Worst Advice Ever? Scenario Planning – Game of Thrones Style

Worst Advice Ever? Scenario Planning – Game of Thrones Style

“Fight every battle everywhere, always, in your mind. Everyone is your enemy, everyone is your friend. Every possible series of events is happening all at once. Live that way and nothing will surprise you. Everything that happens will be something that you’ve seen before.”


These words were spoken by Petyr Baelish, also known as Littlefinger, giving counsel to Sansa Stark in series 7 of the TV adaptation of Game of Thrones.

He’s advising her to play out all the angles, to imagine all possible futures, so that she can prepare for them. Given that she’s had some pretty rough moments in the show up to now, it seems like sensible advice.


Or Does It?


When I worked in economic policy, we used to call this “scenario planning” — the next best thing to having a crystal ball.

The politicians we worked with wanted to know what was around the corner, what the economic situation had in store, and therefore what response they should be preparing.

The world was (and is) complex, especially when it involves the moving pieces of the economy and political institutions, forecasts are notoriously inaccurate, and scenario planning — looking at a range of possible outcomes and their relative likelihood — became the way strategists and policy advisers made sense of an uncertain future.

Invariably though, while scenarios allowed us to model alternate futures, resources that might come in and out of government, and which parts of the electorate might be affected by them, the future, when it rolled around, usually had something unexpected up its sleeve.


The Ultimate Preparation


While life isn’t an episode of Game of Thrones (thankfully!) there are parallels in how many of us play out scenario-planning in our lives.

We think about careers, about relationships, about life plans.

“Will I be happier in job X or job Y? Is this person my soulmate? Is now the right time to have children?”

We make decisions based on what we think is coming, we try to avoid future risks, and we choose the lifestyle we hope will make us happiest in the long-term. It might be diverting, even reassuring in the moment, to plan for all possible scenarios, but can we really outwit the unexpected?


Prepare to Do Battle


Of course, in times of war (fictional or otherwise), it makes sense to ready one’s army and understand the ways of the enemy. Just as in life it makes sense to ‘sharpen the saw’ as Stephen Covey called it; to master the skills of our chosen profession and develop a deep understanding of the ‘human operating system’.

But, since we really are playing a game of uncertainty, how can we prepare for that future? How is it possible to be prepared for scenarios we can’t predict?


Human ‘Flight’ Mode


As I write this, I’m watching swallows outside my window. They’re ducking and diving, chasing insects or perhaps engaged in a catch-me-if-you-can game. It’s hard to tell if they have any motivation, but they seem to be having fun, following each other’s movement like a free-flowing dance.

The swallows are aerial gymnasts, they’ve mastered the skill of flying, yet their game seems to be something they are responding to in the moment.

It reminds me of young children running around a playground with no fixed objective other than having fun. They probably don’t even have ‘fun’ as an overt objective; they’re without thought, without intention, they’re being themselves, naturally.

This, I think, gives us the answer to the question of planning for a future we can’t predict.


The Playground of Life


Many of us still live life as if we know what’s coming — some of us even think we can control what’s happening to us! But this isn’t how the world works, and we humans do better when we accept that.

When we stop over-thinking and over-planning, when we stop running those scenarios and managing that future imagined risk, that’s when we become free to enjoy life.

Just like the children in the playground, we’re more likely to thrive if we have less on our minds.

When we’re open, we can see opportunities, and life becomes that glorious playground, full of rich experiences, and, yes, a few nasty tumbles.

If we show up more prepared to live like that, who knows what things of beauty we might create along the way.

I strongly doubt that George RR Martin is constraining his imagination, so why should we?

With love,


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You’re in the Trust Business; Not the Box-Ticking Business

You’re in the Trust Business; Not the Box-Ticking Business

I was chatting with a friend recently who works in the non-profit sector.

“Cathy,” she asked, “what do you think about performance appraisals? What are you seeing that’s working better? Is it a process we can let go of and how do I convince our trustees?”

When the topic of performance appraisal comes up with my leadership clients, they tell me it’s about the conversation, not the box ticking. And of course, that’s right. They’re not running a maths test for their staff — there is no ‘right’ answer or one-size-fits-all grading. It’s always personal and therefore it’s always the quality of the conversation that matters.

