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Routines – good idea or bad idea?

There are mixed views on the benefit of routine to our effectiveness and resilience. I find it surprising that people think of this as an either or subject. When working with others and in my own personal experience there’s a place for both routine and more free flowing activity. Here are three pros, cons and things to consider when it comes to routines.




  1. Having routines can help take the pressure off our shoulders and free up capacity for more taxing activities. For many having a routine to help get a consistent start to the day is an example of this in action.
  2. Routines can help provide certainty and build confidence as we approach situations. This can help bring out the best in ourselves – an example of this could be preparing for the start of a sporting event or business meeting.
  3. Providing the routine is effective, it can help achieve consistency in results. Preparing to travel is a good example of this.


  1. Routines can stifle creative thinking – repeating the same approach to a task when in fact the environment you operate in has changed. This runs the risk that you could be overlooking more effective ways to do something.  I have had two conversations recently with people who found a different and more effective route for their commute as a result of transport strikes.
  2. A variation on the above is that an over reliance on a routine means that we can close out others input and experience. The ‘my way is the best way’ syndrome is a trap worth avoiding or at the very least having the humility that you may not be right.
  3. An over reliance on routines can mean that if for some reason we are knocked off course we find it hard to cope. As a result, our confidence that we are capable of handling a particular task or situation gets eroded.


Some things to consider
  1. Develop a routine to help you prepare better for a situation you will face regularly. One everyone faces is their morning routine. If you need a little inspiration head over to – there are stacks of ideas.
  2. Deliberately mix up the routine every now and then. If you have a particular commute look for three alternatives to explore.
  3. Write your routine down and then get feedback and input from others on how you might improve it.


Have a go of a least one of the above examples in the next seven days. At the very least raise your awareness of the pros and cons of having a routine.  As always, I’m interested in any thoughts you have.

End in mind

end-in-mind-graphicThose that know me will be aware that Stephen Covey was a big influence on my life. A chance purchase of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People at a motorway service station in the mid-nineties, introduced me to the world of personal development. I’ve been fascinated with the subject ever since. I was coaching someone I’ll call Joe recently, who had got ‘stuck’ about what to do next in his career. I say stuck, it was more like overwhelmed by the uncertainty and choices about ‘where next’. Covey’s Habit 2, Begin with the end in mind, proved to be the solution.

Looking to make short to medium-term decisions and choices without an objective criteria to base them on, puts us under pressure as our brains look to make sense of multiple variables. Often our self-defence mechanisms kick in as we think about the consequences of different options. For some this will lead to negative self-talk. So, how can you practically work with Habit 2 to improve this situation? Here are five suggestions:

Step 1. Determine what ‘end’ means. You’ll need to flex your judgment muscle and get an aiming point of what ‘end’ looks like. Determining a time horizon is a great place to start. There are others if time doesn’t work for you. In the case of Joe, he decided to work back from the age he’d like to retire.

Step 2. Get your thoughts out your head. It amazes me when I work with people the number who look to manage all their thinking about a subject in their head. This puts the brain under pressure as it looks to hold an increasing number of variables in the conscious mind. This often results in people getting frustrated and stressed. Getting a pad and a pen or whatever you want to capture your thinking is of real benefit. Joe and I explored what he’d like to have achieved and avoided in his career by the time he retired. I recommend not overlooking the avoided component of this exercise. Often people will find it easier to talk about the things that they don’t want than the things they do. That’s a subject for a future blog. In Joe’s case, he decided that he would like to retire with at least six-years of operating at senior management level in his organisation. He also had one particular role he’d like to do. We ended up with a fair amount of information on the page. This included other roles he’d like to do/avoid, what he knew about the promotion process and other questions he’d like to find answers to. Lots of information is typical at this stage.

Step 3. Chunking up your options. It’s important you do not get lulled into the false sense of security that with things out of your head you are now ‘done’. You’ll probably already feel a lot happier having only just completed this part of the process. Chances are that feeling will be short-lived, as you haven’t actually determined what to do next. This is where chunking kicks in. In Joe’s case, we decided that chunking against a timeline from retirement to today would work best. Our time horizons were:

  1. Next 90 days
  2. Within a year
  3. Within three years
  4. Within five years
  5. Greater than five years

Chunking the thinking from Step 2 against these horizons allowed a structure to flow. It also prompted some additional things to explore. The further out Joe went, the less certain he could be. This is typical and to be expected. To mitigate this, it really helps if you can identify specific time points when you’ll reappraise your plan. This takes the pressure of the brain needing to answer everything in one go.

