Thursday, 29 March 2018

Your Best is Too Good

I know that you always do your best. I mean, why would you ever give less? You've got a lifetime of experience, and you know that you can do what you do better than anyone else could.

And, often, that means you're over-stretched. You're working late again. Maybe working at weekends. Maybe taking work calls when you're on the beach. And all because no-one else can do what you do as well as you do.

When you were growing up, you were probably quite a competitive person, maybe you excelled in sports, or in your studies. And when you did your best, that was what was important for you.

Now that you're where you are now, you can look back and see that your career has been continually built on this foundation, a foundation of excellence, of hard work, of self-sacrifice. You've made some mistakes along the way, maybe some compromises.

Your biggest challenge is that there are only so many hours in the day, and if there were only two of you, or more hours, then you could get more done. But the reality of life imposes certain limits, and that's frustrating.

Well, I have some news for you. There is nothing wrong in doing your best, always. In fact, when someone tries to convince you that good enough is good enough, that conflict that you feel is very real. Good enough is absolutely not good enough. Only the best is good enough. Also, there's no problem in gaining the approval of others. We are a social species and we need approval to navigate a course through life. Like it or not, we are on this planet with other people; families, friends, colleagues, customers. No man is an island, and no woman either. We are in this together.

The danger with approval is in starting from the default position that you don't have it. Once you've been accepted, maybe into a new job or relationship, you've proven yourself. You don't have to keep on doing it.

So here's the thing about always doing your best. Sometimes, your best is actually too good.

Imagine taking a taxi to a customer meeting so that you can prepare your presentation. On arrival, you might think that you could have driven more smoothly, you could have taken a better route, you could have arrived faster. However, you got to where you needed to be, and you were able to use that time more productively, to focus on something that was more important for you. You could have prepared or driven, and excelled at either, but you could only do one, so you chose the one that made the biggest difference for your future.

Imagine if you'd driven, and lost the business because you were unprepared. Imagine saying to the customer, "But I drove here really well!"

In customer service, people often give away profits by giving customers things they hadn't asked for. "Sorry for keeping you waiting, here's a discount", or "Sorry that we don't have that in stock, have a more expensive version for the same price". If the customer didn't ask for it, and doesn't value it, then all you've done is give away profit. In customer service, it's very easy to be too good, and the problem is that customers don't necessarily notice or care, and that effort went to waste.

My overall message here is that you are part of a system, and when you try to be the best at everything, it eats into your time, preventing you from focusing on what's important, and that prevents you from being recognised as the best.

Often, your best is too good.

By all means, do your best, be the best. Simply focus on the areas that are going to make the biggest difference to your future. And leave the driving to someone else.


Peter Freeth is an executive coach, talent and leadership expert and a keen learner from his busy, perfectionist clients who could be spending their time doing something far more valuable.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Why Do Talent Programs Fail?

I'm conducting research into what makes talent management programs effective, and what can be done to increase the accuracy of predictions made about 'high potentials'. As you might expect if you've read any of my books, the initial results are already fascinating and counter-intuitive. It seems that future potential has almost nothing to do with what you think constitutes a 'future leader', and is almost entirely dependent on something that I've been saying about high performers for the past 20 years - that the alignment between the individual and the organisational culture is almost all that matters.

I've drawn up a visual representation of some of the things that I've noticed in 15 years of running 'hipo' talent and future leader programs.

To offer some interpretation of this, what I consistently see within any group of named 'high potentials' is a top group of 20-30% who will fully engage with the process and achieve good outcomes in terms of career progression and role KPIs. At the other end of the scale is a bottom group of 20-30% who will not engage with the process and achieve unpredictable outcomes in terms of role KPIs, and almost never achieve career progression within the program. Remember that all of these people are actually identified by the organisation as 'high potentials'.

One of the things we therefore have to understand is the definition of 'high potential', because we cannot predict the potential of anyone or anything, unless we are constraining that potential.

The second interesting factor is the effect of telling someone that they are a 'high potential'. I've recently been talking to students at Aston University who are working on research to understand this effect. It's show in the diagram above as the 'spotlight', which I find polarises participants to move to either the top or bottom quartile.

