Archive for Thought leadership

5 Things 15 March 2017

Each week I hear, see and experience things which could be of benefit for others. Picking up on an idea from Tim Ferris – I thought I’d do a short blog to share some of them. Here goes.



Quote I’ve had in the back of my mind. “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away”. Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Thinking along these lines in a world of ever increasing complexity can be refreshing. I’ve been viewing my morning routine through this lens and simplified some of the questions I ask myself each day. What are you doing that could benefit from simplification?

Metaphor to apply. “Do homework on a Friday night“. This one comes from Davina McCall. She was writing about getting the ‘stuff’ you don’t like doing out of the way, to free up your energy for more interesting activities. She learnt this with her kids and the inevitable weekend school homework. What are your equivalent tasks that nag away at the back of your mind when you don’t do them? Accounting for expenses would be fairly highly on my list.

App to explore – Habit List. This was a tip off from Chase Jarvis. I work a fair amount with people looking to introduce or eliminate habits to improve their overall performance. As a result, I’m always on the lookout for tools to help with this. I’ve been exploring this app which is straight forward enough in its concept – to encourage you to develop the habits you want. There are plenty of alternatives available. I liked this one for its simplicity and ease of use. Give it a go.

Taking your cycling to the next level. For those of you who enjoy your cycling and have a particular event you want to train for, here’s a programme that could be of benefit. Elliot Lipski is one of the talented sports scientists who work for Trainsharp Coaching. He has put together this programme which was recently featured on

Seth Godin Wisdom. In the context of thinking about your brand “no one gets a Suzuki tattoo”; in contrast to Harley Davidson. Does your brand and performance mean your customers are willing to go to significant lengths to demonstrate their loyalty?

5 Things 10 Feb 2017

Each week I hear, see and experience things which could be of benefit for others. Picking up on an idea from Tim Ferris – I thought I’d do a short blog to share some of them.  He shares his every week. I suspect mine will be a little more sporadic. Here goes.



Blog post I really enjoyedIs the money in the tin? I met Steve Sutherland the author of this post a few years ago and he mentioned this story. It’s great that Steve has taken the time to share it with a wider audience. Using the tin analogy can be a helpful test when you get ahead of yourself when thinking what progress has really been achieved.


Fortune cookie wisdomDedicate yourself with a calm mind to the task at hand. At the end of a belated Chinese new-year dinner I received this little beauty. I’d spent a day flitting from activity to activity without too much tangible progress. Felt like a timely reminder.


Website and app that got me thinkingStickk. A nice solution to ‘encourage’ your motivation towards a goal. Their approach is to draw on the power of loss aversion.  Essentially you determine a goal, and nominate a sum of money for a cause that you don’t like. Next find someone you trust who will referee your performance towards the goal. If don’t do what you’ve committed to the cause gets your cash. Of course, you don’t need Stickk to do this. However, they do have extra motivational bells and whistles. Worth considering for those new-year commitments that perhaps have fallen by the wayside?


Billboard challenge. Saw this quote outside a church “the problem with the world is that intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid people are full of confidence” – Charles Bukowski. I’ve sat in several meetings over the last week where I’ve pondered this as different people have spoken. What could you be doing as a leader to help mitigate doubts in the people you lead?


Prioritisation tip. This one courtesy of Tim Ferris. When faced with a list of tasks with competing priorities try the following criteria to help cut through the complexity. Ask yourself which of these tasks would make the others easier or unnecessary? It can help bubble to the surface what to do next.




Five Things 4 Feb 2017

Each week I hear, see and experience things which could be of benefit for others. Picking up on an idea from Tim Ferris – I thought I’d do a short blog to share some of them.  He shares his every week. I suspect mine will be a little more sporadic. Here goes.


App of interestInstasize After numerous, quite frustrating hours working to right size a particular image for social media I finally admitted I needed help. After a brief conversation with my nephew he introduced me to the Instasize App. Within a couple of minutes the image was all sorted. Is there something you could use a little external help with?

Quote I’ve been pondering – Comparison is the thief of joy – Roosevelt. I’ve also seen this with the word happiness replacing joy. I like this version more. Sorry FDR.

