Posts in September

How can you, more systematically, make your visions come true?

September 25th, 2016   •   Uncategorized   •   no comments   

By Tor Mesoy

How can you, more systematically, make your visions come true


Many of us walk around with dreams of acquiring a new skill, of finding another job, of starting our own business, of breaking out of difficult circumstances … And the dreams often remain that. Dreams. We – sometimes, at least – fail to turn our vision into reality.


Others find the means to make the desired change happen – even when the odds seem long.


What makes the difference? External factors certainly play a role: it is easier to make change happen if you have ample resources, including a supportive environment. However, our self-talk is even more important.


I will share some reflections on how I have worked on my own “inner voices” to make change happen. I do this in humility; there are people who have achieved much more than I have, who have taken greater chances than I have, who have successfully carved out a new life in more difficult circumstances than I have. My thoughts go to refugees, for example, who bet everything on a one-way ticket, not knowing their final destination, with limited language skills, without financial resources. Many of them succeed spectacularly. I take my hat off to them. But, others will have to share their stories.


What triggered my reflection on this topic of turning vision into reality was an exchange I recently had with a long-standing friend. We have known one another for 30 years. She was contemplating a career change, and I encouraged her. She wanted to become a teacher, and I expressed that I was convinced that she had a lot to offer and I recommended she simply “go for it”. I shared my perspective that the upside seemed large (greater fulfillment, greater sense of meaning) and that the downside seemed limited (What is the worst that could happen?). My friend appreciated the encouragement, but she was scared of making the jump. There were so many un-knowns. She paused and then exclaimed, “For you, everything seems possible: you just make up your mind to ‘go for it’, and you do it. But for me it’s just not like that.” This stopped me in my tracks.


It is true that I have carved my own path in life. Randy Pausch (Author of The Last Lecture) says: “The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.” Long before I heard Randy use these words, indeed, long before they were spoken, I have taken this attitude to life.


The first example that comes to mind is the choice I made when I was 15. I was just finishing junior high. Pimply and immature, I knew one thing that I wanted. I wanted to go abroad for high school. To learn another language. To get exposure to a different culture. To learn things that I could not possibly learn in my home environment. I was living in Norway at the time, and I applied to go to high school in France. I probably had an inkling that this would be tough – after all, I knew no French … So I piled up all the reference letters I could muster. I wrote glowingly about the summer jobs that I had had … and my application was rejected. In hindsight, I must say “thank you” to the wise people who rejected my application – it was the right call. But the rejection spurred me on. I did not receive any explanation for the rejection, but I surmised that my youth and my lack of language skills had contributed. I determined that I would apply again last next year. In the meantime, I would grow a year older (and, I was convinced, a lot wiser and more mature) and I would learn French. The aging took care of itself. I took care of learning French. My French was still rudimentary as I turned 16, but it was a lot better than a year earlier. I applied again, and got in. Over the next three years I had a ball. It was hard work, but, being fully immersed in a French environment, I actually did learn the language properly, and I picked up a wealth of cultural experiences. My dream was realized.


The most recent example is perhaps a choice I made last year. At the age of 52, I decided to move to Hong Kong. I did not know many people in Hong Kong but for a variety of reasons, I was keen to live and work in China. I wanted to understand (better, at least) the Chinese view of the world, Chinese culture and Chinese philosophy. I knew that I could only get so far by reading books on these topics while living in Europe. Having made up my mind, I set about to make it happen. I established a company in Hong Kong. On behalf of the company, I interviewed myself (this went very well), and extended a job offer to myself. With this offer in hand, I applied for a work visa. The application process was arduous. From memory, I believe I submitted more than 40 pieces of documentation, in three rounds, to the immigration authorities. They were still not happy. They indicated that they were planning to reject my application. I called up the case officer, convinced him to give me a two-week extension, flew to Hong Kong, opened my local bank account and returned the “proof of active bank account” to the immigration authorities. This was the last piece of missing documentation. My application was approved. Now I have been working in Hong Kong for a year, and I have started to recruit employees to my fledgling firm.


In between these two examples – one from more than 30 years ago, one from last year, there are many others. So, I can understand my friend’s attitude: “for you, everything seems possible”. I sense that it is true that I have had a knack for “making things happen”. This starts with mindset. It starts with identifying inner voices that are less-than-productive, and managing these voices. The inner voices say many things. In my case, they have whispered:


“What makes you think you can actually achieve this?”


“Are you sure it is worth the trouble?”


“Aren’t you being arrogant, believing that you can aim this high?”


