Positive Outliers Self-Awareness

Look Who’s Come Into the Room

I felt I was receiving a lecture.. and I was not convinced.

I had come in for a BP reading and a blood test. The clinician told me that I was overweight––which I was––and at risk of heart disease or diabetes––which I was probably was. She told me to cut out various foods, and to change my diet and exercise. All this is grounded in good medical research. But it did not motivate me to change.

Why not?

God bless her, this person was doing her best to help me. But my real barrier to being persuaded was that she gave me cognitive dissonance. This clinician did not model what she said. Quite apart from the crude Change or Die strategy, the problem was… well…she was clearly clinically obese and depressed.

What I am NOT saying…

Now, this is not a criticism of who she was as a person, but the person in the room did not match the message.

Nor am I saying a normal BMI should be mandatory of healthcare professionals. God knows, we need each and every one of them right now, and I’m thankful for them.

And I am not making a case about something as superficial as our physical appearance or weight. And I would not want to leave you thinking that I am that prejudiced against fat people! I myself was clinically obese for a number of years, as I was at that particular appointment…hence the lecture.

The Internal Journey

What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

My point here is that when any of us seeks to influence others to action, then the job needs to start with ourselves.

We can have the right information, good methodology, superior research, but we are unlikely to influence those around us if we do not walk the talk.

Every leader needs to be authentic in leading themselves into that better future first.

Usually, when I have been presenting to a room of leaders, they are all invested on knowing how to lead their teams, their organisation, or their community better.

First, though, there needs to be an internal journey. Every leader needs to be authentic in leading themselves into that better future first.

The issue is often the person we bring into the room.


As adults, we have a highly-developed sense of discernment when engaging with other humans. What some call micro-tells, small pieces of evidence in the person before us, reveal whether they are a threat, or lying, or distressed. These micro-tells can be small eye movements, gestures, posture, as well as the pitch and tone of the voice.

When someone is trying to persuade us to change, to buy, to allow them to draw closer, they are communicating with us at a far deeper level than the content of what they say.

My worst moments

All my worst leadership moments were when I was over-stressed, hurried, depressed or angry. My most effective moments were when the future was the person I brought into the room in myself.

My most effective leadership moments were when the future was the person I brought into the room.

The uncomfortable truth for us is this: before we can lead others, we need to lead ourselves. Before we can expect our team to change, we must already be changing and show them in our own lives. Before the call, comes the example, the model in us.

Who is showing up?

It becomes vital, then, that we are self-aware enough to know whom we are bringing into the room. We need to become aware of the non-verbal messages we might be communicating. What is the best self we can bring to this engagement? And if we are too busy, stressed, driven or distressed, then maybe we need to postpone until we are ready.

Some will see this as an exercise in fakery.

If you can fake integrity you’ve got it made.

Hollywood graffiti

We are not that stupid.

No, this is a call to personal authenticity.

Resilient Hope Self-Awareness

What Kind of Hope?

Last year I reviewed Anthony Ray Hinton’s powerful book, The Sun Does Shine. It is the autobiography of a man who spent most of his life––28 years––on death row, wrongly accused of robbery and murder. Throughout that time, he was confined in a small cell until the trial was fundamentally questioned and he was released.

What I found remarkable above all else was that this man found the resources within himself not to give up. In fact, he seemed to grow in hope. It was not a linear growth; Hinton did have his setbacks, very low moments, such as when the person dearest to him, his beloved mother, died before he could get out, hug and care for her.

However, resilience does not do justice to what the man evidenced over those years. It was something more.

Relevance to now

Our temporary loss of freedoms at this time of pandemic seem trivial in comparison with Hinton’s story. Yet there are valuable lessons to learn from his story as well as those of others in more extreme situations.

In our shared humanity, it is imperative that we each need to learn how to live and grow in hope during this pandemic, amidst all our present circumstances, its threats, the personal losses and confinements.

A Fragile Hope

Most of us seem to live from our external circumstances, and the media has an attention-seeking agenda to make it appear that these circumstances are dire. One day we hear positive news of medical breakthroughs or falling rates of COVID-19 infections; the next day, there is some more bad news.

