Succession Planning

Irreplaceable is an unspoken attribute we all wish to possess. We want to be so respected in our work role that we feel not only respected or cherished, but we also feel safe. There is something reassuring in knowing that no one on your team could possibly fill your shoes. It is a kind of job security leverage. But this situation can also be an anchor. You cannot possess the security of having no succession plan and be seen by those above you as an attractive candidate for a new role. You cannot have it both ways. Why? Because the upwardly mobile leader always prepares those who could follow him in his or her rise. Having a quality succession plan is one of the signs of a good leader.

A good leader finds security in the forward momentum created by leadership skills. You don’t need to hunker in a role to feel secure in your future. You secure your future by being excellent at what you do and make yourself not only attractive for future roles, but available too. Of course there is risk in being available, of recognising that you are not irreplaceable. Skilled and assertive businesses will often use succession strategies proactively to keep costs down. If leaders are made to be aware of a skilled reserve waiting in the wings, they can be worked on when it comes time to renegotiate salaries etc. So it does offer power to the more aggressive employers.

But succession planning when driven by a leader within her team, does two key things — it offers the leader that beautiful element of leadership which is preparing the next wave of young leaders by giving them the benefit of your wisdom and shaping them in ways that you value. Secondly, it signals to anyone paying attention that you are not just a leader, you are also a player. You are confident in your value, and are ready to take it elsewhere if it suits you. You don’t achieve a sense of security by hunkering down in a role. No, you achieve security by being the most evolved leader in the organisation.

The ‘Awfulizing’ Leader

As a change-agent coach, it is common for me to come across leaders who report being told they over-react to situations. When asked if they believe the accusation, few admit they do. At first, that is. But when pressed, most admit that they do, but don’t see that as a problem. In fact, many say it helps them temper their otherwise possibly more rash impulses. This rationalisation, and what it masks is something that deserves closer scrutiny.

In the early 1950s, psychotherapist and psychologist Albert Ellis came to belief that all people have both rational and irrational tendencies.

Rational tendencies are considered self-helping and constructive. But irrational tendencies are self-defeating and unhelpful. Ellis believed that these irrational tendencies manifest when we ‘consciously and unconsciously construct emotional difficulties such as self-blame, self-pity, clinical anger, hurt, guilt, shame, depression and anxiety, and behaviors such as procrastination, compulsiveness, avoidance, addiction and withdrawal .”

I could count on one hand the number of clients I have had who did not describe a desire to change at least one of these behaviours, and I would probably have fingers left over! Why is this?

Ellis would no doubt say that this is because we all possess the irrational tendencies that spawn these self-defeating behaviours. In fact, he went further, listing common irrational beliefs most of us possess:

  • It is a dire necessity for adult humans to be loved or approved by virtually every significant other person in their lives.
  • One absolutely must be competent, adequate and achieving in all respects or else one is an inadequate, worthless person.
  • People absolutely must act considerately and fairly and they are damnable villains if they do not. They are their bad acts.
  • It is awful and terrible when things are not the way one would very much like them to be.
  • Emotional disturbance is mainly externally caused and people have little or no ability to increase or decrease their dysfunctional feelings and behaviours.
  • If something is or may be dangerous or fearsome, then one should be constantly and excessively concerned about it and should keep dwelling on the possibility of it occurring.
  • One cannot and must not face life’s responsibilities and difficulties and it is easier to avoid them.
  • One must be quite dependent on others and need them and you cannot mainly run one’s own life.
  • One’s past history is an all-important determiner of one’s present behavior and because something once strongly affected one’s life, it should indefinitely have a similar effect.
  • Other people’s disturbances are horrible and one must feel upset about them.
  • There is invariably a right, precise and perfect solution to human problems and it is awful if this perfect solution is not found.
In the context of reading this post, it is easy to dismiss these as extremely irrational beliefs indeed. But look again and you will likely find at least on or two of these you have held at some point in your life, possibly weekly. And this is not an exhaustive list.

Indeed it is quite common in that a second or two after experiencing something less than a desired outcome or consequence, that one leaps to an irrational reaction. Most times we quickly rebound, talk ourselves down after the initial disappointment and then set ourselves to the task of overcoming the perceived set back. But sometimes we don’t bounce back.