There’s a deeper question, though.

“Why do we have performance appraisals? Are they fit for purpose, or should we replace them? And with what?”


It’s About Motivation, Right?


Back in the day when I worked for large organisations, performance appraisals were the mechanism for awarding pay increases. The ‘better’ we did, the extra couple of hundred pounds we saw at the end of the month.

Performance appraisal systems became linked to pay because it looked as if that was the way to motivate staff. The business journals wrote about it, the private sector led the ‘bonus culture’ vanguard and the public sector followed with its own poor imitation.

It was always subjective: did we fit in, did we step up, did we feel motivated enough to want to contribute our best, and did our managers see the value of the contribution we were making?

It looked as if the ends justify the awkwardness of the process: better motivation = better outcomes.

And, it turns out, the ends don’t justify the means; pay structures don’t motivate staff. Even if a small, short-term effect can be shown, there is zero long-term correlation. In fact, some studies show that pay differentials can be de-motivating. That sounds like the worst of all worlds!


It’s the Process, Then?


So it’s the conversation then? Not the box ticking?

Yes, to some extent that’s true; the best managers use performance appraisal as an opportunity to have a conversation about staff development; the ‘score’ is irrelevant.

The worst, though, feel intimidated by the thought of an honest conversation and use the process to justify some decree from on high, rather than connect person to person. It becomes code for ‘checking up on people’.

At best it feels like a slightly forced conversation, at worst it’s a divisive box-ticking exercise

Even the best managers aren’t always equipped to treat the process as a real opportunity for development. And it’s easy to see why — the subordinate is being judged. Any parent will know that judgement (even with the kindest intentions) doesn’t set the right tone for an honest conversation!


So, What Else Is There?


I wanted to go deeper in the conversation with my friend. Why was her organisation clinging to outmoded systems rather than creating the open and nurturing environment she was seeking?

Was it because she didn’t know what a better system for building trust and communication with staff would look like? Or was it because she couldn’t justify it to her superiors? Or even herself?


We’re in the Trust Business


In my small business, I don’t have a lot of staff or systems. I work with contractors who either bill me per hour or bill me by results. And yet, I rarely find it necessary to check whether, and how, those hours were actually used. When we talk, we talk about the work.

I trust my team. No, more than that I love my team. I have staff who are committed, who show initiative, who are intelligent, careful, and caring.

I don’t think this is a coincidence. I think this describes how most people behave if we connect with them human to human.

Of course, I could make up some system for scoring and rating my staff, but why would I? We all have good days and a few off-days when we function below our best. We all make mistakes from time to time — but we’re not doing it intentionally — and I try not to judge by mistakes, I want people to learn from them.

Now, I’m not saying I would put anyone in any role and life would be perfect. Of course, some of us have skills and interests that are a better fit for certain roles than others.

I do know, though, that most of us over-think how to manage staff, and organisations that put in place complex performance appraisal systems are forgetting that they are working with people, not with machines.


Talk Human to Human


There are certain standards we expect to be met in the workplace: transparency of pay, consistency across experience, qualification and responsibility levels. Organisations need to be accountable to regulatory bodies, to demonstrate compliance with the law, fairness, and best practice.

But it’s the leader who understands where performance comes from and works to enhance the capacity of everyone to do their best work, not the one who is in the business of making judgements, who will create a positive, innovative and self-reliant work environment.

Trust comes from connection, which comes from seeing the potential of people, caring deeply, treating people as equals, as grown-ups.

When we’ve found the balance inside ourselves, and we can be open with others, then our communication comes from a place of curiosity and compassion.

When we’re able to listen deeply and speak honestly, in the bad times and the good, it’s easier to separate performance from worth, it’s easier to recognise difference and reward contribution.

Who among us wouldn’t rather work somewhere like that? I know I would.

With love,


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What if You Were Already Performing at Your Best?

What if You Were Already Performing at Your Best?

“What if you were already performing at your best in every situation?” I asked the woman across from me.

She got quiet. She laughed. A wry smile crept into the corner of her mouth.

