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Blaire Palmer

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Success in a recession: What not to do


What are the biggest obstacles to success? Blaire Palmer examines how certain approaches can stand in the way of success for both individuals and organisations, and suggests ways to change those attitudes.

So far in this series I have looked at some of the qualities needed to succeed, particularly the qualities needed in adversity such as a recession. Based on my research, there are certainly some characteristics or skills which, no matter what your industry, role or what you regard as success, are important to have in your toolbox.
But it also became clear to me when talking to the experts and reflecting on my own experiences, that you could do all of these things right and still not succeed.
Many people claim that an element of success is always out of your control, that a large part of the recipe for success is luck. However, those who succeed do not talk of luck. They have experienced knock-backs like the rest of us. They have been made redundant, left by their partner or lost millions on a business venture. But they are able to regain their confidence and start all over again. Those I interviewed for my book, The Recipe for Success, agreed that we make our own luck and that opportunities are there for the taking if you are looking for them.
A more realistic explanation for long-term failure is that your recipe is "poisoned" by an ingredient which undermines all your good work.
Imagine a lovely wild mushroom risotto with morels, chanterelles and porchinis, and a drizzle of truffle oil, ruined because you also threw in a handful of death caps.
And just like wild mushrooms, it can be hard to tell the difference between behaviour which is neutral, and neither helps nor hinders your progress to the top, and behaviour which causes an uncomfortable or even deadly impact on those around you.

Lack of generosity

Just as good manners can open doors and influence decisions in your favour, lack of generosity can have the opposite effect. Because one’s success relies on strong relationships with other people there must be a two-way process where people help you and you help them back. Often those who help are looking for little but acknowledgement and a thank you. Sometimes you will get the opportunity to pay them back in a more significant way by introducing them to your valuable network or helping them out in a time of need.
Refusal to do so leaves a very unpleasant taste. Not only is it likely that this person will be reluctant to help you again but they are likely to spread the word, just as one is likely to tell more people about a bad restaurant than a good one.
Organisational cultures can promote generosity or suffocate it. The behaviour of leaders creates this culture. Look at how comfortable the leaders in your organisation are about acknowledging and giving credit to others in the company. Do they promote the work of their direct reports, raising the profile of their people? Or do they blame their people when something goes wrong and take the credit for success?
Saying thank you can be so simple that many leaders assume it cannot make a dramatic impact on motivation and confidence. In fact, the opposite is true.

Limiting beliefs

When I began coaching executives I was surprised by how many have doubts about their abilities and feel they will be ‘discovered’ as frauds. These are outwardly confident individuals on the fast track. And our work almost always focuses on challenging these limiting assumptions in order to achieve more professionally.
Limiting assumptions about yourself or the world may seem endearing. Many people hold on to these assumptions because they believe it keeps them grounded and prevents them becoming obnoxious. Of course, as we all know for our experience, the most obnoxious individuals are generally those trying to disguise low self-esteem. Confident people have no need to constantly inform others of their greatness.
The problem with limiting beliefs is that we find evidence everywhere we go to support them. If we believe that people don’t want to help us, we will stop asking when the third person says no. If we believe people do want to help us we keep asking for help until someone obliges.
Limiting assumptions can be identified during appraisals, one-to-ones between managers and direct reports and even during interviews. The clue is a sweeping statement. When people say "that never happens" or "everybody thinks…" this is normally an indication of an unexamined belief. Coaching by HR, by managers or by an external coach, can often help people question their limiting assumptions and replace them with equally valid but more positive beliefs which enable them to fulfil their true potential.

Motivation misplacement

When asked why they want to be successful, many people answer that they are doing it for someone else – their family, their much-admired former boss, their dear departed grandmother. Those who make it, and stay there, are primarily doing it for themselves. This is not to say they are selfish in a negative sense. Rather, they recognise that being able to provide security for their children, employment for their staff or products which make life easier makes them feel good about themselves.
Those who are motivated by the need to please others, impress others or prove others wrong find it much harder to maintain success levels and often experience far greater stress than those who do it for themselves.
People who put others people’s needs before their own worry excessively about hurting other people’s feelings, they stay in situations which do not work well for them and they play down their accomplishments.
As a result such individuals can find themselves in roles which do not utilise their talents and trying to cope with excessive pressure without asking for help. Too many of these in an organisation can result in high staff turnover, low levels of engagement and even excessive sick leave.
Because the squeaky wheel tends to get the grease it is easy to overlook those in your organisation who have over-extended themselves but don’t want to admit it. At a time when resources are even more stretched than usual and the pressure to take on more is even greater than usual, encourage leaders to take extra care of those who struggle in silence until breaking point.

Reader offer! has three copies of Blaire Palmer’s book, ‘The Recipe for Success’, to give away! For your chance to win a copy, simply email [email protected] by 5pm on Thursday 25 June. Please include your postal address. The first three people to be drawn will each win a copy. Good luck!

Previous articles in the series:


Blaire Palmer is an executive coach and author. Her new book, ‘The Recipe for Success – What Successful People Do and How You Can Do It Too’, is out now (published by A&C Black) and available from good bookshops and For more information on her work, visit her website at or her blog at   


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