Thursday, 29 October 2015

Time to stop blaming your bad boss?

Recently I ran a workshop with a team experiencing quite serious internal difficulties.  As individuals, they were loyal, hardworking, experienced and professional but their behaviour as a team was now damaging both their performance and their wellbeing.

The cause of the team's problems was clear.  Their boss.  Tales were told and re-told to illustrate their boss's shortcomings.  Most issues could be resolved, they said, by the boss changing or leaving. 

Sounds simple doesn't it?

A light-bulb moment came half way through the day, when they were asked to describe their natural talents.  During this exercise, they realised how far away they felt from their talented selves.  The positivity, collaboration and many other wonderful traits they prided themselves on, were barely present.  In fact their behaviours, they noted, were almost the opposite.  They were part of the problem.

So what?

It had been fairly easy to blame the boss for all the team's problems.  Maybe the boss was at fault and maybe they weren't but that's only one part of the equation.  The aspect that everyone was conveniently overlooking was their own behaviour.  Every person in that team shared responsibility for the difficulties and failures they were experiencing. 

We are social beings.  Just as we are impacted by and react to the behaviours of others, others are impacted by and react to our own behaviours.  We can be quite quick to notice when we are affected by others but how often are we fully aware of our own behaviour and its impacts?

Looking back at the team, they were acutely aware of all the impacts of the boss's behaviour on them and their colleagues but their awareness of their own behaviour and its impact was only just beginning. 

They have lots of work to do to improve the team's performance and to recapture their love of their jobs but the work is on something they have full ownership of - themselves.  By noticing and understanding their reactions, they can choose how they behave and be aware of their own impact.

Most of us will have experienced a "bad boss" or two.  I have a few tales of my own which I replay more often than is helpful.  What I know now is that, however badly my boss behaved, I was (and am) entirely responsible for my reaction from that point.  I didn't always get it right but I know what I'd do differently next time which is a start!  

If you find yourself in a similar situation, know that you are not alone and remember that while recounting tales of bad behaviour, getting angry or withdrawing may make you feel better for a while, you and only you, have a very powerful choice to make about what happens next.

Stephanie Smith works with intelligent individuals on personal impact, choice and change. Find out more about being perfectly imperfect and book a sample session at: 

Monday, 5 October 2015

How Often are you THAT guy?

Yesterday, I was sitting by the window of a cafe, enjoying a cup of tea and people-watching.  It was beautifully sunny autumn day in central London and there was a gentle but steady flow of people heading to offices or meetings or nearby tourist sights. 
At one point I noticed a man approaching the cafe. The pavement was spacious but the natural movement of pedestrians meant that four people were just behind him; each one following the other but with their own thoughts and purpose.  Right in front of the cafe, the man stopped without warning. He checked something on his shoe. He took a step forward and stopped again, wiped his shoe a couple of times on the paving slab and then continued on his way, satisfied that he had resolved his problem.  
The four strangers behind him were slower to recover.  Their faces suggested frustration, irritation, confusion and surprise.  They took longer to get back in to their stride.  I imagine they were each having an internal grumble as they continued their journey.  Perhaps they even shared the story with the person they were meeting.  Yet the cause of this disquiet, the man in front, was blissfully oblivious.
We can probably all remember times when we've felt like that.  When we have been impacted by someone's actions or words in a way they either hadn't anticipated or were blind to.  A manager, a leader, a colleague, a partner, a friend? But, let's be honest, how often have we also been THAT guy - the one who stopped without thinking about those around him? 
I'm sure he was not a "bad person", he was just not self-aware in that moment.  
The remainder of my day was spent with a group of new managers discussing personal and company values.  Self-awareness was our starting point.  It's a fast-moving, ambitious company and for some it felt luxurious and indulgent to spend time on themselves but, as the man in the street so perfectly demonstrated, if you don't have self-awareness, you could create problems (get in the way, slow people down) without even realising it.
So, today, make a point of noticing how you feel at various points during the working day and how your feelings drive your behaviour. Notice the reactions of others, whether in person, over the phone or on email.  Reconnect with (or discover) your personal values.  
Self-awareness is not about second-guessing ourselves or diluting our personalities, it's about knowing how our imperfections work for and against us and being OK with both.  Make self-awareness your goal for the week and see what a difference it makes to you and those around you.
If you want to know more about self-awareness and leadership and how coaching can help, feel free to contact me through LinkedIn or visit my website. 
Stephanie works with intelligent individuals and teams on leadership, personal impact, choice and change. Find out more at 

Friday, 4 September 2015

Starting school? A game-changer for working parents

Being a working parent is hard.

