How Nature Achieves

Have you ever noticed that there are examples of patterns in nature that can be applied to the natural dynamics of organisations or work situations?

You come across lots of challenges at work, and one of them is the overwhelming sense that you’re never going to finish what you’ve started.

You’ll know that sometimes it appears as if there is just not enough time, staff, resources, planning, or money, to get the job done.

Here are some patterns found in nature to show you that taking “One step at a time” really works.

Day and Night

You can look at the cycle of day and night.   The sun just climbs the heavens, degree by degree, from dawn, to overhead, to sunset, to stars.  If you move through the natural sequence of things, you’ll get there.

There is a beginning, there is a progression, and there is an end.

So the most important thing for you to overcome that sense of being overwhelmed, is to define where to start, what is the progression, what is the end goal.

  • At the beginning of the day, make sure you have a clear picture of where you are up to on your project, or in your planning.
  • Re-visit the stated objectives and which ones you’ve achieved.
  • And then break it down to – what do you need to achieve today?  What do you need to achieve first?  What is the priority ranking of each thing on the list?  One step at a time.
  • What do you need to achieve first?  What is the priority ranking of each thing on the list?  One step at a time.

Waves and Sand

Waves and Sand

I was walking along the sea shore just last week on my holiday.  I love walking by the ocean.   It puts things in perspective.  Your challenges find their proper level in the vast scheme of things.

  • Waves come in and go out, and then come in and go out again and again, and keep on just this simple, very powerful, coming in and going out.
  • Over time, this achieves an unstoppable shaping and re-shaping of the whole coastline.
  • By moving single grains of sand at a time, waves achieve the re-sizing and re-mapping of whole continents.

However, the action of waves on sand is made up of single moments, single points of achievement adding up to the whole picture.
If you define and isolate the single points in your project, and their timing in that overall scheme, you’re on the way to understanding the power of each day’s efforts.

Growing a Human Being From Scratch

Have you ever considered the incredible coming together of the foetus in the uterus?

Cell by cell, knowing which shape to take, which system to specialise into.  Nervous system, muscles, skeleton, circulation, reproductive organs.
If you’ve ever seen a live ultrasound scan of a developing foetus, you would remember the awe of seeing a heart beat, legs kick, head turn.  Not one system growing without the other, not one limb developing in isolation.
One cell at a time, with the checks and balances of DNA instruction at every step of the way.   Without this, stem cells would not differentiate into what they need to be.
It all really is the most extraordinary example of a system operating in dedicated step-by-step commitment to its ultimate goal.

What’s Your Next Step?

Whenever you get to a point in a project or situation where you get overwhelmed by that sense of lack of progress, you could consider the patterns found in natural systems.

You see – for all their variety and complexity – progress to the next stage, growth into the next season, or moving on to the next part of the cycle, is always one step at a time. This is just as important as having SMART goals and SMART objectives.

Having SMART goals and objectives means you will achieve the right thing. But you need to keep up your progress to achieve them.

What’s your next step?

Photo by Rob Whyard

Negotiation Mistakes 5: Not Finding Out The Needs Of The Other Party

Here’s the fifth in this series of negotiation mistakes that we all make – and that you need to avoid.

Very often you are so focussed on your own wants and desires you completely ignore the other people.

It’s not that you mean to – it just happens. You may be angry (see Mistake Number 4). When you are angry you focus on yourself to the exclusion of others. It’s not that you deliberately ignore them; it’s more that the idea of thinking about them doesn’t enter your head.

If you don’t discover the needs of the other party in a negotiation the chances are you won’t be able to meet them.

So you need to ask. Now the trouble is they may well not be very clear about their needs. Most people aren’t. So you need to help them find out what their own needs really are.

This can be a bit tricky at first. But with a bit of practice you can improve your skills.

The key is to ask questions. So when you are preparing for a negotiation, a very important step is to prepare your questions for the other party.


Don’t jump straight in asking about what they need. Start asking about the situation and (if appropriate) what has happened.

Find out what’s important to them about what they need. A very simple question here is just:
What’s important to you about (this project/your hedge/these trousers)…?
You may be surprised by the answer. Often it will be something completely different to what you might guess.

My Trousers

Years ago I had a surprise call from my dry cleaners. You know what they’re like. You always give them your phone number and they say your stuff will be ready on Tuesday. So you go back on Tuesday and the clothes you need for that evening aren’t ready.