I could see that she had heard something new so I gave her space to process; to see the insight that was emerging.

She laughed again.

“Ha! That’s really interesting,” she replied.

“I meant it!” I said.

A participant in my Future Leader’s Project, she had been worried about her performance and was looking for ways to fix or improve herself.

Through my direct and unexpected question, she was seeing — maybe for the first time — that she could simply show up and do her best, given the resources she has, the way she feels, and her state of mind in any and every situation.

“Sure,” I said, “you might consider what ‘better’ means. You might want to develop your skills, to learn something new, gain more experience perhaps.

“But you don’t live in the future, you live in the present.”

She continued to watch me with a curious look in her eyes.

“You live in this moment,” I reiterated, “and your best is, literally, all you can do right now.”

There was a lightness in the air we hadn’t had before in conversation around her work.

I knew she was a relatively new mother and I wanted to give her another example, so I continued,

“I know, from personal experience that being a parent, especially a first time parent brings lots of questions. Sometimes I’d think ‘OMG, am I going to break the baby!?’

“And I know my husband has stood in the supermarket, many times, asking himself ‘What kind of nappies am I supposed to buy?’ but the reality is that we did the best we could with our new baby, no matter how unfamiliar or uncomfortable it felt to be holding the life of our tiny newborn in our hands.”

She looked at me, tipped her head back, and laughed again.

That laughter told me it had suddenly become real for her.

New parents often feel anxiety, yet it’s doesn’t mean anything about how we will do as parents. Most of us do OK despite our nerves.

Being ‘the best’ is what naturally emerges when we show up with love and connection. Love for, and connection with ourselves, our partner, our children, and — taking it into the workplace — our colleagues and customers.

I didn’t say these words to the client across the table from me, I just thought them later,

“Life can be wonderful when we cherish each moment, when we allow ourselves to indulge the newness and settle into the squishy pillow that is the experience of life. Whether it’s good, whether it’s bad, whether it’s joyous, whether we feel in the flow, or we feel frustrated and annoyed.

“Since the only thing we can do in life is perform to the very best of our abilities in any given moment, why not enjoy the experience we’re having?”

When it comes to coaching, the questions I asked her may not be the questions I would ask you. Everything is personal; everything we talk about relates to what’s going on for you, and what’s coming up for me.

That’s the power of having a coach; the power of having someone who understands how the human mind works and can support you to achieve the dreams you want to achieve and overcome the obstacles you want to scale in your life and work.

It’s the power of having someone who understands what it means to perform at your best — and still be able to reach for better.

We all deserve that in our lives.

With love,



P.S. If coaching is something you’ve considered, and it feels like this year could be the right time for you, please email me at info @ cathypresland dot com. I’d love to hear from you!

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What Do You Think About ‘Money’?

What Do You Think About ‘Money’?

Money: How Much Mental Energy Do You Spend?


It’s a rare person who never thinks about money at all. Whether it’s how much we’re earning, how much we’re spending, how to get more, how to set our prices… we are often on a merry-go-round of ‘thinking’ about those dollars or pounds.

In this conversation with my friend and colleague, Mary Schiller, we talk about why many people we know (and us too!) spend so much time and mental energy on the topic of money, and how we can divert that energy into something more creative (and, ultimately, lucrative).

We talk about why money looks so important, what we’re really searching for when we chase money, and why money can never, ever deliver that security and freedome we seek.

We also talk about common strategies that we see clients and friends adopting when they think they need to ‘do’ something about money, or their ‘money mindset’. Mary talks candidly about how she followed programme after programme to find a way to solve the way she was thinking about money, and how she ended up ‘failing’ at all of them — leaving her no better off financially, and without the peace of mind she was seeking.

Until the ‘lightbulb’ moment that is.

Until Mary saw, truly and deeply for herself, what most people miss.

We round off the converation with some practical tips. What should you be looking at if you really want to solve your money challenges? What can you do to make the process of creating something in your business and professional life fun, and exciting? And, what if you’re actually doing OK financially, and yet you still worry? What we cover in the interview will help you with that, too.




What Did You Hear?