Before I go on, I acknowledge that being a working parent is, generally, a situation of our own making.  We have chosen at some point to combine paid employment with raising our children.

Loving your children and enjoying work is not mutually exclusive.  People will judge (see coverage on the recently announced pregnancy of Yahoo's Marissa Meyer) and articles will publicise statistics which prove that it is either the best or worst thing for children daily. So it's hardly suprising that, at times, we wonder whether we have made the best choice.

Nursery was easy. I had happy kids being well-cared for during my working hours. Naturally, I'd have a wobble now and then but, instinctively, it felt right.

School was a game-changer.

The hours are short. The holidays are long.  Your child notices that other parents are there when you are not - and they ask you why. Ouch. 

If this sounds familiar, I empathise but don't despair. The points below helped me during the times I was convinced I was a shoddy employee and an even worse mother. 


Ask your children questions about their day.  It can be easy, when we're still in work-mode, to go through the motions of "How was school?" or "What have you done today?"  
Changing your questions can help your child think back on the fun parts or the memorable parts of school and make for more interesting answers for you to listen to.
Talk to them about your day.  What did you do that was fun or exciting?  I know I found myself telling them that my day have been boring or stressful, which prompted the obvious question "Why do you do it then?" Out of the mouths of babes.....  When I thought about the best bits of my day, I felt better about my day and they could see that there was a positive reason that I was not at the school gates with the other parents.


Really listen.  It took me a while to be able to do this but it genuinely made a difference.
When you get home, create a time where you focus on nothing but being with your child/children and you listen to them.  No tidying up, no preparing food, no phone, no emails, no TV.  Just you and them.
For me, it was bath time when the outside world stopped and we connected properly.  It made a difference to me and to them.

Check in

Your intuition is important.  Even if your professional decisions are based purely on facts and figures, your personal decisions are likely in involve a good dose of intuition or gut instinct.  This is because your intuition is tuned in to your values. Checking in regularly helps you distinguish between "just a bad day" and something that is genuinely not working for you. 

Consider your options

Whether you're happy with how things are or want something to change, working through your options is a really useful excercise.  Even if you feel "stuck" with how things are now, the truth is you always have a choice. 
Let your imagination run wild for a bit and write down or sketch out as many potential options as you can possibly create.  Everything is allowed.  Even the impractical, improbable and seemingly impossible.  
Just acknowledging that you have a choice is usually liberating in itself.  When you review your page(s) of options, there may be one or parts of one that draws your attention.  Pay attention to it.

Be kind to yourself

Wobbles are normal.  Children have wobbles too.  Yes, even children with stay at home parents. 
Be gentle with yourself.  Only you know what's best for you and your family.  Trust yourself and, if that's hard, imagine what the person who knows you best would say to you.
We can only ever do what we believe is best with the information (whether facts, figures or intuition) and resources we have available at the time. So give yourself a break and know that, whatever you decide, you can change your mind!

If what you've read resonates with you, do visit my website or drop me an email. I'd love to hear from you. 
Best wishes,

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Core Values. Essential knowledge or just a list of words?

Talking about “Values” can be a bit like asking someone to eat Marmite on toast. Some people know what to expect and are glad to have the opportunity; others recoil slightly and pull a face of horror at the idea.

If you identify more with the latter group, I understand.

How could a list of words make any difference to my happiness or my success?

Have you ever felt not quite yourself? It’s frustrating. Even more so if the “big things” in life appear to be fine – well paid job, positive relationships, financial security etc. You “should” be happy. You “should” count yourself lucky. You “should” just snap out of it. And yet, despite all these “shoulds”, you just don’t feel like YOU. If you’re an intelligent individual, used to dealing with the complexities of your work and home environments, being unable to figure out what’s causing your discomfort just adds to the frustration.

Personally, my values help me make sense of things. They represent what’s most important to me and what I stand for. This means I can define what happiness and success mean to me and I understand how I can influence them.

Simply put, when you are living and working with your values, things flow and life is good. If a value is stepped on or ignored, the opposite is true.

Just as strong core muscles are essential to your physical balance and stability, strong core values contribute to emotional balance and resilience (the ability to tackle the ups and downs of our unpredictable lives).

Not feeling yourself? Look to your values. It is possible that something important to you is not being nurtured and that is having an impact on your happiness and/or success.

Equally, you can actively work with your values at times where you might ordinarily feel discomfort or doubt. For instance, I have a value of “Exploration”. I connect this to being open, being curious, being brave, taking a risk and consciously drawing on that value helps me when I am taking on something new.