The greatest predictor of future performance in the talent program seems to be the alignment between the individual's own goals, interests or values with those of the organisation. Imagine that you get on a train, but you don't really know where the train is going. Based on the behaviour of other passengers, and the stations that the train passes through, you become increasingly confident that this is 'your' train, so you get a drink, relax, read a book, maybe even have a short sleep.

Now imagine that you don't recognise the stations, some passengers reassure you that the train is going to your destination, but you just don't feel confident. Will you relax? How will you behave when the train approaches a station? Will you consider your options and wonder if you should switch trains?

These two examples illustrate the effect of alignment on the engagement of a 'high potential' in a talent program, and the results that you can therefore expect from them.

Procrastinate Tomorrow

I've seen a few things about procrastination lately, articles, presentations and so on. All nonsense, I'm afraid, because they all approached procrastination as an issue of motivation and focus, so all you have to do is get motivated and focus. Whoa! If someone had only told me it was that easy!


Procrastination has nothing to do with motivation. In fact, the more you procrastinate, the more motivated you are, because you keep finding the energy to come back to something.

No, procrastination is about FEAR. Just in the past week I've worked with seasoned executives, directors, business owners and sales people whose best laid plans were derailed by fears that they were largely unaware of. Fear is so powerful, so pervasive, that it nudges us off track before we even realise, and before we know it, we've spent the morning doing anything other than what we meant to do.

Here is an antidote for you, a series of simple questions to help you to identify what is pushing you away from your intended outcome so that you can take action.

When you catch yourself starting the same task for maybe the 2nd or 3rd time, just pause for a moment and ask yourself this series of questions:

Why am I avoiding this?

What do I imagine is going to happen if I complete this task?

Is that what I want to happen?

What is it that I do want, then?

And what shall I do now to get that?

These questions help you to focus on the imaginary scenario that represents the fear which is pushing you off track. It could be fear of conflict, criticism, rejection, these seem to be the most common. Maybe if you finish a project or send an email, the recipient might not like it, might be angry at you. By acknowledging that imagined scenario, you have an opportunity to realise the obvious truth - that it is in the future and therefore cannot be real. You can then focus on what you do want, and what practical action you can take now to move towards that.

I can't guarantee that you'll become a super-efficient productivity machine by doing this, but I am highly certain that you'll get a little more done, more easily, each day, and if you keep on doing that, good things are just bound to happen.

Friday, 2 February 2018

Stop Selling Yourself

The most common complaint I hear from self employed people and anyone who is personally connected to their product such as an artist or writer is, “But I find it hard to sell myself”.

My advice is simple. Don’t sell yourself. Your family will not thank you for it. It doesn’t matter how much money someone offers you for you, you’ll regret it in the long run because you won’t be able to spend it, and since they now own you, they also own the money they just paid you for you, so it’s never a good deal.

Instead, sell something that you know or have made. You can sell lots of these things without having to give any part of you away permanently.

So not being able to sell yourself is not a problem, because you should never be doing that anyway. Instead, you have to be clear on what your product is.

If you’re a trainer or consultant, your product might be knowledge. If you’re a coach, hypnotherapist or masseuse it might be your expertise.

Selling your time is almost as bad as selling yourself. There is only one of you to sell, and there isn’t much more of your time to go round either. Let’s say you want to work 8 hours a day, which means you can only sell 40 hours a week. An artist might charge more for a limited edition print, so you might value your limited time in a similar way.

Now, I’m not talking about that holy grail of passive income which all the coaching e-books tell you about. The idea is that you write an e-book, or charge people to look at your website, and you create a passive income stream. Hooray! Everyone can have a passive income stream and retire to the coast! As the American life coaches say, you can “monetize your blog”, which sounds painful. The latest thinking from the cutting edge of ‘self-actualization’ is that you write a blog, then turn it into an e-book to sell, then you give the e-book away so that people think they’re getting something of value from you. Whoever thought of that obviously had a day job to pay the mortgage.

No, what I am talking about is putting value on the result of your expertise and knowledge rather than putting the value on the length of time it takes you to use that expertise and knowledge. In other words, how it is that your client benefits from what you know or can do. And what I am talking about here is designed not to create the perception of value but to put real cash in your bank account.

