Why You Can’t Be Precious

Don't become a prisoner of 'the precious'

Don’t become a prisoner of ‘the precious’

You’ve seen it before: the boss invites feedback and an ‘open dialogue’ and as soon as someone shows individuality or is overly assertive or says they don’t like an idea, then that person is labelled ‘not a team player’, or a ‘problem’, and the boss retreats to her/his predetermined position on just about everything that she or he regards as important. ‘The Precious’ idea, feeling or attitude has taken over!

You can’t afford to be precious about your ideas, your leadership and your organisation or life. Continue reading

Your Gifts Are Being Underrated – By You

I can guarantee you: you are underrating your own gifts and talents.

The vast majority of people whom I meet underrate their own gifts and talents. I see it reflected in the many works and conversations surrounding people’s thinking about their strengths. “Work to your strengths” they say, and this becomes a skills list, not an exploration of their potential. You shouldn’t just work to your strengths. No, you should embrace your underlying gifts and talents – who you are – and use everything you have to develop, apply and work with your skills in order to achieve something you believe in. That means that sometimes you’ll be working against what you perceive as personal weaknesses,

If people just worked ‘to their strengths’, here’s a list of some of the things they would do: Continue reading

“I Should Have … Years Ago…”

A client was talking with me about how his previous business had gone under. Three years ago, he had asked me for a proposal to work with him and his company to improve their management and organisational performance. I developed a substantial proposal to work with their company and at the time they did not proceed.

In the middle of last year, he came back seeking personal coaching assistance (not the organisational work I was first asked for) just a month before his business went under – too late to rescue it, but timely enough to help him personally. Now, in 2014, his previous business is defunct and he has started up again, while paying off substantial debts that arose through the collapse of the previous business.

“You know, years ago you gave me that proposal. And I didn’t go ahead with it, because my business partner persuaded me that he could take care of things and do what you were going to do. And he never did. He couldn’t. Looking back, I should have just paid you the fee and gone ahead.”

We’re working together now, as he has trust in the value I can provide and is delighted with my services, but he will have the burden of the previous business hanging over his head for possibly the next few years.

Sometimes there’s something we want to do that we know will help us, but we delay for whatever reasons, such as:

  • apparently bad timing (really, when is the timing perfect?),
  • lack of resources (are you sure? how much resources are you spending on inanities or trivialities?),
  • doubts (are these well-founded, or just fears?),
  • or someone else persuades us not to (what are they actually worried about? what’s their real reason?).

But business and leadership inherently involves risk. Calculated risk will, however, yield great returns.

In this case, his investment in my services would have been substantial but would also have greatly benefited him, his staff and his business. Even if things had not panned out for the business in the long run, it still would have been a great return for the investment. He realises that now.

Hindsight is 20/10, of course.

Rather than wishing you had done something years ago, take the calculated risk and undertake some bold action. If you fail, you’ll learn and can try something else. If, however, you succeed, you’ll reap the rewards.

There’s no time like now.

Copyright 2014 Peter J. McLean

“He’s Like a New Man!”

My client started off a conversation on Monday by addressing how things are going with one of his key people,

“Really good. Really good. He’s like a new man, to be honest!”

I’ve been coaching this key Project Manager in his overall leadership and project management, his innovation, his business sense, his client relationships, his presence, his communication, his attitude, his positivity and the respect, commitment and follow-through he generates from his team and those all around him. Additionally, it has been essential to foster a strong, productive relationship between him and his manager. The individual has been a productive Project Manager in the past, however there had been a number of problems with his recent projects, decreased profitability, evident issues with his leadership, and loss of potential follow-up work and variations with lucrative clients.

The Operations Manager and Human Resource Manager of this powerful resources firm didn’t want to abandon or dismiss this Project Manager, nor could they afford to turn a blind eye to an individual responsible for multi-million dollar projects. They knew that a workshop or other ‘educational’ solution would not produce results. Their best option was to hire me to help this man change for the better. They knew by recommendation that I would deliver.

The fundamental shifts in mindset came within the first couple of conversations. I work towards creating dramatic results wherever possible. Besides gathering information and profiling the coaching client, I observed him with his staff and clients on-site. We followed through with a number of principles and specific behaviours for him to address: everything from conceptualisation of the critical elements of leadership and project management, through to client interaction and his impact on the business. I helped him form a framework for how he thinks and communicates with others.

What I did was work to create a positive, forward-thinking, more business-savvy, strategic leader who learned better how to lead and manage a team that would be more concerted, more enthusiastic, more driven, more committed and pleased with their successes.

