Believing in the power of education

Stephen Mitchell

Leader, Speaker, Trainer, Consultant, NED

At the start of a new year its the traditional time to take a look at yourself and make a whole host of resolutions about how the coming year is going to be a better one.  How are they working out for you so far?   Did they make it through January?

Well, we all know that focussing on yourself occasionally has to be good for you.  There is a massive spike in interest in this thing called “Mindfulness”, and being in the moment.  I’ve only dabbled at the edges of this, and have found it to be really helpful in calming the mind, in allowing focussed thought, greater productivity, and reduced stress.

One of the modules on the MBA was entitled Personal Development, and initially I was really surprised to see it there, amongst other topics that will be covered in this RIBs series like accounting, economics, operations management etc.  Yet, having completed the module, I can safely say that it was the most inspirational, challenging, and rewarding module of the whole degree.  Here’s a brief run through some of the tools that I found most helpful.


Psychometric Profiling has been around for many years, and is often used by large private sector businesses to understand the candidates that are applying for roles within their firms.  With 2 out of every 3 hires being statistically shown to not necessarily be the right person for an organisation, (and showing how scarily ineffective traditional interview techniques really are), ensuring that you’re identifying underlying personality types may help to improve the chances of getting a right person.     However, the tools are also immensely helpful for understanding yourself, and for understanding how others see you (and conversely, how you see others).

My personal favourite is the Myers Briggs Type Indicator test (MBTI).  This well-known test, based upon the work of prominent psychiatrist Carl Jung, places you into one of 16 different character types based upon your answers to a range of questions.  I did this test by myself first, and was amazed at how scarily accurate the resultant report was when I read it.  I’m categorised as an INTJ, (Introversion, Intuition, Thinking, Judgement), and am apparently among only 2% of the population.

If you haven’t done the MBTI analysis already – take 5 minutes now and try a free version of the test here  (there may be other more comprehensive tests, and analysis available)


Have you ever put pen to paper and tried to do a ranking of what your priorities are in life, – actually how you’re enacting them day to day?   Grab a piece of paper now and list down 1-10 what your priorities are, really…..       Shocked?    Have you put work as your number one priority?   I did….and I know that’s not healthy.

Now do a second column and write the same priorities again, this time in order of how you want them to be in the future.     Both of my columns are shown here.   I’m much happier with the column on the right, and this shows where I need to re-prioritise where I spend my efforts.

Experts say that you should put yourself as priority 1, because if you don’t take care of yourself, how on earth can you take care of others, such as your family?  I can totally accept and appreciate that I can’t properly look after my family if I’m not looking after myself first, and yet, when faced with the challenge of writing down my top ten priorities in life, and what order I would like them to be, I found it physically impossible to put myself at the top of the list.

The only other time that I have had a similar reaction against being able to write was the morning of my father’s funeral, when I was trying to write a card to go with the flowers for the hearse.   I found myself physically moving backwards from the little 3×2 piece of card on the kitchen table.

What are your personal constructs?

This technique blew me away, and quite literally, opened up some very deep and soul searching questions for some members on the course.   Be prepared to question yourself….and to find out things you may not already know.

Laddering is seen by many practitioners as possibly one of the most powerful tools to help identify what values a person holds, and how they see the world.   An academically respected study used this tool on a group of Serbs in 1997 (2 years before the Kosovo war), and found that on a deep psyche level, that group felt that the only alternative of going to war was being slaughtered.  If the tool can elicit that kind of deep response, maybe it can be used to really help us understand our own worlds in which we live….

Google will give you much more than I can in this space, and there’s a good summary of the process at but, let me try to explain how it works.  Take a ‘construct’ i.e.  a lens through which you see the world.

A good way to get to them might be to write down the names of 10 people you know.  Then randomly pick three, and ask yourself “Is there some way in which you see two of these people as alike/similar and thereby different from the third?”   The answer can then be noted with its opposite/contrasting pole:

Do this multiple times and it is likely then that you can categorise and group your multiple constructs into a few key ones that you hold dear.   You can then take this construct (e.g. Good time management) and ladder it by asking “why?” and then “why?” to that answer and so on.  You’ll know you’ve reached the top of the ladder when you end up with something quite abstract, such as “satisfied with life”.

A Little Boy…

I just want to finish up with a parable that has stuck with me, one of those things that leaves an indelible impression.  It’s a simple parable, called “A Little Boy”, written by Helen Buckley.    Think about how you interact with others, and the way that you may have been conditioned yourself.   Do we, subconsciously, do this to others? I know that I fight this every day.  As a fairly logical, efficiency focused kind of person I often look to systemise and standardise the ways in which my teams work.  I recognise though that perhaps I’m choking my teams of expressing their creativity, and giving them motivation and empowerment.   Read the parable here    I know that I need to keep coming back to the lessons here to look after my teams.