“This new endeavor seems risky. You are much better off sticking to your current trajectory. After all, you are quite successful doing what you do now.”


Ignoring such inner voices does not work well. They will speak to you while you sleep. They will speak to you when you are under stress, when you are tired, when you are distracted – whenever you don’t have the energy to argue with them. The better way is to bring them out into the daylight. Write down what they are saying. When you take a hard look at these written statements, you can ask: “Is this all? Is this really the best challenge you have for me?”


The inner voices typically start with something factual, something true. They might start by saying: “It’s not always so easy. Remember: you failed to win that scholarship that you applied for. You failed to land that job you applied for.” Then they blow this out of proportion and apply the learning from these experiences indiscriminately. They might continue: “You often exaggerate your own capabilities. That is what happened when you dared to apply for this scholarship, for this job, and – see – you failed. Don’t think too highly of yourself. Better play it safe.”


Here is the technique I have found to manage the inner voices. After writing down what they are saying, I acknowledge the fact base. Then I test whether the learning from these facts actually applies to the current situation. Often it does not. And I articulate the reasons why it’s invalid to apply the learning to the current situation. Next step: I reflect on all the counter-arguments. What are good reasons that I should pursue this opportunity? When I have written all of this down, I find I have a much better basis for making decisions and choosing the risk profile I want.


It’s not hard to do. The main challenge is to muster the discipline to get started. And it’s worth it. It helps us break through the brick walls that Andy Pausch refers to.


Oh, and my friend whom I referred to in the beginning? She ended up taking the job as a high school teacher. She found the courage and made the jump. Today she is delighted with her job. Her students love her and she derives great meaning from her work. She addressed her inner voices and overcame her trepidation. I am hugely inspired by her success.


What are your inner voices saying? How do you manage them? How can you ensure they do not detract you from turning your vision into reality? I would love to hear your perspective and your experiences.


Tor regularly writes articles on his LinkedIn profile. You can visit his profile and follow him to receive the latest content and leave comments.

How to build deeper trust, faster

September 19th, 2016   •   Uncategorized   •   no comments   

By Tor Mesoy



A critical currency for leaders is trust. To lead effectively, we need to build and nurture trust with partners, subordinates, colleagues, clients, superiors, boards and other stakeholders. In a world that is becoming more integrated and where constellations often change rapidly, our ability to build deeper trust, faster, is critical to our securing impact and creating value.


In many of the leadership development programs I run, participants share with me that they are comfortable about building trust over an extended period – when they have months or years at their disposal, but they struggle to establish deep trust, rapidly. We don’t always have the luxury of ample time so the question of how to build deep trust, rapidly, is an important one.


And it is possible. Let me give an example.


I recently worked on an international collaboration program with participants based in Scandinavia, the Middle East and East Asia. The constellation was brought together rapidly to design and produce a complex document that required skills in many different domains. The ten participants in our team belonged to six different organizations. They were hand-picked based on their expertise in the required domains – but many of us had never met, let alone collaborated in any way. We had two weeks to get to know one another, establish trust, agree rules of engagement, clarify roles and responsibilities, design our document, produce it and deliver it. The collaboration was exciting. It can be energizing to work with a new team, but none of us knew how this group of people would end up working together.


The team turned out to be productive – after addressing some initial confusion. I felt confident that we would succeed when I observed one team member (let us call him Nils) expressed his opinion of another team member (let us call him Mo Pien): “I trust this man almost blindly.” That is, of course, a strong statement. But it is particularly strong given that Nils and Mo Pien had never met, came from different countries, lived in very different places (Middle East and East Asia), and had different backgrounds. (Nils and Mo Pien have still have not met – though they have the intent to get face-to-face at some point).


As I reflect on how this team built trust in under a week, using only phone and e-mail, it struck me how four factors contributed. Team members demonstrated i) credibility, ii) reliability, iii) intimacy and iv) low self-orientation.


Credibility: Each team member brought their unique expertise to the table and made the choice to use it. They proactively shared ideas. They advocated forcefully when they felt strongly about a point. They asked insightful questions and challenged groupthink.


Reliability: The team members delivered their contributions on time. They performed reviews on time and they held no punches when they gave comments. They offered incisive, respectful critique, predictably.


Intimacy: The team members shared, appropriately, what was going on in their lives, and how this affected the time they had available and how they could contribute. Just as importantly, they demonstrated an ability to see the world from the angle of other team members. For example, when a team member did not meet expectations and was challenged, he or she would acknowledge that it was understandable that another team member felt let down – even frustrated. They would then proceed to rectify the situation to make sure they delivered.