Step 4 Next Action. Plans are great however the real progress gets achieved when you take action. This sounds like an obvious point. And it is. I include it here as so often people are not specific enough about what the next action looks like. In Joe’s case, it was to review the promotion criteria, assess where he thought he was against it and then have a meeting with his line manager to discuss his plan. I wouldn’t have been doing my job if I’d not pushed Joe a little further. Before our session finished I got Joe to schedule specific time in his calendar to pursue his immediate actions.

Step 5 Involve others. Joe had developed a rough career plan with a specific end goal in mind. Involving others in reviewing this plan and seeking their ideas and input is an important part of the process. We all have blindspots. This is one way to help overcome them.

Joe commented on how much better he felt about his future. In reality, nothing physically had changed. This is the key point. By investing time to consider the end in mind Joe had taken the pressure off his brain. Our session was 90 minutes long. I suspect Joe had spent longer than that having I’ll-formed thoughts rushing around his head. Is there an issue or subject you’ve had whirring around your head that would benefit from a little ‘end in mind’ thinking? As always, I’m interested in how you get on and if I can be of assistance.


Leadership lessons from Le Tour de France

tour stopped 2One of the approaches I look to live by is seek first to understand and then be understood. I was first introduced to this in 1994 when reading Stephen Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Time and again I’ve been surprised by how this approach can change my view and more importantly, action. Despite my best intentions, I don’t always get it right.

Stage 3 of the 2015 Tour de France saw two nasty crashes in quick succession involving multiple riders. As a result the Commissaires (race referee) firstly neutralised the race and then stopped it completely for a period. I like masses of cycling fans, disgruntled riders and ‘pundits’ on social media thought this set a dangerous precedent. Particularly given that crashes are an unfortunate, yet inevitable part of the sport. After the stage had finished Christian Prudhomme (the general director of the TdF) explained the decision. All the race doctors and ambulances were dealing with victims of the crashes and this therefore resulted in no protection for the remaining riders in the race. 

On hearing the explanation my view of the situation changed instantly. A great reminder that it’s important to understand the facts before forming an opinion. The first leadership lesson. So what’s the second?

I’ve been following the TdF since 1982. I can’t recall a situation where the race has been stopped as a result of the crash. What happened yesterday was a good example of the leaders needing to assess the situation, interpret and then apply the rules accordingly. Even when this means breaking new ground. Rider safety is a clear situation to understand and make decisions against. As leaders you are likely to find more variables and complexity in the situations you face. The same principles need to apply though. Blindly following the rules is so often the route of poor decision making and loss of engagement from the people you lead. Leadership judgement is what’s required.

See how many times you and apply these two leadership lessons over the next seven days. As always, I’m interested in how you get on.

Increasing your resilience when goals begin to falter

Wiggins-Hour-Record1-630x432It’s often the case that people give up on a goal way too early. Or perhaps worse, don’t even start for fear of not being successful. This is a real shame because armed with the right strategies and tactics you can dramatically increase your chances of achieving the outcome you want. Here’s three ideas for you to explore:

  • Deliberately writing down the real why you want to achieve something. Often this is the element that people skip over. When enthusiasm is high at the start of working towards a goal it doesn’t feel like a good use of time. As you progress you often find that you’re challenged by the bumps-in-the-road and competing demands for your time. It’s at this point that really understanding your reason why comes to the fore. It will help bring objectivity, rekindle the motivation and help you make better decisions. Go full out with this element. Having something that the goal is contributing to which is bigger can also help.
  • Break things down. Obvious, yet not obvious enough for people to do this on a consistent basis. There are multiple approaches you can take with this. One popular approach is to break a goal down by performance e.g. training for a marathon can be a combination of a range of smaller distance goals. Taking this to the next level you could consider looking at the other demands of the event. Extending the marathon example this might include physical, weight, technique and mental goals.  This will provide a regular feed of activity to monitor your progress. You might like to break things into maintenance and target goals. Often people find the hardest element of this is the thinking and planning. In my experience you’ll significantly increase your percentage chance of success if you invest the time.
  • Involve others. The more publicly you commit to a goal the more likely you are to see things through – it of course doesn’t guarantee success. You’ll likely encounter different types of people as you do this. There are those who will actively support you. There’s also a chance that you’ll come up against the neigh-sayers. You know the sort: “Really, you want to do what?” “Come on, people like you don’t do things like that…”. “What’s the point, how are you going to feel when it doesn’t work out?”. I’m going to be charitable with the last example and give them the benefit-of-the-doubt. Perhaps they genuinely think they have your best interests at heart. However, as Bradley Wiggins proved in 2012, kids from Kilburn can win the Tour de France.
Bradley is about to tackle another big goal as he looks to take on the cycling world hour record. He’s been very open and public about his ambition. Not just to beat the existing distance but to put it beyond the reach of others for years to come. That’s confidence for you. He’ll get quite a lot of his confidence from adopting similar strategies to the examples above. Of course there will also be lots of focus and hard work. We mustn’t forget that bit.

