Feeling Stuck?

Feeling Stuck?

Coping with change

A couple of weeks back on a coaching call, my client related a lovely story that she had shared with some of her school children and I want to share it with you.

A monkey was walking through the Jungle, when it came upon a hole in the ground. When he looked into the hole he saw a juicy ripe Marula fruit at the bottom of the hole. The sides of the hole were quite narrow and it took a little while to wriggle his hand down into the hole far enough to reach the fruit. At last he grabbed onto it and when he tried to withdraw his hand, he found that he couldn’t because his clenched fist prevented him from being able to extract his hand along with the Marula fruit.

He struggled for ages to get his hand out. Eventually a passing porcupine stopped and asked him, “Why do you have your hand down that hole?” – “Are you stuck?” The monkey explained he had spotted the Marula fruit and how he had grasped it, but now he was unable to remove his hand whilst holding the fruit. The porcupine thought for a minute and then asked the monkey, “What else is there around you that could help you get what you want?”

The monkey looked around and suddenly realised the whole forest floor was littered with Marula fruits in abundance, just there for the taking. Because he had been so focused on the one in the hole, he had completely missed all the other opportunities.

True to life?

How true to life is this? How many people do you know who cling desperately to outmoded thinking like survivors cling to the flotsam of a sinking ship?

In her book Death and Dying published in 1969, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross produced a model which has subsequently been found to be useful in the majority of situations relating to change. According to Kubler-Ross, there are FIVE distinct stages, Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance and these are transferable and can vary in intensity from person to person.

Real example

Following a bit of research on the internet, I found a great example in a grief web-site – thank you Windstream.net.

Imagine you are late for work, you rush out of the house get in the car, drop your keys, curse as you fumble for them, insert the key and turn it and ….. whhaa whaaaa whhaaaahh –

The battery is flat!

  1. DENIAL— What’s the first thing you do? You try to start it again! And again. You may check to make sure the radio, heater, lights, etc. are off and then…, well, you try again!
  2. ANGER — “%$@^##& car!”, “I should have junked you years ago.” You slam your hand on the steering wheel and shout. “I should just leave you out in the rain and let you rust.”
  3. BARGAINING— (realizing that you’re going to be late for work)…, “Oh please car, if you will just start ONE MORE TIME I promise I’ll buy you a brand new battery, get a tune up, new tires, belts and hoses, and keep you in perfect working condition….please start..”
  4. DEPRESSION— “Oh God, what am I going to do? I’m going to be late for work. I give up. My job is at risk and I don’t really care anymore. What’s the use?”
  5. ACCEPTANCE — “Ok. It’s dead. Guess I had better call the garage guy or find another way to work. Time to get on with my day; I’ll deal with this later.”

This is not a trivial example. We often all go through this process several times a day. A dead battery, the loss of a parking space, a wrong number, the friend who doesn’t pick up your call, a job you missed, an overdrawn bank account, supermarkets out of stock of your favourite muffins or the cashier close just as you get to them!

Sometimes (more often than you would think), people get stuck like the monkey, holding onto a precious item that prevents them from moving forwards, like the old girl down the way who refuses to have a mobile phone, a hearing aid or glasses because she doesn’t like ‘em or the way they make her look.

Like the porcupine in our story, Coaches are trained to ask deep pertinent questions that empower people to reflect and seek alternative views of their current situation. They help people to focus on fixing the things they can fix and not on things they cannot!

I was moaning about the state of the educational system and the flagrant inequities that exist between universities based in the East and the West when my Mentor Coach, Dr. Clare Beckett McInroy, stopped me and asked, “Mike, it appears to me that you have two choices; either you can expend more energy moaning about the problem as you see it; or you can do something to fix it!, Which one is it going to be?”

This is why I am a coach, because like Dr. Clare, I am about solving problems for people.

One last thing, please don’t just call me if your car battery is flat or you find a monkey with his hand down a hole – okay?

Who employs a coach? Winners do!!

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Questions about Coaching

Questions about Coaching

You have questions about coaching?

I am often asked, “What is coaching?”

One clean definition of coaching is, “The art of enabling others to improve their development, learning and performance”.

Another definition is, “Professional coaching focuses on setting goals, creating outcomes and managing personal change”.

That understood, the next question is, “How is coaching different to a number of other practices?”, so here are my answers especially for you…

How is it different to Training?

Training is principally directive – the trainer instructs the trainee what to do and the effectiveness of the training depends on the competence of the trainer and the understanding of the trainee.