Amongst other things, the Senior Manager commented on the coaching client’s change from a previously pessimistic and negative attitude to a positive and more constructive one:

“You can see him pull himself up … it’s actually noticeable. It’s really good!”

Results such as the change that we have achieved are worth the investment of time and money. My coaching (and his efforts) has changed this man’s leadership, his professionalism and his life for the better and changed those of the people around him.

Coaching is future-focused. It’s about how you improve later today and tomorrow. So whether it’s taking the cream of the crop and helping them to be even better or remedying performance, there is always an element of change involved.

As one of my executive clients says when he eagerly records some points of insight during our discussions, “This is what it’s about … getting those refinements to my thinking and behaviour!”

I believe that creating dramatic change also requires creating lasting change. To do that, you need to address fundamental beliefs, assumptions and values – and that applies to both individuals and organisations. It also requires the presentation of evidence that can dramatically affect someone’s assumptions and influencing that individual or group through insightful communication. Surface agreement leads to surface ripples, but no underwater current.

Funnily, the senior Manager had asked the coaching client after our very first session, how it had affected him. The ‘coachee’ noted a number of thoughts and ideas he was excited about. The senior Manager laughed, “But that’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.” “Yeah, but Peter had a really good way of saying it!” How you communicate messages are critical to change and coaching discussions – and communicating these using multiple means of persuasion. (And I’m good at communicating those messages.)

Once initial changes are made, follow-through, accountability, managing the environment, while extrapolating implications, behaviours and further principles are all vital. It’s one of the reasons why I create unique technologies, IP and processes to maintain that growth.

Make the effort to create change for yourself and your organisation. It’s worth great investments to see that “new man”!

Whether you want private consulting and coaching, remote or face-to-face work, or team and organisational consulting, we can implement processes that will create dramatic improvement for you and your people. Contact me through theleadershiplamplight.com or www.lamplighter.com.au if you would like to discuss how you can improve your performance.

Copyright 2014 Peter J. McLean.


The Perils and Pain of Perfectionism

I admit it: My name is Peter, and I am a recovering perfectionist.

Though often used as the self-congratulatory response of job applicants (Interviewer: “What’s your most significant weakness?” Interviewee: “Oh, I’m a perfectionist. Everything has to be to an extremely high standard for me. I want my work to always be my best!!”), perfectionism can be a dastardly and debilitating habit. Procrastination, never-ending ‘near completion’ and unrealistic expectations of self and others can create toxic work environments.

This interesting news article (“Pressure to be perfect hurting musicians”), points to the physical pain, depression and performance anxiety suffered by classical musicians. This significant Australian study (see the original abstract here), demonstrates a significant relationship between depression and anxiety, perfectionism and physical pain in classical musicians, with 84% suffering performance pain at some stage and 50% reporting current pain. ‘Suffering for your art’ is the truth! It’s what most reasonable people have always thought is the by-product of all those tiger mums and sports dads.

One very interesting comment from Professor Kenny (who has created an inventory and scale for Musical Performance Anxiety) was that gifted young people had ‘had their identities foreclosed on them.’ That is, at a young age, everyone else decided who these young people should be – brilliant musicians – and they have followed that identity ever since. They never got the chance to be something else of their own choosing.

People and organisations get this wrong all the time – they seek after perfection and foreclose on their identities and productivity. Creativity, productivity and just plain life are messy and fluid. Although it can be really really great, you will never create the perfect system or the perfect result. Live with that. Accept it. Your neuroses will decrease exponentially, as will your pain – both psychological and physical. And if you find harsh, perfectionist task-masters in your organisations, have it out with them – results, not perfection, are what matter in organisations. Results that everyone can be proud of.

Perfectionism so often leads to nothing getting accomplished, because the law of ever diminishing returns means that once you pass the 80/85% mark, you’re spending ever-increasing amounts of time getting the last little bits just right. And that final .00005% is so horribly ducking and weaving from your ability to pin down. It prevents products from being launched and then refined (instead of being beaten to the punch by a lesser competing product), it prevents people from going for a job, it prevents people from being proud of their team, heck it even prevents people finding someone to love because nobody else is their version of ‘perfect.’

We don’t need everything to be absolutely ‘perfect’ for us to enjoy and thrive and for others to benefit. In fact, it would be pretty boring to be perfect, as human concepts of perfection require the elimination of deviation and variability. It has to be ‘just so’. That’s plain crazy.

The reality is that perfectionism is driven by fear. Fear of failure. Fear of loss. Fear of disapproval. Fear of being less.

