Organisational Potential

Organisational Potential

“I’m always disappointed when people don’t live up to their potential. I know that a number of people look down on themselves and consequently on everybody who looks like them. But that, too, can change.” ~ Maya Angelou

A lot of attention has been given over the years to the art and science of measuring organisational performance. From balanced scorecards, to OKRs, to KPIs and KRAs. In accounting terms there are even more terms and measurement methods that you, most of which focus on how effectively a company can use its assets to generate revenue… But very little attention has been given to organisational potential.

I think this is a major oversight.

In management terms, when we think about our employees, our team members, even ourselves, we’re interested in not only how they currently perform – whether they meet their objectives – but also whether they have potential to grow and achieve even more. Many organisations (though probably not enough) try to identify their high potential employees so that their development can be fast tracked… something usually nested within the domain of the HR department.

Why don’t we care about organisational potential in the same way?

Surely it matters as least as much – if not more – than current performance?

What if you knew your organisation was only reaching 40% of its full potential? Wouldn’t that change the way you thought about strategy? About investment? About product development? About marketing?

To be fair, for-profit organisations will have an eye to potential markets. They will know their ‘market-share’ and likely see their potential in terms of the ability to reach a higher percentage of ‘available’ customers for their products or services… as though customers are empty vessels waiting to snap up your fantabulous product… if they only knew about it!

The reality is more complicated though. Consumer decisions are increasingly driven by more than whether or not the product does what it says on the can… with massive increases in interconnectivity and lowering barriers to entry for new players in your industry, they can shop around… and they can use their values to drive their decision making. Are you as sustainable as your competition? Are you as strong on diversity and inclusion as your competition? Are you leading the way in making positive change in the community you operate in? Are you influencing your sector to lift its game? Is your supply chain squeaky clean? If you can’t answer ‘yes’ to these questions, and others like them, then chances are some of your competitors can…

So achieving the dizzying heights of mass market penetration might not be as straightforward as increasing marketing expenditure or getting the right influencer to share your product on Instagram…

And besides, as Simon Sinek points out in his latest book, The Infinite Game, is that even the point?


Organisational Potential is something that I’m wanting to delve into in more depth. I think we’re missing the boat with lack-lustre organisations achieving mediocre things… What do you think?

2 thoughts on “Organisational Potential”

  1. I think it speaks to the shortsightedness and lack of forward planning of organisations in a lot of aspects, not just in the organisational potential of its people. It seems too scary for companies to make big investments for longer term gain. Instead they tend to favour easier, cheaper “quick wins” that lack true value and lasting impacts.

    • Hey Melanie – lovely to hear from you!
      Yes, I think you’re right, there’s a definite tendency towards short-termism, and I’m so pleased that authors like Simon Sinek are tackling such issues in really easy to understand terms – check out The Infinite Game, if you haven’t already!
      Best wishes


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Create or Compete: Leadership Lessons From Minecraft

Create or Compete

I have been learning to play Minecraft with my six-year-old son. I embarked on this exercise because I wanted to be involved with him, I saw it as an opportunity for us to do something together that wasn’t “driven by mum”, and I wanted to understand what the game entailed to ensure I was supporting him to make good decisions about online games. For those of you familiar with the game, you’ll know that there are essentially two main ‘modes’ of gameplay: you can create or compete.

In Creative mode you have unlimited resources to build to your heart’s content – if you can dream it, you can build a blocky square version of it. And importantly the bad-guys won’t hurt you. You can fly, and you don’t die from falling, lava, drowning etc.

In Survival mode, the bad-guys will attack you, you have to collect the resources by expending your time and energy, and using existing resources to obtain more efficient means of obtaining resources. You have to walk or run everywhere you go, so distance becomes an obstacle, and you need to have your wits about you.

You can technically switch back and forth between the two modes, but once you go into Creative mode you can’t earn any of the in-game achievements. Essentially, you’ve cheated.

My son almost exclusively wants to play Creative. I almost always prefer to play in Survival mode. Why is this?

Fighting and (Inevitably) Dying is Stressful for Some

Even though the game allows you to ‘re-spawn’ an unlimited number of times, Mr Six hates dying. He finds it physically stressful. He starts freaking out. I think, in part, that’s an age thing. As we get older we become more comfortable with our decision making skills, our risk assessment criteria and our ability to ‘build back’ to where we were. We learn that (with the obvious exception of actually dying, most things are recoverable.

Great leaders make it safe for their organisations to take risks. To innovate. To push the boundaries of the constraints they face.

“There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.” ~ John F. Kennedy

Setting and Striving for Objectives

Unless you set yourself a mammoth building task, or any of the very clever ‘constructions’ that automate mining or farming and so forth, Creative mode doesn’t really have much in terms of concrete objectives. I have built covered tunnels so my son can move completely unharmed between villages, and we’ve built a version of our own house in Minecraft. But the lack of resource constraints kind of takes the fun out of it for me. There’s not much need to problem-solve.

In Survival mode, by comparison, you have to break big tasks into a number of discrete, quantifiable stages. If you want diamonds, for example, you need to mine down to Level 12, and then create a ‘method’ for mining that increases your chances of finding diamond ore. If you want obsidian, you have to have a diamond pickaxe. If you want to build a portal to the Nether (not sure why you would, but never mind that!) you need obsidian.

To achieve big things in survival mode, you set objectives, and then break them down in to measurable tasks… while not forgetting to eat, sleep and manage risk. This matters to me but not to Mr Six.

Great leaders can enable us to achieve mammoth things.

“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.” ~ Confucius

Comfort in Repetitive Tasks

Sometimes, when I’m trying to relax, I really enjoy monotonous, repetitive tasks that don’t require much thought. I find it almost meditative. In both Creative and Survival mode, I have found numerous ways to ‘zone-out’ while playing. It could be mining, it could be gardening, it could be building, it could be felling trees.

Mr Six, unsurprisingly, doesn’t have much attention span for repetitive tasks. So I tend to get allocated these tasks. Often he’ll log out and do something completely different until I’m finished. Provided I stand up and stretch every so often, I can get lost for five hours or more getting enough diamonds to craft a set of diamond armour for him so he can be completely impervious to the bad-guys that are never going to attack him in Creative mode anyway!

Great leaders understand the need for down time. For periods of rest. For the importance of pacing. It can’t be all-go all-the-time.

“Relaxation of the mind from work consists of playful words or deeds. Therefore it becomes a wise and virtuous man to have recourse to such things at times.” ~ Thomas Aquinas

Communication and Teamwork

Mr Six is what I like to call ‘freeform’. There are no rules when he plays. I’m building a house, and he spawns a Snow Golem into the middle of it, which then proceeds to leave snow and snow balls everywhere. (Not to mention making the otherwise passive Creepers explode in the dining room!) Hilarious!

This is really hard when you’ve set a task with clear objectives.

I’ve established a method for comprehensive mining with no missed sections in the mine… he just points in a direction and heads off, then needs to be rescued from a lava pool.

Communication helps a lot! We agree the objective, we divide the tasks. When I can, I explain why I’m suggesting a certain approach. I ask him if he can think of a better way. I try to make sure we’re on the same page. It helps a lot!

Great leaders know that teamwork requires great communication. And they know they play a key role in ensuring that communication happens.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

When you stop and look, there are opportunities to reflect on your leadership practice everywhere. The key is having the mindful presence to do it, and to do it consistently.

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The Purpose of a Company…

Company Purpose

Yes, I know I’m about to sound like a bit of a nerd, but I came across something really exciting in my LinkedIn Feed yesterday. Now please bear in mind that what the American Business Roundtable does, usually doesn’t have immediate impact in New Zealand – so some of you will point out (quite correctly) that this is old news… but a former colleague shared the ‘news’ that the Business Roundtable has redefined the purpose of a corporation to promote “an economy that serves all Americans”.

Common parlance is that the purpose of a corporation is to maximise the return to shareholders… which you don’t have to be a genius to realise sometimes means that companies sometimes do things that to most of us, are clearly in dubious ethical territory. With so many crazy things happening in the world at the moment, this stands out to me as a decidedly optimistic and encouraging bright spot.

I’m hatching a plan to write a book about how organisations can become ‘aware’ of their impact holistically, and take actions that enable them to create ‘unexpected good’ that drives their reputation in the right direction but also positively impacts the bottom line. So this is great news…

Here’s what some of the big players said in response to this news:

I welcome this thoughtful statement by Business Roundtable CEOs on the Purpose of a Corporation. By taking a broader, more complete view of corporate purpose, boards can focus on creating long-term value, better serving everyone – investors, employees, communities, suppliers and customers,” said Bill McNabb, former CEO of Vanguard.

This is tremendous news because it is more critical than ever that businesses in the 21st century are focused on generating long-term value for all stakeholders and addressing the challenges we face, which will result in shared prosperity and sustainability for both business and society,” said Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation.

You can read the full statement and the rationale here

Now the question is, can a company really track and perform against a broader – more holistic – suite of expectations, when most leaders can only make sense of a limited number of things at the same time? Check out more about enhancing sense-making here.

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The Knowing-Doing Gap: A Leader’s Guide

You’re pretty clever…

I bet you ‘know’ lots of stuff.

You went to school, you probably went to University and studied interesting things.

Then you launched a career where you have done important, meaningful work – along with some work that seemed less meaningful.

You have a whole stack of life experiences: maybe you’ve bought or sold a house; travelled the world; raised children. You’ve read books, taken courses, spent time chatting with interesting people.

You’ve certainly handled some adversity too. An illness, a period of joblessness or even homelessness, an unsuccessful relationship, a break-up. Maybe you’ve been fired, or laid-off.

You’ve stacked up some life lessons…

Sometimes, life’s lessons come neatly packaged up in the shape of a training programme with clear learning objectives, practice exercises, and techniques and tools to build and demonstrate mastery…

But usually, they don’t.

Your life is a rich tapestry of experiences that have contributed to shaping how you see the world, what you value, how you make sense of others, how you build and maintain relationships, and how you identify and solve problems.

You may even have undertaken some formal leadership development along the way!

Meet: the Knowing-Doing Gap

In the adult training literature, they talk about the ‘knowing-doing gap‘: the idea you can teach things, and people will intellectually ‘know’ them… but that doesn’t mean they will do it… that they will put it into practise.

Why is it that even techniques and tools with tons of supporting evidence – that we know in our heads would work and help us in our jobs – we still fail to put into practise?

When the real life situation occurs, the one that matches the textbook perfectly, we forget what we know and rely on previous experience or old habits?

We aren’t stupid! We know it would help… but the opportunity comes and goes. We see it disappear into the sunset, and wistfully ask “what if…?”

…and yet we improve

This all sounds a bit depressing and gloomy. It isn’t.

Generally we are improving and growing as we go. I don’t know about you, but I’m a better parent now than I was five years ago. I’m a better partner than I was 15 years ago…

But am I a better leader today than I was yesterday?

How quickly can what I learn today improve how I show up tomorrow?

Is it just that our brains are too full that we can’t find the right tool at the right time?

I don’t think so.

I think it’s because, in our daily lives and in our interactions with others, we generally operate in one of two key modes…

Automatic or Reactive


This is our habits. The things we do without thinking too much. Our autopilot.

Just the same as an automatic car changes gear without you needing to think about it at all, being a leader ‘on automatic’ means much of your activity is habitual. The way you greet people, the way you conduct meetings, the way you behave in meetings, the way you respond if someone asks you a questions, how you make decisions – especially small to medium-sized decisions.

And just like your car, this is often pretty handy. It requires less thought and less effort from the driver, who is freed up to focus on other things.

knowing-doing gap

To take the metaphor a little further, just like an automatic car, there are times when the automatic transmission doesn’t serve us quite so well. Going up or down steep hills, for example, or needing to accelerate quickly. While car-makers do improve the capability of an automatic to respond to such situations, it’s never quite the same as driving a manual… Most modern automatic cars include some mechanism for switching into manual (-ish) mode.

The same is true for people. There are lots of benefits to be had from installing a solid set of productive habits in your programming. Things you do frequently are likely to become more consistent and more efficient – saving your energy and decision-making ‘power’ for more important things…

But there’s a problem.

Unlike your car’s gearox, your brain can learn a new habit – a new gear – without you even realising it! If you do something reasonably frequently, regardless of whether you do it well or poorly, and regardless of whether it serves you or trips you up – it can become a habit.

And habits can sneakily adapt too. The situation can change subtly, but the habit plows on regardless, and before you know it you have a habit for a new situation, based on an existing habit.


And while automatic refers to habits and programmed behaviours, reactive refers to times when your emotions over-ride your executive functions… You’ll know this as your fight-or-flight mode. We all have emotional triggers that cause us to feel a bit like a rabbit in the headlights. Usually these things stem back to our child-hood, or our evolutionary patterns. Our aim in these situations is survival – even when the situation isn’t actually life-or-death.

So what do you need to do instead?

Deliberate and Responsive

Being present and mindful allows you to witness a situation, pause, and reflect.

Don’t confuse this with inaction, or indecision.

Instead, it’s a careful and thoughtful response. It can still be quick.

Actions and decisions can still rely on intuition as well as hard data, but they aren’t using poor proxies from your past (and your upbringing) to predict outcomes in what can easily be seen as completely different circumstances.

It opens up space for optimism. For assuming the best in others. And most importantly, it allows you to tap into that valuable knowledge that you have, rather than relying on prehistoric analogies where sabre-tooth tigers lurked around every corner…

If you’d like to hear more about how to switch off the autopilot and close the knowing-doing gap, you might also benefit from our Virtual Coach – join here.

3 thoughts on “The Knowing-Doing Gap: A Leader’s Guide”

  1. And hopefully the more you practice being deliberate and responsive, being mindful can become a (positive) automatic response. I’m still working on this one!

  2. For me being deliberate and responsive involves taking space and time to gain some “instant perspective” – in the form of mindfulness. Being present and in tune with my body and environment is a starting point for clarity and composed decision making.


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All You Need (to Lead) is Love

Everyone is writing about love at the moment. I have no idea why – but I thought I might add my ten cents worth…

Organisational hierarchies create power imbalances that knock off people’s equilibrium. If you met someone, in your social circle who appeared to be struggling, you’d reach out. You might offer an ear, or a hand.

And, if it turned out to be a problem you could help with, you almost certainly would.

Yet, for some reason, when aspiring managers, become actual managers, the power seems to go straight to their heads. Unfortunately, though brain imaging is yet to prove this hypothesis, the area of the brain where power resides, overlaps strongly with the area previously occupied by humanity, compassion and empathy.

New managers start second-guessing themselves about what they can and can’t say, and start believing that every conversation with a direct report (other than a routine one-on-one) has to be scripted and run past HR in advance.

'If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you'll never get it done.' ~ Bruce LeeClick To Tweet

Well I have good news.

There’s a much easier way.

Just love them.

Not in a Valentine’s Day sappy or a “not appropriate at work” kind of love, but as brotherly or sisterly love. The kind of love you have for your kids…

In fact that’s quite a good analogy.

When your kids mess up, you let them know because it’s your job to do so. You are responsible for helping them become the best adults possible. You guide, you encourage, you develop, and yes, sometimes, you discipline.

Because. That’s. The. Job.


And your other job? Well, at work, it’s to love your employees. To guide when you can, to encourage, to develop, and yes, sometimes, to discipline.

And when it comes from a place of love, you don’t need a script, because your heart already knows what to say… but more importantly, because when you come from a place of love, everyone around you can see it. So even if you muck it up and say something you wish you hadn’t people will likely forgive you… because you did it with love.

Love is all you need.

If you think you’d benefit from bringing a bit more love into your work-life, you might enjoy our Virtual Coaching network. Join today – you’ll love it!

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No-one Likes a Know-It-All

I confess, I am a recovering ‘know-it-all’.

I am clever and well-educated, and I used to believe that my strength came from having all the answers.

'The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.' ~ Albert EinsteinClick To Tweet

When my husband and I first started dating, our arguments usually stemmed from one of two things: money (we didn’t have much, which made it stressful) and me correcting him. Relentlessly.

Initially I told myself I was saving him from having incorrect information… perhaps rescuing him from making an error in front of other people. Eventually my ‘know-it-all’ tendencies morphed from facts and figures – things that I could know and ‘prove’ – to the accuracy of memories for shared experiences and who said what, even extrapolations from existing knowledge, which were theories at best. To be quite honest, I’m not sure why he stuck around!

Eventually I began to notice a pattern…

No matter who won the argument (and I’m afraid to admit that it was usually me) we still had to have an argument, and we both ended up feeling pretty crappy afterwards.

It took me a while to realise that being right didn’t make me feel any better, really. And that it didn’t do much for him either!

Individual contributors and the currency of knowledge

In our working lives, we usually start as team members – individual contributors. We are expected to learn, and over time master, a set of skills and a body of knowledge. If we are lucky, we do this under the tutelage of an experienced and patient senior team member. Our ability to recall data and past transactions quickly and accurately is rewarded and applauded. We gain a reputation for working quickly, for responding with useful information and for supporting the team by having most of the answers…

Is it any wonder then, that many managers continue to exploit this skill long after its usefulness and ability to impress others has disappeared?

As a manager, it isn’t your job to have the answers. Your job is to create those conditions that you had… the environment where your team can learn, demonstrate their capability, test their capacity and make a few mistakes along the way.

But how do you make that transition? Everything you know has led you to believe that knowledge is the most valuable skill, and that figuring out the answers to new problems comes a very close second… yet now you’re telling me that simply isn’t true anymore?

It’s as though you woke up one day and somebody said “we don’t use money anymore. We use marbles. Your money is worthless. What, you don’t have any marbles? Well you better earn some then! Off you go!”

It’s disorientating. It’s bamboozling. It’s just plain weird!

Until it isn’t…


The Know-it-all

Having to be the 'knower' or always being right is heavy armour. It's defensiveness, it's posturing, and, worst of all, it's a huge driver of bullshit.' ~ Brené BrownClick To Tweet

Have you ever worked with a ‘know-it-all’? Somebody who can never act on anyone else’s ideas? Someone who always has to have the last word? Someone who says “I told you so” when they are forced to follow someone else’s directions and it goes even a little bit wrong?

It’s exhausting if you try to overcome it or work around it, and the danger is, eventually, you just give up. “Yes Dave… great idea Dave… let’s do that Dave…”

No business can thrive if its people can’t contribute their brilliant ideas.

And the worst case scenario? If Dave just happens to be your boss.

The second-worst case? You are Dave.

How to put down the shield of ‘knowing’

In her book Dare to Lead: Brave work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts Brené Brown sets out her antidote for the leadership shield of “being a knower and being right” – being a learner and getting it right – employing curiosity and critical thinking skills to figure out the best answer with others.

As a leader, the ability to ask great questions plays a big part here.

But before you can do either of these things, you have to have the presence of mind to realise you are doing it in the first place… or at least be sufficiently open to feedback that you allow someone to tell you you’re a know-it-all without biting their head off…

And, even when you do know the answer, exercise generosity by letting others have the thrill of figuring it out for themselves!

If you think being a ‘know-it-all’ is something you need a hand with, you might like to join our virtual coaching network. No commitments, no judgement, just great advice from the world’s leading thinkers, speakers and writers, delivered to your inbox on a Monday morning… What better way to start the week! And if you’ve read it all and seen it all before, you’re welcome to say “I already knew this” and I won’t mind!

1 thought on “No-one Likes a Know-It-All”

  1. A very informative and positive read. It takes new ideas and thinking right up to the workplaces – the frontline – where change in attittude is needed to improve performance and accountability.
    Thank you for sharing.


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Clear is Kind – Unclear is Unkind

As a leader, this is a really important thing to remember. We often try and soften our message to not hurt someone’s feelings, which in reality, is a selfish move… we don’t want to feel bad. But that lack of clarity creates confusion and doesn’t enable that person to move forward in a useful constructive way. Remember: Clear is kind.

'I've yet to be in a rumble, or any tough conversation - even one where I'm 99 percent sure I'm totally in the clear - in which, after digging in, I didn't have a part. Even if my part was not speaking up or staying curious.' ~ Brené BrownClick To Tweet

I’m reading Dare to Lead by Brené Brown at the moment. It’s a great book. Brown is in my team of Virtual Mentors, so reading this is part of my commitment to self-development and growth. She shares a lovely story about when her team got up the courage to let her know that her time-estimation skills were a little woeful… and outlines what happened next as she worked through her responses to that feedback. Which really got me thinking about my own practise.

Sugar-coating it…

I remember, early in my leadership journey, I used to be afraid of delivering a message that hurt someone. I had one team member who was going through some challenging circumstances in her home life, and it was impacting the quality of her leadership and decision making at work. We talked fairly regularly about what was going on for her, and how she was coping, and what support she might have available to assist her. But I never raised the impact it was having at work. I thought I was being kind. I thought she might not be able to cope with ‘attacks’ from two fronts at the same time. I thought it would go away if I left it long enough…

Some of her peers raised concerns with me. It was affecting them as well – they were carrying some of the load… and worried about her. I’m pleased to report that I didn’t betray her confidence about what was happening at home, but I can’t say honestly that I didn’t share a little grumble with them from time to time…

I’d like to be able to say that I eventually plucked up the courage to raise the issues and that we had a difficult and challenging discussion, followed by a marked improvement in performance. I want to say that more than anything.

But I can’t. Because I didn’t.

I was transferred to a new role about four months after the problems emerged, and I briefed the incoming manager about the issues…

I ducked it – and I wished my replacement good luck.

I’d also like to be able to say that my replacement deftly handled things and everyone lived happily ever after. That didn’t happen either, and the person left for another role, none the wiser.

This is not only bad management (on my part at least) it is grossly unkind.

Clear is Kind

Why being unclear is unkind…

I learned a great deal from this experience, and similar but less dramatic ones like it. Clear, timely and compassionate feedback is vital to development.

Think about parenting… Your toddler is about to touch the hot oven… a million horrible scenarios flash before your eyes… which of the following would you choose?

“Stop! Hot! Ouch!”


“If you touch that surface there is a possibility that you will experience a great deal of pain that you might not like very much and that it might leave you with evidence of injury that lasts for the rest of your life.”

It’s obvious right? At least I hope it is if you have kids!

The second one takes too long to say (not timely) is convoluted (not clear) and is too dispassionate – reducing your care and concern to a technically accurate but uncaring monologue, verging on compliance/tick-box.

Too often, I think, we worry that the message is hard, and that the only way to deliver it is bluntly.

That’s simply not true. If you love your team (and if you don’t, you should), then it is possible to deliver tough messages in a way they can handle and make use of.

Yet we do it all the time with our kids… because we love them. And we know we love them. And we know it’s our job.

Of course workplace examples aren’t usually as clear-cut as preventing someone from burning themselves on the oven (although judging by the state of health and safety in some organisations, maybe this is an assumption that needs to be challenged). Workplace examples are subjective, and fluffy – the trickiest ones involve behaviour, rather than ‘concrete results’ and numbers.

It doesn’t matter. You can’t wait. You mustn’t sugar-coat it, but you must deliver it with empathy and respect.

Clarity doesn’t just apply to corrective feedback…

Your role as a leader also requires you to be clear about your vision, your priorities and your expectations. Remember – clear is kind.


If your team doesn’t understand your vision, they’re not only going to have a hard time helping you implement it, they’re going to feel uncertain and fearful about the future. Especially in times of change. If you can see the destination clearly in your own mind, you owe it to your staff to find the words that help them see it just as clearly.


I get it, things change… sometimes the thing that was priority number one yesterday, simply isn’t today. That’s life. But if you don’t double round and let your team know, clearly, then they will keep working on what they are already working on, and gradually become more and more frustrated that nothing gets finished, they can’t get your attention, and the workload seems to be multiplying with no reprieve in sight…


If you are relying on other people to help you achieve results, then you need to make sure you are crystal clear in your expectations of them. This isn’t just the targets (though this is part of it) it’s also about the behaviours you expect, the values you want them to uphold, and the processes and systems you need them to develop or use.

Improving clarity

That’s all very well, I hear you say, but I think I am being clear. Yet sometimes things get lost in translation. So here’s some quick tips to help you be more clear:

  • Try not to go ‘off the cuff’ – when it matters, prepare and practice.
  • Be consistent – develop some key phrases you will use consistently in certain contexts so that people know what’s coming.
  • Make time – every day, schedule ten to fifteen minutes to focus on clarifying your ideas and communications.
  • Check-in with your team. Ask them! Get them to recap what they heard you say. Clarify if there’s ambiguity – don’t take it as criticism.
  • Tailor the message. Different people communicate differently – what works for some, might not work for all.
  • Never sugar-coat – but deliver it with love. Think of feedback as a gift.
  • Take a break if you need to. If the conversation get’s heavy, suggest a ten minute breather – grab a cup of tea, go for a walk – regroup.

Never ignore it and hope it will go away. It won’t. It doesn’t. Your temporary relief simply delays the problem. Remember: Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.

If you feel like you might need some clarity, why not join our Virtual Coaching group? It’s free, it’s weekly, and it’s lovely!

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Stupid Questions: Learn to Embrace Them

“There’s no such thing as stupid questions.”

We’ve all heard that phrase espoused by leaders, project managers, consultants, facilitators and trainers. We’ve probably used it ourselves upon occasion. It’s the thing you say to fill the awkward silence… because you know that what you just shared is new and a little bit complicated, and you assume no-body wants to be seen as stupid by their peers (or their boss).

“I can guarantee if you have a question, somebody else will have the same question and be grateful you asked it” they say… as though that’s the inducement you needed to build the courage to look a bit slow in front of your workmates…

And let’s face it, when we’ve been in that room, we’ve all groaned (hopefully inwardly) at the actual stupidness of the eventual question that gets asked.

Today though, I’m going to try and convince you to embrace stupid questions. Not because it helps the people in your audience – whether clients, or peers, or your staff – but because it helps you.

Stupid Questions

What are stupid questions?

This might seem like a stupid question. So let me tell you a story.

My school-age son is enrolled in a before-school programme. There’s also an after-school programme offered by the same provider, but it has a massive waiting list. At the end of each school term, we have the opportunity to supplicate ourselves to be on the waitlist… again… in the hope – futile though it may be – that our son has progressed sufficiently high on that list that we might get a place.

Each term, when we do this, the email says “your child is automatically granted the same slot he or she had this term. If you have requested additional spaces, you will be wait-listed. We will notify you if that space becomes available.

The day before term starts, my anxiety about not having heard anything finally gets the better of me, and I contact the programme “just to check” that Mr 5 in, in fact, on their list, and that he hasn’t miraculously been granted an additional slot.

Without checking any actual list, I’m made to feel like an idiot for not properly reading an email I received two months ago.

This morning (after asking this question) I realised three things:

  • First, it’s entirely possible that I am an idiot. I’m up for that, if the evidence points in that direction.
  • Second, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you” is never a good approach, because the risk of administrative error and the absence of any potentially corrective dialogue, is a recipe for disaster… showing up at 7.30 am to be turned away and having to fill an hour until the acceptable drop-off time at school simply isn’t a workable worst-case scenario for me.
  • Third, what wonderful rich feedback that question is, to someone who is capable of seeing it that way, and open to acting on it! Embrace it! Use it as impetus to improve whatever your thing is!

You see, the power of Stupid Questions isn’t in the answer to them, or in the courage of those who decide to ask them. The power of Stupid Questions is in the opportunity they present you with, to alter your approach so that that particular stupid question isn’t needed again in the future.

Because the people asking the questions aren’t actually stupid. You are at fault. Not in a blamey way, just in a “you haven’t communicated effectively” way.

How do I embrace stupid questions?

De-emphasise the asker

Well, you still need to ask for them. But you need to shift the focus of the asking. Implying that the person asking the question needs to be brave to ask them, or is doing their colleagues a big favour by asking, is placing all the emphasis on the person asking (or potentially asking). Instead, put the focus on the person seeking the questions: “I know I haven’t explained this as well as I could have – what didn’t make sense? What are you left puzzled by?” Make it about you and your presentation of the information – which, let’s face it, can always be improved.

Watch how you respond

When you hear the question, you almost certainly have an immediate reaction to it. It probably starts with ‘but’:

  • But I covered this already
  • But I sent you this information in an email
  • But I thought that was the clearest part of my presentation
  • But… But… But…

“But” is a word you should try and banish from your vocabulary. Replace it with AND. The sentence still works, but it leaves space for multiple perspectives, and diminishes defensiveness for both parties.

Defensiveness is your ego’s way of trying to protect itself from the idea that you aren’t as wonderful as it thinks you are… or worse, that you aren’t great, but everyone else is worse.

Engage with the lesson

Instead, try and enthusiastically embrace the opportunity to learn from what the asker has shared with you. Especially if you get the same or similar questions often.

In my case, a programme administrator for a before/after school programme, probably knows that parents don’t want any uncertainty about whether their kids are in or out… waitlisted, or successfully slotted… In this case, the tradeoff is the lesser hassle of not sending out 100-odd tailored emails (though a template would probably suffice).

Communication is one of those things that we assume is more effective than it actually is, because we know what we were thinking and cannot know how it was received.

So make it your mission to embrace stupid questions. They are rich sources of intelligence for you – real-time feedback on how you are performing. Don’t let that go to waste!