Whatever your views on capitalism, materialism, consumerism or antidisestablishmentarianism, there’s no denying the fact that cash in the bank comes in very handy indeed, especially when it comes to those little essentials of life such as eating and keeping a roof over your head.

By the way, this also implies that the better you are, the faster you can achieve results, so you actually deliver your service in less time. If the client values your service less because it takes less time, they are not valuing their own time. A client who values their own time understands the importance of coaching taking less of it in order for them to achieve the results they want.

If you’re a masseuse, your product is neither a massage nor an hour of your time. You might sell an hour’s appointment, but that’s a scheduling issue, not a sales issue. If I could feel that good after 5 minutes, why would I want to spend an hour there? So what I really want is to feel relaxed, or energised, or whatever you want to feel after a massage.

If you’re a trainer, are you valuing your knowledge by the time it takes to transmit it? If that’s the case then why not charge by the word? By now, I expect you to be charging based on the value of what your learners can do as a result of your training. If their sales performance increases by 10% then you could show an excellent return on investment by charging anything close to that.

So why don’t more sales trainers charge £10,000 for a day’s training that increases the team’s output by £100,000?

Perhaps because no-one else is. Perhaps because they’re not totally confident their training will have that result. Perhaps because they can’t be bothered to measure the return on investment once the initial decision to buy the training has been made and they’re home dry. Perhaps because they can’t appreciate how their time can be worth that much, it just doesn’t seem right when you compare it to an average salary for an employee.

Economists understand the concept of ‘price anchoring’, whereby price is such an arbitrary label that no-one really knows what anything should cost until someone tells them. On that basis, some people are comfortable paying the same amount for a new car that I spent on my first house, even though the car will be worthless long before it needs replacement. The car marketers are selling the concept of ‘newness’ as much as the car itself.

One thing you can ask of yourself is what you’re doing in the time when you’re not ‘delivering’. Professional athletes can win quite a lot of money in a sports tournament. However, there are only so many of those a year and a lot of potential winners, so when you work out their annual salary it’s about equivalent to someone with a full time job. They’ll add to that with advertising and public speaking too. But here’s the thing – it is a full time job. They’re working on their game every day of the week. If they only play one big tournament a year, they spend the rest of the year getting ready for it.

So what would it be like if you spent the whole year getting ready for one piece of work? What would its value to you be then? If you spent a whole year learning, practising and preparing for one project, the client would get an amazing piece of work from you, wouldn’t they?

“Yeah, yeah”, you’re thinking. Pricing on value rather than cost sounds nice but it doesn’t work in practice. Maybe, maybe not. I heard about a company that makes luxury yachts that cost a million Pounds per metre in length. A Rolls Royce car probably costs no more to make than any other Volkswagen. But how many of those products can the market sustain? Not many, because the economy has evolved to sustain a range of products at a range of prices.

No matter what you charge for your services, I guarantee you will not be the cheapest, and I guarantee you will not be the most expensive either. Knowing that you fall within the market system, you can choose how to price your services, not on the cost of your time but on where you want to position yourself in that market.

A student on a NLP Practitioner course once asked me about day rates for training. She felt that she could only charge a certain amount, which was ludicrously low. Up until the point you start doing the work you’re hired to do, the client has no idea whether you are worth what you’re charging. And based on the concept of price anchoring, your work is worth pretty much what you think it is. She said that she was afraid to justify a higher day rate, so I said to her, “It’s not your job to justify it. It’s the client’s job to justify it. It’s your job to ask for it.” A decade later and she is living the dream, having moved abroad, running online training for other coaches and trainers, and giving them advice on what to charge!

Remember, you can’t sell yourself because there’s only one of you to sell, so you can only sell yourself once. Your time is almost as limited, so you could sell it but you would run out of it so quickly that it wouldn’t be worth the trouble.

Selling the result of your knowledge or expertise is best of all, because it’s a tangible product that you can define in the client’s terms, and there is no limit to how much of it you can sell.

You might only want to spend a maximum of 40, or 20, or 10 hours a week generating that result for your clients, but that’s a lifestyle decision that you make for yourself, not one that your clients make for you.

