Posts Tagged ‘career goals’

Whose permission do you need to succeed anyway?

February 7, 2012

Whilst this might seem like a strange question, it’s a vital one to consider. Too many people seem to be waiting for someone or something else to give them the go ahead in life … when in fact what they really need to do is give themselves permission to succeed.

Let’s face it, we spend our early years asking permission from parents and teachers to do almost anything (and as a parent, I’ll add “rightly so!”) – where to go, what to do, what to eat … even going to the toilet!

However, if constant permission-seeking creeps into adult life in an inappropriate way, it can stifle personal development and stop you achieving your goals: it’s one thing as a teenager saying to those around you “I can’t come out tonight, my mum won’t let me” – quite another to be complaining that “I’ll never get a promotion because my boss just won’t put me forward”.

Don’t get me wrong – there are times when permission to do something MUST be sought. What I’m talking about here is when we actually give up responsibility for our own actions and potentially give up on our goals and aspirations.


SO … whose permission are YOU asking for … and why?


1) The Government’s?
If you’re waiting for the economic tide to turn before you start a business / sell your house / plan for the future … you might as well lie down and die right now. DO NOT leave critical decisions about your personal future to a bunch of numpties at Westminster (substitute your own seat of government here!).

As a surveyor friend of mine put it recently, we have to work on the basis that this is the ‘new normal’. We live in an uncertain world. We must make bold decisions anyway. We must raise our aspirations anyway. We must move forward anyway.


2) Your boss’s or client’s?
I was working with someone a while ago who had felt that her career had run into the buffers because her boss wouldn’t let her attend a training course that was necessary for her to progress, because they felt she wasn’t ready for it. She’d been inspired by something she heard in a song on the radio: Labi Siffre’s ‘Something Inside So Strong’. The words that caught her attention were, “When they insist we’re just not good enough … just look then in the eyes and say I’m going to do it anyway”. Without her boss’s consent, she funded the course herself, and was able to move forward in her career.

I faced a challenge recently where I’d devised some life skills workshops for teenagers, and was literally seeking permission to run them in a school somewhere … with little success. As soon as I decided NOT to seek permission and to run them myself anyway, I was able to move forward.

At the end of the day, the decision to progress is an individual one.


3) Your family’s and friends’?

Usually your friends and family have your best interests at heart. They don’t want to see you get hurt. They don’t want to see you fail. They don’t want to see you make a fool of yourself. And, sometimes, they can unwittingly put the kibosh on your plans and aspirations.

Marconi’s friends tried to have him committed because, according to them, he must have been mad to try to get sound to travel through ‘thin air’ via radio waves. Enough said, really.


Challenge yourself:  are you asking the wrong people for permission, and if so, WHY?  To my mind, there are 3 key reasons … all of which can be fixed.


1) Fear.  Fear of getting it wrong, fear of what people might say, fear of looking like an idiot.

Asking someone else’s permission (whoever that might be) can indicate that you’re looking for reassurance. Which is fine … but what if you don’t get it?

Do you have the courage of your convictions to just get on with it anyway? Is it really a confidence thing that’s holding you back?

2) Procrastinating. Asking for permission allows you to delay decision making and put off taking action. The ball is in someone else’s court. You can’t move forward until they get back to you, or until they give you the go ahead.

Is this really the case … or can you move ahead anyway? Is this more about your motivation levels than anything else?

3) Lack of personal accountability. Asking someone else’s permission absolves you of responsibility for the outcomes, and provides you with plenty of excuses why failure wasn’t your fault.

Is it really fair to blame someone or something else … or is it more about YOU?

So whose permission DO you need to succeed? It’s a question you really need to ask yourself.


7 Leadership skills that EVERYONE should develop – Number 4: Encourage Learning

July 9, 2011

If you ever get to a stage in your career when you think “I’ve arrived”, you stop learning … and it’s obviously important that leaders at all levels don’t do this. Perhaps more to the point, it’s crucial that leaders act as ROLE MODELS for learning and development, in order to embed it throughout the organisation.

Cynics amongst you might think “Well she would say that –she’s in training and development!”  and I guess there’s an element of truth in that: but I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t believe passionately that it’s important, both to individuals and to businesses.

Here are three things to do with learning that I believe that leaders could do better– whatever size of business they’re in.

1) Elevate the status of learning

I’ve written before about whether people approach training to build a person and their skills (i.e. in a positive and proactive sense) or whether they use it to fix problems (i.e. in a remedial, reactive sense).