If you have stupid – and not so stupid – questions about leadership, you might like to sign up for our free virtual coaching newsletter. It’s lovely!

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Creativity with Constraints: Leadership’s Secret Sauce

I’ve never really considered myself to be creative – at least not in any conventional sense of the word, as applied to artistic endeavours. I can’t paint or compose or sculpt… I’m really great at following the instructions. I can play classical piano but run a mile from jazz. I did some acting as a teenager, but never warmed to improv. Interpretation rather than creation. So today, I thought we might explore the idea of creativity with constraints.

Creativity with Constraints
Attempt 5: Rule 1: two foreground colours, Rule 2: all shapes overlapping, Rule 3: five minute limit


'Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainty.' ~ Erich FrommClick To Tweet

This year, I have challenged myself to try. To get a bit uncomfortable and experiment. I have a reasonable iPad Pro – I know it has some pretty powerful graphics grunt. So I took a short online course about abstract art, using the Paper App.

Probably the most profound aspects of the course was a lesson on constraints and rules. Constraints being the unmovable boundaries within which you operate (the size of your screen, the app you are working in ) and rules being some additional limits you give yourself (only one foreground colour, all shapes must overlap, work for two minutes maximum).

Creativity with constraints
Attempt 7: Rules: two foreground colours

It has been interesting. I think I’m more creative than I believed… which really got me thinking…

Is leadership creative?

At the same time that I describe myself as “not very creative” I know in my bones that the practice of leadership is exceedingly creative, and I do think I’m capable of finding deeply creative solutions to organisational problems. So what’s the connection?

I think, too often, we think of artists – ‘true’ creatives – as working completely unfettered by the barriers, and roadblocks, and complaints, and frustrations we find in our organisational lives.

Never enough money, laws and regulations that describe how certain things must be done, owners’ and shareholders’ expectations, opening hours, “we’ve always done it like that”…

And it isn’t necessarily true that any of these constraints are bad. While we’d all like more money, I think we can agree that treating our employees fairly, and not polluting the environment, and serving our customers honestly and well, are good things…

Creativity with constraints
Attempt 17: Rule 1: Two foreground colours, Rule 2: Three minute time limit


So as a leader, then, our job is to understand the constraints… and then to exercise extreme creativity within them. It’s at the heart of problem-solving, of storytelling, of innovation, of evolution. It’s about getting in flow. It’s about fulfilment. And it’s about engagement.

But I hear you! “Not me” you say. “I’m not creative! I’m just here to do my job!” Well let’s give it a go. How can you exercise and strengthen your creative muscles?

Five ways to boost general creativity

Here are five activities that can boost your creativity – your baseline level, if you will. Do these things and you will also improve your creativity with constraints…

Learn a new skill, craft or language

In order to learn something new, your brain has to ‘unstick’ itself, and then reshape itself around the new knowledge. It’s quite hard work (which is why it can feel exhausting). New neural pathways are formed, old ones are pruned. And in that window of neuroplasticity, you actually become more creative. Cool huh!

Watch a film or read a book you’d normally avoid

The older we get, the more habitual we become. We go the same way to work, we go to the same grocery store, we go to the same gym, eat at the same restaurants… And our preferences for television, film and reading become pretty solid. I don’t read fiction – haven’t for years… until my son came along and I’ve read all manner of fiction since then! Mostly Dr Suess

Anyway, the point being that watching or reading something outside of your favourite and preferred genres is a great way to generate new thought patterns.

Learn to meditate… daily

Meditation can assist with lots of things: management of mood, gratitude, observational skills, and yes… creativity. In effect, meditation is like learning how to use your brain properly… did you ever notice there isn’t a user guide? Well meditation can assist you to understand the way your brain thinks, feels and processes information. All useful to becoming more creative.

Exercise the body… regularly

Rigorous exercise gets extra oxygen to the brain and releases endorphins, all of which is great for optimal brain function. Separately, I also find that mindless exercise (as opposed to mindful exercise) is another option for solving a specific problemI often seem to come up with my best ideas or solutions while on the treadmill…

Get enough sleep

There is increasing evidence that all adult human beings need between seven and eight hours sleep each night in order for their brains to function at their best. Too much, or not enough, and without you even realising it, memory can decline, processing speed can slow, and general fogginess can set in.

Creativity with Constraints
Attempt 21: Rule 1: Three foreground colours, Rule 2: 10 minute time limit

Six ways to boost creative problem solving

And when you already have a specific issue or challenge to tackle, you need some tactics to help you with a focused burst of creativity…

Go for a walk

Ideally in nature, even better, in bare feet. But if you can’t get to the forest or the beach, a meaningful break can work just as well. In The Eureka Effect, David Perkins explores the observed tendency humans have for apparently stumbling across our most important and groundbreaking ideas when we’re completely focused on something else entirely!

Reframe the problem

Sometimes we get stuck because we keep thinking about the problem from the same angle. Asking a different question or reframing the problem can radically increase our likelihood of finding a solution.

For example, if you are trying to improve a particular aspect of your client experience, such as how can you answer calls to your helpline on the second ring without increasing the number of agents in your call centre. Instead, try asking what you can do that would delight your customers.

For example, when I worked for an insurance company in New Zealand, our script for answering all calls was: “My name is Rebecca Elvy. Welcome to [name of company]. What can I help you with today?” It never ceased to amaze me how many people commented on this greeting. It gives space for the caller to get your full name (many times I’m sure help desk staff are giving me a fake name, let alone their full name!) and it left the full emphasis on how you were going to help them solve their problem.

Invite other perspectives

We know what we know and see often. But sometimes what we need to know is outside our experience. People with different worldviews can look at the same problem in a completely different way. So find some people who wouldn’t normally be involved in your problem. They might be elsewhere in your firm, or completely outside it. They might be competitors, or clients, or people from a different ethnic background. Diversity of thought is key here.

They may not come up with the answer, but they’ll certainly challenge your thinking and get your creative juices flowing!

Change your environment

I am a serial room-changer-rounder (that’s the technical term). At least a couple of times a year I’ll rearrange various rooms in my house, and my work space at the office. I don’t know if I’m looking for perfect Feng Shui (I don’t really know anything about Feng Shui!) or it just gives me a good clean out… but I find that the change of perspective helps me think clearer.

You might not need to be that radical though. You might find that relocating to a coffee shop or public library to work for a few hours might be enough!

Challenge your assumptions

You probably don’t know what they are… but you definitely have some.

Spend some time figuring out what they are: try asking “what has to be true for this to work out the way I think it will”.

Once you know what your assumptions are, try breaking them. If you assume that you don’t have enough money, try solving the problem in the way you would if money were no object. Clearly this is a thought exercise… at least to begin with, because it can’t magically make more money appear. But sometimes freeing your mind in this way enables you to come up with an elegant affordable solution that you otherwise were ‘hiding’ from yourself.

‘Unsolve’ the problem

Say wha…?

Yes, you read that correctly. Rather than focusing on how to fix the problem, try focusing instead on how to make it worse. What are all the things that you could do that would make this situation deteriorate… doing nothing might be the first one, but I bet you can come up with some really creative ways to make things worse! Get mischievous!

Once you have a bunch of ways to make things worse, test which ones can be ‘reversed’. Say if one way to make things worse is to always blame your customers for their problems (“it was working fine when we gave it to you…”) you might make things better by never blaming your customers, even when it is their fault.

Try it out! It’s fun!

Creativity with constraints
Attempt 23: Rule 1: Three foreground colours, Rule 2: All shapes must overlap another shape, Rule 3: Five minute time limit

And remember, great leaders are agents of change. If they wanted things to stay the same they would have appointed a manager…

If you are having trouble expressing your creativity as a leader, perhaps you need a virtual coach! Join up today, you can cancel at anytime.

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Resistance: The Enemy of Growth

What is it that I am resisting?

'Most of us have two lives: the life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.' ~ Steven PressfieldClick To Tweet

She said “be more colourful, we didn’t meet the real you.”

She said “use the intonation of your voice, let you passion shine through.”

She was a psychologist providing me feedback after a job interview assessment centre.

Today’s post is a little different… more like a journal entry than an article. If it’s not for you, no worries! Thanks for stopping by!

Yet I do prefer to be ‘in control’ – to seem in control. It makes me a good/conscientious driver. It helps me resist addictions of all sorts (coffee, food, exercise, alcohol). It drives me to understand how my brain works (so that I can better predict, anticipate and control it).

And it drives me to help those who find themselves in the midst of chaos not of their own making. People who live in violence, or drug dependency, or poverty, or war-torn countries.

I lived there for moments of my childhood and early adult-hood. The chaos of parent with inconsistent discipline and mood led to my strong value of fairness.

The chaos of near misses (especially involving men) when influenced by alcohol led to my strong desire for sobriety.

Why am I so ‘buttoned down’?

I think I’ve always been that way. Being upset – no, betrayed – when I learned someone I cared deeply about and admired was growing pot in their glasshouse… Disapproving of ‘lowly’ and ‘uncouth’ behaviour… Aloof? Conceited? Non-reactive?

Reflective, perhaps. Non-emotive.

Generalist, not specialist.

Expert at creating order out of chaos.

Anarchy. Shambles. Entropy. Discombobulation. Shemozzle.

It’s very hard to find fairness in a state of chaos.

So to hope in a world filled with disorder and complexity, my brain became highly skilled at creating and identifying predictable patters – at systematising chaos – and at diagnosing root causes.


An observer, before becoming a participant.

And I participate with the express purpose of reconciling the irreconcilable… solving the unsolvable… calming the chaos.

This means that evidence of chaos – the indelible marks it leaves behind on the lives (and deaths) of those touched by it – cause me distress and emotional turmoil. I imagine myself into those lives, and the chaos overwhelms me. The lack of fairness. The absence of sobriety.

I’m sure if I were a religious person, I could find solace in the unknowable plan of a supreme being, but my mind resists religion for its apparent acceptance of unfathomable pain and intolerance.

Instead, these events call to me, and play over and over, begging me to act… But to do what?

What are you asking me to do?

What am I resisting?

I try to ensure my mind is unshackled by pedestrian constraints, but I cannot see what it is that I’m supposed to do…

Why is that the lot of human beings to not be able to see those things at the next stage of development – evolution – that would most help us?

Those in chaos cannot see there can be ‘not-chaos’.

Those in addiction cannot imagine there can be ‘non-addiction’.

Those pain cannot understand the idea of ‘not-pain’.

Those in combat cannot fathom peace.

And those under siege cannot recognise refuge.

Why do our own minds present us from achieving that which we most need? It is cruel. It is unfair.

What must I do to resolve this?

What must I stop resisting?

They say that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

I am ready.

What is my teacher?

Footnote: literally the morning after I wrote this, I read the chapter called “Your Inner Purpose” in A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle… (Part of my team of Virtual Mentors.) It leapt out at me immediately… though I cannot tell you why. I’ll keep you posted!

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Leadership is Creating Order From Chaos

Leadership is all about creating order from chaos.

'Chaos is inherent in all compounded things. Strive on with diligence.' ~ BuddhaClick To Tweet

My son has far more Lego than he needs. I didn’t have Lego as a child – I may be compensating. Anyone who has more than a couple of Lego sets in their home knows how quickly entropy occurs: the pieces get mixed up… the buildings and vehicles have pieces knocked off or added… there are pieces that nobody knows where they came from… and yes, the occasional clattering sound has been heard going up the vacuum cleaner (oops!).

From that point onwards, rebuilding the fire station (as per the instructions) becomes frustrating, time-consuming, if not almost impossible.

Yet, sometimes, that’s exactly what’s called for…

The same is true of any leadership situation you might find yourself in. The environment is complex, the market is fickle – they only want the fire station, not the police station or the firetruck or the fire crew training depot – and they definitely don’t want you to hand them a box full of pieces saying: “the parts are all in there somewhere”…

No. Your task is to help create some order from chaos. To take all the seemingly unrelated data: current state, client expectations, employee aspirations, skills, capabilities and resources, and to make the impossible seem possible all while ensuring that everyone has the information they need… and the tools and resources they need… to be successful.

Most people don’t like change and they don’t like uncertainty. And when they are being bombarded by data, with no apparent coherence or logic, their natural response will be to run away… to stick to what’s known… what’s safe.

That’s where you come in. Your job is to make sense of the incoherence. To explain it to others in ways they can understand. And to create an environment where it is safe for them to figure out what to do about it.

It’s all about the mindset…

When you are a victim, you give away your power. I’ve long held the view that people with a victim mindset make very poor leaders.

This is why.

A victim works hard to make their circle of control and their circle of influence as small as possible. That way, other people are to blame. Their efforts to make their influence and control as small as possible mean that virtually everything is uncontrolled and unable to be influenced – at least by them.

Order from Chaos

What does this do for the people they lead? It confirms the chaos. It exacerbates the disorder. And it breeds more victims.

On the other hand, great leaders expand and clarify their circles of control and their circles of influence. They engage in sense-making. They create time and space to reflect and grapple with the uncertainty.

Order from Chaos

As a consequence, their teams feel more secure and more optimistic. They feel better equipped to step into the unknown, and they operate in an environment of psychological safety… where it’s OK to ask questions, where it’s expected that you’ll seek reassurance when it’s needed, and where failure is an accepted (and encouraged) aspect of doing the job.

None of this necessarily means that leaders like chaos any more than anyone else… it just means they have developed tools and systems for coping (and thriving) in it. They can embrace complexity because they know it’s the only way to go…

All of which means that the best leaders appear to effortlessly – even magically – create order from chaos… and their teams wouldn’t want it any other way.

If you’re interested in learning more about how leaders create order from chaos, sign up for i3 Virtual Coaching. You’ll get a weekly email from me, packed full of amazing resources to help you take your leadership to the next level.

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Compassion: Assuming the Best in Others

'I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.' ~ Lao TzuClick To Tweet

My guess is that you’re a pretty talented person. You have skills. You figure things out. You work hard to do the best job you can. And if you’re anything like me, you can’t help but notice that there are people around you who aren’t pulling their weight. They might be slacking off, ‘phoning it in’… or they might seem genuinely incompetent. No matter how many times you offer them some advice, show them how to do it, or even pitch in and give them a hand, it just doesn’t seem to sink in.

Why is it that you show up, work your backside off, and strive every day to do the very best job you can, yet there are others around that seem to go out of their way to make things more difficult and muck it all up?

This can be a very tempting mental trap to fall into, after all, you know how hard you are trying.

But here’s one thing I know to be true: Nobody comes to work with the intention of doing a bad job. Everyone is trying to do the best they can with the tools – knowledge, wisdom and systems – at their disposal.

So why does it seem like we’re so much better than everyone else? How can we learn to cope with other people’s apparent incompetence and how can compassion help us become more patient and tolerant?

Why am I so much better?

There are a couple of things going on that make it seem like we are much better than others. The key word here being seem.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect

The Dunning-Kruger Effect refers to the phenomenon that most of us rate ourselves more competent than is mathematically possible. For example, 88% of drivers believe that they are better than average at driving.

Interestingly, the less competent you actually (objectively) are at something, the more likely you are to overestimate your ability.

Here’s a great video explaining this:

Another useful resource on this topic is Insight by Tasha Eurich.

So, conclusion is… you might not be as great as you think… I’ll let you figure that out.

The False Consensus Effect

Now this one is pretty interesting too. We tend to overestimate the extent to which other people believe/know the same things we do. This is evidenced by experiments that ask people to make subjective observations from a scenario, and then to state what percentage of people would come to the same conclusions. Participants overwhelming believe that most people would agree with them (even when the actual experiment shows otherwise).

There are a couple of possible explanations for this.

First, we do tend to spend time with people we know quite well and who actually do think a lot like us – like family members, and close friends. So in our immediate circle of influence, this is probably true.

Second, we are very familiar with our own values, thoughts and biases – after all, we think about them inside our own heads! And because we think about them more often than the alternatives, we assume they are more common, and we spot the evidence of information that confirms our beliefs (this is known as Confirmation Bias) all over the place.

Coping with incompetence

Sometimes, in spite of all the ways that our brains try to trick us that we’re awesome and others aren’t, we might be genuinely better at something than those around us.

Yes – that can be frustrating!

What can you do about that? Nobody wants to be frustrated at work!

Start with compassion


I’ve never met anyone – even in some of the most challenging circumstances – who was trying to be bad at their job. Whether it was serving customers, engaging with stakeholders, selling services, or writing complex documents, everyone wants to do well, and be seen as competent.

So start with compassion. Say to yourself: “this person is trying really hard to do their best, even if it doesn’t seem like it”. Say it five times if you have to!

Then ask yourself some useful questions to figure out what might be needed to help move forward.

  • Does he know/understand what the task is?
  • Does he understand the standard expected?
  • Has he received adequate training?
  • Do I understand the task he’s been asked to do? (Sometimes another agenda is at play that you aren’t aware of)
  • Does he have the practical tools required to do a great job?
  • Could there be something going on in his life right now that is distracting him, or making it hard for him to deliver the expected standard of work?
  • What can I do to help him succeed?

And perhaps most importantly…

  • Am I actually as great at this as I think I am?

Once you’ve spent some time contemplating the answers to these questions, I promise you, you’ll feel less frustrated, and have a clearer idea of how helping this person might actually be you doing a better job… at least a better job than you thought you were doing…

After all, as Robin Sharma said:

'The best leaders lift people up versus tear people down.'Click To Tweet

So what are you waiting for?

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Obligation: What To Do When It Steals Your Joy

It’s easy to make excuses. To think of a million reasons why you haven’t fulfilled your obligation… whatever the obligation is. I didn’t write a blog article for about six months… why?

In my case – it was winter, work got busy, family life was busy, I published my first book…

The thing is though, I know that these aren’t really the issue. I blogged consistently through last winter – irrespective of the temperature or the lumens… And I was no less busy then than I am now. The book could have been a thing… but I don’t think so.

No, the reality is that my sense of obligation was sucking all the joy out of it.

So today, we’re going to take a bit of a look at obligations, drawing a little on Gretchen Rubin’s fabulous book, The Four Tendencies, along with a few other nuggets I’ve picked up along the way.


What is an obligation?

This might seem like an obvious question, but there are two kinds of obligation really. So we need to clear that up before we begin.

There are internal obligations, things that we expect of ourselves, and there are external obligations, things that others expect of us.

Well duh! I hear you say.

The thing is though, these aren’t necessarily equal in their importance to you. And you handle them a little differently.

So effectively, an obligation is the sense you have that someone (you or someone else) expects or requires you to do something.

The Four Tendencies and how different people respond to obligations

How we respond to obligations – from ourselves and from others – creates what Rubin refers to as The Four Tendencies.

If you respond well to both your own expectations and those of others, you are an upholder.

If you respond well to other people’s expectations but have a hard time meeting your own, you are an obliger.

If you are great at meeting your own expectations, but push back on other people’s, you are a questioner.

And if you plain outright reject expectations of any kind, you are a rebel.

I am a questioner. I generally have no trouble meeting my own commitments and expectations, provided that I have actually made a clear decision to commit. But I resent and resist other people’s expectations of me, at least until I can figure out a way to internalise it.

So what was I resisting?

There seem to be two sides to this.

First, I felt like I had to write articles because people were expecting them.

I should be thrilled about this – that’s the point of blogging, right?


But if I had a strong internal drive to do it, I wouldn’t resist this sense of obligation, I wouldn’t even notice it was there, so something else is going on. Which leads to…

Second, I felt unclear as to why I would keep doing it. I’d lost sight of who I’m trying to help. I don’t feel like I have a clear purpose anymore.

I’ve ‘undecided’.

What was really going on?

As I explored these questions (and plenty more) I noticed something that seemed quite important.

The word ‘obligation’.

The more I bounced it round, the more I realised that the problem was the word… (or more importantly, the word was coming from how I was thinking about the problem…) let me explain.

Obligation, to me, seems more like something that is done to us. To me. The word itself conjures up a desire (at least in me) to rebel. Yet it wasn’t a word anyone else was using… only me! Why was I choosing to use a word that, due to my own definition of it, was creating resistance?

And more importantly… what would happen if I changed the word?

The power of words

I do believe that our choice of words – deliberate or through habit – can provide a lot of insight into how our brains work… which by extension means that when you become aware of how your words are affecting your thinking, you can change your words. Sometimes the effects can be profound.

So I switched up ‘obligation’ – which was creating a sense of victim-hood in me – for commitment… a positive thing. Something that I make myself, rather than something that is ‘done to me’.

And here I am!

I still feel like there are some things I committed to do that I haven’t delivered on yet… a book review, a podcast interview. I know I will do these things when I can best give them my full attention.

In the meantime, I’m back to carefully choosing words. Not only for your benefit, but also for my own! Because at the end of the day, it’s one of the most powerful obligations any of us have.

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Excuses: Why Great Leaders Never Make Them

'He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.' ~ Benjamin FranklinClick To Tweet

There are always excuses available to you. Always.

If you fly regularly, you’ve probably noticed that there are lots of things that the flight crew – both those inside the cockpit and outside it – do consistently… the same way… every time. There are checklists and shiny big signs and flags on things reminding people what to do.

Part of the reason for this is that analysis of plane crashes consistently shows that it isn’t just one thing going wrong that causes an accident. There are contingencies and safety mechanisms that readily deal with the one small thing that goes wrong. Those checklists and procedures are designed to pick up as many of them as possible…

Lots of small things need to go wrong for a modern commercial flight to crash. Lots. If you want to look at an example, check this report on the Air France Flight 4590 (Concorde) crash.

And just like complex machinery, organisations have many organic, dynamic parts in them, any of which can go wrong on any given day. And all of which have minds (and attitudes) of their own.

So if you’re looking for an excuse, I guarantee you can find one. Probably more than one.

He did this, and she did that. They forgot to do this. So-and-so didn’t show up for work that day…

It’s seductively simple to blame somebody else. And sometimes, it’s even justified!

Exploring three different perspectives, here’s why you mustn’t.

Perspective 1: The Person Being Blamed

Imagine yourself, for a minute, in the shoes of the person you blamed. Regardless of whether or not the blame is justified by the facts, it makes you feel pretty lousy, right?

When someone you work with blames you for something, it destroys trust. You aren’t going to feel inclined to go out of your way for that person – quite the opposite. You’ll avoid working with them, you might bad mouth them to other colleagues. You certainly aren’t going to think of them as a great leader.

If it happens often enough, your engagement drops, and it might even begin to feel like you are being bullied.

Now I know what you’re thinking… surely a great employee will take it on the chin and lift their game? Isn’t this exactly the sort of feedback they need to shape their career?

No – blaming somebody for something going wrong at work isn’t the same as providing constructive/corrective feedback in a one-to-one setting. By definition, blaming someone means you’ve told others. This is counterproductive, and there are much more effective ways to provide feedback, if that is your intent.


Perspective 2: A Person Witnessing the Blaming

If you’ve blamed someone for the error, you’ve told someone else, possibly in the presence of others as well. So what do these ‘third-parties’ infer from their experience?

If it is a peer, or sub-ordinate, it’s not that different to the perspective of the person being blamed. Suddenly a whole lot of people don’t want to work with you or for you. They know that you’re capable of throwing them under the bus if you feel it serves your needs… that you don’t take responsibility for the results of your team.

They interpret your actions as being self-interested… driven by self-protection or self-aggrandisement. It doesn’t matter much which of these it is – neither are associated with exceptional leadership.

If it is only your boss you told? Well, if she’s a decent leader, she will either see it immediately for what it is – making excuses – or she’ll take it at face value, but have slightly less respect for you moving forward… possibly in a way that she can’t quite put her finger on.

If she’s a poor leader, she’ll probably commiserate, and jump on the excuses bandwagon with you… you’ll briefly feel better, but it won’t last. This is the sort of boss that will throw you under the bus if she sees the opportunity, and you know it… so tread carefully.

Perspective 3: Your Perspective – Laying the Blame

This is where it gets really interesting.

Even if you lack self-insight completely (which I’m sure you don’t) the feeling of significance you get from making someone else your excuse is likely to be short-lived at best. Because deep down, you know it wasn’t the right thing to do.

Furthermore, you deny yourself an exceedingly valuable opportunity.

The opportunity to learn something new.

When something goes wrong, regardless of whose fault it was, there is always something else you could have done differently to avoid the situation unfolding as it did. Always.

Maybe it was providing greater support and mentorship to someone you delegated a task to. Maybe it was prioritising your time and attention differently. Maybe it was escalating your concerns earlier. Maybe it was in selecting someone for the task who wasn’t yet ready. Maybe (though this is rare) it was not doing it yourself…

Outcomes are always the result of numerous decisions and actions. Review them. Figure out how the situation could have been averted.

I promise you’ll learn something.

Taking Responsibility: What to do Instead…

So what should you do instead?

Take responsibility… even when you aren’t responsible.

I admit, there is risk here. If you have a lousy boss, they’ll look no further than your acceptance of blame and it will end there.

However, most bosses aren’t this bad.

More importantly, your team members and colleagues will know that they contributed to the mess. They may even believe they were entirely culpable… When you take one on the chin for them, as the manager responsible, they will grow in their trust of you, their engagement will increase, and they will go out of their way to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

If you do need to sit them down to provide some feedback, chances are they will take it more seriously, and be more likely to learn from it.

And you will gain a reputation as being someone people want to work for and with – and who they want to get it right for, because they won’t want to let you down.

For more on this topic, check out Responsibility: It’s Never Someone Else’s Fault (Even If It Is)

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4 thoughts on “Excuses: Why Great Leaders Never Make Them”

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Virtual Mentors: Build Your Support Team

'You need to be really great at your job. You need a strong network of peers, and you need a strong network of mentors.' ~ Caroline GhosnClick To Tweet

They say it’s lonely at the top.

They also say it isn’t. Or it shouldn’t be.

Most of the people who say it isn’t are senior execs who haven’t cracked CEO yet, or Founder CEs running their companies like communes (I don’t mean that as a bad thing, by the way).

If, however, you are employed in the position of Chief Executive (or Executive Director or whatever) there are facets of the job that are your burden alone to carry. There is nobody behind you to catch the one that gets through.

Just. You.

Not Arrogance or Ego…

Please be clear, I’m not speaking here about seeming to have all the answers – that’s a fool’s game. Nor am I talking about having no-one to share your mistakes or vulnerabilities with. I make – and have – plenty of both, and I discuss them with people I trust – regardless of their position or status.

That’s like saying “I’m the boss. I have to appear big and strong and certain, and I can’t let anyone else know I have no idea what we should do next”. That’s exhausting – not lonely!

…But Accountability

No, I’m talking about the unique and previously unfathomable sense that you are ultimately responsible for tens, or hundreds, or even thousands of people’s working lives… and the consequences of these for their families. That you can bump into a major stakeholder at the supermarket, or the park with your kids, or when you’re sick, or grumpy or sad. That you are always on. I spoke about this with Hayley Collins in her Podcast last year.

People who have been in this job will know exactly what I’m talking about. The moment you are sitting in the chair, and you realise “there is nobody else”.

People who haven’t will think I must be exaggerating – or it doesn’t sound that bad – but they won’t get it.

Virtual Mentors Help You in the Chair

Even people who have acted in the role don’t get to enjoy this experience. As one of my direct reports said to me when I returned from an overseas trip where she had been acting: “I knew you were coming back”.

My Virtual Mentor Support Team

While you do get used to this feeling, I’ve decided this year to try a new approach to it.

I’ve created a team of virtual mentors. People who I admire and respect. People with a decent body of written or spoken material to delve into. People who demonstrate facets of the leader I hope to be.

I’ve always been an avid reader. But I tend to synthesise what I learn into an increasingly comprehensive multifaceted dynamic world-view. Academics, they say, know more and more about less and less. For me, the more I learn and read, the less separate everything seems to be – the more interconnected the world becomes.

This is great. It’s usually a strength. Except it doesn’t work well for new knowledge that doesn’t yet have anywhere to ‘plug in’ (that I’m not ready for yet) AND while it gives me great intellectual and theoretical understanding, it doesn’t necessarily translate into practical application. For example, I know that Benjamin Franklin had a number of daily rituals that enabled him to be highly productive, but I’ve never specifically put them into practice to see if they work for me!

So I’ve selected a virtual mentor team, and I plan to devour their written and spoken material, and deliberately take notes and experiment with their habits and practices to see if they help me. Even if it’s just to remind me that highly successful people are still just people!

So who are they?

During this year, where it might be interesting, I’ll share some insights, reflections or revelations I have with you. I’m going to update my website to have a bit more about these fantastic folks, and in a coming post, I’ll share how I selected them.

Who would be on your Virtual Mentors Team?  Flick me a note – I’d love to hear!

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Calendars, Resolve and the Human Condition

'Your success and happiness lies in you. Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties.' ~ Helen KellerClick To Tweet

There is a great deal of irony in the human desire to see New Year’s Day as an opportunity to begin again: to turn over a new leaf… to renew… to resolve to be different.

The irony stems from the fact that it is our own egoic brain (and in some cases our collective egoic brain that gives importance and significance to the first of January in any given year. But other than the ability to say “I’ve been doing this all year” or to share a conversation with someone else about New Year’s resolutions and how long you kept them, there is nothing fundamentally different about this morning than there is about any other morning. 1 January doesn’t magically grant us more resolve than we had yesterday!