How do I identify my values?

There are a few different ways of identifying your values. These two articles (huffpost and mindtools) contain helpful questions and steps to get started. It can be useful to do the exercises more than once, a few days or even weeks apart and look at what changes and what remains the same.

Values are more than a collection of words. It’s the connection you make to whichever word or phrase you choose that matters which is why lists of values (as in the Mindtools article) can be a useful starting point but taking it a few steps further to generate your own unique set is very powerful.

Sometimes, it’s enough just to recognise your values. Greater awareness of what’s important to you means you are more likely to make choices and seek opportunities that are in line with your values.

Sometimes, even with this knowledge, we hold ourselves back.

What are your thoughts about values? I’d love to hear your experiences and observations.

Stephanie Smith works with intelligent individuals and teams on personal impact, choice and change. Find out more and book a sample session at:

Secret Ingredient? It's Closer Than You Think!

Think of someone you really admire.  What is it about them that you find compelling?  What about someone in your profession who is incredibly successful?  What do they do that works so well?
Pinpointing what we admire in others often points to something we feel is important (a value) but also feel is currently "lacking" in ourselves.  
It's a bit like being served a wonderful chocolate cake and then trying to recreate it at home.  Although you make a good cake, you judge it to be not quite as "good" as real thing.  Perhaps they used a secret ingredient?  How much do we focus on what's missing rather than savouring the cake we have made? 
Don't get me wrong, I think comparisons can be really useful.  It's a way of exploring our values and shifting our perspective.  But sometimes comparing yourself with others is just another way of beating yourself up.
The truth is, there is no secret ingredient.  You have everything you need right now to be successful.  
So what's the point of personal development then?  It's all about mindset.  It's not about fixing something or removing a deficiency, it's about expanding your range.  I like the analogy of a muscle.  We have many muscles but tend to rely on the same group of muscles most of the time.  When we exercise and stretch a new muscle, it can feel a little uncomfortable but, if we continue exercising, we feel stronger and will, literally, stretch further.  We haven't created anything new, we've just used what we have to greater effect.
If you find that you regularly compare yourself unfavourably with others, ask yourself these questions:
  1. What, specifically, do I admire about this person?
  2. Using the answer from the question above, how much do I recognise that quality in myself? Choose a score between 1 and 10 (1 = virtually absent, 10 = abundant) 
  3. What's the best bit about being that score? 
  4. What does a higher score look like (move up 2 points)?
  5. What does a 10 look like?
  6. What can I do today to exercise this "muscle"?
Stephanie Smith works with intelligent individuals on personal impact, choice and change. Find out more and book a sample session at:

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Ready for a Change? Size Doesn't Matter!

I love reading articles that summarise the habits of successful people or common traits of great leaders. Why? Because they remind us that being successful isn't about having magical powers or super-human abilities. For the most part, the commonalities are things we recognise and can relate to.

Who we are

How we think; how we behave; what we're passionate about; how we view ourselves and others. These are all things we own completely. Yes, we can be influenced by others or by circumstances but we are not controlled by them.
A small change in your mindset can make a HUGE difference to how you see yourself, others and the opportunities around you.

What we do

Perhaps surprisingly, the top characteristics of successful people rarely include "securing the big deals" or "spotting the gap in the market". More often it's about simpler actions such as learning, planning, sharing, looking after yourself (mind and body), treating people with respect. These are not rocket science and we can all improve on them if we choose to.
Making a small change in just one of these areas can shift how you feel and have a positive impact on those around you.

Make a small change to make a big difference

Sounds easy so why do we make it so hard? First we have to decide we are worth it (yes, just like the advert). Even a small change requires both thought and action.
What is the difference you want to make? Are you willing to give something a try to make it happen? If the answer to the second question is "No" then what would it take to turn the answer to a yes?
Start small and see what happens, you may be pleasantly surprised!
If you'd like to know more about how to make a small (or big) change at work or at home, do get in touch.
If you're not sure about coaching, what it is or how it works, I am running some workshops with my trusted colleague and friend, Sarah Leach, as an introduction to coaching.  Working with small groups (up to 6 people), across two half days, we take you through the theory and reality of coaching so you are better placed to make the change you want to make. 
We have dates in May and June.  Email me for more information.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Career Crossroads? Even a Prince has to make tough decisions!

