Posts archive for ‘Executive coach’

World Class Business Leaders don’t have to be great at everything!

July 20, 2010

Research suggests they will be more successful developing 3-4 World Class behavioural strengths that really make a difference.   This comes from a fascinating book The Extraordinary Leader by Zenger and Folkman (2009) which, based on extensive research,  identifies sixteen key leadership behaviours that differentiate World Class leaders.  They also posit it is a myth to focus on weaknesses, that is unless those weaknesses are a ‘fatal flaw’, in which case they should be remedied.

I’ve been coaching business leaders for a number of years, and working with another very well researched model of Leadership Behaviours, (Schroder’s High Performance Behaviours) and not surprisingly whilst the clustering of behaviours  between Schroder and those of Zenger and Folkman differ, there are many similarities that can be mapped across the two models.  For example Zenger and Folkman’s Solving Problems, Analysing Issues and Innovation are very similar to Schroder’s Concept Formation and Conceptual Flexibility; and their Building Relationships can be compared with Schroder’s Empathy and  Self-Confidence. 

Zenger and Folkman’s model centres around the cluster ‘Character’ and they relate this to Credibility (Kouzes and Posner), Integrity (Bennis), telling the truth (Shaffer) and Principle Centred Leadership (Covey).   I would also add in to this list Roger Steare’s ( recent work ‘ethicability®’ which explores rule compliance, social conscience and principled conscience.  A free on-line test can be found at

I’ve worked with many organisations who have developed their own leadership behaviour/competency models (often less elegant), and typically the majority of the behaviours can be mapped onto the well researched and validated models such as Schroder or Zenger and Folkman.


Sarah climbing Old Coach Road, Lake District

Tough cycling climbs and tough business times

July 9, 2010

 Last weekend I cycled the Coast to Coast (C2C) route from Whitehaven on the Irish Sea to Sunderland, on the North Sea – 145 miles (on and off road) with over 10,000ft of pedalling uphill. The scenery was stunning, especially through the Lake District and over the Pennines. There were also some really tough climbs that required just getting into the groove, being careful to pace myself and appreciating the moment(s) – scenery, wildlife, animals, flowers, sunshine, mini milestones, support and encouragement from other cyclists, following winds and the reward of making it to the top, before a fast exhilarating descent to start yet another tough climb. On reflection there are some great analogies and metaphors for business in these challenging and tough times. As the saying goes, ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going’.

How often is it when faced with what appears to be a really difficult goal to achieve (a 7 mile uphill cycle) , our initial reaction is ‘it’s too difficult’, or ‘is it worth the effort?’. People who rise to tough sporting or business challenges tend to:

  • break them down into mini milestones (reaching each bend)
  • ensure resources are available and making best use of resources (avoiding burn out, refuelling with energy drink, support from others, following winds)
  • take time to appreciate the journey (scenery, wildlife) • enjoy the rewards of achieving the goal (feeling of achievement at reaching the summit, the views and/or cafe/bar at the top!)
  • enjoy the downhill speed, the time to recover and replenish resources (muscles). Caution on the descents though, whilst exhilarating be aware of the risks (tight bends, missing turnings, not knowing when to apply the brakes, etc!)

Sarah at top of Hartside Pass, Pennines

And then…….you are ready to take on the next tough climb, knowing you can do it, it is worth the effort and the rewards!

I’d love to hear what analogies and metaphors came up for you.


Imposter Syndrome – feeling like a fraud

June 2, 2010

Do you ever feel like a fraud…… that you’re not as good as others think you are, fear that you’ll get found out or put success down to luck or huge effort?   Feeling like a fraud and being a fraud are very different.    Feeling like a fraud is what is known as  Imposter syndrome and has been attracting attention in the public and academic press recently.   Dr Pauline Clance and Dr Susan Imes research in the late 70s and early 80s started out studying successful women, however research over the intervening years on successful males and females found that men can also experience ‘feeling like a fraud’.   

It was a relief for me when I first heard about imposter syndrome  having  experienced  the ‘I’m a fraud’  thoughts and feelings when I set paragliding World Records, putting it down to luck ‘I was just in the right place at the right time’, or  ‘if I can do it then lots of other people can too,’  or with my academic/professional qualifications ‘it was an easy exam paper’ or ‘I must have found the easy route’.    However once I start to challenge these ‘feeling like a fraud’ beliefs I soon realised that to have been successful, took me years of learning and practice to become expert enough to be successful.   Yes, you might get really, really lucky and set one world record through amazing luck, or get a really good grade in an exam through the right question.    However I can’t put three world records down to luck, or a number of professional qualifications down to ‘stumbling on an easy route’.   

