Focus, awareness and imagination...

I have just held an impromptu and unexpected coaching session – an old friend rang me to off-load some troubles, crying on shoulder stuff is fine of course, but far better to get somewhere and try to change something – to move with purpose.

Formerly they were a top sports-person, playing at near the highest level, so soon our conversation led me to remember some observations that I recorded when watching the summer games in London.


Archery – getting what we don’t want

The competitors play alongside each other, taking it in turns to fire their arrows. It is not unusual for a competitor to be influenced by their opponents previous shot – they see their opponent make a poor shot, scoring a 6 for example, which is some way from hitting centre and a poor shot for those at the highest level, the loss of 4 points from the 10 maximum can devastate a round, an archery expert in commentary observed that it is not unusual for a competitor to make a poor shot directly after his opponent has.  Having seen their opponent score a 6 the thought enters the head, “wow, that was a poor shot, I don’t want to do that, I mustn’t get a 6”, they then go onto fire a poor arrow of their own.
The focus has shifted to what they do not want – but because that is where the focus now lies, that is what they score.

Swimming – awareness - reaching your core objective

Swimmers, like other top athletes, will as part of their training “play” other sports and undertake other activities aimed at honing their skills.  Ian Thorpe, like some of the other Olympic competitors practiced ballet moves, working at the bar in the same way as a dancer might.
Ballet requires immense discipline and understanding of ones own body, the moves are extremely precise and require great fitness in order to be competent enough to express the moves smoothly and naturally.  This requires great awareness of what ones body needs to do in order to replicate those extremely precise and demanding moves.
Swimmers in particular feel the benefit through a raised awareness of their body movements, once in the pool they feel the benefit of having a greater awareness of their precise positioning and timing of the various strokes they need to perform.

Bolt - picture your success

It was amazing to watch Usain Bolt and his super-human achievements…we can all be superhuman…
Prior to one of his Gold medal-winning runs we were lucky enough to catch some glimpses of him as he prepared, at one stage I saw that he appeared to be thinking through the race, he was making small running motions with his hands, he then appeared to cross the line, a small nod to indicate he was imagining the duck at the line.  Then the bit that I liked the most: he made small gestures as if raising his hands in celebration and also nodding his head acknowledging the applause of the crowd, he seemed to be not only imagining the run, but also the result that he wanted, he ran a winning race in his thoughts before going on to win for real.
His focus was entirely on what he wanted to achieve, even to the point of imagining the adulation he would receive and the elation he would feel.

Move with purpose

The greatest sports people know that they need to drop their baggage – Lewis Hamilton spoke of it following a bad race in 2010 – he just had to put that result and the memory of it in a bag over his shoulder – and then carry on with his season.  Bad results are gone, history is written in indelible ink – while it can teach us things it is only useful as reflection point, not something to dwell over  - ask The 3 Questions about specific events:
  1. What worked
  2. What didn’t
  3. What needs to change
Life is the present – not the past.  Look at where you want to get to, understand where you are today, consider your options, move to action – on the way stop and reflect – ask The 3 Questions – make your adjustments.  Keep your sights on what you want to achieve, be honest about your failures – but use them to learn from.

  • Like an archer – focus on your goal.
  • Like a swimmer - maintain your awareness.
  • Like Bolt – picture your success.
 much love


Get creative...

Get creative people – no matter your job, get creative! 

You will probably have heard of the left brain-right brain theory – the left is the calculator, the right the creator – that’s just about the most simplistic explanation and doesn’t do that bundle of tissue and juices much justice, but it is enough to keep us going for the moment.

We’ve done quite a lot of work with management consultants at all levels and of course some well known CEOs, one thing they all have in common is that they spend a lot of time in data – looking at numbers, exploring facts and figures.

One of the things we’ve found really helpful for them is to get creative.

Being creative, especially for someone whose job is not as a creative, can be really helpful for them; it opens up parts of the brain that they simply are not using that often.

