How Many People Hold Themselves Back Professionally Because They’re All About Themselves?

E activity

If you’re an actual reader of LinkedIn posts, you may have noticed a recent trend. Clearly some social media guru made a pronouncement and folks are following suit. Have you noticed the deliberate extra line spacing and single sentence paragraphs? The hope must be that their first sentence is so intriguing and so compelling that readers simply must click the ‘see more’ and scroll and scroll. Here’s my opinion – the only time I’m into multiple scrolls is at Bakers Delight and it involves cinnamon icing. (Confession – I needed three attempts to spell ‘cinnamon’ correctly. I’m not better than you.)

I was intrigued by two recent posts in my LinkedIn timeline. Both were effectively on the same topic. One was an unsuccessful job applicant slamming the employer for not getting back to them with feedback on why they didn’t get the job. The other was a tech company director slamming a potential client they’d spent 10 hours preparing and pitching to, only to again never hear back after not getting the gig.

I’m not going to slam the two posters with a ‘Harden up and move on’ retort. I did actually comment on their post (in a non NZ Herald commentor kind of way, you know, positive and constructive) and they ‘liked’ my comments.

To both I said something like, look you’re right, that feedback would have been useful to you and they would have been great employers / people if they had given it you. And, sometimes, it’s a lazy and shortsighted move on their part if they don’t. The world’s an increasingly small place and ’employer brand’ is important to attract talent. If you got an interview and you came 2nd, then you clearly are talented and probably would’ve been great at the job but someone else was better or fit better or had something extra of value or it was political. In all those scenarios, you can’t do anything about it and while it may be interesting to you and you might get closure, it really isn’t performance-enhancing feedback. But it does give you closure and does leave you with a less bitter taste in your mouth and you’re more inclined to speak positively about that employer and not slam them on social media posts. That stuff adds up and sticks.

And, if it was an internal application then definitely they should have given specific feedback and had a conversation around the whys and the what nexts. If that was the case, and they didn’t do that, well that too is a kind of feedback – one that suggests maybe they’re not the best outfit you could be working for, so start researching where else might be.

The above situations are the top part of the pyramid. Sales pitches and job applications are a numbers game and most are instantly rejected. If you came 2nd, you deserve feedback and it’s in their interest to give it to you and become known as someone who does. If you came 214th, harden up and move on. Recruiting is a cost that is measured. Time is a big factor in that calculation. You either are or are not worth it. If you’re not sure, then the onus is on you to convince the employer / client that even if you’re not successful, you are worth the feedback on why you weren’t.

For the sales pitch people, they could have qualified the opportunity better to make sure they weren’t being used by tyre-kickers to squeeze an incumbent or just get free ideas. They could have stipulated early and formally in the process an expectation of feedback and a definitive mechanism for how it should occur. If you’re not confident enough to do that or they’re not willing to accept it, then you’re not worth it.

For the job applicants, they could play the sentiment card. Or, they could as a parting remark, make a specific request to the interviewer. making eye contact and acknowledging they know their time is valuable etc and they might (might) convince one person at a personal level to commit to calling them afterwards and sticking to that commitment. The key part is acknowledging their time is valuable. The upside benefit of the feedback is entirely to the applicant. The downside cost is entirely to the interviewer. There has to be something in it for them. What’s their WIIFM. ( The applicant can’t offer much if anything tangible. The very least is acknowledging their time is valuable and you’d appreciate it and the difference it would make to you. My experience as an interviewer, employer and reader of Linkedin post comments indicates the vast majority of applicants don’t do this small, simple thing. They just expect it, don’t ask for it, and act surprised when it doesn’t arrive. I get it but it’s a self-centricity that will probably hold them back in their careers generally.

I want to finish by getting back to the headline of this article – people holding themselves back because they’re all about themselves. I do a little interactivity with my audiences at my presentations. It’s short, fun, safe and makes a great point on this topic. It’s from a piece of research by Northwestern University / Columbia Business School led by Adam Galinsky. People stand and are paired. They click their fingers on their dominant hand 5 times. I ask them to imagine their index finger is a marker and to write on their own forehead the capital letter E 3 times. Whilst they do this, they observe their partner doing it on their forehead. Everyone sits and we debrief the activity. As you can see in the header picture of this article, there are two ways of doing it. Crudely oversimplified, and by itself it means nothing, but the general idea is that there are two types of people in this world and neither is right or wrong. It’s just useful to know which your natural default is – self-oriented or other-oriented. Many of those LinkedIn commentors certainly made theirs obvious.

