• Mark Topley

Leaders - the critical importance of taking action


At the time of writing, I am 3 weeks into delivering my first Leadership Confidence Club. It's a 12-week development programme designed for people who have found themselves in a leadership position, and would like to feel more confident doing so.

As you'd imagine, there's a fair amount of "learning stuff" to be done. But my goal isn't just the acquisition of knowledge - it's results, change, development.


Because knowing stuff is not enough. Millions of people know what they have to do to lose weight, get fit, have a better marriage and *fill in the blank*...


To really move forward, we have to take action. In today's post I want to share with you some nuggets that I have learned over the years from some fantastic writers, psychologists and extraordinary people.


Are you feeling confident?

In his excellent book "Secrets of Confident People: 50 Techniques to Shine", Richard Nugent points out that like all states, confidence is a result of an electrochemical reaction in the brain. These reactions are triggered by a combination of:

  • what you are thinking about

  • what you are doing with your body

  • and your perception of the world around you.

And so to feel more confident, you need to pay attention not only to what you're thinking about, but also your belief system and what you're doing with your body. For me, that's why a change of physiology to feel more confident can be vital.


In her 2012 TED Talk, Amy Cuddy sets out the findings of her research on what has been termed the 'Power Pose', and how we can change other people’s perceptions — and perhaps even our own body chemistry — simply by changing body positions. It's a fascinating talk.

Making a change

Feeling confident can cause you to take more action. And that's important, because actions are the only thing that generate results - not thoughts.

“Great thoughts speak only to the thoughtful mind, but great actions speak to all mankind.”
Theodore Roosevelt

Nick Wignall is a psychologist who writes some very helpful articles on mind management, and quite rightly identifies a simple truth:


Inaction = Paralysis

He goes on:


"Self-awareness is frequently necessary but rarely sufficient for achieving our goals. We also need self-control."

Self control is usually associated with stopping a negative behaviour. But it's just as necessary in order to start something positive.


As Wignall says - "(to change), we need training, practice, and exercise in addition to understanding."

You are not your thoughts

In his subtly titled book ' Unf*ck yourself - get out of your head and into your life' , Scottish psychologist and coach Gary Bishop sets out 7 affirmations to help stop the 'self-defeating monologue' that so many people endure.


Number 6 is - "I am not my thoughts, I am what I do"


He goes on to point out that successful people have a bias for action in the face of doubt.


"It’s not that they never doubt themselves or never have a desire to procrastinate or avoid a particular situation. It’s not that they always “feel” like doing what they should. They simply focus and lean in. They act anyway."


As he consistently says to clients, "you don’t have to feel like today is your day, you just have to act like it is."


So if action is the key, how do we develop a 'bias for action'?


Getting into action

Mel Robbins is an author and broadcaster, a former lawyer who suffered from anxiety and depression for over 20 years. After hitting rock bottom, during which time she struggled to even get out of bed each morning, she finally broke out of her inaction paralysis when she discovered something very simple but profound. When the thought to get herself out of bed entered her head, she realised she had 5 seconds to act on it before the brain would convince her that she shouldn't.

Gary Bishop explains very well what happens when we have a thought to take action:


"Of course, your mind will always try to rationalise not acting. It’ll remind you of all the other things you could be doing. It’ll dredge up all your recent stresses and doubts. But don’t act on your thoughts. Act on what’s in front of you."

Mel Robbins discovered that if when the thought entered her head she simply counted back from 5, and on 1 made a commitment to physically move, to ACT, she could break through.


The science behind this is well documented. By engaging the pre-frontal cortex, the rational, decision making part of the brain when she counted, Robbins was circumventing the self-destructive loop she was stuck in, and mobilising herself for action. She was doing it fast enough to prevent the paralysing momentum in her brain from reaching its potential and stopping her. Once she acted, she had not only achieved what she wanted, she also felt better about the fact that she had achieved something positive. Her book The 5 Second Rule is excellent.

Putting it all together

Our problem is often not that we know too little, but that we fail to act on what we do know - boldly, bravely and consistently. I hope this summary helps you to move from simple understanding, to positive change:

  1. Taking action starts with your thoughts, but it mustn't end there

  2. Your physiology and how you hold your body can effect how confident you feel in taking action

  3. We need training, practice, and exercise in addition to understanding to make a change

  4. To succeed, we must stop waiting to 'feel like' doing something

  5. We can develop a 'bias for action' by using tricks like the 5 Second Rule


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