Syphon stress into success

Most days, we will all feel an element of stress in our lives so consider asking yourself this question:

“How would I feel if I could turn that stress into success?”

In this article we are going to explore what stress is, discover what we mean by optimal stress levels according to the Yerkes Dodson Law and discover ways to change how we harness stress so we can benefit both our performance and our lives. Before we get into this article – I want to reach out to you as one human to another. If you are feeling stressed or are concerned about your wellbeing, please feel free to send us a message, we would love to speak to you and hear your story. Whilst we are not counsellors or medical professionals, sometimes a chat and a virtual brew shared can go a long way. That said, whilst we love speaking to people and helping where we can,  please consider speaking to your Doctor or medical professional if you have concerns about your wellbeing as they will likely be in the best position to help. If you do just fancy a chat, you can reach us on Social Media @DevelopTheEdge or via email at – we aim to reply as quickly as we can but between coaching, leading and training – sometimes it can take us a while. If you are struggling, please reach out to your Doctor or local mental health charity/service to see what support is available to you. If you are from the UK, you can reach Samaritans for free, 24/7, 365 days a year on: 161 123.

Our DM’s are open and a brew is on standby if you need us. That said, let’s crack on with this article and see how utilising our optimal stress level can see us boosting performance.


What is stress?

According to the NHS website:

“Stress is the body’s reaction to feeling threatened or under pressure… Experiencing a lot of stress over a long period of time can also lead to a feeling of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion, often called burnout.”

From this, we can understand that anytime we feel under pressure, in danger or threatened we can experience an element of stress. This feeling can have negative repercussions to both our physical and mental health…so how can we make this beneficial? Time to make this article practical with an exercise. Consider taking some time to rank the situations below from 1-5, with 1 being ‘no stress at all’, 3 being ‘some stress’ and 5 being ‘I can’t be anymore stressed’ – afterwards, we can reflect on our thoughts and take away a few key points:

  • You have a project due in 3 months time and the only task you have yet to complete is to check punctuation.
  • You receive a phone call that a loved one is in danger.
  • Your probation review is coming up at work and you aren’t sure how it’s going to go.
  • You are alone and a large group of loud people are making their way towards you.
  • You have an exam tomorrow.
  • You are late for an appointment and stuck in traffic.
  • You have taken on too much at work.
  • You need to leave the house to go shopping.
  • You have a lot to do but if you keep to your plan, you know you can do it.
  • You’re thirsty and need to go to the kitchen to get a drink.

What do you think the point of this exercise was?

Hopefully you found it a valuable one that you can share with others as part of a workshop or a way to build empathy/self awareness in your teams.

Our point? Well, considering that this article is about harnessing stress, there were 2 points of this exercise:

  1. Realise that everyone feels stress differently – something you’ve rated as a 5, could be a 1 to someone else.
  2. Not all stress is created equal – in the above list we may have felt lower and higher levels of stress. The level of stress we operate in determines how effective we are. Your reactions to the above stressors will have impacted how well you would have dealt with the situation.

Think about how each one will have made you feel, think and act. How would that have impacted your performance?  How could we make ourselves more effective in those moments?

This leads us into the next part of our article – the Yerkes Dodson Law.

Your Optimal Stress Level – The Yerkes Dodson Law

The Yerkes Dodson law states that a person’s performance actually increases when an they are within a state of optimal stress arousal. We typically acknowledge stress as being a negative experience, so is it actually possible to harness a level of stress for our benefit? According to this, Yes. We need to be mindful though that this level of positive stress can become negative if the arousal level is too low or too high, decreasing productivity, engagement and memory. This indicates that there is a sweet spot for stress, a place where we can put ourselves for great results whilst avoiding the negative impacts of stress.

Below is the Yerkes Dodson diagram split into three sections:

  1. Low state of arousal where attention and interest are low (slate grey).
  2. Optimal arousal and performance (yellow), where it is best to operate and finally
  3. High arousal (dark blue) where stress impacts our performance due to levels of anxiety and burnout.

To put this into context, let’s ask ourselves these 2 questions:

  • Reflective question 1 – Low arousal – how do you feel about completing a task when there isn’t a stressor attached to it? Where the task doesn’t feel important for you.
  • Reflective question 2 – one such low arousal state from our above list could be: “You have a project due in 3 months time and you only have to check punctuation.” – how motivated are you to complete such a basic task right now in this moment when you have 3 months to do it?

The state of low arousal can be associated with lack of sleep or motivation. When we do not have a sense of purpose or mission, days can become long and tiring. In this state, we are not expecting to perform complex tasks or be in stressful situations. Due to this, we can lack motivation and attention to detail, potentially leading to poor performance, poor quality and a poor learning experience. We also know from Locke and Lathams research in goal setting theory that if a goal is too easy, we lack motivation to complete it. Do you think this could this be linked directly to the Yerkes Dodson Law? Let us know your thoughts – join the conversation on Social Media with #EdgeTalk

If you want to set challenging goals, consider checking out our article on the SMARTER model here which includes guides and templates to aid your journey to success.

To help us add more context to this theory, consider engaging with your experiences and answering the below 2 questions.

  • Reflective question 3 – what situations have you been in where a low arousal state has impacted your performance?
  • Reflective question 4 – optimal arousal – how do you feel when you have a challenging situation ahead but you are confident that you can achieve it? Consider a specific example if you have one.

The next part of the stress curve is the state of optimal arousal and it is where there is a balanced amount of stress, increasing motivation to complete the task at hand. Locke and Latham also discuss this in goal setting theory as the best place to set goals – something challenging but not too easy and not impossible, something that will stretch us if we work hard enough is typically something people find motivating. If you want to be more successful, this optimal arousal level is where you need to operate.

  • Reflective question 5 – what situation have you been in where you achieved a goal through optimal arousal?
  • Reflective question 6 – what was different for you here?
  • Reflective question 7 – How do you feel when you have too much on and that you know the task ahead is impossible?

The third state, high arousal is where the stress level is over the optimal amount of stress and can be associated with anxiety, being tense, having low levels of concentration and focus. This can cause performance levels to decrease and lead to potentially dangerous impacts to your mental and physical health. We need to avoid this level of stress.

  • Reflective question 8 – what situation have you been in where you have been impacted by high arousal?
  • Reflective question 9 – how did this impact your performance?

Whist we know that stress changes from person to person, the theory also suggests that the optimal level of stress will vary based on the task at hand. For example, a higher level of arousal may be beneficial for an athlete rather than an office worker completing a daily task such as typing up minutes from a meeting. An athlete may also need to compose themselves in a high stress situation to bring themselves back to an optimal level such as a penalty kick, otherwise the level of stress they are under may impact their performance. England’s efforts at the 2018 world cup saw them focusing on taking their time for penalties and putting as much of the environment in their control as possible in order to focus on the task at hand and not feel rushed. The only stress they intended to feel was the optimal amount to do their best. With this in mind, it’s time we looked at some easy ways to take control and de-stress ourselves.

What causes stress?

Whilst there are many factors that lead to stress, there are a few key factors to consider as Leaders Coaches and Trainers: Skill level, mind-set, task complexity and confidence. In order to harness the power of stress, you need a moderate amount of stress for short periods of time. Extreme or chronic stress are generally unhealthy. This makes it important that we take time to understand our stress levels and identifying the reasons for stress, so we can work towards solutions.

Am I at my optimal level?

Whilst there are tools out there to help us establish our levels of stress such as the PSS-10 stress questionnaire, we may be able to identify our optimal stress level by reflecting on how effective we are in our actions and performance. What might a low stress level look like?

As we discussed earlier, we may seem:

  • Bored
  • Lacking motivation
  • Lacking enthusiasm
  • Low attention to detail
  • Not concerned with quality

How do you feel when you are too stressed?

Typically, we feel elements of:

  • Anxiety or panic
  • Tension in the body
  • Low levels of concentration
  • Inability to focus
  • Racing thoughts
  • Short temper

In contrast to low and high stress arousal, optimal stress may have us feeling:

  • Motivated
  • Engaged
  • Mindful
  • Reflective
  • Challenged
  • Valuable
  • Excited

Scan yourself now, which stress level have you been working at:

  • Today?
  • This week?
  • This month?
  • Last month?

With the levels of stress understood, we can now discover how to get ourselves into the Optimal levels of stress.

Increasing low stress arousal

When we feel bored, unmotivated, drained and disconnected – we don’t feel great in ourselves. In order to feel more motivated, we may need to increase our level of stress in a productive way. With that in mind, here are 3 quick ways to positively increase our stress levels; challenge, align values and understand the importance.

Challenge – simply put, if you are on the low end of the stress spectrum, you are probably not challenging yourself enough. When was the last time you took on a challenge? If you are already working on something, consider upping the level of difficulty associated with it. Could you reduce the amount of time to get tasks completed? Could you look to accomplish the goal in a way that puts you out of your comfort zone?

  • Reflective Question 10 – How can I increase the challenge level of a task I am currently unmotivated to achieve?

Align Values – When we align ourselves to our task, we are more determined to get good results. Let’s take a simple, boring and un-motivating task – taking out the rubbish. If you were a person who values their family, you could align taking out the rubbish with doing what’s right for your family. Maybe you could be setting a good example, maybe you could be ensuring the house is clean and tidy, maybe you are creating a nice and healthy environment for those you care about. If you are a person who values discipline, then consider aligning taking out the rubbish as a task to test that discipline. When we align ourselves to our task, we increase our motivation levels. A great way to tie aligning values and understanding importance within a team is to adopt a Participating Leadership style that you can read about here, that encourages your team to find their own answers, increasing engagement and motivation.

  • Reflective Question 11 – How can we align our values to the task at hand?

Understand Importance – Even if a task we have to do can’t be aligned to our values, it can be beneficial to understand the importance of the task. Consider Simon Sinek’s ‘Start with why’ movement. When people understand the importance of something, they are more likely to get involved. If you are not feeling motivated about a task, have you understood the importance of accomplishing it? If there is no importance to it after a lot of consideration…why is it on your task list?! Here is a quick video we put together on the Golden Circle and how to use it to engage with our goals on a deeper level:

  • Reflective Question 12 – Have I understood the importance of the task? What is the real outcome of it?

Do you have any other tips for going from a low stress state to an optimal stress state? Join the conversation on social media with #EDGETalk

Reducing high stress arousal

The ability to recognize, label and manage stress can be extremely beneficial for being successful in life. To aid the management of stress, there are six easy de-stressing techniques you can utilize; deep breathing, visualisation, music, laughter, problem solving and segmentation. You can also utilize meditation and massage but they will not always be appropriate in work or a training environment.

The first technique, deep breathing uses something called diaphragmatic breathing, which uses you diaphragm muscle to breathe.  Slow and deep breathing can help lower your blood pressure and relax your body. By counting to ten and not allowing yourself to get distracted by other thoughts, you can slow down your thoughts and refocus your mind. It increases the oxygen in your brain,  can induce a calm state and being present helps to reduce anxiety. If you partake in wellbeing sessions with your team, these can form part of the session to help people become more present.

The second is visualisation, which can come in a few forms. First is to visualize the activity that is causing stress, such as facilitating a new session or having a difficult conversation. By visualizing yourself performing well, you can give yourself confidence and reduce stress levels. Athletes such as boxers use this to predict opponents moves in such a way, they can confidently predict the round they will the fight in alongside where they land their winning punch. As polarising a character as he can be, Conor McGregor has successfully predicted how and when he will win fights through visualisation. The other form is to visualize somewhere relaxing or safe in great detail, utilizing all of your senses such as touch, smell, sight, sound and taste to make it as realistic and vivid as possible. As a coach, visualisation techniques have been extremely beneficial in getting my Clients into the right state of mind and forms an integral part of our GURUS model.

The third technique is listening to music. Music has the ability to evoke a plethora of feelings based on what music is being listened to and your pre-disposition to what music you enjoy. When you walk into a gym, often high energy music is playing with a consistent beat. This encourages motivation and focus. Where people want to calm down, they can often listen to classical music and so on. Learning and Development teams have used music at key points of a learning experience as part of state elicitation and anchoring key learning points. What specific song helps you to feel calm? Join the conversation on social media with #EDGETalk

The fourth technique is laughter, as it releases endorphins and can reduce stress and anxiety levels. We know that information travels both ways between the body and the mind, meaning that the brain can impact you physiologically in regards to posture, breathing and so on but in turn, how you hold yourself, breathe and act can impact you mentally as well. You can laugh with friends, family and colleagues but need to be mindful on the types of humour you employ and how this can impact your reputation in the training environment. You can keep humorous images or videos on your desk or phone where possible to watch when stress levels get too high. People also participate in laughing yoga – have you tried this? How did it make you feel?

Fifth is to replace worry with problem solving. Dr Stephen Covey created the circle of concern and the circle of influence in order to help people focus on what they can impact (circle of influence) and ignore or limit the impact of things they cannot control (circle of concern).

By focusing on problem solving you are reducing the amount of worry as you are shifting your focus on being proactive and finding solutions. This will in time, make you more effective and resilient when faced with stressful circumstances. Once you have looked at the circles of concern and influence, you need to be proactive about the areas you can influence, do not waste time waiting for an opportunity, as it may never come. Another consideration is the Eisenhower Matrix, often referred to as the Urgent Important matrix in order to help you prioritise your workload – often having a plan in place is enough to help calm our minds. One key way to feel in control of your problem solving is to practice accountability – we have an article and free 40 page guide here to help you discover and improve your levels of Accountability.

Segmentation is a great approach to your workload, it can help you enter a state of flow and focus – enabling you to get more done. There are a few ways to work with segmentation, you could use something like a Pomodoro timer – press ‘go’ and start your activity, it times you for 25 minutes, an alarm sounds and you rest for 5 minutes. I wasn’t sure at first because it felt wrong leaving tasks unaccomplished but once I got in the swing of it, it was extremely valuable. Have you used the Pomodoro timer or alternative method? What works for you? Join the conversation with #EDGETalk

Other segmentation options are to set your day in tune with your natural circadian rhythm. What time of day are you better at different tasks? Use your rhythm to your benefit and chunk activities that compliment each other together.

Closing thoughts

We all experience an element of stress in our lives, sometimes the stress level is low and we may feel unmotivated, bored and restless. Sometimes the stress level is too high and we feel overwhelmed, anxious and irritable. By understanding our stress levels and how they impact how we feel, we are able to enter an Optimal Stress level that is beneficial for performance.

If you have identified a low stress state in yourself or your team and want to encourage engagement, you can challenge yourself or your team, align values and understand the importance of the tasks at hand. If stress levels are too high, it can be beneficial to reduce stress levels using one or multiple of these methods; deep breathing, visualisation, music, laughter, problem solving and segmentation.

As a bonus, you can research the 7 types of rest which include; Physical, Mental, Sensory, Creative, Emotional, Social and Spiritual. Realising the different types of rest were an absolute game changer for me, all I had considered previously was physical rest. Being able to recognise the type of rest you need can speed up recovery. At the bottom of this article we have created a one pay guide for you alongside a free Reflection guide to help you identify and move towards your Optimal arousal level.

How do you create an optimal level of stress?


If you’ve found this article valuable, consider sharing it and helping people develop their ability to be effective through stress management. If you want to help people manage stress whilst learning something new, our article on THE 5 STAGES OF LEARNING can help people avoid self doubt and limiting beliefs on their journey.

Book in your free, no obligation Coaching Session with us today:

Understanding the unsaid – For Effective Coaching

Ever wanted to read minds? In order to be an effective coach we need to pay attention to the subtle cues all around us – our Coachee will tell us volumes about themselves without opening their mouth. So whilst we can’t give you an actual super power to read minds (yet, anyway) this article explores how to gets us as close as possible to using the unsaid for an impactful coaching session.

In this article we are going to discuss why sensory acuity is important, what it is and how we can utilise it to build better relationships with our Coachee and help them to get better outcomes as they strive to achieve their goals. Isn’t that really what we are here to do?

That said, before we continue with this article, we need to agree on something…

Would a Leader or Coach seek to motivate?

Would a Leader or Coach seek to inspire people to act?

Would a Leader or Coach seek to understand their Coachee in order to help them achieve?

You may have heard this before but due to the below content, it may be beneficial to give ourselves a reminder. – The tool kit of a Leader or Coach is the same tool kit as a Manipulator. It can be an uneasy realisation but it is an important one to make. There is one key difference between ourselves as Leaders and a manipulator however – and that is the intention behind the tool. A manipulator uses their tools for their own gain. A Leader or Coach uses their tools to help others grow, develop and achieve. The following article discusses how to utilise non-verbal cues to understand our Coachee and thus, if we are not careful can lead to manipulation. If you are a Coach or Leader that is purely there to develop people and help them achieve, read on, enjoy and utilise these valuable tools to help people grow. If you are planning on using this for your own gain here are 2 key reminders:

  1. Integrity is doing the right things when no-one is watching.
  2. People can sniff out a manipulator – your success will not last and neither will your legacy. Helping people on the other hand, will be remembered by those you develop – long after they have outgrown your support.

With that said, lets begin exploring the valuable tool known as Sensory Acuity.


Why is sensory acuity important?

Have you ever noticed that a sales person on the street extends one foot towards you? It’s a subtle gesture that says “I’m not in your way, I’ve actually got something else to do – so I’ll be quick!” They’re half in the conversation, ready to pivot out and leave you to it…giving you the perception of control and sending signals to your brain that they clearly have something else to do, so it won’t take up much time. They can hold that stance for hours and your brain will keep thinking “they’re going to leave any second now”. You see, you already use Sensory acuity to:

  • Evaluate danger
  • Make snap judgements
  • Understand a situation
  • Get an idea of someone’s intention

What we may not be doing is processing this data on a conscious level – meaning that we are constantly leaving this up to our subconscious to do and increasing our likelihood to be reactive in a situation rather than being purposeful. Consider Coaching or Leading – how valuable would it be to effectively and consciously assess our Coachee/Team members:

  • Engagement level
  • Stress level
  • Motivation level
  • Positive reaction
  • Negative reaction
  • Anxiety level
  • Excitement Level
  • Confidence level

Pretty valuable right?

If we care about our people, their goals and ability to achieve them, these are definitely things we want to tune into. By consciously looking out for these factors, we can consciously gauge their commitment level and likelihood to succeed – giving us some amazing foundations for effective questions that get us to their core values and beliefs. Once we’re there, our ability to get our Coachee wherever they need to be skyrockets.

