Public Speaking: Why we fear it and 7 tips on how to dispel presentation nerves.

If you’ve always enjoyed stress-free public speaking then I am very happy for you and you can stop reading right here. This is for those of us who’ve been crippled by the fear of public speaking and no amount of supportive advice and good will seems to help.

This week I gave a presentation to 300 people; no butterflies in my stomach, no dry mouth, no sweaty palms, but it wasn’t always like that.

I used to be a mess; caught in the grip of “Fight or Flight”. That annoying vestige of our million year evolution. What wild animals practice every day: the instant choice of stand your ground or run. An essential survival instinct that modern western life has allowed us to forget about, until of course we’re confronted by something like facing 100s of faces staring back at us! Then our brains kick in with fight or flight. The rush of adrenaline, racing heart, a stiffness in our muscles, bowels ready to evacuate, dry mouth, flop sweat and those darn butterflies are all biological outcomes of our sub cortex stuck in a loop of fight or run, while our neo cortex where conscious thought sits is saying: “Damn it, why can’t I just get up on that stage and do it!?”

Unfortunately, just knowing about fight or flight is not enough to cure ourselves of it. The sub cortex (and specifically the Amygdala) is where memory, decision making, and emotional reactions sit, but not language. Language sits in our neo cortex. So simply telling yourself not to stress, or other people telling you it’s not so bad speaks to the wrong part of our brain. To fix this you have to rewrite your own story.

That’s enough for the neurology! The fix is psychology.

I’ve been fascinated for a long time with the notion of “Cognitive Dissonance” and how we humans strive for internal consistency. Our brains are constantly re-writing our life story in the name of consistency. We do it every day and we’re practically hard-wired to fight against opposition to it.

A gambler can believe with 100% certainty he has an innate talent for wining blackjack or roulette even when the facts are that randomness is at play, and he’s losing money. This isn’t simply lying to oneself. The gambler is taking each new piece of information and his brain is rewriting it to avoid the dissonance of a clash. Every time he wins the gambler will add that memory into his internal assertion that he is skilled. Whenever he loses his brain will adjust the new information in one of two ways; forgetting it or qualifying it. A loss is suddenly blamed on an assumed external factor: someone distracted me, I wasn’t told all the information, I was feeling under the weather, somebody cheated. A million excuses, so that the information is dumped or devalued as inconsistent. This can also be referred to as “Confirmation Bias”, where we have a bias for any new data that backs up our own world view.

There’s a reason why law enforcement don’t like depending upon eyewitness statements, it’s because our brains keep picking, discarding, and making up facts to bring new information into line with our world view.

It’s not just gamblers. We’re all doing it. Ask us how we think of ourselves in our most intimate thoughts and we may say smart, funny, kind, thoughtful, selfless, calm, wise and that’s our internal story of ourselves. But is it a story written with 100% unbiased facts? Or do we discard all the thoughts and deeds that bring into question that story? When confronted by someone saying,: “Actually you’re kind of selfish, you make more mistakes than you think, and have you noticed you’re the only one laughing at your jokes?”  …well, we get offended, and we discard that opinion as crackpot.

So what does this have to do with my dumb brain making me need to go to the bathroom 30 seconds before I go on stage?

Cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias work to reinforce your personal story, not just the good stories, the bad ones too. You will not be aware you are doing it. You have amassed a list of memories that convince you you’re no good at presenting. Every forgotten line in a school play, every snigger in class as you read an assignment aloud, every silence after a joke told kept and filed as evidence you’re terrible at presenting. Meanwhile, every pat on the back and every bit of praise from people who’ve seen you present has been discarded, written off, forgotten.

So you’re going to have to rewrite that story. Here’s how I do it:

