Re-Engineering Elephants

The most significant engineering challenge

The most significant engineering challenge we each face is self-engineering.  Changing our behaviour is critically important if we want to continue to be successful; What Got You Here Won’t Get You There is not only the title of a book written by Marshall Goldsmith‎, it is also an immutable truth for all of us.

Confronting yourself

To begin to address this truth, and find out what you need to get you to the next destination in your journey of continued success, you must confront yourself.  Challenge yourself to examine the beliefs and behaviours that are holding you back and preventing you from changing; this is the first step in re-engineering yourself for your next chapter.


Acknowledging your emotions

Knowing you need to change is often prompted by negative emotions.  Fear, shame, guilt, regret or some other negative emotion is often the catalyst that fuels thoughts about changing, but these negative feelings do not provide lasting motivation, quite the opposite they will hold you back.

Consider your negative emotions as messengers that are telling you something may be wrong or need to change.   If fear shows up, ask, what is behind the fear?  What ideas, scenarios, or possible future are you generating that has resulted in fear showing up as your emotional messenger?  To generate fear, we usually make future images that we don’t want; lonely, unsuccessful, poor, or lost.  Acknowledge your messenger and then use it to create a positive picture of what you want to have in your life.  Move through thoughts about avoiding your fears and go straight to establishing the picture of the future you want to build.

List your successes

It is easier to believe you can create something new again when you acknowledge how often you have done this in the past.   Generate a list of at least 50 successes, don’t be modest, allow the list to contain the big and the small, the personal and business, list every success you are proud of and enjoyed.

Your Manifesto

A manifesto can take very different forms depending on the creator.  Your aim is to make a physical representation that describes the future you plan to build, and communicates to you in a language you connect with easily.  If you are a writer, describe the future you want in 250 words or more; if you are a visual processor, make a mood-board or a vision-board; if you are more tactile, make a model. The vital message is that your manifesto needs detail, and it needs to be in the language you use to talk to yourself.


The process of building your manifesto is important because this gives you the time to go inside yourself and internalise your thoughts and emotions and use these to create long-lasting links to both altruistic, and selfish reasons for wanting to achieve your vision.  The product you produce should be in a format that communicates to you.

If you take time to create this artefact, it will be laced with meaning that will help you maintain your efforts to change.  Positive emotions are more powerful and long lasting than the negative messengers that kick-started the desire for change.

Tidy your Toolbox

Once you have your manifesto, your next step is to reacquaint yourself with your resourcefulness. Identify all the tools that have contributed to your past successes.   Marshall Goldsmith‎’s message is not to throw everything away; his message is to challenge your behaviours and beliefs, he observes that it is behavioural problems, not technical skills, that separate the great from the near great.

Significant change is often delivered by small changes and by going back to basics.  For example, if you want to lose weight, make sure the calories you take in are less than the calories you burn for a sustained period; make this simple change and you will lose weight.



Incredible results can come from basic behaviours like showing gratitude, listening to others, being genuinely curious, taking time to digest what you have heard before offering your ideas and owning your mistakes by talking them through with others.  Look through the lens of past successes and identify the simple tools that enabled you to see what you needed to see, hear what you needed to hear and do what you needed to do.

Tidy up your toolbox prioritising on simple tools first.   Then, trust the tools that need to be used carefully.  Lastly, challenge the most complicated tools; they may do more for your ego than for building the future you see in front of you.  When your toolbox is in order, don’t jump to a master plan before you consider the rules about eating elephants.

Elephant Eating

The first rule of elephant eating: Small pieces add up to the whole elephant.  Begin your plan by biting off small pieces of your manifesto.  Each small bite will teach you something important about your assumptions, old and new, and inform your next bite. Rewarding yourself for each little win will help you maintain your motivation over the long-term.

The second rule of elephant eating: Don’t eat alone. As you begin your journey of re-engineering yourself remember this is a journey best shared with others.  Building a support system of people will help you problem-solve, learn and stay the course.  Few endeavours of self-change demand isolation.

Lastly, Act and Learn. 

Re-engineering is a journey of discovery. We are now a society of life-long-learners.  Technology, social structures, politics and financial markets are locked into the ideology that economic growth is the only measure of human capital.  As jobs disappear, new jobs emerge and when we respond by learning we discover how to remain relevant.  We can’t control the future, but we can control our response to its arrival, and we can continue to learn and evolve.  Every action we take will produce some kind of a result – expected or otherwise. Our job is to learn and use this knowledge to inform our next action.

In summary, we can push past the barriers that make changing behaviour difficult by using CALM TEA 

C – Confront your desire for change
A – Acknowledge your emotional messengers
– List at least 50 past successes
M – make a Manifesto that talks to you

T – tidy your Toolbox
E – Elephant eating rules apply
A – Act and learn from each small step you take


What Colour are YOU?

We are all driven by values - they form the foundation of our lives.

Values act as a lens through which we interpret the world, and if you are a leader, they interpret how you judge those you lead.   

Your values will influence your decisions about people; who you promote and the kinds of activities you believe are worthy of your time.

Despite this importance, few leaders choose to understand and shape their values.  Instead, they allow them to sit in the background, unannounced, unseen, making judgements and colouring their decisions.

Values are established early in life; how your parents interacted with you, the rewards you received from the people in your social circle and how you achieved success.

Most people simply adopt the values of their parents and the dominant values of the society they grew up in. The values that you built as a child remain with you in adult life. Some may serve you well, while others – not so much.

As a leader, it is important that you understand values; yours and those of your team members, because the behaviours you see in your team are products of how values interact.  

To create a symphonic leadership team, you must start by exploring the values held by everyone on your team.

Start with yourself:

  • What words describe your values?
  • What beliefs are linked to each value?
  • What behaviours demonstrate your values?

For example, a leader who values Creativity believes that ideas can solve any problem, and often uses workshops and open-ended conversations to find solutions.   (UNICORNS)

In contrast, a leader who values Control believes that structure provides the foundation for success and often uses systems and processes to create solutions.  (EAGLES)

A leader who values Collaboration believes that teams are the best way to find solutions and will put teams together to resolve problems, creating flexible organisations with loose reporting lines.  (DOLPHINS)

Whereas a leader who values Competition believes in getting things done and uses goals and deadlines to drive performance. (TIGERS)

You can use this link to discover your dominant value.

Once you have discovered your values, help your team members do the same.   Then have each person share their values and ask their teammates to listen and look for the obvious common values – these provide a foundation for trust.  

Once the team understand where they naturally connect, they can work to mine the differences. When opposite values exist, so does the possibility for innovation.  

Looking at problems through different lenses gives the team a more holistic understanding of complex problems and usually leads to better solutions.

What are YOU doing to improve the culture inside your team?