Why “I” can never be happy

This is my first post on happiness, I’m not obsessed with having to be happy; you’ll see why by reading on.

Happiness is a popular subject. It seems everyone wants more of it; there is even a conference about happiness and its causes. But as long as you associate happiness with the “I” you call you there is always going to be a sense of unsatisfactoriness with your life.

Think of the sentence…

“I feel happiness”

Reading this there are three elements:

1. you (the person/entity experiencing happiness)

2. the feeling/emotion or process that brings you the experience

3. happiness (what’s present in the moment)

Now take away the first two words… what’s left?

Because our “I” (sense of self) desires happiness we are setting ourselves up for feeling inadequate and incomplete. We need to get rid of (or at least not hold onto so tightly) our sense of self identity.

Whoa! Now wait a minute Niall, I’m not giving up who I am, no way! Well I’m sorry it’s fairly mainstream thinking now that wanting stuff (including happiness) is always gonna make your “I” need more and more in order to be satisfied.

Ok so if wanting stuff is not gonna bring me peace, happiness, fulfilment, what will? The answer is surprisingly simple but extraordinarily hard to implement. Be self-less instead of selfish. Helping others without expectation of receiving anything in return is not only the best way to transcend the “happiness trap” but also is effective in all aspects of life (work, family, relationships). Just do good using your intellect and common sense as your guide, let go of the WIIFM (what’s in it for me) mentality. People will pick up on your new self-less vibe and will want to work and socialise with you. Then when happiness comes, it is there, you don’t own it, it’s not your happiness it just arose naturally out the good work you do.




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How to be hopeful

I think hope is a big deal.

If I feel low on hope then I make it a priority to find a way to get some. This post shows you how to always have some hope by changing your perspective during tough times. You have the right to have hope, life is too short to live without it!!

I’ll use the below definition of hope as the basis for this post and relate it to what I see in my coaching conversations and then suggest some ways to create and maintain hope.

Hope is defined as:

“the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best”

How to find hope

Hope is a feeling and not an intellectual understanding; meaning that I cannot convince you logically that you have hope, but can only help you to see your current circumstances in such a way that you feel hopeful. Prior to having been coached most people think that a coach provides ideas and prompts you to think about solutions. This is true BUT only after work has been done to ensure you see your reality in a wider context (the bigger picture). From this more expansive perspective the coach and client co-create hope by visioning an ideal future state underpinned with pragmatic actions (life experiments).

So my advice is to not try to logically force yourself into a hopeful situation but use logic to shift your perspective so that you can see the bigger picture at play and view your current circumstance as part of something bigger. This is much, much easier said then done when you are on your own. Having a coach as an objective and skilled facilitator of this process makes it a much easier action to undertake. Nonetheless I encourage you to pull your thoughts out of the current drama and take a longer term perspective about where you are going… (in 5 years will this matter?). To do this you must re-connect to your “why bother” or life meaning. Short term dramas can either be endured or moved through only when you know where it is that you are heading. Take some time to consider your end game and then relate it back to where you are and what you are experiencing. THIS WILL CREATE HOPE. If your end game doesn’t provide you with hope and energy when you re-connect back to it then your end game needs changing. If you don’t have an end game then this may be the cause of your hopelessness (why are you living?).

The other thing I play with when coaching is “letting go”. What needs to be let go of in order to make room for something new in your life; hope does need space ;-) You want to continue to make a large income but also want more time with friends, children or to explore not-for-profit work. Most of the time we cannot have it all and tradeoffs need to be made. The metaphor I use with clients is to imagine emptying their house of all the furniture and then consider exactly what you want to put back in, what is to be thrown out (let go of) and what new furniture you want to introduce to your house. So if you are struggling to make things happen and find hope maybe consider what you need to stop doing or let go of to make room for hope.

There is hope in both success and failure

The above heading is the mindset I try to instil in my clients. I read the second part of the hope definition to say…sure, have a goal (what is wanted can be had), BUT if it does not turn out as planned, take it as the universe giving you some useful feedback that you can use to move toward what’s right for you at any point in time (events will turn out for the best). In fact I encourage clients to take their goals as a premise that requires testing and validation. In other words you think that if you undertake action A, that result B will be achieved. I help clients test these premises and adjust their goals/plans as they start to narrow down and focus in on exactly where they belong in work/life.