Take some time to think about what the benefits would be of instantly understanding your team members; motivation, engagement, commitment, anxiety or confidence levels. Write down your answers and we can compare our thoughts together.

Done? Awesome.

This is our list, did we miss anything?


The benefits of Sensory Acuity are:
  • Understand Coachees beliefs and values
  • Get honest and instant reactions (the body won’t lie!)
  • Establish what motivates them to increase performance
  • Identify uncomfortable barriers and help overcome them
  • Establish the best way forward
  • Understand preferences, likes and dislikes
  • Gauge your relationship level
  • Understand your coachees state (mind set or emotion)
  • Change and manage your coachees state
  • Utilising these will help you become an effective and engaging coach.

Now we see the value of Sensory Acuity…let’s define what it means.


What is Sensory Acuity?

That’s a great question. Based on the above benefits and why we would want to use it, what do you think it is?

Take a moment to reflect before continuing.

Sensory Acuity is really just about paying attention to what is going on. It’s being present and monitoring your Coachee for their;

  • Body language
  • Facial expressions
  • Skin tone changes
  • Eye movements
  • Vocal pitch, speed and volume
  • Breathing

All of these can give us a strong indication to our Coachee’s state changes – an invaluable insight into how they think, feel and behave, enabling us to be more effective in our ability to coach and lead them to their goals. Now we understand why it’s important and what it is, let’s discover the foundations on how to use Sensory Acuity to help and support your Coachee.


How to use Sensory Acuity

There is a simple acronym to aid us with remembering what to look out for in Sensory Acuity; VIBES – Voice, Inclination (body language), Breathing, Eyes and Skin. To become effective at this, we will need to break each stage down and know what to look out for.



Whilst the 7%-38%-55% rule has since been debunked (by its author), we can still obtain a vast amount of information about a person’s state based on the words they use and the voice they say it in – for example:

If someone who normally talks with a steady tempo starts talking fast, what do you think this could indicate? Excitement? Fear? Nerves? What could it indicate if they slowed their voice down? Relaxed? Uncertain? Authority? – realistically, we will have to group various pieces of information together to get a complete picture, but a person’s voice and the words they use can help us identify our Coachee’s state.

When tuning in to our Coachee’s voice we need to consider: pitch, tone, tempo, timbre,  words used and volume. Each of these factors can indicate what state our Coachee is in and enables us to be more effective coaches. The same goes for the words used, for example:

“I might do that” – indicates a lack of commitment and realistically,  that they are unlikely to follow through with the plan.

“What will people think?” – indicates that this person is driven by external influences and will likely side with the majority.

“I can see it now.” – indicates a visual state.

“I did this and then this and then…” – indicates the person is in a process state.


Inclination of the spine

Simply put, this is looking at body language.

If someone is slumped in their chair, eyes at the floor, arms folded – What could their body language be telling us? – potentially disengaged? Bored? Frustrated? Closed off? Depressed? On the otherside if someone is leaving forward, almost ready to explode off of their chair, making eye contact with you – it may indicate a state of being ready, motivated and engaged.

When we look at body language, we need to take in as much information as possible. Take sometime and think about what the following could mean:

  • Arms folded and legs crossed
  • Sat upright, hands resting gently on their legs
  • Stood upright, legs more than shoulder width apart, hands clasped behind their back
  • Sat down but spread out on a sofa
  • Stood up, hands in pockets
  • Knees up against their chest, hands clasped around their legs
  • Hand across their mouth
  • Feet pointed towards the door

What did you get? Here are the general meanings to these:

  • Arms folded and legs crossed – Closed off / defensive
  • Sat upright, hands resting gently on their legs – relaxed / open
  • Stood upright, legs more than shoulder width apart, hands clasped behind their back – Authorative/threat (potentially concealing a weapon)
  • Sat down but spread out on a sofa – Confident / Powerful / Comfortable
  • Stood up, hands in pockets – Nervous
  • Knees up against their chest, hands clasped around their legs – Vulnerable / Closed / Low power and confidence
  • Hand across their mouth – Trying not to speak
  • Feet pointed towards the door – Wanting to leave

We need to look at a person’s gestures, movements and macro movements to understand our Coachee. Like with all aspects, we need to build a bigger picture by using all of the information available together.



Whilst breathing can difficult to assess sometimes, it can be a useful indicator for us. We need to think about what the breathing could indicate, consider the below and assess what is being said about our Coachee:

  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Slow, deep breathing
  • Top of their chest expanding on inhale
  • Diaphragm expanding on inhale
  • Lack of rhythm

Medical conditions aside, the above breathing may indicate:

  • Rapid, shallow breathing – Panic / fight or flight
  • Slow, deep breathing – relaxed / calm / focused
  • Top of their chest expanding on inhale – distress /anxiety
  • Diaphragm expanding on inhale – relaxed / calm

As we can see, our Coachee is giving us plenty of information about them already that we can utilise to get them to their goal effectively. We have covered Voice, Inclination of the spine and Breathing already, next up is Eyes.




Many NLP practitioners, coaches and investigators have historically used eye movements in order to detect congruency. Whilst there can be no definitive way to detect a lie, it used to be widely accepted that eye movements indicate accessing different areas of the brain. Ever heard that someone looking to the right as lying? This is based on a lie requiring us to create an event instead of recalling one. Whilst recent studies have debunked this theory for telling the truth, the jury is still out on NLP eye accessing cues and how they help us understand how our coachee processes their world. Here is an NLP eye accessing cues image to help us understand how our coachee is representing and processing their world:

Whilst eye accessing cues can be useful, there are other key indicators of the eyes that are widely accepted, what do these mean to you?

  • Pupils dilation
  • Pupil contraction
  • Blink rate
  • Eyes narrowing
  • Eyes widening

As with above, we cannot account for medical conditions and it makes sense to utilise these as part of painting a larger picture, but generally speaking, this is what they can mean:

  • Pupils dilation – typically indicates that you like what you see
  • Pupil contraction – indicates focus
  • Blink rate – fast Blink rate may indicate stress
  • Eyes narrowing – disgust or distaste
  • Eyes widening – surprise or fear

With eyes covered, we need to move onto the final consideration of VIBES.



Whilst skin colour and tone can change based on multiple factors and with some skin tones it can be difficult to track certain changes – this links back in with everything we have said previously, tie it into other factors and parts of the VIBES model to build a picture.

The first consideration is whether our coachee has any skin conditions that are impacted by stress such as dermatitis or psoriasis. Could an outbreak indicate that our coachee is stressed? With that said, what do you think the below could mean?

Lips pursed

Lips relaxed

Muscles tensed

Muscles relaxed


Glossy skin

Ready to discuss what the above could indicate?

Lips pursed – tense, disapproval, irritation or disgust

Lips relaxed – calm and relaxed

Muscles tensed – angry, hostile or threatened.

Muscles relaxed – calm and relaxed

Goosebumps – Fear or excitement

Glossy skin – if caused by perspiration may indicate stress or anxiety


How do I use this when people are different?

As useful as all of this information can be, we know that everyone will have different baselines, some people may have a faster Blink rate or maybe they are shallow breathers. Perhaps their eyes move more or they naturally fidget. All of these factors may throw us off if we live by the 1 size fits all approach. Therefore it’s important that we calibrate with our coachee. By calibrating we can understand their baseline and therefore notice differences more clearly when using VIBES.


Calibration exercise

Calibrating with our Coachee enables us to see and hear how they process different emotions and states. Helping us to more effectively monitor our Coachee and bring them into a more beneficial mindset.

The calibration can be quite easy to do in theory but bear in mind that some people don’t like being read and will try to keep the impacts of their state hidden  or even reversed if they know you are looking for it. This means we need to do one or both of the following.

  • Bring state changes on naturally through the flow of conversation
  • Explain to your coachee why you are eliciting states in them

When developing Leadership skills in others, I and many other Leadership Coaches will explain the same tactics and tools we use to our Coachee. We also let them know we will utilise these same tactics on them. You need to be mindful when sharing this information, you ideally will need a good relationship with them first. Why?

The tool kit of a Leader and a Manipulator are almost exactly the same, the reason we use these tools are what sets us apart. A Leader and Coach uses these tools to help people grow and achieve, a manipulator uses them to purely help themselves. You may benefit from demonstrating that you care deeply about your Coachee before sharing this information as without understanding your intention to help them grow, they may feel used.

Remember – purpose counts. When our Coachee truly knows every tool we utilise is for their benefit and each technique we use is carefully applied to help them get towards their outcome, they understand and accept it. Much the same as when someone I have shared a tool or technique with uses it on me, I feel a sense of pride because:


  1. I know they’ve learnt
  2. I know they are trying to help me


The calibration exercise goes as follows:

  • Get your Coachee into a neutral state – ask them to think about something that isn’t overly stimulating such as the weather.


This will help you understand their baseline.

  • Ask your Coachee to think about a time they were overjoyed. Ask them to really step back into that moment, hear, see and feel it like it was happening again.


Watch the changes in their face, body language, breathing – remember VIBES.

  • Return your Coachee to a neutral state
  • Elicit a different state, such as one of disgust and repeat step 2 and 3 until you have built up a good understanding on how your Coachee looks within each state – or at least the states that will be valuable for them.


If you are new to Coaching, consider checking out our article on building an effective coaching structure by clicking here.

If one of your Coachee’s isn’t benefitting from your coaching style – could it be the wrong time for them to be coached? We have an article here about when to utilise coaching for maximum impact.

Finally, before our summary – if you are struggling to find an effective coaching model, here are 3 great tools you can use:

  1. GURUS – Our 5 step model, available on Amazon for £4.99 or FREE for Kindle Unlimited users.
  2. The GROW model – A staple in organisational coaching
  3. SMARTER goals – how to make your goal tangible

Sensory Acuity is simply paying attention to what is going on. It’s being present and monitoring your Coachee for their; Body language, Facial expressions, Skin tone changes, Eye movements, Vocal pitch, speed and volume – and Breathing. Giving us a valuable insight into how they think, feel and behave. VIBES is an easy way to remember what to look out for when helping our Coachee achieve their goal. It stands for; Voice, Inclination of the spine, Breathing, Eyes and Skin.

How we use these tools and techniques matter. Remember – as a Leader, we need to ensure that everything we do serves our Coachee and not ourselves. At the bottom of the page are some activities we can use to cement our understanding of Sensory Acuity.

Thank you for reading our article on Sensory Acuity. If you have found it valuable, please consider sharing it with others. Simon Tickner is the Author of G.U.R.U.S – The 5 step Goal Getting approach for Leaders, Coaches and people who want to win. You can get your copy on Amazon today:



  • Calibrations

Try our calibration exercises out with someone. Try to keep the conversation flowing naturally instead of just cutting and jumping from 1 state to another. Be persistent, the more you practice the better you get. Try with different people.


What does VIBES stand for?

  • Meanings:

Recall what these might mean:

  • Fast pace when talking
  • Quite voice
  • Using words such as ‘Maybe’
  • Arms folded and legs crossed
  • Sat upright, hands resting gently on their legs
  • Stood upright, legs more than shoulder width apart, hands clasped behind their back
  • Sat down but spread out on a sofa
  • Stood up, hands in pockets
  • Knees up against their chest, hands clasped around their legs
  • Hand across their mouth
  • Feet pointed towards the door
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Slow, deep breathing
  • Top of their chest expanding on inhale
  • Diaphragm expanding on inhale
  • Lack of rhythm
  • Pupils dilation
  • Pupil contraction
  • Blink rate
  • Eyes narrowing
  • Eyes widening
  • Lips pursed
  • Lips relaxed
  • Muscles tensed
  • Muscles relaxed
  • Goosebumps
  • Glossy skin

If you are ready to take your coaching to the next level, consider booking in a free, no obligation session with us today:

Delegating Leadership – Disected and Discussed

Have you ever had a boss who took on too much work and as a result, piled project after project on to you? Did they do so without understanding your skills, ability and motivations in work? Did they take your success as their own and blame you for any shortcomings? – All of those things? They aren’t what Delegating Leadership is about, in fact – they’re all great ways to show that you are an ineffective Leader that’s in it for themselves instead of being in it for your team. If you want to know how to Delegate effectively, so it benefits you, your team and your organisation, this article has been built for you. We break this article down into 2 sections; Delivering Greatness where we cover 6 Must-do’s for this style to work and the second section Dodge Greatness where we cover 4 things you need to avoid to be successful.

Before we being, your Follower should be Able and Motivated before you use this Leadership style, if they are Able but lacking motivation, consider Participating Leadership, if they aren’t skilled but they are motivated, consider Selling Leadership and if they are neither skilled or motivated, consider Directive Leadership. These 4 styles are part of Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Leadership model, where they believed that the most effective way to lead is to change your style based on your Followers Readiness level (a combination of skill and will). Delegating Leadership is the last style within this model.

Delegating Leadership can be tricky, some people see it as a way to just reduce their workload and whilst this is a benefit of the style, it can also be a risk. To ensure you are Delegating appropriately, you need to cover these 6 key points; Knowing yourself, Knowing your team, Team Development, Creating time, Job satisfaction and Motivation and Creativity and Innovation.

Knowing yourself

Leadership is about achieving the mission, it’s about putting your ego in check and utilizing the best tools you have to get the job done. Delegation requires you to be humble, to admit that you cannot do it all by yourself and that there are likely people who will do it better than you, even if you could do it on your own. It means you have to keep your ego in check and trust that your team will deliver and that you don’t always have the best way forward (even if you think you do).

Be mindful that delegating leadership isn’t about micro management. It is a method of leadership which requires you to provide very little support to your Follower as they will already have the skill, will and understanding of the mission to accomplish the task with a high level overview.

Knowing yourself is an important part of this leadership style, understanding your limitations and ability to give others control will impact how successful this style will be for you. You will need to provide your Followers with the necessary power and room to complete their tasks whilst still being personally responsible for the outcome. 


Consider asking yourself these questions:

  • What can I do to be confident in giving others full control?
  • How can I communicate the outcome clearly and concisely?
  • How can I balance being hands off and knowing if the project is on track?
  • How can I be aware of the difference between ‘must-haves’ and what I ‘think’ is the best way forward?
  • What can I do to celebrate my Followers success and take ownership of the short-comings?

Knowing your team

When your Follower is at Readiness level 4, they have the skill and will to do their tasks to a high standard. The first thing to acknowledge here, is that if you are delegating to someone, they should be an R4 Follower – someone who is both skilled and motivated to do the task you are giving them.


It is therefore on you to be able to understand your teams skillsets and levels of motivation. A great leader will continuously understand where their Followers are in relation to their skill, will and motivation levels. If you want to start off on the right foot when Delegating, ensure your Follower is at the right level with their skill sets and their focus for achieving the teams goals. If they aren’t then you will likely cause chaos for the project, your relationship with your Follower, their confidence levels and your perceived competence.


Ask yourself:

  • Do I trust this person to deliver to the expected standard? If not, how could I get there?
  • Will they come to me if they are stuck?
  • Do they have access to all of the resources (internal and external) they need to get the job done?
  • What skills will they need to achieve this task?
  • What might motivate them to complete this task?
  • What support will I need to give them to make this successful?

Consider these questions before delegating any work, otherwise you could be setting your Follower, the project and your relationship up to fail. That said Delegation is an investment in your Follower that has benefits for them, the organisation and yourself, so don’t just write them off on your current assessment. Instead, shift your focus on how to get your Follower to Readiness level 4 as you will both likely benefit from this initial invested time.


Team Development

One of the main benefits of this Leadership style, is that providing your Follower is at Readiness level 4, this is a great way to develop their skill sets further.

Delegation should stretch your people, whether that’s upskilling their Leadership capabilities, Project Management skills, honing their relationship management and levels of influence, working on their time management or even their confidence. By being given the reigns and responsibility, your followers have the opportunity to learn many lessons, become future leaders and assets to your organisation.

Consider these questions:

  • How will this project benefit my Follower?
  • What skills could this teach them?
  • What strengths could they utilise?
  • How can I empower them to succeed?
  • How am I going to ensure my Follower looks at any failure as opportunities for growth?

Creating time

This is probably the main reason people delegate and one of the major benefits. When we pass tasks to someone else, we create space in our day (…probably for more tasks – yeah, no such thing as a break for Leaders – haha). This is one of the amazing benefits of having an R4 follower to share our objectives with. This Leadership style is very hands off, providing your Follower shares your vision and understands why the mission is in place, you shouldn’t need to spend much time clarifying what needs doing or how actions should be carried out. When you have a true R4 Follower, you have not only saved yourself time by delegating the task but also removed the need lengthy briefings and progress meetings. A check in meeting is important every now and again but if your Follower tracks their project in a Gantt chart or similar, all you need to do is have access to that sheet and occasionally touch base to see if they are okay.

This will allow you to spend time where you are able to add more value to the mission. You will likely be less stressed and thus, be more effective in your own work. Delegation isn’t about passing your work off to have free time, it’s about creating space so you can better achieve the mission.

Questions to consider:

  • How will I use this spare time?
  • Is this the best use of my resources?
  •  How much time will I need to put aside for project updates?

Job satisfaction and motivation

When you are trusted to take the reigns on a project, especially for the first time, it feels pretty good. It tells you that your manager respects your skills and trusts you to deliver to a high standard.

When people feel responsible and trusted in their role, their levels of engagement, accountability and motivation increases. Where job satisfaction is high, people are more effective in their roles and become more productive. We can see then that by placing our trust in our Follower, their job satisfaction will increase and they will become more effective in their role. You need to demonstrate trust and psychological safety for your Followers here, so they feel motivated and safe to both succeed and fail.

Questions to consider:

  • How can I show my Follower I trust them to deliver?
  • What will I need to do to ensure they are not overwhelemed?
  • How will I ensure they have the resources they need?
  • How can I keep this satisfaction and motivation high once the project ends?

Creativity and innovation

Delegation leads to innovation. The world is full of different personalities, with different life experiences, passions and motivators. Two people, experiencing the exact same event may have completely different views and memories on what happened during that shared experience. That is because we see the world through our own beliefs and values.

For example if two people were made redundant at work, one may ask ‘why do bad things always happen to me? I don’t know what to to.’ Where as the other may think ‘This is the nudge I needed, it’s time to start something new and exciting.’

By handing the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of a project to your Follower, you are giving them permission to create what they think is the best way forward. Providing you haven’t surrounded yourself with yes-people or people exactly like you, there’s a good chance they will be able to innovate new ways of completing tasks or even streamline processes to become more efficient.

