The Taking Control Approach

People like to feel in control. They like to feel able to take charge of shaping their future lives. Sometimes they can experience difficulties, however, if they feel things are beyond their control.

A person can only do their best and there are events they can’t control. But they can choose their attitude regarding how they respond to such events.

During the past 50 years I have worked with many people who have explained they have distressing symptoms. They have said some of the following things.

“I am feeling stressed … I have lots of mood swings … I am no longer enjoying my work … I am in a situation where I feel trapped … I am beginning to have panic attacks.”

Sometimes there may be medical reasons for these symptoms. When appropriate, I therefore suggest that they consult a doctor to check for any medical causes. There is one question, however, that I ask. This is:

“On a scale 0-10, to what extent do you feel in control of shaping your future?”

People who feel healthy often give a rating of 7+/10. They recognise that there may always be events that are beyond their control, but they feel able to deal with most situations.

The following section starts by describing two people I worked with who aimed to take more control of their lives. This is followed by some practical tips you can you use in your own way to shape the future. If appropriate, you may wish to move straight onto those tools.

Here are the two people I worked with – Laura and George. They answered in the following ways when asked to rate the extent to which they felt in control of their lives.


“Right now I would give myself 3/10. This is unusual, because normally it would be at least 8/10.

“I am an organised person and pride myself in being able to deal with problems. That is what I do in my work, where I manage the accounts of several difficult customers.

“My father died recently, however, and since then I have been having panic attacks. I have been to the doctor who ran some tests. He says there is no medical reason for the attacks. 

“My father and I were close and his death was unexpected. Since then I have taken care of everything – the funeral, my mother, relatives, solicitors, everything. This is normally the case in the family and at work. 

“But now I don’t take care of myself. Suddenly I get panic attacks in the street or at work and it is embarrassing.

“It will take time to come to terms with my father’s death. But I just need to find a way to deal with the panic attacks and get on with my life.” 


“At the moment it is around 7/10 in my personal life but 5/10 in my professional life. I used to enjoy my work but that has changed since I got a new boss. They like to micro-manage people and this causes stress. 

“I am an engineer myself but I don’t like having a boss who tells me exactly how I should be doing the work. My preference is to know the results that need to be delivered and get a clear brief. I then like to be left alone to get on the job.

“In the past I have always delivered so this has not been a problem. But now my boss wants to instruct me how to do my job. I am not sure how long I can go on this way.”

Each person wanted to shape their future. Bearing this in mind, we focused on some practical tools they could use:

To feel more in control, find solutions to specific challenges and feel successful; 

To follow a weekly structure, do things that gave them positive energy and gain a sense of satisfaction;

To focus on their long term aims, follow the principles they believed in and do something each day towards achieving their lifetime picture of success. 

Each person was different, of course, so this called for exploring different themes. We began, however, by clarifying how they could take more control of shaping their futures.


Laura recognised that she may not be able to control her mood swings because these were part of grieving. She wanted to take control of her behaviour, however, rather than succumb to panic attacks.

Trying to fight the feelings did not work, so we took another approach. Did she know when the attacks were going to happen? What were the warning signs? Laura described the sequence.

She felt tired through lack of sleep, often after spending hours counselling other people in their extended family.  

She felt a tingling sensation in her hands, which then crept up her body. 

She felt detached and began to feel dizzy.

She had difficulty breathing and started to sweat.  

She wanted to escape from the situation and, if possible, find a place to be quiet.  

She managed to recover after 10 minutes and was able to resume whatever she had been doing before the attack.

Looking at this sequence, Laura saw that they could intervene at the first warning sign, the tingling sensation in her hands.

She could probably do something to start a positive sequence which had more healthy effects, rather than fall into the negative sequence. The question was: “How?”

Looking back on her life, we explored when she had managed to stay calm in a challenging situation? Laura gave the following answer.

“I used to compete as a high jumper. During the events I used to put on my headphones and play soothing music. This also helped me to breathe more deeply. 

“Putting on the music, I went into my own world, even if only for a few minutes. This worked. It helped me to deal with any nerves and do my best.”