On the other hand, Coaching uses powerful questioning to enable the coachees to explore what they already know and to seek ways to develop and improve their understanding.

How is it different to Consulting?

Consultants focus on the business processes, teams and other aspects of the business. They are usually brought in to focus on specific functions or to provide expertise not generally available in the organisation. Coaches focus more on the business individuals and enable them to adopt new processes and practices. Both offer fresh perspectives and both are paid fees, although Coaches tend to have a less tangible effect on the short term bottom line but have a more lasting effect on the individuals they work with.

How is it different to Mentoring?

Mentoring is about showing somebody the ropes. They need to have relevant experience and they have to have a defined end-goal. Mentoring is relationship based and they are often a senior person in the organisation who can pass on knowledge, experience and open doors to otherwise out-of-reach opportunities. It revolves around developing the mentees professional skills.

Coaching is usually a shorter term engagement and generally does not require the coach to have direct experience of their client’s occupational skills, unless the coaching is specific and skills-focused.

How is it different to Counselling

Counselling seeks to address and resolve people’s unresolved issues that are reducing their ability to function satisfactorily.  Whilst both coaches and counsellors work in a similar field, and the fact that counsellors are trained in coaching techniques, they actually deal with their clients in a different way – Dr Patrick Williams, a chartered member of the International Coaching Federation and founding member of the Harvard University Institute of Coaching said, “Therapy is about uncovering and recovering, while coaching is about discovering.” Traditional therapy will not become extinct but will increasingly help those who need clinical intervention.

Whilst we are on this subject, you should know that any accredited coach is bound by the governing body’s ethical standards and they all recommend client referral for medical review should a significant psychological problem be uncovered.

Business Coaching and Life Coaching

The next question I am asked is, “What is the difference between Business Coaching, Executive Coaching and Life Coaching?” 

Personally, I see Business and Executive Coaching as being part of the same coaching practice, Exec Coaching sitting under the wider Business Coaching concept. Business coaching is one where the Business has an intrinsic stake in the coaching relationship and in any outcomes.  The fact an executive is responsible to several stakeholders such as shareholders, employees and the other businesses involved, means there is accountability and this means that any coaching should be focused on quantifiable outcomes.

Life coaching focusses more on the well-being of the individual and is less likely to have to demonstrate a return on the investment.  When work does come up, it is usually in a work life integration challenge and organisational objectives are not usually key or significant.

My own personal experience is that expectations are different as well.  Business Coaching is usually framed with clear direction and the tacit expectations of a measurable return to the business.  This is much more so than in the case of Life Coaching, where the client is responsible for the direction of their coaching and their emotional happiness is only something that they can measure.

Business and Executive coaching is tougher because you may have to deal with some very strong personalities or with confidence issues and many executives are not used to having questions asked about their decisions or about being asked to reflect on issues that can make them feel uncomfortable.

Business Coaches understand the commercial environment and can deal with strong personalities or with ingrained fears. Good Coaches are adept at creating challenging questions that encourage the business leaders to deeply reflect and seek better ways that will improve the business going forwards.

You must leave your comfort zone

Realistically, significant change will not happen if you don’t step out of your comfort zones, and you will remain in the same or a similar place.  Sometimes it is about championing, working around issues, building a rapport and trust – working within the parameters that the client needs at that time – it’s not always going to be ‘pushing’.

How can I utilise coaching in the workplace?

Recently I completed an assignment where I was asked to address the known challenge of transferring skills and enthusiasm from the training course back into the workplace.  My recommendation was to use Coaching as a way of encouraging people to apply their learning from the training course and to incorporate it into their daily work.  It’s referred to as embedded learning.  So when all their Project Managers come back with their shiny new PMP qualifications, they employ a coach to work in the project management office.  They help the newly qualified PM’s deliver their new found training to the benefit of the organisation and ensure a better return on the training costs investment and get the projects delivered!

When you have to make a big decision, you seek as much reference as possible so you make an educated decision.  Organisations and Individuals are not good at seeing their own blind spots.  Calling in an experienced coach is a simple investment that can yield significant and unexpected dividends that in practice, pays for itself many times over.

Who exactly employs a coach – Winners do!!

Step out of your comfort zone!

Step out of your comfort zone!

Brian Skerry took this incredible photograph for National Geographic a couple of years back – Talk about stepping out of your comfort zone!!

I do a lot of work with Companies and individuals who are in transition – they are either working towards a strategic goal or a personally transitioning to a new state. As the title of this piece implies, they have a challenge getting over the edge.