My advice is to see life as one big experiment where you are testing your truths, beliefs and presumptions about what it is you should be doing with your life. Take “bad” days as feedback telling you something. Look for patterns of bad days that show you’re not listening to what the universe is trying to tell you (sometimes it has to shout for you to listen). If you have a big goal you feel strongly about, make sure you (as soon as is practical) test the underlying assumptions. For example if you think doing an MBA will get you some career advancement, go talk to others in your industry or recruiters to test this assumption. Get data to see if you have created false hope.

Authentic and hopeful versus faking it and fearful

If you can see life as an experiment and assume that whatever happens is always useful feedback guiding you towards where you are supposed to be, then there’s always hope. Some of my most triumphant moments as a coach have been when clients have tested their assumptions about life to discover what their true calling is and have adjusted their course to live more authentically.

Once you practice living like this you always have hope and start to move away from the killer of hope… FEAR. Living in fear is a coach’s most challenging adversary but my experience tells me that once you start to fuel your life on hope then fear melts away and has less power over your life.

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Why I accepted a $137,218 pay cut last year

Having just completed my tax return for the last 12 months I can share with you that I took a little bit of a pay cut last year to explore my passion for coaching. It felt like the right thing to do. Whilst you may look at this as a huge sacrifice I see it as an absolutely necessary part of my personal and professional development. How many of you reading this are saying to yourself “Wow!, how cool would it be to take a year out and pursue [insert your passion here].”

Although you may not need to do what I did and leave your “day job” for a year, there are actions related to your passions that you can (and should) take.

Passions—what’s the big deal?

Passion: Any powerful or compelling emotion or feeling.

A large part of what makes us human is our ability to experience higher (moral) type emotions and be compelled to act on them. Ok, I admit, making decisions based solely on feelings is dangerous and not recommended BUT to only use intellect to decide your way through the world makes no sense either. Understanding your passions and how they influence your behaviour, moods and baseline level of contentment is an important part of not only living a rich and fulfilling life but also useful in managing yourself (e.g. emotional intelligence).

So if you have a nagging feeling around a passion and feel compelled to do something about it my suggestion is to take some time out to really examine what exactly it is that is trying to express itself. A lot of my coaching work helps professionals do this [end of sales pitch ;-)]

Making money versus making meaning

I’ve spoken before about how there is a bit of a myth re there being this professional nirvana where ‘work is life’ and ‘life is work’,  you are in flow 100% of the time and where weekends are irrelevant. That’s great and maybe aspirational but for the other 99.9% of the population having to manage the tension between work/non-work time is a real issue.

Most of my coaching clients discuss with me their meaning-making mechanism; what helps them define who they are and give their life purpose. Sometimes work is a large part of this mechanism sometimes not so much, regardless, clients still want me to help them progress professionally BUT not at the expense of how they make meaning in their life. So if you consider passions (and the associated feelings and compulsions) as indicators of what is meaningful to you (or helps you make meaning) then your passions need to be given room to be expressed otherwise you risk earning lots of money but feeling empty and unfulfilled (meaning-less).

Aim for ‘and’ not ‘or’

So my goal in having a year out of my chosen profession of managing organisational change in large corporates was aimed at exploring my passions and then “re-integrating” them into my professional life. I am at the point now where it is not coaching or work in large corporates but ‘and’; where I combine the two and in the process enjoy both pursuits more. Going for an ‘and’ approach to making meaning and money often has a price, in my case it cost me an investment of $137,218 to be exact ;-)

Are you prepared to pay a price to make room for passion in your life? I would argue the price for not doing so is far, far higher…

I’m interested in how my readers manage the tension between work/life, making meaning and money. Please respond below in the comments section to kick of some discussion.


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3 questions you probably never ask yourself (but should)

1.    How valid are my life assumptions?

If I do “A” then “B” will happen. This is the model we use to set up our life activities. An example would be…

… if I work for three years in this role and then do my MBA I will be considered for this role in my career.

