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January 2011

December 2010

Driven or called?

I recently asked on my Linkedin status bar whether you were driven or called? This is an interesting concept I picked up from Gordon Macdonald's book, Ordering your Private World, which won't be to everyone's taste in its evangelical fervour, but still contains some very insightful comments. I particularly liked Gordon's description of the eight characteristics of being driven. Clearly, being driven is not good. So, as we enter 2011, and you consider your new year's resolutions, ask yourself, do these apply to me, and should I resolve to stop being driven, and find my calling?

First, driven people are usually only gratified by accomplishment. It is that point at which the 'psychology of achievement' become all pervasive. When I first heard Brian Tracy's audio set of the same name it was eye opening and deeply refreshing; but since, I have met too many people who are wholly preoccupied with achievement – and nothing else. There is in this situation, then, no process along the way, only results.

Second, these same people tend to be preoccupied with symbols of their accomplishment: obsessions with status, titles, privileges and perhaps, most tellingly, knowing other 'greats' so that one feels recognised as well as connected.

Third, driven people are often caught in the uncontrolled pursuit of expansion. A book I recently endorsed on my Linkedin profile is Bo Burlingham's 'Small Giants'. This book epitomises the exact opposite of the uncontrolled pursuit of expansion: these were CEOs who rather than become corporate and bigger and blander decided to develop value propositions and keep their businesses relatively small and distinctive. Hurrah! How are you expanding?

Fourth, and perhaps controversially, driven people tend to have a limited regard for integrity. It's fine to talk about and practise it until it gets in the way of achievement or of expansion. This was all too evident with Enron, the banks and countless other wannabe giants of the business world.

Fifth, driven people often possess limited or undeveloped people skills. As Gordon Macdonald observes: the pursuit of their goals invariably leaves a 'trail of bodies'. They get a reputation for 'getting things done', but usually at a terrible future, rather than immediate, cost. They move on to the next project before all the consequences – people consequences – of their current work have fully materialised.

Sixth, driven people tend to be highly competitive. This sounds good – sometimes being competitive is – but unfortunately it works against the single most effective way of being effective: namely, team work. Further, it drives out co-operation and creativity, since by its nature it has no time for subtleties.

Seventh, driven people tend to get angry quickly and unreasonably when they are opposed, or questioned, or in some way feel another is being disloyal. People often put up with unacceptable behaviour from a driven person because, they reason, this persons gets things done! However, as with all passivity and appeasement, there is a price to pay.

Eighth, and finally, driven people are “abnormally busy”. This is, perhaps, the characteristic that I personally like the least: the unremitting sense of endless and pointless work; the not being able to simply enjoy life and relax; the inability to go into silence and meditate. Of course, it is a 'killer' characteristic: eventually, if you remain a driven person, you die when you had death 'least in mind'.

It could be argued that such drivenness arises precisely as a human defence against ever thinking of death; all religious traditions advise that we do contemplate our end, not from morbidity or sadness, but in order to understand how to really live and enjoy our lives now.

Thus – 20011 is tomorrow – are you driven or called? If driven – what are you going to resolve?


What's it all about?

It's that time of year: we approach Christmas and whatever is your religious festival or belief we are led with the imminence of a holiday – holy day – to reflect on what is this being here all about? In the case of Christmas it is pretty clearly about the birth of a baby and the hope that that brings. We all – if we are normal – love babies.

One of the saddest things in life is the joy and expectations that having a baby produces and often then the neglect and indifference which follows their birth. Truth to tell, many people have children for reasons that have nothing to do with love and the pure wonder of creation; some have babies because that makes them an 'adult' – a serious player now in life's game – at least to the social and housing services in the UK; others because that's what everyone else does and so they prove they are normal too; and yet others because they want to dominate and mould and generate inferior mini-mes; and yet still others to fill in the vacuum of nothing else to do.

But the essential identity of being human is to create, and to create is to love; for the artist always loves his or her creation; for it to be art there is creation, and for it to be creation there is play, and where there is play there is joy and endless energy – watch the children with the snow now.

So it is that the baby is the work not of one moment, or even of one nine month stretch, but of the whole life as the work matures to its fullness – to its epic fullness. Life is uncertain, so each moment must be lived, and as the jargon has it: we need to live in the moment, in the now. Just such a moment occurred for me only the other week.

My wife was out for the evening. I was at home with my seventeen year old son; a big lad, has fenced internationally for GB, and also does extensive Shaolin kung fu training. In fact likes all things martial.