  1. Practice. Practice. Practice. Not alone but in front of people out loud. Just start with one person, and for the last time you can tell them to expect it to be terrible. Guess what? At the end they’re going to give you some feedback to improve, and they’re going to tell you it wasn’t nearly as terrible as you had suggested. Grab that feedback, and don’t forget that comment that it wasn’t so bad. Repeat. Move to two people, three, six. Whoever you can get your hands on, colleagues, friends, family, anybody. And stop telling them it’s going to be terrible, you’re only allowed to say that the first time.
  2. Banish negative words. ‘Stress’, ‘worry’, ‘clumsy’, ‘forgetful’, whatever words you use to describe your stress or to describe your perceived inadequacies, they’re all banned. Somebody asks you if you’re feeling stressed? You answer “no”; regardless of how you feel. This might sound crazy but trust me, every time you vocalise these fears your brain is happily adding the experience to your life story! Stop the reinforcement, and if you’re presenting with other people who are talking about their fear then avoid them or tell them to stop reinforcing it too, fear is contagious.
  3. Smile. I mean a lot, and when you’re feeling most frightened then grin the hardest. I’m amazed at how much this helps me, and how it can dispel presentation anxiety in seconds. I’ll grin for a few minutes before jumping on stage and feel much happier when I do it. There have been several studies in the last decade on the power of smiling to reduce stress; and there is a feedback loop (JD Laird, 1974), where smiling makes your brain more open to happy thoughts and you smile more. There’s plenty of writing on smiling like The untapped power of smiling and The science of smiling.
  4. Keep praise. Print it out, post it on your wall. When you get praise make sure it is kept where your brain is not allowed to dispel it. Positive reinforcement, you’re using confirmation bias for a positive effect not a negative one.
  5. Be comfortable with doing your best. You do not have to operate at Martin Luther King jr presentation levels. Your best is good enough.
  6. Be comfortable with making mistakes. You’re human so you will make them. The beauty of presentations is the only person in the room who knows what “right” sounds like is you. Everyone else is going to be happy with whatever they get. Forget a line? No one is going to notice except you; and there’s no need to broadcast your mistakes, no need to swear, exclaim “whoops!” or insert any other words to identify a break in continuity to your audience. They don’t need to know.
  7. Be patient with yourself. While I’d love to say this is a quick fix, true success comes from repetition.

In my second year of “nerve-free presenting” I am happy to say that the story is rewritten in my brain. My confirmation bias now works the right way, I keep the good news stories and discard the negative ones. Gaining confidence becomes automatic.

Good luck!

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Bus Driving

Being the manager of a team is like being the driver of a bus.

I can’t begin to take credit for that metaphor. The first time I encountered it was in Jim Collins’ book ‘Good To Great’, which I still recommend to anyone and everyone.

And like Jim, I try to follow the rule of “who” before “what”. Rather than announcing where my bus is going, and hoping I can get people on my bus (“team”) to go with me, and potentially having people on the bus who aren’t interested at all in getting to where I want to go, I focus on the “who”. Looking for the best people for my bus, getting them in the right seats, and at times getting the wrong people off the bus. Letting the right passengers help determine the destination we all want and the direction we’ll take.

But this post isn’t about me going over the Good to Great metaphor, if you want to read more about it then follow the link to the section: Disciplined people: “Who” before “what”

For this post I wanted to expand the metaphor in a different direction.

When driving my bus, like any bus driver, I tend to follow the same route each day. Occasionally there’s a diversion to be taken, every now and then I’ll get an emergency to be navigated around, and of course sometimes I need to pull over to let someone off the bus or a new person on. And there’s no doubt in 20 years that I have had periods of time when I’ve needed to put my foot down, to accelerate the bus to get me and my passengers to where we need to be quickly.

Like any good bus driver, whether the day presents me with my usual routine or a challenging adventure, I keep my focus on the road ahead, pay attention, and drive always alert to as yet unseen potential problems or opportunities.

Driving the bus for a few years, it’s not uncommon to have some of the passengers get a bit bored, and ask if they can drive for awhile. At the outset of my career I would say no. I have a responsibility for the safety of my passengers and I can let no one drive the bus but me.

Over time however I’ve loosened up.

Nowadays I’m OK with letting a few of my more seasoned passengers drive for awhile. Though when and where is of my choosing. If we have a quiet straight road ahead then I let them enjoy themselves at the wheel for awhile. They get the monotony broken for them and feel in charge, in control, trusted, motivated. Roll the window down, let the wind through their hair, enjoy the moment. Though I’m always there by their side keeping a close watch, they seldom notice as their eyes are strictly focussed on the road ahead, they don’t observe my hand on the gear stick and never allowing the bus to go too fast. The options ahead for U-turning, hand break turns, emergency stops, or getting lost completely are all pretty limited in reality.

A casual observer might look and think what a lazy bus driver! He’s not doing anything! Making his passengers do all the work. And how reckless?!