If the idea of ‘being caught out’ or ‘feeling like a fraud’ hits a nerve with you a couple of techniques that might help overcome imposter syndrome are:

«  Challenge the irrational belief(s)

  • make a realistic and rational evidence based assessment of your success

«  Feed your successful beliefs through

  • keeping a success diary
  • accepting compliments and positive feedback


High Performance top tip: set challenging goals

May 12, 2010

Having come back down to earth from our fantastic and sometimes extremely challenging ‘experience of a lifetime’ sailing expedition to Antarctica, I found myself wondering ‘what next…..?’ ‘how do I top that?’

Many people who achieve what they once thought was their ‘ultimate’ goal have reported similar thoughts. When I was paragliding competitively, the holy grail for me was a World Record, yet when I achieved that I wasn’t satisfied….I wanted another……and another – my bar kept getting higher! The key is to ensure you are constantly reviewing and upgrading your goals, setting the bar higher each time, pushing your comfort zone.   I remember reading in one of Ellen MacArthur’s books how before she crossed the finish line of one race around the world, she was already setting herself goals for her next challenge – thus avoiding those ‘what next?’ thoughts.

Before our Antarctic experience I’d put in place clear business challenges for 2010. And, recently I’ve been following two friends on North Pole expeditions, part wishing I was doing something similar out of my comfort zone, and part enjoying the warmth and comfort of home, well within my comfort zone! However their experiences awakened my yearn for more challenges and reminded me I was a bit late in reviewing and setting my challenging goals for 2010.

I thrive on stretching my comfort zone whether that comes from sport, adventure or the challenges of working with business coaching, executive coaching and sport psychology clients. So alongside keeping focus on the business challenges, I’m now working towards other challenges including gaining accreditation in a coaching technique, speaking at a conference, a kayaking expedition and changing roles when sailing our F18 catamaran.

Remember when reviewing your goals to keep them SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic or Relevant , Time based). Achievable and Realistic is where we set the challenge. We want to set the bar high enough so that it is really challenging and will require skills, practice and effort to jump clear over it but not so high it’s unrealistic and we don’t believe we can achieve it. Measurable and Time based requires we regularly review progress and reset or even change the bar!

I’d love to hear from you about your out of comfort zone challenges and goals.


Flying out of our comfort zones

April 19, 2010

One of my favourite poems Christopher Logue’s ‘Come to the edge’, really captures the essence of flourishing through embracing risk, feeling the fear and stepping beyond our limiting beliefs and out of our comfort zone, and as Jeremy Irons said of the poem ‘it deals with risk and trust and the magic that occurs sometimes when you do either’.

For the full poem

Learning to fly (metaphorically) helps us to flourish and achieve beyond what we thought possible, whether through pushing ourselves over the edge, encouraging others to step off the edge or leading others over the edge. 

My role as a coach is to challenge clients to find the courage to step off the edge and  fly, so that the discomfort of your fear zones becomes your comfort zone.  We then work on the next edge, and the next and the next and so on, expanding the comfort zone and pushing the boundaries of the fear zone, pushing ‘beyond belief’.    

 As one client, with a fear of abseiling, once said to me ‘Just the thought of talking about it with Sarah sent me over the edge!’ 

And I’ve been there on the edge many times myself (e.g. stepping off the edge with clients,  using new coaching tools/techniques for the first time, wing walking, white water rafting).   When I embrace my fear and ‘fly’ I feel so much more alive, excited and fulfilled, it’s a real buzz.  And when I haven’t quite got it right and have to pull the parachute there is always a learning to help me fly even better next time.


Behavioural change top tip: visualise how you want to be

April 6, 2010

I’ve recently been working with highly academic/scientific delegates to develop their capability in creative thinking and facilitation.  This has been a really interesting journey, which has reminded me  about how knowing about something doesn’t necessarily mean we can do it.     I can think about many things I am knowledgable about and can talk about what to do and how to do it. However the challenge is to actually do it.  Clients often report ‘I feel uncomfortable’, ‘it’s not my natural style’, ‘I’m concerned as to what others might think if I change the way I do things’ and I also experience these thoughts and feelings.  These are normal anxieties when we come to changing how we do things.

So when you start out changing how you do or think about something, it is normal to feel that it is ‘uncomfortable’ or ‘un-natural’.  However the more we practice, (and we do need to practice, practice, practice!)  the new behaviour the sooner it will become automatic and you will feel more comfortable and with time it will feel like your natural style. 