Living from our circumstances like this, focusing on the negatives, is a fragile way to live emotionally. We become like Homer Simpson, who one moment yells, Yippee!, and the next, emotionally turns on a sixpence with a Doh!. He then repeats the cycle. This is not living with any kind of emotional intelligence. I fear that the long-term effect this has is that the negative wins and we are led into deeper depression and despair. The Yippee! becomes rarer and rated and the Doh! becomes habitual.

Should We Aim for Resilient Hope?

I have recently been reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book, Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder. I had assumed that the opposite of fragility is resilient.

Resilience rather is something different. In engineering, machines are made to withstand stress within certain parameters… and beyond these limits, they suddenly break. In this sense, they are designed to be resilient.

Taleb argues that there is a certain class of phenomena that are neither and that the true opposite of fragile is not resilient, rather something he calls Antifragile. It is a phenomenon we see in the natural world of something growing through the right kind of stress. He uses a number of illustrations from the medical world, such as our bones, which actually gain strength from moderately acute stress.

Taleb’s Triad (My Visual Interpretation)

If we aim merely for resilient hope, it could break us emotionally.

And maybe this is what we have seen happening among many of us when it came, for example, to the New Year. Some of us caught ourselves hoping that a New Year would me a different, liberating year. 2020 had become synonymous with COVID-19 and lockdowns. We indulged ourselves with thoughts such as, Surely this New Year will be better?

And maybe this is what we have seen happening among many of us when it came, for example, to the New Year.

And, for many of us, it just isn’t. In fact, for many of us, it is worse. Doh! doesn’t do justice to the disappointment and emotional tailspin that we might experience. For some, this has become a spiral of depression and despair to something worse.

The Stockdale Paradox

See another earlier article I wrote on Stockdale here. Admiral James Stockdale was the highest-ranking American officer to fall into the hands of the enemy during the Vietnam War.

050706-N-0000X-001 Navy File Photo: Newport, R.I. (1979) – portrait of Vice Admiral James B. Stockdale, while President of the U.S. Naval War College. U.S. Navy Photo by Journalist 1st Class Rick Doyle (RELEASED)

After seven and a half years of imprisonment and torture, Stockdale was finally released and returned to his home country.

He endured because he kept a twin perspective on his life in the camp:

  • he faced the brutal reality of where he was and what he was going through; and
  • he kept his focus on a future beyond the camp.

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, interviewed Admiral Stockdale about his coping strategy whilst in prison. At one point Collins asked the Admiral which prisoners didn’t make it:

Oh, that’s easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, We’re going to be out by Christmas. And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, We’re going to be out by Easter. And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart. This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.

Stockdale was vehement in his denial of blind optimism. Collins stresses the common denominator of all companies making the break to greatness as being able and willing to face the brutal reality.

I believe this holds true for us as individuals, families and communities as well.

This seems to be important in developing a strong hope. It is not a hope that flies in the face of the evidence. But is does hope, and remains dogged. I’m wondering if antifragile hope builds on doggedness, but that what Stockdale has explained is not the complete picture?

Resilience is Brittle

I believe Taleb offers us something beyond the binary thinking of fragility and resilience.

I did have an email series called Resilient Hope, in fact, but Taleb has given me pause to review this work again.

Is there a kind of hope that gains under stress?

I believe there is. Hinton and Stockdale model this for us, as do others.

We find echoes of it in myths and legends, those stories we are drawn towards. For example, in Die Hard, John McClain grew in stature during the story. Whilst the police chief and the FBI were at best resilient, and McLain’s vest was fragile, our hero was revealed as antifragile. In Lord of the Rings, Gandalf seems reduced to nothing in grappling with the Balrog, but emerged later even more powerful than ever. And, of course, there are the confrontations of Christ with the religious legalists, his deceptive capture, rigged trial, execution and resurrection. The hero who appears defeated in battle, rises from the ground, having learned from the stress how to endure in the fight in a different way, and goes on to become even more powerful.

And why do these stories inspire? Do they connect with some profound truth about ourselves and a better way to live through adversity?

In my earlier post, Building Something Bigger than Us, I referenced those world-changers who looked beyond even their own lifetimes towards something they started that leaves future generations with a powerful legacy.

My point is this:

Antifragile hope is functional now.

