Successful leaders' little secrets

In his book 100 Things Successful people Do, one of the world's top executive coaches - Nigel Cumberland – explains some little-known secrets to success
Successful leaders' little secrets
By Nigel Cumberland
Tue 17 Jan 2017 11:42 AM

We all know the person we want to be, however, it's not always possible to be that person. After all, we are made up of habits and triggers that shape our behaviour. Sometimes they work for us, sometimes against us, and it is by successfully navigating this complex minefield that you can become the person you aspire to be.

In his book, 100 Things Successful people Do, Nigel Cumberland sets out an inspiring and practical code for successful living and working in the twenty-first century. Each secret to success is a powerful reminder of the ways you can make your life – and other's – more satisfied, at work, at home and in your relationships, with your health, wealth and in retirement. Here we present just two.

Little Secret #1 – Trust your gut

Gut feeling is your secret weapon for success. How often you listen to it? Gut instinct is when you weigh up some options and one feels best, you need to choose something and the preferred choice does not feel right, or you try to make a decision and one plan of action seems wrong.

Do you ever consciously try to sense your gut feeling by asking yourself, ‘What do I feel about this person, situation or decision?’ Trusting your gut can help you in the workplace and beyond. The danger is when you let external noise drown out what it’s telling you, letting other people’s views and opinions take priority over your own.

You must have the confidence to listen to your gut. Successful people know when to use different tools and skills and when to follow their intuition. Bill Gates speaks about relying on intuition. When making decisions and facing choices, take into account the available facts and information but listen to what your gut is telling you, too. The well-known journalist Malcolm Gladwell describes this as using and balancing your instinctive and deliberate thinking styles.

The easiest way to put trusting your gut into action is by overcoming your doubts. You might find the idea of listening to your gut feelings odd or even ridiculous. Some people I coach, normally left-brain individuals who use logic and facts all day like engineers or accountants, are not used to following their intuition and feelings. Instead of asking themselves ‘What do I feel?’ they are more comfortable asking ‘What do the facts tell me?’ To become more open to working with your gut feelings, think about a time when you ignored a hunch and went with another option, only to find out later that your intuition was right all along or had to guess what to do and it turned out to be a good decision. You do not need to give up being logical, deliberate and fact-driven. Use both types of thinking – your deliberate fact-driven thinking along with a more feeling-focused instinctive thinking.

The next best way to trust your gut is by being still and listening to yourself. The most powerful way of being able to listen to your intuition is by being silent. Find a quiet space, slow down and calm your mind. Your goal is to eliminate all that noise going through your head – all those thoughts that appear from nowhere.  Attending meditation classes is a good way to start. A meditation teacher will guide you in the process. Later, when you are comfortable with meditating, you can do it alone or with a partner in your home.

Little Secret #2 – Focus on things you can control

Stop worrying about what you cannot control. It’s a total waste of your energy, energy that could otherwise be used to help you focus on what you can influence. I spend large parts of my coaching sessions helping people to sift through their challenges and concerns – helping them to determine what they can change and what they have no control over. It always astonishes me how much time people spend trying to change what cannot be changed and then waste more energy complaining. The alternative is much more productive – simply focus on what is under your control and influence.

What have you recently complained about that is beyond your control? It might be a period of bad weather, what your colleagues think about you or the fact that the holiday of your dreams is too expensive. When you’re job hunting, do you moan about all the companies who never reply to your emails or do you explore how you can improve the process to increase the chances of success? If you’re using a dating website, but your profile never gets seen, do you demand your money back or do you have a friend help you make your profile more appealing?

This process of deciding what is and what is not controllable is hard. Harder still when you have strong feelings about what is happening. But do you want to waste your precious time focusing on the wrong things?

Instead, focus on what you can change into action by knowing the difference. ‘Grant me the strength to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.’ Saint Francis of Assisi’s famous words might have been written years ago but remain true today. Follow his advice, and you are on the path to a more peaceful and fulfilling life.

Understand what is happening, be realistic about what is beyond your control and look to focus your attention on what you can do. You have the skills and tools you need: your free will, thoughts, reactions, emotions, mindset, ambitions and beliefs. If you use them wisely, you can respond to any challenge optimally – making the right decisions and interacting appropriately with others.

Start using your common sense to recognise when something cannot easily change, at least in the short term. For example, due to other people's choices, decisions and emotional reactions. Or if it is the effect of group decisions, such as the stock market crashes and government policy. After that, commit to no more blame games. Avoid being in denial about what you can or cannot do. Do not keep blaming others, by saying things like ' It is not my fault I overacted – he made me angry!’ or ‘The team is not trying to achieve its goals so why should I try?’ It can take effort and practice, but ultimately you are in control of your actions and choices.

Nigel Cumberland is Dubai based and one of the world’s top executive coaches who is a Founding Fellow of the renowned Harvard-affiliated Institute of Coaching. His latest book 100 Things Successful People Do is available in UAE bookstores and online. Learn more at

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