"I help leaders and teams to create excellent places to work"

"I help leaders define their brand and stand out from the crowd"

"I help teams to inspire their people building high performance cultures"

"I share inspiring stories, ideas and thought provoking insights"

I'm free, not a number......

I’m free not a number………

Grab a coffee, tea, water and give yourself 15 mins to digest the following, I believe it’s worth it………

Organisational life at its best can be fun, challenging, aligned with our purpose and an environment that stretches us to grow both as leaders and human beings. It's a journey that should grow us, sadly at times this isn't the case and we find ourselves underperforming, not feeling energised by the game or dissatisfied on some level.

The following is a simple and effective diagnostic that I use when I meet someone who is looking to get more from life, work, grow as a leader or accelerate themselves to another level.

Holding crucial, challenging conversations

I meet lots of people and leaders and 2 of the things that put the fear into many are public speaking and providing difficult tough love professional messages to people who are not working at their best. I will leave the public speaking to another time, in this post I will share some ideas and thoughts on how to help a talented person understand what is going on for them, raise their game and accelerate their performance.


Let’s imagine that we are a senior leader, HRD or playing a coaching/mentoring/advisory role where we have someone who is not meeting their full potential or the expectations of the organisation and or their boss.  Work your way through this 10 C diagnostic model to see if you can identify where the roots of the internal or external challenges lay.

1. Context

First, we have to have a look at the system that has been created, what is the information/data that suggest that there is a problem or challenge to be overcome. Is the issue relating to a person’s performance, behaviour or as is the case on numerous occasions relating to their brand and how others perceive them and their behaviour.

It's critical that we get the context and understand what's being played out. Who are the key players in the plot, what are the relationships that set the scene. Is there a real tangible issue or is it more intangible and related to someone’s perception or relationship breaking down.

2. Change

Organisation and profession life is about change, organisations today need to show quick feet, they have to move in an agile fashion. Change in concept is fine but the reality is that it puts the fear of god into most people, especially when they do not feel in personal control.  So let's ensure we understand how many plates are being spun. Is their real clarity of the direction, does the person really understand what is expected of them today and tmr.

When people are forced to change, rather than feeling an autonomous part of the process it often takes them in to an internal dialogue that may not be supportive of the change. People often fear instability, lack of clarity or safety, this isn't true of everyone. It’s essential we understand how the individual feels and copes with change. What can we do as a leader, coach or mentor to help them identify their success patterns? We all deal with changes in all areas of our life, that’s part of modern life, so explore where they have successfully dealt with change previously and use this as a positive framework.

Help them or their boss to see how and where they need to be engaged in the change.  Equally, sometimes there are changes that are outside of the force of our control, so it’s better to accept these and move on or find a better manner for managing the anxiety and stress that this uncertainty often creates for people.

3. Character

Is there questions being raised about a person character or behaviours?  Do they do things that put them at odds with the prevailing mindset and culture? Does the organisation need to upgrade its software in order to support these change agents and innovators. Do you as a boss need to give them some top cover and protect them and their brand?

Clearly, if we are talking about issues relating to integrity, bullying, aggressive or other dysfunctional behaviours then we need to provide tough professional love and feedback quickly, in order to build the individuals awareness on the impact of their behaviours and choices.  I often find that when provided the data and feedback people realise the gap between their positive intentions and the perception their approach creates in others.

Deep professional feedback provides people with the opportunity to really game change their approach and style. In my experience where people’s characters do not align within the predominant culture rules of the game it often leads to an individual feeling low on energy and at odds with the prevailing mindset. Sometimes it is better for all parties to seek alternative options, a fish will grow proportionately to their tank and human beings are not dissimilar. One final thought on this section, sometimes it’s a warped perception that the boss or leader has and so gathering real 360 data really helps to shift this perception.