Self-orientation: Each team member made it clear, through words and actions, that they focused on success for the client and the team, rather than on personal glory. People were helpful to one another and went out of their way to support others.


In the book The Trusted Advisor, Maister, Green and Galford bring together these factors in a nice mnemonic – the trust equation.




Many of us have one or two elements with which we are more comfortable. We may for example excel in the areas of credibility and reliability. In order build deeper trust, faster, we need to fire on all cylinders. When done with authenticity and integrity, this is not Machiavellian. It is a worthy effort to make the world around us a better place. We know that teams with high levels of trust perform better. And at the macro level, we know that the economy of trust-based cultures tends to thrive; there is simply less need to validate and verify all the time. By observing others who have distinctive strengths, we can learn to fire on more cylinders. For example, the person who is strong on credibility and reliability may choose to open up and share a little more from the personal sphere. Or they may choose to make their intent explicit at the start of a meeting, making it clear that they are working in the interest of the other party.


As I have coached and mentored more than a thousand people over preceding decades, I have seen them strengthen their ability to build deeper trust, faster. It is well worth the effort.


Tor regularly writes articles on his LinkedIn profile. You can visit his profile and follow him to receive the latest content and leave comments.

How to strengthen the relationship with your boss

September 13th, 2016   •   Uncategorized   •   no comments   

By Tor Mesoy



Many people struggle with the relationship they have with their boss (or “superior” or “leader” or “commanding officer” or whatever term is appropriate in the setting. For simplicity, I shall use ‘boss’ here). In coaching conversations, I regularly hear things like:

· My boss almost never has time for me

· My boss seems to mainly criticize my work … and me

· My relationship with my boss is superficial – I don’t know her as a person

· I feel nervous whenever I speak with my boss, I feel I am being evaluated and judged

· I recognize that my boss has more experience than I do and that she knows more than I do in certain areas. I wish she would invest in me, teach me and mentor me. That rarely happens.


Some people simply want to vent. They share this just to get it off their chest. They are locked into the belief that the problem is “the boss”, and that they have very little (or no) power to change this. They sense that they are stuck and that things are very unlikely to change. Chances are high that they will be proven right. Things will not change. At some point, they may move on or their boss may move on and that may change things – but no one knows how far off that is.


Things will not change … as long as the mental model in force remains that “the problem is the boss”. Look again at the five quotes above. They are not really statements about the boss. They are statements about the relationship. And, while we do indeed have limited power to change other people, we have a lot of influence over the relationships we are in – including the relationship with our boss.


When people step out of this victim mentality, they typically come to see that the boss has a strong, personal and professional interest in having a healthy relationship with her subordinates, a relationship characterized by mutual respect, open communication and trust. It is empowering to discover that the interests are, typically, strongly aligned.


This discovery opens new doors. It makes it easier for the subordinate to ask: “What beliefs, thoughts and actions on my side are getting in the way of a stronger relationship?” When we explore this question in a setting of support and curiosity, we often find that there is an element of fear that is blocking progress. (This fear may go by other names, such as tension, apprehension or anxiety. But, let us simplify and refer to this as ‘fear’). Fear tends to thrive in the shadows. When we bring it into the light, it often dissipates. At least we can manage it better once we have labeled it.


As we move from a mindset of fear to a mindset of taking personal responsibility, we more easily ask questions like:

· Might it strengthen our relationship if I openly share my concerns with my boss, provided I am open to her guidance and I remain solution-oriented?

· How can I be smarter about getting time from my boss? Can I be flexible with respect to timing? Can I make my meeting invitations more compelling? Can I prepare well, so that my boss feels that the time she spends with me is highly productive?

· What would it take for me to initiate a discussion with my boss about how she perceives our relationship, what her expectations are, and what the ideal relationship would look like from her angle?

· Could I simply ask for more coaching and mentoring – making it clear that I acknowledge that my boss has valuable insights to offer? Can I operationalize a positive intent in this area by agreeing a schedule and follow up?

· What would happen if I shed my fear and communicated with my boss as an equal – while acknowledging that we have different roles and responsibilities?


When we ask these questions together, the people I work with become infinitely creative. They generally know the habits of their boss: when the boss goes to work, how they go to work, how they spend their lunch break, what inspires them and so forth. And this knowledge allows us to find smart ways to make change happen. One client, for example, solved the problem of not getting enough time with his boss. He found that calling his boss while she was in her car, driving to work in the morning was a predictably good way to get undisturbed time with his boss.