Then you wonder why they didn’t call you to let you know. So when they DO call you, you know there’s a problem. Here’s how the call went:

“Ms Slessenger?”
“This is the dry cleaners here. It’s about your trousers.”
“What’s the problem?”
“They’re ruined.”
These were my favourite trousers. I was horrified. “They can’t be ruined.”
“I am sorry, I can assure you they are.”
“But there must be something…”
“No, one of our staff used the wrong chemical to put the crease in and has damaged them irreparably. They are ruined. What would you like us to do about it?”
“Er, well, I’d like you to replace them really but…”
“Yes, that’s what I thought. Where did you get them?”
“Dax, but…”
“Yes, I thought that from the label. I’ll sort it out tomorrow.”
“Well, that’s great but…”
“I’m very sorry about this. I’ll call you as soon as I have got the new trousers.”
“Thank you.”

You’ll notice that I kept trying to tell her something here. But she didn’t listen. I was trying to say that I had bought them half price in a sale and that I’d had them quite some time and worn them a lot, so didn’t think it was reasonable for her to pay the whole cost of a new pair.

Not Listening

But she didn’t listen. So ended up paying over £200 (which I never would have paid).

So ask the questions and make sure you listen to the answer and don’t interrupt – it might be to your advantage.

The Do’s and Don’ts Goals Ladder

You’ve defined the goal you want to achieve.   And you’ve defined a set of SMART objectives and SMART goals to use to get to your goal.  Here’s an image you can use to maximise your performance  to achieve that goal.

The Ladder

The goal is at the top of the ladder (what else are ladders for, but to get you to something?).

It’s quite simple.  It’s a ladder.  If your goal is a very big one, then the ladder is a suitably big one, like an extension ladder.  (If not so big, then – a stepladder.)

SMART goals and SMART objectives goals ladder illustrated by a girl on a ladder leaning backwards

The Goals Ladder

The goal is at the top of the ladder (what else are ladders for, but to get you to something?).

The steps of the ladder are the objectives (the things you have to accomplish in order to get to the goal).

The sides of the ladder are the feedback you hold on to on the way to achieving your objectives.

Quite simply put, you could say the steps on the ladder are what you need to do, and don’t fall off the ladder – keep going!

You really do need to have a good grasp of the feedback, as it is quite easy to lose your balance.    Then you can miss your footing on the ladder, and you don’t want to fall off.

Each piece of feedback you have a strong grip on, helps you pull up to the next step.

The image is strong and practical.   There are dos, and there are don’ts.
When you’re working towards a goal using solid well-defined objectives, it’s exactly like climbing a ladder – one step at a time.

Photo by Rob Whyard

7 tips for being a more effective leader

“I praise loudly. I blame softly.” Catherine the Great, 1729-1796.
“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” President Harry S Truman.

“It is not possible for a leader to understand and lead people when the leader’s head is high in the clouds or stuck firmly up his backside.” Anon.

Reeling off your favourite quotes about leadership is easy. But being that leader is a different story; one of being extraordinary and tapping into your innate human qualities for the good of others.

Great Leaders

Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, even Richard Branson are often praised as great leaders whereas Hitler and Stalin are contentious. You might say these last two had leadership skills. But they used them for all the wrong reasons.

So Mandela, Obama, Luther King, Lincoln and Branson must have something in common to make them great leaders. Yes, they’re men but that’s not it. Some women can be and are great leaders and some men are not and probably never will be great leaders.

Personal Qualities

In fact, the special something has to do with emotional intelligence and having many personal qualities including:

  • Integrity
  • Honesty
  • Humility
  • Commitment
  • Sincerity
  • Passion
  • Positivity
  • Determination
  • Compassion
  • Sensitivity

They also behave, or behaved, like leaders. Follow these seven tips and you too are on your way to behaving like an inspiring person.

Seven tips for being a more effective leader

  1. Get people on your side by communicating well. Listen, consult, and explain what needs to be done and, importantly, why it needs to be done. Then provide praise for a job well done or constructive feedback for a job that could have been done better.
  2. Make your team happy about doing the things you suggest. Agree objectives and responsibilities that will excite and challenge them, and offer support where necessary. Our booklet, NAME, has tips for setting effective objectives.
  3. Fight against the idiom Do As I Say (Not As I Do). If you strut around like a peacock or with you head stuck firmly up your backside, your team will copy you or rebel. Behave in a respectable, mature way by being self aware. Recognise your own harmful behaviours and emotions, and do your very best to manage them.
  4. Focus on the positive, not the negative, and work to find the silver lining in every cloud. Take this positive outlook into the future. Write future goals for yourself and your team, and wholeheartedly believe you can achieve them.
  5. Trust your team to do what they do well. Don’t try to do your job and everyone else’s. This shows a lack of confidence in the people around you, and you will quickly be bogged down in minor details. Delegate. Only intervene when necessary.
  6. Learn from others. Have the wisdom to know you don’t know everything.
  7. If mistakes happen, which they inevitably will, don’t blame, make a big deal of the mistake or announce it in public. Praise loudly, blame softly.

