Blog

What I read and watched in ‘Book Week’

July 26th, 2022

I have just enjoyed a great ‘book week’: reading books and watching films that have direct and tangential relevance to my work.

‘Die with Zero’ was a particuarly thought provoking read and chimed with my animation series which aims to encourage those with more than enough to give some of it away to those who don’t: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zP_SuC_2Cuk&list=PLcNtPqI6xz2AXrJw0Vgk5nuAE-GSVfo3R

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Leadership Insights from My Sabbatical

May 11th, 2022

As part of my sabbatical I conducted some work shadowing and had the privilege of shadowing or conducting in depth interviews with:

  • A dairy farmer
  • A clinical psychologist
  • The owner of a construction company
  • A charity CEO
  • A fundraising team of a national charity
  • A CEO of a social enterprise
  • A priest

I knew these people personally or professionally and consciously chose to shadow a diverse range of people and professions. The only qualification was that I considered each individual to be consistently successful in their roles (using an ad hoc mix of subjective and objective measures).

The motivation for the shadowing was a genuine interest in fundamental questions, such as:

  • Why do people do what they do?
  • What does it take to be consistently successful in a role?
  • Are there any common characteristics in top performers, regardless of their role?

Here are just three of the insights I gained from the experience.

1. The Importance of Purpose

A trait shared by all I shadowed was that their purpose was bigger than themselves. For example, when I asked the dairy farmer why he did what he did, he responded;

“I’m part of a story …. to make organic farming mainstream.”

He went on to say;

“My role is to ensure that if a cow ever leaves my herd, they do so in the best possible health.”

Given the costs of organic dairy farming are often double non-organic farming, but you can rarely charge double the price at the point of sale, there is an explicit need for innovation and consistently high performance. Also, if you do your very best to ensure cows stay fit and healthy, they’re more likely to produce good yields of milk. Both these factors are likely to improve the financial bottom line. However, for the farmer I shadowed, the financial benefits genuinely seemed to be an ancillary benefit to his primary goals of promoting organic farming and taking care of his cattle.

2. Values as a Driver

In many cases I was struck by the clarity of values and the lengths some of the individuals would go to live by them. To illustrate, the clinical psychologist I interviewed had worked with victims/survivors of rape. She was appalled by how often they were poorly treated by the court system. What she was observing ran completely counter to her value of justice.

Her response? Whilst still holding down a full time job as a clinical psychologist, she spent several years completing a law degree on evenings and weekends. This enabled her to engage with the legal profession, to bring about much needed change, in ways that wouldn’t have been possible if she weren’t a lawyer herself. Values drove outcomes.

3. Balancing Enough with Constantly Striving

One of the CEOs I shadowed had led their organisation through a period of expansion. As a result, the organisation’s Board felt it appropriate to award them and their senior leadership team and salary increase, in recognition of their increased remit and responsibilities. While the CEO did not oppose the increase for their team, they did not accept their own salary increase. Instead, they requested that their increase was reinvested into the organisation. This request was actioned very discreetly.

For me, this was someone who had taken the time to reflect on what was enough for them financially and then lived within those parameters. While at a micro level, I believe it sets a very important example for society as a whole, if we are to have a sustainable future. I also think that this individual understood that while their salary prevents them from feeling unappreciated, it does not provide reliable ‘fuel’ for continually striving to improve.

More than anything, the successful people I shadowed were humble. They were very aware that they would never be the finished article as a leader/practitioner, but they were deeply, intrinsically motivated to continue on the journey of improvement.

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Thank you for a great sabbatical

March 1st, 2022

Huge thanks to the many organisations who helped the work experience part of my sabbatical so insightful and enjoyable. Yeo Valley, John Perkins Construction Ltd, Christ Church Westbourne, NHS Education for Scotland, Julia’s House, On Purpose and Meningitis Now, thank you very much!