Except that we bestow upon it a sense of renewal… of restoration… of magical power.

And perhaps, that is enough.

Chip and Dan Heath think so, and their data back it up… We choose to do significant things on significant dates – perhaps because we think those things will consequently be more likely to succeed. Joining the gym, getting married, quitting sugar or smoking or drinking… All likely to happen on a date with significance.


Yet, when you analyse random events – chance encounters, natural occurrences – they fall relatively equally across all the days of the year.

I honestly cannot remember the date I met my husband. It was in May 1999 – but I cannot tell you more than that. Babies are no more likely to be born on 1 January than any other day of the year (with the exception of a date in late September… about nine months after 1 January!)

So why do we bestow such significance and power on some dates and not on others?

I think, perhaps, because it takes matters out of our hands. If people are capable of giving up a major vice – like smoking – on 1 January, they were able to give it up equally successfully on 31 December. So why didn’t they? Because they believed the significance of the date – and possibly the collective momentum of scores of other people doing the same thing at the same time – would help them. Would strengthen their resolve…

And therein lies the rub.

Resolve is internal to you. It isn’t something granted to you by the calendar.

If it’s worth doing, decide to do it.

Regardless of what day it is.

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Picking Up Where We Left Off… Like Old Friends

Picking Up
'Each project, I suffer like I'm starting over again in life. There's a lot of healthy insecurity that fuels this stuff.' ~ Frank GehryClick To Tweet


When I published my book in June I was exhausted. I felt like I’d put all my best ideas and work out on the table… laid it all bare for everyone to see… and yet I knew in my heart of hearts that wasn’t true.

Still, I lost my mojo.

I procrastinated.

Probably I secretly hoped that my book would be a runaway best-seller and I’d be shot to instant super-stardom (it didn’t and I wasn’t).

Or maybe I genuinely needed to recharge creatively. If so, that’s quite interesting. I know more about myself than I did before.

Work got busy. Mr Four became Mr Five and started school. Our routines changed. Seasons came and went.

But I’m still here.


What was interesting was the sense of obligation I felt to those who read this blog. I was worried about those who might be waiting for the next post. For those I’d made commitments to – who’d invested time in me and the work.

But what’s been nice is that I’ve learned three things:

  • You all coped perfectly well (calm down Rebecca’s ego – it’s not all about you!)
  • Commitments can still be kept… better late than never
  • I coped perfectly well too!

Picking Up Again

It’s OK to take a break. Sometimes you need to.

But I’m also glad to be back. I don’t think this blog will be quite the same now – hopefully it will be better. Wiser, maybe?

More real and more clear?

I feel more connected with what I can help with, and who I can help. Less about me, and more about you.

…Like Old Friends

They say true friends can go years without seeing one another, and pick up exactly where they left off…

Well it’s been six months. Thank you for being so patient with me. I hope we’ll see a lot more of each other in the coming year.

If you haven’t already done so, please subscribe to my newsletter. It’s a little burst of goodness in your inbox from time-to-time.

2 thoughts on “Picking Up Where We Left Off… Like Old Friends”

  1. Dear Rebecca,
    It’s good to see you back, recharged. And you’re right. We’re still here – and looking forward to inspiring interaction in the year to come.
    Happy New Year – may it become a wonderful one!
    All the best,


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Detail or Big Picture: The Not-So-Obvious Truth

One of the most common ways that management and individual contributors find themselves at loggerheads, is the sense that each has that the other isn’t paying enough attention to something that they value highly – the individual contributor is frustrated that leadership isn’t paying enough attention to why the subtle differences between thing A and thing B really matter, and leadership doesn’t understand why their team members cannot see the big picture.

I’ve seen this over and over again in my career.

In fact, I learned about this frustration from one of my boss’s bosses. He used to say that his direct reports could see about half of what he could… and their direct reports about a quarter… and so on down the organisational hierarchy, with each tier being able to see half of the one above.

Detail or Big Picture

I remember being a bit miffed at the time because the implication was that his vision was 20:20 and mine (in my lowly tier three role) was requiring prescription lenses at best!

And this perception that team members and their higher-ups have of each other is compelling because it’s mostly true… most of the time.

So what matters more – detail or big picture?

What I’ve come to learn – and it’s backed up by theories from some of the smartest leadership development thinkers out there – is that this is only part of the truth.

Vertical learning

In a series of White Papers coming out of the Centre for Creative Leadership, Nick Petrie outlines a very relatable metaphor for vertical learning in the context of leadership development. He says people need to think about the human mind like a drinking glass. Traditional leadership development aims to pour more and more content into the glass and eventually it overflows… no more information can go in and be retained. He suggests that instead, leadership development needs to focus on increasing the size of the glass… in other words, how we think, rather than what we think.

 Truly effective leaders – those that enable organisations to create value in highly uncertain times – are those that are able to think differently.

In his PhD dissertation titled Conscious Leadership for Sustainability: How Leaders with a Late-Stage Action Logic Design and Engage in Sustainability Initiatives, Barrett C. Brown outlines his research into the kinds of leaders that are able to drive sustainable change initiatives – change that sticks. He concludes that leaders with the three later stages of action logic (there are seven according to Harvard Business Review – you can find out more about them here – they do not have data on the eighth) – that is: Strategists; Alchemists; and Ironists – are far more likely to lead change that actually… changes.

One of the characteristics that separates these later stages from the earlier ones, is the ability to hold apparently contradictory concepts as both being true.

 Truly great leaders – those that successfully navigate the pitfalls and challenges of sustained high performance over the long term – like those Jim Collins describes in Good to Great – know that the vision and the detail matter. That if you spend all of your time focused on the vision, the details will trip you up… and if you spend your time down in the weeds focusing on the small stuff, the vision will be missing and people will lack direction – or worse, major opportunities will pass your organisation by.

How to increase your focus on the detail and the vision

 So let’s explore some ways you can build your strength at jumping between these two perspectives…

First, realise they are just two different perspectives…

I love exploring foreign cities – just walking and meandering and finding the hidden vistas and shops and secret places. But I also love climbing the tallest landmark  to get a sense of scale. I love trying to figure out the places I’ve been and then navigating from there to the coffee bar down the street or back to my hotel. You get a sense of relative distance and size. And sometimes you spot somewhere you might like to explore, that you’d never see from street level.

Different. Not better or worse.

Second, recognise which one is your preference

This is really important, because you certainly will privilege one perspective over the other, and your colleagues will be aware of it, and interpret that as a values-based judgment. In other words “she spends all her time thinking about the vision and the strategy, and yet places no value on the importance of me getting the detail right in the work I do… therefore she doesn’t value me.”

So next, start thinking about your language and the way you spend your time. And try to redress the balance – even if it feels unnatural in the beginning.

If you like to spend lots of time thinking about the future direction of the company, spend an hour working on the production line or in the customer service department. If you love interpreting spreadsheets and financial data, get out to one of your major client’s businesses and learn about their industry and the challenges they are facing.

Be deliberate about how you spend your time and energy. It will make a difference.

Then make it true for you…

 That’s all well and good, I hear you say, but I’m not really a details person… or I struggle with the big picture because its too vague and insubstantial…

True. Both true.

But there are things you can do to strengthen your leadership muscles…

Change your narrative

The stories we tell hold great power. They carry our ‘truth’.

Detail or Big Picture

We talk to ourselves in stories all the time – often we’re completely unaware of it. So listen up, and pay attention. If you hear yourself saying things like this…

  • People are either good at detail or big picture – you can’t do both
  • I’m not a details person
  • I’m not good at vision or strategy
  • My boss is the visionary, she needs me to focus on the details
  • My team just doesn’t get it… they can’t see things the way I do

…catch yourself. While all these things might be currently true, they don’t have to be. So change your story:

  • People might prefer either detail or big picture – but can improve both
  • I am learning to pay attention to details
  • My role hasn’t required me to focus on vision or strategy, but I’m going to learn how
  • There are actually important details my boss needs to be aware of, and my job is to understand the vision and my contribution to it
  • Other people might see things differently – I value that

Doing this will enable you to demonstrate you value your non-preferred trait and you’ll actually change your own abilities over time.

Ask great questions

I love great questions. They are powerful paradigm shifters. They enable breakthrough thinking and at their best, they allow the person asking to unlock insights and experience that was previously locked away – either in their own mind, or the minds of their colleagues.

Problem Solving

If you know that your preference is for big picture thinking, here are some questions you might consider asking to ensure you haven’t lost the trees for the wood…

  • What are the specific impacts of this decision on [particular customer or colleague’s role] that I need to be aware of?
  • If my assumptions about market growth are out by 5%, what are the implications in terms of specific processes, products and people?
  • What would the receptionist think about this?
  • What one fact could radically alter my assumptions?
  • How can I ensure I have adequate knowledge of the details that matter?

If you know that your preference is in the details, here are some questions you might consider asking to ensure you aren’t seeing the world with blinkers on…

  • What might my boss know that would change the relative impact of this information/data?
  • How would I explain this to my nana/grandma so that she would understand?
  • How can I turn this information/data into a story that means something to my peers?
  • What makes this data/information significant to the organisation’s strategic direction?
  • What could I do differently that would help other people value this information more?

Practice empathy

As our leadership practice evolves, we become more and more aware that not everyone thinks the same way we do. Not everyone processes information in the same way. Not everyone responds to stress and pressure in the same way we do. Not everyone cares about spelling and grammar as much as we do.

Pick someone you respect, and think about the issue from their perspective. Particularly someone who you suspect (or know) might be opposite to you in terms of their preference for big picture or detail focus. Imagine a day in their role. Think about the issues that might arise for them. The ways their perspective might shape the way they interpret events.

And regardless of whether you are a detail or big picture thinker, acknowledge that organisations and teams need both – value both. And accept that you can do both… if you put your mind to it.

More Than This

My new book, More Than This: Your Heroic Quest to Find Inspiration, Intent, Impact and Insight in a Broken World, is exactly what you need to:

  • Clarify and articulate your passion – to find your why
  • Gain the courage and commitment to do something about it
  • Learn and strengthen the skills you need to create massive impact
  • Stay true, analyse your results and gain powerful insights

More Than This

Available in paperback and Kindle from now.

2 thoughts on “Detail or Big Picture: The Not-So-Obvious Truth”

    • Hi Ken!
      I’m really pleased you found it useful – I’ve been pretty inconsistent with my writing over the past couple of months, wondering if I should wrap it up… so knowing there are people finding value will help me recommit! Obviously that wasn’t your point in stopping by, but I appreciate it all the same! 😊



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Problem Solving: If Ya Gotta Problem… Yo, I’ll Solve It

Problem SolvingI’m not too proud to admit that as an impressionable ‘tween’ I had a girl-crush on Vanilla Ice. In fact, if you’d popped round to our house for a cuppa, you’d probably find me in the lounge playing Ice Ice Baby at full volume, singing and dancing as though no one was watching (which thankfully they weren’t). In my heart of hearts I’m a problem solver. I love problem solving. Maybe it was the lyrics to this song that led me in that direction (probably not)… but regardless, I’m at my best, I’m in flow, when I’m trying to nut out a wicked problem that has defied previous attempts to find a solution.

As my career has progressed, and the roles I’ve held have become more and more senior, I have also learned that not only can I not solve everyone’s problems. But nor should I.

While there are always a small set of problems that are my responsibility to resolve, most of the problems need to be solved by others.

My job is not to provide the answers, my job is to help others find their own answers.

So in this article, we’ll take a look at how to let your team do their own problem solving.

Resisting your ego’s determination to demonstrate competence

'Being at ease with not knowing is crucial for answers to come to you.' ~ Eckhart TolleClick To Tweet

Most of your career you’ve needed to prove yourself. You’ve been asked for examples of how you’ve delivered x or y. You’ve been expected to toot your own horn and constantly compete amongst your peers for the limited attention of a boss who probably doesn’t really know what ‘good’ looks like.

Every interview, every performance review, every promotion opportunity…

And let’s be honest – irrespective of whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, regardless of whether you enjoy the limelight or would rather work quietly behind the scenes – your ego likes to know that you’ve been recognised for your contribution, for your expertise, and for the value that you bring to the table each and every day.

So much so, that our negative self-talk tends to step into overdrive whenever we sense we’ve been looked over, or undervalued in some way.

“What have we done? What should we have done? Who said something about us? Did we drop the ball?”

And while men and women tend to respond differently to this situations, the cause is the same – our ego feels threatened. And it will overreact in a compensatory way.

There are two things that will help you overcome this. Mindfulness and changing your narrative.


Mindfulness (usually emerging from a meditation practice) will enable you to see what is happening, and observe it – reflect upon it – in a more objective fashion, increasing the likelihood that you can override your instinctive response,

Changing your narrative

But changing your narrative is even more important. Organisations thrive when they have high performing teams. Not when they have only high performing individuals.

If people you work with – or better still, people who work for you – solve a tricky problem in an innovative way, it reflects on the team… including the role you play in leading or contributing to that team.

Just don’t let this morph into claiming all the credit… otherwise you should have just done it yourself. And that’s not leadership!

Creating an environment of psychological safety

'Teamwork requires some sacrifice up front; people who work as a team have to put the collective needs of the group ahead of their individual interests.' ~ Patrick LencioniClick To Tweet

Now the thing with serious problems is that nobody knows the answer. There’s ambiguity, and a lack of clarity, and a range of completely unknown variables that make certainty and decisiveness really challenging. They aren’t called wicked problems for nothing.

Problem Solving

So, inevitably, to find a credible solution requires some trial and error. It requires people being willing to put forward ideas that might seem silly at first. They need to be prepared to suggest changing. Or stopping. Or starting.

Our brains don’t like this, and we can easily slip into dismissiveness. So we need to guard against that. Nobody wants their suggestion dismissed out of hand, and if they think it will happen, they won’t make a suggestion at all.

Remember, your team members will predict your future behaviour based on your past track record. If they’ve seen you be dismissive or worse – punitive –  for a silly or wrong idea in the past, then you can forget about it…

So you need to start building a track record now that demonstrates that you are prepared to tolerate some failure. That you are willing for a few missteps to be taken before the correct path is found. And most importantly, that you’ve got their backs with your superiors and aren’t going to throw them under the bus at the first sign of speed wobbles higher up the organisation.

Remember, everything you do is on show, and people are watching you for clues as to what you expect, and what you value. If you want problem solving, you need to set the conditions for that to happen right from the outset. It is also the only way you get genuine diversity of opinion into the solution.

Learning how to ask questions that prompt deep reflective thinking

'Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.' ~ VoltaireClick To Tweet

There are questions… and then there are questions. Problem solving requires great questions.

Problem Solving

Things that make you go… uhhh.

  • What makes it important for us to solve this problem?
  • Who else cares about the problem (and the solution) and why?
  • What have we tried before that might teach us something new?
  • What assumptions are we making that need to be tested?
  • What else could be contributing to this problem
  • Who benefits from the problem remaining unsolved?

Great questions can take you a long way.

The real challenge is not answering them yourself! When your brain hears a question, it desperately wants to answer it. It wants to prove competence and value. It wants to complete the sentence. It wants to close the loop.

Letting go of the desire to control the process

'As a leader, these attributes - confidence, perseverance, work ethic and good sense - are all things I look for in people. I also try to lead by example and create an environment where good questions and good ideas can come from anyone.' ~ Heather BreschClick To Tweet

Believe it or not, you are not the smartest guy (or gal) in the room. And if you are, I suggest you find yourself a different room.

Problem Solving

Ego is not a friend of creative problem solving. Your ego will tell you that your way is best. The solution you come up with is better than anything others will come up with.

This is a surefire way to ending up as the only person in your team!

You need to accept that the solution might not be the one you would have come up with. It might not be as neat, or as refined. It might not even be quite as effective.

The only way to combat this is to focus on the outcome you need. Be as specific as you can about the result. Not the way to achieve it.

And sometimes, your team will surprise you can exceed your expectations. That’s not something that you can do!

Having (and demonstrating) deep trust in your team

Trust them and get out of the way.

They have the answers within them. They are whole complete beings. You employed them for a reason.

So let them get on with it.

My new book, More Than This: Your Heroic Quest to Find Inspiration, Intent, Impact and Insight in a Broken World, is exactly what you need to:

  • Clarify and articulate your passion – to find your why
  • Gain the courage and commitment to do something about it
  • Learn and strengthen the skills you need to create massive impact
  • Stay true, analyse your results and gain powerful insights

More Than This

Available in paperback and Kindle from now.

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Emotional Overwhelm – When Your Feelings are Just Too Big

Have you ever cared about something so much that it hurts? Maybe a person – a loved one, or a cause? Have you ever felt a lump forming in your throat just thinking about the what-ifs? An emotional overwhelm so big it threatens to engulf you?

I have.

Or should I say, I do.

In the abstract, my raw emotional edges are most on show when I think about situations where people – usually vulnerable people – are in a powerless position and cannot speak out for themselves. Cases of child abuse (and animal abuse), domestic violence particularly when I can feel that another human being’s last hours have been wracked with pain and suffering… and an inability to change the outcome.

I’m not sure whether I’m unusual or completely normal in this. Maybe I just haven’t figured out how to cauterise these raw nerve endings like other people have. But my recently released book includes an introduction where I talk about two specific cases that cause me deep distress. To write that introduction I had to read about the situations involved…

And they continue to haunt me.

On the one hand, I want to find a way to make the pain go away… and on the other I worry that doing so is a type of numbness that will prevent me from doing what I am called to do.

So today I’m going to talk about the tactics I’ve been using to try and cope with really big feelings, in the hope that it might help – either me or you – deal with emotional overwhelm.

Grievances you perceive…

Firstly, I am the first to acknowledge that everybody is different. I know that the things that upset me, don’t upset other people, and that the things that upset other people often don’t upset me.

Let me be clear, I’m not suggesting that anyone thinks that child abuse is acceptable, I simply mean it doesn’t overwhelm everyone. Some people are able to process it and not have it haunt them. I’m really glad about that.

But there will be something… Something that tugs on your capacity to cope… and to hope.

I recently wrote an article about my visit to the Victor Frankl Museum in Vienna. There was an exhibit there that included the quote:

“Grievances that you perceive in the world are references to values that are important to you. Just to complain about them is not enough. Through your activity you can change grievances. This is your mission.”Click To Tweet

Now the challenge – if you accept this is true – is that you are now required not to turn your back on that thing that makes you uncomfortable. That thing that causes you pain. Avoidance is not an option.

So what can you do?

Spend time looking into the void…

There is a gap between what is… and what could be. What should be. This is the source of the emotional overwhelm. The bigger the gap – the wider the void – the more uncomfortable it’s existence seems to feel.

So, if you are strong enough, look into the void. Give it words. Give it shape. Give it form, if you can. Name it.

I cannot accept that child abuse and domestic violence are inevitable. I believe there are ways to solve this wicked problem, though I do not yet know what they are.

What I do know is that assuming it is inevitable guarantees that no-one is looking to solve it. So I refuse. I ask questions of myself about what causes it. What sustains it. Active, open-ended questions that are designed to force my brain to seek solutions. To work hard. To avoid slipping into a resigned acceptance of what is, and instead focus squarely on what should be.

Seek forgiveness…

In my case, I think that some of the reason why I find the emotional overwhelm so strongly is that I feel like I should have been able to do something about it.

Intellectually, I know that this is silly. I don’t know the people involved. I don’t work in one of the agencies that might have been able to intervene.

Yet I can see their beautiful little faces before me in those last hours, begging for help.

So I (mentally) wrap them with love and ask for their forgiveness.

They always tell me it’s not my fault… and even though this is a process running entirely in my own head, it seems to help.

…but do not run away

'Despair is a narcotic. It lulls the mind into indifference.' ~ Charlie ChaplinClick To Tweet

But I do not let myself off the hook here.

Emotional Overwhelm

I do not self-medicate (I don’t drink alcohol), I don’ try to make the feelings go away. I just acknowledge them for what they are, and I ask myself what am I called to do. What is it that would enable me to make a difference here. What is the problem I am being called to solve.

Focus on what you are grateful for…

I do, however, need to function in the world. Luckily, the human soul is generally fairly resilient. It’s capacity to remember pain and suffering is relatively short-lived.

So when I need to put on my big-girl-pants, I focus on listing the things I am grateful for. Family, friends, my work, the time and place that I find myself in, and the beauty of the world around me.

I figure that when I am ready, the answer will appear.

In the meantime, I will thrive without becoming numb.

My new book, More Than This: Your Heroic Quest to Find Inspiration, Intent, Impact and Insight in a Broken World, is exactly what you need to:

  • Clarify and articulate your passion – to find your why
  • Gain the courage and commitment to do something about it
  • Learn and strengthen the skills you need to create massive impact
  • Stay true, analyse your results and gain powerful insights

More Than This

Available in paperback and Kindle from now.

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First Impressions: Why You Must Switch Off the Autopilot

When someone visits your home – especially if it’s the first time they have visited – chances are, you spend a little bit of time getting ready for them to arrive. You care about their first impressions.

'A thousand words will not leave so deep an impression as one deed.' ~ Henrik IbsenClick To Tweet

You might tidy up a bit. You might plump the cushions. You might vacuum. You might make sure you have something nice to offer them to eat. Heaven forbid, you might even bake something really yummy.

You want to make a good first impression, right? You care about what this person thinks about you. Your home. We see our homes as an extension of ourselves. We express ourselves in our choice of furniture. In our choice of décor. In our choices about the things we buy – how many or how few. And whether things are tidy or not. Both inside and outside.

First Impressions at Work

We might say we don’t, but we actually do care about what people think. We care about the impression we leave them with. And we care about the assumptions our visitors make into our character from the homes we choose to live in.

Now if you are a manager, I would hazard a guess that you don’t pay nearly as much attention to the first impression a new employee has of your organisation.

But I assure you – they are making all the same judgments about you, your organisation, your products, and the culture and character of the leaders within the organisation as a new visitor to your own home.

Have you ever found yourself asking a new team member, at the end of their first day (partly jokingly partly not) “will we see you again tomorrow”? Or the next day, when they do come in to the office “hey! You came back!”

Don’t worry – you’re not alone.

There are two things contributing to this.

The first is that you’re busy. I get it.

Schemas, Shortcuts and the Ability to ‘See’

The second is that your brain normalises things that it sees every day. Your work place is one of these things. It is so routine now that you have to work really hard to see things as they actually are, rather than how you think they are. In psychological terms, this is called a schema. You have built a fully functional mental model of the things around you. Instead of seeing the component parts (the messy desks, the Dilbert cartoons by the photocopier, the grime in the staff room) you see ‘your work’. One thing. The way it always is.

This is a useful skill. It allows you to spot something different really quickly.

But it also has a weakness. You stop seeing what is actually there.

I recently wrote an article about my ‘universal theory of leadership’… that leadership is acting entirely without self-interest. If that is the definition of leadership, then one of the most important and valuable skills of a leader is acting deliberately.

Too many leaders and managers (and actually people in general) are on autopilot. They do things the same way they’ve always done them. This is super efficient. You can make decisions more quickly, you can hustle. You can ‘get shit done’. You will demonstrate an action orientation.

This is useful for managers, when they are managing processes and systems where consistency is important. When it is important to be able to quickly spot the difference… the error… the odd one out.

One definition I’ve read about the difference between leaders and managers is that managers focus on making sure things stay the same, while leaders focus on the way things could be. So this makes sense. Autopilot. Safe, reliable, consistent… Until its not.

Switching Off the Autopilot

'Very often, human beings are living like on autopilot, reacting automatically with what happens. What interests me about the life of an explorer is you are in the unknown; you are out of your habits.' ~ Bertrand PiccardClick To Tweet

So how do you switch off the autopilot? How do you become deliberate, and actually choose what to see, what to do, what to say?

First Impressions Autopilot

Funnily enough, the first step is realising that you aren’t.

Pause right now, wherever you are while you’re readying this, and look around you.

No – I mean really look.

What can you see? Imagine that you’re looking for the very first time. Notice the colours. Notice the shapes. Notice how one thing relates to another… or doesn’t.

Notice how what you see makes you feel. Does it feel warm and inviting? Or cold and inhospitable?

Do the things you can see tell you a story? What is the story? Do you think it is the story these things are intended to tell?

To improve your ability to do this, to switch off the autopilot and make deliberate decisions, you need to practice meditation. In some form or other. It could be as simple as repeating the ‘looking’ exercise from earlier in this article once a day. It could be closing your eyes for 2 minutes and following your breath in and out.

It doesn’t really matter – what matters is finding something that works for you.

And next time you have a new staff member joining your team, spend some time thinking about what impression of your organisation you want to make. How do you want that new team member to feel on their first day?

Do you want them to feel like you couldn’t wait for them to arrive, and you’re excited to have them on the team? Or that it’s a bit of an inconvenience having to train someone up…

Do you want them to feel like this is their new home away from home? Or that this is a place that couldn’t even bother to spell their name correctly…

Remember – this is their first day. They are seeing everything. And what they see will create their schema of the workplace.

You only get one opportunity for first impressions.

My new book, More Than This: Your Heroic Quest to Find Inspiration, Intent, Impact and Insight in a Broken World, is exactly what you need to:

  • Clarify and articulate your passion – to find your why
  • Gain the courage and commitment to do something about it
  • Learn and strengthen the skills you need to create massive impact
  • Stay true, analyse your results and gain powerful insights

More Than This

Available from now.

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More Than This: The Power of Momentum

The following text is an extract from More Than This: Your Heroic Quest to Find Inspiration, Intent, Impact and Insight 

Excellent. Now you are inspired. You have overcome indecision. And you have clearly and specifically set your intent. It’s time to get moving… to overcome inertia.

Have you ever push-started a car?

More Than This Car

It’s less of a thing these days, as modern cars tend to be more reliable (or maybe we simply don’t keep them for as long) but it used to be that cars would breakdown – particularly their batteries would run down if you accidentally left the lights on. And to get them started again, you either needed another car with jumper cables so that you could use its battery to start your car or you needed someone to give you a push so you could ‘bumpstart’ the car once it was moving.

I was on the pushing end of this a few times as a kid. (I also did it once in high-heels on the grounds of the Australian Federal Parliament, but that’s another story!) And the hardest thing was getting the vehicle moving from stationary. Once it was moving a little bit, it became easier and easier to speed it up further, and to keep it moving. Why? Because the vehicle’s own weight started to gain momentum of its own. It was moving, so it would keep moving with only enough force exerted to overcome the friction from the air and a little bit of friction and resistance from the tires and axle.

Changing habits and altering the course of your otherwise relatively comfortable life is like that too.

Compound that effect if you are also talking about a goal that impacts on other people, and even more if your goal involves changing entire systems (like public policy, social service delivery or a commercial entity). All of those people and systems have their own momentum, that gently but forcefully carries them on in the direction they are already going.

More Than This Dog

Early in my public service career, a senior leader I worked for likened changing big systems to altering the course of a large ship. Or even a fleet. It is very hard to change direction once it has built up a head of steam, and when there is more than one entity involved, the change in direction must be incredibly tightly orchestrated and co-ordinated if it is going to have the desired effect quickly and efficiently.

Now Nigel likes this fact. He likes it for a couple of reasons.

First, it means that there isn’t always any discernible impact from your efforts for a while once you start.

“See!” he says, “it’s not working, I told you so!”

Second, he can play on your fears even more than at any other stage to this point…

“It’s going to be really hard to move this beast around, what if you pour all your efforts and hard work into getting the fleet to start changing course only to realise you’ve sent it in the wrong direction? Getting it to turn back again will be even more difficult!”

Nigel would really like you to give up and go back to your safe, routine life. He doesn’t really like the idea of directing fleets of ships… especially through potentially turbulent seas.

At this point, I need to remind you that the ocean-going vessel story is just a metaphor. Unless your goal is actually to redirect a flotilla, it’s just a collection of words that create some mental imagery for you. And as with all metaphors, you should only use them when they are useful to you.

More Than This ShipsIn this case, when you feel a little discouraged that you aren’t seeing the magnitude of results that you’d hoped as quickly as you’d hoped, then remember that it is tricky to start something moving, and even harder to change its direction (but there are ways that you can divert it without directly resisting the forces at play).

Think about nudges.

Sometimes, when an object – a heavy object – is moving at pace in a particular direction, a gentle nudge on the side can help it change direction quite quickly. This works best when it is only a minor correction that is needed. It’s less effective if you actually need the object to go in the opposite direction than the one it was headed in.

When you do need to do a complete 180 degree direction shift, you need to seriously consider whether it will be more effective to exert directly opposite (and greater) pressure to get the object to stop completely, then reverse OR to use a sequence of gentle side-nudges to carefully steer the object round in a complete 180 degrees without directly opposing its momentum.

Sorry for the physics lesson, but sometimes the mental imagery is useful – the trick is figuring out how to apply it to non-physical objects!

But to extend the metaphor just a little, you’ve now got yourself in motion… how do you maintain that when the world conspires to resist your efforts?

