Career development – why visualisation is so important

Many of us who have been promoted to a leadership role feel infinitely attached to the title.  To be a offered a leadership role is the culmination of your career to date.  You’ve worked hard to get where you wanted to be.  It is a significant reward for your effort.


Likewise you may have been promoted with no conscious effort on your part.  You just come to work and do your job well.  The company believes that you have enough experience, knowledge and skills to be a leader and so they promote you.


And then you plateau.


You say that you’re not interested in a higher level leadership role.  Unfortunately you are now one of the most common type of leader in businesses today.  You have risen to the level of what you want to know and to the level of what you believe about yourself.  You have stopped becoming the best you can be.  In short you have become average.


As humans we are capable of continually growing, learning and developing.  It is how we have evolved and created what we have today.  There is so much untapped scope in our brains that gives us the capacity to move beyond what is known and towards what is possible.  So what makes us decide to be average?


It is well known that fear is what limits us.  It is also known that what we choose to do with the fear defines us.  Being average is the result of fear defining us.


How do great leaders move beyond the fear?  What is it that catapulted them into being exceptional?


Don’t accept that you are what you are.  Only accept that you are what you choose.


Many leaders continue to down play the importance of visualisation in setting goals and strategy development.   However our brains have highly developed visual systems that can help  us move beyond fear and our limiting beliefs.


Examples of our visual system include

  • being able to literally “see” past experiences as though we are right there.
  • having vivid images triggered from just a scent or a tune.
  • our ability to create a “movie” in our minds just by reading a story.


We seem to work best when we use the visual structures of our brain.  We use it when we are innovating and creating and it is brilliant for strategy development.  Remember that drawing was the way our ancestors communicated before they developed language.


It is sad that we continue to discredit a part of our brain that is so powerful and useful.  Why do elite athletes use visualisation before they compete?  Why do they imagine their plan, their moves, their strategy?  The beauty of using visualisation is that your brain does not know the difference between a real image and one that you have created in your mind.  It is all the same to the brain.   It means that it treats the created images like memories and just repeats it.


So if fear is stopping you growing in your leadership role, why not create a different story?  The world of neuroscience is discovering so much about the brain and its functionality.  It has been found that visions and goals create neural pathways and networks in your brain and that these are strengthened by regular thinking and acting.  By building these new networks you will weaken the beliefs and fears you previously held about yourself and your role.  Here are six ways to help you become an exceptional leader using visualisation and a planned approach.


  • Learn – about yourself, about your brain functioning, about your team.  But whilst it is good to learn a lot, make sure you balance this by putting much of it into action.
  • Create a vision – it doesn’t matter whether you draw or create a vision board to create your compelling vision.  Don’t allow your career to completely define you.  Make sure you take a holistic approach to your vision by including family, your values, holidays, health & wellbeing etc.
  • Write it down – from visualisation comes aspiration for what you want to achieve in your career.  Aspirations can be long, medium or short term.  It might be to complete some studies or work for a particular company.  Make sure your aspiration is clear, measurable and has a time frame attached.
  • Don’t do it alone – all the great leaders in the world had great help.  They have mentors, leadership coaches, role models, favourite authors.  It may be your personal journey however it is best shared.
  • Have a plan – treat your career like a business that you must work on rather than in.  Building a career is not just about the work you do, it is how you achieve your strategies in a timely manner that makes the difference.  Who do you need to know, what do you need to know, when and how, are all questions that you need to answer along your career path.
  • Mistakes will happen – you learn and challenge your capabilities most when you make a mistake.  Don’t choose inaction and procrastination over risk or change.  The only bad decisions are those made without appropriate consideration.  If a decision doesn’t work out then it becomes a fantastic opportunity to reflect, learn and decide on what needs to be done differently next time.  Growth doesn’t happen in the safe zone.


Most companies offer a career development plan for employees and leaders however very few will result in significant change.   These are often transactional rather than transformational in their design.  Many plans are only looked at once a year and often consist of the promise of training, a  project, or acting opportunity.  They certainly do not encourage visualisation and aspiration. The biggest problem is that no one is really accountable for the results.