How could she follow similar strategies in her daily life? Laura could certainly put on her earphones and play music when travelling to work on the tube. This would help her to feel calmer, but it would be more difficult at work. Laura began to explore this theme.

“Breathing is probably the key.  I can contact my old sports coach. He knows several people who help athletes to perform under pressure. Failing that, I will revisit my old breathing techniques.”

We explored strategies she could use to manage her feelings when experiencing difficulties at work. These included practical things she could do:

To buy time to collect her thoughts;

To clarify the results she wanted to achieve and rehearse what she was going to do in the situation;  

To follow her chosen strategy and do her best to achieve the desired results.

Looking ahead, we rehearsed how she could follow these steps in specific situations. These included during meetings and when thrown a curve ball by her boss. She began building her repertoire for buying time, reflecting and then doing her best to get the desired results.

Laura also planned to take more care of her physical and psychological health. This called for getting more sleep, eating properly and returning to daily exercise. She aimed to spend more time with her encouragers rather than only counsel other people.

Two months later she reported that, whilst experiencing some mood swings, she felt more able to manage her feelings. It would take time, but Laura felt more in control of being able to shape her future life.


George had a micromanaging boss and was no longer enjoying his work. The longer-term aim would be to ensure he could do satisfying work, but he also needed a short-term survival strategy.

We began by clarifying what he could control. He could have a positive attitude, be professional and do good work. But he could not control how his boss responded.

George also recognised that he needed to be better at managing upwards. This was something that he sometimes failed to do properly. It was vital to clarify what his key stakeholders wanted and to deliver the required results. As ever:

It was vital to manage Rome otherwise Rome would manage him.

Looking at the challenges ahead, we explored the practical tools he could use:

To be proactive and make clear working contracts with his boss regarding the specific results to be delivered; 

To be professional, keep the boss informed about his progress, get some quick wins and deliver the required results;

To take charge of shaping his career and, if necessary, find another role in a more positive environment.

George needed to get on the front foot rather than wait for his boss to intervene. Looking ahead, we planned how he could be proactive, make clear working contracts and keep his boss informed. He could then do his best to deliver the goods.

There was no guarantee that this would succeed. But it would be a first step towards getting some breathing space and maybe even doing some satisfying work.

George and I then explored how he could shape his future career. His boss would probably not change, so it was important to have a Plan B and Plan C.

Looking back, we explored when George enjoyed his work. He gave the following answer.

“I enjoyed working for my previous boss. He recruited me to come here after we had worked together on a project in a previous company.  

“He knew how I worked best and used me on a special project. He was also good at providing air cover which allowed me to get on with my job.

“Three months ago he left to join another company. Since then he has been back in touch to say that, whilst he would like me to follow him, this might take some time. 

“My ideal would be to work with him again, but I am not sure if this will happen. Bearing this in mind, I probably need to explore other avenues.”

George described the qualities he would like in his ideal manager. He also named previous managers who had demonstrated some of these qualities.

He then made an action plan to reconnect with some of these people. Not one for self-promotion, he would do this in a way in which he felt comfortable.

George spent the next couple of months continuing to behave in a professional way and being proactive towards his boss. This helped to keep him out of his hair, although the boos did resort to micromanaging on some occasions.

Six months after our first meeting George moved to another company. Conversations with his previous boss resulted in him being asked to lead a project suited to his specialist skills.

The micromanaging boss asked him to stay, but the die had been cast. George wanted to feel fully alive again. He moved on to doing more satisfying work.

People like to feel in control. For some people this is almost as vital as oxygen. They want to feel in charge of their lives, finances and future. Some want to feel in control of their own death.

The Focusing On Your
Life Goals Approach

As mentioned many times, healthy people aim to build on what they can control and manage what they can’t. They also keep focusing on their life goals.

There have been many books on this topic. One of the most influential was Alan Lakein’s 1970 book How To Get Control Of Your Time And Your Life.

Many of the ideas seem commonplace now, but many people found them helpful. Here are some ideas from the book.

Keep focusing on your lifetime goals – put these in a place where you can see these each day.  