There are tools and techniques available that help us to practice and learn new behaviours. One powerful technique is to practice visualising yourself doing the new behaviour how you would like to do it, and to keep refining and practising your visualisation.  This can be done from both the video/observer perspective of watching yourself and/or through being in your own body, and experiencing what you are seeing, thinking, feeling, hearing and doing.  Remember also to include visualising the impact you are having on others around you.  Done well this will really help you improve how you do things when it comes to real life, whether that is a  business, sport, performing arts or personal life situation.


High risk and mental attitude

February 18, 2010

‘It’s not pure physical ability that makes champions, it’s having the right mental approach and these guys [downhill ski racers] take that to a whole different level.’  Michael Johnson talking in a recent documentary about downhill ski racers.

The Winter Olympics brings us a window on top level competitors in some of the highest risk sports out there; downhill skiing, ski jumping and luge to name but a few.   The stakes are high, and yet they love their sports and the challenge of pushing the limits and being on the edge – that’s what makes them tick.

 I’ve competed myself in high adrenaline dangerous sports (paragliding at World Class level) and have friends and colleagues who thrive on challenge.  To many, those who compete in high risk sports may seem like complete nutcases who are constantly cheating death. However Michael Johnson hits the nail on the head when suggesting that the mental approach is taken to a whole different level.  

Athletes in high risk sports thrive on the exhileration that comes from competing on the edge, they know the risks, and they ensure that their mental and physical training helps them minimise the risks and maximise performance. 

It’s the same with ‘downhill ski racers’ of the business world, those who thrive on living on the edge.  And as with sport, the higher the business risk, the greater the importance of having the right mental attitude to reap the rewards of working on the edge. 

And this reminds me of one of my favourite poems by Christopher Logue:

  Come to the edge.
We might fall.
Come to the edge.
It’s too high!
And they came,
and we pushed,
And they flew.


Coaching supervision or ‘super’+’vision’

February 1, 2010

Many professional coaches engage in supervision for their professional development.  Increasingly buyers of coaching services are also becoming more aware of the benefits of coaching supervision and making it a requirement for any coaches they might hire.   

Yet when I mention supervision to friends and colleagues from other  professions most interpret ‘supervision’ to be overseeing someone’s work and this interpretation fits with the dictionary definition ‘supervise – superintend, oversee the execution of a task, etc, oversee the actions or work of a person’

Last week I had my regular supervision session and reflecting on what supervision means to me and the outcomes I gain from supervision, it’s more about ‘super (higher, extra good, beyond) +  vision (seeing, insight, imagination)’,  that is a process helping me to gain greater insight into how I work and how I can transform the way I work to better serve my clients.


How healthy is perfectionism?

November 18, 2009

Does perfectionism drive you towards success or away from failure?  A recent article in Scientific American Mind ( ) suggests that there are ‘positive’ or ‘healthy perfectionists’ who are motivated towards success and, ‘unhealthy perfectionists’ motivated by a fear of failure.   Hogan’s Development Survey measures perfectionism on it’s Diligence scale.  Medium to high risk scorers are likely to demonstrate both healthy and unhealthy perfectionist behaviours with the unhealthy ones more likely to come out when under stress and pressure.   

Positive or healthy perfectionistic behaviours include organised, conscientious, striving for excellence, good organisation, striving to meet goals and deadlines.  However the negative perfectionist behaviours include anxiety, inefficiency, shying away from new challenges, critical, inflexible, pedantic.  

Intuitively I feel that the positive perfectionist behaviours are those that drive us towards success and the negative ones away from failure. However logically it also makes sense that some people may experience the reverse.  Could this be due to having an optimistic or pessimistic mindset?


playtime enhances creativity, innovation and well-being

November 9, 2009

Are you feeling creatively stifled or in a rut?  It’s well known that organisations like Google and Innocent have play rooms to enhance creativity and innovation.  Recent research by Bekoff suggests that adults who do not play are at risk of becoming unhappy and exhausted and may not understand why they feel this way.  I know that if I don’t get to play enough at the things I really enjoy I soon begin to feel unmotivated and lose my ‘joie de vivre’.  Stuart Brown founder of the National Institute for Play (USA) says we should all find time for play and suggests the following types of play:

  • Body play – some form of active movement with no deadlines or expectations – just have fun
  • Object play – have fun creating something you enjoy
  • Social play – get together with others and play verbally – from small talk to lively debate

So I’m currently enhancing my creativity through…..

  • body play – walking/cycling in beautiful countryside and a couple of weeks ago swimming at dawn in the warm Caribbean – just letting the mind wander.
  • social play – I’m organising a murder mystery dinner next weekend for 40 friends – letting the imagination run free on character allocation and interpretation!
  • object play – creating my costume for the murder mystery dinner!

I’d love to hear how you are playing to enhance your creativity and innovation?


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