If you are keen to develop and move up the career ladder you may need to take responsibility of your own journey.  If you don’t know how or where to start call me to discuss.  I offer free advice and guidance to get you on the right road for where you want to go.  Dont delay!!  Send me an email at

Employee Engagement – a value perspective

Are people your biggest challenge?  Do you believe that your job would be so much easier if it wasn’t for people?  It’s not uncommon to think this way.  Throughout my career I have heard statements like this on a very regular basis from leaders.


What is it that makes leaders think so poorly of them.  To be honest I get it too.  Some employees take up too much of the leader’s time.  Some just can’t complete work without an error.  Others don’t seem to apply the learning and your advice and expect you to find the solution.  What can you do to improve employee engagement so that these issues hardly arise?  In this article I will introduce the concept of values as being a key to engaging and motivating others.


It is still commonplace for great technical people to be promoted to a leadership role due to their technical expertise. After a career of learning and developing top rate and deep level expertise, all of a sudden they are promoted to a role looking after a team of people.  In addition, as is often the case, they haven’t been too interested in developing skills in managing others such as communication, presence, influence etc.  As a result they become frustrated because people do not operate the same as a computer program or a machine.  They wish people were as predictable as machines.


What if a leader could predict the behaviours of their team members and thus be proactive and strategic in the way they manage and talk to them?  What would that look like?  You don’t need a magical power or have perfect employees in your team to have this.  You need to understand their value set.


In 1960 G.W. Allport released his research on the core values which remains valid and relevant today. Allport found six core values that existed across all workplaces. These being

  • Utilitarian – strong interest in the results and costs as well as outcomes focused for self and the bottom line
  • Aesthetic – enjoys things to look and feel good
  • Traditional – most comfortable working within structure, processes, and procedures
  • Social – cares for the welfare of others, community, environment
  • Theoretical – loves facts, figures and analysis
  • Individualistic – loves to lead others and be involved in decisions


Allport found that employees, managers and organisations acted in accordance to their two top core values and do so at a subconscious level.  Think about which are your two top values and how they express themselves in the work/job you do.  What tasks align with your values and which don’t.  How are  your relationships with your team, your peers, direct manager affected by these values?  What about the organisation?  What do you feel are the core values here?  Do they align with the value set that is published?


When the values between two people, within a team or between the indivual and the organisation are aligned then good things happen.  People derive great satisfaction from the work they do.  They feel a deep sense of connection and belonging with the company.  They are motivated and productive, working with others in a supportive collaborative manner.  Conflict and disfunction results when an individuals’ value set clashes with the organisation’s &/or their manager’s.  The degree of disfunction is a measure of the length of time the problem has existed.  I am sure you can think up people where this has been the case.  The good news is that it can be turned around.  What do you observe in your company?  Is there harmony or disfunction.  What impact does this have on profits and growth?


In addition to discovering that people act according to their top two values, Allport found that when people ranked Individualistic in their top three, it gave the other two values a greater boost.  He found that people with the Individualistic value in their top three aspire to be a leader but is it their other two values that determine their actions.  Think about a senior leader with high social consciousness vs a senior leader who acts with strong focus on the balance sheet, systems and processes. How would these two organisations operate?  What would the culture be like?  Which leader would be the most successful?   We have seen countless “successful” organisations that suddenly disappear.  Think Enron and Lehman Brothers.  What value set  do you think the senior executives had?  What was missing?


On a local level, imagine that your values were strongly Social and Aesthetic, ie you gained satisfaction from helping others and working in a creative environment.  However you worked in an organisation that had strong Traditional and Theoretical values.  How successful would you be in getting your messages across?  How comfortable and rewarding would it be for you working in such a structured and process driven organisation?  What would be your frustrations?  How would you behave?


There are many people who do not know their core value set.  These people can work in jobs or organisations for years with little job satisfaction or motivation.  These people are at great risk of having a value set decided by others and this does happen.


Imagine an employee in an organisation who is unaware of their core values.  For the purpose of this exercise the employee has Social as their top value but doesn’t know it.  The organisation is strongly Utilitarian and Traditional (think old school) and it expects everyone to follow the directives of the executive team without question.  The executive rolls out a major change without consultation, appropriate training, and with an unreasonable time frame.  The employee has worked in the company long enough to know that the process has been tried before and failed.