The catastrophising leader can go from eager optimism to feelings of imminent doom in the blink of an eye. And it doesn’t stop there. Next stop on the catastrophising train is swings in mood and corresponding knee-jerk swings in direction and command. Then comes the blaming. In short, subordinates end up on an exhausting rollercoaster that never seems to find level track. Things are always euphoric or catastrophic. the catastrophising leader is incredibly efficient when ti comes to alienating and burning out staff. In fact, turnover and 360 degree assessments are often the quickest way to spot such leaders.

So what is to be done with the catastrophising leader?

At the core of REBT is the acceptance of cognition, emotion and behaviour as inexorably interwoven. In the eyes of an REBT practitioner, there is not one without the other. We perceive something, which triggers emotions, which in turn trigger behaviours. So the REBT process is one with training that focuses on each element — cognition, emotion, and behaviour.

It is critical that all are addressed. It is critical that we understand that our cognition is often not as accurate as we think. And our emotional reaction to our perceptions, whether accurate or not, are also often without a logical basis, and finally, that our behaviours, triggered by inaccurate perceptions and/or inappropriate emotional reactions, are also far from rational.

The REBT process is a directive process. Think of it not so much as a traditional, reflective therapy, but more like a kind of training, or retraining. It is a step by step process of unlearning old habits that are no longer appropriate or helpful, and and learning new was of perceiving, feeling, and behaving that is more appropriate, more helpful.

This is not an open-ended therapy where the goal is to achieve relief through recognition. This is concrete change in behaviour through training. It starts with cognition — really understanding yourself and the world around you. Then it continues with understanding how you feel about the world around you and why, which gives you deeper self awareness. Then, finally, you learn about how these perceptions and feelings can influence you behaviours. We work backward at first, identifying behaviours you may seek to change and tracing them back to the cognitive roots that lead to them. We then end by picking out perceptions you feel have been inaccurate, corresponding feelings that were inappropriate, and the behaviours drove. It is then we can see how a chain of change in how you see the outer world, the inner world, and how you put the two together in the form of new, more helpful behaviours.

If you decide to embark on a course of REBT I can guarantee that you will spend no time on a couch. It will be more like active study, organising observations, giving them context, and then making concrete plans for how to identify them and executing new behaviours to break old chains and create new ones. Another thing I will guarantee is that you will not leave the last session the same as when you began the first.

Curious? Give me a call.

That Damned Pendulum

It has often been said that when things are going well we cannot imagine a time when things will go badly. Likewise, when things are going badly, we cannot imagine them going well again. I think we all have seen evidence of this. How many people, when times are good, stack away reserves, saving for a rainy day? And how many people, when times are tough, see that as the time to push the boat out, take a chance, and embrace change? Instead, when times are good we celebrate and when times are bad we circle the wagons and burn the furniture.

It is easy to forget that when all boats are rising, so too are the cost of boats. It is also easy to forget that opportunity costs are often much lower in down economies. Down economies are often the very best time to test business ideas that have been ruminating during the good times but never acted upon because time was such a scarce resource. As sure as the sun rises in the morning, so too the economic pendulum will eventually swing the other way. But instead of allowing a down economy to stifle your growth, use it to accelerate it. Our frustration is poorly aimed if we just focus on the fact that the pendulum exists as there is nothing we can do about that. Our frustration is also poorly aimed if we focus just on when the pendulum might swing next — again, it is not something we can easily influence, but keeping an eye on this is smart. Our focus will always be best employed in thinking about how we can best use the current pendulum state to our best advantage. And every pendulum state offers opportunity.

How to Avoid DIY and Anything Else

So now you have some idea of what I mean by life’s hammer. More than likely you have already experienced it. To reiterate, it is not just what we might call catastrophic loss (but it could be). It could be any setback in life. But what really defines life’s hammer is how you react to the setback. So, it’s not the setback itself that gives the hammer its power of impact — it is how we perceive the setback that gives it the power. let me explain…


I consider myself pretty capable when doing DIY projects, but like may people, I procrastinate doing them. I’ve struggled to know exactly why because I so appreciate a job well done. But the answer is in that last sentence. You see, without knowing it, I am setting myself up for the blow of life’s hammer each and every time I undertake a DIY job, even before I get started! I watch the YouTube videos and read the online posts to prepare myself for whatever the job is. So I have an image in my mind of how I expect the job to proceed. I know what tools and bits and pieces I will need to do the job. And I visualise what the outcome should be. So expectations are running high before I even get started.