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Terry Williams Book ‘Getting Better Buy-In’: 5-day free kindle promotion

Hi. Hopefully, I’ve filtered this blogpost so it only goes to those who follow me and it doesn’t get shared onto my social media platforms. There may not be any free lunches but for 5 days from today, if you’re up for a short leadership read, my new book ‘Getting Better Buy-In: A leader’s motivation handbook’ is free on kindle for 5 days. You don’t even need a kindle as it’s readable on any browser.

Happy reading and if you like it, please feel free to leave a review on Amazon.


How Open-Minded Are You?

Minds are like parachutes

This blogpost might be challenging for some. It was for me. I like to think of myself as open-minded. (Actually, I just like to think of myself generally. But that’s something else I need to work on). But am I really that open-minded? How would I know? Is there a scale of 1 to 10 upon which I’m a 7?

Psychologist Carol Dweck led the way with research on fixed versus growth mindsets. Crudely and sweepingly summarised, there are two types of default thinking positions and if you don’t effortfully choose one, you likely have a default. The post explains more. I especially like point 2 – when you meet an idea, do you start in response with statements or questions? That was something of a relief to me as three of my five sentences in paragraph one were questions.

There’s a quote that the ability to change your mind is a superpower and another that the true test of intelligence is the ability to have two opposed ideas in your mind and retain the ability to function. If I’m having a good day after a good sleep and have eaten wisely without deadlines yelling at me, then I’m in a resourceful state and I’m certain I could manage that. Other days not so much. It’s the other days that can cause us and our people some problems. It’s for those other days that wee need to prep and practice so when it gets tough, our open-mindedness keeps goings.

Do read the article but if you’re having a low resourcefulness day, here’s 7 quick questions to assess yourself against:

  1. How do you respond when your ideas are challenged? (My new thing is ABC – always be curious – WHY are they challenging them?)
  2. Are your first responses statements or questions?
  3. Do you seek first to be understood or to understand?
  4. Do you use the phrase, “I might be wrong but…”
  5. How often do you interrupt?
  6. Can you simultaneously hold opposed ideas?
  7. How much effort do you put into testing your own views? Do you deliberately seek evidence to the contrary?

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Employee Engagement : No Silver Bullet


This article in the UK’s HR Magazine makes the great, obvious and yet sadly-ignored-for-convenience’s sake point that having engaged employees won’t magically solve all your people problems. They are people after all. It’s human nature, I suppose, to look for that one thing. Eat the superfood blueberries and you’ll live forever. You won’t, but if you live on blueberries, it might seem like forever.

I was a teenager when the teenage mutant ninja turtles were teenagers. They are my age. They’re not teenagers anymore. They’re no longer fighting crime and living in a sewer. They’re mortgaged in the suburbs, fighting their own teenage kids and teaching Splinter their sensei rat a lesson of his own about how to adapt to living in a retirement community not of his choosing.

“We first started getting into trouble in this country when we started seeing engagement as a box ticking exercise,” he said. “Managers had all these targets to meet that on paper looked impressive, but in reality did nothing to change the workplace. We have made a mistake in HR of seeing engagement as a silver bullet that fixes everything else.”

And, whilst employee engagement might not be a magic bullet, as long as you specifically define it as the observation of discretionary effort, it does have a proven return on investment with greater productivity, revenue and profitability. And whilst blueberries aren’t magical, if you eat them instead of gulping sodas, maybe you’ll delay diabetes and that retirement community a while longer.

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Non Political Political Statement


People in new democracies, often poor countries coming out of conflict, cherish their right to vote. They walk, they queue, they face threats. They lack infrastructure & technology. To try and keep it to ‘one person one vote’, officials stamp their hands to indicate they’ve voted.

We’ve had democracy for a while and the novelty has worn off. I say we do that stamp thing but with an ink that lasts 3 years. And if you ever feel at any point like criticising any party or institution of Govt or any person actively involved in the process, pause and look for your hand stamp. If you don’t have a stamp, shut your trap.

For more life advice for young people and those young at heart, wrapped up in purposeful jokes, check out my book ‘The Guide: How to kiss, get a job & other stuff you need to know’.

