Category Archives: Executive Coaching

The Theory behind Mental Models & Mastery

There’s no playbook for business, leadership and life. There’s no single archetype to embody. The journey to mastery that I help take my coaching clients on is a journey of unfolding and becoming in accordance with their own morals, values, principles, beliefs and experience.

But how can you speed up that journey? As a coach, how can I work with someone who already has a good level of business experience and help them accelerate the rate at which they become an even better executive?

It turns out the authors of a fascinating book called Accelerated Expertise: Training for High Proficency in a Complex World were asking themselves similar questions and forging a theory, on behalf of the US Department of Defense.

The DoD was trying to wrap its head around the changing nature of warfare. They recognised that speed in acquiring the knowledge and skills to perform tasks is crucial, “yet it ordinarily takes many years to achieve high proficiency in countless jobs and professions in government, business, industry, and throughout the private sector”. Wouldn’t there be great advantages if regimens of training could be established that could accelerate the achievement of high levels of proficiency?

The Theory behind Models & Mastery

Business is not warfare but the military serves as a helpful metaphor, and there is a universal applicability of the book’s core theories and ideas as they relate to the acceleration of executive proficiency. It asks questions that will sound familiar to any business executive, like “How can we train for adaptivity and the need to cope with the ever-changing workplace and changing and challenging activities?” and “How can we train for resilience in the face of increasing complexity and unexpected events stretching resources and capabilities?”

It doesn’t matter whether you are in the military, or a startup founder, CEO or other executive or professional, there’s a theoretical underpinning that supports anyone’s journey to mastery. By understanding it, we can seek to speed it up.

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The Mental Models Paradox

Ever since word of Charlie Munger’s worldly wisdom built upon a latticework of mental models got out, people have become obsessed with what mental models they can use to make them smarter. If we take these mental models and conceptual frameworks and run our reality through them, then we’ll become better thinkers, make better decisions (and investments), and achieve Munger-level wisdom (and wealth). Or will we?

Here’s the paradox:  

Good mental models, and other conceptual frameworks, make us smarter but only up to a point, after which they can actually constrain our thinking.

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A fresh look at executive presence, for technology leaders

There comes a point on your leadership journey when you have largely mastered the technical aspects of your craft. You’re now a senior executive, or well on your way to becoming one. It’s not just what you think, say and do, it’s how you think, say and do it. At this stage, transitional startup founders, experienced CEOs and other senior technology executives come to me to help them work on their executive presence to support their next leadership leap.

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The Duck-Rabbit & the Polarities of Leadership

A polarity is a paradoxical situation in which two interdependent and seemingly contradictory states must be maintained for success over time. In business, leadership and life, we find ourselves presented by polarities all the time, often without even realising.

As leaders, we’re told that we must be great problem solvers. That’s true, but a polarity is not the same thing as a problem, for which a definitive solution can be reached at a given point in time. That’s why the ability to recognise when we are facing a polarity – otherwise known as a paradox, duality, dichotomy, tension, or wicked problem – can be a developmental leap for leaders. Embracing the polarites we face with a both/and mindset, as opposed to trying to solve them as problems with an either/or approach, opens up whole new ways forward.

In this article, we’ll meet a number of leaders who are facing polarities at work. We’ll focus on Shrupti, the founder and CEO of a crypto analytics business. We’ll unpack how she identified and navigated a polarity that was holding her leadership and business back. With these practical examples, you too will gain a greater understanding of how you can identify and work more effectively with polarities.

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Executive coaching: a complete guide to finding the right coach for you

We know that the most important predictor of coaching success comes down to the relationship between the coach and the coachee. So it’s critical that you find the right coach for you. Whether you’re a leader looking to find a coach personally, or a people lead exploring coaching for your leadership team, this complete guide to executive coaching will tell you what you need to know. Click on the links below to jump to a section.

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8 Time Management Techniques for Leaders (based on real CEO coaching conversations)

Time management is one of the most common themes in my coaching conversations with CEOs and other leaders. There’s just not enough time in their calendar to get everything done. It’s a challenge for any leader but it’s particularly acute for executives in the high-growth businesses that I work with, as they realise that they can’t scale themselves at the same rate as their business. 

Born out of real coaching experience, here’s 8 proven time management techniques that will help you manage your time better and get maximum leverage from it. Experimenting with these time management techniques will likely, at the same time, reveal some deeper, psychological truths about what drives you and your behaviour.

