Monthly Archives: January 2016

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The missing piece on mindset for women leaders seeking to break through the glass ceiling?

walk-through-wall-of-fearI am interested in limiting beliefs. The power of a positive mindset, strengths and the power of belief, attitude and willpower fascinate me.

How can one person from a disadvantaged background overcome all odds and become one of the most powerful people in the world, like Oprah? When another from an advantaged background can struggle to make it past first base?

I am fascinated because my own journey would have suggested that I should have ended up in jail, a lady of the night, addicted to drugs, unable to progress my career – let alone achieve all that I have in my own career so far. A violent childhood, maternal mental ill health, time in foster care, the occasional night on the streets which were the safest place for me some of the time, all should have combined led to my being a “failure” in life – so my psychology studies taught me. But as I also learned, I had what are known as “protective factors”.  I had two. When my mother was well, she was strong. She modelled positive beliefs in positive outcomes, and that anything was possible, if I applied myself to it. And I had a good education that was designed to empower my fellow students and I to be strong capable women in the world – no matter our background.

I meet many like me. Successful and hugely powerful women who are pushing the boundaries of gender equality at senior levels, however some are still harbouring the pains of their past – some held together with sticky tape, others gaping wounds that prevent women moving forward.

My experience of working with powerful women who wish to break down those artificial walls of protection – that act as a barrier to their success as well as any perceived pain – is deeply profound and poignant. Seeing women transform into a place of feeling safe being who they truly are, sharing their strengths easily and authentically – and encouraging others to do the same, being open and sharing weaknesses in a confident and humorous way – in ways that connect – is truly a privilege to witness. Seeing women comfortable in their own skin is seeing power in action. Glass ceilings seem to evaporate as they realise that they truly ARE good enough, and ARE enough and can do ANYTHING they set their minds to, no matter what the statistics may tell them.

Brilliant experts in the field of positive psychology such as Dr Carol Dweck and Professor Barbara Fredrickson are helping us to understand the power of mindset – how, for example, having a positive mindset focused on opportunities, solutions, strengths, possibilities, leads to more choices, greater collaboration and a sense of powerfulness. A focus on problems, threats and weaknesses all lead ultimately to a sense of isolation and helplessness.

Such is the power of mindset. But I think there is more to it than we are currently talking about. What if there is another layer to mindset?

It is exactly 100 years since Carl Jung published his essay describing the collective unconscious and also discussing it in comparison to the collective conscious, a term first used by Emile Durkheim in 1893.  In a nutshell, ideas, thoughts and beliefs held by a large collective of people will pass into the unconscious mind – and in so doing will of course affect the decisions we make.

What this mean for mindset, women and leadership?

collective-consciousnessWhat if some of our mindset is based on beliefs held in both the collective consciousness and collective unconscious? What if we have taken on beliefs about what is and isn’t possible for us based on others’ beliefs?

This may not just happen on a psychological level. For those of us that are naturally empathetic, this may happen on an emotional level too – we may on a conscious or unconscious level feel the limiting beliefs of the collective – the limiting beliefs of the other women who have tried to succeed and haven’t quite yet broken through the glass ceiling.

There is now scientific evidence that we don’t just have a physical body and a mind, but that we also have an electromagnetic field – an energy body, as it were, and it is in this electromagnetic field that are emotions live. That’s why we can’t “find” our emotions in any physical part of our body or our anatomy, but we really can feel them. Those feelings flow through us, not stuck to any part of our body. Emotions are literally energy-in-motion (e-motion).

So for those of us that are empathetic, we are likely to “feel” more than others, and so also be affected by feelings in the collective consciousness and collective unconsciousness. Such as feelings of despair, helplessness and hopelessness of the may women around the world who feel unable to break through.

So what can you do if you are one of these women?

positive attitude reminderSetting the intention and affirming that you can elevate the success of your career free from any limiting thoughts or feelings faced by others in the collective consciousness or collective unconscious is an important addition to the mindset piece. The more women believe that gender is no barrier, the more that will be seen, known and felt in the collective consciousness.

I believe that we owe it not just to ourselves, but to the women we inspire to set the intention that our career can go as far and high as we choose them to free from any influence of what others may say. That is true leadership. Showing others the way.



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Why I don’t recognise Hogan’s view on strengths based coaching, as published in the HBR

I was really intrigued to read the article, published in the Harvard Business Review, describing “how strengths based coaching can weaken you”. Written by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, CEO of Hogan, it was carefully presented, and used some well-researched statistics. But, based on my own experience as a strengths coach, it didn’t seem to describe the whole picture.