If training and development are seen as remedial measures, people are less likely to be motivated to learn – either on training courses OR, more importantly, in their own time and in terms of their own personal development. Almost across the board, that whole personal development area is a huge learning opportunity that companies are missing.

As a leader, making it obvious that you yourself are on a learning journey, passing on some of the things you’ve learned and referencing books, courses, online resources and so on will help raise the importance of ongoing learning within the company.

Put bluntly, if you and your people aren’t learning, they’re remaining in ignorance … and that’s not going to bring you a commercial edge.

 2) Condone the enjoyment of learning

Learning is serious business … but it doesn’t have to be a mirthless drudge of lectures, powerpoint presentations and manuals the size of building blocks.

Years of research in both the training and development and education sectors point to the fact that the brain absorbs information (i.e. learns)  through the five senses, amongst other factors, and that by far the most people learn best through auditory, visual AND haptic means.

I was working for an organisation a few years back which approved a very interactive, innovative series of workshops for junior staff, but insisted that senior managers at the same organisation needed a more ‘serious’ approach.

They seemed to somehow be suggesting that once you  get a  ‘senior manager’ plaque on the door, you suddenly lose your sense of humour and personality and more to the point, lose your ability to learn by any other means than didactic instruction.  This of course, contradicts both academic and medical research … to say nothing of common sense. Do senior managers enjoy boring training courses any more than the rest of us?! I doubt it!

Of COURSE content needs to be tailored to the level of the participant group. Delivery methods, though, need to be as engaging as possible in order to be interesting and relevant to learners.

It should be remembered that people learn more when they are relaxed and enjoying themselves. And there’s no age or management limit to that.

 3) Support the implementation of learning

So! Someone comes back from a training course, full of ideas, keen to test out some of their new found skills! What happens next:

a) Hurray! The company already has a learning system in place, and with the full support of their managers and colleagues they successfully build confidence in implementing their new skills until they become habit, modelling positive behaviours and practices in the process.

b) They have a stab at some of the techniques from the course that they’re more comfortable with, stash the course manual in a drawer somewhere, and remember to tick that training course off on their performance management checklist.

c) They try one of their new techniques and their manager /colleague jibes “Oh, well we can see that YOU’VE been on the training course!” leaving them somewhat crestfallen and reluctant to try to implement anything else they’ve learned.

Clearly individual leaders can have an impact on the level and extent to which they provide an environment where learning and trying new skills is the norm, and where practice is monitored and encouraged, and many already do this.

It can be easier, though to assume that people will come back from a training course or other learning intervention and just ‘get on with it’, without recognising how the environment can affect the extent to which this is done.

Leaders who continue to learn inspire others in the organisation to do the same. Leaders who recognise when other people are learning and coach and encourage them to persevere in implementing their newskills are taking HUGE steps to develop a learning culture.

And why bother? In the words of the Chinese proverb  “Learning is like rowing upstream: not to advance is to drop back”.

And who wants their own career, their department or their company to do that?

Goal Setting Success Factor # 5 – Maintaining momentum and developing resilience

April 18, 2011

 Well, here we are at the final part of Yara’s Goal Setting Mini Series. Hundreds of you have read the series (thank you to you all!) and I’m shortly going to be formatting the series as an e-book, which will be downloadable FREE from the Yara website at

Anyway, let’s get on with it!

A critical part of achieving your goals is the ability to maintain momentum and motivation, and to build resilience in the face of challenges.

Here are 5 key factors that will make a difference to your ability to keep going until you’ve achieved your goals.

1. Retain focus

Last year, a group of friends and I climbed Goat Fell, the mountain on the Isle of Arran, just off the coast of the West of Scotland. Living in Ayrshire, we can see the top of this mountain every day from the mainland … as long as it’s not cloudy.

We took the ferry across to the island … at which point our goal was no longer the romantic, cloud-swathed view on the horizon … it was much nearer, and looked a lot bigger, steeper and rockier close up than it did from across the water. Some goals can be like that: scarier up close.

If you don’t have a strong reason for carrying on, you probably won’t.

As we started to climb, it was a case of watching the ground close to our feet to make sure we didn’t stumble over rocks and vegetation. However, we stopped often to look at the top of the mountain, and to check that we were on the right path. If we HADN’T checked where we were against our destination, we might have been so focussed on the ground beneath our feet that we could have wandered into the ferns, left the path and got a bit lost.

Whilst you’re working away on the tasks you need to undertake to get to your goals, look up to ensure that you’re still heading in the right direction … and that the goal hasn’t moved. Re-align wherever necessary, and keep moving forward.