Another variation is

… avoiding confrontations and arguments is the best way to live a low-key, calm, productive and peaceful life

When I work with clients in a coaching relationship we very quickly articulate what they are assuming to be true and then go about testing the validity of these statements. This is important because very often people receive contradictory evidence about their assumptions but ignore it and then they wonder why “things are not working out for them”.

I suggest you have a go at articulating what your assumptions are in the different areas of your life and then list all the hard “data” that supports or refutes these assumptions. You can also set up experiments to collect data on your assumptions, for example in the case of your career ask some people further down the track you are on for their advice re your plans (do you really need an MBA?)

2.    What fears underpin my behaviours?

I’m sorry to tell you and you may not like me saying this but most of us are driven by fear. Our behaviours are strongly influenced by what we do NOT want to happen to us. At a very basic level this means we don’t like being in discomfort (emotional, psychological or physical) and prefer to move towards comfort. We will go to great lengths to avoid the things that we are fearful of. This dramatically modifies our behavior and limits our options to explore life fully.

Don’t get me wrong we need to protect ourselves from danger but in the modern world most of what we fear is not really going to harm us in any lasting way. This is primal fear from the old “caveman” days that is still hardwired into our self-protective fight/flight neurological systems (this book can tell you all about the science).

Knowing what really are your deepest fears is useful in that you become aware of the drivers of your behavior, these really are another group of assumptions that need to be tested. For example you may fear looking foolish (a popular one) if you speak in front of your peers or you may fear becoming homeless if you loose you current employment (Really? What are the chances of you having to live on the street!?).

I suggest you consider some the worst-case scenarios you may have been subconsciously assuming to be completely and immutably true and take 5 minutes to separate facts from feelings; truly assess the veracity of these fears. I would bet you would find that your mind has created a monster for you to be scared of and has overdone the consequences of these fears being realised which in turn skews your behaviour excessively.

3.    What is my “why bother”?

Why bother getting out of bed in the morning; why not just do whatever you want and to hell with all the crap you have to put up with in your daily life.

This is a good question and I suggest you have a good answer (for your self). Of course this question is one that is uniquely human, “the meaning of life” … ok I’m not going to get all deep and meaningful here but suggest you know why you do what you do, at least at a very basic level. Here’s my why bother:

I get up each day because action is what matters; doing is what makes the world a better place for us all. My actions aim to get us all more aware and working harmoniously together as people, workers and as a global community.

My actions are based on:

  • what I consider my duties, to my self, family and others;
  • what is the best use of what I bring to the world,
  • what did I sign up for and commit to and therefore need to strive to deliver against.

Finding your “why bother” is (relatively) easy, just keep asking the question and then argue back to yourself by saying “so what!?” after each response. Eventually you will get to an answer that has some meaning.

Of course if all of my self-help advice in this post is too hard to do on your own then call me and we can do some coaching work together, wouldn’t that be fun!?


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Career advice from a jazz musician

Last Sunday I attended a live, analogue, jazz performance. Yes that’s right, with real instruments (not sampled), zero synthetic bits. “So what?” I hear you ask, how’s that providing insights into how to be a better person in life and at work? Well as with all awesome experiences they can teach us lessons about how to live life fully, appreciating all the rawness of a real experience.

Read on to hear about how this jazz performance motivated me to go analogue (less digital) in my life (and why you should too); trust me you’ll be happier for it!

In this post I’ve made up a few words to explain my thoughts, sorry to all the English teachers out there…


Us humans love control and predictability and continually fool ourselves that we have everything sorted out and in order. Yes we need to strive for order but also accept the bits of life that do not (and never will) make sense to us. The Jazz musicians I listened to last Sunday improvised against the backdrop of the song’s structure, combining chaos and order together in what I think is a great metaphor for life. Yes it’s a paradox; all we can do is embrace its unsolvable-ness.

At work we need to appreciate and, where possible, embrace the messy bits that have no structure. Learning to accept what (for now) needs to remain chaotic in order to let new things emerge (hint: forcing things usually is counter-productive)


Nowadays we edit the things out of our life that “bore” us and are less than entertaining. We skim through news, articles, movie reviews, conversations looking for what is the most satisfying and stimulating. We curate life to remain satisfied. This is a result of living digitally where we can quickly edit out things that do not suit us. This (I reckon) leads to us never being satisfied/happy with what we have or what is going on at work and in life. The result is more and more ridiculous forms of entertainment (shocking news, silly, violent TV shows, obsessing on food, 1million beer brands, iphones/gadgets etc. etc.) as well as an urge to change jobs/roles or seek greener pastures.