Rather than thinking like survivalists in some sort of zombie apocalypse fantasy, we can think beyond mere survival and build. Generative, antifragile hope leads us to dream bigger, connect with a purpose higher than ourselves, a transcendent purpose. Survivalism is the chronic stressful worldview of every man and woman for themselves; it is a fragile hope. Antifragile hope does not abandon our history or our future but builds. Taleb calls such people the antifragilistas. Their eyes are fixed above or beyond their immediate circumstances

Antifragile hope is functional NOW.

Frankl and his conclusions

He who knows the why for his existence can bear almost any how.

Viktor Frankl, Man’s Searcn for Meaning.

Leaders deal in the currency of meaning. They ask and attempt to offer answers to the Why question. To deny people a clear reason for the change they are going through is an abdication of leadership. How much more true is this when it comes to the matter of self-leadership?

Viktor Frankl, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, vividly demonstrates from his own experiences in a concentration camp during World War Two, how emotionally healthy it can be to connect with a greater purpose. People can deal with almost anything if they have a sufficiently good reason for doing so.

Thinking and acting beyond our lives is humanity at its best.

Frankl survived the horrors of the camp, in part because his hope was fixed on a hope beyond the camp, beyond his immediate circumstances. It was transcendant.

Focus on Legacy

Thinking and acting beyond our lives is humanity at its best.

During the dark days of early 1944, the British Parliament debated building a future UK, homes for heroes and its health service. This infuriated Hitler, who had hoped (resilient?) that the British would be too absorbed in their current battle to dream beyond. He was wrong.

Apart from incarceration and enduring the extremes of oppression by other human beings, what do Hinton, Stockdale and Frankl have in common? And what do they show us in our own restrictions right now?

I’d love your thoughts on this.

Leaning to Action Positive Outliers Self-Awareness

What’s So Sacred About 90 Days?

One to the recent contributors in the conversations on how to live well who has caught my attention is Dr Benjamin Hardy. I’ve got two of his books: Personality Isn’t Permanent and Who Not How. He impresses me with his fresh thinking about how we live to our potential in these crazy days.

In a recent post, he lists among his thirty maxims:

Focus on 90-day sprints rather than New Year’s Resolutions.

I agree that New Year Resolutions are a poor idea, with disappointing data, despite the practice being firmly ingrained in our popular culture.

Also, at first sight …. 90-day sprints…that sounds like a good period. It is a three-month cycle, which, if you live in latitudes where there are four seasons, it is broadly equivalent to one of those seasons. It is conveniently easy to review in quarterly chunks.

But why 90-days?

Why is this period, intrinsically of value? The calendar month is, in itself, a fairly arbitrary division of clock-time, as David Kadavy describes it in Mind Management NOT Time Management.

I am suspicious of simply taking months or aggregations of months as received wisdom for the best frequency to set goals and to review. However, periodic reviews longer than a week are important. Without them, we can drift for vast periods of our lives.

Meaningful Sprints

The concept of sprint comes from Agile project practices such as Scrum. In that context, where a small team works rapidly on changes, conventions in software engineering emerged quickly of periods of a month or less, often as short as 5 days. Each sprint would end with reviewing the results with the customer on a test system. Each sprint is collected into a group of consecutive sprints of say 6, where there would be an aim to release a new live version at the end of that group.

What is sensible as a sprint for our internal projects? That is hard to say and is a matter of context. Some of us do not have much discretionary time, so the key is to keep ourselves accountable for periodic self-review against our dreams and goals.

However, 90 days is not sacred, and for some of us, does not give us enough challenge to act now.

Practising Until It Becomes a Habit

I was raised a Roman Catholic. Each Lent I gave up something. For example, as a teenager, I once I decided to give up milk in my coffee. This is an insignificant thing in and of itself, you might think, but it taught me something about forming habits. Coming out of Lent, I no longer cared for milk in my coffee and have taken it black ever since. This, along with several other examples, taught me that forty days could be used a period to permanently shift things, big or small, in my habits, my thinking, my ways of operating.

Recent research has shown that various periods of claim habit change, whether it be 12 days, 21 days, 1 month––each do not stand up to scrutiny. Doing something for these periods does not always produce a permanent change in people. I suppose there are a number of factors, not least the nature of the practice itself.