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Manage Your Mindset with The A-Team

April 13th, 2021

If you’re dealing with a big challenge, you’re often drawn to its physical or practical issues. This blog encourages you to also consider your mindset. If you want a book (or audio book) to explore mindset in more detail, I strongly recommend any one of the following three:

  • The Chimp Paradox, by Steve Peters
  • Positive Intelligence, by Shirzad Chamine
  • Mindset, by Carol Dweck.

In different ways, all three articulate the view that our brains have two main parts:

1. The Growth Mindset aka Our Best Self, or Sage

As the names suggest, this part of the brain is ‘us on a good day’. It’s wise, empathetic, forgiving and discerning. It understands that things may not be as they first appear; that things are rarely black or white, good or bad. It accepts ambiguity and that very little is certain. It thinks before acting.

2. The Fixed Mindset aka Our Chimp, or Saboteurs

This part of our brain makes immediate judgements, sees things as good or bad and others as either friends or enemies. It’s fuelled by emotion and acts before thinking. It ensures your basic needs are prioritised and its tendency to worry and remain vigilant keeps you safe. Indeed, its evolutionary importance explains why it is often stronger than the ‘best self’ part of your brain. It’s also stubborn. If it decides it’s not going to do something, it’s unlikely that your ‘best self’ will be able to persuade it otherwise. This is why willpower alone rarely leads to sustained change.

So what can you do? Firstly, you need to accept that you can’t change your chimp’s nature; but you can manage its behaviour. To manage your chimp effectively, I recommend bringing in the A-Team. No, not the 1980s characters of BA, Murdoch, Hannibal and Face, but the A-Team of:

  • Awareness
  • Acceptance
  • Attendance
  • Activation
Awareness

The first ‘A’ of managing your chimp involves being really aware of what it’s feeling. It’s easy to know when your chimp is dominating your thoughts and feelings; it’s anytime you’re having thoughts and feelings that you don’t want to be having. However, your chimp needs to feel listened to and understood. To do this, it helps to identify the specific emotion that’s causing your unhelpful thoughts. So if you’re not looking forward to the next part of your challenge, try and get beyond the common first response of ‘I just don’t feel like it’. Is it stress in relation to other things that need to be done today, or fear as to whether you’ll be able to manage it?

For example, during a recent personal challenge, going beyond the ‘I just don’t feel like it today’ made me appreciate that I was actually feeling feeble and inadequate, as I was struggling to do something I’d been able to do before.

By identifying the precise emotion, your chimp will know you’re aware of how it’s feeling and this will comfort it. It’s not uncommon to struggle with finding the precise feeling you’re feeling, so choosing from a list can be useful. One such list can be found here.

Acceptance

Once you’ve identified your emotion, the next ‘A’ is to accept it. If you’re not feeling a particularly positive emotion, this can be hard to do, but feeling bad about feeling bad is even worse. Accepting the emotion prevents this from happening, as acceptance takes the ‘heat’ out of the emotion. Negative emotions like lurking in the shadows. Acceptance brings them out into the light where they can’t last long. In my case, accepting that I was feeling feeble and ‘naming it’, helped avoid any sense of shame in feeling this way.

Attendance

With the emotion not feeling as powerful, you can move onto the next ‘A’, attendance. Here the goal is to attend to your chimp, by finding simple statements that it will accept.

I give my chimp a name - it’s called Sparky. By trial and error, I’ve learnt Sparky accepts that;

“Everyone, including me, is allowed to have one bad day.”

Reminding Sparky of this during my challenging situation, helped calm him down and stopped him berating himself and me.

What will your chimp accept? Work out the short and simple statements that it will hear and accept.

Activate

The final ‘A’ is activate. Here the goal is to activate your chimp’s more positive attributes. So in my case, Sparky responded well to;

“I know you’re not enjoying this, but as soon as we get home you can have a nice hot bath, with a beer and some peanuts.” [Sparky loves peanuts!]

As soon as Sparky heard this, he was bought into getting the challenging situation done as quickly as possible.