I said, Joe, fancy watching a DVD? He agreed, but demurred when he realised it was one of Dad's old 70s favourites, A Fistful of Dynamite, with Rob Steiger and James Coburn – a Sergio Leone classic. But – with nothing better to do – he sat down on the far end of the settee and he began to watch with me.

Of course, Sergio made great films and shortly Joe is totally engrossed. An hour into the film he suddenly shifts position from the far end of the settee over to my end, and without a by-your-leave reclines on my right breast/shoulder. I put my arm around him and we watch the remainder of the film in that pose: my no-longer-baby son wrapped round with the arm of his father, huddled together, completely unselfconsciously. A perfect moment, perfectly now.

His babyhood was long ago – and yet in love and through love our childhoods can all be born again. Nothing changes – the eternal son and the eternal father, despite our ageing and the alterations flesh is heir to. And what is true of the father is also true of the mother: the very spirit of love. So I hope for all my readers that you too will find the heart of Christmas this Christmas in the eternal child that is with you or in you.

What is going on?

Everyone of us wants to know what's going on. What's going on with the Government – what are they going to do? What's going on in our neighbourhood – what's my neighbour doing? What's going on with my family – who's my spouse talking to? I guess it's because we are curious, but more than that when we know our sense of security is satisfied. People tend to prefer the certainty even of misery rather than the uncertain prospect of happiness.

Perhaps no where is this more so than at work, as so much of our self-image is connected to it. What's going on – what's the boss planning? We are favoured indeed if we are privy to that information.

The tool that we use, Motivational Maps, is increasingly been shown by licensed practitioners to have just that edge in showing – whoever is interested – what exactly is going on. I well remember a startling incident some months back in which I was involved. Some twenty three sales professionals sitting around a table being fed feedback by me on what their Maps meant. What amazed them was when I got to Phil – one of their top sales guys in the country – who was only 30% motivated. How could that be?

How indeed? Wasn't motivation part of the energy mix? How could he be so effective and yet not motivated? And how did they not know that? Phil acknowledged the truth of the Map and then told his story – a story which was all about consciously running on empty – going against the grain of what he wanted to do, but needing the money. There was a wry smile as he recognised somewhat forlornly that yes, his health was indeed beginning to suffer.

But if that was interesting, the call I got last month from one of my senior licensees was even more so. He rang me from the company premises, in between interviews. He'd had the most astonishing experience in a major Corporate. Five senior managers had had access to the Motivational Map of one important member of staff. All had unanimously condemned the Map as being completely wrong; it's wrong this time, they said, very wrong.

My friend, the consultant, stuck to his guns. He knew with over 10,000 Maps done and an accuracy rate over 99.9% that it was far more likely that five managers were wrong. And he saw immediately the implications of that: “He's hiding something from you”. You see, what's going on?

He was given a coaching feedback session with the guy and asked, How was the Map? Ruefully the guy nodded, then said, Absolutely spot on. Yep, something was going on that the senior guys never suspected, never dreamed about, and so my friend was able to get it out in the open and facilitate a constructive way forward.

When people do a Motivational Map this isn't like some static personality profiling tool: motivation is a dynamic energy reflecting back on the real issues and the real wants of the person, team or even whole organisation. For that reason, if you want to know what's going on – follow the energy – it doesn't lie like lips can.

Leaders breaking hierarchical norms

One of the most important aspects of being a leader is generating creativity – innovation – in the organisation. This is often perceived as being an issue to do with product or service development; rarely about how the very structures in which people operate can be loosened – the hierarchical norms in fact. These structures are often the very constraints which render useless all the brainstorming and team building in the world.

Leaders themselves must set an example. Here are five crucial areas in which leadership behaviour can help break the pattern of hierarchical norms which stunt growth:

  1. leaders need to explain things
  2. leaders need to engage in two-way discussions with the led
  3. leaders need to make achievement the only basis for reward
  4. leaders need to hold everyone accountable for standards, given and recognising the limitations that may be inherent in operational conditions
  5. leaders need to seek continuous improvements in practice

Checklists are easy to formulate, but breaking down each statement into its constituents, and verifying its reality is not. If you are a leader try answering these questions for starters:

'explain things' - which things? in how much detail? to whom?

'engage .... two-way' - what level of intensity is implied by 'engage'? Substitute a synonym to attempt to find out - 'enter'? See the difference? What implications does 'two-way' really have?

'only' - can we really mean this?