Clarify your A, B and C priorities – remember these may evolve over time.


The following pages show one way that a person can apply Alan’s approach. This can also help them with their priority management. A person can use this:

To focus on their life goals – such as clarifying their A, B and C goals together with the sub-goals under each category;

To focus on their priorities – such as the specific actions they want to take towards achieving their A, B and C goals.

As mentioned earlier, different people applied Alan’s ideas in different way. This is one approach that some people have found useful.

The Proactive Approach

Different people choose different ways to shape their lives. Some people aim to proactively shape the future. Some people are reactive and respond to events when they happen.

This section describes people who choose to be proactive in both their personal and professional lives. Such people sometimes take the following approach to future events.

They have often done some work on clarifying their life goals – their lifetime picture of success;

They plan ahead to shape future events, clarify the possible strategies that may work and pursue their chosen strategy;

They do their best to get positive results on the way towards achieving their lifetime picture of success.

Imagine that you want to follow elements of this approach in your own way. What are the areas of your personal and professional life where you are good at being proactive? What do you do to stay ahead of the game?

Different people take this step in different ways. Here is a summary of how one person expressed their approach.

“Many years ago I began to focus on my life goals. This happened after attending a workshop on career development.  

“During the session we were invited to clarify our long-term personal and professional goals. Since then I have made key decisions based on how these fitted with achieving my life goals.

“I also learned how to plan things by starting from the destination and working backwards. This is an approach I have applied in many aspects of my life.

“Bearing in mind the results to achieve, I consider the strategies I can follow to give myself the best chance of success. This leads to making action plans for the next day, week, month or even for the year.  

“The planning part also involves anticipating and managing unexpected events. I then move into action and do what I can to deliver the goods.”

Being Proactive
In Your Personal Life

Looking at your personal life, what are the areas where you are good at being proactive? What are the areas where you could be better?

You may be good at planning and doing the daily tasks, managing your money and caring for your loved ones. You may not be so good at taking care of your health or doing other things to shape your future.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to complete the following sentences.


Being Proactive In
Your Professional Life

Looking at your professional life, what are the areas where you are good at being proactive? What are the areas where you could be better?

You may be good at planning to do the practical aspects. These may include organising your schedule, taking care of customers and managing your key stakeholders. You may also stay ahead of the game regarding doing the necessary tasks on various projects.

You may be good at managing the psychological aspects. These may include encouraging your colleagues and taking care of their wellbeing. You may also plan ahead and ensure the team will have positive and professional team members in the future.

Some people are now finding that their professional world is becoming more complex. Some organisations are also asking their people to deliver higher targets whilst, at the same time, being good at managing the key internal and external stakeholders.

This calls for individuals to be more self-managing. They may need: a) to be proactive and focus on their priorities; b) to achieve their professional goals; c) to take care of their personal wellbeing.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to describe: a) the specific ways you are good at being proactive in your professional life; b) the specific ways you could be better. Here is the exercise.

Being Proactive In The Future

Many people are now aiming to take more control of their lives. This approach also helps them to buy time to think when unexpected events happen. They are then more likely to make good decisions.

Different people take this approach in different ways. Some aim: a) to plan ahead; b) to clarify the possible strategies that may work; c) to pursue their chosen strategy and do their best to get positive results. They also keep working towards achieving their life goals.

You will do this in your own way. If you wish, try tackling the final exercise on this theme. This invites you to complete the following sentences.

The Making Use Of
Freedom Approach

Let’s explore another aspect of taking control. Many people work towards having a sense of freedom. A person who is working to reach a specific goal may say something like the following.

Everything will be okay: 

When I have enough money to retire … When I sell my business … When I get out of this place … When I have got the right qualifications … When I meet the right person … When I win the Gold Medal.

Sometimes this proves to be the case. A person feels free and moves into shaping their future. They find it easy to do things that are rewarding for themselves or other people.

Sometimes this proves more difficult. A person who has been working towards a specific goal, for example, may experience post-purpose syndrome.

Such a person previously had a sense of purpose. They followed a certain schedule when aiming to sell their business, win the Olympic title or reach another target. Suddenly they may need to find a new sense of purpose.