So, how did our conversation resonate? I’m curious to know if you heard anything new in the interview. Maybe something we said sparked your curiousity and you want to continue to dig deeper with this topic?

You can find Mary, and her new project at Price Like a Girl, and you can connect with me, with your questions and comments, by going here.

No matter what your money story, no matter how much or how little mental energy you’re spending lost in thought, you don’t have to let those preconceptions hold you back from creating what you want, and playing the game of life at whatever level you find yourself at.

The best part is that there’s always more to see, and always another level to the game.

With love,


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‘Keeping Your Eye on the Ball’ Turns out to Be Terrible Advice

‘Keeping Your Eye on the Ball’ Turns out to Be Terrible Advice

Those of you who know me well will know that I’m a big Wimbledon fan. So, of course, a news item about tennis was bound to catch my eye…

“Tennis players are told to ‘keep their eye on the ball’, but it’s actually terrible advice.”

… went the story.

Hmm. I’ve been told that too when I’ve played ball sports over the years. I was curious to learn more so I read on…


Ball, What Ball?


This new research reported that the tennis ball, if hit at an average of 110 mph, moves at a speed that is too fast for our eye-brain connection to process.

The player loses sight of the ball when it’s around 15 feet (or 5 metres) away — meaning they stop being able to see it while it’s still on their opponent’s side of the net.

If we can’t see the ball, then how can we respond?


Act; Don’t Think


Tennis players, like many athletes, operate from instinct. They know where the ball is going to be and they move there on autopilot. Their subconscious is so well-trained they don’t need to think.

“I tell all my coaches this,” said Andy Murray. “I play better when I’m not trying to over-think what the ball’s going to do.”

I nodded along as I read; it seems obvious to me from my experience with clients who come to me for all manner of professional performance challenges and dreams. I may not use the word ‘over-thinking’ but it’s often present in the underlying sub-text of our conversations.

Turns out it’s as true for those Wimbledon champions (and wannabe champs) as it is for you and me: too much ‘thinking’ doesn’t help our performance.

But that’s not all…


We Sometimes Get in Our Own Way


What can happen, however, if we succumb to the thinking, is that we get in our own way.

The tennis player who thinks he or she knows best, and tries to ‘figure out’ where the ball’s going to be, is simply getting in the way of his or her carefully honed instinct. The brain gets confused, and the potential to hit a bad shot goes way up.

I know it’s counter-intuitive to all us smart people, but our conscious brain really isn’t our friend most of the time.


Second Guess; Second Place


In a tennis match, there are only two places: you win or you lose.

All that second-guessing about the ball is likely to put you in the latter.

But, what about in life? How do we get to the place of having a carefully honed instinct? And where do we look if we’re not looking at the ball?

The first question is easy. We do, we learn, we explore, we practice. (Keep your eye out for next week’s email because I’m going to talk more about this topic.)

The second question is easy too…


Keep Your Eye on the Ball!


“Uhhhh??? But, I thought you said don’t look at the ball??”

Nope, I didn’t exactly say that… I said that your conscious brain is giving you poor information, so don’t believe what it’s telling you. Trust your instinct, trust the practice, trust your body to know best…

…and still follow the ball.

The tennis study concluded by sharing that, even though players aren’t seeing the ball, the cameras that followed their eye movements showed that they still look at the ball.

This is partly training, all those years of coaching advice. It’s also partly about removing distraction and finding focus. If they were to look elsewhere, that could give their brain too much information to process; leading to confusion.


Look in the Direction You Want to Move


The tennis players look at the ball, not to see it, but because that’s where they want to move.

It’s the same for us. Look in the direction of what you want to create. Just know that you’re not looking to see, you’re looking to stay focused. You’re looking to build momentum, and to stay out of distraction.

Interesting stuff this tennis! There’s so much in sport that relates to life and business. (which gives me, as if I needed it, an excuse to watch more tennis.)

If you’re a fan, then enjoy the tennis, or otherwise enjoy your sport of choice. And remember, even when the players look as if they’re watching the ball, they’re really letting their intuition and instincts about what they already know take over.

That sounds like a recipe for success in tennis and in life!

With love,


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