What you are really selling is therefore not your time and not your ‘self’. You are selling your Intellectual Property, and it’s such a valuable commodity that there are laws to protect it. The reason that most service providers charge on a time basis is that time is the only constraint that limits how much IP you can sell. If your business model is to write your IP down then you’ll charge for access to that, for example with a subscription to a content website, or a cover price for a book. If your business model is to pass that IP onto the client, you’ll charge for training time, perhaps with an element of results-based charging, or something like a license fee for profiling tools. If your business model is to retain that IP yourself then you have to be ‘hands on’ when working with clients, and you have to charge on a time basis. But for all of these examples, what you are charging for is not a book, or website access, or licenses, or time, but for the value created by the application of your unique Intellectual Property.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Getting Your Clients Unstuck

Great coaching models such as GROW are very useful. Except when your client doesn’t know what they want and doesn’t tell the truth about where they are, so any options they come up with are meaningless, and there’s no way forward.

The result of trying to navigate when you don’t know where you’re going and you don’t know where you are is that you stay in the same place, which is called being stuck.

The fundamental problem is that your clients don’t tell you the truth, and that’s because they don’t trust you. Yes, yes, I know you spend lots of time on your contracting, and explaining your ethics, and building rapport, but none of that constitutes trust, because trust is based on past experience. And when a new client meets you for the first time, they already know you, very well. They know you because you are their parent, their teacher, the school bully, their last boss and their critical friend. You are the blank canvas onto which they project the very experiences that prevent them from getting to where they want to be. You are both the enabler of their hopes and dreams, and a reminder of their darkest fears. You don’t have to spend time identifying the obstacles in front of them, the obstacle is you. As they say, what is in the way is the way.

If you have any experience as a coach, I’m sure you’ll have had the experience of working with someone over the course of a few sessions, only to get to the point where you frustratedly say to yourself, “Why didn’t you tell me that in the first place??”

And that’s the issue. They couldn’t tell you any sooner, because they didn’t trust you. They already knew that, presented with their most valued aspirations, you would scoff, or laugh, or dismiss their ideas out of hand. They knew that you would ridicule them and tell them that they’re living in cloud cuckooland. Because that kind of dismissive feedback is what has prevented them from taking action before now. Of course, something has recently changed, because they have decided to talk to you. Yet still, they tip-toe forwards very, very carefully.

Here’s an example of what a client might say to you as an opening statement:

"I want to be able to trust people."

Now, this may not be obvious, but this opening statement is not true. The client isn’t intentionally misleading you. Probably. But they’re not being honest either. They make bad things sounds not so bad, and goals seem not so extravagant. And of course, they would be exactly where they want to be, if they only had the time or the inclination. It’s not because they’re stupid, and it’s most definitely certainly absolutely not because they’re afraid. And if they were afraid, even just a tiny bit, there’s no way they would trust a complete stranger like you with their greatest weakness. Especially a stranger who looks just like their old boss who told them they’d never amount to anything…

For a coach who can’t get the client past this point, the process will go round in circles. So how to get the client unstuck, without the inconvenience of taking weeks or months to build trust? Enter The Unsticker!

Consider this problem statement:

"I am always anxious about almost everything. I want to be more relaxed and able to do every day things without constant worrying."

As a coach, what questions would you ask? Take a moment to think of a few examples that come to mind.

What do all of your questions have in common? Obviously that they are relevant to the problem. And right there is the problem. The problem is not the problem. What the client describes is not the problem, it is a representation of the problem. Because the client has not yet found a solution, the problem is insoluble, and they will both describe it and represent it as such, typically using a familiar phrase such as, “I’ve tried everything and nothing works”. So, give up all hope, ye who enter here. Don’t even try. It can’t be done. It’s impossible. What the client wants is not a solution but comfort that you couldn’t find a solution either, so that’s OK, they’re not stupid. And they’re definitely certainly absolutely not afraid.

Therefore, asking questions that are relevant to the problem is reassuring, which is what the client really wants, but it is not helpful, which is what they client says that they want. And is probably what they really really want.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

2018, Here We Come!

Well, here we are then. Another year rolls round. Time for a new calendar - The Guardians of the Galaxy are confined to my office dustbin and Hieronymus Bosch now graces my wall. Outside, there's a bit of blue sky, a bit of grey, the threat of a sunset and the hint of leftover rain. Nothing to indicate the passage of another year.