I imagine that the last thing Prince Harry needs right now is more advice. Today, he announced that he had taken the “really tough decision” to leave the army after 10 years and, although he has some volunteer work lined up for a while, there is plenty of speculation about his next role. And, I suspect, plenty of people offering up opinions about what he could/should/must do.
It’s true that Harry’s circumstances probably differ from ours. (I suspect that financial security is not something he loses sleep over.) However, when he describes being “at a crossroads”, I’m sure many of us can empathise.
The “crossroads” metaphor however makes it sound quite simple; option 1 (turn left), option 2 (turn right) or option 3 (straight ahead). The reality is much more complex and, having made one big decision to leave his current employer, he now faces a series of questions, choices and decisions that could feel quite overwhelming for anyone, even a prince.
So, just in case you don’t have a host of trusted advisors queuing up to help you, here are some tips if you’re at a career crossroads right now:

1. Own your choices

This is your career and your life. Understand what is most important to you (your values) and what you want to create in your life, both personally and professionally.
Allow yourself to imagine what you would do if you knew you couldn't fail. This is not about being selfish, it is about getting really clear. From here, you can consider the impact on others.

2. Listen to your trusted advisors

We often find step 1 difficult because we pre-empt what others will think, say or do about the options we are considering.
Ask for advice, share your concerns and listen to their responses. It can help to choose people who are impacted (e.g. family) as well as those who aren’t (colleagues or friends) to get a range of views.
Remember, choose your advisors wisely. Just because someone has an opinion, does not necessarily mean that is it wanted or useful. Speak to people you care about and who care about you.

3. Imagine the worst (and the best!)

As important as it is to focus on positive outcomes, it is quite normal to ask yourself “what if” when facing a big decision. “What if I don’t like the company/job/people?” “What if my family doesn’t want to move?” “What if change my mind?”
These are all useful questions but we often stop at the questioning stage, because the answers are too difficult or scary. This can stop us making any decision at all.
Allow yourself to imagine the worst case scenario and take it to a logical conclusion. Consider what you’d be willing to change/sacrifice to mitigate those risks. You always have a choice.

4. Take action

Standing at a crossroads soon becomes pretty boring. It doesn’t matter whether you take a small step or a giant leap, as long as you make your choice and take action; even if that action is to stay where you are.
Interestingly, no matter how enormous the decision seems today, from this side, it rarely feels as big from the other side.

5. Return to 1.

Let's be honest, you've probably already faced a few big decisions already and there will be more to come. The good news is that it does get easier with practice. Try these steps for other choices you are faced with and see what difference it makes!
Stephanie Smith works with intelligent individuals on personal impact, choice and change. Find out more and book a sample session at:
Not sure about coaching? Try a small group workshop to learn about key coaching tools and techniques and experience the power of coaching in a safe, confidential and fun environment. Book Here

Monday, 9 February 2015

4 Tips to Get Unstuck

It's not a big leap to go from being "in a rut" to feeling stuck.  

Feeling "stuck" is not pleasant.  It's uncomfortable, smothering, claustrophobic even.  Sometimes we confuse being "stuck" with feeling secure.  Phrases like "better the devil you know" spring to mind.

We can even chastise ourselves for feeling stuck.  Perhaps you find yourself saying "I have a job/family/house so what's the problem? I should be happy"? 

Notice the "should"?  That's a red flag word. 

Feeling stuck is a sign that we are ready for a change.  Change is often associated with risk.  And risk is often associated with fear.  Fear of the unknown, fear of loss, fear of upsetting someone. The reason we feel stuck is because we have something exciting and compelling drawing us forward and then our reservations and fears holding us back.  This situation is often described as "like having one foot on the accelerator and the other on the brake."

So, if you want to get unstuck, here are four steps to get you moving again.

1. Acknowledge you DO have choices.

Thinking about, writing down or speaking about choices does NOT mean you are making that choice.  We too often shut down the possibilities available to us because we fear that thinking about them will cause trouble:
  • We catastrophise: I don't dare think about working away from home because I my children will suffer, fail at school and start taking drugs.
  • We molly coddle:  I don't dare think about having a business that I love which pays me a great salary because I might fail.
  • We presume: I don't dare think about going for that promotion because my boss/colleagues/partner will think I’m punching above my weight.
These are all excuses. Allow yourself to imagine, to think, to create. Sometimes the most enlightening ideas come from a seemingly "impossible" choice.

2. Recognise HOW you make choices.

Typically we either Think, Feel or Know when we make choices.
  • Thinkers lead with logic, practicality and facts.
  • Feelers will often ask others opinions, be led by emotions, will create stories or images about the potential outcomes.
  • Knowers will decide fairly quickly and independently, without always being able to explain why they've made that choice.
Naturally, we don't use just one of these approaches.  In fact, it is really powerful to harness all three.  To recognise how you make choices, think back to the best decision you've ever made.  What brought you to that decision?

