Negative people

The people in your life either lift you up or drag you down. Some have perfected being in the latter cohort to a state of mastery and I’ve noticed that they destroy any joy that life may bring every single day

I’m working hard to exit a commercial relationship, but it’s taking some complex surgery, because the person is almost impossible to deal with. They are obstructive, aggressive, aloof and, frankly, not very intelligent.

I highly recommend starting the journey if you have a similar person dragging you down. As Joel Osteen said: “You cannot expect to live a positive life if you hang with negative people.”

An interesting reflection is that, in my experience, such people are usually highly unsuccessful, by whatever measure you want to take (relationships, finance, career and even family), but they seem blissfully unaware it is their attitude that makes it so – not the other way around.

P.S. Just in case you were wondering, this isn’t anyone at home or a business client, all of whom are amazing and lift me up every day, but someone related to a personal investment.

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What do I do if I have a senior colleague with an external locus of control?

One of my clients has a director with an external locus of control. You know, those people who never proactively help themselves, create chaos but never take responsibility for it, externalise to all the people and circumstances as to why they aren’t successful. These people find a problem in the way of every opportunity and 100 reasons why something can’t be done. They don’t deliver but it’s never their fault.

The solution? Well, obviously make sure you don’t hire these people in the first place. It’s easy to test (I test it with all clients before accepting a coaching gig). If you already have them in your organisation, I suggest you plan to exit them as soon as you can. Meantime, supervise them closely, because they will infect everything and potentially everyone they touch.

Can they be cured? Yes of course, in theory at least, because it’s just a mindset issue. However, you can’t change the way someone has been brought up. I should say that they don’t mean it, it’s just a habitual way of thinking that they have adopted for many years and their neural pathways are well trodden. If they can be awakened and helped to realise that such a way of thinking is not serving them, a series of coaching sessions will have remarkable results. If they are blissfully unaware of the issue and/or have no intention of changing, they’re impossible to help and, by the way, whoever intervenes then becomes the externality that gets blamed for lack of progress.

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10,000 hours to mastery

Malcolm Gladwell said: “The 10,000-hours rule says that if you look at any kind of cognitively complex field, from playing chess to being a neurosurgeon, we see this incredibly consistent pattern that you cannot be good at that unless you practice for 10,000 hours, which is roughly ten years, if you think about it four hours a day”

I coach many accountants on the road to becoming better advisors and encourage them to practice their craft as much as possible, so that they can attain a level of mastery more quickly (and therefore deliver the right value to the client).

Some argue their accounting experience counts towards those hours, but coaching and accounting need different patterns of thinking and require different skills. Experience of the latter will certainly enhance the former, but a good accountant is usually not a natural coach.

As a former accountant, I can see that we were trained as experts in our field. Experts usually struggle to be good coaches or salespeople, where a facilitative approach is needed, often hampered by the ingrained habit of taking a problem and solving it.

Another headwind for professionals trained as experts is the inevitable fear of unfamiliar territory. Many are reluctant to stray into conversations with clients where they don’t feel qualified to advise. Indeed, the preferred term adopted by most firms for their approach to client work is “advisory”, which is unhelpful in learning a facilitative approach. Pure coaching is of course non-directional and domain expertise agnostic.

Any business owner selecting a coach/consultant is probably wise to take into account the experience each potential supplier has in business coaching, as they would in selecting a clinical professional, legal advisor or tradesperson.

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Reflections and business lessons from lockdown

Here’s my short interview for Mindshop’s Authentic Adviser podcast. A summary of my business journey over the last 25 years, followed by what’s worked, what hasn’t and which ideas can we take into the future in order to gain benefit from the recent lockdown.

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Why do people find it so hard to generate sales?

It continues to be a mystery to me how businesses and, in particular, the people responsible for marketing and sales in those businesses, seem to be lacking in the ability to create demand for their products or services. Putting issues created by a global pandemic aside for the purposes of this article, although most of my clients have successfully pivoted where that has been an issue, let’s explore why this might be so.