This is still something I am amazed by today having been in Leadership for such a long time, it still inspires me when someone comes up with an idea I hadn’t seen before or wants to try something I’ve already seen fail – sometimes the different twist someone puts on a tried technique can create absolute magic results for the team, the project and their confidence levels. You just have to trust them and evaluate risk levels. If you think the idea has an 80%  chance of success with minimal impact if it goes wrong – let them run with it, you’ll both likely learn if it goes wrong and the benefits can be huge if it goes right.

Consider these questions:

  • What are the chances of this succeeding?
  • What are the impacts of it’s failure?
  • What could the benefits be?
  • How can I give them room to experiment?
  • How much of my ego is stifling their creativity?

Now we have looked at how to Deliver Greatness with this Leadership style, it’s time to look at what to Dodge to ensure you use it effectively to support your team, organisation and self with Delegating.



There is a real risk when delegating work that your Follower will get disconnected from the team and the wider business objectives. One of the positives we discussed earlier was the accountability and ownership that comes from being given control of a project. For some Followers, this becomes the sole focus for them and they begin to work in silo. If you have multiple people working on their own projects and they all end up in their own silos, they lose sight of the wider picture and the bigger objective their project feeds into.

It is vital that during delegation, you keep your Follower involved with the wider team and mission. The danger of working in silo and wanting to complete your workload before all else, is that you can become selfish to the rest of your teams needs. There is no point being proud in getting all of your work done on time if the team failed their mission, worse would be if by putting the team after your own workload, you caused this failure. Ensure that your team know what each other are doing and any risks or opportunities they are currently facing.

Consider these questions:

  • How can I help my Follower see this project links to a wider objective?
  • What can we do to keep communication high?
  • How can we keep the team spirit and mentality?


Delegation will always have an element of risk and it can be both a daunting and stressful experience wondering if you have made the right choice. First of all – you need to ask if you have have correctly evaluated your Followers Readiness level. Do they have the necessary skills and motivation to complete the task to its desired standard? If not, what is the risk to the project, your reputation and potentially the overall mission should something go wrong?

The next risk comes from the low supportive nature and hands off approach of delegating leadership. Unfortunately, some people may take advantage of this approach and inflate the amount of time they have spent on the project. It may even go so far that people will mark off that they were in work but never bothered showing up. We hope that this risk is low but it is a gamble we take when putting our trust into people. At the end of the day, a good leader takes accountability, so if this has happened to you, ask yourself what could you have done differently to get a better result?

One great way to reduce the risk is to reinforce the importance of the project, the team and the organisation. Link your Followers values to the operation as much as possible to help mitigate this risk. The deeper you can connect the task to the person on an identity level, the easier it becomes to motivate them. Building great relationships with your Followers will help reduced the odds of someone letting you down.

We can see that there is an element of gambling when delegating to someone else, so it’s important that you stack the deck as much as reasonably possible to mitigate the risks and ensure that the Follower and their delegated task have the best chance of success.

Consider these questions:

  • What can I do to link this project to their values and sense of identity?
  • How did I honestly evaluate their ability and motivation levels?
  • How have I fostered an adult and honest culture amongst the team?
  • What could I do to give this project the best chance of success?


One misconception about delegation is that it removes all responsibility and ownership from the person delegating out the task. It couldn’t be further from the truth – you still own the task, you are still responsible for delivering the outcome on time and to the required standard.

It is up to you to provide the high level vision of what the task will look like once complete, why the task needs to be accomplished and what objectives it needs to achieve. The more you get to know your Follower and they get to know your intentions and expectations, the less time you will likely spend here. Ensure you are open for questions and available to support when needed.

I’m sure we’ve all met one person who delegates just to pass on work. They are neither giving out the task to develop their follower or wanting to take responsibility if the task doesn’t meet expectations. Don’t be that Leader.
People can see through a Leader who is out for themselves and this behaviour may lead to resentment from colleagues as they just see you as shirking responsibility. Even where this isn’t the case, there is the risk that this hands off leadership style will give people the impression that you are disinterested in the mission. Ownership here is all about balance, know that you own the delegated work and are responsible for the end result but trust your Follower to deliver. Give your follower the knowledge that if they need further support or clarification that your door is open. Consider asking for meetings to discuss the tasks progress or just casually checking in as part of a normal conversation, showing interest without stepping on toes.

Consider these questions:

  • How can I balance accountability and empowerment?
  • What can I do to take ownership of any issues or short-falls?
  • How can I demonstrate interest whilst being detached from the day-to-day tasks?

Misreading Follower Readiness

As with all of the styles within the Situational Leadership model, their effectiveness depends on your assessment of your Followers Readiness level. For example, if your Follower is either Readiness levels 2 or 3, they will not have the appropriate skills or knowledge to complete the work effectively. This may lead to:

  • Impacts on your Followers confidence levels and morale
  • Frustration for your Follower, yourself and any others that are impacted by the work
  • The project failing or falling below standard
  • Reputational damage for yourself, your team, your organisation and your Follower

The other alternative is that your Follower has the skills but not the motivation or will to do the task. This may mean they will lack the level of ownership and autonomy required to work on a delegated task. There have been instances where this can actually move a Follower to Readiness level 4 as it gives them the will and motivation  knowing that others are relying on them. If you misjudge here though, your Follower may take advantage of the hands off approach as discussed earlier, which can:

  • Impact team morale (why am I doing ‘x’ when they aren’t?!)
  • Risk of the project not being completed on time or to the required standard
  • Reputational risks

Questions to consider:

  • What skills do they have for this project?
  • What skills will they need? 
  • Can these skills be developed as part of the project or do they need them first?
  • Are they motivated for this?



As you can see, the Delegating style of Leadership is a really powerful tool providing that you deliver on the following:

  • Knowing yourself – can you put your ego to the side and be the leader your team needs you to be to get the job done?
  • Knowing your team – are they at Readiness Level 4 – Able and willing or motivated?
  • Development – consider how this style will help develop your Follower(s).
  • Creating time – How can you use your newly acquired time to help your business win?
  • Job satisfaction – one of the main drivers for engagement is having responsibility and opportunities.
  • Innovation – encourage Followers to create, not replicate.

Whilst delegating, we also need to dodge:

  • Disconnection – keep your followers connected to the team and wider purpose
  • Gambling – stack the deck, limit the risk.
  • Lack of ownership – remember, you are still responsible for the outcome.
  • Misreading Readiness levels – make sure you know your Followers.

Delegating is an extremely useful leadership style that when utilised correctly will develop your team, allow you to efficiently meet objectives, increase job satisfaction and add more value to the organisation. Thankyou for reading this article, click the below links to utilise our resources on this leadership style:

Delegating Leadership one page guide
Situational Leadership reflective guide

Creating, Controlling and Conquering through Conflict

Conflict can often have a bad reputation but in this article we are going to look at changing that perspective and demonstrate how you can harness conflict to build better relationships, teams and achieve your goals. When people think about conflict, they may feel; uneasy, fearful, defensive, anxious, victimised, awkward and a whole host of other seemingly negative emotions or mind-sets. It doesn’t have to be that way though. Let’s talk about the positives of conflict, where it comes from and how to manage it, to get all parties into a better position. To do this, we will break the article down into 3 sections; The benefits of conflict, where it comes from and how to conquer it.

When you saw an article about managing conflict, what kind of imagery formed inside your mind? I’ll hazard a guess that for most people, it conjured up negative images, negative thoughts, feelings and memories. Conflict doesn’t need to be like this, in fact, one powerful tool you can use for managing conflict is to change the way you perceive it. We can attach unhelpful thoughts and feelings to situations which can hinder how effectively we handle them, if you change the way you see conflict to focus on its benefits, you may have an easier time managing it. We aren’t saying that conflict should be continually sought out but it can be beneficial to see, understand and embrace the benefits of conflict, to help make it seem less daunting and reduce any anxiety that may come with the thought of conflict.

Take a few moments to think about and write down the benefits of conflict, once done read on and see if we got the same answers.

We believe that there are 7 main benefits to conflict;



Creates understanding

Relationship building

Effective teams


Improved mental health

  • Innovation

Conflict can create new solutions, ideas and improve situations. When people disagree, there is often a call for a new approach. Most people see compromise as a lose-lose scenario as neither side fully gets what they wanted. This mindset can help people work together to find a better solution for everyone involved. It may lead to entirely new ideas and solutions that wouldn’t have previously been thought of. Think of a time you were arguing with someone you cared about, did you seek to find a solution? Did you put something in place or agree to something you hadn’t previously been doing? Conflict can lead to innovation.

  • Trust and Support

When done right, conflict creates psychological safety which fosters trust and support between people. If through conflict you can demonstrate that you want what’s best for the other parties and can both agree on the same mission or goal, you will begin to remove ego from the conflict and build on psychological safety. There is a huge difference in how the other parties will feel if they can see the difference between conflict over wanting something for yourself and conflict because you want to achieve the same objective in a different way.

When people realise you have the same mission or you want what’s best for them, conflict can turn the situation into one that fosters growth and strong relationships.

  • Creates Understanding

If you let your ego take over in conflict, the chances are you aren’t going to get anywhere productive. We will look over the 6 main causes of conflict later in the article but one of them stems from a lack of understanding. Steven Covey is known for saying “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” If you try to understand the other parties view instead of just trying to get your point across, you create understanding. What’s better?

  1. Win a conflict and potentially damage relationships
  2. Reach an understanding of another person, situation and outcome, broadening your horizons and growing as a person whilst at the same time, finding the best solution for the situation.
  • Relationship building

Linked to the first 3 points, if you use conflict correctly you will build trust, show support, create understanding and instigate healthy change. All of these points will help you to build relationships with people as they will know that throughout the conflict, your focus wasn’t on winning but creating an understanding and seeking to work together.

If we don’t manage our differences effectively, it may lead to internalised resentment, people wouldn’t set expectations and situations would spiral out of control. Your ego can be your biggest enemy here so try to keep it in the backseat to forge strong relationships with others.

  • Effective teams

Directly born out of building relationships is creating effective teams. An effective team is one that has been through the stages of team development and through the notorious Storming stages. It is here where values and norms are tested and challenged, where people argue over who is pulling their weight and where if not dealt with correctly, resentment grows and the team breaks down. On the other side of this though, where conflict is dealt with productively and from a place of trust and respect, the team moves into the norming and performing stages of team development. Once you are here, your team is an effective, objective accomplishing force.

  • Progress

Just like with innovation, conflict can push you to progress. Think about the person who wants to cling to processes because “it’s what we’ve always done!” and think about the disruptor that comes in to find a new way. This conflict can lead to progress on multiple accounts. On a personal level, it can encourage personal growth and development and on a professional and solutions focused level, it can see people move past stagnated processes in order to move forwards.

  • Improved mental health

Imagine a situation where every time you went into work, you were expecting pent up tensions. How would you feel day to day? Our guess is likely anxious. You can use effective conflict and conflict management to remove tensions and get into a healthier frame of mind. Effectively airing out the issues can alleviate tension, help all parties feel heard and valued and provide peace of mind.

With these 7 benefits of healthy conflict covered, it’s time we explored the 5 main factors of conflict before we look at effectively managing it. The main factors are; Values, Paradigms, Motivation, Communication skills and Understanding.

  • Beliefs and Values

A major cause of conflict are beliefs and values. We develop beliefs and values from a young age and they form as our conscious and subconscious drivers for our behaviours. The values and beliefs we hold change the way we think, feel and act. Where we expect others to live to our values and beliefs instead of their own, conflict can often arise.

Examples of beliefs and values causing conflict may be the value concept that “It’s important to be on time.” By holding this value, you may see people who are late as rude, thoughtless or lazy. Holding onto this view of people can lead to conflict even though the person who was late may not be rude, thoughtless or lazy. They may simply have other commitments, had a late night or don’t particularly see the value in being on time for this particular event.

Here are some examples of beliefs and values that may cause conflict:

  • Paradigms

A paradigm is the way we see the world and it closely links into our beliefs and assumptions. When we change our paradigms, we change our experiences in life. Some examples of Paradigms include:

  • No-one respects me
  • This team cannot win
  • That person is ignorant
  • I am an expert in this field

Each of these Paradigms may impact how you interact with others and cause conflict. If you have it in your head that no-one respects you, the likelihood is you will see the actions of others as disrespectful, even when this isn’t the case. If you feel like you are an expert in a field, you may be less likely to take on new ideas and even be insulted when someone suggests something that differs from what you want to do.

Check out this video by Stephen Covey that looks into examples of paradigms:

  • Motivation

Personal motivators can cause conflict amongst people. If your team need to work together to achieve a bonus, it’s likely that if one person is motivated by money, another is motivated by personal satisfaction and another isn’t motivated at all, conflicts may arise in how they wish to tackle a problem and about the commitments of other team members. Lets have a look at what each differently motivated team member may think about the other members of the team:

Money motivated: “Why don’t they just meet their KPIs? I want this bonus and they will stop me from achieving it!”

Personal satisfaction: “I want to do the right thing on this project, why can’t they see that by just meeting KPIs, we are not focusing on the right outcome for our customers?”

No motivation: “This is just a job. I don’t need the bonus and I’m not paid to go above and beyond. I clock in, do my job and clock off.”

You may be able to see how these different motivators may cause conflict between the team members, especially if they fail to spend time understanding how and why the other person thinks the way they do.

  • Communication skills

If you look into our Situational Leadership articles, you will quickly see how using the wrong style of leadership can create tensions, barriers and conflicts  between people. The same goes for communication skills. If you lack empathy and the ability to convey this in your interactions, you may inadvertently cause conflict as the other person doesn’t feel understood. We also see communication clashes between people when their styles mismatch. Think about a direct communicator, they want to deliver the message quickly and concisely. They won’t beat around the Bush or necessarily consider feelings when talking. If they communicate with someone who cares more about the details in a message or someone who is overly considerate in how their message lands, there will likely be a mismatch and possibly conflict.

Consider the following conversations about someone not meeting expectations and think about how quickly a conflict may arise:

  • A direct communicator delivering a message to someone who bases their language on relationships and feelings.
  • The relationship based communicator may get upset by the lack of empathy and blunt delivery from the direct communicator. On the other way round, the direct communicator may get frustrated by the emotional response and the inability by the other person to get to the point.
  • A detail orientated communicator delivering a message to someone who prefers listening to high level, abstract ideas.
  • The person who prefers listening to abstract ideas will likely get bored of the details and get frustrated with the focus at the granular level. The detail oriented person may get frustrated by the other persons inability to see the specifics and say things like “Get your head out of the clouds!” or “tell me what exactly you need to do!”

Just like leadership, a clash in communication styles can lead to conflict.

  • A lack of understanding

A lack of understanding can encompass a wide range of issues, from not understanding another person to not understanding a process. A lack of understanding can cover the rest of the causes of conflict as well. If we don’t spend time trying to understand other people’s values and beliefs, there may be conflict. Don’t spend time understanding how other people’s paradigms or motivations impact their lives? The likely result is conflict. Dont invest time in understanding how to effectively communicate with others? Can you guess it may lead to conflict?

We all make assumptions – it’s necessary to do so. If we had to know the specifics of everything we did, we would get nothing done, argue about the fine details and probably overload our minds with endless possibilities. Assumptions and Presuppositions help us to understand information quickly. Often times, when we ask questions to understand, we end up in a much more effective place. How many times have you argued about something or pushed back against an idea but once you understood more about it felt much more at ease with the idea?

With the 5 main factors of conflict discussed, we need to decide on how we will manage this conflict effectively. To do this, we can use a simple 3 stage technique; Research, Presentation and Take action.


This phase stops you from rushing into the conflict and having unproductive conversations. By researching the issue at hand you are able to:

  • Evaluate the impact of the other parties actions
  • Understand the frequency it happens
  • See a different perspective
  • Decide if it is worth your effort

This step can be worked through using the 3F’s technique: Facts, Frequency and Fractured relationships.


At this stage, we collate as much relevant data as possible. This is important as if you bring in your feelings and assumptions, you are increasing the chance of unhelpful conflict. This is due to you seeing behaviours that may not be there or the other person being insulted by your assumption. Facts are concrete evidence that allows you to specifically address behavioural concerns instead of generic accusations such as “You don’t get your work done!”, which is a generalisation that may cause offence.

The truth is, they probably do get their work done, you only notice what doesn’t happen. The likely response to this accusation is to go on the offence and blame you for why the work has not been done – such as not providing adequate resources or changing your mind too much. A better way would be to use facts such as “The deadline for the project was the 15th of Feb, it was handed in on the 20th of Feb.” There is no argument to be made here, as only factual information has been stated. Similarly in a KPI driven environment, you could present your team member with the average calls met from the team and then themselves to give perspective on expectations. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to create a list, allowing you to be methodological, thorough and keep on track with a structure. The list will discourage you from bringing up unrelated issues and keep emotional out of it which may make the other person feel under attack instead of working towards a solution. Remember the benefits of handling conflict positively when preparing the facts.


This stage takes into consideration how often the situation occurs along side the impacts of the situation. As above, this information needs to be factual. For example, if someone is late once, you will likely just want a conversation with the person to see if they are okay and if necessary, discuss why being on time is important and the impacts of them being late to the business, team, you and their reputation.

That said, where they are late multiple times, we need to think if there is a deeper issue and question them further to understand the situation. Some situations may not need multiple occurrences before taking formal action such as gross misconduct in the workplace or where you need to set expectations in your personal life.

Fractured relationships

This stage looks to develop a bridge between the two parties. Here, you need to explain what’s important to you and how their behaviour is impacting your relationship in order to discuss a way forward. This isn’t about placing blame, you need to take ownership here but its important to find common ground and work towards a solution.

The Ladder of abstraction can help you build a bridge with someone and find common ground. For example, 2 people may disagree on the right leadership style to use in a certain situation. That level of detail might be quite granular, so climb the ladder of abstraction to build common ground- what is the purpose of each style? – to lead effectively and achieve the right outcome. With this bridge being built and a common ground established, the conversation can become more productive.

With the research or preparation phase done, we can move to the presentation stage of your conflict management technique.


The first thing you want to do is create a safe space. Set a meeting room with natural light and bring refreshments. Use open body language and set the room out to be less confrontational. The below image sets out some of the room layouts I use when having conversations with people. The majority of the time I use the co-operative layout as you still have the table for notes but from a body language perspective, you have full visibility of each other and are working together in a formal way. The opposing sides is rarely a layout I will use. Working together is something I use when facilitating and the no barriers approach is great for interviews where notes are not needed and you want to utilise body language.