Film I’ve enjoyedTheory of Everything I’m fairly late to the party with watching the highly acclaimed and award winning 2014 movie which depicts the life of Professor Stephen Hawking. It was even better than I’d anticipated. Multiple examples of personal resilience. Certainly Hawking’s challenges with motor neurone disease (ALS), put the challenges I face into perspective. If you’ve not seen it, check it out.

Wine I’ve enjoyed – Giant Steps – Really tasty Pinot Noir (2014) from Yarra Valley, Australia.  Thanks PL.

Business insight that made me think. I was lucky to have a meeting with Barnardos, Education, Training and Skills team this week.  They do a huge amount of great work in supporting young adults to get employment. Often the challenges of holding down jobs and apprenticeships are a stretch for many as they make their transition to become self-sufficient; given their challenging start points. The team have a range of supportive interventions to help. Patience and small incremental progress is the key to success.  It takes time to reinforce the basics that so many of us simply take for granted. Their powerful Believe in Me campaign captures this spirit nicely.


Five things 28 Jan 2017

Each week I hear, see and experience things which could be of benefit for others. Picking up on an idea from Tim Ferris – I thought I’d do a short blog to share some of them.  He shares his every week. I suspect mine will be a little more sporadic. Here goes.



Book I’m readingTools of Titans, Tim Ferris. He describes this as a ‘collection of tactics, routines and habits of billionaires, icons and world class performers’. It draws heavily on his interviews over the years, which if you’re interested in learning more about you can catch on the four hour work week podcast. For me this book has things you can use straight away, things that you’ll want to skip over (as they are just not relevant to your circumstances) and things that will challenge the way you think.

A phrase I’ve heard – strategic patience. Patience is a relative word. This made me think about some of the projects I’m involved in. Are there things you’re doing that need more time or if you’re really honest you just need to call time?

A podcast that made me thinkMobile Talk at #SXSW with Bonin Bough – this is a great example of a clash between new and old media. Gary Vaynerchuk in full flight taking on more established marketing thinking.

Music I’ve been Listening to – Bad Bad Not Good. Canadian jazz hip hop group. Gilles Peterson put me on to this at the back end of 2016. Quirky off beat tunes. Time Moves Slowly – isn’t typical of the group. It’s more mellow. It resonated with me though. Thanks GP.

Service that made me smile – I was eating with a client in Cafe Rouge. When taking our order the waiter was nervous. He got one of our orders completely wrong. Realising what had happened, he came back this time extremely nervous and apologised. He explained it was his first night and had messed up. He got things sorted quickly (also they took the dish off the bill). By showing his human side and taking responsibility he got us both on his ‘side’. How often do we ‘mess up’ and then look for excuses rather than take responsibility?

Learning from Toast


We’ve all done it. Forgotten the toast under the grill and ended up with something less than appetising. So, what leadership lesson can we learn from the humble slice of toast?


Making toast could never be described as difficult. Could it? Even for people with the most basic culinary skills. However just because it’s a relatively simple process doesn’t mean it’s easy to do. There are some basics you need to get right. Do that and you are almost guaranteed tasty toast every time.


All too often in leadership positions we overlook the most basic elements of what we and our people need. Unfortunately, unlike burnt toast it’s not so obvious when things haven’t gone to plan. Have you experienced or witnessed any of these in your career?


  • People left confused about where organisations are heading.
  • People working on activity that doesn’t make sense to them. Or worse, they find out someone is doing the same thing elsewhere in the organisation. Or even worse, they find out someone in the same organisation is doing something in competition or conflict with their work.
  • People not letting you know how they feel about something because their appraisal discussion is being conducted in a busy public area.


So how can we check if we have the basics in place. Setting and being able to answer high-level questions is one way. Here’s some examples in three common areas. Don’t be fooled by the simplicity.


Quality of your vision

Is it compelling to the people it is meant to provide direction to?

Is it long enough to be meaningful and short enough to be memorable?

Could you use it to make decisions?


Agreeing objectives

Are they aligned to the organisation’s goals?

Is there agreement about what success looks like?

Is there understanding about the steps towards success and how you’ll assess them?


Running an appraisal session with a member of your team.

Are both parties clear on what is being appraised?

Have you got the right physical environment for the conversation you need to have?

Have you given the right attention to time: when, how long and balance between feeding back and feeding forward?


You may well have your own version of what the basics are in the three examples above. I’d love to hear about them if you do. What’s more important than the number of questions is actually using them. To understand the basics at an intellectual level is not enough. It’s about the execution.