Do you know of other steps to take to be a more effective leader? Do you think leadership behaviour is innate to us all, or do only a special few ‘have it’? We always enjoy hearing from you.

Happiness Tips 2: Focus on the happy events coming up.

Do you spend too much time worrying about what’s coming up and how awful it will be? Many people do. And guess what? It’s a great way to make yourself unhappy.

Has it ever occurred to you that that you have a choice?
Yes, you do.

Putting The Bad Stuff Off

I often run courses on time management and one of the big problems people who come on that workshop have is that they put off things they don’t want to do. They spend so much time thinking how terrible or how boring those tasks will be that they never get round to them.

Strangely many of the tasks aren’t actually as bad as they think they will be when people finally do get round to doing them.

Many people don’t enjoy travelling to work, having to spend hours on planes or traffic jams. But when you ask those people: “How many of you have missed a flight going on holiday?” they never have. Even if they really hate flying or, at the very least, don’t enjoy it.

The reason

(Remember we are talking about people who are bad at time management in general.) The reason is that they are completely focussed on their holiday and how much they will enjoy it.

So they easily overcome their dislike of travel (and their usual lateness in many cases) to ensure they get their holiday.

In Your Head

It’s easy to spend all your time thinking about how unpleasant approaching events are going to be.  But why focus on them? That means that you are making more of your time unpleasant than necessary.

Look at it this way. Let’s assume that you sleep for seven hours a night – that’s 49 hours a week. That leaves you 119 waking hours a week. Let’s imagine that, during that week you have 3 hours of unpleasant tasks to complete or events to go to and endure every day. That’s 21 hours over a week.

How to be really unhappy

Now let’s imagine that you spend another three hours a day imagining how awful those events and tasks will be. Here’s how you do it. You drive to work thinking how unpleasant it will be when you get there. You spend your lunch break thinking how boring the meeting after lunch is likely to be and moan to your friends about it.

On the way home you imagine how boring an evening with none of your favourite TV programmes will be. Then, during the evening you think about how your weekend will be ruined because you have to have Sunday tea with your brother-in-law, who you hate.

You have now doubled the amount of time you spend unhappy. And you have done it completely unnecessarily.

That leaves you just 81 hours to enjoy yourself and be happy.

Another option

Now let’s imagine a different scenario. As you drive to work, you listen to some of your favourite music. Over lunch you ask your friends what good books they have read recently, what films they have enjoyed and what else has been fun in their lives.

As you drive home, whilst listening to more great music, you decide which book you are going to get and which film you are going to see.

When you get home you search out the books your friends talked about on the internet. You place an order for three of them. Or you go to the library on your way home and borrow one of the books.

Or you check when the film your friends recommended is on. Or you search for reviews of the films you discussed to see if you would enjoy them.

You then plan to go to see the film at a time that means you have an excuse to leave the hated brother-in-law’s house as early as is reasonably polite.
You then congratulate yourself on reducing your unhappy hours that week by one.

Negotiation Mistakes 4: Being Angry

his is an easy mistake to make. Have you ever been really angry when someone has told you that you must do something? Or have you ever been very angry and told someone else to do something?

There it is, the mistake.

Why Is This A Mistake?

When you are angry your brain is not operating at peak efficiency for negotiations. Whole sections of it are not accessible to you. Higher order reasoning skills, for example. Your ability to take in information effectively as another example.

These are two crucial skills you need in a negotiation.

Emotions Run Behaviour

The trouble is, your emotions run your behaviour. You know this because you are able to tell when others are in a bad or good mood by the way they behave. You automatically know it’s better to ask people for things when they are in a good mood. You know it’s not a good idea to give people bad news when they are in a bad mood because their response is likely to be worse than necessary.

Learn To Master Your Emotions

When you can master your emotions, you will be able to negotiate more effectively. You need to identify which emotions will be most effective during a negotiation and learn ways of accessing them.

This is part of the skill of Emotional Intelligence. Mayer, Salovey and Caruso started this field (not Daniel Goleman who wrote the well-know book on the subject).

They identify emotional intelligence as being able to indentify your emotions, understand their meaning, identify the emotions of others, understand likely emotional transitions, the ability to be open to emotions and the ability to manage emotions in yourself and others.

This is a very brief explanation, but it gives you an idea.

So, if you have a high degree of emotional intelligence, you will be able to take someone who is very upset or angry, and help them to calm down. You will be able to predict the emotions people are likely to experience in specific situations and you will know what to do to change those emotions.

You will also be able to get yourself into the right emotional state for your current task. You will know what emotional state will be most useful and which to avoid.

Anger is not one that is very effective in a negotiation. So what is?