Forty days occurs frequently in ancient literature as a period of great significance: the prophet Elijah needed forty days to prepare him to shift a fairly negative persecution complex; Jesus began his public adult ministry by immediately taking forty days in the wilderness. There were forty days between the resurrection of Christ and his Ascension into heaven. In the Western church, Lent, the preparation for Easter, lasts for forty days.

And so, I been practising 40/42 day reviews. In many respects, this period is better for me than 90 days.

All I can testify personally, as a rule-of-thumb, for most disciplines I want to adopt, 40-day consistent practice helps them stick so that they become a habit for me.

Scheduling and a 40-day Review

Now, Managing a 40-day review cycle is a little more tricky. Forty days doesn’t fit the standard calendar we all live and work by, and so requires a little more work to organise.

Forty days plus two days of review and adjustment are six weeks, which is a lot easier to schedule ahead, and it helps synchronise this with our weekly cycles.

I use an online app called Roam Research to help me do this; but with a little effort, most calendar apps can alert us to how much time there is toward the end of our current forty-day sprint.

I find that forty days has a powerful effect on the review cycle I talked about in my earlier post on Backwards Thinking.

There are two major areas that we would want to review:

  1. Our habits, existing ones that are not working for us and what we have established as new ones.
  2. Our personal projects and their outcomes.

So now, as part of my Personal Operating System, I build in six-weekly reviews. So, Ben, I would respectfully recommend 6-weekly reviews, with the emphasis on review.

Leaning to People Self-Awareness

Friends… Near & Far

Photo by visuals on Unsplash

Something strange has happened that made me feel grateful that I didn’t post the blog I had intended to earlier this year. Before the pandemic, I planned to publish a piece on relational proximity.

Relational Proximity is one of the dimensions upon which I make decisions in my own self-leadership; it is the degree of closeness of a relationship. The opposite way of thinking about relational proximity is to think in terms of relational boundaries, about whom we choose to let into our lives and to what degree we are open and transparent with the other person.

However, I’ve noticed something fascinating about how my relationships changed and developed during the pandemic. In a way, it has mirrored not just the constraints but also the value I place on each relationship. Allow me to give just one personal example.

Our home is part of a cluster of houses bordering green open space. We knew our neighbour next door fairly well, and each Christmas we get to know the others in our cluster a little more when we invite them around with their children for an afternoon party. We might have occasionally taken in deliveries for them. But they were pretty much strangers, keeping themselves to themselves… that is, until now.

Soon after lockdown, one of these neighbours formed our own little WhatsApp group. Now we shop for each other. Check out local issues for each other, and are generally leaning into each other, helping where we can. For example, “I have a ‘lodger’ in my parking space. Anyone know who this is?” There is now a very healthy community spirit in our group.

On the other hand, we saw a lot of some people if we had driven 20 minutes to our faith community meetings; now, not so much. Yet, others whom we are linked with through a healthcare charity we are involved with, have become fast friends, not only in our region but in other countries, on other continents. For example, I’ve discovered it can get cold in winter in Swaziland. With all my images of Southern Africa, this was a real revelation to me.

My point is that geographical proximity does not necessarily make you closer to someone. Zoom has demonstrated this reality, and perhaps communications technology—where are prevented from meeting physically in businesses, churches and leisure centres—is amplifying our awareness of it.

Even affinities of ideology or faith or race or gender don’t always matter the most when you draw near to someone, either physically or virtually. Relational proximity is something that reflects our deepest values. Simple acts of kindness are received and given. Suddenly a new positive culture arises where before there was none.

The pandemic has changed my landscape of relationships.

One of the keys I explore from our research into Positive Outliers—people who achieve and lead with a different focus— is Leaning to People. You can download my free ebook here:

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Positive Outliers Self-Awareness

The Only Thing that Matters is This

Photo by Matt Bero on Unsplash

In my last article, When Work Speeds Up, I used a short video to illustrate my point.

Allow me to do the same again in talking about priorities. This time the clip comes from a movie called City Slickers (1991), and this scene features two of the main characters, the old hardened cowboy, Curly, played by Jack Palance, and one of the city slickers on a ranch holiday, Mitch, played by Billy Crystal.