Firstly, what’s my personal experience of the problem? My only ever full time job was in a top 10 accounting firm. As a raw trainee at first and for 13 years a partner heading up the tax team across the south of the UK, I had to learn for myself how to find and win new clients. Then, when I left that career to start my own training and coaching consultancy some 20 years ago, there was again a burning need to build a following that generated income to pay the mortgage, school fees, et al. You know what? It was never difficult and please note that it’s an introverted accountant making that statement so, I would suggest that if I can do it, anyone can.

I’ve recently been running bite-sized “lunch and learn” training for a number of clients and a popular topic is “Lead generation and networking skills”. One of the questions I ask the delegates early on is:

“If you had to win customers/clients this month in order to survive, what would you do?”

Guess what? Everyone, no matter how inexperienced they are in business development, comes up with the right answer. How interesting.

In other words, people know what to do. However, for some reason, they are often beguiled by marketeers to believe it is some kind of dark art. Don’t be fooled. It’s really very simple. Here’s the process (which you already know). I’ll use a hunting comparison too, which I find helps put it into perspective. If you’re not a carnivore, you can use the equivalent foraging language, but the process is exactly the same:

StepClient/customerHunting for food
Identify targetSpecify your perfect client/customer. Not everyone with a pulse, but where’s the sweet spot?Be clear on exactly what you’re hunting and what it looks like.
Learn about themUnderstand their world intimately. Their language, challenges, fears and needs.Get to know their migratory habits, daily routines and unique traits.
Work out where they areWhere do these targets hang out, what do they read, where can I find them?Where do these animals congregate in numbers and when? What are their watering holes?
How do I reach them?What methods/channels are best to reach them? Web, SEO, networking, direct mail, targeting?Choose the hunting method, select the hunting team, strategy and stalking tactics.
How will I bring them home?Clarity of compelling message. Why choose you? What’s the USP/SCA?What weapon works best – gun, spear, net, hook?

If you aren’t filling your pipeline with demand, may I suggest that one or more of these elements isn’t effective enough and needs a re-think.

Many people choose to adopt a less considered strategy. I describe it like this – “shoot a gun into a tree and see what falls out” – and they are surprised when there is little response. That frustrates me, especially when I believe they know what to do. For example, a client asked me a question yesterday: “Our marketing and sales strategy isn’t working. Should we just give it to an agency to sort out?” The answer of course, after helping him realise that they knew what to do but they just weren’t doing it, was “no”.

It is perhaps important to say at this point that I have only ever worked in the B2B world and, I am sure, much of what I say would need some alteration if you sell to consumers, but probably not as much as one might think.

In conclusion, the key message I want to leave with you is this. You almost certainly know how to build up your pipeline with good qualified leads. If you aren’t busy managing demand, it’s probably because you need to:

1. Make someone truly responsible and accountable for driving/conducting activity and

2. Ensure all those tasked with doing the marketing/selling are being proactive rather than reactive, doing all the things they almost certainly know they should be doing.

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So proud of my clients

Just wanted to say how proud I am of all my clients. They’re the invisible ones who have been working flat out since March to keep their companies going, keep the staff employed, keep the UK economy moving, paying their taxes and contributing to society. Never a mention on the news of course – if you just listen to that, you’d think all businesses have been closed, where people are either key workers or sat at home watching Netflix. No, they’ve been working away doing amazing things whilst carrying a massive burden of stress for themselves and all the stakeholders who are dependent upon them.

As Seth Godin said:

“Leadership is scarce because few people are willing to go through the discomfort required to lead. This scarcity makes leadership valuable…It’s uncomfortable to stand up in front of strangers. It’s uncomfortable to propose an idea that might fail. It’s uncomfortable to challenge the status quo. It’s uncomfortable to resist the urge to settle…If you’re not uncomfortable in your work as a leader, it’s almost certain you’re not reaching your potential as a leader”

Good work guys.

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A time to learn about the people around you

Following my last article about how the exemplary leaders are standing out right now, I have realised how transparent everyone is at the moment.

It would appear from my own observations and the myriad calls I’m having with clients, that peoples’ strengths are currently being accentuated – qualities such as calmness, resilience, listening, proactivity, empathy, helpfulness, commitment and willingness to go the extra mile.