Another person may grab the opportunity. Certainly there may be dips along the road, but they are grateful for the chance to shape their future. Different people do this in different ways.

They may do activities where they experience a sense of flow. They may focus on these and do work that is fulfilling for themselves or other people. 

They may do things that give them positive energy. They may translate these into doing a specific project and work towards this new sense of purpose.

They may clarify the positive things they want to give to people during their time on the planet. They may focus on doing these activities and passing on a positive legacy.

Let’s return to you own life and work. Looking into the future, can you imagine a time when you may feel a sense of freedom? This could be in your personal or professional life.

What can you do then to make use of this opportunity? How can you use this freedom in a way that is beneficial? How can you use it to do things that may be fulfilling for yourself or other people?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to complete the following sentences.


The Opportunities Approach

Different people see the world in different ways. Some people see opportunities, some see only obstacles. Some see possibilities, some see only problems.

There are different reasons why people take these approaches. Sometimes this has to do with their background. Sometimes it depends on how they choose to view life.

Looking back on your life, what were the messages you were given about opportunities or obstacles? Did the significant people in your life say it was okay to be yourself and focus on possibilities? Or did they tell you to restrict yourself and focus on barriers?

Some individuals get to a point in life where they focus on: a) their opportunities; b) their options; c) their obligations. They then pursue their chosen option whilst also fulfilling their obligations.

Imagine that you want to use elements of this approach when helping people in your work. You may do this when working as a counsellor, coach, mentor or in another role.

It can be useful to try the approach on yourself. You can then see how to adapt it when helping others. Bearing this in mind, let’s explore these themes.


What are the opportunities you have in your personal and professional life? Try brainstorming all the routes you can pursue in the future.

Don’t worry about whether or not these seem possible. The key is to get all the opportunities out there. Let’s explore how this approach can work in practise.

Donna was a former athlete who felt ambivalent about her role as a psychologist in a state school. She enjoyed helping the individual students but worried about the school system.

Before looking at her opportunities, I asked Donna to describe her background. This helped to explore her strengths and successful style of working.

She had always been good at sports. Donna excelled at football, tennis and fencing. Whilst be able to compete at a high level, she became disillusioned with the ruthless cultures in some sports academies.

Continuing with her sporting career until her late-twenties, Donna then decided to qualify as a physical education teacher. She also developed an interest in coaching. This led to her coaching junior teams in football, hockey and individual sports.

Donna believed sport gave some young people a chance to flourish, but many others never got a chance to shine. Bearing this in mind, Donna decided to specialise in psychology.

She went on to take a series of jobs as a psychologist helping students in schools. The individual work was rewarding, but she found aspects of the educational culture to be troubling.

Donna had reached her mid-thirties and felt at a critical point in her life. The road she took in the future might define the rest of her career. What were her possibilities?

We explored the routes she could pursue in her future. After some encouragement, she explored many possibilities she had not previously considered. Here are some of the things she wrote.


The opportunities I have in my personal
and professional life include the following:

I can stay in my present work … I can do a similar role in another organisation … I can try to influence the educational system by producing a blog or articles about how to help students who are different. 

I can move to another country … I can return to the US where I was on a sporting scholarship … I can take a bigger role in sports coaching … I can pursue a career in sports administration.

I can set up a business with my partner … I can apply what I learned from sport in other fields … I can use these skills to help people in business to achieve peak performance.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. Try brainstorming all the opportunities you have in your life and work. Later we will explore how you may want to follow some of these routes. Here is the exercise.


You will have brainstormed many opportunities. It is now time to begin focusing on the three or four that you find most appealing. Looking at these routes, it can also be useful to ask yourself the following questions.

Are there any other creative options? Is it possible to combine elements of several options? What is the route – or combination of routes – that I find most attractive to follow?

Donna went through these steps. We explored the obvious options and also began to add some possibilities. Here is an overview of the main options she considered.

The options I have are:

To continue in my present role, do good work but also be clear on what I could and cannot expect from the school system; 

To do my present role on a part-time basis, publish articles to build credibility as a specialist in helping students and to run workshops on this topic;

To apply what I have learned from sports to help people in business to achieve peak performance. 

