How to liberate your thoughts

How many times has your success been hindered by a very un-useful belief, or limiting assumption, about yourself? Limiting assumptions are something that we are all inclined to be guilty of.  They can limit our thinking around what we believe we are capable of and therefore our performance is less than it might perhaps be. How many times have you assumed you were incapable of doing something you wanted to do, without ever considering what might happen if you knew yourself to be capable of anything you set your mind to?

insights on leadership

Make the possibilities endless!

This topic is a subject I know a bit too well. As a result of my mother leaving when I was just a few months old and being packed off to boarding school by 7, I carried around the belief that I simply wasn’t good enough – an easy belief to develop when dealing with life’s hurdles, and a belief that stifled many thoughts and dreams for a long time. What would have really helped at this point would be somebody able to take the mental barrier away, to ask an incisive question and say: ‘If you knew that you are good enough, what would you do right now?’ So many possibilities would have sprung to mind, that I would have never thought of beforehand!

Of course, this is extremely unlikely to have changed my belief, but it would have allowed me to start thinking in an entirely different way. Allowing me to think that maybe I could pursue a career in public speaking, and how exactly I’d go about doing it if I did. Allowing me to think I could found my own company. Perhaps even allow me to think that I could buy the house I wanted for myself and my children!  The important thing to recognise here is that I am not attempting to change a belief, in this case a very long held one, but purely to allow my mind to think afresh and to come up with more possibilities.  If you are told, intentionally or unintentionally, and for long enough that you are ‘not good enough’, ‘not intelligent’, ‘bad with figures’, then sooner or later that will become a deeply held recognition as a truth, albeit quite probably a false one.  It would be no more than a perception of reality and it would be the thought that held you back – not the truth.  So – freeing the mind to come up with new ideas and new ways of thinking can be incredibly powerful and, in some instances, life changing.

The use of incisive questions allows you to liberate your thinking, or, to put it another way, open new pathways in the brain, in a way that is often hard to achieve. Think how effective this might be, in the world of business.

Here’s an example of when something as simple as an incisive question opened up a floodgate of possibilities to a chief executive, who was also my client. Owner of a large, successful organisation, the only problem he faced was hiring and consistently keeping ‘the best people’, a key factor in ensuring ongoing success in the business. I asked him – ‘If you knew you could turn this organisation into a preferred employer, where people are desperate to come and work for you, what might you do differently from what you’re doing now?’ The answer was a pause and ‘Penny, I really don’t know!’

‘But, if you did know, what is the first step you might take?’

Well, he said he’d start by sharing his vision and passion with each division, individually and in groups – and then ………………..  the ideas started to pour out of him! After twenty minutes he stopped and said to me ‘where the hell did that come from?’ What had happened was that he had been thinking about what needed to be done for so long, and now assumed that he did not have the knowledge to move forwards. The pathways were so deeply entrenched in his brain that it needed a different type of question to unlock the creativity.  Having never considered he could provide the answer himself, it simply never happened. All I’d done was to remove the barrier with an incisive question!

Incisive questions are a brilliant way of removing barriers and freeing your thoughts so you can start endeavoring to do the impossible. Apply them to different situations in the workplace and at home, and think of the possibilities! As a cheeky aside listen for the amount of time your children say ‘I can’t’!  It rarely means I can’t but something quite different!  So how about trying ‘If you knew you could …. what is the first thing you would do to – complete tidying your room/do your homework before watching TV/help your Mum wash up before bedtime/ have your bath and still have time to read’ etc. etc.!!

If you’re looking to book an inspirational public speaker for an event or show, please contact Penny here. Penny, as the founder of The Living Leader, a provider of leadership courses that have been rolled out to tens of thousands of delegates all over the world, is an expert in leadership training and has worked with the likes of Sage, Centrica and Caterpillar. Click here for more info on how to change your business.


Motivation – from me or you?


Today has been an interesting day with one small part of it challenging me and, as always, giving me yet another learning opportunity!  As any of you who read my blogs or have worked with me over the years know, I am a bit of a dog nutter – well, probably more than a bit!  There are not many weeks in the year when I am not visiting Peter Branch and Anji Forte at Newbury Lodge Kennels with one of my six dogs involved in some sort of dog training.  There is invariably one of them going through either their Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum obedience training and at the moment it is my little Molly.

Now, I guess I consider Molly my most special as she is the ‘follow-on’ from my very first long-haired Jack Russell, Honey, who started my passion for these little dogs 25 years ago.   As a breed they are feisty and courageous characters, little dogs who believe they are big dogs, very individual and with huge hearts.  She has already passed her Bronze and Silver and Peter persuaded me that taking her for the Gold would be good – for her and me!  Why is she such a challenge?  Because she knows exactly and very quickly what I want her to do, knows how to do it, and will happily do it ……….. when she wants to!

My big challenge is how to keep her motivated because she just gets bored and switches off.  When she is like that my temptation is to do all I can to keep her focus on me, keep her occupied and keep pushing her, and occasionally find it hard not to get frustrated with her when she doesn’t do what she knows perfectly well how to do.

Forget my dog training for one moment – does this sound a familiar story back in the work place?  When I was doing a webinar the other week I got asked a question that made me think.  “How do you get people to bring their passion and motivation back when they seem to have lost it?”  Much of the time we believe that one of the main things we need to do as a manager is take responsibility for motivating our team and we do all we can to inspire and drive performance.  Now I know that way of thinking is not useful because that means that I am thinking like a manager and not a leader so the risk with that is that I can actually become the blocker.  If I think of the difference between the two in very simple terms – ‘outstanding managers drive people to perform at the highest level they are capable of and it is very much about control. Outstanding leaders inspire them to do it for themselves and it is more about freedom.’

Let’s assume for one moment that I am a really successful manager, pretty senior in my business and continually get great results.  There is a strong likelihood that I will be full of great ideas, often sharing my thoughts and my suggestions based on my knowledge and experience.  My communication will largely consist of ‘I think, I suggest, I don’t agree’ and it will be that way because I care so much about them being successful and I want to help them – I want to give them the benefit of my wisdom.  The sad reality is that if I keep telling them what to do I am going to be inadvertently suppressing their thinking and they can never be better than I was yesterday.

The fact is I am very aware that it is not my role to motivate others because if I carry that as a belief I have to accept that when I am not there motivation is likely to drop.  I need to step away from management into leadership.  My role is to inspire them to motivate themselves and that means holding back on my thoughts, ideas and suggestions and changing the way I communicate.  It needs to become more of ‘what do you think, how might you handle that, that’s a great idea that you just had, let me be sure that I have understood you correctly ……… ‘.

So why did training with Molly today remind me of this?  Because I found myself trying to push her, using treats, getting frustrated and getting nowhere!  So after the break I did it differently and during each gap I played with her, talked to her and before each exercise asked her how she felt about doing it (yes really!!!) and stopped luring her with treats but saved them until she completed the exercise.  Result?  A different dog, excited and did everything successfully!

Penny has worked with businesses like Sage and Argos to inspire long lasting positive change within the company, in order to take steps towards success and leadership. Contact her at The Living Leader to book an appointment or to book her to speak at one of your events. She is also on Facebook and Twitter! Feel free to leave your thoughts and comment below.