So you’re not Bradley Wiggins and your goal is most probably quite different. Why not go for something you’ve been putting off or thought beyond your reach. Explore these strategies to support you. See what you can achieve in the next 90 days. You never know if you go public you might just inspire other people into action too. We’d love to hear your stories.

Legacy – Leadership Lessons from the All Blacks

LegacyFor those wanting to gain insight into the characteristics of elite performance you will have your time well spent reading James Kerr’s book Legacy. It covers in a readily digestible way, the approach the All Black use to get the best out of their people. At the heart of the ethos put forward is the fact that ‘better people’ make better All Blacks. Kerr makes a compelling case that the approach adopted is readily transferable into other settings. I agree. 

 The book is designed around 15 lessons.  These include: 

1) Sweep the sheds –  never be too big to do the small jobs that need to be done.

2) Pass the ball – leaders create leaders

3) Train to win – practice under pressure.

Throughout the book Kerr quotes from the experiences of current and previous All Blacks. He also draws nicely from other sports, business and leadership development literature. The result is a really decent and motivating read. Still need convincing – take a peep at the short video to give an even greater insight.

Tripple A response to setbacks

cancellationsIt’s interesting to see how different people react to similar situations  particularly when the situation involves some kind of setback. Often this relates to the everyday stresses and strains we all get challenged by:  missing an important deadline, receiving some difficult feedback, disrupted travel plans. For some it’s an opportunity to moan and get on the bus to ‘pity city’. For others they accept the situation for what it is then work out how to take responsibility for their response.

In Mans search for meaning, Viktor Frankyl explains that  “between stimulus and response man has the freedom to choose”.  (For those not familiar with Frankyl’s work he was writing about his experience in a German concentration camp during WW2.)  I suspect that his experience was somewhat more challenging than the average difficult situation we’re likely to face. How good is your ability to choose your response? Here’s three strategies you could explore in developing this aspect of your performance.

Gaining perspective:

  1. Look to see the current situation as if looking back in 12 months time. How big a deal is this thing. If it helps, try using a scale of 1 -10 (where 10 is life threatening).
  2.  How does this relate to my values and or bigger life goals?
  3. What is the real impact and what options have I got to influence it?

Dealing with the here and now:

  1. What can I do to improve this situation. Of course just to think isn’t enough – you actually need to take action.
  2. What could I stop doing to improve the situation? This is the inverse of 1). So often it’s the case that people actually make things worse by their action – think about some of the conversations you have with yourself (or Chimp if you’re familiar with the Chimp Paradox). Put another way, is my current thinking or action helping or hindering me.
  3. Who could I involve to improve things? Don’t just go for the obvious, think imaginatively about this one.

Moving on:

  1. What could I learn from this that could help me in future?  Think transferable.
  2. What could I do or stop doing to reduce the chances of similar situations happening?
  3. How could I help others learn from my experience?

I’m not suggesting that you just ‘happy talk’ your way out of situations or that you can eliminate setbacks from your life. Far from it. Setbacks are a part of everyday life which allow us to grow and develop. This is about the three As: Attitude, Approach & Action.  Over the next 30 days why not take this area of performance to the next level, even if you choose to focus on one of the above strategies. Let’s go for it and choose a different response.

Bringing together your feedback jigsaw

feedback jigsawSo you’ve been given some hard to hear feedback. When engaging with people its surprising how many shy away from this type of feedback or alternatively feel the need to take direct action as a result. It’s time to pause that type of thinking and work out a more effective strategy for this powerful component of personal development. Bringing together a collection of views and data to create a more complete picture is important. To take just one person’s view is rather like picking out one piece of a jigsaw – you really haven’t got the complete picture. Here’s some ideas to help increase your clarity.

Firstly, don’t make a knee jerk reaction.  All too often an individual feels that because someone has written or said something about them they have to believe it and then act. Of course it could be arrogant to just ignore what’s been said. Here are a few questions you could consider as you work out how to respond:

1)      Do I recognise what’s been suggested and if I do how important is it?

2)      Is this feedback in line with my values and personal goals?

3)      How much about what has been said is actually a reflection on the person giving the feedback (their circumstances or values)?

4)      What could I do to corroborate what’s been suggested?

5)      Who else could I involve?

To get the most from the questions you really need to get into an objective frame of mind. Clearing your head of cluttered thoughts and stress is important with this. One exercise you can do is play the Panel Game. You have been accused of X. Imagine that you’ve been asked to appear before a panel to present your side of events. How would you prepare? What evidence could you gather? If you decide the evidence stacks up and you have to agree with the person then how would you go about convincing the panel that you’re going to respond positively. Alternatively if you decide you don’t agree how will you demonstrate to the panel that it’s ok to discount? Done well this exercise can really enhance your thinking. If you wanted to take it to the next level you could always select imaginary members of the panel that you trust and respect – make sure the panel has balance. If it’s full of members of your personal fan club you’re unlikely to take the exercise seriously.  How about adding someone to really challenge your thinking?