But of course the day will come when one of my passengers will likely need to train to drive the bus full time when I’m not around. Giving them a little experience gives them the confidence to know they can do it if they set their mind to it. And for now, when the road ahead gets rocky (as it inevitably always will) I take the wheel again. When we need to get on the highway fast lane, or get ourselves around obstacles or out of a tricky situation then I take full responsibility for control of the bus.

People Don’t Buy What You Do, They Buy Why You Do It

In this TED video from September 2009 Simon Sinek gives a fascinating overview of how so many companies and leaders make a fundamental error in focussing on the what rather than the why.

He considers how the why speaks directly to our Limbic brain (the sub-cortex) which is responsible for learning, memory, emotion and motivation but not language. This is the part of our brain which leads to our “gut feel” or when we say we are “led by our heart”. Conversely, the what triggers our neo-cortex, our language centre and the home of conscious thought where we can process great amounts of complex information but fail to ever feel compelled to act on it.

To make his point he offers examples as diverse as why the Wright Brothers managed to invent a flying machine without a college education; how Martin Luther King Jr got 250,000 Americans to hear him speak on the 23rd of August 1963; and the success of Apple, a simple computer company who has us all in love with the why they “Think Different”.

Titled “How Great Leaders Inspire Action”, the topic is relevant to both how to motivate your team and also your customers.

Is Your Business Safe?

These days it seems we learn of more customer facing companies in difficulty every day; and I see lots of discussion about can they or will they be saved?

In the UK the recent list of companies falling into administration includes a lot of household name retailers like Comet, Clintons, JJB Sports, Peacocks, Game, HMV and Blockbuster. Retail week in April 2013 detailed how the biggest retail administrations leave creditors with £1bn of unsecured debt.

I understand when people question if a business can be saved when it goes into administration with all the uncertainty for their employees and customers and the question about a process of sale or wind-down that has a finite time to run. I am a little more confused when that question is asked of ongoing concerns or post administration as Philip Beeching has done recently when he posed can Hilco save HMV?

I’m not sure I agree with the concept of ‘saving a business’ rather just simply ‘running it’. If the answer to the question “Can we save a business?” is ever “yes”, then what have we saved it from and for how long is it safe? I don’t think any business is safe in the sense that it is ever free from harm or risk, financial ruin, aggressive competition or unhappy customers. In some sense every business needs to save itself every day.

Take Apple. After their first 20 years they were in serious financial difficulty, their product line in 1997 was a disaster, their customers leaving them, they even got a hand out from Microsoft. Few thought they could hang on; and even with Steve Jobs return in that same year (also the year of the first MP3 player on the market) the iPod was still 4 years away and iTunes 6 long years away. I’m sure it was a hard road back to success, as their share price over those years suggests. The first six years after Steve returned saw share price never get above $8 (split adjusted), today it is $390. And Apple didn’t invent the MP3 format or the digital music player but well done to them in taking other’s ideas and making a lot of money out of doing it better.

I think most people consider Apple safe. Safe to work for and safe to buy products from. However, do Apple have a patent on innovation? I don’t think so. Is it likely one day someone will think of something better than they can and do it faster and cheaper? History tells us that’s almost always the case. Could they be in trouble again in 20 years? Are they really safe? Why would we think so? Remember Motorola? They had 20% of the global mobile phone market and were growing rapidly when in a single quarter in 1997 they announced losses of $1.2bn, then came over 7000 redundancies and most of their talented workforce running off like rats from a sinking ship. Their party was over, eventually they were swallowed by Google and their global share sits around 2% today.

The point I am trying to make is that rather than ask can our business be saved, perhaps it’s better to ask are we saving our business today?

Success is driven by always looking to do it better for your customers. Smarter, cheaper, quicker. If you don’t think like that tomorrow, someone else definitely will. No business can afford to forget it. We see examples of those that do forget, and those that can come back from the brink by refocussing on it. Safety is an illusion, one that successful companies and successful people will never feel they can rely on.

Will We Be A Speedboat Or An Oil Tanker?

I’ve heard more than one new leader tell their team why their business needs to be a speedboat and not an oil tanker. Agile, fast, reactive and responsive rather than heavy, awkward, hard to steer, slow to change and slow to start. It’s not a bad metaphor if all you want is to highlight the merits of agility over inertia.