Having trouble making a decision? Perhaps you're ignoring what your lead factor is telling you?  For instance, we often turn to our Think factor if our instinct (Know) is saying something scary!

3. Make POWERFUL choices

Our values are a core part of who we are and what makes us happy.  When faced with a choice, your values will make the answers much clearer and simpler.  Your choice will either be true to one or more of your values or will ignore them/go against them.

If you're not sure of your values, answer this 
"Success in my life means......." 
and then for each part of your response follow up with 
"Which means that...." 
until you get to the source of what is most important to you.

NB this will not be money or time.  Dig past that to get to the real stuff.

4. Choice = change

Change is inevitable.  Even if you stay as still as you can, everything around you is changing all the time.  And you can't control it all, no matter how hard you try.  Every choice comes with a risk.  The "what if...." factor.  And that's OK.  Don't be afraid of the "What if".  Just as in point 1. thinking about it doesn't make it happen.  Work it through.  Think about what you would do "if" your choice didn't work out the way you wanted it to.  What could you do now to mitigate it or minimise the impact?

And if, after all that, you don't change anything, that's OK too.  Choosing NOT to do something is still a choice and by making that choice, you have started a change in and around you.

My favourite saying when I'm deliberating choices is "Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway" from Susan Jeffers book of the same name.  I've never read the book. For me, the title is enough to jolt me out of my procrastination.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Why being YOU at work is your most powerful tool

Sometimes people look at me a bit funny when I talk about “daring to be more you” at work. I understand why. I realise how strange it can sounds when you’ve not given it much conscious thought.

Responses vary from “Of course I’m being me – who else would I be?” to “Here we go, another fluffy coach nut-job!”
I get it. Several years ago, I would have offered the same response. I was in a large, successful organisation. I was regularly promoted. I was performing well but, I realised, I was not outstanding. I wanted to be outstanding. I looked at the senior leaders around the business and realised that they were quite different people to me. It seemed logical, therefore, that to succeed in this company, I needed to be more like the senior leaders.

The problem was, the more I tried to be like them, the less I felt like me. Not only was it hard work to adopt behaviours and characteristics that were at odds with my personality but I began losing touch with the bits of me that had brought me success in the first place.

I know I’m not alone. I have worked with many people who are adamant they have to be a different person at work compared to the real person they are at home. This is more than just adapting your approach depending on your audience. It’s that feeling that you have to mould yourself to “fit” a particular formula of personality style, character trait and patter, over and above your natural qualities, skills and experience in order to be successful. One friend described getting in to the work mind-set each day as “putting on my armour”.

And, just like wearing a suit of armour, it’s exhausting!

Being YOU is the most powerful tool you have. And yes, as with all powerful tools, it can take a bit of practise to use it most effectively but, imagine the impact you can have when you do!

I have two examples of people who understand the power and success of being fully yourself. Firstly, from LinkedIn, a compelling post about being yourself at a job interview.

Secondly, I’d like to introduce you to Adrian Lomas. I met Adrian at the end of a busy week spent travelling between his offices in Cheshire and Soho. He was relaxed and engaging. He spoke openly about his realisation many years ago that, if he couldn’t find an organisation that allowed him to be fully himself, he’d have to create one. So he did. Blueleaf, is a highly successful digital design agency, with an impressive list of high-profile clients. Blueleaf and the way it operates is an expression of Adrian himself and is based on what’s most important to him, his values. This means he can give his best every day just by being himself. Of course there are the normal ups and downs of business life (as the LinkedIn article also illustrates) but being fully himself means that he has the energy and enthusiasm to tackle them all.

He and his business partner have since identified the company’s core values. These are not just words on a poster somewhere. Every employee is recruited and managed according to these values. It’s not always straightforward but he knows the difference it makes when people “get” each other and understand what the company is really about. Now combine that with an environment where people can be fully, unapologetically themselves (“bloody nice people” according to the website) and there’s nothing fluffy about the results.

Try these 5 questions to help you dare to be more yourself at work

  • On a scale of 1-10, how much am I being myself at work (1 = not at all, 10 = fully)
  • What are the bits of myself I do bring to work?
  • What are the bits I am holding back?
  • How would I describe the true me in three words?
  • What would be different if I was being fully myself?

And if you’re still not sure about how to get started being more YOU at work, please get in touch. It's easier then you think.