ImageGarden weather has finally arrived! After spending most of the day at day two of the mentoring training course I mentioned in an earlier blog, I returned home and managed to spend a couple of hours unwinding in the hammock in the garden for the first time this year – hopefully the first of many!

Luckily, the training course was with the Wilderness Foundation UK, which meant that they were just as conscious of the nice weather that had finally reached us. Excitingly, they were also well prepared for it with an outdoor activity built into the programme for the day.

So we spent some time this afternoon in some beautiful woodland, undertaking a trust exercise consisting of leading a blindfolded partner around the wood, attempting (though not always succeeding!) to avoid the frequently hidden holes in the ground, filled with piles of leaves, as we guided them through the trees.

The aim of the exercise was to lead them to a tree, which they felt until they thought they were able to identify it, and then lead them away again. Once back at base, off came the blindfolds and they were now tasked with trying to retrace their steps and identify their tree.

It was a great exercise, focussing as it did on both developing trust and increasing observational skills. I was quite surprised how effective most people were at tracking down their tree from touch alone, which I didn’t expect.

It was a really enjoyable exercise and one that reminded me of the opportunities for learning that present themselves to us outside of the classroom, in the great outdoors. And then my time in my hammock in my little sanctuary of a garden reminded me of the opportunities for snoozing that the great outdoors also present us with!

Here’s hoping you manage to enjoy being outdoors in some form or other this weekend. Do let me know – dog walk or BBQ, gardening or out for a run… what have you been up to today or have planned for tomorrow?

Have a great weekend, everybody.

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ImageToday I got the opportunity to job shadow some council employees working on the frontline of customer service. The variety of issues that they were faced with was pretty staggering and required them to have quite in depth knowledge of a very broad range of subjects.

I experienced them interacting with customers face to face – both at the drop-in centre in the office and in the customers’ homes – by phone, by letter and by email…  pretty much the full complement of methods of communication available to them!

I was struck by the professionalism of the officers and their ability to think on their feet to respond to the issues brought to them by the customers. They had regard both for the individual needs of the customers and the regulations, policies and procedures governing the service, even where the two were in opposition to each other.

They wanted to do the best they could for their customers, whilst remaining mindful of the restrictions placed on them by the finite budgetary resources funded, of course, by tax payers.

It had been a while since I worked in a customer facing environment and was a timely reminder of the pressures facing council workers to deliver excellent customer service within extremely limited resources.

I’m pleased to say that I was pleasantly reassured about the focus that the officers placed on both, and the assured, friendly, helpful way that they dealt with those approaching them for assistance.

All in all, a great, varied, and tiring day! So well done to all you hard working, customer facing council officers out there… and keep up the good work!

ImageYou know how some days things start off fairly slowly as you think to yourself that you’ve got plenty of time to get everything you need to do finished? So you take your time over the first few tasks, taking the rare opportunity to really consider the best way to approach each activity, mulling it over in your head, perhaps typing and trashing a few abortive email attempts while you wait for the ideal approach and order to present itself to you.

Slowly, but hopefully surely, things start to resolve themselves and make it clear to you what order they need to be tackled in, and the best way to do so. And you realise that actually there’s a bit more to it than you first realised this morning. So you speed up a bit, getting on a roll now as each completed task starts to signpost automatically to the next, and you see your route to the end of the day mapped out for you, and you start to think “ok, I’ll just about get all this done, just as long as I keep cracking along at this pace”.

And then, something comes up. A request from your manager for something you hadn’t quite intended to do today, an unanticipated meeting, an agreement you thought you had made with somebody turned out to not have been understood quite the same way by them… or perhaps all of the above!

So you re-evaluate, re-prioritise, and speed up still further, working furiously on numerous tasks at the same time now. Glancing up at the clock with increasing trepidation at the impending end of the working day because, of course, this always happens on a day when you have a deadline by which you must leave the office, and never on a day when you are flexible about your clocking off time!