Donna was particularly interested the third option. Looking at her past, she had an advantage when offering their services as a coach to businesses.

During her sporting career she had met many individuals who had moved on to forging careers in business. She could ask these people if they knew any individuals in their businesses who might benefit from peak performance coaching.

Donna had unique skills. During her time in sports she focused on individual and team performance. She knew about project management through preparing teams for competitions.

She would need: a) to identify her target audience; b) to clarify the specific things she could offer to help them to achieve success; c) to position what she offered in a way that was attractive to the potential audience.

Donna explored another option that was not on her original list. Looking back at her experiences, she had talked about the ruthless culture in some sports academies.

This approach led to athletes being cast aside. Some academies provided follow-up services for such young people, but many leave the youngsters to fend for themselves.

Donna could help these young people. Many had dedicated their lives to pursuing a specific purpose. They could be helped to channel their energies into developing a new sense of purpose.

Such people might go through a period of depression, but many had a can do attitude. They had also followed certain principles as athletes. They had chosen:

To focus on something they felt passionately about … To set specific targets … To follow certain disciplines … To achieve daily goals … To maintain high standards … To be resilient … To achieve the targets.

She could help the individuals to focus on something they cared about and follow these principles in the future. Such programmes were desperately needed, but funding may be an issue.

Donna was prepared to contact academies she knew and offer it as a complementary service. She could then publish success stories and perhaps get funding for such programmes in the future.

She began to focus on the option to pursue. Before committing herself, however, it was important to explore the next step.


Different people feel they have different obligations. These may be practical, psychological or philosophical.

An individual may feel an obligation to support their family, care for their parents or help other people. A spiritual person may feel an obligation to follow their faith. A creative person may feel an obligation to make full use of their talents.

Donna felt she had certain obligations regarding her relationships and vocation. She explained these in the following way.

The obligations I have are:

To be the wage earner in the relationship with my partner and support her during her recovery from chemotherapy; 

To support my parents as they get older – this will be emotionally, financially and practically; 

To use my knowledge to help people – such as working with former students who have asked me to mentor them in their careers. 

The obligations are vital to consider. Such responsibilities may seem challenging, but it is often possible to find ways: a) to pursue their chosen opportunity; b) to fulfil their obligations. This leads to the next step.

Choosing To
Pursue The Opportunity

Some individuals like to reflect before settling on the route they want to follow. This can lead to finding creative solutions to what may seem difficult challenges.

One approach that has become more common is for a person to pursue several opportunities as part of a portfolio career. Donna chose to take this approach.

She aimed; a) to eventually do the school role on a part-time basis; b) to do peak performance coaching in businesses; c) to work with young people released from sports academies. She would also produce articles about the work in each field.

She and I worked on the plan for doing the coaching in business. It proved relatively simple to do this on a complementary basis, but it took longer to generate funding. This eventually happened, however, and allowed her to move to four days a week in school.

Donna’s journey is still a work in progress. Like many people in today’s world, she has developed a different way of working.

She is aiming: a) to follow her principles; b) to express these in several different places; c) to do satisfying work and help others to achieve success. She has moved on from the idea of expecting to get everything she wants from one specific job.

Let’s return to your own life and work. What are your opportunities you have in your personal and professional life? What are the options you can pursue? What are your obligations?

What is the opportunity – or combination of opportunities – that you would like to pursue? How can you follow this route and also fulfil your obligations? What would be the benefits – both for yourself and other people?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to complete the following sentences.


The Spring Cleaning
Your Life Approach

There are many exercises that invite people to focus on their priorities and life goals. The follow pages describe several approaches.

Some people amass lots of things in their lives. Imagine that you want to spring clean your life. This exercise invites you to look ahead and focus on the following things

Three People

Who are the three people – in addition to your loved ones – that you would like to spend time with and encourage? How would you like to build with these people?

Three Strengths
And Three Goals

What are three strengths you have that you would like to build on? What are the three main goals you would like to focus on in your life? How can you work towards these goals?