With Sparky occupied and engaged, it also allowed me to activate some of my best self. I was able to empathise with how I was feeling and remind myself about why this challenging situation mattered and was worthwhile. In doing so, I was able to give my challenging situation a better narrative.

The narrative we construct around what happens to us is ultimately up to us. I hope being mindful of your two brains and using the A-Team of Awareness, Acceptance, Attendance and Activation, helps you construct the best possible narrative for you.

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Aligning Organisational Values with Your Personal Ones

January 8th, 2021

In my adolescence and early adulthood, I developed a series of core values that I felt would stand me in good stead for life. They were as follows:

  • Service: Equipping myself for life, not just for my own benefit, but for the whole community.
  • Balance: Balancing work with life outside of work. Trying hard, without becoming a fanatic. Knowing when enough is enough.
  • Equality: Endeavouring to create equality of worth and opportunity and striving to ensure that these are not inhibited by any inequality of resources.
  • Fun/Positivity: Life’s too short to commit myself to careers or activities that I don’t enjoy.
  • Health: Emotional, mental, physical and societal health enable life to be lived to the full.
  • Integrity: Telling myself the truth. Am I really living my values if I proceed in this way?
  • Relationships: What brings most purpose to life: very little of any true worth is done completely on my own.
  • Quality: If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. If I live all my other values, this value should take care of itself.

When I founded mch in 2005, it seemed obvious to me that the company’s values should align with my personal ones. On its inception though, I chose only to declare publicly three of the above values as company values:

  1. Balance
  2. Integrity
  3. Quality

I took the view that these were the most relevant to my company and the values that clients would be most interested in. By 2008, my values-based approach to business gained sufficient attention that I was asked to write a short article for a regional enterprise network on how values can inform business. An edited extract of this article can be viewed below.

Fast forward to 2018 and, while my values remained constant, a considerable amount had changed in both my personal and professional life. A notable change was that I had started a relationship with someone who also led a company. A period of turmoil ensued as I felt that the way they were leading their business was in conflict with some of my personal values. In particular, my partner’s organisation was distributing resources in ways I found difficult to reconcile. I felt that they, like most businesses, were perpetuating the inequalities of opportunity that exist in society. Essentially, I found it very hard to separate the personal from the professional. Indeed, I began to appreciate that there really wasn’t a separation of my personal and professional values. Although I had only listed three professional/company values on my company’s website, the other five personal values had informed, and continued to inform, my professional practice.

In particular, I was reminded of just how much the value of equality had shaped my career choices. For example, my initial decision for mch to exclusively serve charitable organisations and social enterprises was, in part, driven by a desire to provide a level of support and expertise that such organisations wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. Furthermore, a key motivator in taking on the role of Chief Executive of Rumbalara, the indigenous sporting and community development organisation in Australia, was to assist a community that had been deprived of equality of opportunity.

The experience also strengthened my view that so much of my own situation and success stemmed from an inequality of opportunity. The biggest contributors to my good fortune were nothing to do with anything I had done. Yes, I have worked hard throughout my career and have tried to make the most of opportunities. However, the greatest opportunities have arisen on account of being born in a country where I had access to free education and from being born into a loving and supportive family. My innate intelligence is nothing of my own doing either, and even my work ethic is likely to have been influenced by the cultural environments I have found myself in. The result is that from an early age, I have felt that I am already a winner in the lottery of life. Consequently, I have tried to find careers and adopt a lifestyle that utilises the skills I’ve been lucky enough to develop, to help others win too.

A key outcome of this experience has been to be more public about mch’s broader values and to use my business to promote them. For example, the value of equality informs the pricing of mch’s online courses and the appeal to support equality of opportunity in learning and development that features within them. I’ve also experienced the positive impact that can come from engaging with organisations with differing values. In addition to clarifying what’s really important, experiencing differing perspectives can help bring about positive changes in thinking and acting.

Original mch Values Article

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