And then I begin…
First, I don’t have all the right parts but think I can substitute something I do have or can modify something or riff on the original plan in some way. This seldom works out well. Then I find I do not have the right tools for the job so I try using other tools to fill in the gaps, or fashion something out of a coat hanger etc. Then I start injuring myself and then I break or damage something. Then I manage to get the job completed but it doesn’t look anything like what it did in the YouTube video. At each step of the way I am getting more and more frustrated at the job, the tools, the pieces, the weather, myself. I step back at the end and am relieved the job is over and disappointed in the result and in myself. I have failed to meet my own standard. This sequence happens every. single. time. Well, it used to.


As a coach I should know better. This is classic territory for rational emotive behavioural therapy (REBT). The core tenet here is that it is not the stimulus event that is the problem, it is how we perceive and respond to the problem. We can, as in my DIY example, have irrational beliefs about how things in life should go. These irrational beliefs create irrational expectations which then create self-defeating thoughts and behaviours. Self defeating thoughts can lead to all sorts of issues from procrastination to full-on depression. While this may all sound a bit daunting, there is good news in this — it can be fixed!

The most common symptom of avoidance is procrastination — be easiest way to avoid doing something is to avoid doing pretty much anything or everything. Why take a risk doing something that might end up in catastrophe when you can simply not do the something in the first place. It is not a stretch from that to not doing much of anything just in case anything might end in catastrophe too. One of the most effective ways of addressing the root cause of chronic avoidance, including procrastination, is to engage in some form of REBT within a relational coaching scenario. We’ll talk about that soon…

Life’s Hammer

There’s no avoiding it — it’s like death and taxes — sooner or later the shit will hit the fan and something unpleasant will enter your life. It’s as sure as they day you were born. And while we can undertake a life of mitigation and risk avoidance, sometimes it just feels like it was going to happen no matter what we did. Spending one’s life finding ways to avoid life’s hammer seems sensible enough and we all do it to varying degrees. But if we accept that the hammer is coming for us all eventually regardless of what we do to avoid it, shouldn’t we at least be doing something to prepare for it? And when it does hit, what should we do to recover from the blow? These are worthy questions. These are the questions I explore with clients each and every day.

The hammer comes in many forms — getting passed over for promotion,  not getting that dream job, being made redundant, watching your industry being reduced by an emerging one, sickness, marital problems, death. Some of these blows, and other blows are likely to strike us all at least once in our lives. So what can we do? Anything?

Well, yes and no. There are avoidance strategies that we all undertake in the hope of avoiding these and other potential blows. But we must accept that we cannot avoid all of life’s hardships. So we must do more to prepare ourselves for them. We will talk more about that later. For now it is good for us to be mindful of what I’ve just described. Between now and when you die there will be some unpleasantness entering your life. I’m sorry, but that’s just the way life is. What we need to do is embrace that reality and begin to think about how much of your life you wish to invest in avoidance. How much of your income do you want to spend on insurances, how many things do you want to turn down because of the risk of unpleasantness? How much of life’s possibilities will you deny yourself in the name of playing it safe? We all draw these lines in different places. Where do you want to draw yours? And while you think about ho wmuch of yourself you wish to invest in avoidance, think too about how prepared for the impact of life’s little disasters you really are. How do you respond when things don’t go to plan? Would you like to make some changes there?

A Deathly Quiet

Who knows when it all started, this notion that there must be no sonic gaps in a life, that silence is not only not golden, but it is in fact awkward and therefore unseemly? We have even gone so far as to attach the word and notion of death to silence. We have turned our backs on quiet and embraced a never-ending wall of sound.

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My Silent Brother, Cosmo

I found myself sat in a small, wooden chair within a good sized cage. Behind me, sat outside the cage were three dogs eyeing me intently. Inside the cage in front of me was small wooden box with an opening facing me. Through that opening, by the light of a bulb lit within, I could see pieces of newspapers spread like a kind of carpet on the floor. Resting in a heap to one side was a seething mass of puppies, making those funny chirping sounds that fat, contented puppies make. Then, from one side of the opening came a single puppy. He was about the length of my hand, unsteadyish on his feet still. His eyes were a beautiful shade of blue. He tumbled out of the box, regained his composure and walked over to me. He gently took the end of one of my shoe laces into his teeth and stepped back until he had successfully untied my shoe. He then walked back over between my feet, sat down, curled up, and went to sleep. This was my first encounter with my future brother, Cosmo.

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