I found myself listening to the Jazz and appreciating all the messy bits but at the same time “craving” for normal sounding bits, it was again a great lesson in accepting things as they are and not deleting out what “I” don’t like. Once I got over the urge to have negative thoughts about a piece in the performance suddenly I heard the whole instead only the bits I prefer. This ultimately was a lot more satisfying (ironic hey?!).


People are messy; my two young boys especially, but adults make mess too. Often we stir up a situation and then leave a mess behind us. We do this through our actions and words; it’s like a form of karma I suppose. Hopping from one thing to the next and multi-tasking are I think symptoms of us not being accountable to ourselves for the whole task and (really) completing it (starting, doing and finishing properly). This is due to our preference for the parts of a task that we prefer.

Listening to improvised jazz I wondered when a track was going to sound “normal” and/or come to a neat ending (not leave a mess behind). The leader of the band must coordinate this as he is the in charge of blending the improvised and non-improvised parts of a performance together; he is accountable to bring things to a satisfactory end. This requires great mindfulness (of the others, the sounds and the track) and attention to detail.

I think if we recognised our role in bringing together all parts of what we do (improvised bits and the planned bits) to a neat end point there would be a lot less dramas in the workplace. I challenge you to be like the jazz improvisor, introduce some constructive chaos into the structured workplace, blending it into a greater whole but also consider what it would mean to truly complete your tasks (start-middle-end) with minimal mess (karma) left behind (whoa, now that’s a challenge!)


Labels are what we all use to filter and categorise the things we encounter in life. This is a way of making sense of the world we live in but also creates a risk by way of our filters editing out parts of our perception.

Improvised jazz is whacky in that you can’t really call what you hear anything; it just is what it is. There is a Buddhist term for this: thusness or things as they are. Humans struggle with thusness because it is like drinking from a fire hose; it can be all too much. Due to our need to filter life we have a tendency to over edit, curate and digitise our life, taking out the bits we don’t like to suit ourselves. Again this is a paradox as we have to filter life and use labels to help navigate the world but run the risk of putting ourselves and everything into boxes to the point where there is no room for the organic/emergent aspects of life.

Being able to accept the thusness of a situation at work or home is a VERY useful skill. This allows you to be like a huge tree that is unperturbed in strong winds (are you seeing my metaphor to life here).

A jazz musicians career advice

I’ll finish this post with a quote from Tom (the jazz pianist) that sums up nicely what we all need to do when planning our career:

“Why don’t I shut up and play the piano”.

Tom is at his best when playing improvised jazz piano, what is it that you should “shut up and just do”?

Upcoming free webinar

If any of the above is useful to you then I encourage you to attend my next free webinar that will build on these and other ideas to help you enjoy work/life and stay on track.

p.s. I don’t sell anything at these events, so come along a learn something :-)

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7 habits of highly ineffective people

Apologies for the somewhat negative headline but often saying what NOT to do is useful/helpful. In this post I’ll take you through what I see in my coaching work as the biggest blockers to effectiveness, they are simple but common. At the end of the post I tell you a little about my next webinar which will go  a long way to helping you rid yourself of these habits.

1.    Inability to “let go”

It may be useful sometimes to hold onto grudges, past happenings or previous emotional dramas in order to process, unpack and resolve them but there comes a time (usually sooner rather than later) to move on and let it go. Holding onto “stuff” takes up headspace, energy and has real impacts on your physical/psychological health. So we all need to learn how to “get over it!”. Hint: it takes a lifetime to master this one, but you need to start practicing as soon as possible.

2.    No brain-mouth control

This habit is the result of the gap (pause for thought) between stimulus and response being absent. Something happens (stimulus) and before you even are aware you have said and/or done something (habitual response) and find yourself in a situation that is not useful for you or those around you. It is the difference between reacting and responding; choosing our response is usually better than being reactionary. So how do you catch yourself before your mouth says something you may regret? Self-awareness is the key; seeing yourself and your habits then building your ability to have more “space” between stimulus and response. Check out this video on Self-awareness practices, which help with this.