2. Enjoy your journey

On that climb up Goat Fell, though, we didn’t tromp relentlessly straight to the top of the mountain. At various points we stopped for breath, looked back at the view, and marvelled at how far we’d come.

As you continue your way, it is VITAL that you pause from time to time, and allow yourself to reflect on your journey so far, on what you have learned, how you might need to re-align yourself on your way to the top, and to take from your past experience things that will carry you forward.

It’s also important, having achieved some of the ‘sub-goals’ along your way, to take the time to congratulate yourself on the fact that you are taking positive and deliberate strides in the right direction.

Depending on the goal that you’ve set yourself, you might be working towards it for some time … so even though you might have to undertake some tasks that aren’t your favourite thing (tax returns spring to mind), make sure your overall journey is one that you are happy to be on.

3. Know what derails you …

Self-awareness is a key area that comes into play here (about which, more in my series next month on 7 Leadership Skills EVERYONE must develop!)

Think back on your past experience, and consider carefully the times when you had been enthusiastically working towards a goal, and something or someone had thrown you off course. What WAS that something or someone?

Frequent responses to this are:

· Other people’s negativity

· Lack of confidence that you can (or deserve to) achieve

 · Frustration that things aren’t moving quickly enough

· Insurmountable barriers

Thinking about the things that have derailed you in the past, consider further:

 · If you gave up on something, how strong was your reason why in the first place? Is this really the right goal for you? (Think about this VERY carefully – no excuses!)

 · Were your fears based on fact … or your assumptions? How will you overcome them?

· How far are you prepared to let other people’s negative comments or actions put you off your goal? How will you limit their impact?

· How will you build your confidence and overcome your reservations?

· If you really do come up against a barrier that you cannot overcome, consider carefully the reasons why you had been working towards this goal. It will almost certainly be possible to find an alternative goal that fulfils the same need.

It’s crucial also that you recognise the signs of when you are starting to slump, and bring these from the subconscious to the conscious. If you can catch them early on, you can take action to turn yourself around and get back on track. Do you start talking to yourself in a negative way? Do little things really annoy you? Do you find yourself snapping at other drivers on the road, or at your kids? Do you find yourself faffing around and doing anything BUT the tasks required to meet your goal?

Learn also to pinpoint the causes of these … and take steps to avoid or limit them. This might mean thinking about your conversations with friends and family: if they pull you down when you talk about your goals, steer the conversation onto something else. I’ve known a few people who were so negative that I just started to try to avoid them altogether!

Bear in mind also, that your darkest hour is 60 minutes long…it’s not for ever, so take heart.

4 … and how to motivate yourself

So what motivates you? What cheers you up when you’re feeling low? Make a list and keep it to hand.

As soon as you feel your motivation levels drop, don’t wallow or try to soldier on regardless – refer to your list (if you need to) and DO SOMETHING to pick yourself up: go for a run, play the piano, play with your kids, walk the dog, phone a friend – or whatever.

It’s important that, while you are in a positive frame of mind, you begin to develop strategies to help you through tough times. When you’re IN the tough times, you might not be in the frame of mind to be able to help yourself.

A significant amount of academic research has been done on the impact of music on motivation and mood. Choose some motivating and uplifting pieces of music and have a playlist on your iPod: My favourites include Labi Siffre’s ‘Something Inside So Strong’, the ‘Indiana Jones’ theme tune and Van Halen’s ‘Jump!’.

Pick whatever gives you a lift, and put your playlist together when you are in a positive frame of mind.

At times when you’re feeling flat, discipline yourself to focus on past times when you have achieved something, or been particularly successful. Doing so will awaken similar positive feelings to the ones you felt at the time.

Some of this might take a bit of effort: often we quite like having a bit of a moan or wallowing in self pity (I’ve been there, just the same as everyone else!). It’s important though, that you refocus to a positive frame of mind quickly, and keep going.

5. Look after yourself

This might sound really obvious, but no one wants to get to their goal a burnt-out wreck working 18 hours a day on the verge of a breakdown. What kind of success is that?! For goodness’ sake look after yourself.

Stress is one of the biggest causes of work-related ill-health. Take time out to reflect on what you’re doing, what you’ve learned so far and where you’re going. Make sure you take time to relax

 “But Anna,” I hear you say, “I‘m so busy that I don’t have time to relax!”. Make time. Your health is important.

If you’re NOT looking after yourself, you’re not functioning as effectively as you might, and you’re not doing anyone any favours – least of all yourself.