My new book, More Than This: Your Heroic Quest to Find Inspiration, Intent, Impact and Insight in a Broken World, is exactly what you need to:

  • Clarify and articulate your passion – to find your why
  • Gain the courage and commitment to do something about it
  • Learn and strengthen the skills you need to create massive impact
  • Stay true, analyse your results and gain powerful insights

More Than This

Available from now.


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More Than This: Your Heroic Quest

What is your greatest fear? What is it that makes you angry. Or sad. Or frustrated beyond measure. What is the ‘thing’ that would give you the energy, commitment, dedication and passion to get up every day and be your best self? Your true self. The version of you that you were born to be?

My new book, More Than This: Your Heroic Quest to Find Inspiration, Intent, Impact and Insight in a Broken World, is exactly what you need to:

  • Clarify and articulate your passion – to find your why
  • Gain the courage and commitment to do something about it
  • Learn and strengthen the skills you need to create massive impact
  • Stay true, analyse your results and gain powerful insights
'Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.' ~ Lao TzuClick To Tweet

You know you are destined to achieve big things, but where do you start? How do you even figure out what the first step might be? You are surrounded by complex problems that seem to have no solution, and you see amazing things happening ‘out there’ in the world… so remote… so un-relatable.

Yet those incredible role-models you look up to… those phenomenal individuals who seem to effortlessly change the world  – in business, in philanthropy, in community work, in academia, in any domain you care to mention – they are just like you. Seriously.

They have doubts, and fears. They have an inner critic telling them they’re fooling themselves. They have moments of dread. And just like you, the wonder whether they are enough.

Yet they do it anyway.

From your family, to your community, to your workplace, country, or the whole world. Whatever it is you are called to do, More Than This will help you do it.

Goal setting is for average people – but you are anything but average. Instead, you need to think big. But act small. And this book shows you how.

Available from now.

More Than This

Read a sample from More Than This here and here.

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More Than This: Who Needs Inspiration Anyway?

The following text is an extract from More Than This: Your Heroic Quest to Find Inspiration, Intent, Impact and Insight  It is from Part 1: Inspiration. It follows on from a previous post – Why Your Leadership Matters

“I decided that it was not wisdom that enabled poets to write their poetry, but a kind of instinct or inspiration, such as you find in seers and prophets who deliver all their sublime messages without knowing in the least what they mean.” SocratesClick To Tweet

Inspiration is the foundation of this journey. If you aren’t inspired, you can expect a life of sitting on the couch watching reruns of Everybody Loves Raymond.

That doesn’t mean your life won’t be full and feel significant to you. I’m not making any judgments about what you choose to do with your life. But if you picked up this book because you’re looking for something more… it all starts with inspiration.

More Than This Inspiration

Inspiration usually starts as something external – something out in the world. Your job is to internalise it. You have to bring it inside you. You have to connect it with who you are and the experiences and memories that define you. Otherwise, it will remain something out there, and your motivation to do something about it will remain idle.

I wrote this book because I don’t have all the answers. If I had all the answers, I’d just head out into the world and start fixing all the things I can see myself. That would be super inspiring and intentional and impactful. But I have supreme confidence that somebody, somewhere, is going to come up with simple, elegant solutions to some of the world’s problems that will be completely different to anything I would come up with. Better still, I know that some of you are going to solve problems that I don’t even know exist. How awesome is that!

A care package for the planet that gets us all back on an even keel. Or a nanoparticle that consumes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and returns it to the earth. A training package for first-time parents that’s super cheap to deliver and builds resilience and communication skills so that parents are better equipped to handle the inevitable ups and downs of raising kids without resorting to violence. The democratisation of healthcare. The tools to feed everyone on the planet without destroying it. The marketing campaign that persuades people not to harvest white rhino horns or elephant tusks. The device that collects and breaks-down plastics safely so they don’t kill sea-life. The therapy that prevents Alzheimer’s Disease or cures cancer.

Whatever it is that makes you cross or angry or determined… that. That’s what you can do. Don’t worry if you don’t know how.Click To Tweet

Nobody knows how until they have. Don’t worry if you don’t have a team to help you. Nobody does until they start building one. Don’t worry if you don’t have the money. Nobody does, until they start asking for it.

We start our lives as idealists – in the main. We believe we can do anything, be anything, achieve anything we set our minds to, until somebody – usually very well-meaning, a parent or a teacher – starts telling us we can’t. Or we shouldn’t. To be more realistic.

More Than This Inspiration

But now, if you’ve worked through the exercises in this section, you should be feeling a stirring – the beginnings of an inspired journey. An itch to get started. And maybe a little bit of fear as well. A little bit of self-doubt. That’s good. It means you’re on to something. Don’t let that stop you. You haven’t really done anything yet, and it certainly isn’t anything scary or dangerous! You’ve written some words and talked to somebody about your memories… No sabre-tooth tigers.

But hopefully you can now understand why we start with inspiration. It’s an incredibly important motivator. Some of it comes from within you – things you’ve already experienced and learned. But you also need to feed it. You need to maintain its potency by adding to it. By fuelling it. By seeking out sources of inspiration – positive and negative, big and small – around you every day and putting this into the engine. You wouldn’t buy a brand new Tesla and then never plug it in, would you?

You need the engine and the fuel to make it run. And that fuel does get used up, so you need to replenish it.

And most importantly, you need to learn and believe that inspiration isn’t some flighty thing that may or may not happen on any given day, but that it is something you have control over. You just need to choose it. You need to seek it out. You need to want it and look for it.

The rest is just implementation…



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More Than This: Why Your Leadership Matters

The following text is an extract from More Than This: Your Heroic Quest to Find Inspiration, Intent, Impact and Insight 

I want to teach you what I’ve learned about kick-starting your life. I want to give you the tools you’ll need to build and sustain massive momentum. And I want to help you create and achieve the kind of impact that you’ve always dreamed you’d make – irrespective of whether you’re the executive assistant or the chief executive.

I’ve noticed that most people constrain what they are capable of based on what they see happening around them. Most people are resigned. They are resigned to the fact that politicians are corrupt and aren’t trying to fix the problems occurring in the country. They are resigned to the fact that climate change is inevitable and cannot be influenced by human effort. They are resigned to the fact that some people are just bad, and will do bad things no matter what happens. They are resigned to the fact that some people have to sweep the streets and empty the rubbish bins and mop the floors. They are resigned to the fact that there are so many problems in the world that there’s no point trying to do anything about it.

When did you give up on your dreams? And what brought it about? And more importantly, how do you feel about it now? Are you relieved? Does it remove the pressure? Or is there just a little bit of you that resents the fact that you’ve ‘settled’ for less?

We talk about people leading their lives, but we dismiss what leadership means in this context. It’s almost like ‘leading a life’ is some lesser form of leadership – or not leadership at all.

I want you to change that thinking right now. You are the chief executive of you. Nobody else can hold that role. And you shouldn’t let anybody else hold that role.

Leadership is not a job. It’s something everybody does every day. The question is not whether you lead – but why, how and for what purpose?Click To Tweet

We live in interesting times. A quick scan of the world headlines and it’s plain to see that chasms are opening up within society that seem unfathomably deep and unbridgeable…

Previously impenetrable boundaries are being crossed with ease…

Simple slogans are winning out over facts with alarming regularity…

Leadership matters in many ways. It matters for the ability to see a better future, and to share that vision with people. It matters for the ability to nurture and grow others. It matters for the ability to foster innovation and growth. It matters for the ability to inspire others to be the best versions of themselves.

But leadership matters most when it overcomes the temptation to reduce complicated things to catchy slogans, and when it enables people to understand and engage with wicked problems in new and creative ways.

When I look at the world we live in, it is clear to me that people exactly like you need to step up and lead.Click To Tweet

Now I don’t (just) mean positional leadership – like managers and CEOs. I mean leaders in the broadest sense – leaders of movements, leaders of people, leaders of ideas, leaders of change, leaders of impactful lives.

There are a multitude of problems crying out for solutions: from climate change, to famine, to civil war, to inequality, to human rights abuses, to corruption, to nuclear arms proliferation, to drought, to child abuse…

If you have ever looked at these problems – or problems like them – and thought “I wish I could do something about that”, then this book is for you. This book will help you find the inspiration to reach out and tackle that big (or modest or small) problem you care about. Then it will help you turn that inspiration into actual intent.

A decision to do something.

Then it will give you the tools and skills to impact change in the world. Not just because you can, but because you must. You, your family, your friends and the world, need you to.

Great leaders revel in the challenge of reconciling two apparently irreconcilable ideas, because they know that is where the creativity happens.

Great leaders embrace the grey areas between polar opposites, because they know life is seldom black and white.

Great leaders explore the murky complexities of important issues, because they know the devil can be in the detail.

Great leaders critically examine slogans and by-lines to see whether they pass the sniff-test, because they know that salespitches leave out the most important features in a bid to appeal to our emotions.

Great leaders recognise that by simplifying things to their barest essentials, we lose the essence of what made them important in the first place.

Leadership matters because sometimes long-held conventions are no longer sufficient to protect our institutions and systems from tearing themselves apart.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying complexity is good and simplicity is bad – I’m saying it’s never that simple.

I fundamentally believe that all people have the potential within them to achieve greatness. There are plenty of things in the world to worry about – and some of them you can do something about. Actually many of them.

But only if you’re prepared to not do something else.

For the rest, have hope and optimism in your fellow human beings, and get on with making the very best of the cards you have been dealt. Within that hand lies the power to make a real difference – to your life, to the lives of your family and friends, and to the lives of millions of people all around the world.

Let’s get inspired, set our intention, and impact the world for the better!

More Than This



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Beyond Self-Interest: What is Leadership Really?

'Leadership is not about the next election, it's about the next generation.' ~ Simon SinekClick To Tweet

I’m curious about leadership and it’s potential to make a real difference in our lives – from the micro-level of families and communities, right through to the macro-level of nations and international partnerships. But I’ve always struggled to define it clearly. At least, to distinguish between leadership for good and leadership for… well, less good. It’s about power, and it’s about service. But all of these things can be manipulated. Which got me wondering about the role of self-interest in leadership…

Self-Interest Children

When I first started writing about leadership a little over a year ago, I wasn’t sure if I knew nearly enough to produce two cogent articles a week for more than a few weeks (and by the way, I’m still not sure whether my articles qualify as cogent).

But I was also fascinated with the idea of seeking what I cheekily call a “Unified Theory of Leadership”. The idea of distilling this illusive thing called leadership down to a truly useful and meaningful set of rules or identifying characteristics that would enable people to clearly ‘know it when they see it’. To be able to put their finger on what it is that makes one act leadership… and another one (by the same person or organisation) clearly not leadership.

Today, I’m cautiously optimistic that I’ve found it. Let me explain.

Leadership as influence

'The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.' ~ Ken BlanchardClick To Tweet

There’s a compelling school of thought that describes leadership as influence. The ability to get other people to do what you want them to do. Or at least to do something they wouldn’t have done on their own.

Leadership Myths

This is compelling because we intuitively understand that a leader without followers is really just a single person doing something. And sometimes doing something influences others to act, but more often than not, it doesn’t.

However, influence can be deliberate or accidental. If I behave poorly in a meeting – I call out a colleague’s stupid idea in front of their peers – I’m pretty sure I’ve induced that person to behave differently. At least in meetings with me. It probably wasn’t my intention to create that impact though. I might have been having a bad day, or been frustrated that the meeting wasn’t going well…

Surely accidental influence isn’t really leadership?

So it seems plausible that we can influence without leading. So leadership includes influence, but not all influence is leadership.

Leadership as learnable character traits

'Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without the strategy.' ~ Norman SchwarzkopfClick To Tweet

I’ve written about this before – the old nature/nurture debate. It’s reassuring for those of us starting out in our leadership journey to believe that leadership can be taught. Like accounting. Or marketing. Or driving.

Such traits include optimism, drive, energy, a dash of charisma, persistence, empathy, self-awareness… the list goes on.

Self-Interest Chess Strategy

And these things are great, and mostly teachable. This is reassuring!

Yet I know at least as many people with these traits who are not leaders as I do who are.

There are people who display many or most of these traits in an individual contributor role, but once promoted to a management  position appear to lose the plot.

Equally, there are people who can be fantastic leaders in one setting, yet display no leadership in another. Context seems to matter.

A perfectly capable leader can behave in a way that we see as inconsistent with leadership. If it was simply the presence of a suite of character traits, this ought not be the case.

Leadership as the absence of self-interest

'Only those who have learned the power of sincere and selfless contribution experience life's deepest joy: true fulfilment.' ~ Tony RobbinsClick To Tweet

When I think of the people I aspire to be like – the great leaders throughout history, from national figures to the creator of the student volunteer army (which started in Christchurch literally to shovel poop-filled mud out of people’s driveways following the Canterbury earthquakes), the common characteristic isn’t charisma, or vision, or energy – though many of them have these things…

It’s a complete lack of self-interest.

Personal Leadership Contribution

When we perceive someone is acting without self-interest, we inherently trust them. Rather than spending a whole lot of time trying to figure out how I’m about to be exploited, I leap in and lend a hand. We don’t mind if someone ultimately benefits from their leadership (for example, they’re being paid) but that can’t be why they’re doing it.

It’s related to martyrdom, in some regards. Throughout history we’ve revered people who incurred (or risked) significant personal cost in pursuit of a higher purpose.

They have conviction – and that conviction can be followed through even at their own expense. Look at Steve Jobs. He was kicked out of his own company.

…or the perception of self-interest

'The trust of the innocent is the liar's most useful tool.' ~ Stephen KingClick To Tweet

You might also notice that I carefully included the word ‘perceived’. Two people can interpret someone’s actions quite differently. Where you might see a selfless leader, I might see an attention-seeking jerk. This at least in part explains why not all leaders can lead all people. Some will always have questions about the leader’s motivations, and when that trust isn’t there, we’re unlikely to change our behaviour – or alter the course of history – at their request.

Self-Interest Kitten Innocent

Perceptions are important. But this is not an excuse to manipulate perception – it’s simply to highlight that we need to be aware of how we are seen – as that is what enables others to follow us.

OK – lack of self-interest – what does that mean in practice?

Well, to start with, it means you need to be clear about your own motivations. Why are you doing this thing? Is it for you? Or is it for someone else? And who stands to benefit most?

Are you just doing it for the title and acclaim? Or are you doing it because it needs to be done, and no-one else seemed to be doing it?

This is why leadership isn’t about job descriptions. And why some of the best leaders have no titles at all. We aren’t left questioning their motives, because they aren’t doing it for the kudos.

It also means we need to be mindful about how our motives are perceived by other people.

This is where some of those character traits do come in – like humility and service. It’s why we respect (sometimes even grudgingly) political leaders who donate their government salaries to charity. It’s why we tend to have higher levels of trust for public services where people risk their lives – like firefighters and (at least in some countries) police.

It’s why we have the utmost respect for those who die in service to their country. The ultimate sacrifice.

A unified theory of leadership… acting without self-interest

So what does this all mean?

I have come to see leadership as suspending self-interest in order to do what needs to be done, irrespective of the costs to yourself. Consequently, people will trust you, and ultimately allow you to influence them. They will respect your leadership traits – but actually, they’ll also excuse you if you don’t have them.

Because you enable them to believe that humanity is ultimately good. You provide hope that the world isn’t just full of selfish power-hungry jerks elbowing their way to the C-suite.

Because you enable them to connect with the altruistic parts of their own nature, and in so doing you inspire them to act in ways they didn’t believe were possible.

And isn’t that what it’s all about?

Now I just need to figure out what this means for preventing dangerous leaders from manipulating people’s perceptions of their self-interest (think fascist dictators and cult leaders)…

My new book, More Than This: Your Heroic Quest to Find Inspiration, Intent, Impact and Insight in a Broken World, is exactly what you need to:

  • Clarify and articulate your passion – to find your why
  • Gain the courage and commitment to do something about it
  • Learn and strengthen the skills you need to create massive impact
  • Stay true, analyse your results and gain powerful insights

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3 thoughts on “Beyond Self-Interest: What is Leadership Really?”

  1. MY definition of leadership is pretty simple and basic.

    Leaders influence and inspire people to make positive changes. And they do it in a variety of ways.

    –with ideas–Thought Leaders
    –with their actions–Courageous Leaders
    –with their words–Inspiring Leaders
    –with their help–Servant Leaders
    I wrote an article on this topic a few months back. I’ll send you a copy if you’s like.

    • Thanks Paul
      That’s a nice definition, I like it.

      Curious though, who defines what is positive change? Some changes are positive for some and not positive for others… (Definitions of leadership fascinate me, so I’m always keen to chat about this!)

      Best regards

  2. Good question.

    I think most of the time the leader describes and defines the positive changes that are needed to improve the current situation.

    But it’s the different with the servant leader. The servant leader is asking –How can I help? So in that case the person being helped has identified the change or changes he/she wants to make.


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Embracing Change: Thriving in Uncertain Times

'There is nothing permanent except change.' ~ HeraclitusClick To Tweet

Embracing change can be one of the hardest things to do. It’s the mantra. It’s in all the self-help books. Organisations want us to do it. Governments (usually) want us to do it. Heck, even our family members want us to do it.

Autumn Embracing Change

But I get it. It’s hard, right?

The way things are now is comfortable. Maybe not pleasantly comfortable. But definitely familiar.

Better the devil you know, right?

Today I’d like to share with you two key reasons why embracing change is hard. Along with a few things you can do to make it a little bit easier.

Why is embracing change so hard?

Your brain prefers consistency…

'Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.' ~ George Bernard ShawClick To Tweet

Your brain prefers consistency – even if the status quo is not ideal, at least it is known. It is predictable. It is ‘safe’.

To be honest, there’s not a lot of logic behind this. At least not logic that survives into the modern world we live in now.

Key Stones Embracing Change

When we were a little more primitive in our evolutionary journey, new things had a propensity to be dangerous. Not always. But often enough.

The new berry that turned out to be fatally poisonous. The new water source that wasn’t safe to drink. The new animal that turned out to have a venomous bite.

So it isn’t surprising that our brains developed a fairly healthy distrust of unfamiliar things… and a degree of comfort with familiar things…

Even when the evidence tells us those familiar things are not serving us well. Abusive relationships that we’d rather tolerate than risk being on our own… Jobs that we despise and make us miserable… Eating food with minimal nutritional content, drinking, smoking, drug-taking…

Sometimes our concerns about the unfamiliar manifest as irrational fears. The number of people afraid of flying is significantly higher than the number of people afraid of travelling in a car. Across the span of your lifetime, you have a 1 in 98 chance of dying in a car accident, compared with a 1 in 7,178 chance for dying in a plane crash (source: “Is Air Travel Safer Than Car Travel?“). This stacks up no matter how you calculate the risk – miles travelled, absolute number of accidents…

So your brain would rather do things it knows it has done before. Even if the outcomes weren’t that great. This is why some of the conventional wisdom about change (e.g. Kotter’s burning platform) don’t always work the way we expect.

Change happens at different speeds for everyone…

'Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.' ~ Barack ObamaClick To Tweet

What on earth am I talking about! Time is absolute right?

Well, yes, and no.

Let’s take the example of organisational change – a restructure perhaps.

Tree Reflection Embracing Change

It’s highly likely that the Finance Adviser and the Marketing Analyst will perceive the pace of change very differently. In marketing (generally) there is a lot more change happening on a daily basis – new products, new campaigns, adjustment in response to market data, adjustment in response to sales data, adjustment in response to competitor activity… In other words, any given day in the marketing department could involve significant ‘job changing’ adjustments.

The finance team, however, tend to operate on a more predictable schedule. Invoices come in, invoices go out, things need to be paid, creditors need to be ‘prodded’. Month-end happens – just after the month ends. Year-end happens – you guessed it – just after the year ends. Sure, some managers will be late filing their reports, and some creditors might have imaginative excuses for why they can’t pay their bills, but the pace is more predictable. It’s cyclical. It’s familiar.

So do you think the Marketing Analyst and the Finance Advisor might perceive the change process differently? Absolutely. And this isn’t even taking into account the personal preferences and risk appetites of the individuals involved.

What was it about these career choices that were attractive in the first place?

You may find that the some people think the same change process is going far too slowly (why don’t they just get on with it) and others feel like it is hasty and rushed.

Same change – different people.

How does this help with embracing change?

Well, understanding why change is hard can enable you to make it a bit easier.

So here are some ways that you can make embracing change a slightly more realistic objective – whether it’s for you or for your team.

Make the unfamiliar familar

'If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude.' ~ Maya AngelouClick To Tweet

It might sound strange, but your brain doesn’t really know the difference between something you’ve actually done before, and something you’ve carefully visualised doing, (at least not the part of your brain that worries about familiar and unfamiliar things…).

Lightbulb Embracing Change

So armed with this knowledge you can readily become familiar with something you’ve never actually personally experienced.

Start by writing down a narrative account of the ‘ideal’ version of the unfamiliar/unexperienced thing. Then read it over and over, until you know it by heart. Then close your eyes and picture it happening – with as much detail as you can muster.

Please note – this method won’t work for everything – or in every circumstance. If your fear is losing your job, then you can visualise yourself successfully reapplying for this job – or a different one. So that works. But if you literally cannot see how the change will work, it’s very hard to picture it working.

Your brain will get used to the idea, and it won’t seem nearly so scary anymore. Likewise, if it is your team who are going through  the change, you can describe the future state in positive (but realistic) terms on a frequent basis. This will help them start to imagine what the change will look like, and it will become more familiar.

Seise a level of control

One of the reasons we think aeroplanes are more dangerous than cars is because we aren’t in control of the plane. At least with the car we’re probably in the driver’s seat – or if we’re on the passenger side, we imagine we could grab the wheel or intervene if something was going wrong.

Hard to do that in an aeroplane.

Embracing change means feeling in control of something.

Generally when change is happening around us, there is something we could get involved in and take some control of. We can offer to help. We can offer to lead a part of the process. We can support colleagues (constructively).

And even when there aren’t any obvious ways for us to get involved directly, we do have control over our own actions. We can control our response to the situation. We can control how we talk about it to others. We can even take the bold step to remove ourselves from the situation completely if we’re deeply uncomfortable.

My only cautionary note here is that sometimes you don’t have all the information (which is contributing to your discomfort) and your interpretation of what’s happening can be completely wrong. I have heard stories about change processes where key individuals were in line for significant promotion or new responsibilities at the end of the process, but management couldn’t yet discuss it openly because of a range of other steps that needed to be taken first.

In the meantime, these highly talented individuals took action, in the form of finding a new job in another firm, much to management’s chagrin.

If it’s your team going through the change, create ways for them to take control of parts of the process – even if it’s just how frequently they want to be updated on progress.

Accept and surrender

'You must be the change you wish to see in the world.' ~ Mahatma GandhiClick To Tweet

You know what? It probably won’t kill you.

So why not go with the flow and see what happens. Focus on looking for a silver lining, and you might actually find one.

Gandhi Embracing Change

In my own experience (and I’m not that great at understanding why people fear change – I run into it like a crazy person) the greatest opportunities of my working career and my personal life have come from leaning into change, knowing I can’t know exactly how it will turn out, and trusting that I’ll figure it out as I go.

This requires a bit of self-confidence, a great deal of optimism and an underlying belief that things work the way they work for a reason – even if you can’t immediately see it.

For your team, ask them to come up with three ways the change will make their jobs easier. Then get them to share it with their colleagues. Changing their focus will change how they feel.

Talk to someone about how you feel

If you have a coach or a mentor, great. Talk to them about how you’re feeling, and seek their support for finding a constructive way to move forward.

If you don’t, find someone you trust, and who isn’t involved (to avoid self-interest) and have a chat. Let them know that you’re feeling anxious or worried, and you’d like them to help you find some positive approaches. Otherwise there’s a risk they spend the whole time sympathising with you, which may lead to you feeling worse!

Embrace your worst fears…

This can sound a bit morbid or pessimistic, but in reality, it’s incredibly powerful.

When you really dig deep into the feared outcome, before it happens, you’ve usually already worked out that, even though it will suck, you’ll survive. You’ll figure it out. You’ll find a way through to the other side.

Tim Ferriss has done an excellent TED talk on this.



2 thoughts on “Embracing Change: Thriving in Uncertain Times”

  1. Change can be come positive or negative in the essence of things before, now and future, but how it has an effect and impact on one surrounding depends very much on how one come to interpret it to best fit in his or her context of his or her everyday situation and circumstances.

    • I couldn’t agree more – and often change efforts fail because those ‘creating’ the change fail to anticipate the ways that others might perceive it as negative. It’s a tricky topic, because who gets to decide!

      I agree too, that at the end of the day, there is good to be found in almost all change, if you are strong enough to find it.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


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Power, Confidence and the Danger of Comparison

'Every human has four endowments - self awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination. These give us the ultimate human freedom... The power to choose, to respond, to change.' ~ Stephen CoveyClick To Tweet

What do you think when you look at someone with immense personal power? Say Oprah Winfrey, or Nelson Mandela, or Jane Goodall, or Helen Clark, or Ghandi, or George Clooney, or Bill Gates? Someone who eschews confidence and wields influence? Someone who is humble and dedicated to making a difference?

Power Confidence Pose

I’m sure you have a view about whether or not they are good people. Whether you like them. Whether you aspire to be like them. You may be familiar with some of the things they have done. You may even have met one of them.

Chances are though, that pretty quickly after that initial ‘fact check’, you start making comparisons. Not only between that person and someone else you admire (or despise), but also between that person and yourself…

“I’m not like that.”

“I could never do that.”

“They had opportunities I never had.”

“If only I’d been born in that time/place.”

“Yeah, but they’re exceptional. I’m just ordinary.”

“I’m just normal…”

“I’m just… me.”

Our brains are exceptionally skilled at rationalising why we are where we are (and why that’s OK). Either by making it someone else’s fault or by convincing you that it wouldn’t be a good thing anyway.

Our brains don’t like change… but our egos hate feeling inferior. And the only way these two things can co-exist when we are presented with examples of phenomenal people doing extraordinary things is to:

  1. Dehumanise them “normal people aren’t like that, I’m just normal”
  2. Find fault with them to make us feel superior “yeah but I heard he had an affair…”
  3. Convince ourselves they aren’t happy “but money/influence/fame doesn’t buy happiness – I bet they’re miserable”
  4. Blame someone “if I had the opportunities she had…” or
  5. Some combination of these

Why? Because it makes you feel better. It makes you feel ‘OK’.

So here’s another question for you. (Technically it’s two questions.)

Were you born to be ‘OK’? Or were you born to achieve something a bit better than OK?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t find ‘OK’ very inspiring. I don’t find it exciting. I don’t think ‘OK’ is enough to get me out of bed in the morning, let alone showing up with my best self.

So in this article, we’re going to look at some of the ways you can break out of ‘OK’ and start living up to your potential. Will it be uncomfortable? Sure. A little bit.

But most things worth having require a little sacrifice on our part.

What is power… and do you have it?

'You have power over your mind - not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.' ~ Marcus AureliusClick To Tweet

Dachar Keltner’s book The Power Paradox lays out the results of his research into human social systems and power dynamics. In it, he defines power as “your ability to alter the state of other people”.

Power Confidence Strength

It isn’t about the size of your army, or the amount of money you have. These things can result in influence over others, absolutely, but so can information/knowledge, innovation and culture.

I think there is something implicit in Keltner’s definition that warrants stating: that our ability to alter the state of other people is entirely up to them. We can craft the perfect sales pitch for what we want to happen… and we can be ignored. We can demand our kids clean their rooms… and we can be ignored. We can implore our colleagues get involved with the big project we’re leading… and we can be ignored.

Our power is granted to us by other people’s willingness to respond to our influence.

And obviously the counter to this is true. Part of our power – our influence – lies in how we respond to the influence and power of others. Do we see it as something we have no choice in? We are coerced? Or have we deliberately chosen to allow their influence to sway us?

According to Keltner’s research, the greatest and quickest way to obtain power is to be kind, generous and co-operative. To demonstrate gratitude or to offer resources. In other words, what psychologists refer to as ‘pro-social behaviour’. And the wonderful thing about such behaviours is that they make you feel good (the dopamine reward centres in your brain activate) and it makes the person you’re being kind and generous to feel good as well!

Fortunately, our social networks are also – if we are attuned to them – very effective at letting us know when we’ve let the power go to our heads too. Because yes, the research also shows that power corrupts. Quickly.

For a potted version of Keltner’s thesis, you might like to watch this video.

What is confidence… and do you have it?

'When we're sad, we slouch. We also slouch when we feel scared or powerless.' ~ Amy CuddyClick To Tweet

If Keltner wrote the book on power… then Amy Cuddy wrote the book on confidence. Her book Presence explores the bi-directional relationship between our bodies and our minds. For example, when we feel powerful and confident our bodies expand to take up more space… we stand taller, shoulders back, head up… And here’s the great part – when we expand our bodies to take up more space, we feel more powerful and confident.

How cool is that!

Power Confidence Puppy

And the bottom line is, other people read that body language and make it causal to their trust and confidence in us. In other words, if we look like we don’t have confidence in ourselves, they don’t have confidence in us either.

