The lost art of noticing

I was at a Christmas carol service last night. I arrived in good spirits after a meal with friends. As the service started I found my mind wandering back to the lively conversation we’d had at dinner. My thoughts then moved on to my Christmas shopping list. I suddenly became aware that I hadn’t been paying full attention to the amazing talented choir of young people. From that moment of realisation I put my thoughts aside and concentrated on what was going on in the moment. It felt amazingly relaxing to just soak up the wonderful candlelit atmosphere and beautiful music.

One key element of my coaching model is termed ‘The Art of Noticing’. I work with clients to help them pay more attention, to notice what’s around them, to notice other people and to notice themselves and their behaviours. The first step in any change is to pay attention. How much attention are you really giving to this blog? Do you give your partner your full attention when you arrive home tired and distracted by a tough day at work? How much attention do you pay in meetings, or do you half listen and spend the time catching up on your mails?

Distraction is the scourge of our modern life, exacerbated by the ubiquitous technology around us. It takes practice to improve our skills of noticing, so try this as a practice over the festive season. Make a conscious effort to take note of something about every person you meet. Perhaps the colour of their eyes, something they’re wearing, the way they walk, the way their face wrinkles when they smile, what words they put emphasis on. Paying attention not only improves relationships, it allows you to be more productive and creative. And, bonus, you’ll probably also find that people find you much better company as a result!


Let’s get Physical

What does our physical self have to do with business? Business today is about bringing the best brains to solve ever more complex problemsPhysical with word and to create more innovative products and services. Whilst most people today recognise that looking after themselves physically also gives them an edge in terms of resilience, stamina and cognitive ability, the reality is that many of us pay lip-service to this notion.

Physical energy is the foundation stone of high performance. When we wake up with a hangover or try to survive on a very few hours sleep, our ability to think well, to show empathy towards others and to put in discretionary effort is severely impaired.

So, over the holiday period, Continue reading


Breaking the rules of belonging

This Christmas many of us will spend time with the most influential human system we have – our family of origin. We’re shaped by the norms and emotions around us when we grew up. One question worth pondering this Christmas might be this: “Which emotions were allowed in your family of origin and which emotions were not allowed?” As you consider this, you’ll begin to identify the so-called ‘rules of belonging’. One rule might have been ‘never be sad’ or ‘always put a brave face on it’. We bring these (often unspoken) ‘rules’ into our adult life and this is where it gets tricky. As we’re exposed to different human systems such as our partner’s family, university, workplaces, clubs etc, we come across different rules of belonging, some of which conflict with those of our family of origin. In order to grow, thrive and develop strong adult relationships, we must understand how these engrained rules help or hinder us. We can then make choices about whether we are to stay loyal to the original rules, or break the rules. In breaking the rules we risk alienation from the original system, but we also have the promise of new experiences, relationships and growth.

Take attitudes to money as an example. Continue reading


Favorite How do we learn best?

How we learn bestOne day a couple of years ago when my son was studying for his A’levels I noticed something I’d not seen before. I’d been encouraging (nagging?!) him to complete his UCAS personal statement. Every time he sat down to do it, he ran out of ideas. In a moment of exasperation, I suggested we do it together. I sat down at my PC and asked him to just talk to me about himself – what he likes doing, what he’s good at, what achievements he’s most proud of etc. I would transcribe what he said and then we could do an edit together once I’d captured the main ideas.
Now, one of his daily tasks in the kitchen is to unload the dishwasher. As I started to ask the questions, he started to unload the dishwasher, moving around the kitchen putting things away (more or less in automatic pilot).

As we continued the conversation I noticed that he continued to move around the kitchen, thinking through his answers to my questions as he moved.Occasionally he paused and leaned on the kitchen worktop, deep in thought, then moving again. It struck me that he seemed at ease, the ideas flowed and there was no restlessness. As a younger child his teachers had always remarked on what a restless child he was, very bright but lacking in focus and concentration. Well, that day as he moved around talking about his ideas, he was highly focused and concentrated in his thinking – he just wasn’t sitting down! It turns out that his best quality and most creative thinking happens when he’s moving.

As an Executive coach, I come across people who learn in many different ways. This means I need to be flexible in my approach to coaching. I need to spot when doing something visual is needed because my client learns well from visual cues. Or, like my son, I need to identify when my client needs to move around to do his or her best thinking. Neuroscientist Lara Boyd in her TEDx talk of 2015 takes the learning from neuroscience and considers how we learn. Boyd encourages us to study how, what and when we learn best and to identify what our own brain requires to be a great learner – what she calls ‘personalised learning’. She explains that everything we do is changing our brain, so we need to study what things change our brain for the better and what changes our brain for the worse. We can then prepare our brains to be effective learners.

Please comment and let us know how you like to learn.


Become brilliant by creating space for the team

leadership teamsA couple of days ago I was listening to one of the GB rowing coaches at the Rio Olympics speaking about the process for achieving high levels of performance. One thing he said struck me as incredibly relevant to teams in a business setting. He said that they no longer try to mould each rower into one ‘ideal’ model, but tap into the huge diversity of backgrounds, personalities and talents to create a uniquely brilliant team.


