Personal and business growth starts with the way you think

20/10/2015

Our mind is constantly in dialogue with itself about what it is observing in the outside world. These internal discussions stimulate a whole raft of feelings and emotions some positive and others negative. As part of our conditioning for success and growth, it is vital that we listen very carefully to what we are saying to ourselves as this commentary can have a powerful effect on the shaping of our life and the business we run.

The debates can influence our outlook, what we want and what we believe – the perceptions that result from what we are thinking ultimately builds the framework for how we perceive the world – for many of us this perception is reality. Used correctly we can use mind discussions to give us exactly what we want, it will catalyse your route to success. However, if used the wrong way our dreams and aspirations can be seriously sabotaged by negative self talk. Think on!

Watch your thoughts; they become words.

Watch your words; they become actions.

Watch your actions; they become habits.

Watch your habits; they become character.

Watch your character; it becomes your destiny

Sustained periods of failure can lead to a decay of our internal motivation, incidents or experiences that resulted in humiliation, anger, disappointment, fear, hurt or injury can trigger a whole series of inner discussions that result in negativity. Moving into the winning zone means that you must be acutely aware of the words and thoughts that swirl around in your mind – you can quickly rewire your thought patterns by simply ignoring any negative self talk such as “I will never achieve”, “I just cant do it”. You must replace these with more positive words.

Some simple and easy steps can be embedded within your daily routine to ensure you eliminate the negative self talk that all too often stunts our personal (and ultimately, business) growth and hinders the progression to achieving our goals:

  1. Take time every morning to clear the mind of negative experiences that the day before held. Telling yourself that today will be better gets us off to a good start.
  2. Be constantly and consciously aware of what you are saying to yourself
  3. Stop judging what you see as being right or wrong, just accept it for what it is – by doing this you use far less emotional energy.
  4. Eliminate phrases such as I can’t – replace them with I can or I will

Internal self talk has a great influence on the outcome of your success, make it a habit to keep using positive phrases of thought – over time you will become more positive and the peaks and trough in your moods will flatten out – you will become energised by positive thoughts and you will attract circumstances and situations that match your frame of thought.

Personal and business growth starts with the way you think.


John Leach founded business coaching and training company Winning Pitch ten years ago this month. View more articles like this, and sign up for future events or tools & techniques here >>>

Reinvention – a crucial mindset for getting out of a rut

10/08/2015

You must accept that you have far greater control over your life than you realise – who you are, what you want and what think. Your mental outlook on life, the dreams for your business, as well as your character, and personality remain under your own leadership and guidance.

When things don’t go to plan or you feel that you are stalling in your business, career or personal life, then its time for doing some different. Successful people recognise the need for constant change. When the results don’t come through a period of reinvention is invariably needed because what you are doing is not working. We can’t excel if we are not aligned to what we want out of life. If you are fed up with your career, your business is not growing or not getting the new job or promotion after constantly trying then you must change. Successful people that go the extra mile understand the need to adapt.

The process of reinvention means that you need to critically appraise the status quo – look at your business, life or career from different angles.

Where is the stale you? Why are things not working or going to plan? Are you feeling fulfilled and happy with what you have and what you are achieving? Ask others for feedback on you and your performance. Open up your surroundings. Has the passion gone for what you do?

Where do you want the new you to be? – Get back to reviewing your goals, are they clear and precise or are they lacking definition and clarity. Everything flows from ‘intention’ it’s what all visions are built upon. Without intent you will just bounce about feeling frustrated and fed up with your lot.

List the key transition points? Define what specific things need to change. Draw up an action list. Detail the new partnerships and relationships that are needed to move things. Draw up the new tactics and work out the vital things that will deliver a different result.

Have you tried experiments? – try to experiment with different ideas and projects, kick the ones into touch that don’t feel right. Experimenting is a very powerful personal development tool. No great discovery was ever made without work in the laboratory – trial and error.

Act out the changes – make a conscious effort to implement the changes that you need to make the transition to what you want to become. Without action nothing will happen.

Albert Einstein’s famous quote on insanity is one we should keep close to our heart when looking to reinvent and do something different –

“insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”


Control the things you can

22/07/2015

The extent to which we can grow our business can largely be guided by our thoughts, actions and behaviours. However, there are external factors often at play that we can’t control, many of which could impact on us progressing to what we want. All too often we end up spending time worrying about issues that with all the will in the world you cannot have any direct impact on making them go your way. These could range from global economic factors, through to political and social issues, down as far as the behaviour and actions of other people.

Spending time worrying about the big things we can’t control can result in energy being absorbed in non value added thought. Here is a great way to think about control:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference

Reinhold Niebuhr

Success comes from managing the things we can control. Embracing this principle will get you motivated to moving forward on those pressing issues that need sorting out. Focusing on factors outside your sphere of influence could create stress and reduce the effectiveness of your actions. Your mental toughness will become eroded by the enormity of the task associated with thinking about the things you can’t change. This habit becomes emotionally draining and will impact on your efficiency and effectiveness. Accept it!