It is a good idea to visualise yourself in control prior to the meeting as a confidence boost but it may also be necessary to have Union or HR in the room due to policy or safeguarding reasons. As the meeting begins, you should set expectations and outline the purpose of the meeting, keeping in mind that the conversation is there to support and find a way forward – not to judge and accuse.

When presenting, you should lay out your research, go over the three F;s and stick to the facts of the case, staying away from assumptions or leading questions.

We need to understand why the behaviour happened, set expectations and work towards a solution to remove barriers and make it easy for the people involved. Below is a sample lead-in statement followed by some sample questions:

The third step is to take action on the back of your discussion. Just like with coaching, people will be more committed to a plan when it is their own idea. Let them tell you what is realistic for them but remember to guide where needed. For example, if they say they will never be on time on a Monday ask these questions:

  • Why is this the case?
  • What can you do to make it happen?
  • Could you finish later?
  • What do you think are my concerns about this?
  • Do you understand why I cannot commit to this?
  • What can we support with?
  • I should have approached you sooner regarding this but what do you want out of today?

It’s important that as a leader you take ownership of the issues – what did you do or not do to let this person think their behavior was okay? Show you are listening to them by summarizing and clarifying their points and remain calm and repetitive throughout with your expectations and the purpose of the meeting. Remember that one of the major causes of conflict is a lack of understanding, so ask yourself these 2 questions:

  • Is this meeting for me to understand the situation?
  • Am I staying out of judgement?

Take action

This is the final phase of conflict management. As people are more engaged in a solution they come up with themselves, put the ownership on the other person in regards to setting a goal. There are 2 useful models that may help with this: the SMART or SPIRIT models as below:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound
  • Specific
  • Prizes
  • Individual
  • Review
  • Inspiring
  • Time-bound

Where required, you may still need to issue warnings according to policy but you can present this positively as a record of support and development and utilize it as a consequence if the behavior isn’t fixed.

Next Steps:

Here are two great articles that can accompany this guide. The first is how to understand the unsaid – when in the middle of conflict, reading the environment can be key to successfully navigating the situation. Here is an article on how to Understand the Unsaid.


The second article is about accountability. When in conflict, our ego can often take over and we may push back and blame others. Utilising the Ladder of Accountability can help us maintain control and lead us out of the conflict positively. Read our article here: Accountability.

Finally, if you are still struggling and need some help overcoming your barriers to turning conflict into a positive experience, book in your free coaching session with us via:



Whilst conflict can have negative connotations, it can be a positive and productive way for people and teams to grow and innovate. It can be a great relationship builder, providing the patties are involved seek to understand, connect and work towards a solution together.

The main causes of conflict are; Beliefs and values, Paradigms, communication skills, motivation and a lack of understanding. You can overcome most of these by setting your ego and emotions aside and approaching the situation with a desire to understand and reach consensus.

A useful process for conflict management is: research, present and take action. At the research stage, you are dealing with the 3 F’s, facts, frequency and Fractured relationships. During presentation, try to stay out of judgement and stick with the facts. Seek to find a solution. At the take action stage, we need to put our plan in place.

Do you approach conflict differently? Let us know your thoughts by connecting with us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn @DevelopTheEdge

The Pros, Pitfalls and Purpose of Participating Leadership

Would you like more time in your day?

Well, with Participating Leadership, your future-self may be extremely grateful for the effort you put in now. If you are a time-crunched manager with a heavy workload  and distractions, it can be tempting to switch into ‘action’ mode and try to get it all done yourself…but this isn’t efficient for you or your team in the long-run. So which is it? Be a short-sighted manager or a future focused Leader?

Did you know that Gallup surveyed over 50,000 managers over a 5 year period in order to understand key challenges and positives of leading teams? Unsurprisingly, among the list of challenges were:

  • Heavy workload and distractions
  • Job stress and frustrations

What are your thoughts on this? I have witnessed many Leadership teams complain about increasing workloads, demands and added distractions. Add on to this that they haven’t been given any additional resources, we can see how Leadership teams can suffer from stress and frustration at work…but have you thought about developing your own resources in the form of your team?

Whilst Participating Leadership can cost you time initially, the purpose and positives of using it focuses on the long-term benefits it can bring to the table for the Followers, Leader and the organisation, for instance; it can develop your Followers, increase their ability to learn and perform, help reduce your workload, increase the creativity of both yourself and your team and provide a healthier job satisfaction. When we think about it, aren’t those outcomes something we all want more of?

This is the third of four articles where we will guide you through the four stages of Situational Leadership (based on Follower Readiness levels) and their accompanying leadership styles (Telling, Selling, Participating and Delegating).

In this article, we will discuss the third Leadership style in Blanchard and Hersey’s Situational Leadership model, they referred to this facilitation style as ‘Participating’ leadership and it works best with Readiness Level 3 Followers – Able but Insecure or Unwilling.

Let’s have a look at the Pro’s, Pitfalls and Purpose of Participating Leadership.

The Pros

Let’s start with the good stuff and focus on the benefits to this style.


The phrase Short Term Pain leads to Long Term Gain can definitely be applied here.

Whilst this type of leadership requires a lot of initial support, and thus time – you can reap the benefits later on once your follower is both competent and motivated to get on with their tasks on their own.

Once you have lead people through Participating Leadership and it is clear that both their competency and motivation levels are high, you can begin delegating tasks to them. The time you invest developing your people here will give you a wealth of time later as you are able to confidently delegate your workload to your followers, knowing that they are not only capable but also motivated and willing to do the work for the team.

Whilst Participating, you will be spending lots of time with your Followers to help guide them and understand their thoughts and ideas. As the Follower develops their own tool kit and ability to problem solve, you will need to spend less time with them at this stage. 

An easy way to think about this technique is with a scenario.


A new project lands with your team. According to Situational Leadership, there are 4 styles you could use:

Directive – Tell the team exactly what they need to do, when by and how they need to do it. the team do not get a say.

Selling – Blend Directive and Coaching techniques to set goals and get your teams understanding on what they think they can do. Set expectations and give a clear message, outlining why the project is important.

Delegating – Tell your team there’s a new project and its up to them on how they deliver on the outcomes.

Participating – Tell your team there is a new project and get them in a room to brainstorm ideas, guide conversations, spend time looking at problem solving tools and question people to check their understanding. Agree an outcome as a team.

As you can see, this is quite a time intensive method at the start but soon, your Followers will be:

  • Problem Solvers
  • Self-sufficient
  • Engaged
  • Motivated
  • Leaders

I don’t know about you, but we’re pretty sure that’s a worthwhile investment of our time.

Involves your followers

Participating Leadership means that you are making a conscious effort to involve your people in key decisions or skill development. It’s important to remember that involving your Followers is about really listening to them – not just doing it to tick a box to make them feel valued. Your followers are likely doing their tasks every day,  are closer to the process than you and may be at the point where they actually know how to do it better than you. It can be hard to put aside our ego, especially when we have an idea already on what we need to do to improve but take the time out to listen to your followers and put their ideas into practice where possible, this will help you build trust amongst your team as well as develop their skills.

As the Leader you still have the final say – but think about all of the opportunities you could be missing out on if you fail to listen or always override a good answer because it’s not quite your one. A good rule of thumb is, if you can see their plan working but it’s not quite as good as yours, let them run with it. Where their plan is dangerous or there is a real risk of mission failure, ask questions about the risks and how they plan to mitigate them – you can still pull rank if you need to but really – how will that make people feel? Let your Follower learn themselves and build their own experiences – where it is safe and possible to do so.

Encourages accountability

Think about a time where you were really passionate and excited about doing something. Did you feel focused, determined and energetic about the possibilities competing this task would bring?

Now think about something someone else asked you to do, that you weren’t really interest in doing and you could have thought of a better way to do it, had you been asked. Did you feel bored, uninterested and distant from the task?

When someone comes up with an idea, they have more commitment for it because they want their idea to succeed. This is simple human nature as our ego wants us to achieve and be seen achieving with our own great ideas. By participating in the decision making, your Followers will be more accountable for the task as they will have contributed to it.

I have seen this many times within my Leadership career, when a Follower seems unengaged and unproductive behaviours start to surface, it generally helps to give them more responsibility and ownership of their day. It seems counter intuitive but forging a trusting relationship and enabling them to achieve on their own can be key to saving a great employee from causing further conduct issues, quitting or being managed out the business – just be clear with your expectations first. 

Embraces creativity and development

Stephen Covey has said that “strength lies in differences, not similarities.” A smart leader surrounds themselves with great people and is conscious to bring people into the team with different viewpoints. By creating a safe space for people to discuss options, you have a great opportunity to mine for different strategies and views in order to get the best solution. True creativity will come when people feel safe sharing their ideas – so provide a platform to try out ideas as often as possible and where an idea has missed the mark, probe further to understand the thought process and guide it back to the objective.

Soon, the team will be innovating solutions and making strides towards your vision. Giving your Followers an environment that fosters innovation and allows them to put ideas into practice will aid in their development as they work on their influence, communication and subject matter skill sets.

Motivates and Inspires (will)

The purpose of the participative leadership style according to the Situational Leadership model is to motivate and inspire your Followers to increase their will to do the job. By doing this, your Followers become much more self-governing and motivated to achieve the objectives.

This links to the same point about accountability, when someone feels listened to and valued they are much more driven to work towards your objectives. This happens when the follower wants the team, the leader and the operation to succeed because they understand and see how valuable they are to both the vision and the missions success.

I was working with a team member who despite their good skill set, had a bad reputation for their behaviour. I was excited to work with them however, as they clearly had potential but had no ‘why’, they just didn’t have the will to take their role seriously.

One of the first actions I took, was to give this person a task that required a lot of responsibility. I outlined what needed to be done and explained the tasks impacts to the rest of the team. We had meetings to discuss the team members ideas and progress but other than that I was completely hands off.

They did an amazing job with their task, helping not only the team but the entire department achieve one of its biggest annual targets, their behaviour drastically improved (along with their reputation) and they ended up progressing to a higher role in a different area of the company.

All I did was provide them with more responsibility, trusted them to deliver and was there to support them throughout where they needed it.

With the positives of this Leadership style explored, let’s start to look at some of the pitfalls of this style and how to mitigate them.

The Pitfalls

A good leader is a prepared leader, to obtain a balanced view, we need to look at the negatives as well as the positives of this Leadership style in order to foresee and plan for the risks.


As above, this method initially takes a lot of time from a leadership perspective. On reflection, it’s about balance. Where you have the time to be a participative leader, great. Sometimes though, when dealing with time critical issues, this leadership style will cause problems.

When decisions need to be made quickly, a more directive leadership style needs to be used. Be mindful of how much time you and your team have before using this leadership style.

It’s really important to take stock here, if you are always this busy, then it’s a good idea to make the time to be a Participative leader or bring in someone specifically to do this for you. Remember that once your team are both confident and motivated, then you will save plenty of time when you are able to delegate work to them. Putting this style off because you are “too busy” now, puts your future self and team in a losing situation.

Ask yourself:

  • “What can I do to find the time?”
  • “If not now, when?”
  • “How can I arrange my day to fit this in?”
  • “Who can I bring in to help?”
  • “What will my day look like when my team are skilled and motivated?”

Sensitive information

There is a fine line when deciding what business sensitive information you provide to your team. Giving out this  information may lead to panic, get you in hot water or even land on your competitor’s doorstep. On the other side, you need to consider if this information needs to be known before a logical decision can be discussed amongst the team.

Where you don’t share this information, your team may be left frustrated that their ideas are not accepted but no explanation as to why is provided. Without this explanation, how will they know if their next idea will need to be rejected? How much time are your team going to spend coming up with unusable ideas? If you cannot share this information, consider a different leadership approach or be very clear about key missing information and what constraints it may have – though allowing people to fill in the Blanks here, will likely lead to increased speculation and anxiety.

Ask yourself:

  • “Why can’t I share this information?”
  • “What impact does this have on the project?”
  • “What would I want to know in their shoes?”
  • “What impact could this have on problem solving attempts?”
  • “Is there a way I can outline parameters without sharing sensitive data?”
  • “Is Participating Leadership the right approach here?”
  • “What is the right thing to do?”

Handling unused ideas

You’re at home and all of a sudden, you feel inspired about one of the issues you are facing at work. You stop what you are doing and you brainstorm ideas, risks and opportunities. You consider how to present this to your manager, what communication techniques you will use, how you will present the data and pre-empt their questions. You get to work on the presentation, staying up late into the night to get it done – it will be worth it though. You’ve solved the problem, you can already see the reaction on your teams face and achieving your goal is now clearly in sight. You are brimming with excitement and passion.

You get into the meeting room and deliver your idea. At the end, your manager yawns, bluntly says ‘no’ and walks out the room. The idea you thought would solve everything, that you worked on all night and delivered with energy and passion, had just been shot down. How are you feeling right now?

– Frustrated? Ignored? Deflated? Demotivated?

It’s fair to say that you wouldn’t be so confident to put forward ideas in the future, you probably wouldn’t be able to focus when you got back to your desk and the shutdown may have put you in a pretty bad mood.

As a Leader, its vital that you say ‘no’ in the right way. First, make sure you understand what you are saying no to. You may actually be on board once you’ve asked a few questions such as:

  • “What do you mean by…”
  • “How do you think that will solve the issue?”
  • “That’s interesting, tell me more.”
  • “I see how that might work but does it fit our values?”
  • “I like the sound of it but how long will it take? We have strict time constraints.”
  • “How will we get the necessary items?”
  • “What are the risks and opportunities of your plan”
  • “What did you consider when you came up with your plan?”

If you’ve understood the plan enough to know it’s not going to work, you now need to be tactful in delivering this message. Consider the amount of time, energy and thought that has gone into the plan, something like this may work:

  • “I see where you’re going with this and I’m really sorry, I’m afraid I didn’t explain the parameters well enough. On this occasion we need to think more along the lines of…”
  • “You’ve put a lot of time into this, I really appreciate what you’re trying to do. Lot’s of teams have tried this way before though and I want to save you the pain they went through. Another approach may be more efficient this time.”
  • “Good ideas, it’s my fault though, I should have been clearer with my vision sorry, have you thought about…”

These approaches can take the sting out of rejection and encourage further thought, showing your Follower that whilst they have missed the mark, you are still interested in what they have to say. Taking ownership of why the idea wont work helps to remove bitter feelings and the blame game on why an idea hasn’t been accepted.

Readiness levels

Just like the other Leadership styles in the Situational Leadership model, Participating Leadership is meant for a specific Readiness Level (R3).

If you use this approach with R1 (Unable and insecure) or R2 (Unable but willing) Followers, the problem you will have is that you are asking workers with limited or no skill to wade in with their opinions and suggestions. If a Follower is new to the role, has no external experience and no idea of internal processes or who owns them, would it make sense for either of you to use this leadership style? It will likely make them feel overwhelmed and provide no real outcome for you as a leader.

If you use this approach with an R4 (Able and motivated) Follower, they will likely think you have lost trust in them. Participating leadership is a highly supportive style, that sees you facilitate tasks. An R4 Follower will likely want you to highlight what needs doing and why so they can figure out the rest. Using the wrong leadership style here can damage trust, confidence and relationships.

Now we’ve looked at the Pros and the Pitfalls, it’s time to summarise this leadership style by looking at its purpose.


We’ve ruled out this style for R1, R2 and R4 Followers, this means that the purpose of Participating leadership is to lead R3 Followers. The Situational Leadership model refers to R3s as ‘Able but Insecure or Unwilling.’

This is someone who has all of the skills to be an amazing team player but for some reason they are insecure about their abilities or Unwilling to apply them.

If we are thinking about why people may fall into this category, consider:

  • People with typically low confidence or low self-esteem
  • People who are holding limiting beliefs
  • People with bad experiences in teams or with micro-managers
  • People who are bored
  • People who don’t see the purpose of their work
  • People who are disengaged with the company, team, Leader or mission
  • People who do not feel challenged or valued

When used effectively, the Participating style can:

  • Increase a Followers confidence
  • Boost trust
  • Allows them to feel valued and involved
  • Helps them understand the mission
  • Links their purpose to the organisation
  • Motivate and engage your Follower

The purpose of this leadership style is to increase your Followers confidence level alongside their will to meet their objectives.  Once they have the skill and the will, they become R4 followers – this is a readiness level where you definitely want your team to be.

If you struggle with Participating Leadership, there are some great tools and you can research and utilise within your team:

  • The six hats
  • The 5 Why’s
  • Group Discussions
  • Mind Mapping
  • SWOT analysis 

In conclusion, Participating leadership is a fantastic option when your Followers are skilled enough to take advantage of this style. It can help create a sense of purpose within your Followers and re-engage them in the teams mission. Whilst it does take a lot of time initially to build up trust and navigate conversations and ideas, the end results are worth it as you will have helped to develop your Followers into Leaders and bring them into the final Readiness level: Able and Willing.

Learning Styles – Facts, Fiction and Future

Have learning styles lost their shine?

Learning styles have been around for a long time, with the VAK model (Visual, Auditory and Kinaesthetic) being created in 1920 and Kolb’s model in 1984. Whilst there have been many adaptations throughout the years, alongside personality identifiers such as Myres-Briggs, there is little empirical evidence that they are right. Despite this lack of evidence though, the chances are you’ve heard people say they are a ‘visual learner’, an ‘INFJ’ or alternative at least once in your life! I know I’ve been guilty of it before…but it’s time to actually look at whether or not these tests have a positive impact on our ability to train and learn. 

The truth is, we have all likely been through at least one personality or learning styles test in our lives. Recent studies have tried to understand whether or not these techniques are beneficial or detrimental to our ability to learn. We are going to look at 3 of these studies today to discover; what Learning Styles are, understand what the science says, take a look at Learning Strategies and how you can create effective learning content.

What are learning styles?

Learning styles were explored as a way for people to identify how they learn, so that trainers, teachers and coaches could provide a method of communication that best suited the individuals they were working with. Whilst there will be more styles than those I have listed below, these are the main ones; Visual, Auditory, Kinaesthetic, Verbal, Individual and Socio-Interpersonal.

For example, Visual learners learn by seeing, so in order to cater for this style, the trainer should provide visual stimuli such as a PowerPoint presentation, a video, simple images of the topic being discussed or provide handouts that the learner can take away from the session and look at.  Auditory Learners need to hear the trainer speak, listen to music, read out loud and may prefer audio recordings instead or making notes.

