Tag Archives: Leadership

It’s better to initiate

I recently listened to Seth Godin’s Tribes on audio book. It is… amazing! I’m going to listen again, and again, and probably again. I think that you should too.

What sits with me after having listened this first time are his ideas about how we, as leaders, should take action. Most people, he says, react. Some people respond. Others, a smaller few, initiate.

The difference between them is stark, particularly with regard to our intent and the outcomes we can achieve.

This is what I took away.

To react is to allow something to happen and then act without proper thought or consideration of what can or should be achieved, and done defensively and out of fear.

To respond is to allow something to happen and then act with consideration of the environment and what one hopes to achieve, and is done in self-interest.

To initiate however, trumps both, because it’s about taking action to make something happen, rather than allowing something to happen and then taking action, and is done out of generosity.

The difference between initiating and responding is the difference between a leader and all the others.

All the others respond to things that happen to them. Leaders do things that others respond to.

Which will you be? A leader? Or, just one of the others?


How to become the “go-to” person for important projects

We were once limited by our existing skill set. We were locked into our speciality. If you were trained in preparing budget reports, you prepared budget reports. If you were really good at writing copy, you wrote copy. If you were a project manager, you managed projects.

There was very little room to move outside of our sphere of knowledge and skill. We were like cogs in a machine and that’s all that organisations expected of us.

But, things have changed. Organisations now need and expect people to be flexible and have a broader range of skills. Those who are able to contribute in diverse ways to important projects are valued more than anyone else.

This is great news for you and I because we now have more opportunities to make a meaningful contribution that helps our organisation grow, helps us get ahead and allows us to do interesting work outside of our existing skill set.

So how do we become the type of person who can do almost anything when in reality, we are in fact limited in many ways by our existing skill set? Answering that question could be the topic of an entire book, but just quickly, here’s one strategy.

Almost anything you need to know can be learned quickly online and Google is your secret weapon. You can learn the basics of almost anything with a Google search and some time spent reading, studying diagrams, listening to audio and watching video.

This is not to pay any disrespect to people who are actually experts. It’s just to say that a lack of access to specialised skills need no longer hold back a project in the short term; and that thanks to technology and the plethora of free resources online, we now have the opportunity to contribute in bigger and more exciting ways than before.

Here’s an example.

Let’s say your boss asks you to develop a draft communications plan for a project you’re working on, but you’ve never done one before. Maybe you’ve never even seen a communications plan.

No problem. You don’t have to be an exert to put together a good quality communications plan. You just need to Google it.

Search terms: communications plan; how to develop a communications plan; communications plan template.

Spend a couple of hours reading articles, looking at images, listening to audio and watching YouTube videos and then download and adapt the best template you can find. Now you know enough to get started and have the tools to develop a draft communications plan.

You can take this approach with almost anything: project plan, risk assessment, staff engagement survey, consumer insight research, lead indicators for an impact framework – these are all examples of tasks I’ve been asked to do at different times in my career that I had no idea how to do in the moment, but instead of saying “no, I don’t know how”, I said “sure, let me look into it”.

Finally, and this is really important, don’t pretend you’re an expert. Be confident in your ability to figure things out, but don’t say yes to things that are clearly way above your head and don’t submit something that is of poor quality. Poor quality work is a career killer.

I’ve always felt like I could take on any task, but I would always ensure my boss knew that whatever I was handing them was my first attempt and that it should be treated as a starting point. Managing expectations is key.

If she thought it was good work, great! If she thought it needed more work or required a specialist to take it further, great! Either way I contributed, solved a problem for my boss in the short term, got the ball rolling and showed the people I work with that I am someone who is talented and can be trusted to get shit done. At the end of the day, this is what managers really want: people who can get shit done!

You and I are no longer held back by our existing skill set, and the more we dive in and do the work despite our limitations, the more valuable we are to almost any project in almost any organisation.

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Stop Being So Inclusive

Management has experienced a strong shift in recent decades toward empowering individuals and teams to lead and problem solve. Like any important change, there’s a danger of going too far.

Don’t get me wrong. As a manager I do all I can to empower my people to lead and problem solve. But, there also comes a time when as managers, we need to make a decision, make a call, develop the plan, and at times, even go against the collective wisdom of the team.

The new management paradigm can be used as an excuse by indecisive managers to rely too heavily on their team, and even blame them when things don’t turn out as planned.

Please, empower your teams. Trust your individual leaders. But don’t think that’s all there is to management and leadership. It’s also your job to protect your team and make decisions that are in everyone’s best interests.


How to make a dent and have a successful career in the new era of work

The days of ‘cog-in-the-machine’ employment is coming to an end. As the information economy grows and develops, people who can do more than shift a lever or press a button on a production line are more important than ever.