Nature understands days, months, seasons and years. They are the natural cycles of the Earth, Moon and Sun, and they have influenced our very existence. So when the Earth is back to the same place in its cycle around the Sun, we humans let off fireworks, dance in the street, fall down drunk and, most bizarrely of all, make ridiculous promises to ourselves about the new things we'll do.

Gym owners love this time of year, of course. If you have joined, or resolved to join a gym this year then the staff will be calling you a 'GBV' - not to your face of course. It stands for 'Gone By Valentines', an indication that your best intentions will last for exactly 6 weeks before your shiny new kit bag joins all the other life change junk in the cupboard under the stairs.

The invention of the electric light bulb forced a new rhythm onto the human race, the rhythm of industry. 24 hour working days, 7 days a week. The supermarkets close for just one day a year, just long enough for us to feel withdrawal symptoms and separation anxiety.

So what? I mean, a big, fat, hairy, so what? Think of all the terrible things that 2016 brought us. Celebrity deaths a-plenty, wars, tragedies, natural disasters. Plane crashes, hijackings, terrorist plots, Brexits, Trumpovers, currency woes, stock market woes. Good riddance 2017, we all say, you were a useless year anyway.

Some people have taken to social media to ask their friends to list wondrous and delightful things that happened during 2017, but the list is short. In truth, it was just another year. We had shock elections and referendums, celebrity scandals, celebrity deaths, regular deaths, births, rebirths and many, many cat videos. As the Gods say, "All of this has happened before, and it will all happen again".

And so, like the lemmings at the top of this page, we hurl ourselves over the cliff because, well, because that's the way it is. A year ends, a year starts, the same old routine. Make promises, forget them, pretend it all never happened.

Now, you probably know that lemmings don't actually jump off cliffs unless they are being herded by a Disney camera crew. So in reality, the only reason why you'd repeat the same old routine is because you're being herded towards that cliff. Who is pushing you? Be honest, you're pushing yourself, aren't you?

Well, stop it. Embrace the natural rhythms of life. You're like a tree, you need time to shed the old and create the new. You need a rest, a break, time to regenerate. Reject the electric light! Tell your boss you're going home at 5:00! Take up a hobby for the weekend! Learn to recognise your family again! Reacquaint yourself with your duvet! Hit the snooze button! Hit it again! And again!

You are not a bottomless reserve of energy. You do not have an endless supply of life. You are not immortal. Another year will always come along, you may or may not live to see it.

But sure, spend the evening on that spreadsheet. Spend your weekend preparing for that conference. Have some more caffeine, that will replace all that lost sleep. Buy yourself some paleo juice. And on the way home, read all the adverts, hoping to find the answer there.

You know the answer already. Happy New Year!

Thursday, 28 December 2017

The Leader Manager Cycle

Management development programs just aren't trendy any more. Everybody wants to be a leader. Well, you can't be a leader. In a hierarchical organisation, there can be only one. And you all have to follow him or her.

On the other hand, perhaps anyone can be a leader, and everyone will be a leader at some time, in some situation. If there's a fire in your office, does your CEO overrule the appointed fire marshall? As I've recently written in another article, the debate over whether leaders are born or bred can be settled as follows: Leaders are born, in that we are all born with the capacity to lead. Some people are bred to develop those innate qualities.

In any organisation, we see the same fundamental conflict that exists within all of us who suffer from this affliction called 'the human condition' - we want to be here, and we want to be somewhere else. We want more, without losing what we have. We want to be comfortable, and at peace, and content, and we want to be up and moving towards some new goal that has caught our eye. We can't have it both ways.

This is the organisational conflict of maintenance versus development. We want the organisation to grow, but we can't stop doing the things that we're doing. We have to pay the bills and look to the future, and the organisation that balances both of those will tend to be more successful over time. In a river, you have to swim to stay in the same place, and in an evolving market, you have to innovate just to stay where you are.

How does this relate to management and leadership?

The difference between management and leadership must first be defined, as follows. Management is the practice of maintaining the operations of an organisation, whereas leadership is the practice of developing the operations of an organisation. A manager is concerned with day-to-day activities, staff well-being and annual targets. A leader is concerned with strategy, growth and new opportunities. Therefore, there is always a balance between maintaining the organisation as it is today, versus reshaping it for the future.