Like me, become a recovering perfectionist. It’s a long time since I had the overwhelming desire to be perfectionist. I was the subject of psychological profile a number of years ago that said I could be more than 99%+ certain of something, but still not say it or commit to it, because I wasn’t 100% sure. Like Mr. Spock, my guesses were far better than most people’s deductions. Confronted with that on a psych profile (I mean, really, that’s sad when it comes out in a short assessment), I resolved to overcome that, and I have in many respects. But I do have to remind myself: get it out there. That’s more important.

Just get it done. You’ll be much happier and more successful and it will be less painful for everyone.


A lot of the strengths-based literature and programs stops at: “utilise your strengths and don’t concentrate on weaknesses”. This leaves people with the impression that all you have to do is work solely with ‘what you’re good at.’  Unfortunately, as far as most of that literature is concerned, many in management and many in personal development, people actually take this advice seriously and end up with narrow parameters of individual and organisational capability. To put it another way, people and organisations are actively discouraged from growing.

One of our clients has said to us that when she took the “Strengths Finder” she found it depressing, because of the constrictions it seemed to place on her, the way it was phrased and the fact that, according to the strengths finder, she couldn’t do the kinds of work she had been doing very well for a long time and should not aspire towards the further growth she was aiming for. (By contrast, she felt very positive and encouraged when taking our Harrison Assessments work preferences profiling – which is strengths oriented, but doesn’t straightjacket people – and found it extremely productive and targeted for her workforce.)

In life, work and leadership we should aim to STRETCH: Stretch our abilities, our knowledge, our understanding, our compassion, our leadership, our connection with others and our ability to perform at our highest levels in our chosen endeavours. We can do this organisationally as well – endeavouring to further the capabilities, reach and impact of our teams and organisations.

To stretch, instead of merely identifying your ‘operational’ strengths, seek to understand the nature of your underlying gifts, talents and resources and what you need to bring to bear to reach a higher level. These may be internal or external resources. On a personal level they may be physical, intellectual, emotional, social or spiritual. On an organisational level, they may involve your people, processes and organisational resources – again, both internal and external. Find your reason, your purpose and then stretch towards achieving that purpose.

And don’t forget ‘serendipity’ in this process. Sometimes the opportunities will come because you have been stretching – without seeing what is up ahead and above – but once the opportunity comes, then you see how your new talents and skills can meet the opportunity.

In education, it has been well established that one of the primary enablers of high achievement is learner expectation – that is, what a learner expects to be able to accomplish and being pushed beyond that by a capable teacher, trainer, coach or mentor builds ever-increasing levels of expectation of achievement. One’s intrinsic motivation is critical to one’s achievement. If you expect to exceed your abilities and are pushed to, then you will achieve higher levels. If you expect to achieve little, then guess what: you will achieve little.

This is where leadership – your self-leadership and your leadership of others – is so important. As a leader, you can help people to create a success loop of achievement beyond normal expectations that can build to increasingly higher levels of performance and achievement.

I was fortunate to have a boss who was also a mentor to me when I was a young man at University in the US. When asking him about some opportunities that I had and was applying for, I sought his advice on what I should do. Should I stick with what I knew more, or challenge myself and try something that was far more scary? His response was simple, “Which one will help you grow more?” The answer was equally simple. Although I wasn’t accepted into the opportunity I was applying for, I kept aiming for what would help me to grow and have borne his question in mind throughout the years. By doing so, I have very personally been able to help thousands of people to also grow and achieve, have served and led in numerous industries, have had experiences that the vast majority of people only ever dream about and have shouldered the enormous challenge of leading and caring for my family through our trials with our disabled daughter. It wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t stretched myself over many years.

You can do it for yourself. Don’t accept that ‘this is where you will always be’, but challenge yourself – STRETCH – grow and achieve.

7 Points to Help You Enact a Better Plan

It’s important when you start a new leadership position, or are seeking to renew it, to have a plan. Many have a “Vision” (although that is unfortunately, not always a concrete vision – e.g. all of those ‘visions’ about being the best/in pursuit of excellence/delivering client value, etc. may as well have been taken off the back of a cereal box), but no concrete way of executing and delivering on that vision. Both are necessary if you are to be effective and credible.