Three Possessions
And Three Other Things

What are the three possessions that you would like to keep? What are three other things you would like to keep in your life? How can you appreciate or use these in a beneficial way?

Focusing In The Future

Bearing in mind what you have written, describe the specific steps you can take to build on these things in the future. This can help you to keep focusing on what you believe is important.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to complete the following sentences.


The Feeling More In Control In
Difficult Situations Approach 

How can you help a person to feel more in control in difficult situations? As we have seen earlier in the book, this often involves helping them to focus on controlling the controllables.

Sometimes this can be difficult, however, and much depends on the particular situation. Let’s look at one specific example where a person wanted to learn how to deal with certain kinds of conversations.

Carrie had taken several months off work to care for her partner who was having treatment for cancer. The time spent at home helped her to appreciate the important things in life.

She also wanted to take more control in certain situations. One was how to deal with the caring phone calls that knocked her off-track. She explained this in the following way.

“People ring and, though they are well-meaning, it takes ages to answer their questions.

“They want to know how my partner is doing. I don’t want to be rude to them, but sometimes the phone calls are exhausting. It is like going up and down an emotional roller coaster. 

“The phone calls start with them expressing sympathy, but sometimes the roles get reversed and I end up giving them therapy. Have you any suggestions about how to deal with these kinds of situations?” 

Carrie chose to create a script she could follow to be polite but also manage her energy. Whether it was a phone call or a caring enquiry from elsewhere, she would thank the person for asking. She would then go through the following messages.

“The treatment has gone well. The medical staff have been great and they are doing a wonderful job.

“One of the upsides has been that it has brought us even closer as a family. We are appreciating the simple things in life and plan to go on several special trips. 

“I will let you know if anything changes. How are you?”

The final piece asking, “How are you?” was crucial.

Carrie could use it to close the topic and move things back to the caller. She would then feel more able to control the conversation.

People like to feel in they can shape their futures. How to take this step? One approach is for them to build on their strengths, focus on something they want to shape and achieve success.

Looking back, can you think of a situation when you took this approach? You may have aimed to shape your diary, shape your career, shape a project, shape a culture or shape something else.

What did you do to shape the activity? How did you set specific goals and follow certain strategies? How did you do your best to achieve success? What happened as a result of taking these steps?

As mentioned earlier, people like to shape things. They like to feel they can control aspects of their future, set specific goals and see the fruits of their labours. This can help them to build their confidence.

The term ‘shaper’ gained popularity in organisations as a result of Meredith Belbin’s research on effective teams. This outlined the roles that people can play to contribute towards delivering success.

One of these roles is to be a shaper. The Belbin Organisation describes the characteristics of the shaper in the following ways.


They provides the necessary drive to ensure that the team keeps moving and does not lose focus or momentum.


They can be challenging, dynamic, thrives on pressure. Has the drive and courage to overcome obstacles.

They can be prone to provocation, and may sometimes offend people’s feelings. They can also risk becoming aggressive and bad humoured in their attempts to get things done. 

Possible Weaknesses

A person may or may demonstrate some of these characteristics when aiming to shape things in their personal or professional life. Let’s look at one example.

Kathy – Shaping A Positive
Future For The Planet

Kathy worked as a project director for a leading digital company. A superb orchestrator, she could get diverse individuals to combine their strengths to do pioneering work.

She also felt passionate about caring for the planet. Bearing this in mind, she made a presentation to her company’s leadership team. This focused on the following themes.

How the company could reduce its emissions and eventually become carbon neutral. 

How taking these steps would benefit the company and many other stakeholders.

Much to her surprise, the leaders were receptive and backed her proposal. Kathy was delighted, but then began to worry. During one of our sessions she wanted to explore the following questions.

“Are the leadership team really serious? What happens if they aren’t? What if they are just doing it for public relations reasons? What happens if they pull the plug halfway through the project?”

Kathy and I focused on what she could and could not control when shaping the project. Here is a summary of what she concluded. 

Shaping The Project

Can Control. The things I control are:

I can set short-term goals based on where I know it is possible to get some quick successes.