Overall, management development will strengthen best practice in day-to-day operations, but will tend to maintain the organisation as it is today. Even if the organisation has no growth plans, the market is evolving, and competition is increasing from both local and foreign players. If the organisation is unable to respond to market changes then every new development becomes a significant threat, eroding markets and shifting customer focus to more exciting competitors.

Leadership development has the potential to strengthen best practice in growing and adapting the organisation to change. In an evolving market, an organisation must adapt just to maintain its current position. With strong leadership skills at both the local and head office levels, and effective communication between the two, market innovations transform from a threat to an opportunity, with access to customers and market channels that were not previously available. Growth in the business drives the need for new management practices, which in turn feeds back into management development, and the two areas work together in a complementary cycle.

If you're a gardener, do you plant new seeds or mow the lawn?

If you're an engineer, do you create new machines or fix the old ones?

If you're a chef, do you deliver customer orders or create new recipes?

The reality is that serving your current customers looks to the past, and finding new customers looks to the future, and that is the essential conflict that plagues us. Other lifeforms just exist in the moment. Our advanced brains deny us that pleasure, giving us both memories and imaginations that create new realities.

Whatever you do for a living, you need to juggle both; past and future, to maintain and to create. It is in our nature, and it's something we were all born to excel at.

It's not a choice or a compromise between leading and managing. You need to do both.


Peter Freeth is a leadership and talent expert who is currently juggling the past and future whilst also creating new insights to share with others.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Happy 40th Birthday, Glass Ceiling

'The glass ceiling' is 40 years old, but I believe it has evolved, now there are two. The glass ceiling that Marilyn Loden spoke about was a barrier of discrimination, and now that barrier is dissolving. Maybe some people think not quickly enough. Certainly when the Mayor of London says that he's working hard to remove the gender pay gap, some people think that all you have to do is give women a pay rise. Critics say it's not that easy. I tend to think it is - though it does hike the wage bill significantly.

When companies such as Hugo Boss 'accidentally' submit the wrong data on their gender pay gap reports, implying incorrectly that they pay everyone equally (until challenged by the Government Equalities Office), it does make it seem less likely that this is going to be resolved any time soon.

However, the thing about a glass ceiling is that it is transparent from both directions. Organisational managers have always known that there's a pay gap, so why has it been allowed to persist? Simply, because if managers can get away with paying people less, they will do. And when "it's the way things are", who has the courage to make a fuss? If you push too hard at the interview, they'll hire someone else, and once you're hired, it's almost impossible to change. Just try getting a pay rise over the rate of inflation.

So the situation persists because that's the way the system is. As soon as you hire someone on an equal pay basis, everyone else in the organisation cries foul. So yes, from the point of view of salary costs, it's something that has to change gradually.

But this is a situation that affects millions of workers, who are paid less for all kinds of reasons, despite producing the same output and working the same hours. This is a generic situation, and since the 1980s we've had individual appraisals and performance related pay, and that has led to a situation where no-one is looking out for your career plans. You have to do that yourself, and that in turn leads to the second glass ceiling.

For all your working life, you have been rewarded for doing certain things. Perhaps for being a super salesperson, or a tough manager, or an aggressive buyer. Every time you got a pay rise or promotion, you thought that was the reason why. Eventually, you will reach the stage where the qualities that got you to where you are become the very things that prevent you from getting any further. At a certain stage in your career, you have to reinvent yourself, and that means letting go of all the things that you've been rewarded for until now, which are all the things that you think you value most about yourself.

In order to move forwards, you have to let go of the familiar, you have to step off the edge. Maybe, we can all do that together.


Peter Freeth is a talent expert and author, currently working on a new book that helps high potentials to get noticed and achieve their career aspirations.

You can help with the research for the book (and even get a credit) by visiting the Genius website and completing two short surveys.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Swipe Your Boss - Right?

Imagine that you find yourself single tomorrow, and after a brief period of leaving the dishes to pile up and wearing stale underwear, you decide to go back on the 'dating scene'. Imagine that you get with the times and go for an online dating adventure.