Is this true, though? Is it all about “figuring out the One Thing” or is this just Hollywood sentimental psychobabble?

There is no doubt about the fact that most of us have a tendency to take on more than we can handle, more commitments than one life can meet. All these different demands on us clamour for top priority, or at least for our momentary attention.


When I read Gary Keller’s, One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, I was intrigued to learn that the word priority, was always used in the singular in English until the nineteenth or early twentieth century. Maybe this was because we bought the lie that we couldn’t possibly have only one priority in the modern world.

We can dismiss pre-20th century wisdom as something quaint and naif from a more relaxed and stressless age, and say, “Now we must focus on many things.”

The problem is that our performance begins to take a dive when do this. Humans are not equipped, it seems, to deal with many things at once. Multi-tasking, loved by many who thrive on the adrenaline rush of feeling they are being super-productive, has been demonstrated to be a huge waste, a waste of time. This way of working requires switching the brain when we move from one task to another. We try to keep as many plates spinning as possible, but that is all we are doing. As we rush from one matter to another, there is a depletion of time and energy, not to mention cognitive confusion and emotional stress.

And we carry this foolish, crazy way of thinking into our organisations as well, making them dazed and internally competing towards this downward spiral.

So, what is the alternative?

Developing the Habit of the Daily MIT

At any moment in time, there is one thing that is needful. That is your MIT, your Most Important Task. This is true in the moment, for your day, in a project, in a month, in our lives – whichever time horizon you choose. And, as Curly said, “That’s for you to figure out.” The rest is about triaging all the calls for your attention, rejecting most of them, returning to the rest, but keeping your eyes on that priority.

I talk about this more in My Daily Bullet Journal Method.

Curly challenged Mitch to discover the One Thing for his life. For most of us, that will take some time, in prayer and meditation.

How about we set the bar a little lower to begin with? What about the next day? Ask yourself this question:

What is the most important thing for me to achieve in the next day that will make everything else easier, more achievable or irrelevant?

Let me know in the comments what you discovered using this approach.

A free course that takes you through the workflows of how I use bullet journaling for my Daily Heads Up, Gratitude List, Weekly and Monthly reviews.

Leaning to Action Positive Outliers Self-Awareness

A Portal of Possibilities

Photo by Julian Hochgesang on Unsplash

In my post last week, I went down memory lane and confessed to one of my worst recruitment blunders. This week, I’m still stuck in the past or, as I’d like to think, I’m still learning from my early career experiences. This week, I want to share how captivated I became with what was then a piece of newish technology.

The Portal Opens

Sometimes a new technology opens up new creative, sometimes disruptive possibilities of expression. For example, in the 14th Century, Gutenberg’s invention of moveable metal type began to free people to publish at scales and distribute work previously impeded by the establishment: first, the Bible in the native language of the people, and then a spiritual call-to-arms in the form of Luther’s Ninety-Nine Theses. Such literature was read up and down the land in taverns, outside of the controlled environments of church buildings. By 14th century standards, you could say these works went viral.

I had this experience first with access to my first WIMP computer, an Apple II. WIMP is an acronym for Windows, Icons, Mouse and Pointer. The WIMP user interface is so ubiquitous now, that we have stopped using this acronym. But at that time, most computers had nothing else but a keyboard and you typed all instructions.  Using technology originally pioneered at the Xerox Palo Alto Laboratories, it was Apple that first made this user interface popular. Previously, I had only used this on a $25,000 workstation.

The most popular software application, the ‘killer app’ on the Apple II is a surprise for many milennials: it was called VisiCalc (for “visible calculator”)., which was the first spreadsheet application for personal computers.

By Wikipedia User: Gortu –, Public Domain,

We now use spreadsheets for modelling all kinds of possibilities. For some of us, it is our go-to tool. 

“What PC would you like?”

Then I was recruited by another organisation to set up and grow an IT development team, at a time when my IT Director was about to review with me the market for networked workstations, that is, desktops that were approaching the capabilities of what we know as desktops today. This was 1986, so these technologies were still emergent. So, my director asked me what PC I wanted to rent in the meantime. This may sound quaint and ancient to millennials today, but I asked for an Apple Macintosh 128K.