Focus on the 10 things you can control:

  1. Attitude – believe you can, growth starts with believing you can
  2. Learning and knowledge – you must learn and acquire knowledge if you want success
  3. Friends – who you spend time with and who you share ideas with
  4. Motivation – the invisible force that comes from within
  5. Time – how you spend your time – who with and on what
  6. Capabilities and offer – what you are providing to others and how effectively you deliver it
  7. Financial matters – what you spend and your means
  8. Treat and deal with people – always with respect, honesty and integrity
  9. Deal with the environment – being aware of sustainability issues and how you treat your surroundings
  10. Reputation – what you stand for and your personal effectiveness

Successful business people tend to have a strong belief in their ability to take control of the circumstances, issues and factors that will give them their desired outcome, in particular they will:

  • Actively take part in initiatives that improve their current situation
  • Have a strong internal control orientation, this is hungry for goal achievement
  • Actively pursue a policy of self development
  • Inquire and actively commit to understanding why things turned out the way they did
  • Embrace learning to ensure positive outcomes in the future
  • Ignore people who drain their energy

When we master the art of controlling the controllable, additional energy will be made available for doing, consequently you will gain a better balance between activity and thinking. Success is well within your control!


Stop talking and start doing

10/07/2015

Allocating time to thinking and doing, in the right proportions, will significantly increase your chances of achieving business and personal growth. However, you must give due consideration to the quality of your thoughts as crisp and clear thinking will drive your plans in the right direction. Spending time thinking how to achieve your goals in stressful conditions creates chaotic thought patterns. This frame of mind adds no value and delivers minimal contribution to business success. You must make provision for Quality Thinking Time (QTT) – space to ponder without interference or distraction. A hectic life style resulting from trying to balance work, family, relationships and career can make QTT a challenging task.

Remember, it is vital for you to avoid over thinking situations, circumstances and options as this will lead to inertia. It will stop you from taking action. A maximum of 20% of your time should be allocated to gaining clarity of thought. The remaining 80% should then be devoted to doing. Individuals that fail to realise their goals can be sometimes be guilty of spending too much time thinking about what they are going to do and never getting on with it. Avoid pontificating about your desires and needs, be sure to get on with it when you have decided just exactly what it is you are going to do. Positive progress is only made when doing follows thinking, Dreams and visions will remain at home in the mind if you don’t push ourselves towards implementation. Failure to move on in business is often down to not grasping the nettle, however when we do the right things a personal momentum builds which manifests into positive outcomes. Think less, do more!

Thoughts + Doing = Results

The difference between success and failure is often down to whether action has been taken or not. The final thoughts are from Christopher Columbus:-

“By prevailing over all obstacles and distractions, one may unfailingly arrive at his or her chosen destination”


Ultimate competitive advantage – Self Improvement for entrepreneurs

23/06/2015

Personal development is the ultimate source of competitive advantage. When you stop learning you run the risk of your business becoming stagnant. Growing a business is one continuous learning journey and every new experience presents itself as an opportunity to acquire more knowledge. Entrepreneurial high achievers I have worked with are lifetime learners combining both formal and informal means of absorbing new information. What is your strategy for learning? Do you have a personal development plan? Are you open to the advice and guidance of the wisdom of others?

The growth of a business takes many twists and turns and growth comes in chapters, each one presenting its own challenges – you need to be prepared. 

Openly speak to mentors, your peer group and trusted colleagues and ask them how they think you can improve. What could you do better? Rate yourself out of 10 in each of these areas:

  1. I have clear business and personal goals, they are pursued with a passion

  2. I am resilient and deal effectively with setbacks when they arise

  3. I take ownership for the decisions I make but I listen carefully to the views of people I trust

  4. I am motivated and just get on with it – success is down to me

  5. I am a strong and effective leader (myself and others)

  6. I work well with others and take a collaborative approach to business

  7.  I am innovative and take a creative approach to business

  8. I am a respected individual within my market

  9. I am an effective connector and communicator

  10. I always aim to excel at what I do

By answering these questions honestly you start to build a picture of where your self-development needs to focus. Drill down into the specifics of each of your answer and define very clearly what things you are going to change. Identify the resources that you will need to move you on. Explore courses, new reading material, self-study or one to one coaching to address the shortfalls. Everyone has a preferred learning style, find one that suits you. However there is lots of wisdom in the Confucius philosophy of:

  • I hear and I forget
  • I see and I remember
  • I do and I understand

The minute you think you know it all – complacency sets in and you could quite well be entering into dangerous territory.

You will not advance or achieve your business goals if you don’t commit to constantly learning.