And if you were following the power section above, you’ll know that other people grant us power by allowing us to influence them… so maybe this is important. There is a damning and compelling body of evidence emerging about the impact of powerlessness on health and wellbeing. So feeling confident (even if it’s faking it) makes us feel more powerful, and feeling powerful has significant benefits to our health. Adopt that power pose!

How to break free from the danger of comparison

'When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace.' ~ Jimi HendrixClick To Tweet

Now I started this article by asking you what came to mind when you thought about successful and influential people… people with power. People who you have granted power by allowing them to influence your decisions.

Power Confidence Baby Hands

Now, knowing what you know about power and confidence, what do you think happens when you start comparing yourself unfavourably with highly successful people?

You start creating feelings of “I’m not good enough”. You start assuming that those people were destined to be powerful and influential. You start losing sight of the power you have in determining who can influence you… This reduces your confidence – you take up less physical space, and consequently you diminish your own power.

And most importantly you lose sight of the fact that they are just people too. They gained their power the same way everybody does – the exact same way you do.

And whatever it is that you care about in the world… you can influence, because you have the power, and the confidence. And because the only person you need to compare yourself to is who you were yesterday.

So who are you going to be today?

The First Time Manager’s Crash Course – Part Two

The First Time Manager’s Crash Course Part One and Part Two are out now on Skillshare.

These are the first two in a series of three programmes aimed at first time managers, helping them bridge the gap between the technical skills and processes that their employer (hopefully) is providing, and the leadership skills and insights they need to develop to be effective managers.

This course is for anyone who aspires to manage other people – whether in a formal management or team leadership role, or as a project manager without ongoing human resource management responsibility.

More importantly, it’s for those who have just been – or are about to be – appointed to one of these roles and are a bit anxious about what is involved.

Follow this link to get your first two months subscription for free…

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Grievances you Perceive… Your Personal Mission

“Grievances that you perceive in the world are references to values that are important to you personally. Just to complain about them is not enough. Through your special activity you can change grievances. This is your personal mission.” ~ Victor E. Frankl Museum ExhibitClick To Tweet

I am writing this article in Vienna, where I took the time to visit the Victor E. Frankl Museum. I have recently finished reading his book Man’s Search for Meaning, and I was curious to visit the place where he did much of his work, after he was freed from Türkheim camp (associated with Dachau concentration camp).

Personal Mission

His story is moving, but it has also resonated with me in a different way… In particular, the quote above from one of the displays in the museum spoke to me. And I believe that things that speak to you in that way, do so for a reason. So I have spent a day or so meditating on these words and what they might mean for me personally. Indeed, what is my personal mission?

What grievances do you perceive?

I understand that the answers to this question will be different for everybody. So I had to start here, by clearly answering the grievances that I perceive – and it took me on a bit of a journey.

It was easy to identify the things that upset me:

  • Child abuse
  • Domestic violence
  • Mistreatment of animals
  • Acts of war and genocide
  • Human trafficking and slavery

And there are more things. Situations involving children are usually the things that upset me most. This became worse after our son was born, but it existed already.

Yet as I explored these subjects (not fun, I can assure you) I knew I needed to look for a theme. That list includes many things that seem related, but the issues themselves are hugely variable, and not likely to lend themselves to concrete and decisive action – certainly not across the full spectrum. I’m not looking for more than one personal mission!

What theme emerged?

I started by pulling together some clusters of situations.

Any time that someone does not have the opportunity to reach their potential because someone else acted unjustly. For example when a child is killed by a caregiver, what upsets me the most is that we will never know what it was that child could have achieved.

Any time that someone is victimised who cannot speak for themselves. Especially children (see above).

Any acts of dehumanising of people, especially children and the vulnerable.

Abuses of power.

Abuses of power.

It is the abuse of power that leads to the removing of potential, and the victimisation, and the dehumanisation.

It is abuses of power that cause me grievance…

I was a little surprised by this. I’d never really thought about power as being ‘the thing’. But on the other hand, as soon as I wrote it, things began falling into place.

I’m deeply motivated by fairness and justice. I’ve always felt a calling to work for the United Nations for example. I’m interested in how organisations work, and why some work better than others, and Enron, and the grasping – and sharing – of power in organisations. And between countries.

And I distrust people with too much of it. That’s why I care about the ‘service’ in public service. That’s why I care about  international relations and strategic studies. And it’s why I studied psychology and criminology.

I also think it is power (perceived lack thereof or a struggle for) that creates domestic violence and some despicable crimes, like rape and sexual assault.

What does this all mean?

No human being has the right to wield power over another human being, under any circumstances.Click To Tweet From petty mind-games between a husband and wife to global politics to slavery to domestic violence to war crimes.

I advocate for a more human, more kind, more civil society.

One where we all recognise each other as fellow human beings, and we focus on how we can add value to each other’s lives, rather than extracting value from others.

Positive power. Not negative.

Additive power. Not subtractive.

Constructive power. Not destructive.

Reluctant power. Not seized and held.

Humble power. Not entitled.

Because I am not advocating that power is bad. I’m simply suggesting that the way we’re using it is sometimes wrong.

Skills to wield positive power

So what does it take to exercise these positive forms of power?

  • It takes willingness to be vulnerable. You cannot exercise positive power if you are acting from shame.
  • It takes a positive mission or goal or purpose. You cannot exercise positive power if what you are striving to achieve is inherently unjust.
  • It takes emotional intelligence. You cannot exercise positive power if you do not understand your own feelings and emotions, or those of others.
  • It takes a strong moral character. You cannot exercise positive power if you do not know right from wrong (including at the very fine-grained level)
  • It takes average levels of literacy and verbal comprehension. You cannot expect high moral behaviour from someone who is constantly frustrated because they cannot express themselves or engage productivity with the world around them.

These are all things which can be taught to children. They are not university level skills, or even vocational level skills, but they will help with both.

They apply at the individual, organisational and national levels. Within families, within communities, within workplaces and between countries.

These super-individual clusters are, after all, made from the minds of people. The systems and structures that are created within them, or by them, represent the ways of thinking of the people in positions of power within those organisations.

Even in countries without democratically elected governments, there is still an extent to which the power system in place is the will of the people – even through their inaction or lack of revolution. In many instances, these systems of government also support facets of human life that the people within it like.  Or don’t know any better. There will usually be a sizeable group with whom ‘partial’ power is shared – often in a ‘trinkets’ and baubles kind of way. Just enough that the masses don’t feel sufficiently put out to revolt, but not enough to create any real power shift or threat.

What is the difference between someone who works as a retail assistant and someone who works as prime minister or president?

While some of it might come down to who they know or what school their parents could afford to send them to, in the main, the things that separate these two (fictional) archetypes are individual choices (not right or wrong):

  • Choices about values
  • Choices about what matters
  • Choices about purpose
  • Choices about legacy and impact
  • Choices about lifting others up, or lifting oneself up (these are not necessarily the way around that you think

Let me be clear, I’m not saying that the politician made good choices about these things, and that the retail assistant didn’t – or vice versa. I’m saying that they made different choices throughout their lives. Choices that led them to different places, introduced them to different people, created different opportunities.

So what?

All of this got me thinking about what we need to do.

Spend less time judging and more time doing your own version of awesome. Relative results don’t matter a damn. You might be the most contented, kind and decent retail assistant… or the most miserable, power-hungry and deceitful politician. Or vice versa.

What matters is what you do, and what you think about what you do. And what you were trying to do. And how hard you tried. And how often you were prepared to fail. And what you did when you failed. And that you got back up again. You got up and you stood up. And you made the world a better place because you were in it.

You are not perfect. There is no such thing as perfect. The people you think are perfect think someone else is perfect. Nothing good comes from wishing you were something you are not. So let go of perfect. Focus instead on being better. Whatever that looks like for you.

And I am going to make it my personal mission to advocate for positive power – and the minimisation of negative power. Starting right where I am – but building outwards (and inevitably upwards).

And what does power have to do with leadership?


And nothing.

Are you with me?

Hear me chatting with Hayley Collins

Hayley’s podcast is great, I strongly recommend you subscribe so you don’t miss a single one!

In Episode 25 she chats with me about what it means to be a Chief Executive – some of the things that people tell you but you don’t really understand until you’re alone in the hot-seat.

This is a side of me you won’t have seen, as I don’t talk much about my ‘day-job’ here on the Blog.


The First Time Manager’s Crash Course – Part Two

The First Time Manager’s Crash Course Part One and Part Two are out now on Skillshare.

These are the first two in a series of three programmes aimed at first time managers, helping them bridge the gap between the technical skills and processes that their employer (hopefully) is providing, and the leadership skills and insights they need to develop to be effective managers.

This course is for anyone who aspires to manage other people – whether in a formal management or team leadership role, or as a project manager without ongoing human resource management responsibility.

More importantly, it’s for those who have just been – or are about to be – appointed to one of these roles and are a bit anxious about what is involved.

Follow this link to get your first two months subscription for free…

Or share on Twitter or Facebook so that people in your network can benefit!

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Uncertainty: What To Do When You Don’t Know…

'The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty; not knowing what comes next.' ~ Ursula K. Le GuinClick To Tweet

I remember as a child, the excitement that would build and build in the lead-up to Christmas Day. Starting with putting up the tree and decorating it, school finishing up for the summer holidays (I live in the Southern Hemisphere), going shopping with my saved-up pocket money to buy gifts for family…

Uncertainty Vortex

There were always presents that Father Christmas would bring on Christmas Eve, but there were also quite a few presents from Mum and Dad (and later just Mum) under the tree in the few days leading up to the main event.

You just didn’t know – in spite of all the squeezing and shaking and poking and prodding you could get away with – what goodies lay inside.

As children, we largely embrace uncertainty as excitement and anticipation. Even though I knew we didn’t have lots of money, and it was unlikely that most (or even any) of my wish list items were carefully wrapped up beneath that tree, the excitement of not knowing – the uncertainty – was tantalisingly lovely.

So what happens? Why is it, that as we grow up, we start seeing uncertainty as something to fear… or at best, something to walk towards reluctantly?

As leaders, part of our role is to shoulder all of that uncertainty for the other people in our organisation – to face the future bravely and openly, without letting on that there is anything to fear.

That’s a lonely place to be.

Here are some ways to make carrying that burden just a little bit easier.

Understand it

'Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.' ~ BuddhaClick To Tweet

When you are young, most of your experience is novelty. Time passes more slowly because your brain has to work harder to process all the new experiences it is having. First day at school, first kiss, first taste of ice-cream, first time home alone, first day at high-school…

Uncertainty Meditation Zen

As we get older, the frequency of novelty decreases substantially. Some people go out of their way to seek out that novelty on a regular basis. But most of us, myself included, ‘settle’ into a routine. Even if that routine has all the best things that you ever hoped for, if you have them every day they become ‘normal’.

The other thing that happens to us, is we start to think that time is a flow. That we are travelling through time, with our past behind us, and our future in front of us.

I don’t want to blow you mind, but this is actually a construct of your mind. And my mind. It isn’t ‘real’.

You only exist in this moment. And this one.

The things you have previously experienced are able to be recalled by your brain when you ‘remember’. These experiences help your brain anticipate and predict what’s going to happen next. They also include a range of skills and capabilities that will enable you to cope with all sorts of things that might occur…

The future doesn’t exist yet. Your anticipation of it is created by your brain.

And guess who’s in control of what your brain anticipates?

You are.

Believe it or not, you are in control of how you think about the future. You are in control of what the future holds, because the only place it exists is in your mind. So create the future you want.

Accept it

'Being at ease with not knowing is crucial for answers to come to you.' ~ Eckhart TolleClick To Tweet

Ask yourself this simple question.

“Does worrying about the future help you in any way?”

Uncertainty Acceptance Harmony

Now I want to be clear, by worrying, I mean anxiety. I mean unproductive thinking.

In my own experience, I have found that worrying about something seldom helps. There are times when trying to anticipate the possible negative outcomes of something can be useful – but only if you take action and do something as a consequence of that thinking.

But unproductive worry, worry that goes round in round in your head without going anywhere, creates a physiological stress response. Your body starts prioritising functions that will help you flee – or fight. And takes energy and blood-flow away from things that can help you – like executive functioning in your brain.

This is useful when you’re actually in a bad situation, but not so useful when you are simply imagining one!

The most productive thing you can do is accept that you can’t control what’s going to happen. Accept that uncertainty. Prepare by all means, if you can see logical potential outcomes, but stop over-thinking it!

Embrace it

'Infuse your life with action. Don't wait for it to happen. Make it happen. Make your own future. Make your own hope. Make your own love. And whatever your beliefs, honor your creator, not by passively waiting for grace to come down from upon high, but by doing what you can to make grace happen... yourself, right now, right down here on Earth.' ~ Bradley WhitfordClick To Tweet

The truly empowering and life-altering thing to do, though, is to embrace that uncertainty. As strange as it sounds. And to do something.

Uncertainty Carousel

Embrace it with both arms and make something happen.

Own it. Make it yours. Take steps to steer it in the direction you want. That is the power of strategic thinking. Being able to figure out desirable futures… and then taking active steps to get you there.

Do you know the difference between fear and excitement?

The label you give a set of physiological symptoms inside your head.

That’s it.

Fear feels like sweaty palms, racing breath, tunnel vision, time slowing down…

What does excitement feel like?

So be careful about the words you use in your own head. They have power.

You might not be able to change the way events unfold to exactly match what you wanted to have happen, but you can control how you respond to it.

And you can give yourself the grace to be resilient and capable and resourceful. Because you are.

Whatever comes your way, you have it within you to survive – and even thrive.


Hear me chatting with Hayley Collins

Hayley’s podcast is great, I strongly recommend you subscribe so you don’t miss a single one!

In Episode 25 she chats with me about what it means to be a Chief Executive – some of the things that people tell you but you don’t really understand until you’re alone in the hot-seat.

This is a side of me you won’t have seen, as I don’t talk much about my ‘day-job’ here on the Blog.


The First Time Manager’s Crash Course – Part Two

The First Time Manager’s Crash Course Part One and Part Two are out now on Skillshare.

These are the first two in a series of three programmes aimed at first time managers, helping them bridge the gap between the technical skills and processes that their employer (hopefully) is providing, and the leadership skills and insights they need to develop to be effective managers.

This course is for anyone who aspires to manage other people – whether in a formal management or team leadership role, or as a project manager without ongoing human resource management responsibility.

More importantly, it’s for those who have just been – or are about to be – appointed to one of these roles and are a bit anxious about what is involved.

Follow this link to get your first two months subscription for free…

Or share on Twitter or Facebook so that people in your network can benefit!

3 thoughts on “Uncertainty: What To Do When You Don’t Know…”

  1. Dear Rebecca!
    It is always a pleasure to read your posts.
    As so often before, this one resonated very well with me – interestingly enough, it is very well in line with a short video I say recently from Daniel Pink – there’s even a scientific background for it – Pink provides a link to an article from Journal of Experimental Psychology “Get Excited: Reappraising Pre-Performance Anxiety as Excitement” by Alison Wood Brooks, which you might find interesting.


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Belonging: In-groups, Out-groups and Other-ness

'Stories in families are colossally important. Every family has stories: some funny, some proud, some embarrassing, some shameful. Knowing them is proof of belonging to the family.' ~ Salman RushdieClick To Tweet

A sense of belonging is one of those odd things that you don’t notice until it’s gone. In its absence, you feel it acutely, but when you have it, it’s very easy to take for granted.

I am travelling at the moment, for work. Without my family. I am missing my husband’s birthday, and it is the longest I have been away from him or my four year old son in, well, ever. 18,000 kilometres and the only time we have is the few hours when we’re all up – first thing in the morning, and in the early evening.

Belonging Swans Family

But this is not an article about being homesick. This is about a sense of belonging. And what has struck me is that London – where I was for the first three days of my trip – felt like home, just without my family and creature comforts. I’d never been to London before, yet I found it easy to navigate (even giving directions to ‘tourists’) and enjoyable to meander about. I walked about 39 kilometres in those three days (ironically the London Marathon was the day after I left) and I never once felt like an outsider – except possibly in the designer fashion department at Harrods when I happened to wonder into the Chanel boutique!

My ancestors are English and Scottish. So this probably makes sense. I look like I belong, I sound (kind-of) like I belong, I dress like I belong. The customs and practices are familiar to me. I know how to belong there. I know the stories.

But I was surprised.

On the other hand, I am writing this article in Prague, Czech Republic. I arrived late last night, and this morning I have walked 10 kilometres. I have seen much of the city’s beautiful architecture – including what I most wanted to see, Frank Gehry’s Dancing House.

It is a beautiful city. But it is not my city. I do not belong here. I don’t know the customs. I do not understand the food. They drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. I do not believe I have any Bohemian ancestry. This is not my place. I do not belong.

This is not because people aren’t perfectly nice – they are. The women in Starbucks (the only place open when I started meandering this morning) wrote my name with four love-hearts next to it on my cup.

It is not even because I don’t speak the language. Nearly everyone speaks some level of English. I have had no difficulty communicating with anyone.

Yet I feel a sense of ‘not-belonging-ness’ that is hard to put words to.

Why am I sharing this with you?

Two reasons.

Because I want you to overcome your fear and because I want you to develop compassion.

Overcome your fear of not belonging

'You're imperfect, and you're wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.' ~ Brene BrownClick To Tweet

In a recent article I wrote about rejection and why we fear it. In essence, we worry that we will be left to fend for ourselves, and that, without the support of our tribe, we will starve to death or be eaten by wild predators.

Belonging Struggle Ropes

In reality, this probably isn’t going to happen, unless the rejection involves evicting you from the jeep while on safari in Africa!

I have discovered, that even in the absence of my family and the customs and practices that I identify with, not belonging heightens the senses and slows down time. I have seen things and smelled things and heard things this morning that are new to me. My brain needs to take time to process them, and consequently time appears to pass more slowly.

I have also learned that I am resourceful, and resilient, and capable. As are you. Embrace it. Give yourself a chance to shine – to thrive – to overcome.

Because you will.

Not belonging deserves your compassion

'Our family were outsiders, and I've always had a sense of the outsider, the underdog, and a strong sense of justice towards people who are excluded.' ~ Andy SerkisClick To Tweet

In every country, in every community, there are people who feel this sense of ‘not belonging’ every day.

Belonging Underdog

For whatever reason – colonialisation, emigration, eviction, or even just a deep-seated sense of outsider-ness – there are people around you every day who feel this way.

If you live in a country with indigenous peoples – they may feel they belong to the land, but not to the society that colonialisation has imposed on them. The laws, the systems and the structures. The language and the customs. Look for ways to experience this other-ness and own your part in its perpetuation.

If you live in a place where a small community of people has sought refuge from their homeland, look for ways to help them build a new sense of belonging, while acknowledging and respecting their ennui. Invite them in. Help them understand. But don’t require them to assimilate.

If you know someone who feels like an outsider for any reason – maybe they are experiencing mental health problems, or have a disability. Maybe they are a victim of domestic violence or bullying. Be there for them without judgment. Offer an ear. Or a shoulder. Be ready to help if they ask for it, but understand that it cannot be imposed.

As a leader, be mindful that some people who work for you will not feel like they belong here. And yes, you may say they are free to choose to work somewhere else any time they please. But things aren’t always that simple. The sense of not-belonging may stem from one of the reasons listed above, or it may be a mis-match of values or culture. And for whatever reason, they may not have (or believe they have) the ability to choose something else right now. Consider whether the organisation could do better to accommodate them. Or at least support them.

Lastly be kind to yourself. You cannot fix everything. Sometimes you will feel deeply connected and secure. Other times you will feel disconnected and outside your comfort zone. Don’t expect it to be any other way. Live with it. Savour it. Learn from it.

Become stronger for it, if you can.


Hear me chatting with Hayley Collins

Hayley’s podcast is great, I strongly recommend you subscribe so you don’t miss a single one!

In Episode 25 she chats with me about what it means to be a Chief Executive – some of the things that people tell you but you don’t really understand until you’re alone in the hot-seat.

This is a side of me you won’t have seen, as I don’t talk much about my ‘day-job’ here on the Blog.


The First Time Manager’s Crash Course – Part Two

The First Time Manager’s Crash Course Part One and Part Two are out now on Skillshare.

These are the first two in a series of three programmes aimed at first time managers, helping them bridge the gap between the technical skills and processes that their employer (hopefully) is providing, and the leadership skills and insights they need to develop to be effective managers.

This course is for anyone who aspires to manage other people – whether in a formal management or team leadership role, or as a project manager without ongoing human resource management responsibility.

More importantly, it’s for those who have just been – or are about to be – appointed to one of these roles and are a bit anxious about what is involved.

Follow this link to get your first two months subscription for free…

Or share on Twitter or Facebook so that people in your network can benefit!

Leave a Comment

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Advancing Human Potential: Transformative Coaching

'Each person holds so much power within themselves that needs to be let out. Sometimes they just need a little nudge, a little direction, a little support, a little coaching, and the greatest things can happen.' ~ Pete CarrollClick To Tweet

The human brain is a complex and noisy place. It is filled with the knowledge we have learned, the emotions that we feel, the memories we have made and the values and beliefs that we hold. This complex web of ‘thinking’ is what constitutes the human experience. And while we all have a mind rich with this ‘thinking’ – no two are quite the same. Everybody’s experience is different…

Advancing Human Potential

And this collage of experiences and memories and knowledge and values and beliefs is what makes us human. And fallible. Knowledge can be incorrect as well as correct. Memories can be false as well as accurate. Emotions can be destructive as well as empowering and values and beliefs can hold us back as well as propelling us forward.

Unfortunately, nobody teaches you how to make sense of the noise. Nobody shows you how to peel away the onion to uncover what really matters most. Nobody gives you the user-guide that shows you exactly how to troubleshoot when things aren’t working the way you expected them to.

This is where professional coaching can help.

Positive Psychology & Advancing Human Potential

'Continuous effort - not strength or intelligence - is the key to unlocking our potential.' ~ Winston ChurchillClick To Tweet

Beginning from the idea of “our neglected mission”[1], positive psychology helps us understand that everyone has within them all the pieces they need to achieve their full potential. And while it is true that external events can impact us in many ways, we are all ‘whole’ and we are all capable of finding the answers to these challenges within us. Professional coaching draws upon the latest research in positive psychology and emotional intelligence to support transformative growth and vertical learning – empowering clients to create sustainable change by developing new understandings of existing situations and circumstances, enabling them to step outside their own story, and propelling them forward to realise their full potential.

Advancing Human Potential

A professional coaching conversation does this in five steps[2]:

  • By creating space for the client to understand the matter at hand;
  • By helping the client to develop a very clear focus for their attention;
  • By enabling the client to articulate and explore the gap between the way things are and the way they would like them to be;
  • By supporting them to learn something new and enabling about that gap; and
  • By empowering the client to take action based on this new understanding, coupled with authenticity and accountability

Creating Space

Often when something is bothering us or frustrating us, we see the symptoms of the problem, not the causes. Professional coaching enables us to go deeper by layering our understanding so that we develop a more nuanced and sophisticated view of ‘what is’ – our current reality.

Determining Focus

Once we have built this understanding of the issue we want to explore, professional coaching supports us to get crystal clear about what we need to focus on to be able to move forward – the problem we want to solve.

Uncovering the Gap

When we have an issue, we tend to see the current state as unchangeable and the desired state as unattainable – with little or no specificity or logical steps in between. Professional coaching challenges us to get specific about the differences between our current state and where we want to be in fine-grained detail, including starting to imagine the positive impact of achieving that future state. It involves a granularity that supports us coming to realise that the gap maybe isn’t so daunting after all.

Discovering New Understanding

As we become more specific about the gap, we also become aware of what might be preventing us from achieving our desired outcome. We may hold a belief that is limiting us, or we may be focusing on actions that aren’t serving us well. We may even be gaining a great deal of positive benefit from our current state and not really want to make any change. It is only when this new understanding emerges during the conversation that we are able to design a course of action to achieve our desired outcome.

Designing Authentic and Accountable Action

Change can be scary. Even when we have realised what is holding us back and what we need to do about it, our brains resist change – preferring instead to keep us safe within the territory of the well-known and well-trodden. It is common at this stage for a client to slip back into excusing or rationalising the current state as ‘acceptable’ or ‘inevitable’. The role of the professional coach is to hold the client accountable to their new understanding… and to themselves.

'To me, a leader is someone who holds her- or himself accountable for finding potential in people and processes. And so what I think is really important is sustainability.' ~ Brene BrownClick To Tweet

Professional coaching helps in advancing human potential because it focuses on positive forward action. It doesn’t dwell on the current situation any more than is necessary to understand it. And it doesn’t dredge through the past with a view to ‘fixing’ it. It simply draws from the client’s past experiences to identify and find those elements that will form a necessary part of the solution, most notably in the form of a new understanding or interpretation of the current situation.

Advancing Human Potential


Professional coaching contributes to advancing human potential because it fundamentally begins from a deep-seated belief and understanding that humans have potential, and that this potential is able to be advanced.

In the words of Phil Sahdahl: “coaching is the process of imagining, clarifying and choosing. It helps you draw the map, select the mode of transportation and, in the process, learn a new way to ‘travel’.”[3]

[1]Snyder C. R. & Lopez, S. J, Positive Psychology: The Scientific and Practical Explorations of Human Strengths; Sage Publications, 2008

[2]Coach Masters Academy, Transformative Coaching: Core Training for Professional Coaching v10.0, 2012

[3]Sandahl, P. “Coaching: An Empowering Choice” in Choice, Fall 2003 Premier Issue


Hear me chatting with Hayley Collins

Hayley’s podcast is great, I strongly recommend you subscribe so you don’t miss a single one!

In Episode 25 she chats with me about what it means to be a Chief Executive – some of the things that people tell you but you don’t really understand until you’re alone in the hot-seat.

This is a side of me you won’t have seen, as I don’t talk much about my ‘day-job’ here on the Blog.


The First Time Manager’s Crash Course – Part Two

The First Time Manager’s Crash Course Part One and Part Two are out now on Skillshare.

These are the first two in a series of three programmes aimed at first time managers, helping them bridge the gap between the technical skills and processes that their employer (hopefully) is providing, and the leadership skills and insights they need to develop to be effective managers.

This course is for anyone who aspires to manage other people – whether in a formal management or team leadership role, or as a project manager without ongoing human resource management responsibility.

More importantly, it’s for those who have just been – or are about to be – appointed to one of these roles and are a bit anxious about what is involved.

Follow this link to get your first two months subscription for free…

Or share on Twitter or Facebook so that people in your network can benefit!

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Rejection: Overcoming the Fear of Isolation

'Authors by the hundreds can tell you stories by the thousands of those rejection slips before they found a publisher who was willing to 'gamble' on an unknown.' ~ Zig ZiglarClick To Tweet

Some of you know that I’ve written a book. A serious, 80,000 word, change-the-world book. It took some time, and a lot of effort. A lot of early mornings, and shouting into the void…


And initially I had assumed I would self-publish. It’s a credible, professional approach these days – you do more of the work but keep more of the profit. However I decided at the eleventh hour to query a handful of literary agents as well… Two rejections later (with another four in the pipeline) I thought I’d share what I’ve learned about rejection – and how it relates to progress and achievement.

I do wish this was a story with a happy ending – where I could say at the end… “but after the fifth rejection, I landed the most amazing agent in the world…”. Not yet. Let’s just call this a work in progress.

So here are my observations about rejection – why it makes us feel pretty crappy, and what to do about it.

The evolutionary psychology of rejection

'We all learn lessons in life. Some stick, some don't. I have always learned more from rejection and failure than from acceptance and success.' ~ Henry RollinsClick To Tweet

Our early ancestors – the ones that came from Africa or Asia and represented the first departure from chimpanzees (or their prehistoric equivalent) – relied on each other a lot for survival. Especially the women. Early hominids needed each other – so that one group could be out hunting and gathering food, while another ensured that offspring were fed and kept safe from predators. And while it’s easy to think of this as some irrelevant stone-age trivia, the truth is, we’ve come to rely on each other more and more. Not the other way around.


Think about it for a minute. We don’t build our own houses, most of us don’t grow (or even cook) our own food. We don’t craft our own tools. We don’t fix our own cars or computers. We don’t all start our own one-person businesses – most of us work for someone else. It is increasingly rare for mothers to give birth without several other people helping, or at least on stand-by.

We have evolved to see rejection as a threat to our survival. Being ostracised from the group – from our clan or from society – meant fending for yourself… and that way lies certain death.

So from your brain’s perspective, rejection is a pretty serious thing.

Coping with rejection

'I believe that rejection is a blessing because it's the universe's way of telling you that there's something better out there.' ~ Michelle PhanClick To Tweet

Well that makes it sound super easy… right? Just trust that the universe has something else in store for you that will eclipse this.


Easy to say, harder to believe.

So here are some ways to help you cope.

Plan multiple pathways from the outset

I know that having a “Plan B” gets a bit of a bad rap, but hear me out.

Anything that matters in life has more than one path to get to it. Using my example above, I had initially planned to self-publish. I still believe that doing so is a completely legitimate and viable option. So when an agent says “no thanks” it simply brings me one step closer to self-publishing – somehow, this takes the sting out.

So when you are planning a big audacious goal that you really care about, deliberately plan more than one way to get there.