Launched two years earlier, it was a state of the art PC. For us, it was a thing of wonder and beauty. 

The Orignal Apple MacIntosh launched in 1984

My Macintosh came with two additional programs. First, MacProject allowed me to enter project information and immediately I could see the impact of my data as a Gantt chart. Up until that time, I would print off the chart to see the results of any changes to estimates or time delays. Seeing the results on the screen, this immediately made my life as a project portfolio manager so much easier.

A Screenshot of a MacProject Pert Diagram

But my favourite piece of software emerged as MacDraw, a simple drawing tool. I was able to create visual concepts for my project sponsors that made sense to them. It would be another ten years before I was able to achieve the same thing with a desktop using Microsoft Windows.

It would be another ten years before I could reproduce on a Windows machine what I could do on my Apple MacIntosh.
A Screenshot from MacDraw

So often, it is easier to communicate concepts visually, particularly where there is an emergent capability from a number of projects. These diagrams gave my fellow senior managers such confidence in my projects that I even discovered one senior user kept his pinned diagram on his wall to explain to others.

Art is visionary and vision is often best communicated visually. The clue is in the name: vision.

We draw, not so much to copy images but to show the world as we see it or as it might become.

All of this new technology was wonderful stuff. Those were heady days when the technology couldn’t help but draw attention to itself.

However, there was one major problem. In my pursuit of productivity in one area, I lost it in another. Although I was learning to focus, I was also realising that I had to review the landscape of my life regularly. After all, I was like a farmer. There were other matters on my farm to attend.

But more of that in my next post.

A free course that takes you through the workflows of how I use bullet journaling for my Daily Heads Up, Gratitude List, Weekly and Monthly reviews.

Leaning to People Personal Margin Self-Awareness

When I Made a Recruitment Blunder

One of my biggest mistakes in recruiting somebody was early when I recruited a young man, straight out of school, as a COBOL programmer. The warning sign at his interview was his reply when I asked him where he saw his work taking him:

I would like your job. I’d like to sit in an office all day and order other people around.

I smiled inwardly but at the end of the interview decided to give him a chance anyway(!). I hoped that life would quickly knock this sense of entitlement out of him as well as showing him the reality of my role as a manager.

How wrong I was.

With hindsight, I should have heeded that comment as a warning sign. After investing significantly in that young man with intensive training in the early weeks with us, he left soon afterwards for a better offer with his new qualifications, with no sense of obligation to those who had built into him.

I took several lessons from this, but what I want to explore here was his understanding of management.

What is Management?

I think management is an over-used word in the world of work.

We talk about financial management. Fair enough. We need to manage our resources. Asset management? Of course. Venue management? That makes sense as well.

But what about time management?

We live and work in time, so how can we manage it? That’s like asking a fish to do water management. Fish swim, yes. But they don’t control the water.

And how about human resource management and stakeholder management?

When we use the language of management, it is a small step to deluding ourselves that we can control others and as a manager that is what we are supposed to do. In doing so, we reduce human beings to resources, cogs in the machine,  or foot soldiers in the war effort. Choose your dehumanising metaphor. 

With stakeholder management, how would you like to be managed by someone who is in another team or even in another organisation? Which is why I prefer the term stakeholder engagement or, better still, people engagement.

If management is the ordering or control of something, then, without resorting to some form of tyranny over others, the only person I can only truly control the behaviour of is … me.

The only person you can and should control is yourself.

I can coach you. I can counsel you. I might try to persuade you. I might even model to you what I would like you to do. I could even rebuke you, argue with you, or withdraw from you; but I can’t truly manage you – unless I am a prison warden, the manager of an orphanage, or a tyrant. I can invite you to do things, but that is not essentially management. That is leadership, not management.

Deprivation of freedom is a kind of punishment. We call it imprisonment. That is what many managers seek to do.

Many subscribe to the economic transaction that if the employer pays them well enough, then the organisation ‘owns’ them for a big part of their life –– or all of it — until they are released.

Research has shown that children who learn to control themselves at an early age position themselves for success later on in life. However, quite a lot of parenting is for the convenience of the parent and enforces control.

When it comes to others around us, our colleagues, our team, line reports, we do well when we empower them and encourage them. See my post on releasing autonomy, for example. One of the leaders in my local church says,

We are not building a big church, but big people.