The table below highlights the major styles, how people use them to learn and examples on how you can cater to these styles in a training room.

The 6 main Learning styles are meant to help people digest information by working on their strengths…but what does the science say about it?

The Science

To get a broad understanding of the scientific studies, we break it down into 4 main categories; Abilities vs styles, Multi-sensory, Style Scale and Strategy over Style. You will be able to make an informed decision by the end of this article on the value you place on Learning Styles and how you could utilise them to succeed.

1) Abilities vs Styles

In Lili Kumari Padhi and Deepanjali Mishra’s paper Learning How to Learn: An Analysis Through Styles and Strategies, they touch on the importance of working towards a person’s ability instead of their preferred learning style. This is because a persons preferred way of learning doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best way to teach them – you need to take into account the person and what they are able to do.

For example, if you have a Kinaesthetic learner and you are training them on how to differentiate between different types of snow (yup, there are!) – you may not be able to just give them 4 variations and let them get to work. They may not have the ability or knowledge to differentiate yet (me neither) so whilst Kinaesthetic learners will want to touch the snow and get to grips with it,  unless they already have a sound understanding on the different types of snow, they will still need verbal and/or visual instruction on how to identify their differences. Despite being a Kinaesthetic learner, they do not have the ability to just be taught using this style, they will need to blend it with other styles. If however, they had a sound understanding of the types of snow, getting hands on straight away may be beneficial to them – it all depends on ability.

The other consideration about ability is to ask yourself “am I teaching and training my delegates the most effective skills to learn and develop or just catering to their style?” – If you are training people on the works of a specific artist for example, your styles will mainly be visual – what brush strokes are used? What colours? How do colours contrast and blend? What style of painting is the artist known for? – All of these will require visual training aids and potentially kinaesthetic if you wanted your trainees to learn how to paint like the artist themselves.

Alternatively, take it to the next level, are you just teaching subject matter or are you giving your trainees valuable problem solving skills and learning strategies that they can utilise outside of the training room?

The key take away from this part of the study questions the validity of catering to a person’s learning style. What is more important for you? Getting your single message across or giving people the skills, tools and strategies to continue learning, adapting and evolving? Do you really want to rely solely on giving people information in their preferred learning style or do you want to mix it up and find more appropriate styles and strategies that will help them develop long-term skills and strategies?

2) Multi-Sensory

The science of learning shows us that we retain more information the more senses it passes through. Relying on a single style does not therefore give us the best opportunity to learn. In the case of our snow example, it may be an idea to watch a video on the different types of snow (visual) with narration covering the important differentiators (auditory) whilst having the snow available to touch (Kinaesthetic). By blending the different senses, our learner has a better chance of embedding the information.

We also need to consider that we cannot simply cater for each learning style. If for example, we were training people on identifying different genres of music, you may struggle to cater for Visual and Kinaesthetic learners as the majority of what you would focus on would be auditory. You would play the music and discuss it, visuals may not play a big part in the learning and neither would getting hands on with it.

In ‘Make It Stick’ the author Peter Brown discussed that it is much more important for the style to match what is being taught instead of what people prefer. For example, visual instruction for film studies or geometry, verbal instruction for poetry, and kinaesthetic activities for crafting. When the delivery matches the topic, the information embeds better in the learners mind.

3) It’s a scale

One key criticism of learning styles and other personality tests is that all results are really on a scale instead of being a concrete answer. For example, you could be introverted at work but extroverted at home. You could be a visual learner for art but and auditory learner for music. Our personality and learning styles work as a scale, based on the situation at hand. Looking at a paper by An and Carr, they highlight the importance of using multiple styles when learning.

Further to mixing your styles up, when we think in absolute terms it can damage our ability to teach and take in different sources based on our beliefs.  If you believe that you cannot learn using Visual methods, only auditory and that belief is based on a questionnaire or ’what feels right’ to you, your belief will limit the amount of information you can actually take in. If you aren’t so sure about that, in a 2007 study about mind-set, exercise and the placebo effect, researchers found that when cleaners were told that their job satisfied exercise guidelines, they became fitter in just 4 weeks – whereas the control group that were not told this information did not see these benefits. The full study can be found online but here is an extract from it:

In fact, science argues that learning styles can be worked on, increasing your abilities in each style. If you limit yourself by putting your ability to learn in a pigeon hole, maybe its time to break free of this limiting belief. It’s important to work on your strengths – absolutely but balance this with working on your development areas as well to give yourself and others the best chance to learn.

4) Strategy over style

Science is telling us that the best approach to learn is to adopt a strategy, not a style. In their 2016 paper titles “Learning strategies” Dr Yana Weinstein and Dr Megan Smith provide readers with multiple techniques and strategies to aid with learning. We will briefly touch on the following techniques from their paper: Spaced, Interleaving, Elaboration, Concrete examples, Dual coding, Retrieval. Alongside this, in Lili Kumari Padhi and Deepanjali Mishra’s paper, they also discussed Oxfords 1990 review, out of these we will explore Affective strategy, Social Strategy and Metacognitive strategy.


Spaced Practice

This is where you study the same material repeatedly but with gaps in between. For this to work, it’s a good idea to schedule in your practice. Make it frequent initially but as you become more familiar with the content, start to space it out slightly. For example, you may want to start with 4 times a week for an hour a day. It might look like this: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. You may then start creating longer times between the study sessions and potentially just using Monday and Thursday, then over time just Monday and then fortnightly and then monthly. What is important is to keep dipping into what you want to study over time. Research has found that studying on individual days commits to long term memory much more efficiently than cramming does.

Tip for yourself: Find the best time of the day for you to study and set yourself a schedule, use reminders on your phone. As recall becomes easier, begin to space out your practice more. For plus points, use Interleaving (discussed next) alongside Spaced practice. One tactic you can use is Flash cards with the topic on 1 side and on the other side, all of the key points you need to remember – this method falls into a subcategory called ‘memory strategy’.

Tip for training: Where possible, put your training into a journey. A month before training starts, email out an agenda for the training and key points / objectives. Include a quiz that makes people think – ask them questions they are unlikely to know the answer to yet but will after training (this falls into its own strategy called ‘Compensation’ and helps to embed learning through effortful thought). Use posters with quotes or key concepts around the office or via email. Consider small and bite sized elearning content that can explain a key point in a few slides. – Try to keep the words minimal and an image that connects the content. Build this strategy up until the training and deliver your amazing content. Consider how you could use Spaced Practice in the training room to recap. Post-delivery, email out a summary piece (think of a one page guide or similar) and resend the same quiz you sent out in the beginning. Ask your Leadership team to build the content into coaching sessions and so on.



This approach is where you look at different ideas within in a sequence, mixing up the practice instead of just focusing on 1 area such as with block studying. For example, if you had 10 maths problems, instead of doin 5 addition problems followed by 5 subtraction problems, it would be more effective to interleave the addition and subtraction like this:

  1. 1+2 =
  2. 3+1 =
  3. 2 – 5 =
  4. 6 + 8 =
  5. 3-9 =
  6. 7+2 =
  7. 10 – 6 =
  8. 4 – 3 =
  9. 2 + 6 =
  10. 1 – 3 =

In the above example, we have interleaved the subtraction and addition questions instead of blocking questions 1 – 5 as addition and 6 – 10 as subtraction. The theory behind this is that it challenges people to find the right method for each problem, it keeps them constantly thinking about the right approach and how to apply the right method rather than blocking out the same problem and just practicing and repeating the same approach. You can swap the order of your Interleaving practice to make it more varied and see if you can make connections between the different topics you are studying. You can interleave as many topics as you want.

Tip for yourself: Mix up different topics all together with your interleaving and change the order each time.

Tip for training: It may be difficult to verbally recap whilst jumping from 1 topic to another, so consider quizzes interlaced in the training that mix up different parts of the session.



This strategy involves explaining a topic in your own words, in as much detail as possible. It

is also where you connect new information to information you already know and experiences you have been through. This helps you to elaborate and connect with the material in new ways and can help you see it from different perspectives.

It is believed that the reason this works is that it helps you connect to the material on a deeper level and this in turn, helps your store and remember it:

One of the key techniques for Elaboration is covered in Weinstein, Madan and Sumeracki’s paper, it is called ‘Elaborative Interrogation’ and involves students questioning the material they are reading with ‘how’ and ‘why’ based questions. The next step is for the students to answer these questions, finding a deeper understanding than they would have got just by reading the material.

Tip for yourself: Write down the key concepts of the material you are learning, formulate questions about ‘how’ and ‘why’ the concept is there and works. Answer these questions and attempt to link it to your life experiences or other knowledge.

Tip for training: Get the team to brainstorm questions about the content and its main concepts. When they are done, get them to discuss each question and try to find the answers. Facilitate the discussion and where you can encourage the team to share experiences that are similar.


Concrete Examples

This strategy is used to give a tangible example of an abstract idea. Similar to elaboration in that you are connecting a theory or concept to help embed the learning. One of the best ways to do this is to provide multiple Concrete examples that vary on the surface but have the same guiding principles or structure on a deeper level. Having multiple examples allows you to recall the abstract idea or concept better than just having 1 concrete example. The issue with only using 1 concrete example is that you may remember the example better than the abstract idea, which isn’t the intention. The trick here is to make the concrete examples as clear and connected to the abstract idea as possible, leave out any irrelevant features.

Tip for yourself: Similar to Elaboration, think about how you can turn a key concept into a concrete example. Let’s take an abstract idea, such as Freedom, first we will look at what freedom can mean and then provide concrete examples.

Abstract: Freedom by definition is “the power to act, speak or think as one wants.”

Concrete example 1: The diversity and inclusion policy at work gave people the right to express themselves and work towards their strengths. This policy empowered Amber to utilise her differences effectively and complete project B to a high standard.

Concrete example 2: American president Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery.

Concrete example 3: In the film Croods 2 (spoiler alert!) Grug makes the decision to eat all of the bananas, despite the only rule being not to eat any of them. Perhaps if Phil had explained the issue to Greg and Guy in the first place, this wouldn’t have happened.

Concrete example 4: In the United Kingdom, the principle of Free Speech enables people to share ideas and opinions with others. Whilst freedom of speech exists, any communication that is threatening or abusive, and is intended to harass, alarm, or distress someone is not allowed. If you decide to conduct yourself in this way, you may face the consequences such as fines or imprisonment.

Concrete example 5: Stephen Downing was wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for a crime he did not commit.

Concrete example 6: In 1215 the Magna Carter acknowledged that subjects of the crown were entitled to legal rights. It also made it so that the law applied to Kings and Queens as well.

Tip for yourself: As you study, search for cases or situations that can be explained through the concept you are learning.

Tip for training: Provide multiple concrete examples that are different on the surface but have the same underlying principles. Consider placing examples around the room and getting people to walk from one example to the next in order to find the abstract ideas behind the scenarios.


Dual Coding

This strategy utilises Multiple senses or formats to convey a message. You could include a draw a picture that illustrates the text beneath it for example or have an image on your PowerPoint which covers the abstract concept whilst you verbal deliver concrete examples. Dual coding can include touch, smell and feelings as well. Simply put, the more senses you can bring in, the better the information will be anchored. Obviously you can’t make every study or training session packed with sensory stimulation otherwise it may lost its impact or lead to overload but consider the different senses and formats you can bring in to drive key messages home.

Tip for yourself: Consider how you can anchor the key concepts by using a mixture of visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, olfactory, emotions and so on. Try to connect what you are learning using a sensible format – you don’t want to evoke an emotion for every concept, its not always going to be possible to anchor a concept using a sense of smell – do what makes sense.

Tip for training: Use the space around the room or power point to include key images that will help people remember abstract concepts. Where possible and it makes sense, get people to recall memories and experiences and how they felt in those moments.


Affective Strategy

The focus point here is managing emotions and feelings, it looks at making learners feel comfortable, helps them regulate feelings, reduce anxiety and create a sense of motivation. Learning can cause anxiety in some learners, leading them to catastrophize, reach an Action Crisis (where you question whether the end result is worth the work you’re putting in) and potentially give up on their journey. Whilst we aren’t going into too much detail here, a good tactic consider is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In this pyramid, you need to ensure that as many of the levels are covered as possible, so that people can be comfortable in their environment and focus on what they are learning.

The bottom layers cover basic needs – such as food, shelter, security and so on. As we travel up the pyramid, we look at social acceptance, self-esteem and the top layer achieving your full potential. If you are satisfying all of the needs on the pyramid, the learning will feel easier and people will be less likely to suffer from anxiety or be distracted by the other areas of concern on the pyramid. Let’s face it, if you are hungry, need the toilet or are stressing about losing your home, it will be difficult to concentrate on learning. Put yourself in a good place physically and emotionally to learn.

Tip for yourself: Make the room comfortable, ensure water is at hand and that you are not hungry going into your studying. Remind yourself of the end result of your learning, what you hope to achieve and take a few moments to recognise how far you have already come by setting out on this journey.

Tip for training: Prep the room, put water, pens and paper out ready. Check the temperature, lighting and layout of the room – does it create a learning environment? When people come into the room, set expectations about it being a safe environment to share ideas and support each other. Go through the agenda with rough timings so people know when the next breaks are and understand the learning journey you are embarking on together. During group discussions, be positive in your facilitation and explore answers that initially appear to be wrong. Create psychological and physical safety to put people at ease.


Social Strategy

This technique involves learning through others, whether it is in a group discussion, with a mentor or by seeking out an expert. When we link this to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we see the importance of social strategies at both the love and belonging stage and esteem stage. Bring others in as a way to group learn or seek out the knowledge of an expert.

Tip for yourself: Seek out an expert in the field or local groups with similar interests.

Tip of training: Include group discussions and ensure that there are not any overly dominant people in the group. You could bring an expert in to talk or find videos of them online that you can share.


Metacognitive Strategy

This refers to the awareness the learner has on how they learn and the strategies they are using. Some examples of metacognitive strategies that you can use are: reflection, understanding and working towards your strengths / on your weaknesses, Mnemonic Aids such as rhymes or associations, visualisation strategies and so on.

Tip for yourself: Read up on different strategies (there are more than we have covered here!!!), try them out over a few months and find a few that work best for you.

Tip for training: Keep training varied, see if you can link key parts of the training to something people will see every day. In ‘Make it Stick’ the authors talk about a psychology professor that took his team to numerous coffee shops, it was there that they connected key parts of what they had learnt to the layouts of each coffee shop, including the ornaments, seating, menus, uniform and so on. When it was time for their exam, the students visualised walking into the coffee shop and instantly knew where to go mentally in the venue to retrieve information.


So what does this mean?

As most recent studies point out, there is no evidence to suggest that working towards your preferred learning style actually works. In An and Carr’s study, they quote Mckay to drive home this point:

It appears that focusing on learning strategies is a much better solution for learning than focusing on learning styles. That doesn’t mean ignore them altogether though. What we do know is that the more variety you can bring into the training, the more engaging it is. Try to match the content with the learning style, it may not make much sense to cater for auditory styles when looking at images of cars to differentiate makes and models based solely on appearance.

Whilst I wouldn’t suggest catering your training or studying to preferred learning styles, it does make sense to use a variety of resources and techniques to increase engagement and help people remember key points on multiple sensory levels.

To add to this, some people fully identify with a specific learning style and they believe this to their core. It is incredibly difficult to educate people effectively when their identity is being called into question. In fact, you may be reading this and still thinking “Well, I still know I’m an Auditory learner! The science isn’t right for me.” – and that’s okay too. What’s important for people to acknowledge is that it is through hard work, that we learn the best. So if you have a learner who is adamant that they need to be taught in a specific style, help them understand that using a range of styles will help embed the material better because how hard they will have to work to assimilate the information. You can always use their (or your) preferred style of learning as a reward for going through the other learning styles.

We have discussed what learning styles are, looked at some more effective strategies to use both on ourselves and in the training room and briefly covered what that means for us going forward as Learning and Development professionals in the training room. At the bottom of this article you will find some resources that may help you plan and deliver engaging workshops based on scientifically proven learning strategies and ensuring your training is varied.

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Situational Leadership – Summary

Situational Leadership – Summary

Welcome to our Summary article on Situational Leadership, this is the first of 7 articles that explores this widely used model. Our release schedule for the Situational Leadership articles is below. Together, we will explore the positives of the model, the negatives of the model and each of the Leadership styles in more detail – concluding on the 20th of March 2022.


10/10/2021 – Telling Leadership Article

21/11/2021 – Selling Leadership Article

19/12/2021 – Participating Leadership Article

13/02/2022 – Delegating Leadership Article

13/03/2022 – Pros of Situational Leadership

20/03/2022 – Shortfalls of Situational Leadership


What is it?

Situational Leadership is a model created by Hersey and Blanchard that was initially named the “Life cycle theory of leadership”. The idea of the model is that a Leader should change their Leadership style based on the readiness (or maturity/ developmental) level of their Follower.

It is a structured style of leadership, based on the situation at hand. This style differs from trait leadership which focuses on the Leaders behaviour, character and overall style.

Below is the Situational Leadership model. The 4 quadrants indicate Follower Readiness levels (R1, R2, R3 and R4) and the ideal Leadership style is represented by the arrows moving through each quadrant.

The model comprises of 4 main styles of Leadership; Telling, Selling, Participating and Delegating. Each leadership style matches the readiness level of your Followers, typically known as R1 (Readiness level 1), R2, R3 and R4. 

  • R1 Followers are described as: “Unable and Insecure or Unwilling”
  • R2 Followers are described as: “Unable but Confident or Willing”
  • R3 Followers are described as: “Able but Insecure of Unwilling”
  • R4 Followers are described as: “Able and Willing or Motivated”

The horizontal axis focuses on directive or task orientated behaviour or how much “Telling” you need to do. The vertical axis places its focus on supportive or relationship focussed behaviour and how much time you need to invest in your Followers.


As you can see from the above image, R1 Followers need a Telling Leadership approach, R2 a Selling approach, R3 a Participating approach and R4 a Delegating approach. The model advises that you should change your Leadership style based on the Readiness level of your follower. This will provide them with the leadership style they will benefit from the most.

It’s important to understand that Follower Readiness level can move forward or backwards based on the situation at hand. For example, an R4 Follower (someone who is able and confident in their role), may turn into an R1 Follower (Someone unable and insecure) in the event of an urgent situation they felt unable to deal with.


Why is it used?

Situational Leadership has been a popular Leadership style since its inception in 1969. Businesses use it to gain a consistent yet fluid approach to Leadership, whilst Learning and Development professionals have seen success when using it as part of a learning journey.