Mentally rehearse the worst possible outcome

This can sound a bit morbid or pessimistic, but in reality, it’s incredibly powerful.

When you really dig deep into the feared outcome, before it happens, you’ve usually already worked out that, even though it will suck, you’ll survive. You’ll figure it out. You’ll find a way through to the other side.

Tim Ferriss has done an excellent TED talk on this.


Develop a meditation and mindfulness practice

Meditating regularly allows you to be more present in the current moment. It also allows you to learn how to observe your thoughts and feelings instead of being them.

This means that you can observe your disappointment, your fear, your sadness, and call it what it is. And then decide whether you want to keep feeling that – or whether you’d rather feel something more productive. Like curiosity. Or determination.

What techniques have you developed for handling rejection?


Hear me chatting with Hayley Collins

Hayley’s podcast is great, I strongly recommend you subscribe so you don’t miss a single one!

In Episode 25 she chats with me about what it means to be a Chief Executive – some of the things that people tell you but you don’t really understand until you’re alone in the hot-seat.

This is a side of me you won’t have seen, as I don’t talk much about my ‘day-job’ here on the Blog.


The First Time Manager’s Crash Course – Part Two

The First Time Manager’s Crash Course Part One and Part Two are out now on Skillshare.

These are the first two in a series of three programmes aimed at first time managers, helping them bridge the gap between the technical skills and processes that their employer (hopefully) is providing, and the leadership skills and insights they need to develop to be effective managers.

This course is for anyone who aspires to manage other people – whether in a formal management or team leadership role, or as a project manager without ongoing human resource management responsibility.

More importantly, it’s for those who have just been – or are about to be – appointed to one of these roles and are a bit anxious about what is involved.

Follow this link to get your first two months subscription for free…

Or share on Twitter or Facebook so that people in your network can benefit!

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

The Power of Pace: Listening to your Body

'Never continue in a job you don't enjoy. If you're happy in what you're doing, you'll like yourself, you'll have inner peace. And if you have that, along with physical health, you will have had more success than you could possibly have imagined.' ~ Johnny CarsonClick To Tweet

Some of you might know that when I was 26 my neurologist suggested I had MS. My brain – the thing I had long believed was my super-power – was actually my kryptonite. Now, this won’t work for everybody, but I simply decided he was wrong. That there was another explanation. I decided to do my own research, and develop my own hypothesis of what was going on. I learned to listen to my body, and I reluctantly acknowledged that I needed to pace myself.

I have always been impatient with myself. The expectations that I set – expectations rather than goals – were always lofty and ambitious. And they came from a deep-seated confidence in my own abilities to make it happen.


Normal people had ‘just’ a full-time job… I had a full-time job, a full-time course of masters-level academic study and was building a business… Pace was synonymous with ‘fast’ to me. I was curious, and determined to learn everything I could about anything that was remotely interesting to me. As soon as a job wasn’t ‘teaching’ me anymore, I started looking for the next one.

I’m a bit older now, and not as veracious as I used to be. But I’ve also learned a few things about the power of setting the right pace – and how it can transform your effectiveness. I’ll share them with you here.

More haste less waste…

'Take time for all things: great haste makes great waste.' ~ Benjamin FranklinClick To Tweet

I used to believe that going faster meant getting there sooner.

Sounds logical, right?

Only there are so many reasons why it might not be true…

Exceeding the speed limit

You won’t get there faster if you are pulled over for speeding. In fact, it’s entirely likely that it will take considerably longer to reach your destination.

And while the speeding ticket is simply a metaphor for an unplanned stop of some kind, your body can do this to you. My diagnosis was a kind of metaphorical speeding ticket – slow down, look after your health, eat well, exercise…

Unclear destination

Perhaps more importantly, you won’t get ‘there’ faster if you don’t know where ‘there’ is. Taking time to ensure you are clear about your destination is vital to an efficient journey.

Action with no clear purpose is only a good idea if you are ‘sampling the menu’. I did this early in my career. I switched jobs frequently (probably every 6 months) because I knew that wasn’t ‘it’ and I studied a multitude of different subjects at university because I was curious and wanted to see what the different disciplines had to offer.

Sometimes I completed a qualification, sometimes I didn’t!

Ineffective navigation

Knowing where you’re going is great – but choosing an inefficient means of getting there isn’t the best idea.

True, sometimes the scenic route provides a welcome respite, but in effect this then becomes part of the purpose of the journey.

Ineffective navigation means taking a trickier path that delivers no real benefit to you, except frustration.

Think about the infamous (and biased) stereotype about the husband who won’t stop to ask directions… not only does everyone arrive later than planned, but there’s probably been an argument or two along the way!

Time saved before you begin by not planning the route properly is a false economy.

Insufficient fuel

If you were planning a really important journey through a remote and sparsely populated region, I’m guessing you’d make sure your fuel tank was full (or your battery fully charged) before you left, right?

There’s literally no point in leaving if you don’t have sufficient fuel to get there. And the time it takes to do this is more efficient than running out of fuel halfway there with no means to do anything about it.

Whether it’s food, or sleep, or relaxation, or social interaction that charges you up – make sure you’ve got enough in the tank.

Setting the pace: Listening to your body

'The deepest fear we have, 'the fear beneath all fears,' is the fear of not measuring up, the fear of judgment. It's this fear that creates the stress and depression of everyday life.' ~ Tullian TchividjianClick To Tweet

Unlike your car, though, your body doesn’t have a fuel gauge. It can’t give you an instant graphic readout that says exactly how many miles before you need to refuel. And it certainly won’t start flashing lights at you when you’re nearing empty… at least not literally.



A regular meditation practice gives you a opportunity to pause, stop replaying what went wrong about yesterday and worrying about what might happen tomorrow, and listen to your body. To be in this moment right here where your physical wellbeing has an opportunity to speak to you.

What would it say?

It might say “I’m achey” or it might say “I’ve got a slightly scratchy throat” or it might say “I’m tired”. Or it might say nothing… which I find is usually a good thing.

But if you don’t stop and create the space, there’s a real danger that you’ll miss the signs until well after the point at which you can do anything about it.

Eating well

It wasn’t until I took a university psychology course* in neuropsychology that I began to understand the brain chemistry behind nutrition. Until that point I had honestly believed that diet was simply a matter of input and output. Calories consumed versus calories used.

And I guess that’s true if your goal is to lose or gain weight.

But actually, your brain and your body need nutrients to thrive. Just like your garden.

Many foods – particularly highly processed foods – are ’empty calories’. They’ll make you fat but they provide virtually no other nutritional value whatsoever. This is why a balanced diet is so important, fruit, vegetables and nuts are a great place to start.

And I know it can seem like there’s an enormous amount of conflicting advice out there about what is good for you and what isn’t, moderation and variety might be useful rules of thumb.

*This is also the class where I learned what metabolising alcohol does to your brain. No thank you!

Prioritising sleep

Sleep is vital to effective cognitive functioning. It’s also important to a whole range of bodily processes, like digestion.

The average person needs between seven and eight hours a night, but there’s a huge range – some people function perfectly well on only four – but they tend to be the exception, rather than the rule.

Unfortunately, if you’re busy and ambitious, sleep time can seem like ‘wasted’ time. You shave a little off at each end… nothing bad happens… then a little more. Before you know it you’re burnt out and unwell.

Make it a priority to go to bed on time (whatever that means for you). Work will wait. It’s good like that.

Scheduling exercise

Keeping your body active is important, not only for your overall fitness, but for cognitive functioning as well.

I’m not great at this – I prefer not to exercise. I’m jealous of people who get an endorphin hit from exercise… I never have.

However, I know it is important, and the only way for me to make this work is to schedule it. So every morning I have a 15 minute yoga routine, every lunch time I go for a brisk 15 minute walk, and every evening I do whatever it takes to reach 10,000 steps. This works for me – you’ll need to find your own sweet spot.

If you get bored exercising, make sure you’ve got something else to do – use a treadmill and watch TED talks while you ‘pound the pavement’. Use the time to practice mindfulness. Listen to an audiobook. Whatever it is that will keep your brain from focusing on how much you aren’t enjoying it.

Not pushing when you know you shouldn’t

I think if we’re honest, we’ve all done this at some point. We’ve heard the warning but continued on regardless.

Whether it’s the realisation that your throat is sore and you might be coming down with a cold, or the headache you suspect is indicative of burnout… heed it. It’s there for a reason.

No job, and very few other responsibilities, are more important than taking care of your physical and mental wellbeing.

This is the equivalent of putting your own oxygen mask on before you help others. You can’t give to others if your own cup is empty.


Hear me chatting with Hayley Collins

Hayley’s podcast is great, I strongly recommend you subscribe so you don’t miss a single one!

In Episode 25 she chats with me about what it means to be a Chief Executive – some of the things that people tell you but you don’t really understand until you’re alone in the hot-seat.

This is a side of me you won’t have seen, as I don’t talk much about my ‘day-job’ here on the Blog.


The First Time Manager’s Crash Course – Part Two

The First Time Manager’s Crash Course Part One and Part Two are out now on Skillshare.

These are the first two in a series of three programmes aimed at first time managers, helping them bridge the gap between the technical skills and processes that their employer (hopefully) is providing, and the leadership skills and insights they need to develop to be effective managers.

This course is for anyone who aspires to manage other people – whether in a formal management or team leadership role, or as a project manager without ongoing human resource management responsibility.

More importantly, it’s for those who have just been – or are about to be – appointed to one of these roles and are a bit anxious about what is involved.

Follow this link to get your first two months subscription for free…

Or share on Twitter or Facebook so that people in your network can benefit!

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Finding Light in the Darkness: Hope and Optimism

'We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.' Martin Luther King, Jr.Click To Tweet

I came across this beautiful Facebook post by Elizabeth Gilbert recently, in which she shares that our souls have two ways of communicating with us about what they are on the earth to do… they communicate through joy (the easy way) or by being appalled (the hard way). As I reflected on what she shared, I wondered if there’s a third way. I think my soul communicates with me through yearning. Yearning to find ways to have a positive impact.

Your brain is a highly accomplished normalisation engine.

What do I mean by that?

Finding Light

Anything that happens frequently loses it’s novelty and we start to think of it as ‘normal’.

I’m interested in how the news affects us, and how a culture of ‘not good enough’ affects us, and how settling for ‘as good as it gets’ affects us. And importantly what is the cumulative effect of that on society as a whole?

In short, I’m curious about how a small number of people can remain hopeful and optimistic in the face of a world that conspires to show us the darkest and most painful sides of our humanity with alarming regularity.

More importantly, I’m curious about what we could all learn from people who can do this consistently.

Our love/hate relationship with novelty

Our brains are biologically designed to ‘get used to things’ that happen a lot. Have you ever noticed you leave work for your commute home and suddenly you’re in your driveway with no memory of the intervening journey?

No, you haven’t discovered teleportation, your brain is just “blah, blah, seen it all before, blah, blah, ooh – squirrel!”

So our brains become very good at tuning out ‘sameness’. Because generally sameness carries no risk. We know it. We can predict what will happen…

Which sounds kind of useful, right?

Except that all sorts of things can be normalised. People experiencing violence at the hand of their intimate partner normalise their experiences so that it no longer shocks them. People living in war-torn countries find their ability to be shocked diminishes. People living in extreme poverty can become blinded to what surrounds them. And there is probably some protection afforded to your soul when you do this. Living in a constant state of surprise and shock is not particularly healthy.

But normalising isn’t healthy if it prevents you from taking action and creating change.

Change on the other hand, is something most people’s brains aren’t particularly fond of. Change – or novelty – carries unknown risks. It could be a tiger rustling in the bushes – not just the wind.

Unfortunately, our brains tend to have a stress-like response to novelty – an amygdala hijack as it is affectionately known – that triggers our fight or flight reflexes before we have a chance to evaluate the situation.

Now you can see why this might have been an excellent protection mechanism in earlier stages of human evolution, when fear of predators, or fear of eating something poisonous, all had very real life-or-death consequences.

But in the modern day we live in, this biological quirk also means we fear change that could greatly benefit us. Leaving an abusive relationship might mean we’re alone and no-one will love us, or we can’t afford to feed our kids, even if it ends the abuse.

Yet I think that most of us know that without some ‘ups’ and ‘downs’, life can get a little dull.

Normalising our experiences

''Crazy-busy' is a great armor, it's a great way for numbing. What a lot of us do is that we stay so busy, and so out in front of our life, that the truth of how we're feeling and what we really need can't catch up with us.' ~ Brené BrownClick To Tweet

In today’s modern world we are bombarding with ‘stuff’ all day. In our social media feeds, during our commute, throughout our work day, and on the news – however we consume it. There are bad things in the world. Things that we should be shocked by, or appalled by, or devastated by. But the trouble is that we see it so often we become numbed to it. We become immune. So the news editors and marketers have to find new ways to shock us in order to break through the noise. ‘Click bait’.

Finding Light

In many respects, this ‘normalising’ is a protection mechanism. If you and I became overwhelmingly upset every time there was a fatal car accident on the news, we’d never function in the society we’ve built.

By the same token though, I’m not very comfortable that we are conditioned to see a report about a toddler being killed by his or her own parents and think “oh dear, but there’s nothing I could do” or marginally better, change the channel/scroll down to avoid feeling upset…

So on the one hand, this mental normalising is a protection mechanism… but on the other it prevents us from being appalled enough to take action. To do something.

And sure, I know that some of the problems in the world are big – they might seem huge and overwhelming – but all problems throughout history seemed that way until somebody fixed them… that’s been the pattern since the beginning of humanity. Someone needs to fight off the numbness and decide to do something.

Finding light – embracing joy… and being appalled

'If there is dissatisfaction with the status quo, good. If there is ferment, so much the better. If there is restlessness, I am pleased. Then let there be ideas, and hard thought, and hard work. If man feels small, let man make himself bigger.' ~ Hubert H. HumphreyClick To Tweet

Optimists, pessimists and realists all get a bit of a bad rap (mostly from all the others).

Unrealistic, Polly-anna, doom and gloom, Eeyore. But that’s not how we make the world a better place. It’s easy to go around pointing out why everyone else is wrong, and the terms themselves are a bit impotent. They’ve been interpreted and reinterpreted so that they mean different things to different people.

Finding Light

Optimism isn’t simply ‘thinking positive thoughts’. An argument has emerged that optimists deny reality and can’t cope with the eventually bad circumstances that come their way, but this denies the many ways that optimists find positive ways to cope with negative experiences, and choose to look for opportunities even in their darkest days.

Pessimism isn’t simply ‘assuming the worst’. It means recognising that things can turn out badly, and do – more often than not. But more than that, pessimism is often a shield – a desire to be mentally and emotionally prepared for the inevitable disappointments that occur throughout life.

To me, both terms have become slightly derogatory and superficial.

Instead, I prefer complacency and activism.

Complacency is accepting the status quo and assuming it can’t be changed (or worse, doesn’t need to be).

Activism is being prepared to act. To not accept the current state is as good as it gets. To get up and to try and figure out what to do about it.

Which are you?

Are you finding light or cowering in the darkness?


Hear me chatting with Hayley Collins

Hayley’s podcast is great, I strongly recommend you subscribe so you don’t miss a single one!

In Episode 25 she chats with me about what it means to be a Chief Executive – some of the things that people tell you but you don’t really understand until you’re alone in the hot-seat.

This is a side of me you won’t have seen, as I don’t talk much about my ‘day-job’ here on the Blog.


The First Time Manager’s Crash Course – Part Two

The First Time Manager’s Crash Course Part One and Part Two are out now on Skillshare.

These are the first two in a series of three programmes aimed at first time managers, helping them bridge the gap between the technical skills and processes that their employer (hopefully) is providing, and the leadership skills and insights they need to develop to be effective managers.

This course is for anyone who aspires to manage other people – whether in a formal management or team leadership role, or as a project manager without ongoing human resource management responsibility.

More importantly, it’s for those who have just been – or are about to be – appointed to one of these roles and are a bit anxious about what is involved.

Follow this link to get your first two months subscription for free…

Or share on Twitter or Facebook so that people in your network can benefit!

2 thoughts on “Finding Light in the Darkness: Hope and Optimism”

  1. Dear Rebecca,

    This might actually be slightly off-topic, but when I read your thoughts on “sameness”, it resonated deeply with me – because I follow the thought that “sameness” carries no risk.
    However – during the years I have grown to know that the best “sameness” has to do with personal relations. People that I know sufficiently well to have a mutual understanding of the ground rules, the “sameness” that we operate within – but where we are so deeply rooted in the sameness to also have a mutual understanding that it is OK to step out of the sameness and take an opposite point of view with the sole purpuse of challenging the sameness – to force some diversity where there initially was none. The first times it can be necessary to reassure each other by saying “I’m just going to take the opposite point of view here” – but gradually, it becomes so natural that it is possible to float out of and back into the sameness without warning.
    As one interpretation of the Tao Te Ching has it: “When everyone agrees on the beautiful, that is ugliness.” – so it is of great value to be in an environment where anyone is free to – and indeed expected to – challenge the places in which everyone obviously agree.

    All the best,

    • Hi Henrik
      This is a lovely observation. I think you’re describing the freedom to be yourself that emerges when people are very comfortable with each other – no fear of judgement. It stems from trust, in my view. It applies in teams at work too, just in a slightly different way… if a team doesn’t trust each other, then conflict becomes unhealthy patch-protection and jockeying for favours, instead of a healthy exploration of the ideas on the table! A necessary step to improve and create good ideas!

      Writing from London – so about 19,000 kms closer than usual!! ?



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Why I Write What I Write: Seeking Connection

'In nature we never see anything isolated, but everything in connection with something else which is before it, beside it, under it and over it.' ~ Johann Wolfgang von GoetheClick To Tweet

I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about why I write. And why I write what I write. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m seeking connection. But that doesn’t quite mean what you might think.

It isn’t about being lonely and wanting to meet like-minded folks to ease the loneliness. And it isn’t about connection for connection’s sake. I’m surrounded by people every day, and as an introvert, sometimes that gets a bit much.

Seeking Connection

Besides, I’m reading Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly at the moment as part of my crazy 91 day challenge, and Brown would have a few things to offer me if I was seeking connection as a shield for my vulnerability (I think she refers to it as floodlighting – it isn’t a particularly positive thing and appears in the book right next to a related vulnerability avoidance tactic called the smash and grab. I suspect you get the picture).

So what do I mean by ‘seeking connection’?

Seeking integration rather than division

'Integrate what you believe in every single area of your life. Take your heart to work and ask the most and best of everybody else, too.' ~ Meryl StreepClick To Tweet

For me, integration started with alignment of my different worlds: my work world, my home world, my social world, my intellectual world. I learned that the more integrated these roles were in my mind, the more balanced I felt, and the more energy I had. Managing multiple roles – or facades – is exhausting.

So what does this have to do with seeking connection?

Seeking Connection

Going beyond myself, I’m seeking connections that trigger new integrations – the way this goes with that. The world is a big place, and often we define ourselves by who we aren’t instead of who we are. Which means there are many more people who aren’t like me than there are who are like me. And that’s fine, there’s seven billion people in the world – and I have no interest in being the same as everyone else. What I am interested in are the common threads that hold us together.

And they aren’t always the obvious things, like race, or gender, or nationality. I can relate to all mothers, at least to an extent. And working outside the home mothers a lot. And I can relate to most eldest siblings. And I can relate to anyone striving to live their fullest life.

I write because getting the ideas from inside my head out on ‘paper’ enables me to spot possible integrations that weren’t obvious to me before. And because sometimes you can spot the integration that I cannot see at all. That possibility energises me and gives me hope for humanity in general.

Seeking complementarity rather than compartmentalisation

'The whole idea of a stereotype is to simplify. Instead of going through the problem of all this great diversity - that it's this or maybe that - you have just one large statement; it is this.' ~ Chinua AchebeClick To Tweet

It’s easy to put things into boxes. It’s also lazy. Our brains like to do things as efficiently as possible, and compartmentalising something as ‘just like something else’ means we can quickly make a few assumptions about what it is and how it will ‘behave’ without going too deep. Without being curious.

Seeking Connection

Boxes tend to be impermeable and irreversible. Once we’ve put something it its box, it’s a lot of effort to let it out again – because it challenges our assumptions and makes us question our judgement.

Writing helps me to see the way ideas overlap and support one another, rather than seeing everything as a discrete and separate whole.

Seeking collaboration rather than competition

'Creating a better world requires teamwork, partnerships, and collaboration, as we need an entire army of companies to work together to build a better world within the next few decades. This means corporations must embrace the benefits of cooperating with one another.' ~ Simon MainwaringClick To Tweet

There is a deep vulnerability nestled in publishing your thoughts for everyone to see. Ranging from “what if someone ridicules me” to “What if someone proves me wrong” through to “what if I upset someone” to “what if someone steals my best ideas.

Seeking Connection

The only way to answer these worries and stay sane (and keep writing) is: “I don’t know everything and I’m not always right”.

I am impatient for the world to be a better place. In fact, I’m impatient for humanity to be under, gentler and more human. And deep inside, I believe it can be. And I believe that self-leadership – leading from within – holds at least part of the answer.

And while I want to communicate these ideas and motivate others to get involved, I also know that I can’t do it by myself.

So what if someone plagiarises my article? If they share it, and it reaches more people, that’s what I was trying to achieve in the first place. Perhaps this doesn’t quite count as collaboration (they could have asked, and I’d have said yes!) it does involve not slipping into a competitive mindset.

Easy to say… harder to do.

So what do I mean by “Seeking Connection”?

Drawing people together through a common purpose

I am sending ‘bots’ out in the form of ideas… memes. My hope is that they will resonate with somebody. And that the resonance it creates builds a connection that ultimately could result in collaboration and integration and complementarity.

I’m certain I’m not the only person in the world that wants a better world… and I’m also sure that I’m not the only person in the world who sees leadership – personal leadership, not positional leadership – as being a key strategy for achieving it.

If this resonates for you, if you’re also on a mission to support humanity to achieve its full potential, reach out. I’d love to chat.


Hear me chatting with Hayley Collins

Hayley’s podcast is great, I strongly recommend you subscribe so you don’t miss a single one!

In Episode 25 she chats with me about what it means to be a Chief Executive – some of the things that people tell you but you don’t really understand until you’re alone in the hot-seat.

This is a side of me you won’t have seen, as I don’t talk much about my ‘day-job’ here on the Blog.



2 thoughts on “Why I Write What I Write: Seeking Connection”

  1. Dear Rebecca,
    As you know – this resonates very well with me. If we were more people who read and wrote for these reasons, the world would indeed have all possibilities to become a better place.
    All the best

    • Thank you Henrik!

      So the question becomes… “what should we do?”

      To connect more people, with this intent, to each other, so that they can be inspired, and increase their impact…

      Hmmm… Pondering

      Let me know if you have any insights!!



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New Beginnings: Goal Setting & Fresh Starts

'You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing that we call 'failure' is not the falling down, but the staying down.' ~ Mary PickfordClick To Tweet

Maybe it’s Easter, or maybe it’s the changing of the seasons… or maybe it’s because I use the Full Focus Planner and get to start a beautiful new journal every three months… but I’m feeling like it’s a time for new beginnings.

New Beginnings

As part of my quarterly review, I set myself some new and challenging goals for the next three months. One of which is a commitment to 91 days of mindfulness, healthy eating and exercise. I’ve also committed to writing my second book – which is scary and daunting, but also exciting.

So today I thought we could take a look at the psychology of new beginnings, why we’re attracted to them, and how to make the most out of them when they present themselves.

The power of new beginnings

'New Year's resolutions are not really about the resolutions. After all, for most people, the resolutions haven't changed. Most people wanted to lose weight and save money on December 31, too. What we're doing on New Year's Day is more like a mental accounting trick. Our past failures are left on the ledger of Old Me. New Me starts today.' ~ Chip Heath and Dan HeathClick To Tweet

In their excellent book The Power of Moments, Chip Heath and Dan Heath talk specifically about the importance of ‘fresh starts’ and their prevalence across cultures. And while New Year’s Day is the most obvious one on our calendar, attendance data from gyms and fitness centres also show that the beginning of a new week, a new month and a new semester (within the university system) all had the effect of seeing a spike in gym attendance. (I recently reviewed this book – you can see my thoughts  on it here.)

The Heaths conclude that if you are “struggling to make a transition, create a defining moment that draws a dividing line between Old You and New You”.

So personally, this period has multiple transitions attached to it…

  • A new season – Autumn (though technically I think Autumn started in March, but our weather has been unseasonably warm, so I’m giving myself this one)
  • A new month (April)
  • A new quarter (Q2) and
  • A new week

All occurring over a ‘long weekend’ that provided time to reflect, to organise and to plan.

The power of deciding

The reality is, though, you can have as many external ‘new beginnings’ as you like, but unless you decide – I mean really decide – then all the resolutions, commitments and goals in the world aren’t going to do much for you. You’ll start well, for sure – with a whizz and a bang, probably – but by day 15 you’ll be back where you started… except you’ll trust yourself a little less.

I have come to know myself well enough to know that, for me, I’m an all-or-nothing kind of girl. I don’t drink, for example, which many people find odd. I don’t drink fizzy drink (soda). Haven’t for years. So I know that my goals need to be full commitment goals. If I make any exceptions (e.g. a sugary treat is OK on Tuesday night) then I give up the whole day and have ice cream for lunch. So my personal goal for the quarter might seem extreme to some…

  • Up every day between 4.15 and 4.30 am
  • A glass of water with two drops of iodine (my diet doesn’t include much fortified iodine, and thyroid health is important)
  • Coffee
  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Reading
  • Writing

All by 6.30am.

I’ve also gone sugar-free, and committed to reading 6 books, reaching 10,000 steps every day, saving money by making my work lunches, and drinking at least 8 glasses of water every day.

It seems a bit extreme, but I know that I can do it for 91 days. And I know that by doing it for 91 days, some parts of it will stick as lasting habits. They’ll be ‘installed’.

I’ll try and keep you posted on my progress if you like – probably through my newsletter.

The power of beginning

'Beginnings are always messy.' ~ John GalsworthyClick To Tweet

It’s all very well to desire ‘new beginnings’, but wanting it and doing it are two different things!

I have found that when I want to achieve a new goal, if it is something that requires something different of me every day, I struggle a bit with getting started.

New Beginnings

I find it helps to start from a date… and the more significant the date, the easier it is to start. That’s why, although I’d been designing my new habit goals for a week or so, I was doing that in anticipation of 1 April, and the start of a new quarter. I let myself off the hook for the days leading up to 1 April – I even finished the last of my favourite ice-cream, so that I wouldn’t be tempted once I got underway!

So why does actually beginning matter? Because it is only by beginning that you can build momentum. And momentum is what is going to keep you doing this crazy thing when the going gets tough. It’s much harder to break a streak than it is to never start…

The power of momentum

'It always seems impossible until it's done.' ~ Click To Tweet

When Roger Bannister died in March, the global news media shared and reshared the story of his career… and the footage of him breaking the four-minute-mile. In 1954, when the feat was accomplished, he shocked the world. Until that moment, everyone (perhaps except Bannister) believed that four-minutes and one mile were two mutually exclusive constraints on human endeavour… that it was literally impossible to achieve.

New Beginnings

But just a year later, three runners broke the barrier in the same race! And over the last fifty years…? Well, it isn’t really a barrier anymore. (OK – it’s a barrier for me. I’ve never run a four-minute mile…)

How can this be?

Momentum. Once you know something can be done – because you’ve done it – you can do it again. And again.

And when you do it often enough, you gain momentum. And an object with momentum is hard to stop – it requires considerably more effort to slow it down than it does to keep it going.

Eventually it becomes a habit.

The power of habit

'We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.' ~ Will DurantClick To Tweet

And so we come to the ultimate outcome – the habit.

New Beginnings

Habits are things you no longer notice you do, because they are ingrained and unconscious. Like breathing.

And while it is true that you don’t want to be unaware of your habits (I’m an active proponent of mindfulness after all!) you can use this trait of the human brain to your advantage, by installing habits that serve you well. How do you install a habit? You do the thing repeatedly until it no longer requires effort.

Studies have come up with a variety of time frames for how long it takes for a repeated action to become a habit… None particularly compelling. I think this is largely because it depends. The obvious variables to me are:

  • How difficult is the thing you are trying to habitualise?
  • How complicated is the thing you are trying to habitualise?
  • What regions of the brain is it drawing on?
  • Are you trying tor replace an existing habit?
  • How frequently do you do it while you are installing the habit?
  • How consistently do you do it while you are installing the habit?
  • How frequently do you want to use the habit once it’s bedded in?

So whether it’s 21 days or 90 days or a year… it’s going to depend a little on exactly what it is, and whether you stick with it, consistently.

For example, when I played cricket as a teenager, I had an unconscious ‘hop’ in my bowling run-up. I’d been practising that way for years. It was deeply ingrained, and unconscious.

But once I became aware of it, I slowed my approach right down, and practised it – almost in slow motion – for a few hours, before gradually building back up to speed. It felt weird at first, but practice normalised it. And within a couple of days… no more hop.

However, this was drawing on my motor skills, not my executive functioning.