AND FINALLY … When you have reached your goal, and are rewarding yourself and allow yourself to celebrate your success, remember to ‘put something back’. Donate to a charity. Mentor, coach or just help someone. Volunteer for something. Why? Because it’s a good thing to do … and sometimes that’s reason enough.

Goal Setting Success Factor # 3: Develop an Enquiring Mind

April 5, 2011

Achieving your goal is going to involve you building on your existing strengths, learning new skills and growing in new directions. If it doesn’t, you’ve probably set your sights too low.

This might mean many things: maybe it’s a question of developing your confidence; perhaps you have all the skills you need to achieve your goal … your problem is developing the self discipline to apply yourself, plan your route forward and get on with it! For someone else, wanting to achieve a lifetime’s ambition of running a marathon, say, it could be the challenge of doing MORE – pushing oneself to run further and further each week until the goal is reached.

Organisations need to also bear in mind that strategies for growth MUST involve developing individuals across the organisation and giving them a strong reason ‘why’ (our Goal Setting Success Factor #1) … but that’s a subject for another post.

So – what do you need to learn? And how? Here are 5 key areas:

1. Develop a positive mindset to learning, as part of your journey.

This is vital. As you journey towards your goal, you’ll constantly discover new things that need to be learned, new skills, behaviours and attitudes that need to be acquired. Learning is positive. It is the road to development and growth. It is NOT a remedial measure to correct some sort of personal defect.

It’s absolutely CRITICAL that you develop this attitude towards learning – otherwise you could fall into the trap of being overwhelmed by what you think you DON’T know, rather than actively looking to learn and develop the skills you NEED.

Remember – we never stop learning. Even experts in their field continue to learn, develop and grow.

2. Don’t be modest – consider what you’re good at.

Take stock of yourself – what are your strengths? What do you enjoy doing and what are you good at? There will be plenty of things that spring to mind immediately, but you may need to ask trusted friends for their thoughts too, as they might have recognised some strengths in you that you weren’t aware of.

There WILL be skills which you think of as ordinary and ‘anyone-can-do’ which are in fact unique to you. Find out what these are. Consider how you might leverage them to achieve your goal.

3. ‘Mind the gap’: identify your gaps in knowledge, and areas for development and growth.

This is often easier said than done, and it’s ESSENTIAL (I can’t stress that enough) that you do this in a positive frame of mind and as a step forward towards your goals.

What do you need to learn in order to achieve your goals? Again, some of these things will be fairly straightforward to identify – if I’m going to be a successful photographer, I need to not only be good at taking pictures, but know how to promote and sell my work, how to manage my finances and so on.

Be aware, though, of areas of ‘unconscious incompetence’ – things that you don’t know you don’t know. There are things you can do to try to tease some of these out, but there will always be ‘Doh!’ moments when you become aware of one of these.

Be thankful that this ‘gap’ is now known to you – don’t waste time kicking yourself about not having realised it before.

4. Learn how to learn – a crucial life skill.

Let’s face it – you could waste a fortune on training courses, coaching sessions, internet information products and so on (somewhat ironic that, as a trainer and coach, I’m telling you that).

Once you’ve identified gaps in your knowledge, you’ll need to give some thought as to how you might address these. In terms of thought processes, try to remain positive and ‘solution focused’, i.e. say to yourself, “I’m going to improve my marketing skills” and NOT “I’m rubbish at marketing, so I have to get better.”

Think laterally: who do you know that you could ask? What connections can you make from other industries / walks of life? Where can you find free information?

Consider also – at what point do you leverage the skills of others, and use THEM to fill in your gaps (hiring a book-keeper, for example, or getting someone else to build your website)?

5. Face your fears: in the words of Mr T, “Quit your jibber jabber – get some nuts!”

Learning new things inevitably means pushing yourself outside your comfort zone. Just grasp the nettle and get on with it: don’t make excuses or try to talk yourself out of trying something new.

Susan Jeffers’ book ‘Feel the fear and Do It Anyway’ is a classic on this point. At the risk of sounding clichéd … JUST DO IT! And don’t worry if it doesn’t work out perfectly first time – it’s all part of the learning experience.

So there we are – five key aspects of learning and honing the skills you need to achieve your goals. Take a positive approach to learning. Boldly assess your own abilities, and the areas in which you need to develop (some of which may already be strengths).

Be creative in how you learn. Don’t be afraid to try something new, and do something different. Learn. Grow. Fly.