So you are now thinking to yourself “why didn’t I go just that bit faster this morning? I’d have it all finished by now!”, but I think you should give yourself a break. I find that some of that slower, thinking time is absolutely crucial to the process. It might not feel like you’re at your most productive, but if you hadn’t given yourself that space at the outset, you might not have hit upon the realisation of the best approach and order to the seemingly random group of tasks you embarked upon first thing. You might have been working hammer and tongs on them all day, without necessarily spotting the interdependencies between them and the best path to forge through them – missing vital information and causing duplication of effort.

So I say don’t be afraid to allow yourself to work at a calmer pace at times, giving yourself the time and brain space to consider the bigger picture. It might just work out more efficient in the long run.

So anyway, you know those days? I had one of them today. Phew!

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I was thinking about what to write for today’s blog post and it struck me that perhaps I should write a little bit about what coaching actually is and how it works. So I sat down and started to poder the best way to express the benefits of coaching and how I, as a coach, support my clients to achieve their goals.

After a little while of mulling over the various ways I could express it, I did my usual and hit Google and YouTube. And a fantastic video called How Coaching Works by the Wellcoaches School of Coaching popped up. So I watched it, loved it, and felt that it expressed the process and potential of coaching far more eloquently with its stick figures than I ever could with words.

Here’s the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UY75MQte4RU Why not have a watch and a think about if there are any outcomes in your life that you’d like to achieve, like the client in the video?

It’s probably a good time for me to mention that we are currently offering the first coaching session for free, so if you are inspired to try it for yourself, get in touch! We offer face to face coaching as well as coaching by Skype or telephone – whatever best meets your needs. Plus I have a hat exactly like the coach in the video wears!

ImageIt doesn’t feel appropriate to blog today without mentioning the atrocities of yesterday’s Boston Marathon bombings and their impact, both on the world at large and on the individuals that have been directly affected.

We switched to the American news channels yesterday to watch the coverage – something that wasn’t available to me during the 9/11 attacks or the 7/7 London bombings – and I was struck by just how graphic the reporting was, which really hammered home the deep, lifelong, human impacts on many of the people that were caught up in the bombing.

Not being particularly familiar with American news reporting, I can’t say whether it was a fairly standard approach for that type of horrific event or whether, for some reason, this event evoked a more graphic reporting style than usual.

What I do know is that it was far more graphic in style than British reporting and that many of the phrases used simply would not be used on British news reports, and the images would not be shown without standard “warning, this report contains upsetting images” messages, which I didn’t notice in the American reports (although they were following events live so that could have had an impact).

My immediate reaction was that the reporting approach was shocking and inappropriate. Having had time to dwell on it, however, I wonder whether the use of that sort of shocking language that we don’t get in Britain is, in some way, a positive, as it serves to highlight the real and terrible losses brought about by the events.

I’m still not sure on that one, but I do know that it didn’t fail to hammer home the horrific nature of what happened, which I guess can’t be a bad thing.

My thoughts are with all those who ran, spectated, organised, or otherwise worked on the marathon, all those who have lost their lives or been injured and their loved ones, and all those working hard to treat the injured, or find out what happened and bring the perpetrator(s) to justice.

ImageA friend is writing a magazine article about life goals and asked for my top tips for setting or reaching life goals, or whether I think that having goals is actually unhelpful. So I had a little think about what part goals have played in my life, and I’d love it if you could share your thoughts on the subject in the comments (as long as you’re willing for them to be used in the article).

When thinking about it, I realised that I don’t really set myself specific targets like “be earning £x by y age” or “reach x job title in y years’ time” or even non-work related “bucket list”-type goals like travelling to certain countries by a particular age or taking up a hobby or learning a skill.

For me, part of the pleasure of life is not knowing where it will take you. I was never one of those people who knew what career they wanted since they were knee high to a grasshopper; for me, my career has been shaped by grasping opportunities when they presented themselves to me. I have applied for and accepted roles that look interesting and challenging, rather than those that meet a predetermined career trajectory.