My hope is that within 90 days, most – if not all – the components of these new habits will be thoroughly embedded.

Wish me luck!


Hear me chatting with Hayley Collins

Hayley’s podcast is great, I strongly recommend you subscribe so you don’t miss a single one!

In Episode 25 she chats with me about what it means to be a Chief Executive – some of the things that people tell you but you don’t really understand until you’re alone in the hot-seat.

This is a side of me you won’t have seen, as I don’t talk much about my ‘day-job’ here on the Blog.



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Accessing the Answer Within: How Coaching Can Help

'Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.' ~ Marcus AureliusClick To Tweet

Unless you already have it all ‘sussed’ (in which case, lovely to meet you, but why are you here?) chances are my recent posts about finding your mission and realizing your potential might have been a bit intimidating. Today I’d like to share how coaching can help you access the answer within, enabling you to grow and transform from an authentic place… a place that is unique and meaningful to you.

Coaching Answer Within

I’m particularly going to focus on how to find a great coach – a coach that is perfect for you –  and hopefully put to rest some of your natural and understandable cynicism.

The coaching industry…

If you Google “coaching” there are literally hundreds of millions of results – from sports coaches, to music coaches, to language coaches, to acting coaches, to business and life coaches.  And unlike regulated professions (lawyers, engineers, architects) anybody can call themselves a coach and charge you for the privilege of spending some time with them.

That’s good news and bad news. It means that coaching has grown in prominence since the seventies, with the rise of self-help books. And let’s face it: life’s pretty complicated – who wouldn’t want somebody else to carry some of that load! But the bad news is, it really means that you, the potential client, have no idea whether what someone is offering will be good… or even what ‘good’ looks like.

It’s a bit like open-mic night at your local comedy club. It might be funny…

So where do you start?

Look for professional accreditation…

There is a body called the International Coach Federation (ICF) who provide a few things that are pretty neat…

Course Regulation

They provide a framework for accreditation of coach training, which means that there are training programmes with ICF accreditation that you can be confident have undergone rigorous scrutiny and meet the ICF’s exacting requirements. Coaches who graduate from these programmes will be on track to meet the ICF’s standards for Coach Accreditation

Coach Accreditation

The ICF offers a graduated series of recognised coaching credentials – essentially providing assurance that a coach has undergone extensive and regulated training, gained significant experience and demonstrated the ability to deliver effective coaching through either one-on-one or group coaching methodologies. They have undertaken an exam, agreed to abide by a stringent Code of Ethics, had their coaching practice externally reviewed, been mentored by a more experienced coach and committed to ongoing professional development.

Ongoing Professional Development

You don’t want a coach who trained 30 years ago and has done nothing to maintain their knowledge since then. New understandings about how the brain works, the benefits of positive psychology, and high performance is emerging all the time.

To maintain membership of the ICF, professional coaches must meet stringent criteria around Continuing Coach Education, including ethics. And for early career coaches, this must include mentoring from a more experienced coach.

How coaching can help you find the answer within

'We cannot teach people anything; we can only help them discover it within themselves.' ~ Galileo GalileiClick To Tweet

Your brain is a complicated place. It’s often noisy, complex and counterintuitive. There can be little voices in there, telling you what you can and can’t do. You can be holding beliefs and values and systems of thinking that feel exactly like facts but that are actually old habits or programmes of thinking that are holding you back from achieving your potential.

Coaching Answers Within

A professional coach can help you make sense of it all. Not by telling you the answers or teaching you what to do, but by helping you access the tools and knowledge you already have within you to gain new insights.

Why can’t I just do it myself… if I already have the answers

Often the things that are holding you back are subconscious – you aren’t aware of them. Some people are able to develop tools and techniques that enable them to access these insights without the assistance of another person.

But an effective coach enables you to hear what you are saying as an objective independent person. By reflecting back to you what you are realising, and by asking questions that take you deeper inside your own story – or even take you right out of your own story.  Free from the lenses that you apply within your own thinking.

An effective coach can help you become aware of what you want, and what’s holding your back.

And perhaps more importantly, can help you decide what you are going to do about it.

So how do I find the right coach for me?


If someone you know and trust has a coach and recommends them to you, that’s a pretty good starting point. Then your only question is whether that coach’s approach is right for you.


Are they accredited? Are they credible? Are they qualified? Do they have testimonials on their website from satisfied clients?

Simple but powerful questions…


Most coaches offer a first meeting for free. Not every coach is right for every client… and not every client is right for every coach. Have a chat. Be prepared to talk a little bit about what you are hoping to achieve, and how you like to be supported. Ask some questions of the coach, like how does she work, what motivates her to coach and what type of results has she achieved.

Finally, make sure that you understand what is involved. A credible coach will have a contractual arrangement for you, that will include important things like confidentiality… and the limits on that confidentially, what will happen in the event you need to cancel a session at short notice, what guarantees they offer (if any) and so forth.

Concluding thoughts on coaching…

'People are like stained - glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.' ~ Elisabeth Kubler-RossClick To Tweet

Eventually you have to make a decision… and that will largely be about intuition. Does this coach feel right for you? Did you feel a sense of partnership when you were talking.

Coaching Answers Within

Because ultimately, coaching is a partnership between the client and the coach. The coach is the expert on the conversation, and you are the expert on ‘you’.

Together you can find the answer within and accomplish phenomenal things.

The First Time Manager’s Crash Course – Part Two

The First Time Manager’s Crash Course Part One and Part Two are out now on Skillshare.

These are the first two in a series of three programmes aimed at first time managers, helping them bridge the gap between the technical skills and processes that their employer (hopefully) is providing, and the leadership skills and insights they need to develop to be effective managers.

This course is for anyone who aspires to manage other people – whether in a formal management or team leadership role, or as a project manager without ongoing human resource management responsibility.

More importantly, it’s for those who have just been – or are about to be – appointed to one of these roles and are a bit anxious about what is involved.

Follow this link to get your first two months subscription for free…

Or share on Twitter or Facebook so that people in your network can benefit!

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Realizing Your Potential: Why You Need A Mission

'The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential... these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.' ~ ConfuciusClick To Tweet

Recently, I wrote about finding your mission – your reason for being.

The idea that there is ‘one thing’ that you are here to do… to impact… can be a bit scary. So I prefer to think of it as finding the key to realizing your potential. That way it becomes a means to an end, rather than an end in itself.

Realizing Your Potential

Realizing your potential matters on a number of different levels and for a few different reasons. In this article I’ll unpick these a little bit in the hope of making the whole thing a little less daunting.

Realizing your potential – globally, locally, personally

Global potential

'With realization of one's own potential and self-confidence in one's ability, one can build a better world.' ~ Dalai LamaClick To Tweet

There is power in numbers. Especially big numbers. Recently the #MeToo movement has started to ‘gently’ impact on the problems with abuse of power and issues of harassment of women by men in positions of power. The March For Our Lives rallies across the United States following the senseless killing of seventeen people at a High School in Florida are another striking example.

We are more powerful together. And the combined impact of all our ‘potential’ coming together in a coordinated way is a sight to see.

Realizing Your Potential

Can you imagine if every person on earth had the tools to be the best person they were capable of being?

Local potential

'A word of encouragement from a teacher to a child can change a life. A word of encouragement from a spouse can save a marriage. A word of encouragement from a leader can inspire a person to reach her potential.' ~ John C. MaxwellClick To Tweet

While we are citizens of the world, we are also citizen’s of many smaller communities. Communities where we recognise the faces around us, and know people by name. Our ability to impact here seems slightly less daunting.

Realizing Your Potential

Our workplaces, our families, our schools, clubs and societies. How we behave and the example we set in these groups can have a marked and immediately impact on the likelihood that these institutions are a force for good in our communities.

In many regards, all movements start as local movements.

Personal potential

'Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us.' ~ Wilma RudolphClick To Tweet

It’s possible that when I wrote about finding your life’s purpose, your mission, that you found the idea a bit intimidating. Fair enough. It sounds very final and singular in its focus.

Realizing Your Potential

But even if you are fearful of the idea of identifying a mission for your life, I suspect that you are more comfortable with the idea of reaching your potential. The idea that you want to make the most of the unique signature of skills, talents and experiences that make you ‘you’.

Personally, my greatest fear is that I will die without reaching my full potential. The idea that I would leave anything on the table is worse than giving a big speech in a room full of spiders on the edge of a deep ravine… at the dentist.

So why does realizing your potential seem less daunting than finding your life’s purpose?

I think because it’s less objective. With a ‘mission’ you either have one – that you can articulate – or you don’t. Whereas realizing your potential is relative. It’s part of a journey. At any point in your life your potential can change. The longer you live, the more you should have been able to achieve. The more you learn, the more you are capable of.

So what does all of this have to do with your mission?

See your mission as the key to unlocking your potential…

'When you catch a glimpse of your potential, that's when passion is born.' ~ Zig ZiglarClick To Tweet

Two metaphors spring to mind for me here.

If you don’t know where you are going, any path will do…

I suspect for most people, this idiom, used a lot in personal development, but also in corporate planning, is seen as describing the reason for having a ‘mission’ or ‘vision’. In those instances, the mission is the direction so that you can identify the best path – tactics, products, strategy – to get there.

Realizing Your Potential

I’d like you to flip that on its head. Instead, think of the end point, the destination, as realizing your potential. And your mission as being the path to get you there. Consequently, your mission might change subtly over time, but the end goal remains the same… to realize your personal potential.

This requires you to understand your own strengths and talents. It requires you to be persistent and focused. And it requires you to be mindful of how you achieve your mission as well as exactly what that mission is.

The person who chases two rabbits catches neither…

Part of the reason many people are put off the idea of establishing a personal mission is that ‘singularness’ of it. How many doors are closed when you decide to go through that one single door…

But in fact, that’s exactly the point. If your effort is scattered – if you are chasing multiple rabbits (not withstanding how often you disappear down the rabbit-hole) you effort is unfocused. You will not catch any rabbit, and you will exhaust yourself in the effort along the way.

Think of your mission as choosing one rabbit. If that rabbit becomes ‘unavailable’ for some reason, you can choose another one. But in the meantime, you have a much higher chance of catching one rabbit.

Realizing your potential requires you to know your mission…

If you stop seeing ‘mission’ as some grand gesture, and instead explore it as an iterative process of setting ambitious goals and objectives, it becomes a little less scary. Less intimidating.

Realizing your potential is too ‘fluffy’ to guide you as you navigate the twists and turns of an increasingly complex world. Instead, you need to establish a mission to serve as your focus. Your guide. Your reference point.

Just don’t get so attached to it that you can’t let it go when you realise it’s no longer taking you in the right direction!

The First Time Manager’s Crash Course – Part Two

The First Time Manager’s Crash Course Part One and Part Two are out now on Skillshare.

These are the first two in a series of three programmes aimed at first time managers, helping them bridge the gap between the technical skills and processes that their employer (hopefully) is providing, and the leadership skills and insights they need to develop to be effective managers.

This course is for anyone who aspires to manage other people – whether in a formal management or team leadership role, or as a project manager without ongoing human resource management responsibility.

More importantly, it’s for those who have just been – or are about to be – appointed to one of these roles and are a bit anxious about what is involved.

Follow this link to get your first two months subscription for free…

Or share on Twitter or Facebook so that people in your network can benefit!

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Top Socially-Shared Leadership Blogs Of 2018 – Thanks!

I was planning to write an article today about how to find your mission

So I’m really sorry if you came here to find that – you’ll need to just wait a few more days!

Instead I would like to say an enormous thank you for your support.


Because I learned today that I am listed #66 on the Center for Management and Organization Effectiveness Top Socially-Shared Leadership Blogs Of 2018!

Top Socially-Shared Leadership Blogs Of 2018

The 107 articles I wrote during the period covered by CMOE’s analysis were shared a total of 2,128 times.

That’s 847 shares on Facebook, 571 shares on Twitter and 952 shares on LinkedIn.

You guys rock! Thank you sooo much!

I feel very humbled. There are some impressive names on this list – I’m not quite sure how it happened! I get to put a pretty badge on my site and everything!

'Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.' ~ Marcus Tullius CiceroClick To Tweet


The First Time Manager’s Crash Course – Part Two

The First Time Manager’s Crash Course Part One and Part Two are out now on Skillshare.

These are the first two in a series of three programmes aimed at first time managers, helping them bridge the gap between the technical skills and processes that their employer (hopefully) is providing, and the leadership skills and insights they need to develop to be effective managers.

This course is for anyone who aspires to manage other people – whether in a formal management or team leadership role, or as a project manager without ongoing human resource management responsibility.

More importantly, it’s for those who have just been – or are about to be – appointed to one of these roles and are a bit anxious about what is involved.

Follow this link to get your first two months subscription for free…

Or share on Twitter or Facebook so that people in your network can benefit!

1 thought on “Top Socially-Shared Leadership Blogs Of 2018 – Thanks!”

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Finding Your Mission: Why Are You Here?

'My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.' ~ Maya AngelouClick To Tweet

When you wake up in the morning and think about going to work… what feelings come up for you?

  • Are you excited?
  • Are you anxious?
  • Are you bored?
  • Are you content?
  • Are you stressed?


According to Gallup, only 13% of employees, globally, are engaged in their work. This is staggering. Engagement isn’t some impossible feat where only a select few are capable of it. This is something that should be available to everyone. And I know that not all employers are fabulous at creating engaging workplaces, but some responsibility rests with us too – as employees we make choices about where we work, and in what line of work. We choose how we ‘show up’ and have a lot more influence over our own engagement than we might think.

And if you’re a manager, chances are you have had it drummed into you that you are responsible for lifting engagement in your team… but how engaged are you?

So my question to you is this: What is your Mission?

Mission-driven work is important because it enables us to feel like we are growing personally and contributing to society or the world. These things combined lead to fulfilment.

Now I hear you say that not everyone can work for Apple or Google or Tesla or Amnesty International… I get that.

But I’m not saying you have to work for a mission-driven organisation to be fulfilled.

I’m also not saying that you have to make your job your mission… life is too rich and full for that to be the extent of your mission.

What I’m saying is that you need to have a mission. And you need to find meaningful work that aligns with your mission, so that you feel that your work day is pulling you in the right direction.

How do I find my mission?

'A noble purpose inspires sacrifice, stimulates innovation and encourages perseverance.' ~ Gary HamelClick To Tweet

Be open to the idea that you have one…

In my experience, everyone has a mission. But in many cases the story that society tells us about how to get ahead – go to university, get good grades, choose a career, work hard, get promoted – drowns it out. Kids don’t start out wanting to be internal auditors or quantity surveyors! They start out wanting to be knights and princesses, or Robin Hood, or fire-fighters.


As our senses get numbed by the routine day-to-day rituals that ensure we collect a pay-check and support our families, we become immune to the voice within that could help us align ourselves with our life’s purpose.

So get quiet with your thoughts and LISTEN. Be aware that you might experience discomfort as you work through this process, because the idea that there is something that you are called to will probably mean a LOT of change. Most people don’t like change much. Don’t worry – having the thought doesn’t require change. But what comes next will.

Visualise your own funeral…

OK, I know this sounds a bit extreme, but it is effective. You are going to die one day. So just fast forward a bit and imagine it has just happened.

Imagine yourself many years out in the future. You’ve lived a long and healthy life. Picture the inside of the building where the service is taking place. Then focus on the faces of the people attending. Who is there? Who isn’t there? Picture it the way you would like it to be. Standing room only, and packed with people you love. People you’ve worked with. Friends, family, colleagues.

Someone stands up and moves to the front of the gathering to give a eulogy. Who is it? …And what do they say? And then someone else gets up to deliver a eulogy… What do they remember about you? What contribution did you make to other people’s lives. What useful work did you do? What jokes do they tell? In what way is the world different as a result of you having been in it?

Focusing on what impact you want to have in the world is a whole lot easier if you fast-forward to the end. “Future you” is easier to picture as accomplished, ambitious and fearless.

When you’ve finished, you’ll need to sit with it for a few minutes. It’s uncomfortable. It’s supposed to be.

Then ask:

  • What aspects of your life are in alignment with the person who’s funeral you attended?
  • In what ways is your current life out of alignment with that life?
  • What needs your attention?
  • What are you prepared to do about it?

Now in reality, all of these images and words came from inside your own brain. What your friends and family said about you is what you want them to say about you. Those things? That’s your mission.

Write it down while it’s fresh. As much detail as you can remember.

I want you to live with this insight for a few days.

'Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.' ~ John F. KennedyClick To Tweet

Then I’ll help you figure out what to do next…



The First Time Manager’s Crash Course – Part Two

The First Time Manager’s Crash Course Part One and Part Two are out now on Skillshare.

These are the first two in a series of three programmes aimed at first time managers, helping them bridge the gap between the technical skills and processes that their employer (hopefully) is providing, and the leadership skills and insights they need to develop to be effective managers.

This course is for anyone who aspires to manage other people – whether in a formal management or team leadership role, or as a project manager without ongoing human resource management responsibility.

More importantly, it’s for those who have just been – or are about to be – appointed to one of these roles and are a bit anxious about what is involved.

Follow this link to get your first two months subscription for free…

Or share on Twitter or Facebook so that people in your network can benefit!

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Five Things I’ve Learned About Leadership From Blogging

In April, this Blog will turn one. So it seems timely to reflect a little bit on how far it’s come in that time, and, more importantly, what I’ve learned about leadership from blogging.

'Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.' ~ Benjamin FranklinClick To Tweet

Learned About Leadership From Blogging

So here are five things I’ve learned about leadership from blogging.

There’s more where that came from…

What I thought would happen:

When I first started this site in April 2017 I was fearful. About a lot of things. But in particular I was worried that I didn’t know enough about leadership to write about it consistently, and that I didn’t have enough ideas and creativity.

What has actually happened:

What has actually happened is that I’ve written two posts a week, each of about 1,000 words, for fifty weeks, with no sign of slowing down! During that time there’s been family vacations, frantically busy periods at work, birthdays, the flu… but even if the day I posted changed a little, I still got two posts completed. And I hardly ever have to work hard to think of an idea!

'The key to abundance is meeting limited circumstances with unlimited thoughts.' ~ Marianne WilliamsonClick To Tweet

What it taught me about leadership:

There is no limit on the number of ideas you can have. Sure you have to learn about how to get into a creative/ideation frame of mind, but in reality, the world is a rich and varied muse. There’s also no need to be competitive with your ideas. It’s a good thing if other people copy your ideas, or have a similar idea at the same time. There’s more where that came from!

Growth Mindset

Being authentic requires less effort…

What I thought would happen:

In the beginning I was worried about sounding authoritative. Some of the incredible folks blogging about leadership are daunting towers of intellect. They’ve read all the literature, studied at the most prestigious leadership schools, coached or consulted at the biggest firms and have massive followings. I was worried that people would see me as ‘try-hard’ or amateur. That the holes in my experience and knowledge would be visible for everyone to see…

What has actually happened:

Well, they are visible for everyone to see. And that’s OK! What’s more, some of the posts I’ve written that seem to have resonated the most for readers are the ones where I’m laying it all out there… Like the one where I gave up on trying to follow the rules. And the one where I concede that most leadership advice is wrong (including mine). And the opposite is also true. When I tried really hard to write an authoritative article about technical advice I either got no readers or lots of readers who didn’t engage. The post about making a bad first impression when you start a new job, has more views than every other post, my homepage and my about page combined… yet no engagement. People clicked to make sure there wasn’t anything they needed to know, scanned through, and moved on. No connection.

'Authenticity means erasing the gap between what you firmly believe inside and what you reveal to the outside world.' ~ Adam GrantClick To Tweet

What it taught me about leadership:

Leading with authenticity should be effortless – just like writing with authenticity is. Why? Because there’s no need to keep track of what you’ve already said, there’s no need to ‘manage’ your outward body-language or speaking. There’s no need to guard against letting something slip that you didn’t intend. When you lead from a place of confidence in yourself, your abilities and the courage of your convictions, your leadership presence shines through and everything becomes easier.

Learned About Leadership From Blogging

Improvement is gradual and easy to miss…

What I thought would happen:

When I started, I thought I was a pretty good writer. And I thought I knew enough about blogging to get started. This was probably true. But I didn’t really expect to get much better. I thought the “it takes time” I’d read everywhere was about technical matters, like being found and indexed by search engines…

What has actually happened:

When I look at my first posts now, I cringe.

They look terrible, and they’re hard to read. The ideas in them aren’t crisp. There’s a sloppiness. A pretence. The voice is unclear

When I read some of my more recent posts – say a month or two ago – I’m often pleasantly surprised by what I find.

'I was taught that the way of progress was neither swift nor easy.' ~ Marie CurieClick To Tweet

What it taught me about leadership:

Although I don’t have such an explicit record of my first forays into leadership, I’m sure the same progress would be evident. If I could watch a video of me in my first few months in a leadership role, I’m sure I’d cringe… Improvement is gradual. Progress is gradual. But there’s real value in looking back from time to time to see how far you’ve actually come.

Learned About Leadership From Blogging

You get out what you put in…

What I thought would happen:

When I first started blogging, I half expected some sort of magic to happen automatically. I’m an optimist – and I thought that I would be so clever (oh the retrospective hubris!) that people would be flocking to my site by the thousands…

…Within days.

What has actually happened:

I have had many visitors – about 25,000 all told. But that’s because of a lot of hard work. You can’t buy it. You can’t force it. You have to be persistent, generous, diligent and tenacious.

'Only those who have learned the power of sincere and selfless contribution experience life's deepest joy: true fulfillment.' ~ Tony RobbinsClick To Tweet

What it taught me about leadership:

The same is true for leadership. It’s all very well to get the promotion, to land the plum job. But that’s actually when the real work starts. You have to prove yourself, deliver results, and keep showing up… day in and day out… with the best version of yourself. What you bring to the table is rewarded. Do it often, and do it well, and who knows what is possible.

Personal Leadership Contribution

There’s seldom a ‘correct’ way or a single answer…

What I thought would happen:

Once I realised I didn’t already know it all, I went through a process of trying to find the answer online… the downloadable, the existing blog post, the eBook.

Surely someone could tell me how to build a successful blog?

Surely there’s a formula for this?

What has actually happened:

There are as many answers as there are questions… possibly more. Some of the advice is contradictory. Much of it is out of date.  Some doesn’t apply to my topic. Much of it focuses too much on things that are relatively straightforward, and not nearly enough focuses on the things that are actually tricky…

'Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.' ~ John F. KennedyClick To Tweet

What it taught me about leadership:

There is a multitude of leadership advice out there – all very well-intentioned. But if they don’t know you and your unique context, it’s pretty unlikely the advice will perfectly meet your needs.

Sample all of it with moderation and a critical eye and then find your own path. You will be rewarded for your tenacity.



The First Time Manager’s Crash Course

The First Time Manager’s Crash Course is out now on Skillshare.

This is the first in a series of three programmes aimed at first time managers, helping them bridge the gap between the technical skills and processes that their employer (hopefully) is providing, and the leadership skills and insights they need to develop to be effective managers.

This course is for anyone who aspires to manage other people – whether in a formal management or team leadership role, or as a project manager without ongoing human resource management responsibility.

More importantly, it’s for those who have just been – or are about to be – appointed to one of these roles and are a bit anxious about what is involved.

Follow this link to get your first two months subscription for free…

Or share on Twitter or Facebook so that people in your network can benefit!

2 thoughts on “Five Things I’ve Learned About Leadership From Blogging”

  1. I really enjoyed reading the blog. I have recently started writing blogs on leadership and am still learning how to write and make it better every time I write my blog. Reading about how you started writing your blog and your learning from blogging on leadership matches my present situation and have given me motivation to continue my blog. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • Thank you so much for stopping by, and for taking the time to comment!

      Blogging has been a source of constant learning for me, and it sounds like the same is true for you! Enjoy the journey, and let me know if there’s anyway I can be of assistance!

      All the best


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Leadership Presence: It’s Harder Than It Looks

I am in the process of creating a three-part online course for first-time managers. It’s a lot of fun. But I have been struck by just how much is involved. Not in making the course (although that is definitely quite a process) but in actually trying to break down what effective leaders do… how they are… what it is that gives them ‘leadership presence’.

Great leaders – effective leaders – make it look effortless. Like the proverbial swan gliding across the lake, but paddling furiously underneath. They understand that everything about them is a leadership tool at their disposal: their voice, their stance, their mood, the speed of their walk, how they show up in the world. What they say and what they don’t say. What they do and what they don’t do.

So today – as much as it scares me to attempt it – I’m going to try and unpick leadership presence so that we might all learn a little more about it.

Leadership presence is about physical presence

'Stand up straight and realize who you are, that you tower over your circumstances.' ~ Maya AngelouClick To Tweet

Leadership Presence


In her brilliant book Presence Amy Cuddy dedicates an entire chapter to what one of her readers called the “Starfish”. A pose where you stretch out like a starfish and make yourself as large/long as you can.


A ‘power’ pose works, not by intimidating other people, but by making you feel more confident. A ‘closed’ pose makes you feel fearful and timid. There is alarming evidence (alarming because it’s so deceptively simple) that the act of holding a power pose in the mirror will make you feel more confident, more powerful, and more ‘present’. It changes how you think, speak, and feel.

Leaders with presence know this.

So “starfish up”!


Closely related to posture is movement. Leaders with true presence tend to move in a very purposeful way. Even if they’re in a hurry, they don’t run – they know what impact their behaviour has on other people. Seeing your boss running somewhere instils a sense of panic. Of fear.

Instead leaders with strong presence tend to walk swiftly, all the time – whether they’re in a hurry of not. They don’t want to waste time, but they also know whatever it is will wait for them to arrive.

Body language

In their book The Definitive Book of Body LanguageBarbara and Allan Pease maintain that body language makes up a significant proportion of the communication message, but that most people do not know how to read it, or control it.

Leaders with presence often don’t need to know the ins and outs of body language. Their communication comes from a place of authenticity and consistency and their bodies tend to confirm what they are saying.


Your voice is a powerful tool. Pace, pitch, intonation and when you breathe all have an impact on how your spoken messages are received. And while singers learn how to maximise the power of their voice, most other people do not. They assume that what they have is what they’ve got, and there’s little they can do about it.

Leaders with presence know the power of their oral communication and practice it. They belong to an organisation like Toastmasters, and even if they don’t enjoy public speaking, they embrace it as an important tool of leadership.

Leadership presence is about emotional presence

“If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.” ~ Daniel Goleman


How are you feeling right now? Are you happy? Are you sad? Are you tired? Are you enthusiastic? Are you bored?

How often do you actually pause and consider how you are actually feeling at that exact moment. Right now, I’m up at 5.30 am and I’ve already meditated and completed a 15 minute yoga workout… I’m feeling proud of myself. I’m also feeling slightly intimidated by this article – it has made a big promise!

Leaders with presence are in tune with their emotional state. This means that they can draw upon it for effect if they need to, they can be thoughtful about what activities they carry out at different times of the day. It also means they’re less likely to provide correctional feedback when they’re grumpy – they know that this seldom helps you.

Leadership Presence


When you are aware of your emotional state, you’re also far better equipped to exert control over it. Believe it or not, you have some degree of control over how you feel. This isn’t some ‘Pollyanna-ish’ delusion, based on ignoring reality, it’s about recognising something as simple as exerting choice. Tony Robbins in Awaken the Giant Within, for example, likes to talk about how he learned to substitute the word angry with “peeved”. The word was so much less powerful than angry that it actually calmed him down.

Leaders with presence have a few effective ways to exert control over their emotional state, especially unproductive emotions like anger, jealousy and resentment.

Leadership presence is about interpersonal presence


Unless you’re superhuman (which you probably aren’t) you rely on other people to get things done. Even if you aren’t yet in a management role, you need your co-workers to pull their weight and be effective for your team to be successful.

Leaders with presence lead from a place of love. They care deeply about the people they work with, and want to help them be successful and the best they can be.


I’ve spoken about listening quite recently. It’s a sorely under-utilised skill. And many leaders mistakenly believe that their position entitles them to more air-time!

Leaders with presence accepted a while ago that they don’t have all the answers, and that they need all the help they can get. They also know that the most powerful gift they can give to another person is the gift of listening. Properly.


The corollary to listening is speaking. And many leaders do too much of it. Myself included. But there is one important leadership trait that involves speaking… storytelling.

Many people in your organisation will struggle to create a connection between themselves and the purpose/mission of the organisation – how their individual contribution makes a difference. Or they won’t understand what the data means…

Leaders with presence understand that telling stories is the most effective way to reach people and help them feel connected to something bigger than themselves.

Leadership presence is about cognitive and intellectual presence


This tends to come naturally for many leaders, who were promoted due to their technical competence. But there is also a need for rigour in the disciplines of organisational leadership and management – not just the business.

Leaders with presence understand that they don’t need to be experts on every business process, product line or service… but they do need to be rigorous practitioners of the art of leadership, the skills of management and the tools of decision making and analysis.


I have observed that some leaders stop learning once they’ve ‘made it’ to the C-Suite.

Leaders with presence know that there’s always more to learn, and actively seek out new knowledge. The process of doing this challenges their pre-conceived ideas, updates their reasoning and triggers creativity and innovation.