But, what is it exactly that we need people, in this new era of work, to do? And, how can we create a culture and environment that facilitates and supports their work and produces the results today’s businesses need?

I won’t bore you with a long winded, wanky, geo-politico-eco-historical exploration of the needs of modern businesses. If you’re reading this I’m sure you already have some ideas.

I will instead state, quite simply, this:

We need leaders who can work collaboratively and creatively to solve complex problems.

I’ll say that again. Today’s organisations need leaders who can work collaboratively and creatively to solve complex problems. And, herein lies our dilemma.

The way we run organisations and the way we manage people does not support or create the right environment for this type of person, let alone a whole team of them, to operate with the autonomy or freedom required to be effective.

So what can you do? How can you become the type of person we need to work and manage in a modern organisation?

Start here:

Do something you enjoy

You are likely to spend more time working throughout your lifetime than doing any other activity. You may as well spend it doing something you’re good at and love doing.

Universities and colleges offer more degrees than at any other time. Online courses are easily accessible and many are free or cheap. There’s no reason to settle for a career doing something boring or that you feel indifferent about.

There are also more opportunities than at any time in our history to start your own business and be successful. Don’t limit yourself to the rat race. A credit card with a few hundred dollors and a good idea is all you need to start an independent business with a good chance of being successful if you do it right.

Work toward something you care about

There is plenty of evidence that shows that when we are alienated from the outcomes of our work, we become unhappy. There is also plenty of research that shows that when we work towards a high level goal in an area we care about, we become happier. I’ll let you do the math.

Lead from behind

You will work for morons, idiots, know-it-alls, know-nothings and lazy jerks for the majority of your career. Don’t let them stop you. Don’t let them kill your spirit. Your boss will micro-manage, get in the way and just generally slow progress on a regular basis. Your job is to convince them that they have more to gain by leaving you alone to do your work.

Create and support the right environment

If you’re a manager: hire the right people with the right skills, set the goals and the strategy, support them, give them the time and materials they need and then, get out of the way.

*   *   *

Today’s organisations need leaders who can work collaboratively and creatively to solve complex problems. Be that person. Be that type of leader. Don’t settle for a generic, uninspired career. You’ll be happier and more successful for it.

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The Rule Book: 19 elite-athlete behaviours that will make you more successful at work & in life

In 2011, a good friend and I coached a varsity boys basketball team at an international school in Myanmar (Burma). Leading into the pre-season, I created a rule book which outlined how the team was expected to conduct themselves during the season.


The rule book was inspired by thoughts and principles that were originally developed and used by legendary basketball player and coach, John Wooden. A former teacher and now member of the basketball hall of fame, John Wooden was an extraordinary basketball player and coach. As a player, he went All-American in college. As a coach, his high school and college teams won an extraordinary 80% of their games with him at the helm. He won 10 NCAA National Championships over 12 years as head coach at UCLA and was named National Coach of the Year 6 times. That’s a hell of a record.

Coach Wooden’s success came from his unique approach to basketball, to coaching and more pertinently to life. He believed that being a great player and a great team required more than just a well-drilled set of technical basketball skills.

He believed that to be a great player and a great team, you also need the right values. Values that, when translated into action embody, promote and facilitate altruism, fairness and humility.

I recently came across the rule book by accident, while trawling through some long forgotten folders on an old hard drive. Reading through it again, I couldn’t help but reminisce about how impressed my fellow coach and I were with the conduct and behaviour of our team that season.

How after winning the Myanmar national tournament, we travelled to Bangkok for the South East Asian Schools Athletics Conference (SEASAC). How at that conference, playing against bigger and more established schools from around South East Asia, we punched well above our weight, coming within 4 points with two minutes to go of beating the eventual division one tournament champions in a group-stage game.

How the boys personified sportsmanship, cheering for other teams during game breaks and being gracious in both victory and defeat, shaking hands and congratulating teams before and after every game. And, how after winning the division two championship, the boys were voted Best and Fairest by the other team’s coaches.

We may not have won it all, but I consider that season to have been a very successful one. When we arrived in Bangkok for SEASAC , it was clear that we were under-dogs. From what I could gather from the snarks and sneers of some of the other teams and even coaches, we were also widely considered a joke and an also-ran.

We were younger, shorter and nowhere near as resourced as the other richer and better connected international schools. While most students from the other schools came from comparatively privileged backgrounds, our boys were from a country widely recognised as third world/developing and that had been locked down by a military regime. A country that had shut out the rest of the world for the previous 20+ years (long before these boys were even born).

