Choice, Happiness and the Quarter-Life Crisis

Last month’s post ~ Does Choice make us Happy? ~ attracted a lot of attention. Thank you for your excellent feedback. Some of the comments I received prompted me to consider this issue further, but this time from the point of view of the younger generation, particularly Generation Y.

Alice Stapleton writes sensitively and authoritatively about the phenomenon of the Quarter-Life Crisis. Unlike the well-documented mid-life crisis, which afflicts people in their forties or fifties, and is linked to feelings of stagnancy and a desire for radical change, the quarter-life crisis stems from anxiety about change, expectations, instability and identity.

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It’s Lonely at the Top

I have long been a fan and admirer of Andy Murray, so naturally I was delighted for him when he recently reached the pinnacle of his sport by being crowned the world’s number one-ranked male tennis player. Amazing!  Perhaps even more amazing when we reflect on the fact that he comes from a small town (Dunblane) in a country (Scotland) with practically no history to speak of in the game of tennis.  His journey to get to the top has been far from easy.  He has played in an era which has been dominated by three other great players, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, an era that most tennis experts agree has been the most highly contested period of excellence in the men’s game – ever!

And here he now stands. On top of the world.

So, what next?  Well, the only certain thing about being world number one is that the day
will come when you will no longer be world number one.
 Sorry to introduce such a note of pessimism to proceedings, but that is the stark reality.  It’s a lonely place being out on your own. Not everyone has enjoyed it, and not everyone has coped well with it.  Andre Agassi has described how miserable it made him, and John McEnroe found it lonely and exposed. He once said, “You’re out there on your own island, and you feel like you’re disengaged, not only with the rest of the world, but the rest of your competitors, some of them friends.”andy_murray_practice_27107035063

This is similar to how many CEOs, Business Owners and Leaders describe the feeling of being at the top, or out in front of their organisations and companies. It can be a lonely place.   Continue reading

Is The Appraisal System Dead?

If, as is reported, as many as one third of U.S. companies have abandoned the traditional appraisal system (ref:The Performance Management Revolution), and the signs are that more and more are joining the revolution, what is the future of performance management? How will companies ensure that people do what is expected of them in the future? How will managers know who’s good and who’s not? How will they advise on development, or decide who to sack and replace?

Major players such as Dell, Microsoft and IBM, as well as previous champions of the
forced ranking system such as GE, are at the vanguard of new approaches to retaining and developing talent.  These companies are responding to many issues and criticisms which have been levelled at traditional performance management systems. In some organisations they have become enormous consumers of people’s time. With  the move to
flatter organisational structures and virtual or globally dispersed teams, supervisors have had to contend with larger and larger teams. The answer to this problem in some companies has been to turn the job of performance management over to ‘specialist’ people creativitymanagers, who do little else other than manage the entire cycle, quarter after quarter. Ranking, levelling, forced distributions, identifying rising stars, identifying laggards, assessing delivery against stretch targets, calculating the distribution of the bonus pot, and starting the whole cycle again.  This has become an industry in its own right, and one that delivers no core benefit to the customer or the shareholder.

A number of factors have played a part in driving the shift we are now seeing.  Continue reading

Who Do You Think You Are?

“Dad! Dad! Can I be an astronaut?”

“Don’t be stupid son. You come from Doncaster.” ~ Steve McDermott

 

Last month I published a post in the wake of the killings in Paris called Hands up if you’re scared. The thrust of the piece was about fear, and the natural (and adaptive) reactions we have to dangerous situations. It was also about the exploitation of that fear, by both terrorists and political hawks.

In addition to those external voices of doom, we also have to be on our guard against our own internal enemy. The voice from within plays into the hands of the arguments of external fear-mongers. Many people have studied and written about the many forms our internal voice takes. Sometimes we can think of it as our conscience, our guide, our fairy godmother, looking out for us and keeping us on the straight and narrow. Or it may manifest in more malevolent form, talking down your talent or competence, criticizing your ideas or dreams, mocking your attempts to break free from “who you are”.

Over many years of working with people as they seek to overcome internal obstacles, I have heard people describe their ‘inner critic’ or ‘gremlin’ in many different ways, but whatever form they take, they tend always to say the same sorts of things to us.

  • “What makes you think you can do that?”
  • “You’ll fail and look stupid.”
  • “You’ll never amount to anything.”
  • “Who’s going to listen to you?”
  • “Who do you think you are?”

Screenshot 2015-12-11 13.26.33I recommend watching this interview between Oprah Winfrey and Brene Brown. The whole interview is fascinating, but if you only have a few minutes to spare, Continue reading

We Need a New Breed of Leader

This article was originally published in The e.MILE People Development Magazine in Nov 2014.

Boy In A Suit Drinking Coffee

The leadership mindset that led us into the global economic downturn is not fit for the purpose of leading us back out again.