We were all creative as children and many of us gave up because our results were not great – any parent has had to congratulate their child over some sticks of macaroni stuck to a dirty grey piece of paper,
‘Look at this I made for you’
‘Lovely darling, what is it?’
We’re often discouraged at an early age, which is such a shame, as we all have the ability to create beautiful things, but like any skill the techniques have to be learnt – so support your children.  I digress.

We give up art or creative things and many of us never return, those synaptic pathways in our brains that allow us to draw a cat in proportion or write a poem that overflows with metaphor fail to develop.

Get creative, try something, anything

Get creative – go home, sit down with a pencil and paper – write something, draw something – don’t worry about the quality, do it just for you, enjoy and go with the flow.  Pick up some paint and chuck it at some paper – stick your fingers in the colourful goo, go mad, have fun!

Do anything.  Take a walk with your camera (that’s what I do by the way) – snap away, go home and play, make something beautiful, make something that means something, make anything – do it.  Pick up those rusty chisels your grandfather left you – carve some wood.

Food for the brain

Why?  Because it works your brain, gets all those synapses firing, connects both hemispheres and feeds it.

Cramming your brain full of knowledge is a waste of time – if you cannot find something to do with it – manipulating data, facts and figures and all that knowledge you have acquired is what can make the difference – you’re just another knowledgeable person, the difference comes in being able to take all that knowledge and data and do something with it.  That’s where creativity comes in.

Einstein – good at maths, took other people’s ideas, stood in the shower and imagined he was a light beam travelling across the universe – it was his creativity that enabled his brain to develop the Theory of Relativity

  • Steve Jobs – a great geek – that got creative.
  • Mark  Zuckerberg – see above
  • Leonardo Da Vinci – an artist and a scientist
  • Edison and Tesla – engineers that got creative

Throughout history you will find examples of great achievers who harnessed the power of their knowledge added a sprinkle of imagination and made a difference to the world.

So close that Excel window, open up Paint – and do something creative.

You never know – you might enjoy it too!

G x

This Week, I Have Mostly Been...

I’ve had a really busy week, so I’ve simply not had the time or the mental energy to be able to write a piece of insight of some coaching principles etc., for you all to read.  So I thought I would spend my Friday afternoon reflection time with you.

Good to Great inspires a business…

Most of my week has been taken up with the final phase of a project that I have been involved with over the last 2 years.  This is with the a UK company who are part of a multinational, they have a pretty hands off relationship with their North American owners and are involved with some very well known brands.  3 years ago the Executive Team decided they needed to bring the whole company together, they were highly acquisitive for a while, so have multiple sites and diverse cultures.

Phase 1 was about bringing the Executive Team together, building relationships and creating a culture, at the highest level, that would allow them to have frank and open discussion, essential for ensuring collaboration and gaining alignment.  Phase 2 was about introducing new behaviours to the next level down, this was done by helping the Executive to be better coaches and 'being the change' they wanted to see. 

The Executive also sat down together and set about understanding where they wanted to get to and how they would get there, concluding that the Hedgehog and BHAG models in Good to Great would give them a good framework to work with.  Importantly they took the time to understand Collins intentions correctly – these models are wonderful, but they are only models – Collins observed some common behaviours which he has expressed in that form – the models themselves do not guarantee results and the transition from Good to Great is not something that happened overnight.  Many of the businesses Collins observed didn’t even realize they were going through a change until afterwards – the changes were slow and steady transitions arrived at through discipline and a series of steps towards a goal.

We are now into Phase 3 – The Executive Team have created their Vision, Purpose, Goals and Strategy for the business and considered 'where the culture is today vs. where it needs to be' in order to reach their Big Hairy Audacious Goal.

I have spent most of the last week working with data and thoughts obtained from a series of interviews with front-line management, in preparation for a series of workshops aimed at embedding new behaviours and encouraging those managers to support the cultural shift that the Executive Team want to see – this includes them seeing the benefit of coaching their teams rather than relying on older less effective management styles…I’ll let you know how they get on in the longer term, but importantly the new behaviours at the Executive and Senior Management levels have already had a positive effect on the business – they are winning more business, collaboration has increased and they now address the things that need to change, because they are no longer ‘un-spoken’.