One of the things that I do with some of my clients is to develop a 100 Day Plan that will help them to achieve their objectives. There are many elements to these plans, but those are trade secrets :). Here are 7 points, however, to help you plan and achieve at a higher level:

  1. Ensure clarity of action, as well as mission. It’s all too easy to be clear on what you want, but not how you and others will achieve it. When a government announces it will ‘bolster the economy’ but has no articulated philosophy or stratagem to accomplish that, you know it’s hot air.
  2. Ensure that actions take into account others’ motivations. It’s not enough to come up with the ‘grand design’. People have to want to deliver (and use/buy). HP’s CEO Meg Whitman had plenty of plans when taking over the reigns in 2011. She’s taken over a slow-burning turnaround job for a behemoth of a company. One of the key things she has done – apparently quite well – is meeting with customers, staff and other partners as she continues to refine, improve and deliver on her plans. In less than a year she had over 300 such meetings one-on-one and many scores of group meetings. Through her involvement with real people, she’s revitalised optimism in the company and its clients, without massive layoffs typical of other turnaround efforts. She’s still got a way to go, but appears to be generating sustained momentum and growth within the company.
  3. Alliances are essential to any endeavour – yours as much as anyone’s. Android has been a phenomenal smartphone OS because Google ensured it was open source – free – and continually in upgrade mode. It has allowed Google to deploy advertising across a phenomenally successful platform, as well as tech giants like Samsung to leverage across the OS for its own smartphone range, with less issues about people relinquishing a previous long-valued OS.
  4. Calculate a return on innovation and risk into your plans. What are the benefits and costs and how do these weight certain aspects of your plans? When companies invest time in ‘disruptive’ technologies and initiatives, they are often very hopeful about the impact, without objectively determining what the combination of return and risk will be. Weight the potential impact of innovations along a range of domains – not just fanciful $$.
  5. Question yourself: What assumptions and biases are underlying your plans? How may these be challenged or refined? If you can uncover hidden, previously unrecognised, assumptions, then you are uncovering deep insight into how your plans may be upturned, overturned and replanted. While working with a particular Executive Officer, he and I determined that he was operating under the assumptions and biases of the existing management and that was inhibiting his ability to drive new initiatives. We devised a contingency plan for launching a new venture, which he was able to successfully achieve. That business venture is thriving today.
  6. Consider how you will communicate your message. Communication – consistently, on-point and via the right vehicles – is critical. The recent Australian Federal Election is a good case in point. Seemingly needlessly repetitious, the Opposition’s consistent message on a few key points over the last year helped it to portray the kind of stability and ‘sensibility’ that was lacking in the reigning government – which tacked constantly to and fro between different messages, slogans, actions and priorities. It was a well-considered factor in helping the opposition to win government.
  7. Find the right partners to keep you on track. Finding people and systems to keep you on track are important. Your peers may not be the best ones to assist you, for a host of reasons, so find those whom you can trust, however I’ve had more than one employee, colleague or partner who has been invaluable in this respect. Coaches, mentors, business partners, confidantes and advisors can all play a tremendous role. Don’t pay such close attention to the track that you miss the mountain looming up ahead, but find partners who will help keep your eyes fixed on navigating your way towards your goal.

Plans are essential. Set great expectations and don’t settle for middling, but maintain flexibility because you want to achieve something worthwhile in a way that you can be proud of. The path ahead may change, so adapt to the situation and the results you are achieving, but don’t lose sight of why you set out and what you want to accomplish.

If you’d like more guidance on developing your personal or corporate vision, goals and plans, consider subscribing to my video seminar series at www.lamplighter.com.au/viewStory/Video+Seminars or contact me at info@lamplighter.com.au for a discussion regarding coaching and consulting programs that may be conducted anywhere around the world.

Copyright 2013 Peter J., McLean. www.lamplighter.com.au

If You’re Serious About Improving Your Leadership and Communication

Here’s a new message regarding the Performance Power-Ups” video series. Subscribe at www.lamplighter.com.au if you’re serious about improving as a leader, a communicator and as a professional. We’re up to Episode 17 of each series this coming week!

People Do Not Hate Change

The mantra in a lot of management, leadership and HR thinking is that people don’t like change. Actually, people love change. They love going on holidays, they love changing their furniture, they love learning something interesting and useful, they love changing their phones, they love changing the station, they love changing their homes, they love changing their aspirations and they love changing jobs.

The ancient Greeks said that the one constant in the human realm was ‘physis’ = change.