And there is plenty of evidence that they are succeeding, without controlling or manipulating people. People are becoming powerful in realising who they already are.

However, leading free people can be a bigger challenge than leading slaves. Being the master of a slave ship is so much easier. So many people revert to control.

The Damage of Managing People

So, when we coerce, control and dictate, we deny others their freedom and creative autonomy. When we override the wishes of others, we may get compliance, but we lose something greater and far more valuable.

We risk losing loyalty and a greater creative cohesion to a common cause. We risk losing the synergy that comes from other free individuals adding their creative fresh perspectives. When portfolio creators come together, usually something amazing and generous happens.

What About Self-Management?

I have come to realise that it is the only form of people management that is both defensible and appropriate – desirable even – is self-management. But more on that in another post.

What are your thoughts on this? Leave a comment below.

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Leaning to Action Positive Outliers Self-Awareness

Living Like a Farmer

Every now and then someone makes a remark or an observation about me that resonates. In fact, sometimes, there is such weight on the remark that it amplifies over time, down through the years.

Such was the case about thirty years ago. My aunt and uncle were visiting us in Oxford on an extended trip around the UK from Canada. My late aunt asked about my work, and what I actually did. At that time I was in transition, really trying to make sense of my working life, just about to leave full-time paid employment to go freelance as a business consultant.

“It sounds like you are a farmer,” she said.

It sounds like you are a farmer

My aunt went on to explain. She had grown up on the family farm in Lincolnshire. It was a mixed farm of livestock and arable farming. Each evening, my grandfather would decide what he, his family and his farmworkers would do the next day.

Depending on the season and the situation, decisions were sometimes easy. For example, if one of the cows looked like calving, it was obvious that the next few hours would revolve around the vet and his assessment. Likewise with harvest time, what he had to do was time-driven and weather-dependant.

Other times, though, the freedom he had meant that important priorities were less obvious. A fence needed mending. Should they see to it tomorrow, or leave it until later? If there were goats in the field, it was clearly urgent: goats escape or eat their way through any boundary if they can.

And it wasn’t just maintenance. Farm economies went through some radical changes in the mid-twentieth century with the coming and aftermath of the Second World War, where it became strategically vital that the nation was as near self-sufficient in food as possible. I wasn’t aware of it, but rationing was still in force in the UK when I was born.

So, my grandfather needed to scan the horizon to see how the longer-term prospects changed. It might mean a shift to another form of income. And income needed to be budgeted across the year. Farm work was more labour-intensive in that generation, with at least a handful of farmworkers employed and housed on every farm.

Daily Decisions

And here’s part of why this resonated with me: many of us are now shifting to a form of working where we need multiple revenue streams, and daily we are called to make choices about what we work on next.

At one level, my work seems far from farming. I’m a business coach and writer. Yet, my aunt was right: there are more similarities my work to being a farmer, as I lead myself through the myriad of daily choices in my work, than perhaps first meets the eye.

How about you?

We sow our own kind of seeds, we harvest, we buy stock, we take our produce to market, we learn the rhythms of our market seasons, but also we tune in to the times, when all may seem well now, but there are opportunities to be gained from moving into work areas unknown to our ancestors, and risks to staying with the current operations.

Maybe, in this sense, most of us are now more like farmers., what has come to be called portfolio workers.

What is a portfolio worker? Well, I will explore this further in a later article. For now, though, I need to work on something else on my farm…

Photo by Bec Ritchie on Unsplash

A free course that takes you through the workflows of how I use bullet journaling for my Daily Heads Up, Gratitude List, Weekly and Monthly reviews.

Leaning to Action Leaning to People Positive Outliers Self-Awareness

Will you change your story?

I was with my teenage grandson walking along the Thames Southbank and we came upon the Globe Theatre, a wonderful re-creation of the original Elizabethan theatre that premiered many of the plays of Shakespeare, and we decided to take a guided tour.

Towards the end of our tour, the guide explained how in Shakespeare’s day there was a huge appetite — an industry in fact –- for plays, with something like 120 plays being performed in the Globe each year. I remarked that this was like the current phenomenon of major TV and network channels producing more series, in what seems like a veritable arms race between Netflix, Amazon, Apple TV, the BBC, HBO etc. And our guide agreed.