Imagine writing your profile. You describe yourself optimistically yet somewhat honestly. You describe your ideal match as honest, reliable, open, caring, supportive, fun, a good listener and so on. All the qualities that you think are important. You might even call these 'values', which they're not. More on that later.

You see a profile that you like the look of, and you 'swipe right'. You get chatting, find a few things in common, and nervously arrange to meet for a drink.

It's the big night, and you're waiting in the bar that they suggested. They walk in. They look like their photo. Big sigh of relief. They smile, say hello. All good so far. They order the drinks, choosing for you. You think that's a bit presumptuous, but you give them the benefit of the doubt. They tell you all about themselves, and as you try to get a word in edgeways, they interrupt to tell you what they want, what they're looking for and all the areas in which they excel. They tell you how important their job is, what a great car they've got, how they bought their apartment for cash from their last sales bonus. You start to glance towards the door, your heart sinking with every pompous, self-important word. They tell you what they want from you, and they glare at you disapprovingly with every objection that you raise. They dismiss your suggestions out of hand and, at the end of the evening, tell you that you were not really up to scratch, but they're prepared to give you a second chance.

Do you agree to a second date?

If you have any shred of self-respect left, you say "no, thanks". And yet, some people say yes, because they are afraid that's the best they can do. They are afraid to keep looking.

When it comes to one of your most important relationships, the relationship that you have with your employer, many people endure such a second date. And a third. And a fourth. Day. After day. After day.


Every choice that we make is a compromise. While I'm writing this, I'm not finishing the other work that I'm supposed to be doing. While you're reading this, you're not making that phone call.

Going to work is a free choice, but for many people, it's not a fair choice. Many people get into a relationship with a less-than-ideal employer because they need to pay the bills and take care of their family. They put their own needs, hopes and dreams second. That might seem like a bearable compromise in the short term, but in the long term it causes stress, and stress causes a while variety of illnesses. A huge number of employees today, in jobs all over the world, and companies like yours, a compromising on one of their most important relationships because they are putting the needs of others before their own.

I'm sure we've all been in relationships because of convenience, or because we thought we weren't worth any better, or because we were afraid to leave. We've all compromised on what we wanted, because we thought that what we needed was more important. Our wants can wait, but our needs demand to be met.

For many people, going into a job where they're undervalued and undermined is like having that second date, day after day. Knowing full well what to expect and doing it anyway, believing that they don't have another choice.

You probably can't imagine yourself entering into a relationship on such terms. You also probably can't imagine treating someone that way. Yet managers do, every day, in organisations just like yours.

I mentioned earlier that qualities such as honesty and caring aren't values, and when leaders create organisational values such as honesty and customer focus, those words aren't values either - they are wants, and wants are things that you don't have.

Your corporate values are words that describe how your employees want to feel, and want to be treated, and aren't. When you're holding your focus groups and consulting with your consultants, no-one mentions air and water as values. We take those things for granted. If you're lucky enough to be in a loving, caring, supportive relationship, you wouldn't say that love and care and support are important, because you already have them, and they become 'givens'. You don't ask for what you've already got.

So, I leave you with two ideas.

Firstly, treat your employees, colleagues and clients as if they really have a free choice about that second date.

Secondly, stop compromising. You can have all the things that are important to you. The first thing you have to do is ask for them.


Peter Freeth is a very lucky consultant, talent expert, author and maker of countless questionable choices, all of which he seems to have survived. Having learnt enough lessons for now, he's taking a short break from compromising.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Be Your Own Coach

OK, I admit it. The headline is misleading. You can't coach yourself. It's not possible. You can't see yourself, you see, so you can't give yourself feedback. You might think that you can motivate yourself, or guide yourself, but you can't. What you're actually doing is simulating someone else, but let's not get into that now. Let's talk about how you can use your existing network to replace or supplement the role of a coach.

Why does coaching work?

Fundamentally, coaching works because it is:

  • Neutral
  • Challenging
  • Scheduled

Yes, you heard me right. Coaching does not work because of some fancy psychodynamic twaddle. It does not work because the coach has some amazing insight into your character. It does not work because the coach uses a fabulous psychometric tool that reveals your true self.