Recessions encourage cautious mindsets, resulting in refrains such as,  “Batten down the hatches, let the storm blow over, it’s not a time for taking risks, let’s just make sure we are still standing at the end of this – we’ll be in good shape to start again.”  And, “Sorry, there’s no budget for people development. Not the right time to explore new means of production. Not possible to invest in innovation initiatives.” These leadership mantras have become engrained in the psyche of many a business culture during the last five or six years.

Leadership mindsets have themselves become victims of the downturn. The focus on cost reduction and the bottom line has stunted many leaders’ abilities. The question is, how easily will they be able to shift into a frame of mind that embraces growth, change and innovation.  Some who once had visions of new and exciting futures have resorted to being excited by ‘making budget’.

This is not the role of leaders.  Continue reading

Climate Control – The true role of Leadership?

“I believe this passionately: that we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out if it.” ~ Ken Robinson

We live in a world that favours conformity over diversity, despite the fact that no two people are the same.  I guess we do this because it seems easier. How could we build a health system, prison system or education system individually tailored to the needs of each and every person who passes through it?  That would be impossible wouldn’t it? Well, yes, at the overall organization and administration level that is undoubtedly true, but what about at the point of delivery? Is it really impossible to see each recipient of education, health care or custodial reform as individuals, with different needs and unique histories?

Enjoy this immensely funny, but deadly serious, talk by Sir Ken Robinson, as he warns against the dangers of an education system that favours compliance over individuality, standardisation over creativity.

We need curiosity for learning and for human growth. Intelligence is not simply measured by how many facts you know, but about asking great questions, being endlessly curious and making, breaking and re-creating neural connections, constantly, even into old age. A great education system will provoke, stimulate, challenge and harness people’s innate curiosity.

Creativity is being stifled in far too many of our education regimes around the world. It is, after all, what drives human evolution and cultural development. It is what has made our society what it is today. We are the beneficiaries of our audacious and creative ancestors who dared to dream big, gifting us our transport systems, our medicines, our computers and communication networks, our architecture and our libraries of information. Who will deliver the next generation of dreams?

Unfortunately, and too often, our systems drive cultures of compliance, which ignore the value of the individual in favour of the ‘hollow success’ of the system. Hollow, because no system can be deemed successful, unless the people it is intended to serve are thriving and benefiting from how it is being run.  We treat education like an industrial process which can be tweaked and tuned till it is operating like a well-oiled machine. But education is a about humans, individual people, and not about the system.

It does not have to be this way. The countries of northern Europe have been daring to do things differently for some time. Robinson, in his talk, points out that Finland has no standardisation in its schools. They individualise learning, attribute high status to the teaching profession and have no pupil drop-out rate.  The Finns are regarded as having one of, if not, the best education system in the world, yet their pupils do not start school until the age of 7, and are not obsessed with exams and standards. Pupils do not sit any formal exams until the age of 16.  And it is not only in education that they lead the way. Finland and Sweden can measure the number of under-18s that it hands out custodial desert_flowers_-_death_valley_2008_op_800x535sentences to each year on the fingers of one hand. They prefer to deal with young offenders individually by providing treatment, rehabilitation and support, rather than throwing them into the criminal justice system, where they become a statistic and are much more likely to re-offend after release.

Like the rare flowering seen in Death Valley after occasional rainfall, dormant talent can
be reinvigorated. We just need to create the right climate and conditions, and focus on nurturing individual creativity and curiosity. Leaders in education, and in all of our major institutions responsible for harnessing young people’s talent, need to practise less command and control and more climate control.

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About the author: Louis Collins enables people to operate more successfully. You may be struggling to implement corporate strategy, you may want to get more productivity out of yourself or your teams but don’t know where to start, or you may not be having as effective conversations as you could be. I will work with you to enable you to formulate more effective ways of leading, to raise awareness of blockers to successful ways of working, and ultimately to help you and your managers to lead more successfully.

Could your organisation benefit from raising the leadership skills of its people? Would you, or members of your management team, benefit from exploring ways to make significant improvements in personal and/or collective effectiveness and productivity? Coaching around the rich field of leadership will help provide the edge that you are seeking in 2015. Coaching has been proven to directly impact the bottom line. Simply drop me your contact details on the Contact Us page and I will be delighted to have an initial discussion.