'accountable ... standards' - how? which/whose?

'continuous improvements' - feedback? what mechanisms for processing information?

And so on.

Also, consider this whole issue as an ongoing and unstructured problem. Thus, in this scenario three pieces of practical advice are relevant:

establish a core team with a wide remit to address the problem. This team will be 'rich' in diversity of experience, power, position, information and contacts. Careful thought will need to be given to its leader - avoid the obvious, whilst simultaneously not ruling out the same if they have the necessary skills to drive the process. Invest the core team with authority.


adopt a flexible approach - planning suggests we know where we want to go. In this instance, 'direction' is more important than detailed knowledge of the destination. Thus, measurable goals are not too important - 'what will emerge?' is the question. Vision will become sharper as a result of the journey; thus, it will not necessarily precede it.


be prepared to establish temporary structures in order to enable experimentation and the achievement of various tasks deemed necessary. Learning through doing is important - ensure it is resourced.

Finally, it might well be worth reflecting on the following: that self-efficacy, the belief in one's own ability to perform particular tasks, is central to performance generally. Research consistently shows that those who have a high level of self-efficacy outperform those whose self-efficacy is low. This belief in one's self may well depend on several factors, but certainly an individual's self-esteem is one of them. Thus, it is crucial to maintain an individual's self-esteem - carping, negative criticism can only damage an individual's performance, and any criticism, even positive, has to be handled with extreme care.

Philosophy and coaching

 Went on a LinkedIn discussion group today and contributed to a discussion about whether philosophical thinking helps improve coaching approaches and outcomes. The answer has to be 'yes', I think, because how can analytic thinking not help any approach, process or outcome? Once upon a time the catchphrase – word – of IBM was 'Think'. Just do that and perhaps all the questions of the world may be soluble. May be.

However, when you add the word 'philosophical' to the word 'thinking', then I guess we all sense a deeper sense to the concept of thinking; this is thinking at the root level, about all the fundamental and ultimate questions. Philosophy, unfortunately, in the Twentieth Century was hijacked by very narrow sects like Logical Positivism which claimed reason and logic to extirpate the larger domain of philosophy (as Plato, say, would have understood it); of course, they claimed that logic did this, but in reality their views were acts of faith.

Again, unfortunately, the aridity of this approach was met not by common sense but by sects that took the opposite view: namely, like Existentialism, where logic and reason have nothing to do with 'it', and we go on affirming ourselves through authentic actions. Hmm, right: do and be damned. Ethics and morality were curiously skewed in all this humbug that bedevils us even now.

Thus, my contribution to today's debate has focused on extending philosophy to include the spiritual, because here at least we can be sure that the big questions get looked at.

I love this observation from GK Chesterton, a writer I am currently re-visiting: "Spiritual doctrines do not actually limit the mind as do materialistic denials. Even if I believe in immortality I need not think about it. But if I disbelieve in immortality I must not think about it." So, as I went on to say: I like my mind to be unlimited and I think my clients do too!

The essence of what we do in helping the client find answers to pressing business or personal issues is not the only part of the process: we also in doing reveal our being – and being is the most powerful form of role modelling. The worst thing is to pay 500 Euros to get a coaching 'qualification' - a set of questions, smart techniques - and not have any beliefs about human nature, the meaning of life, and the invisible world: in short, to run on empty. But to get such beliefs requires the philosophical and theological enquiry that is the essence of what Socrates might have called the 'examined' life.

There is a strange paradox at the heart of this which may be portrayed in the following way: the state of our being is complete in itself and we don't have to have or do anything, for having or doing anything affects not one whit who we are - who we are is complete in itself; yet, simultaneously with this being state, the being needs to become, the acorn will be an oak, so how is this possible if what we are is sufficient?

Edouard Stacke ( from France chipped into this debate and raised the interesting spectres that so afflict our life: “Unfortunately the being is hidden by ego behaviour, social masks, conscious and unconscious power games which are polluting oneself life and humans interactions all the time. There is a lot to achieve to allow oneself to be naked, powerless, stop playing games, in order to be.”

Well said! This is what I describe as the false self-image; in another theology it is called the devil - the father of all lies and the murderer from the beginning. The myths, of course, are true. So philosophy comes full circle to theology and mythology.

We can even lie when we are coaching – not in the misleading sense to a client, but in the sense we are playing that role, doing that game, and the situation is not one of authentic interaction. So the philosophic quest is on – while we do our work – to find ourselves.