Here are some thoughts to help you muster your courage for getting over the edge – you can do it!


As a young officer in the British Army, I was fortunate enough to be processed through an institution that thrived on blood, sweat and acronyms. One that has stayed with me is CAL. When faced with a decision, – You can Change it, Accept it or Leave it (CAL).

If you choose to Change it, then do you very best to change it, otherwise you will always wonder if you could have changed it. If you cannot change it, then try to accept it and I mean really try to accept it – don’t hold any underlying grudges. If you can’t change it or accept it, you last option is to leave.

I worked for a large corporate a few years ago and every time somebody decided to exit from the local office, the Country manager didn’t replace them, he simply distributed the work amongst the rest of the team. I tried several times to change this by suggesting we should employ additional people because the rest of the team were overburdened (Change), but to no avail. I tried to accept it and to work with it but could not perform my role to my satisfaction (Accept) – so after much consideration I left the job (Leave).

Put the glass down

A friend of mine lectures at the local university and I have seen her do this a couple of times with great effect! She fills a glass of water from a bottle on her table picks it up and turns to the student audience. They all expect to be asked the classic “Is my glass half empty or half full” question. Instead, she asks, “How heavy is this glass of water I am holding?” She gets a variety of answers and when she is ready, she explains, “From my perspective the weight doesn’t matter, it all depends on how long I have to hold it for. If it’s a minute or two – no problems. If it’s an hour or two then my muscles will ache a little. If it’s all day, my hand will cramp and my arm may well become numb and spasm- causing me to drop the glass. In each case, the weight of the glass is the same, but the longer I hold it, the heavier the glass feels to me.”

She then comes to the point which is that your stresses and worries in life are like the glass of water. If you think about them a little, nothing happens. Think about them longer and you will ache a bit. Think about them all the time and you become numb and paralyzed, incapable of doing anything else until you drop them. Her point is to emphasise the importance of letting go of your stresses and learning to put your burdens down. If you still feel the weight of yesterday’s stress, it is time to put the glass down.

Do Nothing

As with all cases, there is always the option to do nothing. I really don’t recommend this one! Simple….If you don’t move, you will always find yourself in the place. If you don’t change, don’t be surprised to see your competition leaving you behind.

Zig Ziglar said. “If you aim at nothing you will hit it every time.”

Get a Coach

Christopher Logue wrote a poem often attributed to Apollinaire titled, “Come to the Edge”……..

[su_note note_color=”#e2e2e2″ radius=”0″]Come to the edge.

We might fall.

Come to the edge. It’s too high!


And they came,

and he pushed,

and they flew.

©Christopher Logue[/su_note]

“and he pushed”. Have you ever watched young birds learning to fly? The parents move further away from the nest to encourage the chicks out of the nest to feed. The incentive is food and the parents provide a support network encouraging the fledglings. The birds will eventually fall to the ground and learn that using their wings reduces the impact. The parents will “coach” their offspring to find suitable cover and will continue to feed the fledgling for some time after they have learned to fly. Whilst you are not learning to fly, a coach can provide great support, will help you to identify the way forwards appropriate for you and most importantly, they will hopefully push you.

I leave you with two great quotes that have helped me over the years;

“In any given moment we have two options: To step forwards into growth or to step back into safety” – Abraham Maslow


“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new” – Socrates.

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Work to live, NOT live to work!

Work to live, NOT live to work!

Last week I read an article by an Australian palliative care nurse, Bronnie Ware, who said that many of her patients had indicated their regret at spending so much of their time on the treadmill of a work existence.

Which begs the question, “Do I live to work, or do I work to live?

Think about it, in today’s working society we are expected to be available twenty-four hours a day! Our customers demand we respond to their e-mails and be on call all the time and our bosses expect us to react to any message as soon as they issue it. I recently worked on a project where the manager only slept four hours a night and would WhatsApp me at 06:00 hrs in the morning with a list of things he wanted done when I got in. Needless to say, I moved on!

I know that we all feel the pressure to meet deadlines and we all want to deliver the best service that we can, but deadlines should be realistic and not arbitrarily imposed by someone who doesn’t fully understand the effort needed. How often have you heard of people working all weekend to get a proposal out? Why? If it’s a genuine mistake then we can all pitch in and help out, but if somebody forgot to tell your team until Thursday ….? One of my old Sergeant Majors’ often quoted, “Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine, Sir!”