Time Management

Click to jump to each time management technique:

  1. Calendar Audit
  2. One-on-Ones
  3. Skip-Level Meetings
  4. Delegation and saying ‘no’
  5. Focused Time
  6. Office Hours
  7. Experiment
  8. Work with an Executive Coach
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A Deliberately Developmental Experiment

When the founders at Future Arc approached me to develop a business-wide coaching programme, they were clear they wanted to do something different. It felt right that a disruptive company that puts talent development at the heart of its organisation should embrace a new approach to developing its people. Fascinated by how we can build organisations and develop individuals for the future, and already drawing on Robert Kegan and colleagues’ work on adult development in my coaching practice, I introduced them to the concept of the Deliberately Developmental Organization (DDO).

A DDO is organized around the deceptively simple but radical conviction that organizations will best prosper when they are deeply aligned with people’s strongest motive, which is to grow. Deep alignment, it turns out, requires something more than making “a big commitment to our people’s growth,” admirable as that may be, even when such a commitment is followed up with significant investments in people’s ongoing learning on the job. It means something more than consigning “people development” to punctuated moments outside the flow of day-to-day work, such as standapart trainings, high-potential leadership development programs, executive coaching, corporate universities, or once-a-year retreats. Deep alignment with people’s motive to grow means fashioning an organizational culture in which support to people’s ongoing development is woven into the daily fabric of working life, visible in the company’s regular operations, day to-day routines, and conversations.

The Deliberately Developmental Organization
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4 Vertical leadership skills to help you thrive in a VUCA world

We live in Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) world. But what does that mean for you as a leader? Let’s explore how traditional horizontal approaches to leadership fall short and double down on the Vertical skills that leaders need to develop in order to make sense of and thrive in a VUCA world.

The book Upgrade: Building your capacity for complexity links VUCA with four leadership capacities that underpin Vertical skills:

  1. Sensemaking – Observing, understanding and processing the complexity of a situation e.g. getting your head around all the different interconnected topics, data, issues or causal relationships.
  2. Perspective-shifting – ‘Zooming out’ to benefit from a more realistic and multifaceted understanding of a situation or relationship e.g. understanding the perspectives and agendas of the various stakeholders.
  3. Self-relating – Observing, understanding, regulating and transforming yourself e.g. making sense of your own reactions, thoughts and feelings.
  4. Opposable Thinking – Responding to the dilemmas and conflicting ideas that can create tensions within us and / or between us and other people e.g. working with opposing views.
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Using the Cynefin framework to become a better leader in a complex world

There’s no shortage of “how to” advice, playbooks, formulas and even secrets and guarantees for success (at least that’s what the gurus will have you believe). This can work well in complicated situations. But high-growth technology businesses are not complicated, they’re complex. That requires a different approach to leadership, explored here through the lens of the Cynefin framework.

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Learning to think for yourself (aka. the problem with ‘how to’ advice)

Advice is everywhere, everyone has an opinion. It’s what to do with it that’s hard. If we really want to become our best selves, then we should stop listening to what everyone else tells us and start learning to think for ourselves. Let’s explore what that means, including the problem with “how to” advice and the benefits of becoming an independent thinker in a complex world.

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How can leadership team coaching help your technology business scale?

In his 2017 TED Talk Want to get great at something? Get a coach, surgeon, author and CEO Atul Gawande tells the story of the Harvard and Yale American-rules football teams: “In 1875 Harvard and Yale played their first game. Yale hired a coach Harvard did not. The results, over the next three decades Harvard won just four times. Harvard hired a coach”. Every high performing sports team has a coach, why doesn’t every leadership team?

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How Women Rise: Break the 12 Habits Holding You Back – Summary

How Women Rise: Break the 12 Habits Holding You Back identifies 12 habits that commonly hold women leaders back as they endeavour to rise to the top of their chosen career. The book concludes with a practical section on how to put identified changes in habits in to action. This article provides a summary of the 12 habits that the authors, Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith, identify and adds some powerful questions you can ask yourself to unpack your own habits and unleash your full leadership potential.

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A leader’s guide to decision making under uncertainty

Uncertainty is normal for leaders of any business, but the Coronavirus pandemic has taken this to another level. Asked by clients for advice on how to navigate this crisis, I’ve pulled together thoughts and key resources into this decision making guide. It draws upon evidence from behavioural and decision making psychology, my experience coaching leaders through high-stress situations, my own time working at Her Majesty’s Treasury during the Great Financial Crisis and navigating the uncertainty of cancer.