The speedboat however isn’t for me. There are many qualities of a speedboat I don’t like and I can’t put aside. They don’t have room for a lot of people, unless you’re very very rich. The person driving the speedboat rarely needs any expertise or qualifications, In fact as speedboats can have almost no indicators and simple controls most people think they can grab the wheel without any practice at all, which scares me silly. They’re not very suited for long journeys and they’re far from comfortable in rough seas or bad weather. In fact the worse the weather the more exposed and vulnerable you’ll be. And they can whiz round all day long making a lot of noise and waves without actually getting you anywhere.

But I don’t want to work on the Exxon Valdez either.

I want to work on a battleship. The running and maintenance of a battleship has several attributes that a business could mirror to be more effective.

  1. Expertise is essential. Not just the captain, but every man and woman aboard needs to be well trained to perform their role. The bridge of this boat has many systems and indicators, which all need to be interpreted accurately. There is no place for guesswork here.
  2. Don’t panic. Decisions need be informed and best taken without emotion or panic. Panicking does not only slow down reaction time and effectiveness, it’s also contagious and can spread quickly. People tend not to panic when they are skilled at what they do.
  3. Command and control. Every crew member is expected to know their role and perform it to the best of their abilities. Because the hierarchy is clear and every crew member understands thier position in the organisation, orders are relayed to the right destination and actioned.  Because crew members are clear on what is expected of them they take pride in the execution of their duties.
  4. The ability to avoid icebergs. Information needs to be relayed down through the organisation quickly, accurately, to the right destination and people. If that fails you’re sunk. Equally, information needs to be relayed upwards with the same accuracy and efficiency. The bridge’s ability to make correct tactical decisions relies entirely on factual and relevant information received in good time. Everyone understands the danger from the distorting of messages and instructions, or ‘Chinese whispers’.
  5. It’s about teamwork. There may be one captain but the boat can not function without many men and women on the bridge to help steer it and everyone throughout the boat working together. As I’ve already mentioned, it’s about knowing your role, but it’s also about helping the colleague next to you and recognizing that they needed the help. In other words, you’re only as strong as your weakest link so look out for your shipmates.
  6. Target the enemy. I’ve had plenty of experience watching businesses try to take on multiple issues or competitors at the same time with limited resources. A battleship can not fire in four directions at once. It’s a sure way to use all your ammo and hit nothing. So an effective battleship positions itself in relation to a single foe and directs all its fire on that target until it achieves success. And this is possible thanks to good communication where all the crew know what and where the target is.
  7. Built to endure. This boat can take its share of bad weather and enemies’ attacks. It can be months at sea, and still support a large crew of men and women. It can follow a predetermined course, with specific destinations to ensure time to refuel and restock; and maybe a little R&R. But this is not a boat for recreation, it has a purpose, a direction, and a goal.
  8. Fight like your life depends on it. You’re on a warship, this isn’t a game. Everyone on the boat pulls together as I’ve mentioned above: they apply their skills expertly and ‘man their station’, they communicate clearly and calmly, and action the orders they receive, they help each other out and work together to achieve a common goal.  When times are tough they put everything into it, and they demand that of all their fellow crew members.

OK. You’ve probably guessed that I’ve never been in the Navy! But I did see the film last year, and I was quite impressed with a 50 year old battleship with pre-digital systems and a steam engine engaging 3 alien ships that had come from 100s of light years away with advanced technology superior enough to keep the rest of the US Pacific fleet at bay, kicking their asses and saving the world. So there has to be a lesson in there somewhere.

I’ve professed a love for metaphors before. If anyone out there actually has worked on a warship and wants to correct or add to this one, all feedback gratefully received.

Find Your Love

This message was sent to me today:

Find your love.

  1. Spend your life working at it.
  2. Trust your instincts.
  3. Ignore doubters.
  4. Chase the work, not the money. The money will come.
  5. Use your ideas to push this world forward.
  6. Don’t let your ideas down: Execute well.
  7. Work with great people. They are not always the easiest.
  8. There are no short cuts. Do the work.
  9. Great coffee helps.

I don’t know who originally wrote it but it seems to me very good advice; and great coffee really does help.

Criticism Is Better Than Applause

Do perfectionists despise praise?

I’m not a true perfectionist, but I imagine they might. Praise on its own never rings true if you’re seeking self improvement; for that you need constructive feedback and criticism. You pay your trainer in the gym to shout at you to give one more rep when it feels like you’ve got nothing left to give, not to tell you the first ten were just fine, you look ripped and you should grab a milkshake as a reward. Still, some people hate criticism, in fact at times we all can when it’s given badly.