The Leadership model has been continually adapted by its authors (albeit separately) over the years, keeping it relevant and adjusting their model based on evidential research. 

Whilst some models prefer Leaders to have specific traits or a key mentality, such as Servant Leadership, the Situational model calls for a combination of task and relationship focus, leading to an easy to assimilate and consistent formula for Leaders to use.

We go into more detail on the pros and cons of this model alongside each of the 4 styles in separate articles but one thing is clear, Situational Leadership has maintained its popularity amongst organisations since 1969.


How is it used?

For specifics, check out each individual article on the styles involved but we will give you a brief overview below of the; Telling, Selling, Participating and Delegating styles, enabling you to grasp the high level theory behind the model.


Telling – or Directive Leadership

This autocratic or ‘Telling’ approach to Leadership is a method best used on R1 Followers. Here, you tell people what they need to do and why they need to do it. It works well when outlining a process or have new starters that are unable to perform the tasks required. It’s useful you’re your Follower lacks the confidence or desire to take necessary action. 


When we think about a Follower that is unskilled and lacking confidence or desire, we can think about a new starter. Whilst most of the time, we expect new starters to demonstrate a desire to do a good job, they may be lacking in confidence. They wont know the policies or processes and will need direction early on to build both their skill and confidence levels. We cover this in more detail in our Telling / Directive Leadership article due for release on the 10th of October 2021.



This is a coaching centred approach where you “sell” your ideas and is best used with R2 Followers. The ideal time to use this style is when your Follower still lacks the skill to succeed but their confidence and/or enthusiasm overrides their skill level.

The Selling approach seeks to help your Follower come to their own conclusions about what they need to do and why it is important. There is still an element of ‘Telling’ in here if your Follower gets stuck but the majority of the answers should be coming from them. This helps to foster their enthusiasm into skill based practice and help them become R3 or R4 Followers. The Selling Leadership Article is due for release on the 21st of November 2021.



This is a facilitation style and is an ideal approach for an R3 follower. This style works well for people who have the skills but are lacking the motivation or will to do the job. It can be a time consuming approach as it requires little direction and lots of support, with a high focus on relationships. This approach is designed to engage your skilled Followers and help them see the value in themselves and their work.

A Follower that has the skills but not the will to do their job can be both challenging and rewarding. Whilst the Leader will still have the final say on the way forward, putting your trust in your Followers and letting them experiment with their ideas (even if you think yours is better) is key to developing them further. Participating Leadership can be done 1 on 1 but works really well for group work – especially if your team are in the Storming Stage (more on that another time)!

The Participating Leadership article is due for release on the 2nd of January 2022.




This style of leadership is reserved for your R4 Followers. People who are motivated and have the skills to do the job to a high standard. It’s a hands off approach to leading, requiring little direction or support from the leader, this is where you want your Followers to be.

Whilst it is amazing to have a team of R4 Followers, remember that you are still accountable for your team and the projects success. Delegating a project or workload isn’t the same as passing ownership of the blame if things go wrong. Make sure your team knows the outcome needed, have a clear understanding of the values and mission your team subscribe to and that you have built up a trusting relationship with them to know if they struggle, you will be the first to know.


The Delegating Leadership article is due for release on the 13th of February 2022.


To conclude

Situational Leadership helps you establish which leadership style to use based on Follower readiness levels and the situation at hand. It outlines key attitudes and tools to use in each situation, giving the leader an easy and quick reference on how to be effective at any given moment.


There are 4 Readiness levels: 

  • R1 Followers are described as: “Unable and Insecure or Unwilling”
  • R2 Followers are described as: “Unable but Confident or Willing”
  • R3 Followers are described as: “Able but Insecure of Unwilling”
  • R4 Followers are described as: “Able and Willing or Motivated”

With 4 accompanying Leadership styles:

  • Telling – For R1 Followers (Directive / Autocratic approach)
  • Selling – For R2 Followers (Coaching approach)
  • Participating – For R3 Followers (Facilitation approach)
  • Delegating for R4 Followers (Entrusting approach)

If you are ready to engage in the leadership styles in more detail, the individual guides and their accompanying courseware should give you everything you need to utilise this model effectively. If you subscribe via email at the bottom of the article, you will get these delivered directly into your inbox.

Thank you for spending time with us and getting a foundational understanding of this theory. Consider downloading the below resources, sharing them amongst your team and developing your own styles. At the bottom of the page you will find:


1) Situational Leadership quiz – what’s your natural style?

2) Situational Leadership one page guide

3) Situational Leadership Reflection Template


If you want to take your Leadership skills to the next level, book in your free consultation today:


File Name: Situational-Leadership-Quiz-by-Develop-The-Edge-2.xlsx


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Transform Accusations into Achievements with the Accountability Ladder

How would you like to become a:

  • More vigilant problem solver?
  • Better decision maker?
  • Continually high performer?
  • Highly motivated person?
  • Highly satisfied person?

Well, together we are about to explore how accountability can drastically change the way you live your life, lead others and achieve your goals. We are going to Discover an amazing tool called the Ladder of Accountability and how it can transform your mind-set to make you unstoppable.

If you are thinking:

We’ve got you covered. Here’s the funny thing about accountability…when done correctly; it encourages others to take ownership, it gives you more time back, it feels empowering, you are more in control of your life and find more satisfaction in your choices. Not to mention that accountable people are more successful and are more positively viewed by their peers. The benefits of accountability are huge.


Accountability is about being responsible for success and silencing the voice in your head that wants you to be a victim. Don’t worry, we all have that Victim mind-set within our head from time to time and the temptation to listen to it can be strong because it gives people an excuse not to try. This article aims to help you fight the Victim mind-set by using an Accountable mind-set that aims to cut out the voices of “It’s not my fault”, “I don’t have the time” and any other thought you have about life happening TO you instead of happening BECAUSE of you.



Let’s begin to embrace accountability and take a look at how we can push back against the Victim mind-set and embrace freedom, success and empowerment through the Accountable mind-set


Why accountability matters

We hear people talk about accountability and we know that it’s important for getting things done – but the benefits of accountability are far greater than that. We are going to look at how accountability impacts; motivation, results, others, stress levels, time and fulfilment.


That’s right! Being accountable puts you in a motivational state. Think about anytime you have set a goal you are passionate about. You will know what actions you need to take, when to take them and you carry out these actions because you understand the purpose behind them.

Take a moment to consider the difference that these 2 options have on the way you feel:


  1. “Someone needs to help that person.”
  2. “I am going to help that person.”

Did the 1st one make you feel like a bystander, a victim or generally uninterested and detached?

Did the 2nd one make you feel more empowered, helpful, motivated and in control?


When you look around your house and see job after job, piling on top of each other – consider the difference in these 2 statements:

  1. “There is so much to do, why am I the only one that does anything around here?”
  2. “I’m going to make a list, get it done, ask for help and set a game-plan so we stay on top of things next time.”

Did the 1st one make you feel like a victim and that bad things in life happen to you? That there was so much to do because no one else pulled their weight? Did you feel overwhelmed and stressed?

Did the 2nd one make you feel empowered, resourceful, motivated and relieved?


This is the power of accountability. It’s a skill, one that comes with time and lots of practice. Fortunately, there is a simple tool you can use to help you identify whether you are in a Victim mind-set or an Accountable mind-set and take appropriate steps to take back control, feel more motivated, energised and calm.

Let’s get right into the Ladder of Accountability so we can create a much more useful and powerful Accountable mind-set.

The Ladder of Accountability was shown to me by my first Leadership mentor when I told him that operations wanted to see improvements in both the Quality and Productivity of my team but were not giving me adequate time to coach them to success. He immediately got out a printed image of the Ladder of Accountability and asked me if I was in a Victim mind-set or an Accountable mind-set. The answer was painfully obvious, I was in a victim mind-set. THEY wouldn’t give me the time, therefore my mission wasn’t possible. I was wrong, it was possible and with accountability, I took control and we smashed it.


The Ladder of Accountability has 8 rungs, 4 of which are Victim mind-sets; “I don’t know”, “Blame others”, “Excuses” and “Wait & hope.” The last 4 are Accountable mind-sets; “Acknowledge reality”, “Own it”, “Find solutions” and “Make it happen”. As you climb up the ladder, you become more accountable and begin to power your way through to success.

To understand the Ladder in more detail, we will need to explore each rung and discover how to climb to the top in order to achieve accountability and set ourselves up for success.

At the bottom rung of accountability is ‘I don’t know!” at this stage people simply don’t know that there is a problem. They are completely unaware that the problem exists or that something needs attention. We are surrounded by topics and situations we don’t know about – if we knew about them all we would likely have information overload. It makes sense then that we are all at this rung in some aspect of our lives – it’s up to you to identify it and decide if you want to take action.


This stage could be something simple as using an old process at work and saying “I did it because it’s what we’ve always done!” – when in reality the process is no longer fit for purpose. You may not have known it was an issue at the time, because you simply hadn’t taken a step back to consider the risks of taking the actions you did.


How many times have couples said to each other “How am I meant to know unless you tell me?” – A mix here of the stage “I don’t know” and our next stage “Blame Others.”


Before we move on to the next stage though, lets look at 3 quick ways that we can become more aware of the world around us and our levels of accountability:


    1. Mindfulness and reflection
    2. Risk assessments
    3. Conversations

1. Mindfulness is the state of being in the present and paying attention to the moment. When you are in the moment, you feel calmer and pay more attention to yourself and the world around you. This, alongside reflection may help you become more aware of the situations and problems you have been overlooking such as a partners body language, troubling situations or habit changes.


2. Risk assessments aren’t just for businesses. Have you thought about what would happen if giant ants from space came to enslave the earth? What would your emergency plans be for yourself and your loved ones? Yes – we got a bit crazy there but there is nothing wrong with creating an emergency plan in case of; natural disasters, burglaries, redundancy and so on. These are all things people can have a Victim Mind-Set about with questions such as “How was I meant to know?” or “What can I do about it?”


In reality though, there’s a simple answer: Risk assess and plan. Ideally do this proactively and before the event occurs but occasionally things happen and we have to react. The best way forward once you have a plan in place is to figure out how to stop similar situations occurring in the future.

Consider a simple 9 point Risk Assessment – Impact /Probability grid that may help you identify what risks you are best placed to focus on.

For example, if you were assessing the risk of being made redundant and you are in a secure job where it is unlikely you will be let go, you would start at the ‘Low Probability’ row in the above image. If that job was well paying and you have lots of financial commitments, we can agree that the impact of redundancy would be high and so you would need to go to the grid point: Low Probability/High Impact. This Grid axis takes us to a “Medium” risk level as outlined below:

Something to create a plan for but not immediately stress over. If however, you didn’t have financial commitments and had lots of savings then the impact could be considered “Low” making this a Low Probability/Low Impact event, taking us to a “Low” risk level. It’s a good idea to have something in place still but even just to be aware of it and the potential impacts is a start.


 3. Conversations are essential in life, they work wonders for accountability too. By talking to others, you are understanding their perspectives and they will likely talk to you about potential situations you were not aware of. You will also be able to pick up where you both are on the Accountability Ladder by the words being used.


Next time you hear yourself say: “I had no idea!” or “How was I supposed to know?” – recognise where you are and figure out WHY you didn’t know and how you could ensure you positioned yourself in a place of knowledge going forward.

With a good understanding on how to combat the ‘I don’t know’ rung of the ladder, we can begin to climb the ladder and get to the next Victim stage: Rung 2 – Blame Others.

This is the phase where people want to shift the uncomfortable spotlight from themselves onto someone else. Whilst this can temporarily ease the pressure, it doesn’t make you feel better in the long run, it doesn’t get us to a solution faster, it damages relationships and it can make us feel guilty and ashamed later on.

This stage is a bit like the Stanford Marshmallow experiment – where children were given the choice between 1 immediate marshmallow or 2 marshmallows if they waited for a period of time. The study was to test instant gratification or delayed gratification. Like the experiment, you have 2 choices:


1. Cast blame for the immediate spotlight to be off of you (1 immediate ‘reward’)


2. Be accountable, explain what you could have done differently and find solutions going forward (2 much more satisfying rewards).


So before you go to cast blame on someone else, ask yourself whether you are choosing to take 1 or 2 marshmallows today?

To drive the importance home, here are 2 further points to consider:


  1. In follow up studies, they found that the children who had waited and taken 2 marshmallows were more successful in life.
  2. Blaming others in no way guarantees you that the spotlight will come off of you. In fact, you will likely develop a reputation for it, be considered untrustworthy, lose relationships and be even more likely to be considered responsible for the failure. People catch on quickly so don’t be known as the person that blames the world, make it known that you own issues and take action to get results.

In the words of Extreme Ownership Authors Jocko Willink and Leif Babin:

So how do we stop blaming others and start being more accountable?

Here are the 6R’s that we formulated based on research and over a decade of experience as coaches:

Step 1: Recognise

You have to be aware of yourself when you are mentally or verbally placing the blame on someone else. Catch yourself doing it, stop the behaviour and move on to step 2.

Step 2: Refocus

You are now aware that you were about to cast blame on someone else. Take a breath and quickly scan why you were about to do that, you might find the reason you are responsible for the issue. Don’t dwell too much here right now, we need to refocus on the next step – Review.

Step 3: Review

What were you or are you accountable for? Find a way to be accountable for what’s happened.

For example:

  • A colleague had 100% responsibility for a project but didn’t deliver? How could you have changed that? What support could you have offered? Could you have offered support in a different way? There are countless ways to make yourself accountable for something that at first doesn’t seem like it should be your responsibility.

Find out what you were accountable for, own it and be vocal about it. Chances are, this mind-set and mentality will help others become accountable too.

Step 4: Rescue

There is no point in placing the blame anywhere, even on yourself if you are not going to do anything about it. Work on fixing the immediate issue at hand. This level of ownership and responsibility will likely be admired by your peers and people up the chain of command as well.

Step 5: Reflect

We have fixed the issue at hand, all that’s left to do is reflect on why mistakes were made, how to improve ourselves, processes and teams to make us more efficient in the future.

Step 6: Recommend

All that’s left now is to make recommendations so that this doesn’t happen again. Up your accountability here and take some time to do a wider risk analysis to see if there is anything else that could benefit from being reviewed. This is where great learning opportunities come from, put processes in place to ensure your success in the future. Working with a team here helps build future accountability so consider facilitating a session on the best way forward.

Here are 3 common reasons people pass blame, why they don’t work and what you can do about it:

With the realisation that blame is actually our enemy other than our friend, it’s time to take the next step up the ladder. This rung is called Excuses.

As coaches, we hear excuses all of the time, such as:


  • “I can’t!”
  • “I don’t have the time!”
  • “No one is supporting me! What if I fail?”
  • “I cannot do this on my own!”
  • “This is too difficult, nobody could do this!”
  • “Of course THEY did it, they had support!”

People that say these kinds of things don’t tend to recognise them as excuses, they think they’re legitimately unmovable obstacles. As coaches we tend to call them ‘Limiting Beliefs’ and it’s something we are very good at challenging, reframing and helping people overcome.

A limiting belief is an assumption you hold about yourself or your situation that isn’t actually true. It’s our job as coaches to challenge this thought process through questioning and curiosity. We know that Limiting Beliefs often come from 3 main places: fear, uncertainty and self-doubt.


Once you have identified where these excuses or limiting beliefs are coming from, you can start to question your thought process on them. Taking a few of the above examples, we will identify where the limiting belief has come from and then look at some sample questions you can use to challenge them.


“I can’t!”

Where does this come from?

  • Self-doubt.

What questions could challenge this limiting belief?

  • “Really?” Followed by silence.
  • “What’s the specific reason you can’t do it?”
  • “Is there anybody that could do it?” followed by “How would they do it?”

“I don’t have the time!”

Where does this come from?

  • Uncertainty

What questions could challenge this limiting belief?

  • “How could you make the time?”
  • “What is stopping you from making the time?”
  • “How much time do you think it would take?” Followed by “Could you split this into smaller chunks?”
  • “Who would have the time?”
  • “Why isn’t this important enough for you to make the time?”

“No one is supporting me! What if I fail?”

Where does this come from?

  • Self-doubt and fear

What questions could challenge this limiting belief?

  • “What makes you think you need support?”
  • “What support do you think you need?”
  • “Could you ask for help?”
  • “What makes you think you will fail?”
  • “If you do fail, what then?”

It’s important to listen out for limiting beliefs and excuses. By effectively challenging them you open up the door to accountability and success. Once we have successfully navigated the excuses and limiting beliefs, the next rung on the ladder is Wait and hope.

This is the last of the Victim mind-sets on the Ladder of Accountability. Whilst it isn’t blaming others, making excuses or being unaware of the situation, there is still a clear lack of accountability that needs addressing.

At this stage, the person simply waits and hopes someone else will do it. If we are being honest with ourselves here, there is at least one thing that you have left and hoped someone else would do. The problem here is that if everyone waits for someone else to do it, no one would do it! Here is a short video that explains the story: Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, Nobody:

Wait and Hope in work can be seen as a cultural lack of accountability. Everybody assumed somebody would do it, because anybody could do it but nobody does! This can push us right back down to the Blame game on rung 2 as we start pointing fingers at other people who should have done it.

Do not waste your time and energy falling back down the ladder. Here are 3 quick and simple ways to get passed Wait and Hope:

  • Do it yourself.
  • Explain to someone why you cannot do it and ask for help.
  • Offer to take work from someone else so they will have the time to do it.

Just like that, we have taken accountability and either taken control of the situation ourselves of empowered someone else to complete the task. Of course, ownership is about owning the task completely, so even if someone else says they will do it, find a way to be accountable for the task still – check in on the person, see if they are getting on okay or if they need support. Delegating work doesn’t make you less accountable, you should still be responsible for the end result.

With strategies in place to deal with the 4 Victim mind-sets, it’s time to begin the climb into the Accountable mind-set. Give yourself a pat on the back here, celebrate and enjoy the moment. Accountability is hard but it is worth it. Ensure you celebrate and reward yourself for taking accountable actions.

Acknowledging reality is where we are able to put all of the petty and unhelpful Victim mind-sets to one side. This can be a difficult step for our ego to take but it’s a necessary one to become an accountable and successful person. When you acknowledge reality you strip away all of the noise, beliefs and assumptions that were gathering on the first 4 rungs. You look at the facts of the situation, where you are, the facts that led to the problem and understand that something needs to change.