What people don’t like is:

  • Change that is out of their control
  • Change that challenges their self-worth
  • Change that is pointless
  • Change that makes things more difficult
  • Change that impacts them but for which they have had no input
  • Change that threatens them, their safety or their position
  • Change for which there is no perceptible benefit
  • Change that requires maximal effort for giving up something from which they already derive pleasure
  • Change that requires more effort (costs more) than the benefit to be derived (the reward)

Thus, there is an army of “change implementation managers” hired by organisations to implement changes that the “leaders” have already determined are necessary, an army of HR people creating long-term change agendas and change communication plans, a million change “methodologies” etc. when what should really be considered is how and why one develops the change in the first place. Then you will secure people’s motivation and enthusiasm in the first place, rather than barraging them with an army of “change managers”, rolling through like Daleks chanting that “resistance is useless”.

It’s also why political leaders have a tough time getting changes through when they’ve not adequately worked with the people who control the process. If those people cannot see that the pleasure and pain of remaining on the same path is outweighed by the pain of not changing and reward of the new direction, then there is little likelihood of them agreeing, no matter how weighty the rhetoric or eloquent the speech.

What are some good examples of significant change generation that you have seen?


It Takes How Long?!

I have met with numerous companies who say that it will take 12 months to plan a leadership development program and then 6 months to implement and that then there will be another 6 months of data gathering and that then they will start to see the long-term behavioural changes they desire and so on. It does NOT take that long to start changing leadership, team performance or anything else you care to imagine. Not to mention the fact that by the time you develop it, it will be outdated and people will have “left the building.”

A colleague who is managing a large enterprise told me the other day about how he has recently come into the organisation and immediately started sorting out the non-performing culture. He called one underperformer into his office who broke down, assuming they were about to be fired. He said, “No, I’m not firing you. I want to give you a chance. But this is what you have to do.” That person immediately lifted their game and has been performing very well. Immediate change in performance! The person just had to see a reason and have a specific plan.

Now, he wasn’t using the threat of firing – the employee initially assumed he was taking that route. That fear-based kind of threat will generally only prompt short-term and shallow change, unless you go the route of megalomaniacal fascist dictator. But that would require far more resources than most of you can bring to bear, not to mention the nasty lifestyle.

Here are 7 keys to dramatic organisational change (because that’s the number of completion):

  1. Motivation – Assess the individual’s motivation and how to ally with that for change. Most people act in their self-interest. Whole nations do. That’s the force of human nature and history. (If you find someone motivated by the greater good, hold on to them for dear life.) If you want to change something in the workplace or your organisation or society, find out what makes them tick and work with it. That’s why leadership development programs that run alongside and outside of work practices and needs become irrelevant. “That’s all fine in theory”, people say, “but my job is to make money or xxxx”. Combine leadership with job performance and needs!
  2. Process – Ensure that the process you are putting in place are allied to motivations, capability and desired results. It is unfortunately unsurprising how frequently these are not aligned.
  3. The Job – The work itself should be relevant, meaningful and important to outcomes. And the people doing it should be shown the connections. Their tasks should also be clearly aligned with capabilities or at a level for which they can realistically strive, just above their current capability. (Don’t position them at or beyond their maximum level of incompetence.)
  4. Environment – Make sure that the environment and resources support the new behaviours and desired processes/outcomes. There’s nothing worse than being a shown a new way to do something, being excited and then finding you don’t have the tools to do the job.
  5. Expectations – There should be specific expectations. Don’t be vague. Be explicit about behaviours, norms, values and outcomes.
  6. Rewards and Punishments – Reward the desired behaviour and punish (or, in hrspeak/eduspeak/psychespeak, enable negative consequences for) the undesirable. But positive reinforcements and rewards are more powerful in the long run and should be emphasised far more than punishments/negatives. The negatives help to set the boundaries, just like your children should be told, “No, don’t touch the burning hot stove or you will be burnt and it will hurt!”
  7. Flexibility – Adjust course as needed. Let the people shape the outcome – they should “own it”. You might need to change your mind about how to achieve something. The important thing is achieving it in a way that makes all proud and optimises benefits.

I work to create dramatic change. Most of my consulting projects are 6 months or less. I start getting results within a few weeks, if not immediately – not always the whole, but in part. And that’s partially because I come in focussed on achieving specific results and integrate everything I do and communicate into achieving those results. Assuming that sufficient resources can be applied and that people have the capability, then large organisations can be subject to dramatic change. The necessary ingredient is sufficient political/leadership will.

Following through to completion and then following up on those projects, checking results against an annual business cycle, tweaking and reinforcing may well happen over the course of a year or more (and should be reinforced for long-term change and adaptation). But for most organisations, if you don’t start seeing results – that is, changing behaviours – within 2-3 months, then you or your manager or your HR people are probably spinning their wheels or just conducting assessments and analyses. It kills action, breeds cynicism and leads to poor outcomes.

Change doesn’t have to take as long as you think.