We love stories. There is something ingrained in every human that pays attention to a good story. For example, Jesus taught the public solely in stories, much to the frustration of the religious establishment of his day. 

Something in a recent podcast by Jeff Goins resonated with me deeply. It was his episode entitled Instead of Setting Goals, Tell a New Story. In brief, here are a few points Jeff makes:

  • At this time of year, maybe the best way to review things is not goal-setting – although there is nothing wrong with that.
  • Nor is it about setting new year resolutions[Note: I suspect if you have set them on January 1st, it is unlikely you are still keeping them all as you read this. Be honest! You’re not, are you?]
  • Instead, he explains that we are all living our story. 
  • Although it might feel uncomfortable, the turn of the year is a good time to look back on the year just gone, and consider what didn’t work, and what we might learn from that.
  • These lessons from last year’s experience might indicate that I need to change the story I am telling myself or living within.

As I explain in my work on stakeholder engagement – helping change leaders turn disinterest, apathy and sometimes downright hostility into favour, ownership and success – that storytelling is a key tool to getting and maintaining people’s attention.

There is an appetite for a good story deeply encoded in all of us.

Somehow, as we are growing up, we believe the lie from our peers – usually when we are trying to be adult – that we have grown out of stories. “Stories are for children, not for grownups.” 

What nonsense! 

So, what story am I telling myself?

Sometimes a major personal trauma helps us realise that we cannot or should not live the story we have been telling ourselves. A divorce leaves an at-home mum realising her life no longer revolves around the man who cheated on her. The widow realises that her sudden bereavement changes everything, so she gives herself permission to live another story. A loyal manager is told by his company that it has now decided to “let him go;” after his anger and his grief have abated somewhat, he realises that he now has a kind of freedom. He allows himself to live another story.

We do not need to wait for life to change our circumstances. We can change our story. Now.

Maybe we do each live out our own story.  We are the hero of our own story, as Jeff Goins pointed out. But perhaps that story isn’t the best version of us that we could live. Maybe we do need a better story. Maybe the Hero needs a bolder or different quest.

What do you think? Leave your comments. Tell me your story.

Photo by David Anderson on Unsplash


Stunned by Choice

In the early nineties, unfamiliar with American culture, I was in a mall in Chicago one lunchtime, ordering a ham and cheese sandwich at a deli. It was a simple request. Being British, I assumed they would assume, and fill in the blanks.

How wrong I was.

The guy who served me didn’t. What followed next, whilst familiar to North Americans, reduced me to stunned confusion:

Do you want that on a bagel?
White or rye?
Which cheese?
Butter or spread?
Do you want fries with that?

And I’m sure I’ve forgotten most of the options fired at me. I felt quite assaulted with this interrogation. It seemed like I was confronted with a multiple-choice decision tree, all of which was between me and my sandwich. 

Then I became conscious of the other patrons around me chuckling at this poor, stupid Brit blubbering through the available options. I just wanted to get out of there, preferably with that sandwich!

With hindsight I realise two things:

  1. It was lunchtime, one of the busiest times of the day for this man. He wanted to move the queue along and needed to narrow down the options for me. It was tedious for him as most of his patrons had been schooled is being specific.
  2. I was part of a culture where I had been born during a time of post-war rationing, where cleaning your plate was a moral duty, and where you were taught to be grateful for anything.

I was surprised and distressed by choice, a phenomenon that has emerged with the name decision fatigue, where one gets exhausted and angry with making decisions.

But should we not celebrate options? After all, freedom is essentially defined by one’s ability to exercise choice.

So now I choose… and remind myself to delight in the choosing.

I choose who to vote for, what to wear, and what to believe.

… and I choose not to go to that deli again!

Freedom is something we need to learn to exercise and handle.

This is particularly important when handling our own choices, how we plan our day, our week, our month, our project, our quarter, our year, and so on. And if we don’t plan it, someone else will. We surrender our freedom. I have an explanation here of how I use a bullet journal, a paper notebook to do my daily, weekly and monthly planning. Check it out here.

May you live a free and abundant 2020. Happy New Year!

Photo by Cenk Batuhan Özaltun on Unsplash