3.    Never (ever) wrong

This is excessive ego or stubbornness and in some people it’s pathological. I have heard stories of managers being so stubborn in the face of overwhelming evidence re them being wrong that their staff have found it laughable. In such situations the resulting farce of a discussion was a complete waste of everyone’s time. I have heard that elite commando soldiers are a bit like this too; if they admit they have faults or are inferior in any way then this somehow weakens them; which is unacceptable. The sad thing is every time a manager/leader acts like this it severely reduces the respect they garner from their team (plus they look ridiculous). So tame your ego, watch for it arising and taking over your body/mind; have a routine to intervene and work on ways to admit its your fault.

4.    Treat the world as a machine

I fully get that everyone sees the world through their particular lens and that we all have differing personality types BUT don’t treat people like they are things (resources) or tools to be utilised. Have respect for the psycho-emotional components of people. Taking into consideration the “softer” side of people in your decisions may be harder but yields significantly better results (and is polite and nice too). Work on building whole-of-person relations, more on this here.

5.    She’ll be right (lack of intent)

This is an Australian vernacular term of phrase, meaning everything will work itself out. Well guess what… it won’t, take responsibility to act and make things happen, do your part then let the chips fall, but don’t take the apathetic approach and expect everything to work out. The successful clients I coach are pro-active people who have strong intent backed by action. So have a goal yes, then let it go and get on with what YOU need to do.

6.    Busyness (all action, no plan)

As I said in the previous point, action is great BUT doing without reflection and planning means you risk replacing meaningfulness and effectiveness with busyness. Plan-act-review is a simple model to help you learn and grow on the job. More on this in my upcoming webinar.

7.    Dreaming (all plan, no action)

This is not as common but it happens, too much thinking and not enough doing means you do not get feedback on your actions upon which you can learn and plan next steps. Stuck in a situation or role you do not like? Well overthinking it is pointless, at some stage you need to DO something. Often with clients I help them set up experiments to test and try and put themselves at their learning edge (at the limit of their capability and confidence). Taking some small safe action is often the best remedy for times when you feel your mind has painted you into a corner where you are paralysed by your own analysis.

Want to learn more about how to break these habits?

Soon I’ll be running a free webinar called: “How to keep you career on track and avoid work becoming a grind”

In this webinar I will go into more detail on how to tackle these 7 unhelpful habits and pro-actively manage your career. Here are some of the outcomes I’m aiming for:

– What career mistakes are most common (even for high achievers)
– How you can systematically create processes to prevent you from making these mistakes
– How to stay true to yourself as you progress through your career
– Money versus meaning; how to balance your needs

Register for this free event here.

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What I learnt from 7 days of silence

I call myself the Quiet Coach. So you can probably guess that I place a lot of value on quietening the mind so as to make better decisions, appreciate life and be thankful for what I’ve got. So how do I quieten my mind? What works for me is silent meditation retreats. I just returned from a seven-day retreat where the group “returns to silence” as much as is practical. This allows participants to work on themselves (well the process of the retreat works on them really). So what did I learn from 7 days of silence that may be of use to you…

Routines support you when you are in a fragile state

On retreat there is a routine, the aim is to follow it until you need to rest. Knowing when to rest and when to push on is part of the fun! Life is the same, a routine is the container that holds your life, without a routine you live in chaos, alternatively blindly following a routine turns life into a rigid list of to do items (yawn). So next time you are in a fragile state and are a bit wobbly, use your routine to provide you a structure, just do what’s next, tick off your to do list and just cope. Sometimes coping is a victory, so use your routine to provide support in difficult times.

Too many choices leads to excessive thinking

There’s a lot of research on this, too many choices makes us unhappy. Being on retreat reduces your choices down to one: follow the routine or opt out and have a break (after a few retreats even this is not a choice, you just have a break, no problem). In life it’s a bit different, choices define the modern western lifestyle, more choices means you’re more successful. Well maybe up to a point this is true (like having more money makes you happier up to a point, see Maslow in this post for more) but at the moment my aim to reduce my choices with a tighter routine based on my role in life (Dad, provider etc). Hint: simplify your life where you have too many things to choose from.