4. Culture

Is there a cultural fit issue here? Does it really matter to you and the organisation? If a person doesn’t fit the culture it can sometimes be a very negative and emotionally charged experience.  As a leader we need to be aware of this and help the individual understand the rules of the game. I'm a huge fan of people who challenge the status quo and predominant rules......but they naturally make people feel slightly uncomfortable, they also need top cover as they take risks to help the organisation grow, improve or challenge itself.

If someone isn't able to find a way to fit into the organisational jigsaw puzzle this can be a highly uncomfortable and energetically draining experience.  Clearly some people are masters of playing this way....think Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Anita Roddick, Tim Smit as a starter list for 10.  In truth, not fitting in can be like going back to the playground in an organisational context and sometimes, it may be best to call it out and support the person move onto a new environment that will love and respect their qualities, talents and gifts more fully.

5. Confidence

Surprising maybe, but I meet a lot of people who suffer from internal dialogue that strips away a level of their self-confidence. How someone self-coaches (their internal dialogue) has a huge implication on their performance, people often need to get out of their own way.

If someone has changed their behaviour, we need to explore if something happened that has shaken their internal reference, are they being giving negative or derogatory feedback.  People respond differently, some of us love nothing more than someone giving us a negative stroke or telling us we can't do something.  The majority of us prefer positive strokes and want recognition, appreciation and a simple thank you for doing a great job.  In truth, humans are a complex mix due to their conditioning, parenting, education and upbringing.....as the leader are you providing them with what they need?

Tim Gallway the master of the inner game series taught us that it's often not about the opponent on the other side of the net (tennis) but the opponent in our own mind....so check in with the internal dialogue someone is utilising. How often do they positively or negatively reference themselves.....in my experience people lacking self-confidence are often giving themselves a very hard time - stop it, be kind to yourself....love starts at home.

6. Competence

Is someone in a role where they can get into their own flow, are they using their strengths and talents on a daily basis? Or are they in a role that stretches them and plays more to their learned behaviours and weaknesses. Professor Alex Linley of CAPP strengths has taught and demonstrated the significant benefit to people, teams and organisations by playing to people's strengths less their weaknesses.

In my own experience, I've learnt to really appreciate people who have strengths and talents that I don't. I don't have great energy for detail, structure and plans...I'm fortunate that I've realised this and so I work with people who love this, it energises them to work up a plan and then execute it. Equally, having to come up with fresh, novel or different ideas can send these same people into a tail spin and that's where my talents, energies and strengths are best utilised.

Feeling professionally competent is extremely important, it’s critical in the working environment. Has someone received the rights training, development, learning pathway and mentoring....if not, then invest in their development and growth - especially if they internally really want to become masterful or excellent at it. The art is to tap into the inner drive for a person to become excellent and masterful at their particular specialism. People love to show off their talents, play to their strengths and make the best use of their inner game.

7. Challenge

See my shark story on the new website, people need to be stretched, challenged and taken just beyond their comfort zone.  I work with a number of organisations where people have been in their role for too long.  As a result they are not playing at their best, they have become bored, tired and slightly depressed in their role.

The great HBR article on the Pygmalion effect has consistently demonstrated that if we believe someone can or can’t it will be so.  It's important to ensure that we have a talent management strategy that is about mobilising, moving and building momentum for someone.  Clearly, this isn't the case for everyone, I meet people who have been in their role for a long time and it gives them a great sense of pride, achievement and recognition.

As ever, it’s about understanding the unique person who is before you.  Ask them candidly what they feel and you will soon start to hear where the issues surfaces.  The art is of course to actually stop and pay someone the huge respect of really listening to them deeply.  

People love to be challenged and supported in equal  measure. I’m mindful of my young laughter as she learns to swim, she clings to the side of the pool ready to launch herself forwards, whilst being safe in the knowledge that her Dad’s arms are there to catch her.  If you don’t believe me, watch DR TV film about the mindset of the CEO, trust me even these guys and girls struggle at times with the shifts they need to make towards general leaders.