Feedback is an involved subject which requires more space to explore than this blog post. For now the final thing I’d encourage is seek out objective feedback, give it the respect it deserves and lastly make sure you keep a sense of perspective. Go on, seek feedback from three people in the next 30 days. You might just get a great surprise you were not expecting.

How proactive is your tolerance?


ToleranceI’ve been exploring the latest book from Paul McGee ‘how to succeed with people‘.  It’s written in Paul’s typical style – full of no nonsense, practical advice. I’ll be reviewing the full book in due course. So why this post? One short sentence in the book really resonated with me “We receive the performance (behavior) that we’re willing to tolerate“.

I really like the thought provoking nature of the words. Could they have application beyond performance and behavior?  As I started to think about this two things stood out:

  1. How much by our tolerance of something are we are playing a part in our own concerns and or unhappiness?
  2. I’ve typically considered tolerance to be a real asset – could these words bring that into question?

For me, point one focuses on how comfortable we are with accepting we have a choice in any given situation. I’d argue strongly that we do have choice. I’m not arguing that we can control what happens to us but we can choose our response. For example, working in a team, our approach to dealing with illness or relationship with a loved one. What is important is going beyond the point of tolerance and proactively thinking about how we could take ownership and deal with a situation. Focusing on the things we can influence either directly or indirectly is a great way to approach this.

So picking up on my second point. I’d still argue that tolerance is an asset; for me at least. However, it could be detrimental if it’s not used in parallel with proactive action. And let me be clear that pro-activity comes in many forms and could include your own thought processes. I guess Steve Peter’s in the Chimp Paradox would call that good chimp management.

So the next time you catch yourself bemoaning a situation either to others or in your head why not flip it and ask yourself how much has your tolerance of things lead to where you are? Of course, you then need to rise to the challenge and do something about it. You might just find you’re the key to unlocking and improving things. Is there something that you’ve been tolerating that you could do something about in the next 7 days. Go on, have a think about that and then take some action.

Sir Dave Brailsford answer an Effective Challenge question

sir dave brailsfordEffective challenge has been fortunate enough to ask Sir Dave Brailsford of British Cycling a question about leadership. The questions was this “for a leader who inspires many, who inspires you?”. The video below gives his answer. Which is basically inspiring leaders are everywhere in all walks of life.

You need to be on the look out for them.

Sir Dave Brailsford answers Effective Challenge question


What an interesting stand point and one I whole heatedly agree with. For me leadership isn’t a position its a choice. No matter where you are in an organisation or society you have a choice to adopt a leadership attitude and more importantly leadership actions. The goal of Effective Challenge is to enourage people to increase their personal effectiveness links firmly with this.

So why don’t you get on the look out in the coming seven days for leadership examples that standout in your life and share them back with the EC community.

Good luck.

Do you know how demanding your success is likely to be?

jigsawIts struck me over the last few weeks when talking and working with a number of individuals how important it is to break down the component parts of any future success you want to achieve. Some up front thinking here can really help shape and focus any plans that you construct.

The more I’ve thought about this the stronger the case develops that this type of thinking approach can apply to the short, medium and longer term goals that you want to achieve.There’s a chance you might get blindsided to something that is really important simply because you’re too close to what you want to achieve. Emotion and excitement can override your more rational thinking here.  To offset this potential and get more input, try testing out your thinking with others to help make sure you’ve got all bases covered. This also has the added benefit of signaling your intent beyond just you.

When you’ve got everything listed out you can start thinking how you could become excellent at achieving what’s required to meet the demands of the event or activity. Challenge yourself to get beyond the basics here. Take your thinking and action to a new level.

Here’s an example to bring this thinking to life. So you want to improve your overall health. Quite quickly you could develop the key demands of such an objective – for example, fitness, weight management, stress management etc. I’ll pick one item to illustrate the point – weight management  For some the demands of weight management relate to food intake and weight. Anyone thinking along these lines is right. There is however an opportunity to go a little deeper. How about your knowledge of nutrition, ability to put together tasty menus and cook them. If any of these areas are not as you’d like them once you’ve done the thinking you’ve got concrete items for inclusion in your development plan.

So focusing on the demands of a particular objective can really help unlock what’s required to increase the chances and quality of your success. As with any type of approach just thinking is not enough. You will need to translate the thinking into positive action.

Good luck and why not share your experiences with other Effective Challenge readers?