Goal Setting Success Factor #2: Self Awareness and Self Confidence

March 26, 2011

2. Self awareness and self confidence: recognise who you need to become to achieve your goals.

Whether your goals are SMART or not, the stark fact of the matter is that if you don’t believe that you have it in you to achieve your goals…it’s ‘game over’ from the very beginning.

Developing a healthy self confidence (by that, I mean a realistic and positive sense of self, not arrogance or an ego the size of a planet) is crucial to your being able to achieve your goals.

Here are three techniques that will help:

Visualisation is  extremely useful – being able to capture in your imagination what the best-possible-you looks and feels like, the sort of life you lead and the sort of people you associate with.

Anyone who’s come across ‘The Secret’ will know what I mean here – this is more than daydreaming about how you want to be; this is really focussing on the details. In the words of Alfred Montapert,  “To accomplish great things we must first dream, then visualise, then plan… believe… act!”
‘Mask of the Role Model’
A second technique is a little like the ‘fake it till you make it’ approach. I prefer to think of it as putting on the ‘mask of the role model’.

Let me explain what I mean: the best boss I ever had was a lady called Lesley, whose confidence, approach and way of working with people truly inspired me. For YEARS when I was in a business situation in which I felt out of my depth, I would think to myself “Now, what would Lesley do?” …and take that course of action. By acting the part of a confident individual, I was treated as though I WAS a confident individual by those I met; and gradually, I grew into the part.
Self Talk
It’s often said that we talk to ourselves in a way that we just wouldn’t take from anyone else, and we can sometimes become our own ‘confidence saboteur’.

What do you say when you speak to yourself? Make sure it’s positive and self affirming… which is often easier said than done.

There’s a BIG psychological difference when you make a mistake, say, between thinking to yourself “You stupid idiot! What did you do that for? For goodness sake, how hopeless are you?!”  and saying “OK, how hard can this be? I’ve seen someone else do it, so I’m bound to be able to do it….”  

Learn to talk yourself up, not down.
These three techniques – and other confidence-building methods – are vital to help you achieve your goals. SMART and action-orientated though those goals may be, what’s going on in your HEAD will have a profound impact on what goes on in your life and career.
Watch this space for Goal Setting Success Factor number 3 in the next few days!

Goal setting – why SMART goals are not enough

March 21, 2011

Let’s face it: most people don’t bother to set goals unless they have to as part of a business process of some sort. If you DO set goals…congratulations…you’re one of a very select few.

People who DO set goals are probably aware of making those goals ‘SMART’, that is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant (to values, organisational goals, etc.) and Time bound. Without these parameters to propel you into action, ‘goals’ are likely to remain as daydreams or aspirations.

SMART thinking around your goals is valuable…however, it doesn’t go far enough.

There are five key factors which, if understood and implemented will MASSIVELY increase your chances of achieving your goals. Here’s the first one…

1. Understanding why: knowing the goals and motivations behind your goals

So you’ve set your goal, and you want to be the next Chief Executive of Global Incorporated. Why?

 It’s important that you ask yourself this question and understand the motivations behind whatever goal you have set yourself.

There are two reasons for this: the first is that you need to have a strong reason WHY you’re doing this so that, when times get tough, you can focus on this and keep moving forward, safe in the knowledge that you have a purpose. “I’m going to show that person who wrote me off as a kid!” can be a strong motivator, as can commitments to family and causes, or the desire to leave some sort of legacy or make a difference. What is it for you?

Secondly, understanding the ‘WHY’ will help you to realign your goals if you’re prevented from achieving them for some reason.

Years ago, I thought I wanted to be an air stewardess. The fact that my dad had had a long and successful career as cabin crew and travelled the world undoubtedly influenced this. There were two significant drawbacks: 1) I tend to get travel sick on long haul flights and b) I didn’t get past the interview stage.

Having fallen at this first hurdle, I had to consider the options: to find a mentor, attend training courses and re-apply until I achieved my goal of securing a job as airline cabin crew (and then face a career of vomiting uncontrollably on flights of more than 6 hours or so)…or evaluate carefully WHY I was looking at that job in the first place.

Taking the latter path, I realised that what I REALLY wanted was to be able to travel, see new places, meet new people, experience new cultures and so on.

My career as a trainer and coach has taken me all over Europe and beyond and I’ve been privileged to meet and work with people from a wide variety of cultures and countries. Do I ever look back with regret that I didn’t make it to cabin crew. Absolutely not!

Look closely at your own long-term goal. Why are you doing this? Really…why??

Watch out for my next blog post: Goal Setting success factor number 2 – Self Awareness.