I can publicise these quick wins, produce success stories and show how it is possible to build on this momentum to get more successes.

I can share success stories in a way that develops the company’s reputation for aiming to build a sustainable and successful future.

Can’t Control. The things I can’t control are:

I can’t control if the company’s leaders suddenly decide to pull the plug on the project because they have other agendas.

I can’t control whether or not the principles embodied in the success stories are followed right across the company.

Kathy built on her strengths. She shaped the project and the results were well received by the company’s leaders. This led to them offering her a role on in the senior team.

She felt in a dilemma. The offer was tempting and would fit in with what Kathy had previously felt to be her career goals.

The pluses would be: to perhaps have power to introduce real change in the company; to have a senior role and more salary; to have the chance to use this to spread the messages across society.

The potential minuses would be: to maybe be just a figure-heard; to be asked to roll-out processes, which was not her strength; to be stuck in meetings and removed from the hands-on work.

She opted instead to set-up her own business helping companies to reduce their carbon footprint. Some people saw this as risky, but she wanted to shape her own future. The early signs were promising, but she had a back-up plan.

Kathy kept in touch with key people she knew in various companies. Who knows? One day she may want to return to a full-time role being the person responsible for building a sustainable and successful company.  

The Respecting
A Challenge Approach


Great workers respect the challenge they face. They do this whether they are tackling a routine task, climbing a mountain or turning around a company

Some people do not respect a challenge and fall off the mountain. One leader explained how they fell into this trap.

“Several years ago I learned a severe lesson. It came off the back of achieving a success, but then I went into another role and messed it up badly

“During the previous five years I had built and sold a business. The work was challenging, but my colleagues and I enjoyed working towards a common purpose.

“Three months after selling the company I was much richer, but there was something missing. I needed to restart working. So I took on a senior role with another business. 

“I felt the new role would be relatively simple, but that was my undoing. The role was ‘not as advertised’.

“The work did not provide a sense of purpose and I began making sloppy mistakes. Eventually the business and I decided to go separate ways.

“This taught me a valuable lesson. Nowadays I do my due diligence and make sure I am motivated to achieve the goal.”

Looking at your own life and work, can you recall a time when you respected a challenge? What did you do right then to rehearse and then deliver the required results? Let’s explore these themes.

Respecting A Challenge

People perform many routine tasks each day as a matter of course. They get used to driving a car, solving problems at work and dealing with other issues. They may get into trouble, however, if they fail to concentrate or prepare properly.

Great workers do the following things when considering whether to tackle a challenge. They aim:

To research the challenge; 

To rate their motivation for tackling the challenge;

To make sure they respect the challenge.

Imagine that you have been offered the opportunity to tackle a particular project. You may have the chance to launch a new business, take over a failing team, lead an initiative across a company or do another activity.

Your interest is piqued, but you also have reservations. On the one hand you think it could be interesting. On the other hand, you may have done similar things before, so it could feel mundane.

You want to do satisfying work and have a reasonable chance of success. This calls for doing a reality check before committing yourself to the challenge.

Your first task will be to gather information. One approach is to explore questions on the themes of What, Why, How, Who and When? These can be used to researching any potential project.


What are the stated goals of the project? What are the real results to achieve? What will be happening that will show you have reached the goals? What is the picture of success?

What is actually happening now? What is the state of play? If the project is already going: a) What is going well; b) What can be done better and how? What are the successful and unsuccessful patterns?

What are the key challenges you will face? What are the resources you will need to tackle these challenges, do superb work and reach the goals? Will these resources be available?

What are the things you can control on the project? What are the things you can’t control? How can build on what you can control and manage what you can’t?


Why do people want to do the project? What will be the specific benefits for the various stakeholders – such as the company, customers, colleagues, community and other groups?

What will be the pluses and minuses that you and other people may encounter on the road towards achieving the goals? How can you build on the pluses and minimise the minuses? Looking at the pluses and minuses involved, are you prepared to accept the whole package?


How can you do your best to reach the goals? What are the three key strategies you can follow that will provide the greatest chance of success? How can you use your own and other people’s strengths to reach the goals?