Nobody can be truly confident that they know everything and can handle every situation that could arise.

But leaders with presence know that they can be confident about different things. That they can be confident that something probably will go wrong, but they’ll figure it out. That they don’t know everything, but they’ll learn it. That people are unpredictable, but they’ll cope

Leadership presence is about being present


Some leaders are constantly distracted or thinking about the next meeting or the next sales pitch… or their next promotion.

Leaders with presence are, well, present. They’re here right now. They may even have a mindfulness or meditation practice to help them with that…


What observations have you made about leaders with presence? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!


The First Time Manager’s Crash Course

The First Time Manager’s Crash Course is out now on Skillshare.

This is the first in a series of three programmes aimed at first time managers, helping them bridge the gap between the technical skills and processes that their employer (hopefully) is providing, and the leadership skills and insights they need to develop to be effective managers.

This course is for anyone who aspires to manage other people – whether in a formal management or team leadership role, or as a project manager without ongoing human resource management responsibility.

More importantly, it’s for those who have just been – or are about to be – appointed to one of these roles and are a bit anxious about what is involved.

Follow this link to get your first two months subscription for free…

Or share on Twitter or Facebook so that people in your network can benefit!

1 thought on “Leadership Presence: It’s Harder Than It Looks”

  1. I think that a good leader is always present, even if they are not physically present the people they work with know how their leader will react to a situation and what would be their likely course of action. This means that they have very effectively conveyed their ideals to the people they work with everyday.


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Ambition, Striving and Acceptance: Permission to Relax

'Happiness can exist only in acceptance.' ~ George OrwellClick To Tweet

I suspect you’re a bit like me… that you’re highly goal oriented. That you are motivated to accomplish big things and have an impact in the world – whatever that looks like for you. But being ambitious and striving for success can come at a cost. Usually, that cost is the inability to be content with what you already have… acceptance.


As a leader, I’ve come to appreciate that being comfortable with ambiguity is important. But even more important is embracing contradiction. And this contradiction between hunger for ‘more’ and acceptance of what you already have has become a favourite of mine.

So today we’ll unpick this contradiction just a little bit, and hopefully we’ll both find a way to have more acceptance without giving up on our dreams!

Striving and ambition are about future orientation…

'Big results require big ambitions.' ~ HeraclitusClick To Tweet

I have written previously about Phillip Zimbardo’s work on Time Orientation. Ambition is about the future. It’s about action now to create something bigger/better/faster in the future. People with high levels of ambition tend to be higher in future orientation.


Ambition is usually a good thing! It helps us to delay gratification. It enables us to put in the hours of practice. It equips us to overcome setbacks. And it is one of the driving forces behind the progress of the human race.

But often, achieving those ambitions – and the striving that is necessary to do that – requires you to sacrifice something in the now. Like sleep. Or happiness. Or time with people who are important to you.

Now I have to confess that not only am I high on Zimbardo’s ‘Future’ orientation index, but my number one strength in Gallop Strengths Finder is “Futuristic”. So it probably shouldn’t be a surprise that I have a tendency to set fairly ambitious goals for myself, and also for my team.

… but it must be balanced by a healthy dose of present and past

'The end of labor is to gain leisure.' ~ AristotleClick To Tweet

Otherwise, what is it all for?


Life is not some giant race to the end. You only get one, and if you spend it fretting about what you can achieve tomorrow, you will find your tomorrow has none of the people or memories in it that would make it a worthy prize for all that striving.

Building acceptance

So if I accept that my ambition for tomorrow, and my willingness to strive for it aren’t going to go away, what could I do today that would enable me to enjoy the journey?

Because the practical implication of striving on a daily basis is that you set small steps to achieve – mini-milestones if you will – and sometimes you don’t get them done… so you feel like your day has been wasted… no progress.

But is that really true?

What can I do right now to be more forgiving of myself when I don’t achieve the things I set out to do, and what can I do to be more accepting of exactly where I am right now?

Practice gratitude daily

“In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.” ~ Harvey B. Simon, MD – Harvard Medical School

This might sound a bit ‘la-la’ when you first hear it, but repeated credible studies have found a strong correlation between deliberately practicing gratitude and feeling good. This effect is sustained over the long term, and is so simple it’s a no-brainer for me.


I include gratitude in my morning meditation and also write down at least three things I am grateful for in my journal in the evening.

These don’t have to be big things! It can be a friendly smile from a stranger. Or a great latte from your favourite cafe. Or a hug from your kids.

Make time to meditate

“You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes everyday - unless you're too busy; then you should sit for an hour.” ~ Sukhraj S. DhillonClick To Tweet

Some people have a mental block about meditation – they assume its hard, or weird, or unpleasant. And I suppose it can be these things, especially if you over think it.


I use two different tools for meditating.

The first is heavily guided, and walks through six phases: connectedness, gratitude, forgiveness, vision for the future, perfect day and support. It’s really easy – you just follow the voice guides.

Headspace is also guided, but does a bit more to teach you the core skills of meditation so that you can also use them unguided.

Replace perfection with progress

'Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be our best. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth; it's a shield.' ~ Brene BrownClick To Tweet

When you think of something you want to do/create/become, you see it in your mind’s eye as a complete and perfect thing – exactly the way you hope it will be.


But reality is messy. It seldom unfolds exactly the way we thought it will. And that has to be OK.

Focus on making progress rather than achieving perfection. One leads to fulfilment, and the other to disappointment. Which would you rather have?

Remind yourself of what’s important right now

Some things are impacted by the passage of time more than others. Within the scope of your own life, you will likely be able to work for more years than you will have children living at home with you. Because the time when your kids need you (and you are a role-model for them) is comparatively short, it becomes more precious than work.

Likewise, at some point you will stop working. At least for pay. And your life partner and your closest friends will be more important than your job. Likewise having hobbies and pastimes that give you joy.

There’s a lovely metaphor for this that I try and remember: in your life you will juggle many balls; family, friends, work, community… but some of them are made of rubber and some are made of glass. If you are going to drop one, make sure it is made of rubber.

Schedule relaxation

'There are moments when all anxiety and stated toil are becalmed in the infinite leisure and repose of nature.' ~ Henry David ThoreauClick To Tweet

What gets scheduled gets done… but most of us operate on the misapprehension that the default state is relaxation, and that the ‘work’ is what must be scheduled.


For most high-achievers though, I’ve found the opposite is true: the default is work and busyness – and the leisure never gets scheduled.

This changed for me this year, when I started using Michael Hyatt’s Full Focus Planner. Before each weekend is a two page spread called the “Weekend Optimiser” where you decide in advance how much time you’ll dedicate to sleep, to relaxing activities with important people in your life, and to a range of other rejuvenating things. If you don’t schedule it, it tends not to happen.


What do you do to practise acceptance? Let me know in the comments below.


The First Time Manager’s Crash Course

The First Time Manager’s Crash Course is out now on Skillshare.

This is the first in a series of three programmes aimed at first time managers, helping them bridge the gap between the technical skills and processes that their employer (hopefully) is providing, and the leadership skills and insights they need to develop to be effective managers.

This course is for anyone who aspires to manage other people – whether in a formal management or team leadership role, or as a project manager without ongoing human resource management responsibility.

More importantly, it’s for those who have just been – or are about to be – appointed to one of these roles and are a bit anxious about what is involved.

Follow this link to get your first two months subscription for free…

Or share on Twitter or Facebook so that people in your network can benefit!

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Productivity: Finding Your Magic Hours

'When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive - to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.' ~ Marcus AureliusClick To Tweet

I know you’re brilliant. You know you’re brilliant (even if sometimes you forget). But I would still be willing to bet that there are times when genuine productivity eludes you. When you just can’t seem to get going. Like wading in treacle. Or honey.

When I was a kid, I hated mornings. Ask my Mum.


The number of times she had to come in to my room and tell me to get out of bed in the morning used to drive both of us up the wall! My middle sister, on the other hand, was always an early bird. She would be wide awake (and often singing loudly) any time from about 5.00am… We got on well, as you can imagine!

A couple of years ago, though, I reached the somewhat painful conclusion that to get a bit more out of each day, I needed to get up earlier… so I did! And now I would happily describe myself as a morning person.

Today’s article isn’t about the benefits of rising early (although they are many). Today I want to talk about tuning into your own body and figuring out when you do your best work. Regardless of whether you are in paid employment, you’re an entrepreneur or you are a parent managing a busy household, understanding your own daily energy flows can be a huge help in getting a little more out of every day.

Circadian rhythms and sleep/wake homeostasis

'Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.' ~ Paul J. MeyerClick To Tweet

Every ‘body’ has their own subtly different circadian cycle. This wonder of human biology is predominantly driven by a finely balanced biological and chemical/neurochemical dance that controls when you feel awake, when you feel sleepy, and when you actually sleep.



Adenosine is a hypnogenic molecule that builds up in your bloodstream while you are awake. Only very low levels of this chemical are produced while you sleep, so adenosine breaks down quickly, allowing you wake in a more alert state. Coffee (or caffeine) can block adenosine receptors, which is why a strong cup can disguise the effects of fatigue… but it doesn’t make it go away.


Melatonin is a hormone produced in the pineal gland in the brain. It is triggered by darkness, creating the onset of sleepy feelings, and then counteracted by light, in the morning. It’s worth noting that the colour of the light matters too – this is why all the advice about getting a good night sleep involves turning off all your screens… they produce a very ‘blue’ light, which your brain interprets as signalling the onset of morning. It is melatonin that creates havoc for shift workers and international travellers who end up ‘out-of-sync’ with their natural daylight/night-time cycles.

In essence, these two processes operate independently (that’s why shift workers can feel exceedingly tired at the end of a busy working ‘day’ due to the levels of adenosine in their bloodstream, but have trouble sleeping because they lack sufficient melatonin. Their brain is telling them it’s time to be awake, even though they’re exhausted.


Now you’ve probably heard that exercise produces endorphins, but it has also been shown that sunlight produces endorphins too. Making you feel good.

Now while endorphins aren’t a direct player in either the circadian rhythm or sleep/wake homeostasis, I’ve included it because it helps us understand why sleep – healthy sleep – isn’t simple or straightforward. These various processes are largely independent of each other… and they interact with each other. This is why it’s not as simple as saying people are usually more productive in the morning, and less productive in the late afternoon and evening.

There is also an increasing body of evidence linking sleep (or lack thereof) with mental illness – particularly depression. If you think this is a problem for you, please seek professional help. (In New Zealand, go here.)

There is also a seasonal impact on these cycles caused by the shorter days most of us ‘enjoy’ in winter.

Productivity is biological and environmental

'Each minute is a little thing, and yet, with respect to our personal productivity, to manage the minute is the secret of success.' ~ Joseph B. WirthlinClick To Tweet

Now armed with this information about how the ‘average’ body works, you are better placed to figure out when is likely to be your most productive time of day. For most people it isn’t the late afternoon or evening – even if you think you are a night-owl!


Your body’s reaction to stress, caffeine intake, medication and a range of other factors can affect your body’s response to the natural underlying cycles above, but equally there are a range of environmental factors that will impact your productivity too. What else is going on in your workplace? When do you get the most disruptions? Interruptions? When do most of your meetings or appointments get scheduled? What are the productivity cycles of the other people around you? Your boss? Your co-workers? Your spouse/significant other? Your kids?

A really simple way to make sense of the chaos that can be the average day for most busy people is to start a ‘time-log’ (you can find a handy printable here) and record both what you are doing and how you feel energy-wise, at 15 minute intervals for a few days – ideally a week.

Then you need to step back and assess whether there are any patterns in the data.

  • Do you crash after lunch?
  • Do you get a second wind in the evening?
  • Do you need a cup of coffee to get you going in the morning?
  • Do you have a time of day that works best for ‘deep thinking’ and creative work?
  • Do you find your memory gets a bit fuzzy at certain times of the day?

Then armed with this information you can do one of two things.

You can either deliberately choose to do things in a way that ‘syncs’ best with your own natural cycle – for example schedule quiet time for deep creative work when you’re at your peak mental state, then add meetings and admin tasks around some of your less productive times.

Or, if you’re like most of us and have only limited control over how you spend the bulk of your day, conduct some experiments and keep tracking your time:

  • What happens when you drink more coffee… or less?
  • What happens if you take a power nap in the early afternoon?
  • What happens if you add meditation to your daily routine?
  • What happens if you get up 30 minutes earlier in the morning?
  • What happens if you go to bed 30 minutes earlier in the evening?
  • What happens if you eat more frequent smaller meals throughout the day?
  • Follow up on any pattern you think might be relevant…

Then, do what you can to manage your energy alongside your work so that you can perform as close as possible to your best!

I’d love to hear what tips and suggestions you have for performing at your most productive when you need to! Let me know in the comments below.

The First Time Manager’s Crash Course

The First Time Manager’s Crash Course is out now on Skillshare.

This is the first in a series of three programmes aimed at first time managers, helping them bridge the gap between the technical skills and processes that their employer (hopefully) is providing, and the leadership skills and insights they need to develop to be effective managers.

This course is for anyone who aspires to manage other people – whether in a formal management or team leadership role, or as a project manager without ongoing human resource management responsibility.

More importantly, it’s for those who have just been – or are about to be – appointed to one of these roles and are a bit anxious about what is involved.

Follow this link to get your first two months subscription for free…

Or share on Twitter or Facebook so that people in your network can benefit!


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Generosity: Leadership’s Secret Sauce

'Generosity is giving more than you can, and pride is taking less than you need.' ~ Khalil GibranClick To Tweet

I am in book launch mode at the moment, and there are bucket-loads of things that need to be done. Editing, formatting, cover-designing, blurb-copy-writing… the list feels endless. And if I’m honest, overwhelming. I understand why some people write an entire manuscript and then never publish it. But the one thing that has overwhelmed me even more than the scale of work involved? The generosity of human beings to help out. Some of them people I’ve never met!


I have test-readers in Denmark, the US, and the UK, as well as right here in New Zealand. I have had offers of assistance in many areas, from cover design, to formatting, to marketing. Somehow, when you have a team like this behind you, the whole thing becomes a lot less daunting… AND you feel you owe it to everyone to actually see it through to completion!

All of which got me thinking about generosity, and how powerful it is… and yet how scarce it can be in your average executive’s office.

So in this article, we’ll take a closer look at why generosity is the Secret Sauce of leadership, and how to encourage it to thrive in your workplace.

What is generosity?

Generosity is giving something to someone else with no expectation of receiving anything in return.

That’s it.

Simple really.

You can twist it and turn it in all kinds of directions, but there really isn’t any more to it than this.

But this definition is helpful. Because it enables us to identify what isn’t generosity.

Giving something so that you can ask for or expect something in return isn’t generosity.

Giving something so that you look good isn’t generosity.

Giving something to assuage guilt isn’t generosity.

Four kinds of generosity to foster at work…

Generosity with time…

'True generosity is an offering; given freely and out of pure love. No strings attached. No expectations. Time and love are the most valuable possession you can share.' ~ Suze OrmanClick To Tweet

Everyone is busy. Time is likely your most valuable resource. Just as it is the most valuable asset of the managers and individual contributors you work with. Nobody has enough time, and nobody can make more time.


Which is exactly why sharing your time with your team will be valued so highly.

Take the time to say good morning, and get to know them a little better. Take the time to coach and support them a little more. Take the time to encourage them and you will begin to find that they do the same for others.

Generosity with credit…

'Being a leader requires being confident enough in your own decisions and those of your team to own them when they fail. The very best leaders take the blame but share the credit.' ~ Travis BradberryClick To Tweet

As a leader, you are expected to take responsibility for the things that go wrong. So it’s often assumed that you also get to take the credit when things go well.

And you could.

Or you could share it liberally with those around you who contributed to the success, ensuring that everybody knows that it wasn’t you, but a team of fabulous folks.

Generosity with feedback…

'Feedback is the breakfast of champions.' ~ Ken BlanchardClick To Tweet

Most managers hate giving feedback. They worry about it. They think about it. They mentally rehearse it. But they never give it.


And then they wonder why nothing changes!

Try and find something to provide feedback about everyday. Good things and not-so-good things. Honest feedback, from a place of generosity – trying to help the other person with no benefit to you. This is the best place for feedback to come from.

Most managers hate giving feedback, and also think they provide plenty of it.

Most team members feel like they don’t get any, and desperately want it – even the bad stuff. This is a win-win.

Generosity with opportunity…

As a leader, you make decisions everyday about who to allocate projects to. Big or small. And chances are you don’t pay much attention to who you allocate these projects to… chances are you allocate these projects to ‘a safe pair of hands’. Because then you don’t need to worry too much.

But the generous thing to do would be to offer the project to someone else…

Not the person who is most likely to deliver it successfully, but the person who stands to gain the most from delivering it successfully.

The positive consequences of generosity

Be generous with your time and people will invest their time in others.

Be generous with sharing credit and people will clamour to work with you.

Be generous with feedback and people will work hard to avoid disappointing you.

Be generous with opportunities and people will reciprocate when they can.

And while none of these things is the reason you should be generous… it’s not a bad set of consequences for something done with absolutely no expectation of receiving anything in return!

The First Time Manager’s Crash Course

The First Time Manager’s Crash Course is out now on Skillshare.

This is the first in a series of three programmes aimed at first time managers, helping them bridge the gap between the technical skills and processes that their employer (hopefully) is providing, and the leadership skills and insights they need to develop to be effective managers.

This course is for anyone who aspires to manage other people – whether in a formal management or team leadership role, or as a project manager without ongoing human resource management responsibility.

More importantly, it’s for those who have just been – or are about to be – appointed to one of these roles and are a bit anxious about what is involved.

Follow this link to get your first two months subscription for free…

Or share it so that others can benefit!


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Deficit Thinking: The Problem With Analysing Too Much

'We live in a fractured world. I've always seen it as my role as an artist to attempt to make wholeness.' ~ Anish KapoorClick To Tweet

In our daily lives as managers, and even generally as people, we tend to think in an analytical way:

  • Is that good, or bad?
  • Should I do this, or that?
  • Do I like that, or would I prefer something else?

We spend a lot of our daily ‘thinking’ power on evaluating. Particularly evaluating options. The problem with this is that it tends to lead to ‘deficit thinking’. A term that is increasingly used within the education profession, but which I believe warrants some exploration within the frame of leadership as well.

Deficit Thinking


Because we don’t only apply this evaluative logic to what we should have for lunch, or the five options presented in that memo. We also fall into the trap of applying it to our colleagues and team members. We start noticing the skills they don’t have, the experience they haven’t had, and the interpersonal intelligence they fail to demonstrate.

Sure these things can be frustrating. And when you’re busy, you’re in a reactive frame of mind… you haven’t got time to stop and acknowledge the skills they do have! For goodness sakes, she’s a grown up! She knows her own skills!

But here’s the thing. This kind of thinking tends to compound. We see one little thing here, one little thing there, a couple of things over there, and before we know it, everyone is sub-par and we’re the only person who’s any good at anything!

And you know what? Your mind finds what it is looking for. If you expect Jack to let you down, you’ll find ample opportunity to conclude that he has. If you expect Vicky to bungle the sensitive client relationship with a major customer, you’ll find evidence that she did. This is the effect of deficit thinking.

Last week I shared with you a new appreciation I had gained for actually listening to somebody else. And today, I want to talk about some further insights I gained on a coaching course I completed recently. The power of seeing other people as ‘already whole’. As possessing their own answers and holding within them the capacity to do the things they need to do.

Wholeness Thinking Vs Deficit Thinking

'There is one unity, unified wholeness, total natural law, in the transcendental unified consciousness.' ~ Maharishi Mahesh YogiClick To Tweet

It’s really easy to run round thinking everyone else is incapable. It gets you off the hook, and makes you feel a bit superior – at least in some ways. And whether this compensates for a sense of ‘imposter syndrome‘ or stems from a genuine belief that you’re pretty awesome, it’s lazy thinking.

Deficit Thinking

Try thinking about it this way: what is better for your company? One awesome you? Or many awesome everybodies?

Or better yet: what is better for you?

  • You are the only one who can achieve anything, you feel overworked, that you’re responsible for everything, and that you can’t rely on anyone…


  • You work with a team of awesome ‘whole’ individuals who are all working as hard as they can, doing the best that they can, and with your encouragement, they can uncover the latent capabilities they already have within them…

How to Minimise Deficit Thinking

Practice mindfulness

I don’t think I’ve ever met a problem that meditation can’t fix! Or at least help with!

The trouble with your own thinking is that you don’t notice you’re doing it, unless you’re in the moment. You don’t notice the decisions you take, the assumptions you make, or the shortcuts you create.

And you also won’t notice you’ve dismissed someone as incapable until you realise that you’d rather they left because they’re taking up valuable oxygen on the team… by which time it’s almost too late.

So get cracking with that meditation practice. It will help you in many ways, including becoming more aware of what you are thinking about your team. You can’t change what you aren’t aware of.

Don’t focus on what’s missing

Well that’s all very well and good, I hear you thinking, but what should I focus on instead? I have to focus on something!

Michael Hyatt, in his book Your Best Year Ever talks about how most of us focus on the gap between where we are right now, and where we want to be. This gap makes us hyper-aware of how far away we are from our goals and ‘ideal’ scenarios. I’d suggest the same is true at work. We focus on how we wish our ideal team members would behave. We focus on the complementary skill sets we wish the team had. We focus on the interpersonal competencies we wish our colleagues demonstrated.

By focusing on this gap, we become highly attuned to it – we see it impacting everything, everyday, and over time, it becomes all-consuming.

So what should we do instead?

Focus on how far the team has already come and the skills and capabilities they already have. By focusing on what you have achieved together (in spite of the gaps) you’ll start to see more evidence of what is working. You’ll celebrate a bit more together, and you’ll begin to notice that your team members have other skills that are just as (if not more) effective than the ones you wish they had!

Focus on asking great questions

Nick Petrie, at the Center for Creative Leadership, has written a great series of articles about vertical leadership development.

In the first one, he talks about how when we realise a leader is missing some key competency or skill, we send them on a course. Then we wonder why nothing changes. Using the metaphor that the mind of a leader is like a glass, we are pouring more knowledge into the glass, without realising that the glass is already full. The new knowledge either displaces existing knowledge, or more likely, simply spills out and flows away. This is horizontal learning.

Instead, Petrie argues, we need to focus on increasing the size of the glass. This is vertical learning, and involves learning new ways of thinking – not new knowledge and skills.

'Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.' ~ Tony RobbinsClick To Tweet

This tends to come from asking great questions that create fundamental shifts in a person’s own understanding of how things work. You cannot provide the knowledge or understanding, the other person needs to come to it on their own.

Successful Leaders habits

When you ask someone a powerful question (usually these start with ‘what’) their brain strains to answer it. We are pre-programmed to answer questions. One of the hardest things new managers need to learn is not to answer questions from their team!

Some examples of great ‘what’ questions include:

  • What is it about x and y that you feel is incompatible? (e.g. supporting your team members with non-work matters and retaining professional distance)
  • What is it that makes x important to you? (e.g. achievement, reliability, recognition, teamwork)
  • What does x mean to you? (e.g. fairness, opportunity, success, work/life balance)

I think you get the idea. These are technically ‘why’ questions, but you word them as a ‘what’, otherwise the brain gets overloaded and/or defensive.

Of course once you’ve asked the question, you need to allow space for the other person to answer! Don’t worry if it takes a few minutes… these are deep questions, and evidence that they have to think about the answer is a good thing!

Support people to uncover their own ‘wholeness’

I have consistently maintained that optimism is a vital trait for a leader. And I can think of no more worthy domain to apply that optimism to than the belief that your team members are already whole.

Deficit thinking leads you to see your team as broken… incomplete… lacking.

Wholeness thinking allows you to see your team as a work in progress… developing… learning… growing.

And that is exactly the work that you are there to do…


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The Critical Leadership Skill Most Leaders Don’t Have

Critical Leadership Skill
'There is a difference between listening and waiting for your turn to speak.' ~ Simon SinekClick To Tweet

I learned how to make someone cry yesterday. Not because I learned some nasty words, or a painful torture technique, but because I learned the true power of listening. Listening not just to the words that are said, but the words that are not said. And the essence behind the words that are said.

Critical Leadership Skill

Someone spoke to me for three minutes. I listened. At the end of the three minutes, I relayed back to her what I understood from what she said… not just the words themselves, but the feelings behind them. I said 28 words, and she cried.

And I’ve never felt more connected to a non-family member in my whole life. I have known this woman for less than 48 hours.

Simon Sinek has been telling us about this for a while now…

But until you experience it yourself, you’ll continue to believe that you are already a good listener and that you have nothing to learn. But I have learned that listening is the most critical leadership skill and it’s as rare as the proverbial hen’s teeth.

So in today’s article, I’m going to try my best to explain the reasons why I think everyone – but leaders especially – need to be better listeners.  And how to improve this skill even if you already think you’re pretty good.

Why Listening Matters

'I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I'm going to learn, I must do it by listening.' ~ Larry KingClick To Tweet

Most of the time most of us are inside our own heads. Our issues… our hopes… our anxieties… our successes… our failures. …What’s for dinner.

That’s normal.

Critical Leadership Skill

It also means that we’re less receptive to other people and less connected to what is going on around us.

Listening… truly listening… to someone else is incredibly powerful. For them.

It’s selfless. It’s generous. The act of genuinely listening to someone else makes them feel valued and affirmed. It makes them feel less alone. It may even, practiced artfully, help them have an insight into a problem they’re facing. A problem to which they already had the answer within them, but weren’t able to access.

Listening is all about the other person. It isn’t about waiting to add something about you. It isn’t about solving that person’s problems. It isn’t about teaching them something they don’t know. And it isn’t about talking.

It’s about forming a partnership built on trust.

Perhaps most importantly though, genuine listening means believing that the other person is already whole, and has the answers to their own problems within them already.

As a leader, this can be challenging. We see our employees as lacking in certain skills or experiences. We know our own experiences have helped us. We want to help people improve.

Or worse, we’re just plain busy and distracted.

But imagine, just for a minute, that by listening generously to someone else, asking questions (infrequently) that enable them to elaborate and explore the things they are talking about, allowing them to make sense of their own issues in a cohesive way, you cause them to have an a-ha – a breakthrough. An insight. They see the answer to their problem.

They leave the engagement feeling affirmed and supported, but more importantly, they leave the conversation feeling empowered and confident. They solved a problem they didn’t know they could solve. They answered a question they didn’t know they had the answer to. And most importantly, they gain confidence that next time they have an issue, they have the power within them to resolve it.

You know those engaged, productive employees who demonstrate good judgment and initiative? The answer doesn’t lie in engagement action plans and culture change initiatives… the answer is listening.

Five Ways To Improve Your Listening Skills


'Compassionate listening is to help the other side suffer less. If we realize that other people are the same people as we are, we are no longer angry at them.' ~ Thich Nhat HanhClick To Tweet

Start here. Building a meditation practice enables you to be more ‘present’ in every facet of your life. Including when you are holding a conversation with someone. I use the Headspace app. It’s great. But there are loads of other ways to do this.

Critical Leadership Skill

Meditation is like cross-fit for your brain. It’s exercising the muscles that allow you to quiet your mind and be present in the current moment. It also strengthens your ability to focus.


How many conversations do you have every day? 10? 50? 100? When you add up your work day, time with your family, catching up with friends, I’d guess it’s quite a few. I’m an introvert and I reckon I’d comfortably have between 40 and 80 conversations a day – ranging from a few phrases, to an hour long.

Start seeing all of these as an opportunity to practice your listening skills. Pay attention to what the other person is saying. Imagine that you will need to paraphrase it back to someone else afterwards. Pay attention to the words and phrases they use, but also what they don’t say.

Focus on understanding the meaning of the words for the other person. Not just for you. They’re not choosing those words for your benefit. The words mean something to them.

Make Time

To have a meaningful conversation, you may need to make more time. At least to begin with. I know time is tight, and it’s your most valuable resource, but surely your relationships with other people come a pretty close second!

Some people take time to realise the power of their own words… so make time for them to form them, share them, and reflect on them.

Talk Less

I’m afraid those brilliant insights and helpful experiences you’re dying to share need to wait. To build a powerful conversation focused on the other person, aim to talk about 20% of the time.

This will feel unnatural. You’re used to talking. If not more than others, then definitely half the time. Get comfortable with waiting. Be OK with silence. Understand that this isn’t about you.


Learn how to focus solely on the person you’re listening to. Be aware of the distracting thoughts (and things) that get in the way, and come back to focus. Try and create the sense that the two of you are the only people in the world right now.

Again, a meditation and mindfulness practice will help you here.

Be Curious

I know how interesting you are – you know how interesting you are. But wouldn’t it be nice to realise that other people are just as interesting as you!

Well I’ve got good news! When you listen to others with genuine curiosity, they become more interesting purely by virtue of you being more receptive and engaged. What you seek, you tend to find. If you are expecting tedium, you’ll find it, but if you’re expecting brilliance and wit, you’ll find that too.

'Listening is a master skill for personal and professional greatness.' ~ Robin S. SharmaClick To Tweet

I hope this helps. These are hard concepts to explain in writing, but they’ve been absolute game-changers for me. That’s what I wish for you too.


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