Firstly, Chamorro-Premuzic describes a strengths approach leading to “the word “weakness” becoming a politically incorrect term in mainstream HR circles, where people are described as having strengths and “opportunities” or “challenges” — but not weaknesses. Some businesses are even planning to scrap negative feedback”.

This is, in my experience of using a strengths approach (including using Strengthscope®, a psychometric tool developed by Strengths Partnership), is simply not the case. I welcome a discussion when working with individuals and teams about areas that are less energising – which may or may not be weaknesses. If a strength that doesn’t energise the individual is not needed for a role, then it won’t be weakness. Or, the individual may have developed strategies to overcome any potential area of risk and so that non-strength isn’t a weakness. For example, an individual may not be energised by efficiency, however their energy for relationship building will mean that they are meticulous in responding to emails and calls in order to maintain those relationships. And so their low energy for efficiency simply isn’t a weakness.

However, a weakness is always an opportunity. An insighful conversation with a strengths colleague at Strengths Strategy this week highlighted to me how weaknesses are always an invitation for connection. In order to overcome our weaknesses most effectively, we either develop those areas (which means connecting with those who can help us, and as Chamorro-Premuzic himself says, this is what “high performing leaders” can do), or we reach out to colleagues who are energised in that area, and can help. Weaknesses are the ultimate team development, relationship building and collaboration opportunity – as long as we see weaknesses in that way!

The author highlighted that “meta-analytic evidence shows that negative feedback and lower self-estimates of ability do improve performance” but there is also evidence to suggest that a focus on weaknesses leads to actively disengaged employees.

I don’t know who Chamorro-Premuzic was speaking to in order to get his view on strengths based coaching, but none of the many exceptional strengths coaches I have met and work with would have taken that view. The ones I know are all comfortable with exploring weaknesses with individuals and teams – in fact my favourite work is seeing the transformations that happen when teams look at areas of weakness together and identify new strategies that lead them to success – using their strengths!

Another point Chamorro-Premuzic made was about how there is no scientific evidence that strengths work. There is plenty of evidence to show that a strengths approach work – including the review of decades of data collected by Gallup by Rath and Conchie in Strengths-based Leadership .

We have come to equate scientific evidence as being only robust if it has been independently researched and published in a peer-reviewed academic journal. Whilst it is important to be rigorous in collecting and analysing data, because we are all as practitioners responsible for ensuring that what we publish is based on evidence, I feel that the application of the definition of science has become too narrowed.

It is all to easy to throw out valid data simply because “there’s no scientific evidence” or because it hasn’t been “peer reviewed”. But what does that mean?

Typing in “definition of science” into Google gives us this: science is “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment”. Science, in its purest form, is about observation and experimentation.

If I give an analogy of the scientific approach of a child. My son, who is 6, is fascinated by nature. He has started to notice every time there is frost, now that it is winter. He knows that this means that it must be very cold outside. This – in and of itself – is science is action. My son is observing something  – a change over time – and reporting it to me.  Now imagine that all his kindergarten classmates do the same. Imagine too that they, as a class, might have an idea to bring in a thermometer and all measure together, the temperature each morning and note whether there is frost or not. And so learn and discover the temperature range at which frost is present.

The class experiment, if conducted over a set time, might qualify it for publication in the kiddie equivalent of a peer reviewed academic journal, however my son’s individual scientific observations and personal experiment are accurate – and valid – irrespective of whether a larger scale experiment has taken place to support what he has seen. And he will know that when he scientifically observes frost – whether or not anyone else agrees with him – he needs to put his hat and gloves on.

Whilst peer-reviewed data on the positive impact of strengths is being gathered, there is plenty of observed and measured evidence of the positive impact that a strengths focused approach brings to individuals, teams and to overall business success.

I have worked with many businesses that have all observed the hugely positive impact that a strengths coaching approach has brought, and that is science in action. In fact, I am yet to experience a case where a strengths focused approach didn’t work. I don’t believe I ever will. In one intervention I was involved in for example, employees taking part in focus groups all openly and emphatically talked about how it is possible to “tell” (observe) which teams had been put through the strengths coaching approach and which hadn’t, such was the positive impact and difference it had made to people’s lives. That to me is science in action – and all those within the organisation – were the scientists observing the impact of the intervention and noticing its impact.

Academic research is hugely important in verifying what we see on the ground, so it’s crucial that we continue to support research that helps progress and prove the positive impact that different interventions can make. And of course measuring the impact of interventions helps to build the business case, which in turn makes it easier for organisations to justify investing in such approaches.

However we can lose a lot of time waiting for the results of academic research when actually, we know and can see the outcome of any action we take, just in taking it. This doesn’t just apply to the wonderful work of positive psychology, this applies to everything we do, every decision we make in every area of our lives. And whilst we wait for the research to come out, individuals and teams waiting for it, can lose time being disengaged, unmotivated, having less confidence, delivering poor outcomes, and being unhappy at work – and all the negative effects that this can bring to health, relationships, teams and the business as a whole.