It’s a “strategy” (if it’s not too much of a stretch to call it that!) that has served me well so far. I’ve gained all sorts of valuable and varied experiences that I may not have done had I consciously followed a set path.  For example, it certainly wasn’t part of any plan to be made redundant (not that that’s something that many of us ever have control over or plan for), but had it not occurred, I would never have taken the steps myself to leave my former organisation and set up a business with my wife. But the opportunity presented itself, and we grabbed it, and set up the business and now get to spend a great deal of time together, working towards shared aims, which is fantastic.

Having said all that, I’d like to think that my life is not totally directionless, bumbling aimlessly from one event to the next, reacting with no real thought for where it might take me. Instead, I have a series of high level life goals, or perhaps they’re more accurately described as guiding principles, within which I try to live.

They are:
– To feel fulfilled, stretched and challenged at work
– To feel that I’m adding value at work
– To feel that I’m reaching – or working towards reaching – my full potential
– To constantly learn new things
– To always try to do the right thing, even when it is difficult (tough one!)
– To do some good (through work, volunteering, etc.)
– To build a happy life and home with my wife

No, they’re not SMART, and they don’t lead to a particular end goal (apart from happiness!), but they serve me well.

So, what about you? Do you agree or do you have monthly/quarterly/annual life goals and an end game in sight? Let me know what you think and be part of the magazine article.

ImageIt’s the night before I start a new three month commission and I’m feeling a mixture of nerves and excitement. Happily, there’s not a hint of the Sunday night blues I discussed at length in an earlier blog post. It’s been a while since I had a regular role for a number of months as we have been primarily undertaking shorter commissions and working on building the business, so I’m looking forward to the regularity and order of a routine for a while.

I must confess that there will be downsides – setting the alarm every morning and having to get dressed every single day are the two that immediately strike me! But on the whole, I’m really excited about the opportunities the role will provide me with. Opportunities to add value to the organisation and to learn new things, adding to my experience. I’ll be undertaking a process improvement role and, as I previously mentioned, I’m currently undertaking a Six Sigma process improvement online training course. So this will provide me with the perfect opportunity to cement my learning and learn by doing, which I believe is a really powerful way of learning.

I mentioned nerves too. It’s always a bit nerve-wracking just before you start something new, isn’t it? That fear of the unknown – Will you be good enough? Will it be what you expect? – is universal, I think. The trick is to channel it into positive energy; transform it into excitement, and rather than thinking of them as “unknowns”, think of them as opportunities that await you.

And the other big part of preparation for something new, is being relaxed and rested. So I will end this rather foreshortened post for today in favour of packing my lunchbox and getting some much needed beauty sleep.

ImageRegular visitors to the blog will have seen yesterday’s discussion blog post entitled “if you could make one change, what would it be?” and there was a great discussion with a wide range of responses. Sadly, I haven’t quite located that magic wand as yet, so rather than grant the wishes, I thought I’d simply highlight some of them today.

So, what was on the list? Well there was my straightforward (and lazy) wish to be able to speak a foreign language with ease (and without effort!) and my wife’s latest attempt to convince me that we need to get a puppy! Strangely, there was a consensus amongst those who wished they lived in a different country that the ideal location would be Switzerland. Send me back a Toblerone!

There was a fantastic, and very selfless, suggestion from one commenter who wants to change the ruling elite to those who put others first, with an excellent chain of events that would lead to “teaching others that it helps everyone to consider the wellbeing of all”. If only I really did have that magic wand! Maybe a bit of Eric Clapton will help to change the world: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fGDIxcuPT7s

For some people, the big change they wanted to make in their life was to change their career, including to work for themselves, and some had already bitten the bullet and made this change. A lingering regret in some cases was that this hadn’t been done earlier, and this chimed with another popular sentiment that a number of commenters expressed. This was that they wished that the knowledge, self-belief and confidence that they possess now had been theirs when they were younger. I can strongly empathise with that view, if only we could fast-forward through the painful, growing up experiences quickly and then time could slow down again so that we could enjoy the fruits of those experiences at our leisure!