Against the background of life most dramas are trivial

Meditating a lot helps you develop what is called a “Big Mind”. A mind that sees the absolute/whole of life (as opposed to the relative/parts)  putting all of life’s dramas onto the front stage whilst you maintain a dual view of both the background and the foreground. This is cool because you take life’s dramas seriously but see them against the backdrop of your BIGGER life. Another way to say this is you develop the ability to see the forest and the trees at the same time (cool hey!). Nuff said.

When life is simple there is beauty everywhere

The previous two points allow you to see beauty everywhere… aww isn’t that nice :-)

Nuff said again.

Self-care is critical and must come first

Probably the biggest learning I took away from my first 10 retreats (yes, I’ve been on a few due to my stubborn mind) is the need to care for yourself first. This may sound selfish but self-care must be the first thing you put time into in life. If you are a mess life is a mess and you mess up the whole world. So get your own S&%T sorted prior to trying to do good work, be a parent, worker, teacher, partner etc.

Part of my self care is to meditate, what about you (no, drinking alcohol doesn’t count)?

I hope this post helps you in your journey and please share it with others who may benefit.

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5 management mistakes that make you look like you don’t care

The perception of caring

I coach quite a few healthcare professionals including administrators. I have noticed that some more than others have values closely linked to the idea of caring or patient outcomes. Others operate more from a “getting things done” perspective, thinking more about the processes of healthcare then the patient-centric view (neither is “better” no judgements here, just observations). I think the same can be applied to how managers work with their reports. Read on to hear my views on how managers can be perceived (usually incorrectly) as not caring about the feelings of their reports.

The following five “mistakes” are simply a summary of what I have observed when I work with managers and their teams. I have a unique perspective from both sides of the table (manager and report), seeing how inter-personal differences of opinion can develop from these 5 simple management mistakes related to feeling cared for.

MISTAKE 1: not appreciating other personality types

Are you a thinker or feeler? Are your reports thinkers or feelers? Do you have no idea what I am talking about? Myers-Briggs is a personality typing assessment tool which helps us understand our style of working. If you think your way through the world you use logic as your primary input into decision-making. If you are a feeler you use more emotion in making decisions. Can you see the risk here..?

If a thinker is managing a feeler often the feeler does not feel felt (perceives their manager as not caring).

Mitigation: know your and your reports’ type and manage accordingly with self-awareness of your bias.

MISTAKE 2: not taking time to build whole-of-person relations

This sounds ridiculously simple but the number of managers I coach that do NOT invest in getting to know their direct reports and then come to me saying they are stuck in managing underperformance indicates to me that this is a quick fix for a lot of “people” issues.

Often people are so busy managing up and knowing what will “please” the person they report to that they neglect to do the same downwards, wrongly thinking that organisational title gives them the power to control people’s behaviour without having to get to know the “whole person” that reports to them. A whole person includes what motivates them in and out of work, now and into the future, mind, body, spirit. A key indicator of whether you have a “whole person” relationship with a direct report or your manager is if you can discuss your dreams and ambitions that may result in you leaving your current role or even the organisation. Having this level of openness and transparency will resolve most people issues related to being an “uncaring” manager.

MISTAKE 3: not allowing emotions in the workplace

Another key sign that indicates you have whole-of-person relations is your ability to talk about emotions in the workplace (yours with your manager and your reports with you). People get upset when they are treated like robots (just resources to get stuff done). Emotions are a key indicator to someone’s beliefs/values, look out for them as signals to deeper issues. Ignore or repress emotions at your peril as people will not feel that it is safe to be authentic at work (showing emotion is very human). Obviously what I’m NOT saying is that being consistently over-emotional is appropriate in the workplace. The ability to control/manage your emotions is a key component of emotional intelligence, a key indicator of leadership.

MISATAKE 4: not allowing failure (learning)

If you have a zero failure policy your manager will love you but your team may feel they have no say in their development or “how” they do their work. Not letting people fail and learn means you do not trust your team or do not want to invest the time to support your people to learn. This may sound harsh but it is a consistent mistake I see especially in very smart achievement-orientated administrators.