Episode 32: Structured Behavioural Event Interviewing

Much time, effort and expense is wasted on hiring the wrong people. Job interviews are critically important, yet the vast majority of people conducting job interviews have received zero training at job interviewing. Here is a walk-through a simple but consistently effective approach to conducting job interviews, either solo or as part of a panel. From defining the role to drafting effective and purposeful questions to the mechanics of the face-to-face interactions to the post-interview work – this ep lays it out for you. And there’s a handy tip sheet too.

Terry Williams Brain-Based Boss PodCast – latest episode

The Smoke & Mirrors Of Tech Promises


Before my days as a trainer, speaker and author came along, I served some time on the periphery of the telecommunications industry and in some Information technology projects. I was usually the non-technical guy who acted as translator for the customers / users / muggles. I’d facilitate meetings, co-draft specs, and draft user documentation and training. I learned a lot, not the least of which is that I did not wish to do that ever again.

I can be overly keen sometimes. I’m that guy. An executive recruitment firm once reported on me as being “infectiously enthusiastic”. I’m taking that with all the good graces and positivity of a description that includes the term “infectious”. But I get it. One of the things into which I launch myself with enthusiasm is tech. And, one of the learnings from my time in the tech trenches is that there is a lot of smoke and mirrors. To temper the odds of any future disproportionate or unwarranted enthusiasm on tech or any subject, I like to look back in time on the internet. In 2007, what was being touted as the next big thing, is it big now, or is it even an actual thing at all yet? What was the much-hyped HR tech of ten years ago? Is it here now and is it kicking digital butt?

I feel like I want to draw up a bingo grid and include terms such as ‘big data’, ‘UX’ and ‘disruptive’. Were they on the cards ten years ago or are they just around the horizon? If you’re ever lost in a desert, you’ll know that the only thing just around the horizon is another horizon. We’ve all been there. I only do it for the hallucinations. If you’re ever lost in a dessert, well done.

There is one prediction I found most often from back in 2007 that seems to have played out solidly today. I’ll quote it directly, “Fear automation not outsourcing”. It’s kind of tech-facing, although not specifically relating to HR tech. Unless you work in HR, which as readers of this publication, you almost certainly are.

There is a pill bottle today that has enough tech in its lid to verbally remind people to take their meds. Convergence is a thing. It happened with TVs and computers, with phones and everything else, and, according to some political spokespeople, with microwaves and spy cameras. With HR tech, the time is now or soonish for talent management to hybreed with ERP. I’d also like to copyright my word “hybreed”. Another key battleground for tech folk generally, including HR, is UX or User eXperience. Finally, users are no longer the doormats we were back in 2007. Now, the people poking screens matter. Now, poking screens actually does something. I’m not sure why anyone would’ve been poking their screens back in 2007?

Taps are replacing clicks as mobile devices are the means by which we all do our thing. When Bill gates first mooted “a computer on every desktop”, that was seen as a boon. Now, computers on desktops are a hassle unless you’re a power gamer. Most HR professionals shouldn’t be power gamers. Least not at work anyways. Especially don’t recreate your organisation’s people using Sims or some kind of role play gaming software. The last thing we need is HR folk getting all ‘Game Of Thrones’ with their talent management. I got my hair cut yesterday by someone talking about their kids at school and “achieved, merit and extinction”. I think she meant “distinction” and it probably should’ve been “excellence”. We don’t want HR tech driving extinction but we probably do want HR tech driving distinction. This is where big data analytics comes in.

Big data is definitely a reality but the next thing of note is the analytics to make finessing it and extracting value from it viable, practical, ethical and efficient.

My favourite HR tech is in the L&D space and it isn’t MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) although they are great. It’s micro-learning – what you need, where you need, when you need it. People forget things they don’t use much so having a ‘library’ of resources online available via mobile devices is an excellent adjunct to traditional training. I had an outside lightbulb that had shattered with no way to grip it to twist it out. Via YouTube, I found a ninety second video from Bosnia with the solution – stick a potato in the broken bulb and twist. I lived to tell the tale and that is useful L&D tech.

My main worry with tech is that they have developed software (and this is real, although still in the early stages) that can detect sarcasm in the written word. Wow, it looks like they were right in 2007, I do have to fear automation.