Trouble at the top…

We’ve been involved in a restructuring programme with a major UK brand, this represented a wholesale change of reporting lines and one whole area of the company moving from a P&L holding centre to a function that serves only internal customers.  This has meant that individual Executives have had to move from a very parochial view acting as King of their own castle to one where they really do take responsibility for the whole group.  It has been a difficult period for them and our role has been to coach them through that process.  They fell off the rails recently and the CEO called us in far earlier than expected in order run a realignment session.   
I’ve finished editing the report this morning and they have actually made much more progress than they seem to be giving themselves credit for.  I think the lesson for them will be to not be downhearted, realize that they are on a long journey and keep their eyes on the prize, change programmes are never easy, beating themselves and each other up won’t serve them or the business.  Compassion is the key, with self and with others.  I know they will get there as they have already seen the benefit of increased collaboration, breaking out of their silos and improving honest and open conversations across the business.

Listen to Understand…

I love being involved with big businesses and helping some of our top Execs and teams to realize their potential, but my work with them is largely behind the scenes – they seldom know it is me that is reflecting their condition back to them.

I had another teen-coaching session this week, it really is the most satisfying of things to do.

My subject is a young man, preparing for GCSEs and going through all the normal things that teenagers go through.  He’s a well-adjusted youngster and he wants to do better at everything.

In our last session we looked at building relationships and in the end we decided to start with better listening.

‘Listening to understand’ is a really powerful tool worth developing for anyone – people love it when they feel cared for and listening to what people are saying is really good for that…this is proper listening though…

A lot of people ‘listen to respond’…they are listening only to see where they can contribute – that was one of my awful flaws as a salesman, being eager too to get in and show how clever and worth buying from I was.

Listen to someone else, listen in order to really, really understand what they are saying – when you do that you give them space to say even more, you learn more and then when you do contribute it will be in a much more meaningful way and more in-tune with your counterpart.

'Listening to Understand' and stopping swearing seems to have done this young man the world of good, he’s had a great 3 weeks and has strengthened a few relationships, including a special one…

We also sat down and worked through options for planning homework/fun-life balance better – with some discipline and action he should be fine – will keep you posted.


I started Stoptober – and then stopped almost immediately…hold on there - there’s a very good reason.  I’m reading the Alan Carr book, and actually have to keep smoking for a while, which I didn’t realize until I was a few chapters in, so I’m not a cop out – in fact I’m not  ‘enjoying’ smoking any more at all.  I won’t tell you how he does it, his estate deserves every penny it earns from the books in my opinion.   It is definitely a form of coaching and it has given me much more confidence around stopping, which I should be doing any day now – wish me luck – will keep you posted.

much love

~ Gary Walker

After nearly 25 years as a business insurance advisor and salesman I now work almost exclusively as a freelance assistant to Philip Goldman, one of the UK’s top Leadership Coaches.  Philip works with CEOs at the highest level, his clients include some of the world’s best known brands and FTSE100 companies.  I credit Philip with fuelling my interest in what it means to be a world class leader and that coaching in business is neither about providing solutions and using the latest management “tools” nor hugging trees and mopping furrowed brows, but helping those we work with to understand the emotional drivers that make humans what we are and how we can all go on to true self-empowerment, discovering for ourselves what it takes to be the best person, whatever that means for us individually, that we can be.

Positive Thinking

Next time someone tells you to think positively, tell them no, or at the very least ask them to define precisely what they mean by it.

Run through some websites and self-help books and it doesn’t take long to realize that the positive thinking being expressed is really no more than a euphemism for maintaining unbridled blind optimism, they contain simple mantras designed simply to make us feel good, regardless of our circumstances.

Consider the stories of Rear Admiral James B. Stockdale, who during the Vietnam War was forced to eject from his aircraft and was taken into captivity by the Vietnamese.  At the time he was the highest ranking Naval Officer in captivity and was therefore quite a prize for his captors.  In captivity he embarked upon various resistance activities, at one stage he cut his scalp with razors, disfiguring himself in order to stop him being used for propaganda, when they put a hat on his head to cover the scars he then battered his own face with a chair.  He spent 7 years in atrocious conditions, including 4 in solitary confinement, before finally being freed. 