Life integration

These days, I don’t hold with the work life balance concept – I actually believe in work life integration. You only have twenty four hours a day – during which you have to balance a number of things that need to be done and things you want to do as well as sleep. So, you need to make choices about what you should and will do, don’t let somebody else decide for you. If you have dinner with friends or dinner with an important company client – You make the call – not the boss. It’s your life and you need to manage your own accountability and your own expectations.

Pic 2 By KVDP, Shokunin, Aungkarns (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Most managers I coach will allow their team members to take a couple of hours at lunch time to go to the bank or to get some shopping as long as they don’t abuse it. They all support self-development and encourage family time. Help them to help you by sharing your integrated calendar with them – have only one calendar.

Make it clear to your boss so there are no disputes about what you have planned in your life. Work with the premise that there is one you, one life, one calendar.


Another great trick I learned is to compartmentalise. Often we set about a task and we don’t quite finish it. The presentation that you just keep having to revisit and polish, just a little bit more. DON’T! Set yourself an hour or two hours and focus on just that job. Get it done and then put it down. You are done, move on! If you are genuinely not done, then you have to reschedule some time but that comes at a cost. Seriously, if you choose to be present and to really focus on the task you have set yourself, you will achieve it and any amount of subsequent polishing won’t make much difference.

Burnout is not good

In my role as a business management coach, I have worked with managers who think it is part of their job to make people work longer hours or over weekends without considering any extra remuneration or time off in lieu for the workers, because they believe this benefits the company.

As a young software engineer working in the banking industry during the dot-com years, I often heard tales of Silicon Valley software engineers burning out and in the military, they call it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Surely in a world where so many people are available to work, the occurrence of burnout or stress related disorders should be decreasing. Managers are under pressure to reduce costs but that doesn’t mean people should have to work longer hours for the same pay – we need to educate people to work smarter and more efficiently rather than longer.

Be Assertive

So next time you are asked to perform additional work, look at your current workload and your calendar and if there is not enough time, be assertive with your boss and ask, “If you want me to do this, then when do you want me to do these other tasks or who shall I pass them onto?”

We all have lives outside of the work environment and we have families and friends who also need our love and attention. Don’t make the mistake of thinking your job is the only important thing in your life. Don’t regret spending so much time on your work treadmill that you ignore your other life influences.

In our society, most of us need to work to earn money, but, “Work to live, not to labour on the treadmill of work all your time.”

If you are stressed and need to find some time in your busy life – get in touch. I can definitely help you.

Mike Jackson is a recognised Business Management, Project Management Coach and Motivational Speaker with an active practice in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia – you can contact him on +973 36784782.

The Article 50 Conundrum

The Article 50 Conundrum

Following the UK’s referendum resulting in an overall majority to leave the EU, it occurs to me that there is an opportunity here for our elected politicians and the supporting law making administration to drag this whole thing out whilst they line their pockets with our hard earned taxes. Already I am hearing legal advisors saying it will take at least two or three years to get to the point where they actually can trigger article 50. Someone could argue that they are simply guaranteeing their roles for the next couple of years.

That said, my point is that we, as the majority stakeholders, need to tell our administrators that they need to stop bickering and posturing about which department is more important and get on with the job at hand!

It’s a Change Programme!

Firstly, we need to recognise that this is a large Change Programme – which clearly it is! This can then be broken down into more manageable sub-programmes, possibly aligned with the forty-six various government departments. Essentially, each sub-programme will comprise a number of projects meaning we will end up with several hundred projects.

As a seasoned Project and Change manager, I will be amongst the first to advocate the production of a plan and recommend the need to conduct a comprehensive stakeholder analysis in order to best understand the requirements and to determine the prioritisation factors that will need to be applied.

The major problem is the unknown

For the past forty years our government administration has adopted various Brussels imposed statutes and decisions that have been woven into the fabric of our countries legislation. So any exit will mean that we have to re-write our legislation to replicate the existing legislation whilst directing it to the appropriate UK legislative department. The alternative is to completely re-write the legislation – and perhaps that’s some very attractive job security that the politicians and administrators are looking at? In addition, some departments will need to create new and additional legislation in order to deal with the European body as a separate entity – which raises the question, “Is the management in place to sustain this change?”

I propose that this need not preclude us from getting on with the job of addressing the Article 50 requirements. Standard project management practice is to adopt a progressive elaboration approach to the development of the project management plan and to apply progressive elaboration when requirements are initially unclear.

Progressive elaboration is the practice of continuously improving and detailing a plan as more detailed information becomes available. This in turn allows the project management team to better define the scope of work and to manage any emerging requirements as they arise. As the project evolves, which it most certainly will, this enables more accurate estimating that will allow better planning and tracking of related tasks.