Ambition and hard work – the foundations of success

02/06/2015

Putting in the minimum amount of effort to a task to achieve a satisfactory result is a behaviour associated with people that have little or no ambition. Successful individuals take nothing for granted. They realise that through hard work and loyal commitment to their goals they may from time to time have to put in extra hours or do things that may feel punishing to either their mind or body – quite often both. The reality is that very few people are willing to push themselves physically and emotionally to over deliver. This maybe work a weekend to complete an important project, staying late at the office to help colleagues complete a critical bid or a teacher spending more with a pupil struggling to grasp a learning point. Going the extra mile to please others is an extremely admiral behaviour, you become respected by your peer group and the opportunities for personal progression is enhanced because others become engaged by your level of commitment.

You will place yourself well ahead of the competition when you do more than what was expected of you. It is also extremely rewarding both professionally and personally. The mindset of going the extra mile helps when:

  • You don’t want to let someone down
  • You want to influence a customer or stakeholder
  • You have an ambition to achieve
  • Someone needs your help
  • You see an opportunity others have missed
  • Potential has not been realised

Think deeply about what you want to achieve and accept that by conditioning your mind to embrace the philosophy of doing more you will become evermore successful purely by outperforming others. This mental programming becomes an integral part of your behaviour and winning becomes a habit.

Working long hours does not always mean you are working smart, however if you are setting up a business and trying to get it moving in the right direction – there is often no short cuts – a long shift is vital. Ambition comes in two forms…stated and genuine. Many individuals talk about what they are going to do, I am inspired by those who talk about what they have done.

Growing a business requires genuine gritty hard graft, courage and luck. Its surprising how luckier you become when you put in more hours.


The power of escape time – the key to better decision-making

18/05/2015

Growing a business involves continuously making decisions about staff, customers, finance, suppliers, recruitment…the list is never ending. In the early days of growth, the founders have to be all things to the business; the necessity to think quickly and act fast becomes a hard-wired behavior, one that is very hard to shake off.

Start up businesses are characterised by their founders putting in long shifts – working on the tools during the day and ensuring the admin and paperwork is in order at night. Very little time to think about the strategic growth and direction, the ‘doing’ becomes an all-encompassing characteristic of being self employed. Working ‘in the business’ rather than ‘on the business’ becomes the norm. Here lies the dilemma for the ambitious individual who wants to take their business to the next level – how do I find time to think?

My experience shows that those entrepreneurs who make time to get rid of the interference of the day to day and tune into what really matters are the ones who make better decisions and ultimately build better businesses. The challenge is not feeling guilty about taking time to:

  • Step back and think things through
  • Consult with a mentor or adviser to work through a particular challenge
  • Recharge the brains battery
  • Operate at arms length from the business for a short while (energy management)

More often than not entrepreneurs are guilt-ridden if they take any time to pause for thought. That compelling feeling to be first in and last out of the office leaves a massive void in the need for strategic clarity. Neither time nor energy management benefit from such an approach to growing a business. The years of needing to be hands on creates the illusion of being productive and the macho image of the 24/7 life makes us feel good – this firefighting approach to the daily grind often delivers no strategic added value whatsoever.

As your company gets bigger so does the complexity of the decision-making. You cant run a growing business with the exact same mindset of that of a start up. Whilst the need to be innovative and nimble should never leave the culture of a business, escape time becomes the critical success factor for high quality decision-making. A winning business needs the leaders to get the right mix of thinking and doing. Escape time (whatever that means to you) becomes such an important part of the entrepreneur’s personal growth. Without it you become a busy fool – don’t be surprised if you can’t see the wood for the trees. Breakthroughs and inspired new ideas only come during periods of calm, and calm only happens during times of escape.

winning-pitch.co.uk


Entrepreneurial mindset in changing environments

19/02/2015

The journey to reaching your vision will involve a number of stages or interim goals – the key milestones that will be your targets along the way, providing a route to your dream. Each stage will represent a progression either personally or professionally – or both, depending on your vision. As your goals move on, so will the circumstances you find yourself in and the challenges you’ll face. It’s likely that decisions you have to make will become more demanding and the risks more acute. To handle this changing environment, you’ll need to progress personally, shifting your mindset to a new level at each stage.

The critical steps in growing a business or embarking on a challenging new project will place pressure on the way you think – it will push you into new areas and possibly further than you have gone before. It’s likely to stretch your abilities to the limit. So it’s important to adapt your way of thinking to be able to cope with the new risks and challenges each new situation brings. Otherwise you will find yourself frozen like a rabbit in the headlights, unable to make the necessary decisions to take you forward.

Successful entrepreneurs, for example, will tell you that growing their companies tested their capabilities to the breaking point. How comfortable will you feel if you need to give a personal guarantee to secure bank funding, or learn new skills to support the growth of your business or personal project?