In a work environment it can be difficult to separate criticism of an outcome from criticism of a person. Whether it be a customer, a colleague, or a boss, dissatisfaction of a result can sound like dislike for a person, which will always result in that valuable feedback getting lost in a lot of emotion as it hurts to be told you’re crap.  It’s not surprising we take it personally, look up synonyms for criticism and you get ‘disapproval’, ‘disparaging’, ‘denigration’. Ouch. But that should never be the intention of the criticism, the true intention is to help someone do it better next time.

If you’re giving criticism then a simple way to avoid causing offence is the “hamburger method” where you place the meat of your criticism between two “compliment buns” to make it a little easier to swallow.  A slightly better method is “Continue / Stop / Start” where feedback is structured with first what someone is doing well that you want them to continue doing, then what behaviour or outcome you want them to stop doing, and finally what they don’t do yet that you can recommend they start doing to help. I use this all the time, with work colleagues, suppliers, or when I am giving feedback as a customer. If you’re getting criticized and it hurts, think about asking the person to re-frame what they’re saying like this.

Enough about giving criticism, I want to receive it! Mark Thomas on The Guardian’s Professionals blog gave a succinct list of Six Reasons Why Criticism Is A Good Thing about a year ago. My favourite is that feedback makes your product stronger, and of course the product is your work output.  Whenever I do something new I will ask others an open question like: how could I do it better? Often times friends or colleagues feel much more comfortable giving praise (“you did great”, “well done”, etc). I never take that, I want the bad news more than the good. Praise makes me lazy, it makes me complacent. I want to surround myself with people who are happy to be honest about the things I missed. And the more criticism I get the easier it is to hear it. It’s often the people who shy away from criticism and latch on to praise that I see get the most upset when they eventually are confronted with someone asking them to change a behaviour or action.

These days I’m so comfortable listening to criticism I often smile as I am being given it. (Which does sometimes disconcert the person giving it to me). When doing presentations to large groups of people, colleagues say to me: “You don’t show any nerves! How are you so calm?” I respond:  “That’s easy, I have no fear of failure… because I am completely comfortable with failure!” I know I won’t be perfect, I’m human, and I look forward to finding out something new about myself every time.

I Still Have A Lot To Learn

I like to categorize people who are successful in getting promotions or new jobs in business into two types; ‘Knowers’ and ‘Learners’. I’m interested if anyone else has experience of this, or agrees with me.

Knowers come with predetermined skills and knowledge; they often consider themselves an expert in their field. They exude confidence. They believe 90% of their decisions are right (when in fact the percentage is probably worse than 50%). They work on gut instinct or some “facts” that they know from a previous experience that supports their position but never present those facts for others to see. They hate concepts like testing or trial and error, they want ‘full roll out’ of their ideas now. When they’re wrong they react with confusion or incredulity and look for the person or event that should be apportioned the blame.

Businesses bring these people in to fill a skills gap that is deemed urgent. They want someone who requires little or no training and can ‘hit the ground running’. Perhaps these types will be incorrectly labelled in their business as ‘fanatic’ or ‘passionate’; they can be the person who rarely listens to any alternate point of view and goes about discrediting all opposing ideas. People will naturally be drawn to Knowers because they always look like they know what they’re doing. These people can do some good in a business with their singular purpose and strength of will, but they can also do an inordinate amount of harm when they are wrong. They have the chance of taking one small mistake and pushing it through to become a catastrophe.

Learners happily admit they don’t know it all. That never changes through their career. A Learner may not have the great big idea on day one but will double their value to their business in thirty days, after a year they will know exponentially more than they knew at the start and be equally more valuable; but they will be the first to say: ‘I still have lots to learn’.

Learners have no fear of making mistakes or taking responsibility for them as they know that mistakes only teach them more. Sometimes labelled ‘thoughtful’ or ‘enthusiastic’, they can often be the one who gets very excited by new ideas, and finds new ideas everywhere, from the colleague sitting next to them to the shop where they buy their groceries. They want to test ideas, and they may make many mistakes in that process, but they are small errors that help course correct to a much more favourable long term outcome.

