions.

If you come across something that you’ve completely forgotten, or didn’t fully grasp in the first place – don’t guess, ask your teacher! They want you to succeed!

4) Look after yourself.

Don’t be tempted to rely on coffee and sugar to see you through. Your brain needs proper nutrition to work efficiently, so eat properly, even if you’re feeling a bit sick with nerves!

Try to get a decent night’s sleep too – don’t sit up till all hours thinking that will help you. It probably won’t. Look after yourself!

5) Think positive!

THINK POSITIVE before you go in to the exam. You’re doing yourself no favours by going in with an attitude of “I’m hopeless at maths – this is going to be awful!”, as this will have a negative impact on your performance.

Make a conscious effort to tell yourself something like, “I’ve prepared for this exam, and I’m going to give it my best shot”. It might sound like a small thing, but positive thinking can have a big impact.

Knowing that you’re walking into an exam room as prepared as you can be will give you confidence, so follow these tips … and good luck!

How to be ready for opportunities that come your way (…and schoolgirl hockey)

February 4, 2013

marr hockey 1

One of the highlights of my Saturday mornings is watching my daughter play hockey in her school team against other local schools.

I was always hopeless at sport as a youngster, so I’m all admiration at the dedication of her and her team-mates in regularly attending practices and turning up week in, week out to play their matches in all weathers. They’re a strong team, and have only lost once so far this season.

Last week, it occurred to me that there were some similarities between what was going on the field … and taking on opportunities elsewhere in life.


1) A mindset to create and capitalise on opportunities

The start of each and every game sees every girl joining in their team chant of “M-A- double R: … We’re the best, we know we are, we’re MARR!!!”, followed by a high pitched shriek to drive terror into the very hearts of their opponents.

The point is this: from the very outset, and even in the grimmest of weather conditions (and believe me, in the West of Scotland these can be very grim indeed) each member of the team is determined not only to make the most of every opportunity that comes their way …. but to CREATE opportunities to win.

Do YOU sit waiting for things to come your way? Or are you actively looking for opportunities, and doing your utmost to create them?


2) Keep your eye on the ball. Be ready.

Let’s continue to imagine that ‘opportunity’ is represented by the hockey ball in play. Say a player out on the wing hits it to someone in the centre. What’s going to happen if the person at centre is ambling along looking the other way, hockey stick over her shoulder, not focused on the game?

She’s going to miss the ball.

Making the most of an opportunity and turning it into success requires focus, quick thinking, and, fundamentally, being in a state of readiness to accept the opportunity and make the most of it when it arrives.

Otherwise it will pass you by, and someone else will get it.


3) Run to meet the ball

Watch any game of hockey and it soon becomes clear that the players aren’t hitting the ball directly TO one another, but AHEAD of one another. Most of the time, the receiving player has to run to intercept the ball before taking it on up the field.

If you’re waiting for the ideal opportunity to land at your feet, it probably won’t. You need to run to meet it, stick down, focused, and ready to forge forward towards the goal.


4) Do your own thing with it

Within my daughter’s team, different players inevitably have different specific skills.

Stella, for example, will never lose a ball when in a close stick-to-stick grapple with her opponent. It’s a tactic at which she excels and she uses it well. Corrie can always be relied upon to wallop the ball up the field. Kirsty is very quick on her feet and will dribble the ball up the wing before hitting it back into the circle.

When opportunity comes your way, play to your strengths and do your own thing with it …. which may mean doing something with it that other people might not do, or that they wouldn’t expect.

It’s YOUR opportunity: do YOUR thing.


5) DO NOT be afraid of the opportunity

These days, the hockey team functions very well together. When they first started playing, though, no one seemed to actually WANT to hit the ball. Everyone made a play of running up to the ball, but shied away at the last moment.

It was even more of a faff when they’d managed to get the ball up to the goal: no one seemed brave enough to take a shot – they were all intent on passing the ball to someone else a few inches away, hoping that THEY would take the shot.

Plenty of people shy away from genuine opportunities because, deep down, they’re scared of them. Are YOU actually AFRAID of opportunity? Afraid of what you might do with it? Afraid that you might mess it up when it actually arrives?


Now it’s a different story: the girls work well as a team and make the most of every opportunity they get. Which is why they usually win.


Get brave. Don’t shy away from opportunities. Grab them. Stick down, focused, and moving strongly toward your goal.


(As an aside, if you’re interested in learning more about team management and team dynamics, Yara’s team management programmes don’t involve sitting in a room theorising about management guff – you get out and learn about them … and your own team …. in real life.  We won’t force you out on the hockey field, though.  Well, maybe……

Your New Year Resolutions need ICE

January 14, 2013

Winter ICE
Well, whaddya know?! We’re at the start of another year already, and I wouldn’t mind betting that many of you have made New Year resolutions.

New Year resolutions often fall into two categories: those that you try to focus on every year (“No really .. THIS year I really AM going to lose weight and get fit!”) and those that genuinely mark something new, and a potential turning point in your life.

Either way, New Year resolutions – indeed goals of almost any sort – start out as a bit of a pipe dream. A distant wish. Something that you hope might happen.

In order to make them into reality you need something that I call the ‘ICE Principle’. Ideas. Commitment. Execution.

Here’s why.



Let’s imagine that you’re someone who sets yourself similar goals each year: for example, that by the end of the year you’ll be earning £10,000 per month. Every January you set yourself the same New Year resolution, and every year you fall short of that goal.

One of the first things you need to do is to take your resolution and come up with IDEAS. Literally, brainstorm as many different means of achieving that goal as you can.

It’s important that you come up with LOTS of ideas – don’t start to discount any at this early stage because you think they’re impossible or impractical: that will come later.

These ideas should range from the fairly sensible, “I’ll see if I can start an online business to supplement my income” to the fairly ridiculous, “I’ll ditch my husband and marry a wealthier man!”

Write it all down. Force yourself to come up with at least 20 ideas. Why? Because otherwise you’ll come up with the same old same old two or three ideas that you always come up with, and which so far haven’t led to your achieving your goal.

Once you’ve come up with your ideas, sift through them and decide which ones might be useful. DO NOT just stick to the ‘safe’ ones: even the daft ideas might contain a kernel of something! For example, you might not want to resort to dumping your husband for a millionaire … but might you look for wealthy individuals who might invest in your business idea?



Once you have your ideas (PLENTY of them) and you’ve sifted through them to decide what can be actioned and what can’t, challenge yourself on two points:

a) Your level of commitment to achieve your overall New Year resolution (on a scale of 1 – 10)

b) Your level of commitment to implementing some of your ideas (Again, on a scale of 1-10)

Really challenge yourself. If on that commitment scale you’re coming up with an answer of 7 or lower … are you actually committed enough?? Are you actually going to bother?

At the end of the day, success will rest on how much you actually want to achieve your goal … and that will dictate how much effort you’re prepared to put in.



It goes without saying (or does it?) that simply having a goal and really wanting to achieve it aren’t enough. DO NOT believe those tempting articles which claim that if you believe enough or want something enough, it will fall into your lap. It won’t.

You have to develop a plan and execute it. That means breaking down your overall goal into manageable steps and setting yourself some deadlines and actually DOING something day by day, week by week, month by month. It’s not difficult, but it does mean DOING something rather than just thinking about it.

And this, my friends, is where most New Year resolutions melt away with the winter frost. Most people won’t.

So what will you do with your New Year resolutions this year? Are they already beginning to fade as we wend our way through January … or will you add some ICE and make them count for something this year?


If you’d like to think a bit more deeply about your New Year resolutions and goals, and how you might achieve them, there’s a complimentary e-book at the Yara website at which might help!