A country where until recently, most citizens weren’t allowed out and most foreigners weren’t allowed in. Where foreign journalist were banned and cameras and laptops were confiscated at the airport. A country where some of the world’s longest running civil wars have raged for decades. And, where military personnel with rifles stood posted at every intersection in the former capital, Yangon (Rangoon), the city where the team was from.

Despite these challenges, by the end of the tournament our boys were looked up to by everyone. Why? Because of their respectful conduct, their leadership on and off the court, their heart and courage, and their never give up attitude.

They were honoured as Best and Fairest because they practiced what Coach Wooden had taught them in that rule book. They were honoured because they behaved in a way that embodied, promoted and facilitated altruism, fairness and humility. Because despite not being crowned champions, they behaved like champions.

Today, those boys are following their dreams. Some are just finishing up high school while others are studying in their chosen field at universities around the world. Some are working in their family business back in Myanmar and others are blazing their own trail, making a difference in their community or building companies. Needless to say, I was and still am a super proud coach.

As I was reading through the rule book again, it occurred to me that the principles therein aren’t really about basketball or even sports, at all. They’re about how to conduct yourself in life. They’re a framework for success in any field you wish to apply them. They will never get old, outdated or irrelevant. And the best part — anyone can practice them.

So here it is. This is the exact rule book I gave those boys, with the exception that I’ve added links to some articles, blogs and videos to get you thinking and acting on each one. Work on establishing these behaviours and you can be successful at whatever you put your mind to.

Read right to the end to watch a TED Talk by the man himself Coach John Wooden, in which he talks about the difference between winning and being successful. It’s well worth your time!

The Rulebook-2

Click here to download The Rule Book as a PDF for Free

1. Act Like a Winner

True winners handle themselves with class, integrity and confidence. People who act like winners will usually become winners, so do the same.

2. Stay Positive

Positive people can take on the world. With a positive outlook, so can you! Trust me, it’s backed by science.

3. Commit Yourself to Hard Work

Hard work is the price you pay for being successful. The harder you work, the less likely you are to give up, the more you will achieve and the more rewarding those achievements will be.

4. Commit Yourself to Doing Things the Right Way

There is a right way and a wrong way of doing things. Practice makes perfect. Do things the right way, even when no one is watching.


“If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?” – John Wooden


5. Write Down Your Goals

Review them often. When you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.

6. Focus!

Don’t waste your time with trivial pursuits. Focus all your energy on achieving your goals. Give your complete focus to whatever single task you are doing at any given time – attempting to multi-task kills productivity and is harmful to your health.

7. Thrive on Pressure

Be Prepared. The more you prepare, the better you will be able to handle pressure situations. Pressure often brings out the best in people, but only if they are prepared.

8. Don’t Procrastinate

Don’t put off anything you could do now till tomorrow.  Don’t feel like it? Develop some strategies to help you out. Just stop putting things off.

9. Be Honest

Always tell the truth. If you say you are going to do something, do it! And, be honest with yourself. Be realistic with your goals — but still challenge yourself.

10. Eliminate Negative Words From Your Vocabulary

Negative words will only ever hold you back. Start by replacing ‘can’t’ with ‘can’ and ‘try’ with ‘will’. Work on becoming the most positive person you know.

11. Learn From Your Mistakes

Use this 4 step process: 1. Recognise It 2. Admit It 3. Learn From It 4. Move on. Failure is not the end of your journey — it’s just the beginning.


“If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not doing anything. I’m certain that a doer makes mistakes.” – John Wooden


12. Admit Your Weaknesses

Play to your strengths and work on your weaknesses. You’ll be better off for it.

13. Always Be On Time

10 minutes early is even better.

14. Sit Up Front

In class. In meetings. In life.

15. Be Nice

Treating others the way you would like to be treated is the key to success in any endeavour.

16. Be Courteous

Please and thank you will take you a long way. Using them is simple. If you need something from someone, say please. If somebody does something for you, say thank you. It’s not difficult.

17. Smile

In every country and in every culture, smiling lets people know that you are a respectful, caring and sharing person. And that’s the type of person you should want to be.

18. Dress Your Best At All Times

A wise man once told me that the quality of your threads matters much less than if they’re clean and pressed. Learn how to iron your shirt/pants/skirt.

19. Stay Humble

Respect and recognition come from personal sacrifice and hard work. Handle it like a gentleman/lady, not a clown.


“A player who makes a team great is more valuable than a great player. Losing yourself in the group, the good of the group, that’s team work.” – John Wooden


If you’ve got a few minutes (17 to be precise), watch this awesome TED talk by the legendary John Wooden about the difference between winning and success. With almost 4 million views, it’s one of the most watched TEDs in history. You’ll learn something, I promise.