Let’s understand why acknowledging reality is important:

  • Reality gives you an honest view on what’s happened and why
  • This lets you get to the root cause of the problem instead of fixing symptoms
  • Often the sting of acknowledging short comings can stop you from making the same mistake twice
  • People around you will see you truly want to understand and fix the problem

Once we understand how important acknowledging reality is, we need to establish how much of what we are seeing is raw factual data and how much of it has been interpreted by ourselves through our beliefs and assumptions.

For example, if we revisit the scenario where jobs are piling up around the house, our view will be distorted by our beliefs and assumptions:


“The other person doesn’t do anything around here.” – Belief

“They are just lazy!” – Assumption

“They don’t care about me or the house.” – Assumption

“I am not valued here.” – Belief


Wow, that spiralled quickly out of control! We need to break away from these beliefs and assumptions and get to the facts. Here are some questions that may help you dive down into the concrete evidence:

  • Which of my beliefs are impacting these thoughts?
  • What assumptions am I making and why?
  • Am I using all of the available data or am I being selective with it?
  • What are the core facts of the situation?

After thinking about these questions, we may come to the below conclusions:

There are lots of jobs that need to be done.

The jobs I do are X, Y & Z.

I don’t know what jobs the other person does, I should probably find out.

I do not factually know why the house has so many outstanding jobs right now.

I do not have any proof that says they do not value me or the house, it’s just the way I felt.

What I do know is that we have a lot to do, we need a game plan to fix the problem and have a strategy for the future.


With these simple questions, we have moved from quite an emotional state to one of a rational and calm mind that is now able to take ownership and find solutions. Living in the facts and acknowledging reality is a powerful skill to develop. Keep working on it every time you feel your emotions getting the better of you.

Here are 3 more great questions we have highlighted in our previous article on the GROW model. They use a method called ‘Chunking down’, which is when you take an emotive statement and ask a question designed to break the emotional pattern and focus on a factual and logical answer.

If you want to know more about the Grow model, our article on it is here:

With an honest view on the situation, it’s time to climb to the next rung of the ladder –Embrace it.

This is the stage that can be quite difficult as you now have the facts, it’s time to embrace your responsibility for what happened. When you own the mistake or problem. You are more determined to solve it.  This stage is a constant battle with your ego as it pushes back from taking blame and wants to shout about all the things it has done not the 1 thing it hasn’t. The problem is, the 1 thing you didn’t do is the cause of the problem. There is no point running a 100m race and stopping at the 99th meter.

As Whitmore said, ownership leads to motivation and thus results. If you take ownership of the problem, you will be driven to find a solution.

We are going to give you a scenario that may be difficult for you to take ownership of.

Work out how you could make yourself accountable for the problem, what mistakes did you make here that lead to the failure of the project?

  • A project came in to the team from your client, one of your colleagues eagerly put themselves forward for the task and your manager happily gave it to them. In your weekly meeting your manager checked the progress of every team member’s projects and your colleague always said everything was going great. Whenever you caught up with your colleague in meetings or the breakroom, they seemed confident in their work and abilities. They always seem on top of everything. On the day of the deadline your colleague told you that they were nowhere near completion and that they had been lying when they said everything was great. Due to the project not being completed on time, client ended up cancelling all contracts with your team, losing the company a lot of money and damaging its reputation.
  • List all of the ways you can take ownership of the projects failure before continuing with the article.

If you are struggling with this one, watch this 15 minute video by Jocko that may give you a few ideas.

Once you have answered the questions, the article continues below the video.

Once you have worked out how you can take ownership of the situation, think back to a time where you felt like there was no-way you could have been accountable for a problem or situation – when it was 100% someone else’s fault. Take a different perspective on it now and think about what you could do to change that – what could you make yourself accountable for in that situation?


Now that we have embraced our accountability of the problem, the next step is vital – Find a Solution.

It’s pointless just taking ownership of a mistake, you have to learn from it and try to fix it. Consider the immediate way forward for the problem or situation and how you will take responsibility for it.


We also need to learn from our mistakes, so with your clear view on what went wrong from the Embrace it stage, start to come up with solutions that will stop it happening again.

Consider the last scenario we went through together, where you colleague took on a project which failed and cost the company both income and reputation. Review your list of mistakes that you are accountable for and write down what you will do differently next time to ensure that future missions will be a success.


You can also do this with your personal scenario.

Ariana Glantz has a TED talk about finding solutions where she acknowledges how scary it can be to start looking for solutions, especially if we don’t initially think we have the tools or confidence to do it. To help overcome this, she has created a simple 5 step process for generating the way forward. We have broken this down for you below but the video is here:

  • Mindset

Make being solutions minded part of your identity. Before sitting down, remind yourself that you are a person that is focused on finding solutions. If you brain keeps drifting back to the problem, redirect it to the solution.

  • Structure

Create your own process for problem solving, whether it’s a start to finish approach or is more about idea generation, know what works for you and make tweaks to it along the way.

  • Question

Clarify the problem by asking questions about it – there’s no point creating a solution if you haven’t explored the problem – your solution may be wrong! Question colleagues, friends and subject matter experts for their opinions and ideas.

  • Practice

Finding Solutions is a skill that takes time and practice, so use every problem as an opportunity to try out your new process.

  • Patience

Be kind to yourself and others, learning a new skill or just navigating through problems can be a challenging time. Support yourself and others.

With a Solution in mind, it’s time to climb up to the final rung of the ladder Make it happen.

You’ve done the hard work, you have put your ego to the side, admitted accountability, embraced the feelings and consequences that come with making mistakes and you have generated a way forward. Now all you need to do, is take action.

As you have made the decision to be accountable, this step should be fairly easy. People who feel accountable are much more likely to take appropriate action to get the desired results. Take time to celebrate what you have achieved here, taking ownership is not an easy road but it is one that will see you succeed, it is one where you will become a leader and inspire others to be more accountable.

The next time you make a statement or have a thought about a problem or situation, take a minute to consider where you are on the Ladder of Accountability. Think about what steps you need to take to move from a Victim Mind-set to an Accountable-Mind-set in order to succeed.


There are 8 rungs on the ladder of accountability; “I don’t know”, “Blame others”, “Excuses”, “Wait & hope”, “Acknowledge reality”, “Own it”, “Find solutions” and “Make it happen”. You have the choice on whether you want to have a Victim mind-set or an Accountable mind-set. Being a Victim is easy in the short term but can cause long term damage to your mentality, relationships, skills and abilities. Being accountable may be difficult in the short-term but the long-term pay offs are massive. You become more passionate, more dedicated, more solutions focused, more satisfied, better at solving problems and inspirational to others. In fact, Arti Trivedi in his paper A Study of Literature Review on Individual Accountability, said this:

That brings our article on the Ladder of Accountability to a close. We have added the following resources to the bottom of the page:

  • A FREE 40 Page Guidebook to help you and others become a Victor instead of a Victim
  • 2 x Ladder of Accountability Hand Outs
  • Ladder of Accountability 1 page guide

 If you have found the article valuable, consider sharing it with others by clicking the Social Media icons below.


If you want to become a more vigilant problem solver, better decision maker, continually high performer, a highly motivated person and a highly satisfied person – Book in your FREE no commitment consultation session with us today:

Get up and go with the GROW model

If you:

  • Feel like you aren’t progressing when it comes to planning and achieving your goals
  • Get lost when structuring a coaching conversation
  • Want to help people achieve their potential but you just aren’t sure where to start

This article should be packed with value for you.

Based on John Whitmore’ book ‘Coaching for Performance 5th Edition’, we discuss WHAT the model is and HOW to use it. If you want to learn more about the benefits of the GROW model, consider subscribing to our blog as we will be discussing this with you soon!

For now though, let us begin to explore this widely used model and discover what it could do for you.

What is the GROW model?

The GROW model was created by John Whitmore as a tool to help coaches and leaders have effective conversations with their colleagues. Whitmore advised that the model should be used similar to a journey planner – find out where you want to go, understand where you are and plot the best path to get there.

The acronym GROW is broken down in to 4 easy to follow steps which stand for; Goal, Reality, Options and Will.

How to use the GROW model

The GROW model is a fantastic tool you can use alongside your coaching and facilitation skills, it gives you a framework to base your conversations around so that they follow a sensible structure. It isn’t a replacement for interactive coaching, so it’s important to stay engaged as you work your way through the model, being flexible in your approach will help the conversation flow and allows you to avoid an awkward and rigid tick box exercise.

Before you launch into understanding your coachees goal, it makes sense to set the scene. We don’t mean brief your coachee on the model but we definitely should explore the purpose of the coaching session. What is the end goal of the session and why is it important? Whether you have a specific agenda for the coaching sessions or not, it’s always a good idea to ask your coachee what they would like to get out of the time you are spending together.

Consider these simple, thought provoking introduction questions:

Do you have any impactful questions that you like to open a session with? Connect with us @DevelopTheEdge on Twitter or LinkedIn and let us know how you start your sessions off powerfully!

With the scene set, we can look at how we can use the model to guide our coaching conversations. The first part of the model we are going to engage with is Goal.

The first part of the model is extremely important as it focuses on what is to be achieved. Much like with Locke and Latham’ research, Whitmore advises that the goal needs to be stretching for the coachee. When we look at goal motivation, we see that when a goal is too easy or too hard, we give up on it because it is either not valuable (too easy) or not worth the effort (too hard).

If you only have a short amount of time to coach with, consider asking your coachee to have a goal in mind before the session.

Whitmore identifies 4 different types of goals:

  1. Dream Goals
  2. End Goals
  3. Performance Goals
  4. Process Goals. 

The different types of goals can impact motivation levels, goal success and accountability in your coachee so it is important to know which goal we are dealing with at any one point. If for example, your coachee is missing a Dream Goal, they may lack motivation and the inspiration to do their best. If they are missing Process goals, they may lose accountability and lose track of their next steps. Missing a goal type may not bode well for their goals success. With that in mind, let’s explore the 4 types in more detail:

This is the inspiring vision of the future, something that is not yet possible but in time and after a lot of focused effort, will be. This is real big picture thinking, it is a focus on who you want to be and what you want to accomplish.

This is your driving force of the goal and it needs to be exciting, compelling and inspiring. This can take a lot of exploring and reflection – you will likely need to revisit the Goal stage of the GROW model later as you refine your purpose.

Here are some valuable questions to identify and probe further into a Dream Goal:

  • Why do you want to do this?
  • What is it that you really want?
  • Why do you really want that?
  • What is the purpose of achieving this?
  • How will your life be different after you achieve this?
  • What will it mean to you once you have achieved it?
  • Who do you want to be?
  • Why do you want to be that future self?
  • What will achieving this allow you to do?
  • Why is this important for you in the long run?
  • How does this link to business goals (where coaching in the workplace)
  • What excites you about this goal?

Remember: this Dream Goal needs to be inspiring and motivating.

Similar to the Dream Goal, is the End Goal. The main different here is that we are looking for something a more tangible. We are looking less at the abstract dream goal and more at the measurable results we can achieve.

  • Consider framing the goal in the SMARTER format, more on that can be found here:
  • How will you measure the goal?
  • What are the conditions for success?
  • When do you need to do this by?
  • How does this link into the Dream Goal?
  • How does this link into your values and mission?
  • Could you be more specific on what you want to achieve?
  • At this stage is this an achievable goal?
  • What would you need to do to make it achievable?

Whilst End Goals are important, they are not 100% in your control, there is typically an element that will be out of your control. For example:

Your End Goal maybe to win a 100m race – Which is measurable as the condition for success is clear. The goal isn’t entirely in your control, think about:

  • How hard the other competitors train
  • Any inherent skills or abilities they have
  • Who will sponsor you
  • The weather conditions on the day
  • An injury from overtraining

The list isn’t exhaustive but you can already see that this end goal of yours doesn’t just lie in your hands. Instead, you need to figure out how to position yourself to win regardless. What you need then, is a Performance Goal linked to your End Goal.

Performance Goals are part of your End goal. These are the goals that you believe will put you in the best possible position to achieve your end goal. They are more specific and more focused on the short term wins that get you to your longer-term End goal.

Your Performance Goals may look like:

  • By next week I will be running 100m in 25 seconds
  • I will ensure my brand is positive and engaging, by posting about my training, key related topics and speaking to people. This will help Sponsors see value in supporting me.
  • I am going to increase my leg strength by 10% over the next 3 months to aid in the 100m sprint
  • I am going to look after my body to prevent over training and injury

These goals are all within your control and will put you in the best position to achieve your End Goal. We can still drive to one more area of detail, if we think about the End and Performance Goals as the ‘What’, the ‘How’ outlines the actions we take to achieve it. These goals are called Process Goals as they outline the process you need to go through to achieve your Performance Goals.

These goals are the specific actions you are going to take to achieve your goal, sometimes referred to as the ‘How’.

Process Goals may look like this:

  • I will work out with weights 3 times a week, achieving at-least 1 personal best each session. This will help me to increase my overall leg strength by 10% within 3 months.
  • I will post on Social Media once a day – this will help me reflect on my performance and engage with my supporters. I will run these posts through an App that checks how positive and engaging my posts are before posting them.
  • I will practice the 30m sprint, 200m sprint and 300m sprint to vary my practice and get to know how my body feels during performance, this will help me with my 100m sprint time.
  • I am going to stretch for 30 minutes after each session and get adequate rest each night to help me prevent injury.

Now we have the Why (Dream Goal), the What (End Goal and Performance Goal) and the How (Process Goal) we will be ready to move onto the next step. The GROW model is a flexible approach, if you need to revisit this step or if the goal doesn’t seem quite right here, come back to it. As Whitmore says in his book:

Be mindful not to speed up this process just because of time-constraints. You may invest more time here than intended but consider what is more important: Getting the Goal set within your expected time-frame and later realising it’s the wrong goal or taking longer initially but setting the right goal.

How will this stage help with success?

Evidence shows us that when we find our goal engaging and worthwhile, we are more likely to achieve it!

How will this enable me to become an effective coach?

Practice the questions we have discussed and create your own in order to see the impact great questions can have in a conversation. Remember – great coaches don’t tick boxes, use the questions appropriately – have a fluent and engaging conversation.

With a concrete goal in mind that is inspiring us into action, the next stage we need to look at is Reality.

There are two great approaches you can use here, we love these techniques and will cover them in future articles but for now, consider researching them if you are unfamiliar with them:

  • The 6 Hats
  • The Ladder of Inference

The 6 Hats technique works by focusing on your goal and situation through 6 different perspectives: The Facts, Emotions, Optimism, Critical Thinking, Creativity and Process. This helps give you a well-rounded look at the situation and is great for both facilitated sessions and 1-on-1 coaching.

The Ladder of Inference works by evaluating where on the ladder your thoughts are, the higher up the ladder, the less grounded in reality you are. The bottom rung of the ladder is simply ‘Data’ – Facts with absolutely no beliefs or assumptions attached to them. When attempting to find the Reality of a situation, the bottom rung of the ladder is where you need to be.

One tactic here is to use ‘Chunk-Down’ questioning techniques to probe abstract thoughts and feelings to get concrete answers. Chunking Down is using open questions to get specific answers such as:

At this stage you are looking to find out:

  • Where the coachee is in relation to their goal (close or far)
  • What skills they have that will benefit them
  • What skills they will need to acquire to be successful
  • How Realistic the goals are

How will this stage help with success?

When we understand where we are, it makes it easier to plot the path to where we are going. If you want to know more about how this stage can impact your mental well-being, consider reading our article on the 5 stages of learning:

How will this enable me to become an effective coach?

Help guide your coachee through the facts by recognising emotional language and bringing them back to the facts. Build a realistic journey to avoid disappointment and instill accountability.

With a solid grasp on the Reality of the situation and goal, the next part of the model is about the Options available.

This stage is all about creativity and exploration. You need to approach this believing that there are no barriers and there are no silly ideas. You can use mind-maps, write down lists or just have a back and forth conversation. The important thing here is to get creative, do not allow yourself or your coachee to be constrained by what they believe is possible.

In the below video from Star Trek’s 2009 film, Captain Kirk beats an impossible simulation created by Spock. He did this by installing a virus and technically cheating (although the rules didn’t say he couldn’t do it). Kirk later defends his actions by saying “I don’t believe in no win scenarios.”

Whilst we don’t condone ‘cheating’, this out of the box thinking is key at this stage. It’s this creativity in finding a solution that allows Kirk to beat the simulation. There are many activities that can help you get more creative with your problem solving skills so have a look around! Whitmore suggests the 9 Dot Exercise, which we will briefly cover here:

We challenge you here and now to complete the 4 line and 1 line 9 dot image before continuing.

Were you successful?

People can automatically respond to this challenge by saying it’s impossible. We limit our own potential with this kind of thinking. We need to look at all of the options available to us.

If you found it impossible, did I say you couldn’t:

Rearrange the dots?

Cut them out?

Copy and paste them into a better order?

Draw the line through the sides of the dots instead of the centre?

Folded the gaps in the paper to make the distance between the dots shrink?

Use a large highlighter and printed the 9 dots out on a smaller scale?

Get creative and ensure you are challenging limiting beliefs and assumptions here.

Here are some thought provoking questions to ask your coachee:

  • What would your future self say?
  • If you were me, what question would you ask?
  • What qualities would the person you admire bring to the table? How would these be beneficial?
  • What could you do if anything was possible?
  • If budget wasn’t an issue, what would you do?
  • If you had unlimited time to do this, what steps would you take?
  • If you were the CEO, what would you do here?
  • What attributes do people see in you?
  • What attributes would they say are missing?
  • What makes someone great at this goal?

Once you have explored all of the options available to your coachee, time to drill them down and review them. Take some time and encourage them to rate each option in terms of what will be the most effective way forward.

How will this stage help with success?

You will have more ideas in your head than you can ever really know, its about getting creative and finding solutions. This stage can help get you outside of what you think will work and push the boundaries on what is possible.

How will this enable me to become an effective coach?

This is a full-on facilitation session, use probing questions to explore ideas and ensure you stay out of judgement. Be encouraging but curious, explore all answers given to help your coachee find the best way forward.

Now that all Options have been explored, the next part of the model is about having a specific way forward and is called Will.

This stage focuses on accountability.

You have discovered your goal, understood the reality and engaged in finding options. The decision now needs to be made, ask the simple question: ‘What are you going to do about it?’

Whitmore suggests three simple questions to boost accountability and action:

  • What will you do?
  • When will you do it?
  • How will I know you’ve done it?