Does this person feel as though they are part of a team or something that is beyond themselves?  It's not a great place to be in an organisation when you don't feel valued, respected or wanted.  Is this person really part of the team, being a social outcast is one of the most debilitating realities for most people.  Once again, not true for others, some people simply love being at odds to the conventional wisdom of predominant group think.

Seth Godin taught us in his great book Tribes that we have to find our tribe and then become a part of or a leader within this.  Human beings are social beings, it’s unhealthy to not feel part of a group, team or purpose beyond ourselves.

We are hardwired to want to make a difference and leave a positive and lasting legacy…..this becomes especially true as we move towards the autumn of our lives for Gen Xers…..Gen Y’s and the generations coming up now have grown up in an integrated and global world and so that are more hard wired on making a positive difference in the world. We only have to listen to graduates to know this is an emerging trend…..the so what of this is that if you want to retain the best…..do good or they will deselect themselves from your organisation.  

9. Charisma

Often discussed as a person’s impact, influence or gravitas, does this person engage people or do they struggle with it.  Are they comfortable in the social interactions and rules of the game or are they derailing themselves.

I've worked with a number of senior leaders over the past few years that react badly to being challenged.  Their emotional wiring and high energy response often has a negative impact on their professional brand.  This is especially true when we are talking about people who part of a board, executive or leadership team.

Help the person to see how their own behaviours impact on their brand and how they are perceived. Managing our reputation and brand is an essential part of being successful in the organisational fish tank, so make sure you are on top of it.

If you want tips on how to do this read how we support leaders, teams and organisations. We gather a lot of 360 data both in terms of psychometrics (awareness) and behavioural (responsibility)….leaders can’t and don’t want to hide away from the facts – so give it to them straight and outline both the positive and negative consequence of not going on the personal change journey.

10. Commitment

Is this person committed to the role, team or organisation?  Are they showing high levels of discretionary life energy, do they seek to go the extra mile?  Do they have an internal drive that pushes them to move towards mastery and excellence for themselves, the team and the organisation?

Sometimes organisational life can lead to someone feeling less than committed, as a leader, coach or mentor we should help the person explore their feelings, energy and motivation.  It's often then about supporting them to find a more productive way of reengaging with that energy, we sometimes have to give the tough love comments that someone needs to man or woman up and step back into being an adult rather than a rebellious or adaptive child.

Energy management is vitally important in today’s dynamic life. People often put too greater emphasis on being in work rather than on it, fears of not being good enough entrap people.  Break the rules, take a break, go out and do something that stimulates, inspires and reenergises.  Some organisations are like human zoos with lots of caged tigers living in their little cubicles slowly dying of boredom…….get out challenge the status quo make your environment interesting, engaging and creative.

Life is too bloody short to waste it in an environment that isn’t nurturing your talents, gifts, ideals, passions and purpose……..stress is a killer, help people get wellness mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually.

Final thoughts……

I hope that this simple 10 C diagnostic helps you individually or professionally to help to get the best out of your life and professional journey.  As I learn more I will build upon the foundations above.  On the surface this may look simple, but delved down into any one of these 10 issues and you will find yourself in rich dialogue with yourself or others.

Human beings need time to think, it’s not good to be a human doing……celebrate your unique collection of childhood, educational and professional experiences that have shaped you – think Michelangelo.  Build a high level of awareness about your unique psychological DNA, become the conductor and author of your own script – that’s adulthood and maturity.

I hope the 10 Cs aids your internal exploration to enable you to get the best out of yourself and others.




Contact me


Darren is a serial purposeful entrepreneur and social innovator who loves working with senior clients in complex, agile and challenging environments.

He brings a straightforward, can-do attitude plus a solution focused mindset to everything that he does.

Darren is a father of two they keep his feet firmly planted on the ground. He is proud to be a trusted advisor to CEOs, business leaders, entrepreneurs and their leadership teams. He is an award winning coach recognised by the Association for Coaching, Coaching at Work, World Business & Executive Coach Summit, Global HR Excellence Awards and the World Coaching Congress as a global thought leader in business and professional coaching.

Social links