I come across many teams who are not tapping into their full potential because they fail to take the time and space to connect, discover more about each other and learn together.

I recently facilitated the second of a series of away-days for a leadership team that has struggled with internal conflict. The most powerful part of the session was when I invited each person to develop and then share their ‘leadership lifeline’.

I gave them a loose framework to use and they then each took a piece of A3 paper and were asked to represent their life so far in words and pictures. The emphasis was on how their life experience had shaped their attitudes and approaches to leadership. After some hesitation, and encouraged by seeing my own lifeline as an example, they spent half an hour individually working on theirs, followed by a session during which they shared the key parts of their life that had shaped their approach to leadership. I was humbled by the level of disclosure and honesty, and the respectful reaction to their colleagues’ stories.

During this short session they built a profound new understanding of each other and increased the level of trust significantly. Later on, they were amazed at how quickly they were able to come to agreement on some quite tricky business issues, something they’d never achieved before. Disclosure is an important factor in Continue reading


How do you freeze courgettes?

I’ve spent much of today working at home catching up on some of the latest articles and blogs on leadership. However this morning I found myself distracted by the glut of courgettes in my garden and ended up on Google looking for tips on how to freeze them.  Coming from a family with a very strong work ethic, I felt a slight sense of guilt for thinking about courgettes in the middle of the working day, even more so when I went out to harvest today’s crop.

In an excellent article in HBR recently, Shawn Anchor and Michelle Gielen refer to the importance of recovery for building personal resilience. They claim that a lack of recovery is costing our companies $62 billion a year in lost productivity. According to them, the key to resilience is trying really hard, then stopping, recovering, and then trying again. They distinguish between the kind of recovery we can do during the working day and the recovery we do outside working hours.

Many people are programmed fom an early age to think that any kind of recovery during the working day makes them a slacker and low performer. But science says otherwise. Taking what I call moments of ‘micro-recovery’ during the day helps us to recharge our batteries, both physically and mentally.

Back to those courgettes….. The few minutes I took to go out into the sunshine and pick a few courgettes was like plugging myself into the ‘charge’ socket, enabling me to spend more time in productive mode when I went back to my desk. So next time you find yourself in endurance mode, telling yourself you’ve got too much to do to take a break, yet finding your mental focus waning, give yourself a break and allow yourself some micro-recovery. It might be a few minutes fresh air (leaving your phone on your desk), it might be listening to your favourite song, it might be going to the other side of the office to say hello to a valued colleague. Switch off for a few minutes at regular intervals during the day and you’ll most likely find that your resilience, performance and creativity benefits.

For support in building your productivity by increasing your personal resilience, contact me on +44 (0)7411 483319 or e’mail me at


Coaching – cost or investment?

CoachingIt’s no co-incidence that Andy Murray gives much credit for his latest Grand Slam win at Wimbledon to his coach, Ivan Lendl. I wouldn’t like to guess how much Murray pays Lendl, no doubt it’s a great deal. However it’s clear that Murray sees it as an investment worth making because it gets results.

The link between executive coaching and business results is less clear. In my experience, results from executive coaching can be significant as long as there are well-defined coaching objectives and the client is open to the support and challenge that a good coach provides,. Take for example Joe, a Sales Director I’ve been coaching. Continue reading


Favorite “If speaking is silver, then listening is gold” (old Turkish proverb)

Gold“Mum, you never listen, I’ve already told you three times where I’m going tonight!”.

Not sure whether other parents of teenagers recognize this, perhaps it’s just me, but this is a common refrain in our household. Why, I ask myself, is it easier to listen well to my coaching clients than it is to my own family?

So many conversations at home take place in a distracting environment. The radio’s on, you’re updating your online shopping order while the dinner’s in the oven, your phone buzzes with a text that’s just come in, and you’re keeping an eye on your work e’mail for the information you need for tomorrow’s client presentation. It takes intentional effort and discipline to stop and focus on the other person.

Continue reading


Secrets from the Science of Persuasion

From No to YesYou have a great idea about a new product or service that you’re convinced will make a big difference to your business. You’ve done your homework – researched the market, identified your target customer, analysed costs and potential sales in detail and created an implementation plan. So why is it that when you pitch the idea to your boss and her colleagues there’s a resounding No? Surely the benefits of going ahead are obvious, why don’t they get it?

I sometimes come across this scenario with my coaching clients who come to me frustrated that they can’t influence with more success. They understand that influencing others requires not just logical argument, but they feel uncomfortable about what they call ‘playing politics’. For some people ‘politics’ has a somewhat distasteful connotation, it smacks of fakeness and goes against peoples’ integrity. They don’t enjoy ‘schmoozing’ and, women especially (though not exclusively) tell me that they feel shut out by the ‘boys club’.

So what if you were to reframe the problem? If you understood that as human beings we are more likely to say ‘yes’ to ideas, proposals and products offered by people we like and trust, where would you put your effort?

Continue reading