Repeatable processes and lessons learned

Another recommended project management technique is to identify repeatable processes and seek to learn from them. A significant element of any project is the lessons learned outputs. These carried forwards to subsequent projects provide essential learning and can help project managers approach their new projects in an entirely different but more efficient way. The question here must be, “Will our politicians know this golden rule of Project Management? And, “Will it take them at least three years to work it out?”


I genuinely believe that this is a great opportunity for us to create some new legislation that will take us forwards into the twenty first century unencumbered. To do that, we the British majority who voted for this change, must be willing to provide support and direction to our elected representatives – we are their stakeholders, so let’s tell them what we want!

What do I want? – I would like to see much less rhetoric, attention seeking and bluster and a more collective action to get on with the job at hand.

We are British… we can do this!

Until I shouted, “pull”

Until I shouted, “pull”

Until I shouted, “Pull!”

I remember it as if it was yesterday…

It was a freezing cold January morning, the ground was crisp underfoot with a white hoar frost and I remember thinking what a good job that I had my thick socks and hiking boots on so at least my feet would stay dry and warm. The coach came over to me introduced himself and we talked for a few minutes about safety and the safety equipment that we had to wear – glasses and ear protection, but NOT gloves even though it was freezing cold!

After that, he took the gun out of the gun-slip case and held it open so I could see there was nothing in the chambers and I could see down the two barrels to the ground – it was clear (empty) and I could feel the excitement gathering in my chest. He handed the gun over to me and asked me to check it was safe and then to close it and mount it pointing down the range. He then checked and adjusted my stance and grip and told me to pull the stock tighter into my shoulder.

We then practiced swinging the gun and following his finger and getting my stance and site picture correct whilst keeping control of the gun, after which he demonstrated the target and we practiced a couple of dry “shoots” using inert cartridges where I shouted “pull” and then tracked onto the target, swung through the target and squeezing the trigger.

Once the coach was happy with my performance, he placed a “live” cartridge into the gun, checked the barrel selector and told me I was good to go.

I closed the gun with a firm “Click” and made sure my finger was resting above the trigger on the woodwork as I had been instructed. I went through the whole stance setup as I had been taught and controlled my breathing although I was full of anticipation …

I remember how focused I was and how quiet it seemed around me until I shouted, “pull”.

In a couple of seconds, my coach quickly visually checked me and pushed the remote control button … the automatic clay trap action whirred and tinged and the spring arm clattered and suddenly an orange clay target leapt out of the trap and began quartering away from me. I jerked the gun onto the target, followed it for a split second and pulled the trigger. The gun “Boomed”, and punched back into my shoulder, smoke belched from the end of the barrel and I popped my head up to see the orange disc still moving away from me – I had missed!

My coach said, “No problems, you fired too early and missed behind – remember to push through the target and then fire, let’s try it again”.

I missed the second behind and chipped the trailing edge of the third, but the fourth target … I smoked it!!

After twelve shots I was emotionally drained – I had experienced fear of the unknown, trepidation, more fear handling a “live gun”, surprise at the noise and recoil, coughed at the smoke, disappointment at missing, elation and pride at hitting the targets and in the end, the satisfaction at having learned something new that hearkened back to the primordial hunting instincts we all have.  All of that along with a deep respect for the coach who had taken me on such an emotional roller coaster in just under an hour, safely and without any fuss.  He really enjoyed seeing people learn a new skill and connecting with their inner emotions and fears.  Because guns are dangerous, he had to take some additional precautions but that didn’t stop him from enjoying it and helping me to enjoy it too.

That’s why I became a coach

That’s why I became a coach and is why I am still a coach today. I don’t coach shotgun anymore – no call for it in Bahrain (more’s the pity), but I coach Business executives and particularly Project Management in corporations.

Not very dangerous I hear you say, but you would be surprised at how many companies have suffered catastrophic loss and significant setbacks due to projects not being delivered or not delivering the planned benefits properly into the organisation.

Projects are the way that organisations evolve and change their DNA and I coach the executive management and I coach the project managers to encourage properly thought out processes and procedures coupled with the application of proven techniques and the benefit of my thirty odd years of experience in delivering significant IT change.

These days, we are taught from an early age that anything is possible and that you must use a positive mind to get what you want. I agree this helps but to see real lasting change that moves you and motivates you to take action that changes your life – you need a coach!

You are right, we can all do it – but are you really going to give a twenty something graduate a shotgun and a box of cartridges and say off you go and expect some kind of accident not to happen?