The Stockdale Paradox 

Stockdale was interviewed as part of Jim Collins research into his book 'Good to Great', Collins had noticed some similarities between Stockdale’s approach to his situation and that of companies that had become “great” for a sustained period of time.  Stockdale’s philosophy was simple, he was in a very bad place and he recognized that, but he maintained his faith that one day he would be ok and his experiences would be the making of him.   When asked about those that failed to return he described them as the optimists; the ones that believed they would be free by Christmas, then free by Easter, free by their birthday, free by the next Christmas – they died of broken hearts as their dreams of freedom consistently evaporated.  The lesson that Stockdale described, which Collins then called the Stockdale Paradox, was that:

“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end - which you can never afford to lose - with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

The Stockdale Paradox points precisely to the major problem with unfettered optimism or Positive Thinking.  It allows us to exclude the bad things, the obstacles and the hindrances that will prevent our success, from our thinking and decision-making.  Unfettered optimism allows and even encourages us to plough on regardless of the realities of the world around us.  You will see this consistently in failed businesses and on Dragon’s Den, the 'realists' are the Dragons and the 'optimists' are the ones who stand before them with a loony-tunes idea that no-one will buy, or the poorly researched business-plan that predicts growth previously never witnessed, they’re often the ones that tell the Dragons they are wrong and that they will be sat in that Dragon’s chair in a year or two.  The rejected investment opportunities are often the ones that are not grounded in reality where Theo asks, of the man who has mortgaged his house in support of a gizmo or doodad for which there is no market, 'What planet are you living on?

Failure Is Allowed

Positive Thinking as a mantra fails to serve us in another more fundamental way.
If we tell ourselves, constantly, that we must remain positive, we deny ourselves the right to feel some very real human emotions around our failures to meet our own expectations, if we tell ourselves we must always be positive we start to make ourselves wrong when we cannot maintain that positivity, even for a moment.  We heap further pressures on ourselves and ultimately we impede our own performance further still as we feed our inner critic who will gnaw at us saying, “Ha! I told you so, you are shit, you will be found out, you loser”.

Focus on What You Want

A very natural and human tendency is to focus on the consequences of our failures, our thoughts then becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.  We all know what that is like, Rowan Atkinson’s “Best Man” back in the eighties certainly did:

“This morning I said to myself, ‘The last thing I must do today, is forget my speech’, and sure enough, the last thing I did…”

It is the same for the golfer that fails to hit the fairway and finds the solitary bunker that they are aware they need to avoid, the world class tennis player serving a double fault that they know they cannot afford to make and the Olympic archer who sees their opponent hit a 6 and thinks to themselves “I must not hit a 6 like they did” before going on to hit a 6…

The most successful people differ from others in that they focus with great intensity on what they are looking to achieve, directing their energies towards attaining their objectives and maintaining faith that they will get there if they continue in the right direction.

Generate Positive Actions

The answer is not to think positively, but to:

  • Maintain your focus on your objectives
  • Continue to have faith that you will, eventually, attain your goals
  • Reflect on your situation with honesty, confront the brutal facts of your reality; engage, examine and understand the world as it really, really is for you.
  • Having recognized the obstacles, consider what has worked, what hasn’t been so effective and what you need to do differently.
  • Make the necessary calibrations to your plans and activities, continue the journey towards your goal and review your progress against your objectives regularly.

    Exercise your Realistic Thinking to generate Positive Actions.

~ Gary Walker

After nearly 25 years as a business insurance advisor and salesman I now work almost exclusively as a freelance assistant to Philip Goldman, one of the UK’s top Leadership Coaches.  Philip works with CEOs at the highest level, his clients include some of the world’s best known brands and FTSE100 companies.  I credit Philip with fuelling my interest in what it means to be a world class leader and that coaching in business is neither about providing solutions and using the latest management “tools” nor hugging trees and mopping furrowed brows, but helping those we work with to understand the emotional drivers that make humans what we are and how we can all go on to true self-empowerment, discovering for ourselves what it takes to be the best person, whatever that means for us individually, that we can be.