To prepare yourself for the climb ahead, it pays to work out the different challenges you’ll face as you move from achieving one goal to embarking onto the next, so that you can be mentally ready to deal with them. Viewing each goal as a step towards your vision will help you to define the mindset that you need to develop to negotiate each stage successfully, allowing you to move forward with focus and clarity of thought.


Spinouts – Scaling Up

26/01/2015

This blog was written for Spinouts UK Quarterly Journal 2015. You can join their distribution list by emailing research@ycf.co.uk

Most spinout companies from universities have the ambition to be companies of scale. If they are to win significant investment at an early stage, they will need to demonstrate that they have a ‘road map’ to enable them to establish a strong position in their chosen market.

However, this ‘road map’ passes through different stages, each of which places different demands on the company founders. Initially, the spinout founders will be immensely relieved to have completed the spinout process itself, with the knotty issues of IP ownership, and the relationship of the academic founders with the university. The next stage is generally one of spending (on prototypes, clinical trials, and other proofs of technology) rather than selling. As a very broad generalisation, academics in spinout companies are more comfortable with the ongoing research and development (which is in many ways similar to their academic work) than in market analysis, recruitment and team building, or the management of premises, financial records, and all the other administrative tasks which are essential to get a startup company on its feet.

The next stage is growth. For all young companies, whether spinouts or not, there are natural barriers to growth. Winning Pitch identifies the most important of these as the emotional cost and the financial cost.

The emotional cost to the individuals involved is usually manifested in self imposed pressure, and in the uncertainty that demands resilience and mental toughness to keep going when the inevitable road blocks are presented.

A scale up company is defined as one that grows its employee or turnover at a rate of 20 per cent per annum over a three-year period, and the financial costs of doing this can rack up very quickly – the cost of recruiting new talent, and of raising finance, professional fees, new premises, IT infrastructure and administrative costs can shoot through the roof. Costs must be controlled and the execution of a growth plan needs to be effectively choreographed – clear roles need to be defined, people need to be accountable for delivering on their tasks. Very rarely can growth be achieved without impacting on profitability.

This is why the majority of the 500,000 of last year’s new startups will never go on to employ one person never mind 10, and also why over 99% of UK firms employ fewer than 50 people. Very often it’s the financial cost of growth that holds individuals back.

What does this mean for academics spinning out a new company from a university?

The main point to recognise is that no one entrepreneur can build a business alone – it takes a team, combining the different skills needed to grow the business. The second point to recognise is that as the team grows, different leadership challenges emerge as the culture of the business evolves. At Winning Pitch we refer to the ‘growth staircase’, with different challenges as the number of staff increases. When the company reaches 7-12 people, the entrepreneur has become an ‘entrepreneurial social worker’. At 25 or more people, the business culture becomes ‘the team vs. the mob’. With 50 or more staff, the business needs to evolve towards a corporate culture, where processes need to be standardised and continually improved, with less scope for individual innovation. Individuals who can take a company through all these stages are rare indeed, and academic entrepreneurs do well to realise that at some stage in the company’s development, the business will be best served if the reins are handed over to others with practical experience of running a large and growing company.


The importance of mindset change in personal and business growth

07/01/2015

The start of the year brings for many of us the desire to set new goals and ambitions, make resolutions and take on new challenges. Going to the gym, losing weight, less alcohol and for many a clear intention to accelerate our careers and do better. It is common for entrepreneurs to set a new vision and aim higher and achieve bigger and better things for their business.

What happens in most cases, whether it’s a personal or business goal, the fizz and excitement tends to die away and by the end of February, it’s back to business as usual – wading through the treacle of another year! Despondency sets in and many just accept their lot. Why does this happen? I believe that it’s down to the failure of hard wiring and embracing a mindset change. Change is one of the hardest things to accomplish and the reality is personal, lifestyle and business change does not happen if you can’t ‘proactively change your mental state’ period.

Change is both painful and challenging. A study in the US showed just how challenging establishing new habits can be, even in life or death situations. Here’s an extreme example – a study of patients who had undergone coronary heart surgery concluded that only one in nine on average adopted healthier day to day lifestyles following their medical treatment. The remainder saw the benefit of healthier living habits but they did not follow through to make it happen.

Change in mindset requires us to create new mental maps and clearly visualise just what a better future looks like. This clarity of expectation emerges only when obsessive focus is brought to new things we want to achieve, this concentrated thinking starts to shape reality. Change in my experience needs three things to happen – find and define the trigger – why do you need to change? Focus on the Things That Matter (TTM), then most important of all take small nudges towards your new destination. Execution is vital.

To support this process you must regularly ‘check in’ with yourself to ensure that you are awake and not dreaming. Only in a state of self-awareness can you decide whether you are moving forward or living in a daylight trance.