 

 

 

The Power of Optimism

A great deal of pressure was heaped on the young shoulders of Matt Biondi in the run up to the Seoul Olympics in 1988.  He was one of the United States great hopes for multiple medals in the swimming pool. Comparisons were being drawn with the legendary Mark Spitz who had won seven golds in the 1972 games.    In his first event, the two-hundred-metre freestyle, he finished a creditable third.  Great by most people’s standards, but disappointing for Biondi and the hard-to-please media back home.  The next event was the one-hundred-metre butterfly.  Having blasted into an early lead, and dominated the race all the way, he made an error of judgement on his final stroke. One more stroke squeezed in with a metre to go would have seen him home, but he chose to coast and stretch for the wall instead.  In doing so he was pipped by a fingernail and beaten into second by an unknown swimmer, Anthony Nesty, from Surinam, not a country renowned for swimmers, let alone gold medals.

biondiThere was much gnashing of teeth and criticism levelled at Biondi from afar. This was not the start to an assault on seven gold medals that the American public expected, and many started to write him off.   There was at least one person who did not, however.  Marty Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology, watching proceedings on his television, had belief, and evidence, that Biondi had what it would take to come back from these disappointments and go on to achieve success.  Continue reading

Don’t write off the ‘Old Guard’

It has been an intriguing summer of sport already, and (thankfully) it has a long way still to go. What has struck me as interesting is that it has resulted in a large number of teams and individuals being toppled from the top spot.  In football’s World Cup we saw a shock early departure of Spain from the tournament.
spain defeated
In tennis, at Wimbledon, we saw last year’s champion, Andy Murray, and the world’s number one seed, Rafael Nadal, exit the competition – both beaten by younger rising stars of the game. In the women’s competition, we also saw the departure of Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, and other past champions. Here, as in the men’s game, there is an exciting emergence of new young talent challenging the ‘old guard’.  I have no doubt that the rest of the summer’s sport, in events such as the Tour de France, golf’s Open Championship at Hoylake and the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, will throw up other demises, departures, abdications and shock defeats of established past winners.
While the emergence of new talent is both exciting and essential for the good of the sport, what is equally, if not more, fascinating is how the so called ‘old guard’ respond to that challenge, and the hugely important leadership role they play in creating the next generation of champions. Despite the performances of the emerging stars,  the four semi-finalists in the World Cup are all established ‘giants’ of the game, and the eventual Wimbledon winners in both the men’s and women’s finals this weekend were also past winners, and amongst the pre-competition favourites.

Which past champions disappear, slide off into the sunset, and enjoy the dreams of their past glories, and which go back to the gym, come back stronger, fitter, fresher and ready to mount another bid?

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Congratulations

A huge congratulations to the three winners of the competition to win signed copies of “The Vital Edge”.

The winners are:-Screen Print Book Cover

Shaun Coffey
Sheila Richards
Barry Millar

 

“The Vital Edge” will be winging its way to them shortly.

All three winners nominated truly awesome sports people as the ones who had inspired them most.

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What’s your Calling?

Would you describe what you do as a job, a career or a calling?  I guess many might say that… “it’s all about the paycheck!!”,  and may go on to say, “….if only I had the luxury to think about what I do as anything other than just a job.”   For many people, finding a job, any job, that will pay the bills is all they are after.  Some might see what they do as a part of a career. One stage in a long-term plan.  For these people, while the paycheck is clearly important, it is not the only motivation for them doing what they do. Promotion, status, power, amongst other expectations, also serve to drive people’s ambitions.  So, what is a calling?  It is tempting to think about ‘a calling’ in spiritual terms, perhaps conjuring images of people who devote their life to serving God, or perhaps a scientist, who believes passionately in a particular theory, and commits her life to proving its validity.

thehappyproject.com

thehappyproject.com

Experiencing what you do as ‘a calling’ need not be so extreme however.  Martin Seligman in his superb book, “Authentic Happiness” (2003), examines the scientific evidence pertaining to this area, and the conditions necessary to create meaningful and fulfilled lives regardless of the type of work one does. One of the key studies discussed in Seligman’s book relates to hospital cleaners. Some within the group describe their ‘job’ simply as ‘cleaning up rooms’, while others defined the work more in terms of a ‘calling’ by making it meaningful.  They viewed what they do as “critical in helping patients to heal”, they time their work to be maximally efficient, and try to anticipate the needs of doctors and nurses to allow them to spend more time with the patients.  In extreme cases, some even ‘added tasks’ to what was expected of them, for example, by brightening up patients’ rooms with cheerful pictures and prints.

Living a ‘meaningful life’ is one of the core pillars underpinning Positive Psychology and which is closely linked to happiness and mental health. Despite real income in the western world having risen dramatically (at least in the most prosperous nations) in the last 50 years or so, wealth has a low correlation with happiness. So too does job promotion or good job prospects. Physical attractiveness and physical health also fail to pass any positive correlation test. Other ‘seemingly happy’ factors such as age (youth), education level and climate also fail to predict greater happiness or sense of well-being.So, what is the secret?  The answer is not simple (if only it were!), but the concept of Flow  (I recommend the excellent and seminal work on this topic by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi)  provides an excellent model to help us start to understand the conditions necessary to achieve a meaningful life.  When people describe experiencing ‘flow’, they report total absorption in the task at hand, a feeling akin to a suspension of consciousness.  It feels like time has stopped. Many of us have experienced this extreme Continue reading