The employee may outwardly appear to accept the changes and say nothing, or they may become belligerent because inwardly they become very conflicted and don’t know how to deal with it. They don’t talk about their concerns because they know from past experience that no one listens. They are seeing and hearing the impact the changes are having on the people, particularly those in their team. With this unresolved conflict the employee will act out in a way that is negative.  They either put their head in the sand or become highly visible. These are the people that cause leaders most grief. There is little employee engagement with the individual and probably with the team.  The environment can become toxic and unmanageable for the leader.


On the other hand if the employee was aware of their values and felt that they could express them, they may find people to talk to about their concerns about the impact on others.  They may try to put forward an alternate proposal that achieves the same outcome with less impact.  That is not to say that things will change however they stand up for what they believe in and they are honouring their core values.    In this case they may decide that the values of the organisation do not match theirs and look for another job.


As a values based leader you would work with your people to help them find a ways to move past the conflict.  You would have conversations about values and what is happening in the person as a result of the situation.  You would help them decide on a solution.  It might be to leave the company but chances are they will find a way to work that gives them enough satisfaction to remain effective and productive.


Lets be honest no organisation operates perfectly and there will be conflict and challenges.  How you and your team deal with them is a sign of the strength of the leader.  Recognising the role of values in employee engagement means that you have a simple concept that you can easily use in your conversations and decisions.


Below is a process for you to introduce an awareness of values into your team.  It really is simple but it does require you having the right mindset.


Firstly, you need to believe in the goodness and capability of your people rather than believe your job would be easier without them.  You need to trust them to do good things.  This sounds simple but it does require deep reflection on your own core values.  You cannot expect others to change if you are unable to change.  You cannot lead people if you have little value attached to them.  People pick up on authenticity and quickly see incongruence between intent and action/words.  This occurs at a sub conscious level both in you and the other person receiving your messages.  Our brains are highly developed to pick up on nuances in other people incredibly quickly.  We had to in order to survive.  Research has found that we decide if someone is trustworthy in 0.07 seconds!


Next, observe your people to discover patterns between the sorts of work team members do, how they do it, and the satisfaction they derive.  This will provide some indication as to what motivates them, or not and is usually easy to spot.   For example someone who has high attention to detail may be this way because they like things to look and feel good (Aesthetic) or they could love structure and precision (Traditional).  Someone who likes to have points backed up with facts and figures is likely to have Theoretical as a top value.  Your 2-IC is likely to have individualistic as one of their top three core values.


Thirdly, talk to your team both individually and as a group.  It is a fantastic conversation to have and you will notice a change in the energy levels when you ask about what they are passionate about inside & outside of work.  This often provides you and them insights into what motivates them.  Often when we are asked about our values we say we value honesty, hard work, family etc. These are not what are considered the core values that drive how we act in the workplace.  Be courageous enough to dig deeper.  Use the six core values listed and ask people to rank them in order from one (highest/strongest) to six (lowest/weakest).  Ask about how they express their top values in their job and what barriers do they feel exist.  Ask when and how they are able to be authentic to their values.


Finally, learn to talk and ask questions in ways that connect with each person’s top values.  If its Social use words around people and feelings etc, if it is Traditional use words that relate to process, rules, etc.  As there will normally be a range of value sets in your team learn to use a variety of words and questions so you engage everyone.  There are no right or wrong value sets and no set is better than another.  The important thing is to learn to appreciate the value sets of each person and use them to motivate and engage.


Creating a culture within the team where they feel safe expressing their values in what they do will open up and unleash a level of creativity and production you did not believe possible.  Employee engagement is at an all time low globally.  It seems we have lost our way in connecting at a deep level with others in the workplace. A great leader creates high levels of employee engagement.  Becoming a values based leader is a great way to achieve this for you, your team and the organisation.


This blog highlights that employees can be predictable like machines.  By knowing the value sets of your team members you will know who likes what, how to speak to them, how to motivate them.  You can expect the the team to operate like a well oiled machine.  When there are signs of damage or misalignment you can talk to your team to realign their values, maintain the balance, and keep them and the team in top condition.


If you need assistance in introducing a values based culture contact me via or download the free worksheet here