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Why entrepreneurs need a coach, mentor & therapist

Like any high-performing individual, leaders need to wrap a professional support team around them if they are to give themselves the best chance of success. That team must be trustworthy, objective, and acting always in the leader’s best interests. This post unpacks the difference between a coach, mentor and therapist and explains why, together, they can make up a such a cohesive support team.

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How Vertical Development helps new leaders transform

To develop truly effective leaders we need to move beyond providing people with more information – telling them what to do and how to do it – to helping them improve how they think, make decisions, and make sense of the world. This is the distinction between horizontal development, which focuses on what you know, and Vertical Development, which concerns how you think:

Traditional horizontal development focuses on the acquisition of further knowledge, skills and development of specific personal qualities to become more proficient and experienced in a given aspect of leadership. By contrast, Vertical Development transforms the underlying capacity of the leader to make sense of and respond to situations, working directly on their internal ‘meaning making’, rather than just behaviours or actions. 

Vertical Development: building leadership capabilities for the future
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Leading on the job: five pieces of advice for new leaders

Not long ago you were part of a small team of people with a big idea that you thought could change the world. Now you are responsible for a rapidly growing team who are looking at you for direction. Your burden of responsibility has increased dramatically and you need to learn to lead quickly. Having coached a lot of new leaders in this situation, I’ve turned that experience into five pieces of advice for new leaders.

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4 questions to improve your leadership self-awareness

Self-awareness is considered to be one of the most fundamental issues in psychology, from both a developmental and an evolutionary perspective. As an executive coach, helping my clients develop their self-awareness is therefore one of the most important aspects of my job. Here’s four self-reflection questions that I ask clients, and which you can ask yourself too, to improve your leadership self-awareness.

1). How do you see yourself as a leader?
2). How do you think those around you see you as a leader?
3). How do those around you actually see you?
4). How does the literature’s perspective on leadership influence your own?

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Trillion Dollar Coach – Summary

Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Handbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell is a book about a man who helped build some of America’s greatest companies, including Apple and Google. A former college football player and coach, Bill didn’t enter the business world until he was thirty nine. Moving quickly though through executive roles, he went on to coach the likes of Steve Jobs, Larry Page, Eric Schmidt, Ben Horowitz and Bill Gurley, to name just a few. He passed away in 2016, leaving a legacy of growing companies, successful people and an enormous amount of respect. The book is essential reading for any manager or leader operating in a fast-moving, high growth business.

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A collection of the best articles for new leaders

Many of my executive coaching clients are new leaders in startup and high growth technology businesses. They often find themselves thrust into a new leadership role without much previous experience or training to prepare them. The spotlight and responsibility of first-time leadership can be daunting but it is an incredible place to learn. As part of my executive and startup specific founder services, I curate a reading list of the most insightful leadership articles that I have discovered for clients to read and reflect on. From the thought provoking to the practical, here is a continually updated collection of the best articles which will help you grow and succeed in a new leadership role.

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12 of the best executive coaching books

Are you a manager or leader who wants to develop your coaching skills? Maybe you’re already a coach who wants to continue to develop personally and professionally? Here’s my list of books about executive coaching that have most influenced me.

More about me: I spent ten years at Deloitte Consulting and as a civil servant at HM Treasury. I moved into the technology sector in 2013 and became an executive coach shortly after. I work with founders, CEOs & executives in high-growth technology businesses & the investment industry.

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2 powerful ways to get better at coaching your employees

The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever is one of the best books I’ve read for managers and leaders who want to use a coach approach with their employees but don’t have the time or inclination for formal training. It’s short on theory but long on practical tools and techniques that are a shot to the heart of great coaching.

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Victor Frankl on finding meaning & happiness

Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl is essential reading for anybody interested in happiness, personal growth, the psychology of suffering and mental health. It chronicles the author’s time as an inmate in the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. The early chapters do not make for easy reading but the book opens up into one of the deepest and most eloquent explorations of finding meaning and man’s search for meaning and happiness.

Striving to find a meaning in one’s life is the primary motivational force in man… This meaning is unique and specific in that it must and can only be fulfilled by him alone; only then does it achieve a significance which will satisfy his own will to meaning.

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What is the difference between coaching & mentoring?

The words coaching and mentoring are often used interchangeably, though there are in fact important differences. In his book Coaching for Performance the late Sir John Whitmore, explains what the difference between coaching and mentoring is. Whitmore is the founder of the coaching movement in the UK. The book is widely considered to be the industry gold standard for performance based coaching.

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