Emotions For Negotiations

Interest and curiosity are often a good place to start. That’s because they encourage you to find out as much as you can about the individuals concerned and the situation.

Empathy is a very useful emotion to help you understand the other person and quiet confidence is another.

Len Leritz suggests “feeling abundance” in his book “No Fault Negotiation”. This is useful because “scarcity thinking” generally doesn’t help. You start to fight your own corner and get worried when you assume scarcity.

This then can lead to aggression. Not the emotion we are looking for.


So practise accessing the emotions you will need that will make it easy for you to negotiate effectively and learn to recognise when you are feeling angry. Sometimes it happens without you knowing.

Doom, Gloom and Choices

Do you ever pay attention to what you say and how you say it? Here’s an example of what I mean.

I was working with a client recently who told me:
“I’ll be exhausted by the end of this.”

We were talking about a point in time nearly a year away. It sounded to me as though he was promising himself this would be the case.

Another client told me that a meeting she had booked with a colleague “was going to be a nightmare.”

How did she know?

Are You Doing This To Yourself?

It’s very easy to talk yourself into a self-fulfilling prophecy. But it’s equally easy to do something else.

Let’s take that first client. He was full of doom and gloom, He know he had a difficult task ahead, he was right. But it didn’t have to be as difficult as he thought.

Here’s what we did – you can do it too.

I asked him how he wanted to feel at the end of this difficult task. We went through a great list of positive emotions. Here are just some of them:

  • alert
  • blissful
  • carefree
  • cheerful
  • delighted
  • eager
  • ecstatic
  • energetic
  • exhilarated
  • exultant
  • free
  • fulfilled
  • glorious
  • grateful
  • happy
  • joyful
  • jubilant
  • overjoyed
  • overwhelmed
  • peaceful
  • pleased
  • proud
  • radiant
  • refreshed
  • relaxed
  • relieved
  • satisfied
  • secure
  • serene
  • splendid
  • stimulated
  • thankful
  • thrilled
  • tranquil
  • wonderful

He picked out quite a few. We then started to work out how he could be feeling like that at the end of the project.

It wasn’t as difficult as you might think.

A Goal

The think is, once you have a goal, it’s just so much easier to work out how you are going to achieve it.

We identified that he really needed to look after himself effectively for the project that included getting plenty of exercise and eating properly as well as using other tools and techniques.

What was most impressive was the change in him just at the thought that he could decide how he wanted to feel at the end. It had simply not occurred to him.

Has it occurred to you?

Pick out how you want to feel at the end of today and see what you do to make sure it happens.

Negotiation Mistakes 3 – Not Being Clear About Your Needs

Have you ever gone into a negotiation unclear about what you needed to get out of it? I bet you have, but you may not realise it.

Very often you tend to focus on your wants, rather than your needs. Wants are more about the solution – how something is going to be done. Needs are about the result you get.

So you may need to keep your bank balance in the black and be able to pay for your holiday. Your wants may be that the other party gives you cash right now. They are closely linked but they are not the same thing.

You could get your money in many forms: something of the same value, money credited into your bank account, cash, a cheque, a credit against another purchase and so on.

Think About It

It’s very important that you are clear about what you really need before you go into a negotiation. Very often business people focus on the price. So often this causes problems down the line for others.

I remember working in one company where the purchasing manager always chose the cheapest components. They were often of such poor quality that we had to scrap them. The trouble was that we only knew how poor the quality of the components was once they had been assembled into the products.

The cost of putting them in and taking them out again was more than 20 times the original cost of the items.

Global Needs

So when you are thinking about your needs, do your best to think about the big picture. Identify what’s really important to you about what you need. For example – do you want it to last for a long time? Do you need low maintenance costs? Do you want it to wear well? Are the long terms costs (financial or otherwise) important to you? Is the impact on others an issue?

Ask yourself how you want to be feeling after the negotiation has been completed. If words like “victorious” spring to mind, you may be reading the wrong article.

Thinking like that is rarely going to get you a good long-term solution. It’s usually a short-term gain that you will pay for dearly in the future.
Here are some needs you might like to think about:

  • The need to feel secure
  • The need to be able to trust someone
  • The need to be confident that if there are problems with the service/product they will be resolved quickly

Don’t just think about the immediate and obvious things. The trouble with these more obscure needs is that they will always be there, bubbling away. Unless you become aware of them, you will not find ways to meet them.

Job Interviews Are Negotiations Too

Many people forget that job interviews are negotiations. The interviewer is finding out if the candidate meets their needs. The candidate should be finding out if the company will meet his or her needs. All too often, they don’t do that.

I’ve come across many people who don’t identify their needs before going to an interview and have ended up working at places that don’t meet their needs at all. Yes, the salary may be what they wanted, but that’s no good if you hate working there.