As always I’m interested in your views,





Team trust and openness – awkward topic or team enabler?

trust and opennessIn my experience when first asked the question about levels of trust and openness within a team, people can feel awkward about saying what they really believe. This results in an over estimation of how good things really are. So how can you become more informed? This may prompt the question, why does it matter? There are multiple reasons why this topic merits consideration. Quality of relationships, personal & team resilience and the quality of decision-making are just a few.


When you step back it’s a fair observation that trust and openness are a foundation of high-performing teams. That’s certainly my experience. Patrick Lencioni argued the case well in his excellent book the Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Trust and openness will mean different things to different people. Perhaps that’s because the presence of it is an intangible thing. It’s not that surprising when you think about it, as it’s based on feelings and emotion. To help with an assessment it can be insightful to look for evidence of things that typically happen when trust and openness exists. Here are three areas that you could explore.

Area one – feedback to each other

When was the last time you gave feedback to each other? In high-performing environments feedback isn’t an event (like a 360 appraisal). It’s part of the way the team operates day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month. To achieve this you need decent levels of trust. At the start, this can make some feel people uncomfortable. This can be about the process itself as well as the content. Consider using these two questions to get the ball rolling:


  1. What is one thing you value about a colleague?
  2. What is one thing they could adjust to increase their effectiveness?


Keeping question two positive and focusing on what you want and not what you don’t want can help get the recipient in a better frame of mind to take action. Use feedback and use it regularly to help breakdown that initial awkwardness.


Area 2 – knowledge of people in and out of the workplace

We are all human beings and as such internally we are not wired to neatly split our professional and personal lives. It therefore surprises me when I work with a team who know very little about the lives of each other. The relationships that have developed can be very transactional. With little to no investment in understanding the person you are interacting with. Some of you reading this may be thinking, “why would I need to, we’re too busy. It’s the responsibility of the other person to manage their lives”. I’d suggest there is a better balance that could be struck in many of teams I work with. Why not share something that others don’t know about you. You might just find that someone has a real challenge in their personal life that that could explain their sometimes ‘erratic’ behavior. Alternatively, you may find that you have skills or experience that the organisation lacks and are not being used.


Area 3 – ability to get decisions to stick

Very often decisions that ‘appear’ to get taken in meetings don’t stand up once people leave the room. A common cause for this can be linked to people not trusting the team to actually say what they really think and feel about situations. Creating an environment where people do feel like they can speak out can have a dramatic effect. This can take courage though. And real discipline from everyone to not shout people down when they have alternative points of view. Stepping back and asking as a team how comfortable people feel to speak out is an interesting exercise. Depersonalising the approach can have more effective results. For example, asking the question, how could we improve our team environment to draw out different views and opinions more effectively?


As a team, the three areas will give you more rounded indicators of trust and openness. Using a third-party to help facilitate the conversations can be beneficial too. The key characteristic is that this person is independent and people feel they can open up in front of them.


Have a go at assessing trust and openness in your team. As always I’m interested in how you get on.

Set the agenda not the tasks

I’ve recently been supporting the recruitment of a senior manager in Government. One of the expressions a candidate used has resonated with me. When answering a question about what he’d do to create an environment for others to be successful he explained that for him the role of the leader is about setting the agenda and allowing others to determine the tasks required to bring the agenda to life. I liked this way of thinking about things. Here’s three reasons why:

1) By asking yourself the question “agenda or task?” you can sense check which level you’re operating at.

2) Done effectively, it will give direction and empower your team or organisation.

3) You get to take out the pressure and stress. So many leaders feel, that they are responsible for coming up with all the answers. There’s a good chance you’ll end up with more creative solutions that really tap into the experience of your team. And as a bonus you’ll also free up more capacity for connecting with people and time to think about future agendas.
Like many things it’s perhaps not quite so black and white about which level you’re operating at. At least with the awareness of this question you give yourself the choice.  Give it a go. I’m interested in any experiences you have.

Recruiting based on behaviour and fit

RecruitingIt surprises me when I talk with people about their approach to personnel selection. So often there is an over focus on skills. This is surprising given that so often when things don’t work out it’s as a result of behaviour and attitude.  There’s an obvious yet overlooked point – the skills element can be taught. Particularly when the candidate has the right attitude. Here’s three suggestions to help you understand more about a persons fit.