Sadly, the weaknesses are also standing out in stark contrast – negativity, resistance, challenging for the sake of making a point, inability to organise oneself, reactiveness, awkwardness. not encouraging people who are trying to do good things and not taking responsibility to share a burden.

In a business context, what a perfect opportunity to really learn about your colleagues and employees. It is at times like these when the leaders of the future are identified whilst, at the same time, the list of people you might want to exit also shows itself.

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A time that calls for exemplary leadership

It’s been a privilege to catch up with clients over the past week to see how leaders have risen to the challenge their businesses face. So calm, proactive, positive and optimistic. Not deluded though. Exactly what the wider population needs.

Most of the positive psychology authors, including Goleman, Covey, Seligman and others, highlight the importance of the “gap”. The gap is the space between stimulus and response. Primal behaviour defaults to “fight, flight or freeze” in this gap, but we have the ability to choose a considered and probably more effective response to an external event.

My clients have been focusing on short and medium term cashflow forecasts, writing to suppliers about payment terms (banks, landlords, HMRC, etc.), running daily “state of the nation” broadcasts to their colleagues and employees, quickly getting everyone working from home where possible and proactively contacting all customers to offer help and advice.

These behaviours encourage employees to lead as well. Some have offered to run Zoom webinars for other staff for learning purposes. Many have written to their building societies or landlords and asked for moratoria on payments – they recognise they need to do their bit and that Government and employers can’t be expected to carry the whole financial burden.

Many are reinventing ways of productising their offer in different ways – like, for example, the fitness coaches posting online video tutorials.

Now is a time that needs exemplary leadership. I am learning great new ideas from my clients every day and anyone who would like to learn more will know how to reach me.

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Return on the time invested in social media

My last blog post centred around some of the negatives of social media, as I see them. This time, I wanted to share a couple of positives.

First of all, I had a referral to a prospective client this week. Nothing unusual in that I hear you say. However, it came from someone who I think I’ve only ever “met” on LinkedIn. They have been following my activity for a couple of years and the perception that has created, along with an element of extra due diligence no doubt, has led to what I would call a strong recommendation to use my services to one of their valued clients. Not a step anyone would take without a high level of confidence in the person being referred and it’s interesting how well LinkedIn has performed in that regard.

Secondly, I have put quite a lot of effort into Twitter over the past few years. I always try to add value to my followers, rather than simply act as a bulletin board and it’s lovely when I get a nice reply to say that a comment had uplifted someone’s spirit or mood. This week provided quite a shock though. A tweet I made at the beginning of the weekend, which was a quote about how we learn, generated over 300 retweets and 650 likes in the 48 hours after the post. Of course, there were a handful of negative comments too, as you would expect. Setting aside the dopamine hit that I probably experienced, it was such a nice feeling to reflect on how much value that might have added to the everyday lives of so many people around the world, simply because it resonated enough to create a positive response. We all probably wonder if there is anyone out there listening when we engage with social media and so much seems to be noise, so it’s encouraging to get such a strong endorsement from the effort and thought that goes into sharing ideas with followers, even if it’s only occasional.

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Sycophant, narcissist or value-giver?

OK, so this is probably a fairly provocative thought-piece on the use of social media, so feel free to either strongly agree or disagree at your discretion.

I’ve been using social media for quite a while. As with most things, in the early days of anything new, we all tend thrash around with no real sense of purpose. However, it’s increasing becoming clear to me that many people and businesses seem to have fallen into the trap of either being creepily obsequious about everything their friends post or completely self-obsessed in their stream of content. Neither of which, in my humble opinion, is likely to get them very far, unless the objective is purely to seek social engagement or a dopamine hit.

The most successful users of social media, at least in a business context, seem to have a more strategic focus to their activity. They tend to major on providing value to their listeners/followers. That could be some form of thought leadership, sharing a useful tip, relating a war story that others may get a useful lesson from or just seeking to inspire with motivational words.

Is your activity simply a bulletin board of all your wonderfulness or is the focus to genuinely give value to your target market? I highly recommend the later approach.