Career 2.0

volcano lightning

Taking photos of volcanos in action must be scary. That’s probably part of why they do it. Changing careers for many of us might be the scariest thing we ever do, or, more likely, contemplate doing but never actually do.

I threw myself into the internet to glean a bit of inspiration for this post. Not literally, we can’t actually throw ourselves into the internet… yet. Online research is fine but some sort of Tron-like immersion within the ethereal plains of the worldwide web seems impractical and risk-prone. If you think you have a problem now spending a lot of time ON the internet, just wait until you can spend a lot of time IN the internet.

I found one article about career transition and it used the metaphor of the software upgrade: Career 2.0. I think that’s part of the problem. Going from career 1.0 to 2.0 is blunt and quite a leap. Why not take an incremental leaf from Apple’s upgrade strategy and have career 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, etc rather than one substantive chasm-leaping transition straight to 2.0 when it’s thrust upon you? I know it’s a freakin’ pain every three days when those upgrade messages splash themselves across your screen or interrupt your other activities. Maybe this software upgrade imagery doesn’t stretch too far with career upgrades? For a start software can “live in the cloud,” whereas your job cannot. That said, I do have a guy on who does all my illustrations for me.

The term seems to have a bit of baggage and mixed perceptions too. One Forbes article seemed in favour of transitioning to something more in line with your values after slaving away for a while, having built up your CV, garnered some experience and contacts, and built up some reserves just in case it all goes south. (I don’t know why “in case it all goes south” is an expression for something going horribly wrong? I’m from the south. It’s awesome. If you want horrible, I’d go west). With a positive outlook, Forbes proffered some tips that I’ll share shortly.

The Harvard Business Review (HBR), on the other hand, took a dim view of career transitions. Their first article was about having to explain it when someone called you out on it, as if it would be an embarrassing blip. I know we could all use some tips on explaining gaps in the timelines of our CVs when potential employers ask about our unrevealed years in prison or that time we faked our own death. Any employer who claims to want to employ someone with problem solving skills, initiative and learning flexibility should realise that career transitioning is an absolute finishing school for that sort of thing. So, I wouldn’t worry too much about this, unless you ever get interviewed for a job as a reporter for the Harvard Business Review, in which case, you have been warned.

Let’s get back to those tips from Forbes. If anyone knows about career transition tips for mere employees, it’s the media outlet that relies on their listings of the 500 richest people on the planet in the same voyeuristic way that Sports Illustrated relies on their swimsuit issue. Now, I was primarily drawn to the Forbes article as their first example was that of a Navy Captain who became a circus manager. Possibly not that much of a lateral shift but definitely the adult version of running away to join the circus. Their key tips: know the underlying reason why, get fit, do it in stages, find a mentor, prepare for setbacks, volunteer or moonlight first, have some ‘rainy day’ money set aside, and do something every day to move towards what you’re after.

I MC’d an HR conference a while back where one of the speakers demonstrated a very useful technique I’ll call ‘Timelining’. You scribble an X/Y axis on a sheet of landscape paper – the bigger the better. The horizontal axis (X – c’mon team) is time, so mark out the years of your career. The vertical axis (Y) is satisfaction on a scale you’ll have to imagine yourself. You then mark out the various highs and lows and milestones on three timelines – career, personal and relationships. The second part is self-analysis – when were the sweet spots of mutually-intersecting highs and, vice versa, the lows? Then you ask yourself for both, why, what was happening in each type of scenario? I was coaching a forty year old man once with this activity and he had the epiphany that he hated working indoors. It had never occurred to him, then he transitioned on a dime and now he never met a grapevine he didn’t like. It’s a great technique – google a book called ‘Taking Charge’ by Chris Johnson.

I’m not going to completely dismiss HBR’s advice. How can I ignore phrases like “compelling narrative” or “professional reinventors”? If working for a living doesn’t pan out for me and I end up a crazy old guy in a shed, I’ll be an inventor working on my compelling narrative. And a time machine.


Leadership – leading from down under

Cherri Holland Blog

It is Leadership Week in New Zealand.

How apt. A week when we have welcomed back Emirates Team New Zealand with the oldest sporting trophy – the Auld Mug (a.k.a. The America’s Cup). It is time to consider what leadership is and to draw inspiration from that great New Zealander: Sir Peter Blake.