1) It starts before you even think about recruiting. Have you consciously thought about the type of environment you need to create success? Often this is skipped over. And often this is to the detriment of team performance. So spend some time thinking and articulating what you want to see. Involving others and developing a written team ethos can help here. Use this as a reference point in the selection process. The added bonus here is that you can use it to drive the existing team performance too. I use the ABC approach to get this conversation going – Attitude, Behaviours & Characteristics.

2) When discussing things with the perspective candidates use questions that help you get beneath the typical prepared answers about past experience. Here’s some examples:
– what are you like to be around when everything is going well?
– what do you do that gets in the way of being your best?
– what about others frustrates you? What behaviour does this provoke in you?

3) Get diversity into the selection approach. A good example of this I’ve seen in one organisation recruiting for a senior position is to use more junior members of staff as part of a panel in an interview. If successful the senior person will need to work with and sell concepts to more junior staff.  Why not start that early. This will bring a more varied perspective to the panel.

There are many ways you could go about the selection process. They will all have pros and cons. Just make sure you are objectively achieving the right balance. Jim Collins in Good to Great describes this as “getting the right people on the bus”. The All Blacks are more upfront about it in their selection with the simple “no dickheads” approach. I’ll leave it to you to determine what criteria they use for assessing that.

Learning from cycling’s world hour record ride

Wiggo lifting bikeFollowing on from my last post. Bradley Wiggins was successful in his goal to break the cycling world hour record. He rode 54.526KM (33.88 miles). Impressive stuff. What can we learn from that event when thinking about our plans and goals? Here’s three observations:
1) Things happen outside your control – an example of this from Wiggins’ attempt was the weather. The air pressure was less than ideal for the ride. Having the ability to recognise things outside your control is something that takes honest objectivity and practice. Unfortunately it’s not always as obvious as the weather. More likely it’ll be something less clear cut. An example I see regularly is when people are unsuccessful with getting a new job. Often they place all of the outcome at their door. And of course that can be the case. However, there are multiple alternatives. Asking did I commit myself and prepare in the right way? What could I prepare differently if going for the role again? Questions like these can help to gain objectivity. Of course it could just be that the job was already stitched up behind the scenes and nothing you could have done would have made any difference. If you’re thinking that’s unfair – well sometimes things are. Expending too much energy dwelling on them isn’t going to change the outcome so its time to accept the situation and move on to something more productive.
2) Recognise your team when you’re finished. After Wiggins had finished and become the new world record holder he quickly acknowledged his support team. First up were his wife and children. He explained how they’ve had to live with him whilst he’s gone through the challenges of training and now know far more about “weather atmospheric pressure” than they ever thought possible. For many of us it’s not quite so obvious when we should say thank you. It’s important that we do though. Don’t take it for granted that they know you appreciate them.
3) Hard work pays off. Having been lucky enough to witness the record attempt live at the London Olympic velodrome I was incredibly impressed with the consistency of Wiggins’ performance. He has a reputation for someone who when focused on a goal he believes in, will dedicate himself 100% to making it a success. I think that played out for the hour on the 7th June. He certainly has natural ability. Yet it’s too easy to skip over the hard work and no doubt sacrifice he has made to achieve what he’s done. Would people say that about you when describing your approach to achieving a significant goal? If they do, you are no doubt getting decent results as in my experience dedication and the right hard work does pay off.
How could you apply the above three observations to a goal you’re working on right now? Have a think. We’d love to hear about what you’ve come up with.

Legacy – Leadership Lessons from the All Blacks

LegacyFor those wanting to gain insight into the characteristics of elite performance you will have your time well spent reading James Kerr’s book Legacy. It covers in a readily digestible way, the approach the All Black use to get the best out of their people. At the heart of the ethos put forward is the fact that ‘better people’ make better All Blacks. Kerr makes a compelling case that the approach adopted is readily transferable into other settings. I agree. 

 The book is designed around 15 lessons.  These include: 

1) Sweep the sheds –  never be too big to do the small jobs that need to be done.

2) Pass the ball – leaders create leaders

3) Train to win – practice under pressure.

Throughout the book Kerr quotes from the experiences of current and previous All Blacks. He also draws nicely from other sports, business and leadership development literature. The result is a really decent and motivating read. Still need convincing – take a peep at the short video to give an even greater insight.