What are the potential difficulties you may meet along the road? How can you anticipate and prevent these difficulties happening? How can you manage the difficulties if they do happen?

How can you make sure that you go in with your eyes open? What are the things you can and can’t expect from the culture – the organisation or company – in which you will be working?  

What could you to do thrive, rather than just survive, when working in or alongside the culture? What will be the support required? How can you get some early successes?


Who are the key stakeholders – the people you must satisfy? What is their picture of success? What is their mental model about how they believe people should work in order to achieve success? What do you believe are the overall Dos and Don’ts they ask people to follow?

Will you feel okay working with these people? How can you proactively keep them informed about the progress towards achieving the goals? How can you create enough space to make sure you can get on with the job?

Who are the people you may need on a team? What are the qualities – the spirit, strengths and skills – they will need to demonstrate? Looking at the people already in the team, try answering the following questions.

Which of the people already have these qualities? Which people may have the qualities? Which people probably don’t have the qualities? 

Bearing these things in mind, what are the decisions you may need to take about people? How can you do this in a moral way? How can you employ the right people in the right places in the team?

What are the specific results that people in each of the roles will need to deliver? How can you make clear contracts with them about their contributions towards achieving the goals? How can you make sure that people are given the support required to do the job?


What are the specific results that must be delivered by when? What are the key milestones? What are the short, medium and long-term goals? How can you get some early successes?

How can you continue to ensure that the project is on track and people deliver the goods? How can you continue to do reality checks about: a) What is working; b) What can be better and how? How can you encourage people on the journey?

How can you do everything possible to reach the goals? How can you ensure that people do the basics and, when appropriate, add that brilliance? What else can you do to deliver the picture of success?

Imagine that you have researched what may be involved when doing a particular project. Bearing in mind what you have explored, the next steps is to rate your motivation for doing the work.

You may be considering whether to write a book, run a marathon, climb a mountain or do another activity. You may be considering whether to lead a team, shift a culture or tackle another challenge.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to look ahead at a potential project and rate your motivation for doing it. It invites you to complete the following sentences.

Rehearsing Tackling The Challenge

Imagine that you have chosen to do the particular project. The next step is to show respect for what needs to be done by rehearsing every aspect of the journey.

The theme of rehearsing properly is explored elsewhere in the book, but here are the headlines. It can be useful to focus on the picture of success and:

To rehearse following the key strategies that will give you the greatest chance of success;

To rehearse dealing with the potential challenges along the ways;

To again rehearse doing your best to achieve the picture of success.

Imagine that you feel ready to embark on the journey. It can then be useful to rest before clicking into action. You will then move on to the next step.

Delivering The Desired Results
When Tackling The Challenge

Great workers show respect by giving their full attention to tackling the challenge. They do this whether counselling a person, climbing a mountain, leading a creative project or doing another activity.

They follow the key strategies most likely to deliver the desired results. They also do this by managing their energy and efforts in the most effective way.

Such people work at the appropriate pace. Sometimes they may buy time to think; sometimes work intensely. Sometimes they may work in short bursts; some work for long stretches.

Great workers continue to use their antennae when tackling the challenges. They keep asking themselves the following questions.

What are the real results to achieve? Am I on course to deliver these results? How can I keep on course to deliver success?

What is actually happening? What is going well? How can I build on these things? What can I do better and how? What are the potential things that could happen in the future? How can I manage these things?  

What else can I do to achieve the desired results? How can I do these things? How can I finish in a good way and achieve the picture of success?

Whatever challenge you tackle, the aim will be to respect the work. Such an approach can enable you and other people to reach the summit – rather than fall off the mountain – and get down safely.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to clarify how you can respect a challenge, rehearse tackling it and deliver the desired results.

Let’s return to the theme of taking charge of your life. Can you think of a situation where you may want to feel more in control? You may want to focus on your key life-priorities, feel more in control at work or manage difficult conversations.

Looking at the situation, how can you build on what you can control? How can you clarify and focus on your priorities? How can you shape the future and achieve your picture of success?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to complete the following sentences.

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