Sadly, it seems, life doesn’t seem to work that way. And I think, on balance, I’m glad for that. No-one truly enjoys being in the midst of some of the more painful, difficult experiences of our lives. But if we’re really honest, those adages about needing the rain in order to truly experience the sunshine contain more than a grain of truth. Getting through a bad time can make you even more grateful for the good times.

This was emphasised by one contributor who would change nothing about her life as she is grateful for all the things she does have, including her family, her business and her health. Another contributor wished she could change an aspect of her health – a life-long anxiety disorder – whilst also acknowledging that it was a driving force that underpinned her carrying out the job that she loves. We need the rain as well as the sun!

I’m also a strong believer in experiential based learning, or learning by doing. And, sadly, some of that “doing” inevitably involves making mistakes, bad things happening and general pain. However, if someone tried to sit you down and teach you all the lessons that could be gained from that “doing” without you having to experience the bad bits, would it have the same effect? Would you even listen? Your parents or teacher or other well-meaning adult may well have tried to do this for you. Did it work? I suspect not!

Finally, there was quite a common theme around commenters wishing they could be more confident, whilst worrying less, working harder and being bolder. I’m going to have a mull on that one, so watch this space for the possible topic of a future blog post!

ImageFor today’s blog post, there’s going to be very little from me, and (I hope) much more from you! I’d like to start a discussion with you, as part of ProBlogger’s Group Writing Project. Please have a think and start hitting those comments with your thoughts, and I’ll give my answer in the comments too.

So here’s the topic I’d like to have a discussion with you about: if you could change one thing about your life, what would it be? Something related to your career, your personal life, your own skills and abilities, where you live, anything? If there were no limitations of time, money, effort, of anything, if I could wave that mythical magic wand. What would change?

Over to you.

ImageWhat have you done in the past hour? Spent some time trawling about on the internet – Facebook, Twitter, blogs etc.? Perhaps a nice cup of tea? Maybe watched an episode of your favourite TV programme? A nice bit of sitting in general? Well, that’s certainly true for how many of the average hours in my free time are spent.

What about the average hour at work? Do they fly by as you struggle to get everything done that you need to? Or do they drag as you’d much rather be somewhere else? Does your boss or anyone else in your workplace tell you that they look forward to seeing you and that you make their day? I must admit I’m not sure that’s ever happened to me at work!

But I don’t spend every hour of my free time sitting at home, and I’ve found something that does result in me being told that I make someone’s day. For one hour every week, I volunteer as a Befriender for Age UK. It consists of me visiting an elderly couple (although the service is more often provided to older people who live alone), sitting with them and having a nice chat, or perhaps the occasional game of Scrabble. So I still get to indulge in my favourite pastime of sitting, while doing some good!

I absolutely love doing it, it’s great to meet and make friends with new people, especially new people that I would have been unlikely to make friends with in other circumstances, as I’m not sure my path would have crossed with that of a couple in their 90s without joining this service. We sit and chat about all sorts of things, from what’s going on at the moment to memories that they have from their long and interesting lives.

And it’s not just fun to sit and chat with a couple of really interesting people, it’s also very rewarding. As I’ve alluded to, I get fantastic feedback from them, such as “you’re exceptionally good company”, “we really look forward to seeing you” and – my favourite – “you’ve made my day”. How could it not make you feel good to hear that! Just by leaving my house, sitting in someone else’s chair and bending their ear for an hour (which has the added benefit of giving my lucky wife an hour off!) I can actually make a difference to someone’s day who doesn’t have a lot of company. A win-win situation, if ever I heard one!

So if you have a spare hour a week, a love of sitting and chatting, and a desire to make a difference to someone’s life, why not look into Befriending?