#5: Tim Balcon on Self-Limiting Beliefs

Tim Balcon, CEO of IEMA, arguably the world’s leading membership association for sustainability professionals, including Chief Sustainability Officers from many of the world’s leading companies. From humble beginnings as an apprentice service engineer with British Gas, Tim has overcome self-limiting beliefs to find his way to leading a global community of sustainability leaders.

In conversation with Tim, we talked about his working class background, his early career as a service engineer for British Gas and his tentative step in management (one that was discouraged by friends, family and colleagues) and how he has struggled with self-limiting beliefs (of himself, of him by others, and of organisations he’s led) at various stages along the way.

Tim has kindly provided a guest blog below:


Baggage and benchmarks: you’re more capable than you think

My journey started as a service engineer with British Gas, and straight away I knew it was an important step in my learning. I had never really ‘connected’ with the process of learning at school; to me it all seemed too static. Reading, reciting, regurgitating – it wasn’t my strong suit. Learning is, of course, a pivotal process, but in my time at British Gas I started to realise that I learnt by doing, not by observing. Very quickly, I noticed that I was at my best when I got my hands dirty and really got stuck in.

Something else I came to realise is that I’ve always been fascinated by people’s personal stories and what they have learnt along the way. There’s something about knowing where a person has been and understanding the obstacles they’ve overcome that really grounds you and helps you to appreciate another person’s perspective.  Listening carefully to these tales gave me access to years of experience at a very young age.  

I was luckily enough (and curious enough) to be taken under the wing of a colleague of mine in my early years who helped me to secure my first job as CEO of GINTO (Gas Industries National Training Organisation). I have to confess I was surprised at my appointment as I was far from ready for this role.  From then I’ve used the experience I picked up from being a Service Engineer as a springboard, bounding from one opportunity to another, and absorbing more and more personal stories on the way. 

It took me a while to realise that we all come with baggage – that’s unavoidable. We all carry around an unconscious list of things that sometimes force their way to the forefront and prevent us from doing stuff.  For a long time I carried a chip on my shoulder that I wasn’t educated in the same way as the majority of people who are high achievers, at least that’s what I thought.   

I’m at a place on my journey now where I am conscious of my baggage, and I continue to test myself by setting more ambitious benchmarks. What else can I achieve? And how can I get there?  This is a family trait whereby no challenge is unsurmountable but maybe it’s for the clever people to meet them. But harking back to my learning style, I know there is someone with the experience that I haven’t got and therefore is able to help me achieve the biggest of challenges. The key is finding them.  

For a long time, I was limited by my own beliefs, and my own understanding of what I could, and couldn’t do. It took being guided by a Chair and being pushed out of my comfort zone to realise that I had got my limits dead wrong and the more I have encouraged people to reach their potential the more I realise that most people have set a cap on their abilities.     

So, my personal mantra is ‘drop your baggage at the door’. You don’t need it to actively create change. I don’t discard my experiences and the lessons that have got me this far, but I now refuse to be limited by them. 

This is something I’ve put into practice at IEMA. When I took on the position of CEO, IEMA had an organisation personality similar to me at the start of my career.  It has everything in its make up to transform the world, except self-belief and if all I do is give it self believe in order to unlock its potential, I know the team has the capability to transform the world.  The lack of confidence was reinforced by feedback from people who played out their own self-limiting beliefs with their advice. Oh my! So somewhere between self-limiting beliefs and a delusional enthusiasm to change the world for the better is where we are. 

Fast-forward to 2018, and it’s a different story. We’re continuously adding to our global membership and international partnerships with leading organisations – and all because we have the belief and confidence to reach out. 


Find out more about Tim at https://www.linkedin.com/in/timbalcon/

Tony Cooke

Tony Cooke is an internationally-recognised sustainability leader with over 25 years spent at the nexus of sustainability, innovation and entrepreneurship, developing and executing strategies for business, governments and not-for-profit organisations across a wide variety of sectors. He now manages a portfolio of interests including; senior corporate counsel, executive coaching, non-executive roles and thought leadership through a combination of research, writing and podcasting. Visit my personal blog at http://tonycooke.wordpress.com

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