The implied message here is that results are more important then the growth of your staff. The major challenge that this approach results in is the manager’s inability to rise above the operations of his/her work and lead more strategically. This is because they are so hands-on and in-the-trees that they cannot rise above the noise and see the bigger picture.

MISTAKE 5: not delegating properly

This mistake is related to the previous three. Delegation is not just giving people things to do. I think delegation is a big deal, so much so I made a short video presentation about performance management and delegation in Healthcare (check it out here).

People will perceive you as uncaring if you simply dump work on and then “kick their shins” when it isn’t done how you wanted. Harvard Business Review authors see delegation as an opportunity for the development of your staff. Best practice is to give people a task NOT telling them how to do it, but supporting them to learn their way to get the agreed end result. Check out the video for the full best-practice step-by-step guide.

Show that you care in your way

It is my belief that if you can avoid these five basic mistakes that a lot of your people issues will be averted, leading to more harmonious and productive work. Whether you adopt a patient-centred, caring approach or are more of a process-driven administrator should not matter as long as your team feel and can see you are taking steps to show that you do care (in your own way).

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4 reasons to stay in a “boring” job

The myth of professional nirvana

There is a myth circulating in self-development articles and propagated by motivational speakers that if you follow your passions then work and non-work time will no longer be distinguishable and that you will reach professional nivarana. Positive psychology and “The Secret” feed this myth creating a sense of inadequacy in us when we feel our work is not as fulfilling as it could be.

Don’t get me wrong of course I support people pursuing their career aspirations and engaging in fulfilling work, I have previously written about doing so, BUT…

…professional development must always be considered in light of what’s going on personally. All my work is with professionals but all my work always involves personal stuff; it has to! If you think you can easily compartmentalise personal and professional development you are kidding yourself. Doing so is near impossible and very unhelpful because most big gains in professional development (after technical training) occur through personal development insights.

Personal versus professional choice: one of my stories… 



This post will highlight four situations (reasons) where it makes better sense to NOT pursue a professionally fulfilling opportunity and to settle for “boring” work in exchange for personal benefits.

4 situations where choosing “boring” work is a good option

1. You’re making meaning outside of work
If your non-work life provides a rich source of meaning for you, allows you to be truly authentic and express your values to their fullest, then don’t trade this for more money, power or professional opportunity unless you “have to” (see next point).

2. Maslow is calling you

Maslow was a psychologist who came up with a hierarchy of needs. His theory is simple; if you haven’t got the basic things you need to be alive (food, air) then little else matters. Taken a step further if you cannot provide for yourself and your family (food on table, roof over head) then being wonderfully fulfilled through your work should be very low on your list of priorities. So if you can barely provide for yourself and are living in poverty I suggest you carefully consider chasing more meaning from work and keep things simple. Survive first then try and change the world. Often cause related or not-for-profit workers put their own agenda aside for the sake of [insert meaningful cause here] but this needs to be done with caution because you still need to fulfill your duties (see next point).

3.You have a duty

If you have agreed to do/be something (father, wife, volunteer, carer) then you have a duty to perform the role (you “signed up” for). I believe nowadays too

often people abandon their duty to pursue alternatives that are more self-serving. Whether giving up on a relationship or failing to meet a commitment made, you should not get into the habit of pursuing professional goals at the expense of your duties.

What are your duties?

4. You’re making meaning at work

If you find your current work meaningful it is a bad idea to trade it for work that gives you more money or power etc. Usually when you take meaning out of your work life this makes you unwell unless you substitute this with another means to make meaning that is outside of work.

You can’t save time only spend it differently

The two categories of how you can spend your time are professional or personal. Often (not always) my clients are faced with a choice between a professional payoff versus a personal one. This door swings both ways and I have coached many people who are willing to exchange personal time and experiences (self, health, family, travel, culture and friends) for professional development time and opportunities (more role scope and responsibilities, extra travel and in office hours). And visa versa.

There is no right or wrong here just choices and consequences. Be self-aware as make your choices and you will reduce the risk of making poor choices that lead to unpleasant consequences (for you and those around you). Interested in self-awareness? Then checkout this recording of a webinar I recently presented.