You already know yourself, you already know your true self and you already have the insights you need, but if they're not convenient for you, you will lie about them, even to yourself. Fortunately, everyone else sees right through you, they're just too polite to say anything, or they're using your self-deception to take advantage of you. But let's not go into that right now.

So coaching works for those three reasons above. Let me expand on those, and show you how you can replicate those 'dimensions' with your existing friends, family and colleagues.


A good coach knows that there is no good or bad, just cause and effect. If a client tells me they have made a mistake or done something bad, I have to ask why they're telling me in such a loaded way. Are they trying to get me to give them sympathy? Or absolve them of their sin? They will be unsuccessful because I don't care. Stuff happens as a result of other stuff happening and when stuff happens it causes other stuff to happen. And so the great cycle of life continues. People react to each other, and people react to circumstances, and that's how we get through life, so get over yourself. What's more important is what have you learned from it, and how will you use that learning to do something different next time?


A good coach tells you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. If you want sympathy, or absolution, or a soft touch, you're not getting it from me. You can get that from most of your friends and colleagues, and where does that leave you? Right where you are, feeling sorry for yourself. If you're complaining about your situation at work, then I'll ask why you created it in the first place. If you're complaining that no-one listens to you, I'll ask if you ever say anything worth hearing. And if you're being hard on yourself unnecessarily, I'll ask you to give yourself a bit of credit once in a while. What you want, fundamentally, is to maintain the status quo, so you will tend to seek out relationships that maintain your current course. If you want to change that course, you need challenge. And let's not forget, you wouldn't be seeking coaching if you didn't want to change course. On the other hand, whilst you might want to make changes, that's often easier said than done, partly because you can't see yourself, so you can't see all the changes that you need to make in the right perspective. So challenge is vital, even though that doesn't have to be scary or disruptive.


If you wait until you need to talk, it’s too late. You might already talk to your friends and colleagues when you have a problem, but it's too late. The problem exists because you created it. You didn't learn your lesson last time, you didn't reflect and learn and you didn't change your approach, and the same problem keeps happening over and over, with different people and in different places. If you adopt a reactive approach to coaching, your focus will always be remedial, on finding a temporary fix for the current problem only. And the pattern will repeat itself. What you need is to talk to your coach because it's time to talk to your coach. That scheduled conversation forces you to step back and reflect on what you've been doing, and enables you to plan your strategy, and that enables you to make changes. The timing of coaching sessions is often more important than the content of them, because if you're committed to the process, you will prepare for a session, and will have actions to implement afterwards, which extends the reach of the process of change into your daily routine.

How to replicate the coaching relationship

  1. Think of 2 or 3 people who you know, who know you, and who you trust.
  2. Ask those people if you can have regular conversations with them, where you talk about what's going on in your life and work, and they give you honest feedback on what you're missing, what you've ignored or what you may have distorted, and where they suggest some actions for you that are relevant to the changes you want to make.
  3. Set a series of regular discussions with them in your diary.
  4. Keep track of those discussions and measure the results that you achieve.
  5. Get on with it!

A person doesn't have to be an amazing coach, or even a coach at all, in order to provide you with neutral, valuable feedback. You simply have to commit to accepting their feedback, no matter how much you don't like it. The worse it feels to hear the feedback, the better you can feel about the fact that at least one person cares enough about you to tell you what everyone else knows but is hiding from you.

What if you think you're so self aware that you don't need a coach? Trust me. You are not self-aware. Not even one little bit. You don't even know there's spinach in your teeth.


Peter Freeth is an executive coach, working with global businesses to develop their future leaders. He also wrote a super little book called Coaching Excellence which has all of this good stuff in it, and more.

Matt Hatson says, "A straightforward, no holds barred guide to the steps to coaching mastery. As well as boiling down the real keys to an effective coaching session, it also explores the behaviours that coaches sometimes have that hold them back from making a real difference. A powerful read from start to finish, and a book that I'm revisiting constantly to help refine my skills and push through the fear, whoever's fear it happens to be."

Greg Schweitzer says, "This is literally one of the best books I have ever read about coaching! Peter Freeth gets it. His fresh insight and creative approach come with a deep profundity and clarity that demystifies the process of coaching. His insight into the proper place and use of models, listening deeply and linguistic representation provide an uncomplicated depth to be the best coach possible. Thank you!"