I think these two personality types are at either end of a bell curve. 90% of people cluster somewhere in the middle. They know some things and they learn some things. The people at either end of the curve, the extremes, tend to stand out to employers. In business I think both extremes tend to get promoted faster, partly because they are simply different from the crowd, also because they tend to represent what businesses are looking for: an expert to be parachuted in to save the day (the Knower), or more like a healer to assess the patient and offer some new direction (the Learner).

Knowers do not improve with time. What they know after a year is the same as what they knew on day one. While they can show a benefit initially, as a business moves on and evolves they are left behind, they eventually look obsolete if they remain, or some will leave to find a new role with another desperate business in need of a quick fix to start the process again.

After a few years people start to think the Learners are indispensable, that they couldn’t function without these people, as the business evolves they evolve with it, they often lead that evolution.

Of course, we all start out as Learners. It’s just some people fall out of love with the idea or never liked it much in the first place. For others learning can be a more potent self improvement drug than steroids.

My Favourite Record Store Has Me In It

I love a metaphor, and a few years ago I was told a great metaphorical story that opened my eyes to how developing my career was entirely within my control. As background, I spent the first six years after leaving school working in a record store. Some years later, an older friend who also started in a record store told me how he looked back upon his career; his name was Jon.

Jon saw himself as a compact disc.

At first, he was a new release. Not a huge Justin Bieber / One Direction type release. No, Jon was something a bit more specialist, a bit more obscure, Jon was an acquired taste. Maybe a Jazz release or an unknown and eclectic Indie band just starting out. As such, Jon’s CD was filed in the range, what we call the A-Z. And there Jon stayed for awhile, maybe selling a few copies now and then.

But one day Jon’s CD started to get noticed, it started to develop a small fanbase, and it started to sell. So with increased popularity Jon’s CD was taken from the A-Z and put on a display rack closer to the front of the store, a “Recommended Rack”. More people came across Jon’s CD, he got more fans, and more sales. And soon Jon’s CD found itself on the Top 40 Chart.

Jon started to realise that like any CD, there were a few things he could do to influence where it went in the store. A bit of good A&R got more attention for the CD, playing it in store, advertising it, getting it played on the radio; all these things helped Jon’s CD attract more notice, more sales, and move up the chart towards the Top Ten.

Equally, not doing anything to promote Jon’s CD would see it start to decline in sales and move down the chart, fans would buy other albums and so those other CDs would overtake it.

So Jon told me how he could see the arc of his CD sales, and his career. While he spent time working on his A&R and growing his popularity, he also knew in time that his CD would become old-fashioned one day, sell a little less, and become obscure once more. So his CD would fall in chart positions, and move back to the range one day, occasionally being found by someone with the persistence to look. Jon also knew that one day sales would be so bad, his CD might be de-stocked and removed from the range entirely… and, god-forbid, eventually it was destined for deletion. This is the story of most CDs, we can’t all be the Beatles White Album.

Even though I was told that story more than ten years ago, I still think of it often, and I’ve retold it to more people than I can count. I truly believe I am my CD’s greatest fan, and I work tirelessly as its A&R, Marketing, and P.R. executive to promote it. Oh, and I forgot president of the fanclub too.  And my promotion is in the store, above the line, via social media, through public performance, and in traditional media. I’ve worked hard to get it on the Chart wall, and so I thank Jon for the story and the impact telling it to me had on my life.

Postscript: When Jon told me the story of the CD as metaphor for the career, I saw the metaphor went even further than I think Jon had intended. A record store is only successful by having a lot of CDs to choose from. Nobody goes to a record store that sells just one CD, or stocks only the one album in 100s of places. Even the number one album can’t save the record store on its own, people like variety and a good record store has lots of it. Only by all the CDs working together and being in stock does the record store become successful, and all the individual CDs sell even better as a result. That’s why I share the story.

No One Will Ever Care As Much About Your Career As You Do

I often see people at work complain that their boss isn’t doing enough about their development. When yearly appraisals come round these people turn up with little more than folded arms. But if they are not going to put any effort into developing their career, why expect anyone else too? Most people learn this lesson at school. Teachers and parents may nag you to do your homework and study, but when do they ever offer to do it for you? Surprisingly, while I never saw a teacher sit an exam for a pupil, I often hear the complaint that “my employer doesn’t take enough of an interest in my career progression”. Unfortunately for those people, they usually realise all too late that their manager will be far more interested in their own career than that of their staff. Taking personal responsibility for your career is far more satisfying.