And if the client knows very little about his boss … well, there is simply some homework to do.


In most settings, we have some kind of boss. The CEO has a strong interest in building a trust-based relationship with the chairperson of the board … and with the other board members. The EVP has a clear interest in building a strong relationship with the CEO. And so forth. Nurturing a stronger relationship with our boss is a great way to practice self-leadership and it is a valuable way to role-model self-leadership. And all true leadership starts with self-leadership. Once we adopt a mindset of taking charge, we may find that it is easier than we anticipated.


Do share: How have YOU contributed to enhancing the relationship with your boss?



Tor regularly writes articles on his LinkedIn profile. You can visit his profile and follow him to receive the latest content and leave comments.

This weekend: break the mould

September 9th, 2016   •   Uncategorized   •   no comments   

By Tor Mesoy



This weekend: challenge the status quo! Do something fresh, something new, something different, something that breaks the mould. Get out of your comfort zone. This does not have to mean doing something outwardly spectacular like paragliding or skydiving. Here are some suggestions:


Call up an old friend that tell them what they mean to you.


Go visit a new part of town, one that you have not yet discovered and take in the sights, the smells, the sounds … while you envisage what it is like living there.


Show vulnerability – choose to open up to someone who is close to you.


Speak with a stranger and ask them a meaningful question, like “What are the events that have truly shaped you?” OR “What excites you at this moment?” OR “What is your aspiration for the coming year?”


In short … get out of your comfort zone. Personally, I have an exciting (and slightly scary) conversation planned.


What will YOU do to go “where the magic happens”?


I wish you a fabulous weekend!


Tor regularly writes articles on his LinkedIn profile. You can visit his profile and follow him to receive the latest content and leave comments.

A liberating and authentic way to approach significant life choices

September 6th, 2016   •   coaching, coaching & mentoring, leadership   •   no comments   

By Tor Mesoy



In recent weeks I have been struck by a recurring theme that has cropped up in conversations with my coaching clients: “How should I think about a difficult life choice I need to make?”


The question takes many forms: “When is the right time to take a career break and have a child?” “Having established myself in a successful career, should I go for that advanced degree that I opted out of when I was a student?” “Having decided that I need to make a career change, should I go to a large corporate or should I step into the unknown and join a start-up … or even start something on my own?”


I feel privileged to serve as a journey companion to people who are facing these choices. It feels deeply meaningful to help my clients explore what is truly important to them and what they really want to achieve. Together, we regularly explore “what is the bigger question behind the question?” And we probe which beliefs, feelings or actions are making it difficult to make the choice.


When reflecting on these conversations, Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” comes to mind. Some readers will know this. It brings to life the choice of direction on a bifurcating forest path, and how the conclusion ends up making a big difference. (I have enclosed the poem below, for easy reference). While written as a joke to an indecisive friend, the poem took on a life on its own. It conveys, in a moving way, the difficulty of making choices when we have imperfect information: the excitement of having options, the challenge of weighing these options, the fear of regret.


Given our education and training, it seems natural for many people to approach such a choice in a way that any economist would recognize: we seek to “maximize utility”. We list pros and cons. Perhaps we attach weights to the different factors. Perhaps we make explicit or implicit risk adjustments. We try to do the sums of this utilitarian calculus. However, a niggling doubt tells us this is not right. And we feel stuck.


There is a good reason for this. This kind of calculus works well for everyday choices: Should I walk or drive to work today? Which pants should I buy? To which restaurant should I go? But it does not work well for existential choices. There IS no “right answer” in these situations. There isn’t even a “better answer”. When facing difficult life choices, we are choosing who we want to become. It is an existential choice.


Recognize this can be truly liberating: We stop using mechanical approach in a futile search for the right answer.


It can also be daunting. We are faced with the individual responsibility to make the existential choice, of selecting who we want to be and become. We cannot hide behind the utilitarian calculus. It is our choice to make – we are fully responsible. This is the challenge that Jean-Paul Sartre explores in L’Être et Le Néant (Being and Nothingness). It is also what leads Robert Frost to say he is “sorry [that he] could not travel both [paths]”.


I applaud my clients who reject the mechanistic approach to making life choices, and embrace the freedom – but also the responsibility – to select who they want to become. This alternative approach to life choices does not make the choices easy. But it is an authentic approach to living our lives.


What life choices are you facing and how are you approaching these choices? I would love to hear your reflections.


The Road Less Taken


Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;


Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,


And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.


I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Tor regularly writes articles on his LinkedIn profile. You can visit his profile and follow him to receive the latest content and leave comments.