Also, we don’t always understand how or why something “works”, but we see that it does. That is science. Our desire as scientists is to understand it, and I applaud that. But I also welcome more space to welcome in what we observe works as being valid too – without the need for scientific data to back it up, because we are all, ultimately, scientists, like my 6 year old son. And a strengths coaching approach is something that I, and everyone I have ever worked with, has observed “works”, without the evidence of a peer-reviewed paper.

It is time to reclaim science as a common sense approach that we can all access – to realise that we are all scientists. Then businesses can get on with getting in the best approaches to build stronger, happier and more capable workforces, and can grow their businesses as easily and quickly as possible.

This is how innovation works, and how leaders in the field succeed. They are willing to try something that may not yet have the academic evidence to show it works, because they, as a scientist too, have had an idea or observed something. They may fall, or they may fly. But when they fly, they are the ones the rest of us look up to – and it is because of them that the research into their success follows.


What Multipotentialites Need from Coaching – and Are Coaches Ready to Deliver?

“A what?!” I hear you ask already. As we begin a whole New Year (and a very happy one to you, while we’re on the subject), I have been pondering this question at length.

Firstly though, you might be in the majority of people who will want to know what one is!

The dissatisfied boy reading the bookMultipotentialites are individuals who have a diverse range of interests, and can be successful across different professions. Famous multipotentialites include Michelangelo, Galileo, Gloria Steinem, Sir Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Noam Chomsky, Jane Asher and Oprah Winfrey.

It’s easy in a world that rewards specialists and experts to think of multipotentialites as “jacks of several trades”, however they are seen to be “intellectually gifted”, able to learn a wide range of subject areas rapidly, and are hugely adaptable. However there is one aspect of multipotentialism that makes coaching a multipotentialite – or polymath – particularly interesting.

Multipotentialites are true innovators. They can, as Emilie Wapnick so brilliantly describes in her TEDx Talk on this, “combine two or more fields and create something new at the point at which they intersect.”

Because multipotentialites thrive on working on several diverse projects, and goals, simultaneously, some of which will come together, choosing just one can feel really hard to do.

How do I know this?

Because I am one.

For me it looks like this. I am mainly a psychologist, an accredited executive coach and a trainer, but I am also a cake baker who makes delicious cakes that are organic and free from cane sugar, wheat and dairy – and I use my speaking and training strengths to talk about business and economics. I am an ex-Pharmacy student in love with natural medicine, and have even written a theorem about side effects when using pharmaceuticals or natural medicine – drawing on my fascination with geometry. Not to mention my work as a writer, healer, and teacher of intuitive disciplines.

When people ask me what I do, I usually answer with one or two of the 6 roles I currently have, depending on who I am talking to. That’s just the ones I can name. You can imagine what fun some coaches have had with me in the past. “If you were to focus on just ONE goal/area/interest, which ONE would it be?” has been the general gist.

The thing is, it just doesn’t work like that with a multipotentialite. And it isn’t always easy being one.

  • Other people often think that we can’t make our mind up about the career we want to go into and are unfocused – rather than the reality that we are fascinated by all of them and have the energy and drive and motivation to put into each. Simultaneously.
  • We switch attention (become bored) easily once we have learned what we need to – this can make us look like we jump around, and this can make completing things a challenge at times.
  • It can be frustrating not always being able to explore all interests, because our working lives may require us to focus just on one area. This can leads to anxiety, low-self-esteem and disengagement.
  • It can be hard to identify a clear life purpose. We can feel like failures because we haven’t worked out what we are going to do when we grow up. Yet. As Emilie so beautifully describes.

A much more helpful approach I find when coaching multipotentialites is to firstly enable them to recognise that they are in fact one – that there isn’t something wrong with them, or that they are “unfocused” or “scattered”.

polymathSecondly, I create the space for them to explore each of their interests, and to consider how they come together, rather than trying to separate them out. “How do these seemingly different fields come together for you, I wonder?” is a question I love to explore.

Thirdly, I explore what is driving their current focus, and whether this is comfortable and aligned with their direction, or whether they are at risk of doing what they feel they have to do – which can lead to disengagement. The client can then use this awareness to determine whether a re-focus is required to bring more balance to The Force*.

(*I also have an almost academic love of Star Wars. Did I not mention that?!).


We are only at the beginnings of exploring what multipotentialism means for business – and to learn about how to best harness the innovative, creative thinking that multipotentialites bring. I look forward to seeing what we will all discover – business leaders, psychologists, coaches, specialists and multipotentialites alike.


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