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Personal Development is Professional Development

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We like to put up barriers between our lives and our working lives as if we somehow become someone different when we are at work. We hope this is true when we become someone we don't like very much at work, someone who is unsafe and unhappy and unable to believe that the work they are doing matters. At the end of the day, we think, our real life begins.

Now turn it around. Do you want to work with people who are unsafe and unhappy and unable to believe that the work they are doing matters? Do you expect those people to rise to the top of your organization and keep your job safe during rapid change in the world and the competition?
I recently had the opportunity to do some work with people who work for an organization that does really important work. They told me that they liked working there. But when I asked them what they wanted to improve in their own skills, they drew a blank.

They looked to me like people who were insecure about what they were doing and the results they were …

A simple approach to defining what you want

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There are lots of experts who will tell you what to do once you know what you want. They will give you motivational tips (which means they are not based on emotion, not evidence) and they will give you evidence-based tips (often the result of social science research). What they don't do is tell you what to do when you don't know what you want.

After all, if you don't know what you want, what's the point? People think that you must know what you want. And that's probably accurate on some level, but your conscious awareness might be out of the loop.

I spent a large part of this week asking people to grow their influence by knowing what they want other people to do. I kept asking people what they wanted. The answer that no one wanted to give out loud was something like "I would like people to be impressed by me just as I am, and I'd like them to figure how to use the information I give them. I don't want to have to think it through, because I'm not re…

How to start a powerful message

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We often invest a huge amount of time and effort in planning our message. We want it to be clear and strong and motivating and bullet proof. We argue and support, find more evidence, and rehearse. We work hard to make the message as strong as it could possibly be.

And when we fail to be heard as we want to be heard, we blame ourselves for delivering it the wrong way. This makes it harder the next time we have to walk into a conversation or a presentation and deliver a strong, clear message.

What if our delivery was fine and the problem was that the audience was not ready to hear us? The most powerful messages all begin with the same thing: the speaker finds a way to say to the audience, "I see you."


The one thing that you can be sure every audience wants is a mirror. Before they care about how you see your subject matter, they want to know how you see them. When you reflect what you see in your audience, you do two things: 1) help them see themselves better and 2) help them …

The power problem

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There's a power problem in self development circles. The problem is this: powerful experiences (experiences that make a strong impact on you) are not always experiences that give you power (the ability to do something or to influence others to do something). In the heat of an experience, it is too easy to believe that feeling power is the same as having power. It's not.

What does give you power? It begins with purpose. People who know what they are trying to accomplish have more power than people who don't know what they want. That seems obvious. What is less obvious is that people may know what they want in a given situation without necessarily knowing what they want in other situations. Purpose is less a thing and more a process of continually evaluating your situation against your values and deciding on how your big-picture goals guide your behaviour over and over again.
Next, power requires skill: people who have developed a skill have more power (they can do more unde…

You have to connect the dots

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Wouldn't it be nice if life came with hints? If the dots in the big picture all came with numbers to tell you that they definitely fit and how to move from one to the next?

I just finished reading The CEO Next Door and what jumped out at me was the phrase "connect the dots." It's a sample of language that is so clear and simple we often skip over the complex situation it describes. CEOs need to 'connect the dots.' So do you. And here's the catch, whether you're an intern or a CEO: your dots don't come with instructions.

Here's what will help when you are trying to make sense of what seems like random information:

Know that your brain doesn't do random. It connects information to existing information, usually guided by priorities like intention (what you want) and safety. Most of the time, this works. It helps you understand complicated situations quickly. But you do it by seeing what you expect to see. This can also work against you if you …

The answer is in your past: dig deeper

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Does it sound easy? Coaching often starts with the idea that you already have what you need. You just need to bring it to the surface. We give this names like 'strengths-based coaching' and 'positive psychology' and it can sound both impossible and impossibly easy.
It's easy like coal mining is easy.  I'm writing this from the Maritimes, just across the Strait from Cape Breton Island.  Maybe you've heard this anthem for coal miners, Working Man, by Rita McNeill. It's a great song anywhere but it means a little more out here.
It's true that committing to your goals means committing to finding the strengths and resources that will allow you to achieve them. Digging for resources gets great results: but it's not always easy. Sometimes it is back-breaking, frightening, risky work. The best resources are often attached to your darkest experiences (the ones you overcame so that you can set goals today).

If you expect that looking for your strengths wi…

Is tasting the best way to make a choice?

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I really enjoy sitting down with a flight of beverages and doing a tasting. It doesn’t matter to me if I’m tasting wine or beer or scotch. I love the activity of responding and balancing choices and noticing how what comes before or after changes my perception of a particular sip. But knowing what I know from both research and personal experience, I am cautious about generalizing my evaluation based on just a small sample.

Once we needed to buy new chairs for the boardroom at our office. We put a line of about ten different chairs out and people sat in each one in turn and voted on their favourites. We bought the favourites and discovered that sitting in a chair for just a few minutes is very different than sitting in the same chair for several hours. We tested, but we didn’t get a reliable result.
When I was in grade 1, I took some tests as a demo for teachers who had to learn to administer them. They asked me what I would like to do while the rest of the class took the tests later. I …