When asked (back in 1995 when we first won that elusive trophy) what on earth made him think New Zealand could compete for (and actually win) The America’s Cup, Blakie said: “When people say something is impossible, that is when I want to do it.”

There is more to it, of course. Not only have our teams got further on fewer resources than any other winning syndicate, but they have insisted on playing nicely, “sharing our toys” (actual quote from the ‘95 team’s playbook) and building a challenge that “New Zealand can be proud of –…

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The Stuff That Bubbles Are Made Of

whale hopping

If you use services like online retailer Amazon or music streamer Spotify, you’ll be familiar with the concept of recommendations. Based on your previous consumption patterns and those of consumers similar to yourself, an algorithm (or algorithms) instantly suggest to you other products or music you might like. Based on my photo, you may be surprised to learn that I am disproportionately fond of 70s funk. Spotify is not surprised. More than that, it seems positively delighted to be able to inform me that if I liked Earth, Wind & Fire (the band, not the elements of nature), I might like The Meters. And you know what? I did like The Meters. You would too. I was unaware of their existence but the modern magic of technology connected us and now I’m a fan. Moreso, I feel educated as I can trace the genealogy of the sound from the 60s through to the music of my actual life. This kind of ‘screening’ is a boon to my life and soul. Their tight melodic grooves and highly syncopated New Orleans second-line rhythms under highly charged guitar and keyboard riffing get me through some days. Let’s don’t forget James Brown.

However, despite my sense of betterment from the screening software, or perhaps because of it, I’m not immediately aware of the downside. As I was trying to use this Spotify feature as an analogy for employee screening in workplaces, I had to squeeze on a DeBono-esque negative thinking hat and force myself to think of a downside. How am I ever going to experience new music or genres if I only ever sample music that is like what I already like? That’s the stuff that bubbles are made of.

I get a sense of uneasiness from this. Partly it’s because I sometimes train in business writing and I know that sentences should not end with a preposition such as “of”. That sentence should have read, “That’s the stuff of which bubbles are made”.

The uneasiness also comes from thinking, why can’t I just like what I like and things that are similar to what I like? It’s quick, logical and low effort. Surely everybody wins. Who does it hurt? And aren’t bubbles simply a whimsical delight, even for an adult, to return to childlike fascination? No, the type of bubbles I’m talking about are those self-imposed blinkers that turn into silos and insulate us from seeing the world as it really is beyond our ivory towers. (If you’re keeping score on the liberal elite scale, that last sentence had five bits of figurative language. That’s a personal record. I was going to say personal best, but I think we all know that’s too many).

Let me get back to my analogy with employee screening. I used to half-seriously talk to workplace leaders about “cloning their stars”. Through recruitment, induction, training, coaching etc, create a model of what you’re after based on existing or previous top performers and seek to attract and re-create that. It’s not a bad idea but is it the best idea? Isn’t that approach effectively the same as Spotify telling me that if I liked that, then I’ll like this? What about diversity and innovation? Aren’t they diluted or diminished when all you do is re-hire the people you’ve always hired?

Maybe my life and soul would be even further enhanced if Spotify suggested to me that I might like to try Norwegian trance music? (It didn’t but I tried it anyway and it wasn’t. But it might have and I never would have known if I didn’t make up a style of music that I guessed I would never otherwise have encountered, then Googled it, found out it did actually exist so I sampled it. It’s quite deflating but at least now I know. Imagine if they’d taken early Donna Summer music, removed all the interesting sounds, changed all the chords to minor chords, then slowed it down).

I suppose the Spotify analogy isn’t perfect. You can test-drive a song at almost zero-cost. Click the play symbol, give it thirty seconds and never worry about it again. You don’t have to worry about hurting the feelings of DJ Splash from Trondheim. You can’t do that with a new hire (nor should you want to, or try to).

I was going to base this article around some legislation being proposed in the US that could impose hefty penalties on employees who decline to participate in genetic testing as part of workplace wellness programmes. That’s a level of sci-fi Gattica (look it up) screening that I found depressing so I didn’t. I wrote about Norwegian trance music instead. That is slightly less depressing. And it is really depressing.

Here’s one last suggestion: If you liked DJ Splash from Trondheim then you’ll love Finnebassen from Oslo or perhaps Boom Jinx from Bergen. But if you ever work where I work, you do not get to choose the radio station.


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