These questions will help give your coachee a concrete action plan – that they have created themselves. We know as coaches that in order to feel connected to a goal, it needs to come from the coachee – not the coach. Let your coachee tell you the answers and set their own path towards the goal.

The questions don’t need to stop here though, always let your coachee guide the conversation, questions are tools – not tick boxes. Here are some other considerations to discuss with your coachee upon setting your concrete plans:

  • Are there any obstacles for you to achieve this? If so, how can you manage them?
  • What support will you need?
  • How will this help you achieve your goal?
  • Do you have any other thoughts?
  • If you realise the goal will be delayed, when will you let me know?
  • How committed to this goal are you?

With the way forward set, it’s a good idea to schedule in a review meeting or meetings to see how your coachee is getting on. It’s important to remember that you need to stay out of judgement here – you are spending time with your coachee to see how you can support their progress.

When booking in review and feedback meetings consider the following:

  • How frequent they need to be (daily, weekly, fortnightly, monthly, quarterly etc)
  • Where the meetings should take place (face to face, phone, video call)
  • Keep in mind the role of a coach and be: supportive, challenging, open and understanding.
  • Use this as a learning and growth opportunity for your coachee
  • Consider if the goal is still achievable and relevant, revisit the steps of GROW if required

With your review and feedback sessions set out, you should be in a great position to support and encourage your coachee to succeed.

How will this stage help with success?

This is all about accountability and setting a concrete action plan. This is where you put yourself into action and reflect on what is working. If you don’t look at your progress, what’s working and what could go better, you could be missing ways to become more effective and reach your goal faster.

How will this enable me to become an effective coach?

Ensure that the coachee is accountable and focused on their next steps. Ensure your review meetings are about open and honest conversation. Be candid where you need to but stay out of judgement. A coach supports people to succeed, you cannot support someone whilst you are in judgement.


To summarise, the GROW model is a useful tool for any Coach or Leader to use. It is best used in conjunction with other coaching and leadership skills than as a strict process to follow.

The acronym GROW stands for: Goal, Reality, Options and Will. At each stage, aim to ask open and judgement-free questions to help your coachee understand their goals, skills and the options available to them.

Let us know what has been most valuable to you about this article and what works well for you when using the GROW model.

Check out the below resources to help you facilitate effective and engaging coaching conversations:

  • The GROW model – One Page Guide
  • The GROW model – Guidebook
  • The GROW model – Template

Demolishing Doubt During the 5 Stages of Learning

Could you be damaging your psychological and physiological well-being when trying to achieve a goal or learn something new?

In a 2012 study about giving up personal goals, the researchers found that when we reach the stage in goal attainment where we believe the difficulty of the task outweighs the value of completing it (known as an action crisis) we not only damage our psychological and physiological wellbeing but we also smother our ability to evaluate the goal at hand effectively.

The thought of damaging our mental and physical well-being when facing difficulty may start to make sense when we reflect on the below questions:

  • Have you ever given up on something you wanted?
  • Have you ever felt so defeated and frustrated that you were unable to complete a challenge or task?
  • Have you ever felt like a failure for being unable to grasp what you initially perceived to be something simple?
  • Have you ever wondered why you even bother?

Each of the above questions may have conjured up negative feelings and memories for you, which helps us make sense of what they found in the study.

Most people will have given up on a goal or pursuit of a skill at least once in their life. Most of us know how that feels and the impacts it can have on our confidence, well-being and overall health. If this is or has been you, consider adding the 5 stages of learning to your tool kit, it can help you understand and combat some of these pain points so that you can more effectively push through these difficult stages and become an expert at your chosen skill.

Think about how good will you feel when this difficult task, skill or goal becomes so familiar to you that you can do it in autopilot. Better yet, how will you feel becoming so masterful that you will be able to teach your skill to others?

The goal of this article is to help you lead yourself and others through the 5 Stages of Learning – using empathy, coaching and persistence to get the best out of the situation. We will discuss the different stages, what they look like and how you can guide people through their learning journey. Supporting effectively through the difficult times and celebrating together through the successes.

What are the 5 Stages of Learning?

The initial model only had 4 stages of learning and was often displayed as a matrix instead of a pyramid. A final and 5th stage was added and it is now often displayed as a pyramid or ladder. The new model is the one we will look at today.

The 5 stages are used to describe the different phases people go through when they are learning something new. This allows you to understand where you or your Followers are on their learning journey, enabling you to find the best way to help progression through each stage. 

The author of this model is unknown, with different people claiming it as their own. Given this and the fact that we have been unable to find any real challengers to the theory, the 5 Stages of Learning look to be more of a universal truth rather than just a model. Whilst we will refer to it as the 5 Stages of Learning, you may have heard of it as the Conscious Competence Matrix or the Learning Matrix.

Whilst we will go through these stages in more detail later in the article The 5 Stages of Learning are:

  • Unconscious Incompetence
  • Conscious incompetence
  • Conscious competence
  • Unconscious competence
  • Reflective Competence

It’s time to break this model down into its individual phases:

Stage 1: Unconscious Incompetence

Unconscious Incompetence is where we all begin on our learning journey. At this stage, it is simply impossible for us to grasp the scope of what we do not know. This is what we mean by Unconscious Incompetence – we are that incompetent, we don’t even know it!

Consider the arm-chair coach, who thinks they  know better than the actual coaches and the athletes on TV who have dedicated their lives to mastering a sport.

This stage could also be likened to a child that sees a parent driving, it looks simple – the child would probably be brimming with confidence about being able to drive because to them, all they need to do is turn a wheel. They don’t know anything about the degree in which to turn the wheel, let alone the theory, the law, road signs, traffic lights, crossings, clutch control, gears, indicators, fuel, engine checks and so on – They are unconsciously incompetent, they do not know the extent of how much there is to learn.

This was explained in Dunning & Kruger’s 1999 study where they identified that those with low competence greatly overestimated their actual competence levels and those with higher competency slightly underestimated their competency, in other words, it takes competency to identify competency!

So let’s put ourselves at this stage – we are blissfully unaware of what we don’t know, we are overestimating our abilities and our ego is telling us how great we are. What do you think a good thing to do here would be?

If you’re thinking take a step back and assess, you’re on the right track. We know that setting unrealistic goals is one way to make ourselves feel deflated when we inevitably fail to reach the impossible. We know that where we don’t prepare for a threat, we are less capable to deal with it and we know that when we don’t look at our strengths and available resources, we are not operating at our full capacity.

With this in mind, a SWOT analysis can be a useful tool to honestly look at your situation, your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats associated with this new learning journey.

From here you can use the SMART model (or any goal setting model) to set realistic goals. If you are looking to help others or have a wider group of people to train, consider a training needs analysis to build an effective program to support your learners.

Another useful tool to use at this stage is Situational Leadership. Hersey, Angelim, and Carakushansky (1982) found evidence that using the Situational Leadership model during a learning journey can help embed information and aid in learners development.

At this stage, we would look to utilise Directive leadership – a Telling approach where step by step guidance is provided. This helps yourself or others understand exactly what is involved in the task and can aid in repetitive practice.  This method also ties in the wider purpose and objectives associated to the steps so the learner can begin to understand the importance of these tasks. 

Think back to a time you wanted to learn a new skill, you likely sought out expert guidance in the form of books, people you respected, videos, podcasts and articles. These formats don’t engage you in discussion about what to do, they tell you what needs to be done. 

The benefits to this are:

– It provides clear steps on what you need to do

– It helps you understand why the steps are important

– When dealing with the unknown, an authoritative voice can build confidence 

– It helps you see how much work you need to put in, giving you realistic expectations

Pro Tip: Positive feedback is vital here to increase confidence and reinforce positive behaviours towards success.

Stage 2: Conscious Incompetence

As you begin to understand your development areas, the journey ahead of you and what skills you need to develop in order to be successful, you begin to move into the conscious incompetence stage. Here you are getting the grips with what you dont know.

Lets think about what this may be like.

We’ll take Jim for example, he has seen Mixed Martial Arts on TV, he is confident he can do it and that he will be a champion in no time (Unconscious Incompetence). He goes to his first training session and the following happens:

In the warm up session, Jim struggles to breathe and keep up with everyone else.

Then, someone smaller than Jim gets him to submit (give up) due to a submission.

Another person lands multiple body shots on Jim, who has never been hit before – causing more pain than he expected.

When practicing basic jiujitsu transitions, Jim struggles to get to grips with the movements.

Consider how Jim felt at the start of the session – full of confidence and ego. How is he feeling now? – take a few minutes to reflect on this.

Did you get the below?

  • Defeated
  • Low confidence levels
  • Unfit
  • Unworthy
  • Weak
  • Stupid
  • Like he’s made a mistake
  • Like he wishes he never started
  • Like he doesn’t see the value in continuing 

Jim is now conscious about what he doesn’t know – and that feeling can weigh a lot of people down, leading to regret, frustration and low self esteem. Knowing about this stage allows you to positively reinforce the correct behaviours or actions taken, helping to counter some of the negative feelings associated with Conscious Incompetence. This is the stage we will most likely reach an Action Crisis – where we question if the task is worth it and consider giving up. Try to remember that an action crisis isn’t good for you psychologically of physiologically. Your opinion on the worth of the goal will also be clouded by the difficulties you are facing. Be kind to yourself and others here, this is a normal phase to go through.

It’s important here to remind people why they are on their journey, consider Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle or emphasising their purpose, reignite the passion that caused them to start this journey. The Golden Circle works on the basis that your ‘Why’ should drive your ‘How’ and ‘What’. Your goals should be connected with a higher purpose, this will help you understand the importance of the task and can keep you going when your journey gets tough.

If we use Situational Leadership here, we would look for the Coaching or Selling style of leadership. Here we encourage people to work towards their own solutions using their experience alongside providing direction and reinforcing the purpose of the tasks and the outcome of their success.

Here are some great motivating questions:

  • What did I set out to achieve in the first place? How will it add value to my life?
  • What lessons can I take from this?
  • What did I do well and what am I proud of?
  • What can I do differently to make this a more valuable experience?
  • How can I use this to add value to others?
  • What will my life be like after I get back up and achieve?

Be patient with people here, understand that frustration and disappointment are normal and can make people react in less than beneficial ways. Mix empathy with positive reinforcement to help yourself or others build the skills to become competent.

There are other methods to motivate and rekindle passion – consider what works for you whether that’s a vision board, reviewing your end goals and the results of your success or even just understanding that discipline and resilience can get you through the process when motivation levels are low. This is a tough stage – so keep a clear picture in your mind of what awaits you when you pass it and begin to reach mastery.

Stage 3: Conscious Competence

By being resilient, getting back up and working on your skills you reach the next stage, conscious competence. Here, you are fully aware of what you know and the skills that are enabling you to be competent at the task you are performing.

You are aware of your actions as you do them, methodically working through the steps required, making conscious effort to perform each part of the process. This is a great time to celebrate, you have done it! All of your hard work had led to this moment and you deserve to be proud of yourself as you mindfully work your way through each part of the process you have just learnt.

At this stage, you still have to pay attention to what you are doing so take as many opportunities as you can to practice, embed and improve your skill set. Remember to celebrate how far you have come but understand that now is not the time to tick the skill off as complete and move onto something else. Encourage practice here to reinforce your skill or behaviour to really see progression and movement into mastery.

As you work on your own or your Followers confidence here, consider a facilitation style of leadership. This method can drastically improve confidence and motivation levels in skilled individuals. Practice your new skill in different situations and settings, making your practice varied and somewhat unpredictable can give you a greater understanding and ability to utilise your new skills. For example, if your goal was to throw a ball into a hoop that’s 10 feet away, you would be better if you practiced at varying distances of 5, 10 and 15 feet instead of just repetitions at 10 feet.

Support through reflection and questioning, allowing yourself or your Followers to apply your or their own thoughts, experiences and creativity to the newly learnt skill. Think about the different situations you have already or could use your new skill in, we know that when we can connect ideas from one skill to another, it helps embed and refine our understanding. This is called Elaboration and was discussed in Peter Browns, Henry Roediger III and Mark McDaniels book ‘Make it stick – The Science of Successful Learning’ – here’s what they said:

Stage 4 Unconscious competence

The penultimate stage (or final in the original model) is Unconscious Competence. Here, you are so skilled that you don’t need to think about what you are doing, the process happens in autopilot.

At face value this sounds like a great state to be in and whilst it does have its advantages, it actually comes with it’s own set of risks. What do you think some of the risks could be for someone who is Unconsciously Competent? – take a few moments to consider this before moving on.

Did you get the below?

  • Overconfidence
  • Complacency
  • Mistakes get made
  • Bad habits may get reinforced
  • You stop looking for efficiency or improvement
  • You may stop reflecting
  • You may not be teaching or coaching others
  • You may not be empathetic to those going through the other stages of learning – you have forgotten your journey and don’t understand why others don’t find it as easy as you.

Unconscious Competence is great for automating but as you can see, operating at an unconscious level has its risks.

Some great methods to combat this Unconscious Competence stage come from the next step of the Learning Matrix – so don’t rest here for long!

Stage 5: Reflective Competence

As you have likely gathered, a person that has spent a lot of their resources and efforts getting to the Unconscious Competence stage, to then discover that potentially the best way to be consistently good and attentive to your skill is to step back down to Conscious Competence, could be quite disheartening.

Numerous people have put in a new fifth stage of the Learning Matrix – Reflective Competence. This creates a level above Unconscious Competence, creating real expertise and mastery. Remember the Dunning-Kruger effect? Being this skilled allows you to rate competency in others and identify where on the learning journey they are! What does that mean though? Well, it varies from author to author but here’s a summary below of a few key points.

Linking theories

Reflective Learning can create ‘lightbulb’ moments where you can connect what you have learnt to different situations. a eureka style moment where you gain a deeper understanding – this is the Elaboration method we looked at before.

Early on in my leadership career, I was given the task of bringing an entire new policy and process to a different part of the company I was working with. I had come from a site the policy and process had been created and tested on and was told there would be resistance to the change at the other site. The culture at this other office, despite being the same company was vastly different. My approach was very matter of fact with the process changes and made the process much harder than it needed to be. Whilst this initially inspired me to research change management and influencing techniques, which improved my relationshp management skills, it wasn’t until reading the book ‘Scaling Up Excellence’ by Huggy Rao and Robert Sutton, that allowed me to reflect on my approach almost a decade later with a ‘lightbulb’ moment, connecting the dots for me in ways that my other research and experience hadn’t. It felt like I had flipped a switch where I instantly understood the times to be strict with process and policy implementation and when to allow for culture to influence the change, I saw my mistakes now not just from an influencing and relationship management perspective but also understood what makes the most business sense and how to establish essential parts of process implementation versus ‘nice to haves.’

A key message here is to ensure you reinforce yourself and others at this stage, it isn’t an easy task to keep assimilating and adapting – keep morale high by celebrating that you are still learning and evolving. True masters of a skill look out for ways to refine their technique further and rarely rest at their current level.

Reflecting on performance

This is a great way to maintain competence in a field. Thinking about how and what you did to accomplish your activity enables you to find errors and areas of improvement as well as focus on the most efficient and effective parts of your process. By reflecting, you begin to reinforce your skills and behaviours, rewarding and training your brain by focusing on the right actions. Let’s say you want to work on your communication skills, after each meeting you could take time to reflect on the following:

Who spoke the most and what was the reaction to this?

Who was the most effective at listening and how do I know this?

What body language was used?

Who was most influential?

How conscious of this was I in the moment?

You can quickly develop your own reflective questions when you understand what it is you want to work on.

Pro Tip: We tend to have reflection templates in the resources part of each article we write for you to utilise, check them out and consider which type of questions work well for you in order to create your own reflection template.

Teaching others

Noticing incompetence in others is regarded as one of the key skills linked with Reflective Competence. It gives you a great opportunity to establish where in the Learning Matrix others are in order to effectively guide them through it. As much as you may think you know about a certain topic, it is only when you begin to teach it that your understanding reaches new depths. When you reflect over the task, the best way to accomplish it and how you will transfer this knowledge to someone else, you begin making more connections and thus build a deeper understanding. Teaching others ensures you are at the top of your game as you will have to keep up to date with your skills and the wider field to ensure you are in the best position to train others.

Exercise: Consider something you are proficient in, take 15 minutes to write down all of the skills or attributes that make you great at it.

Next, list the ways you could impart your knowledge, skills and attributes to others. Write down how they could use this knowledge to become proficient themselves. How could you get your understanding across to others as simply as possible? Notice how you feel about this exercise, have you achieved a greater understanding just by doing this alone? Take it a step further, write a session plan and deliver it to someone, how did this engagement make you feel? What did you learn from it?


The 5 Stages of Learning are:

Unconscious Incompetence – Here, you have no idea how much you there is to learn. As such, people at this stage are often over confident. A SWOT analysis to take stock of your strengths and weaknesses. Its important here to be realistic about your abilities as the higher your confidence is at this stage, the tougher the next stage will be for your ego to manage.  Directive or Telling approaches work well here.

Conscious Incompetence – At this phase, you are aware of how much you need to learn. It can be tough here to persevere as you weigh up the difficulty of the task and the end result. Use compassion, empathy, celebration and coaching to support people through their frustrations during this stage. Remember, 1 step a day is 365 steps a year – you’ll be miles ahead of the person who isn’t trying.

Keep yourself and others focused on the purpose of the mission, use coaching to help embed the learning and encourage people to adapt and overcome barriers. This is where you are likely to enter an ‘action crisis’ so use positive reinforcement and seek support on whether to keep trying, change your approach or identify a new goal. Being disheartened at this stage can unfairly influence whether you want to stick at the goal or not, a coach can help you find the best way forward.

Conscious Competence – This stage is where things start to click, you are skilled but you need to think about what you are doing. Keep practicing, getting feedback and reflecting at this stage to move into mastery.

Unconscious Competence – This phase is where your skill becomes almost auto-pilot. It takes very little effort to think about what you need to do – its second nature. Reward yourself for getting this far but be mindful not to linger here for too long, that can be risky.

Reflective Competence – The final stage is where you can identify competence in others and use your skills and knowledge to train people. Link theories together, reflect on your performance and train others to keep your skills sharp and effective.

Take some time to consider your skill sets and where within the five stage of learning you are for each skill. What was the most useful thing you will take from this article and how will you support yourself and others through the Stages of Learning?


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– 5 stages of learning one page guide

– 5 stages of learning reflection template

– 5 stages of learning Guidebook

File Name: 5-stages-of-learning-guidebook.pdf