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My 5 worst career mistakes (& how you can avoid making them)

Below are the five lessons I learnt, under each lesson is the story of the mistake I made in order to learn each lesson. Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes :-)

1. Being right when it didn’t matter (inability to be strategically humble)

Sometimes Hollywood movies have it right. I do believe that sometimes life (at least in the short term) does come down to a single moment where you can say and do one thing that will change your course significantly, here is one of mine…

My mistake: I was in a meeting with a C-level executive in a project steering committee. The project was struggling and my role was to help ensure the benefits were realised. What needed to happen was for the project sponsor (the C-level exec) to clear some roadblocks, I had repeatedly told the executive this but my requests had gone unheeded. In front of the committee the C-level executive questioned me on the lack of results and I thought it was a good idea to let everyone in the room know that I had repeatedly asked for assistance, which in effect shifted the blame back onto her. There was no need to do this, as a consultant I could and should have “taken one for the team” and been strategically humble instead of being “right”. More importantly this helped no one and added no value. This event caused a lot of fallout for me on this project.

2. Being mentally resilient and persistent whilst ignoring my body

There is a myth out there that is I think partly fed by motivational speakers and naive young Olympic athletes that if you just persevere for long enough you will succeed. Believe it and you can achieve it; Anthony Robbins type of mindset. Well recently there has been a lot of opinion and writing saying that this is a load of rubbish and you need to think more in terms of whether to persevere or pivot (change direction) until you validate your premise (see The Lean Start-up for more on this).

If you attempt to use willpower to achieve a career outcome that is not the best use of your skills and does not tap into your passions then guess what..? You’ll probably get sick, burn out, be super-stressed due to using a disproportionate amount of energy in order to get an ordinary result.

My mistake: I am not the type of person who is suited to long term detail roles. I work top-down preferring to prepare a strategy and framework and then govern others to manage the detail. There I said it… for a long time I was in denial about this due to an expectation that consultants have to be able to work “end-to-end” from project start to end. I tried this and got horribly sick… Look to what you are good at and do more of it, be mindful of the warning signs that you body is trying to tell you something. Signs include:

  • Frequent colds
  • Getting sick as soon as you go on holiday
  • Ongoing muscle pain, headaches

3. Not noticing that my personal & career values have shifted

This one is simple. When I was 30 I wanted money and a big corporate consulting role, so did my wife.
My Mistake: As I turned 40 what I wanted from work/life slowly shifted, and I failed to adjust my work to reflect my new values (family time, helping others etc.).

I advise you to simply list the five top things you value and make sure that they are in the correct order. Here are mine in order: Health, Family, Home, Fun, Work, Future. This order simply means that my health needs to be in place for me to serve the world. Providing for family (money and time) comes second, creating a home comes in next. Note that the future comes last so that I do not get too caught up in what may happen and continue to focus on what I need to do NOW. To learn more about your values go here

4. Working to my weaknesses (for too long)

This relates to the previous point about listening to your body but is more specific. Take the time to really understand what you are really awesome at and do more of it. Peter Drucker the guru of gurus says this is THE best way to manage a professional career.

My Mistake: I for too long attempted to be good at everything, getting sick and frustrated when I failed. My current work fully utilises my strengths in strategically assessing a situation and helping others to make sense of their world. I still consult and do other activities but not for too long and not too much.

5. Trying to think my way out of an emotional situation

I have saved the best for last. Myers-Briggs is a psychological assessment tool to help you know yourself. There’s a scale in this tool that rates you as either a thinker or feeler. Using the wrong approach for a situation led me to a very poor career outcome.

My Mistake: I was being managed by a person I clearly did not have a lot in common with. Our world views were worlds apart. There was no connection. This led to a confrontation and I felt bullied. I responded to this with logic and reason attempting to argue my way out of it. I tried to be right and prove the other person wrong. This was a waste of time and energy, I would have been better off accepting the situation and dealing with my emotions. I needed to self-manage and not react. Although I did some great work for the project I ended up leaving earlier than I would have preferred.

How you can avoid making my mistakes

Self-awareness is key in avoiding these mistakes. Knowing about yourself dramatically reduces the biggest risks to your career and personal life.

To conclude I want to provide you with some information and associated tools that will raise your self-awareness and help you to avoid some of the above mistakes that I made. To learn more click here.

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