January 16, 2018

New Year every month?

Calendar dates from monday to sundayHow often do you review your goals (assuming you set some in the first place, of course)?

Obviously, it’s traditional to set personal goals at the turn of the year and it’s a good idea. It’s a good time to do it too, because we need a bit of downtime to reflect on what our direction should be. I have benefited over the years from doing this reasonably diligently, not least because it’s made me re-assess my priorities and what I am aiming for. The actual outcome has definitely been different from what it would have been had I not taken the time to think over what I could achieve in the 12 months to come. (I also think about three years ahead, to make sure I am radical enough.)

Because of the fresh direction that comes out of the process, last year, I decided to attempt to take stock and re-assess my yearly aim and objectives every month-end. Of course, I didn’t manage every month, but I did manage about six of the month-ends. That definitely contributed to a successful year. Each time, there was experience and learning to reflect on and I made some adjustments to my aim for the year—upwards, generally—because I could see more clearly. That redirection definitely wouldn’t have happened without making time for the review. (I’m not saying it’s a comfortable kind of thinking, by the way. It’s work, no doubt about that.)

I suggest you try this, especially if you are entirely responsible for your own direction. At the end of the year, you’ll be glad you did.

I know this is kind of serious, but it matters.


New Year every month?

Tip: Schedule your monthly review in your diary—perhaps for the weekend nearest the beginning of the month.

And, of course…

Best wishes for 2017.

If we let go of the big goal…

Mount EverestIt’s seem slightly paradoxical, doesn’t it? If we put our big goal out of our mind and just focus on getting small things done, it’s easier to take those minor steps—to do the mundane. And so we make more progress towards our main objective.

The tasks we put in hand do need to contribute to the aim, of course. They need to be part of the plan. And we do need to have a clear idea of what our big goal is.

Assuming that to be the case…

Sometimes it’s easier to make progress if we stop worrying about the big thing we need to accomplish. Then we relax. And then we can get started.

This is worth remembering both for ourselves and anyone we might hope to lead.

If we stop worrying about the big goal; if we calmly accept its existence, and indeed the possibility that we might or might not get to the ultimate outcome, it could be that we will make more progress towards it.

That’s true even if “failure is not an option” funnily enough—perhaps especially if failure is not an option.

Learning our lines

Four people speaking in front of a laptopWe often invest a considerable amount of time learning about a new skill or way of thinking. We might read a book, for instance.

But then we tend to fail to go that little bit further that would bring us a real return on our investment of time and effort: We don’t take the trouble to commit the practical details to memory so that we can actually deploy them. We don’t learn our lines.


We could summarise the essentials of the new source of expertise and then take the trouble to memorise them. Then we would know them as well as know about them.

It makes all the difference…

Firstly, because we can use the insights effectively in practice…

And, secondly, because other people are impressed by the trouble we’ve taken.

That’s odd, really, because the extra effort to learn something isn’t so much really—more a change of mode of study.

But, as they say, “it’s never crowded when you go the extra mile.”

For example, often when I give a talk, people remark on the quotes I know and refer to. They ask, “How do you know these quotes?” The answer is quite simple: I learn them.

What lines could you do with learning?

Just because you can tell people what to do doesn’t mean you should

Two businesspeople in slightly tense conversationIt’s so tempting for the “boss,” especially if they are also the owner of the business to assert their authority and tell people what to do, just because they can. It feels like a right, or even just “right.”

That might be why they set up in business in the first place: So that they can be “their own boss.”

When we’re questioned about something, chances are our ego doesn’t like it and we want to push the intrusion away: And we can, or at least, it’s possible.

And we may be right. We may have the greater experience.

But sometimes, it may be a mistake, because we may be wrong, and, especially then, it’s crushing for the employee.

In my experience, it’s a critical step in the development of the business or leader to accept that we may not always be right and to be open to question accordingly.

Noticing that we’re asserting ourselves, just because we can, is a sign that we might be “off.”

Are we?

Review rarely seems like the most important thing to do

Man thinking, looking upwardReview rarely—if ever—seems the most pressing thing to do: Taking a step back to reflect on our direction and to review our aims.

We almost always have something clamouring for our attention right now: Something that needs to be done, if not straightaway, then pretty soon. If you’re like me, you’ve got a near-endless list of these actions—probably many months’ worth of to-do list.

And it’s comfortable working on all that. It might be demanding and stressful and hard-work but we know where we stand. We can do it unconsciously, on automatic pilot, as the elephant follows the path.


Reflecting on our direction is uncomfortable and confusing and unclear, at least at first.

However, as it says in the Tao Te Ching, “Mystery is the doorway to understanding.”

Putting ourselves through the confusion will lead to a new clarity, and in that clarity we may find that some of those actions we were ploughing through weren’t the right actions. They weren’t taking us in the right direction.

The elephant needed to switch to a different path. And it must have been important to do a review because something has changed.

Two practical things help…

Writing in a journal about what we’ve done and how we feel about it: It is strange how new ideas come that way. (Actually it’s because we’re making the unconscious conscious.)


Reviewing our aims once a month, probably at the weekend to get the necessary peace and quiet—like it’s New Year every month; thinking afresh about our situation and how we may best build on it.

I find those two things help me see the path it’s now right to take.

How about you?

How do you react to the phrase “I’m disappointed with how I behaved” or similar?

Woman reflectingLast couple of years, it seems to have become common for a person or an organisation which has messed up or done something stupid to try and construct what should be an apology with a sentence that begins “I’m really disappointed that I was a xxx yesterday / or did yyy.” (Insert relevant embarrassing identity or behaviour.)

I saw one of these in the media last week. It was a company on that occasion. I forget who—maybe just as well.

Perhaps a few years ago, a PR person thought using “disappointed with myself” was a clever idea—a way to avoid responsibility without actually blaming anyone else.

Trouble is…

It might put some distance between the person and the embarrassment, but unfortunately it also puts an ocean between them and their credibility—because it’s so pathetically not leading, seeming to say “I’m a victim: Please sympathise with me.” Or “I’m not really that person” or “We’re not really that organisation.”

I’d say don’t use this squirmy construction. Own what you did, even if it’s bad, and just apologise and say what you’re going to do about the problem. That way lies credibility and respect.

That’s what I think anyway.

How does the “disappointed” phrase land with you? Do you think it works?

It’s the orderliness of you (or your business) that matters…

Four business people in a discussion…not necessarily the orderliness of your systems.

Order around us is generally helpful and a good thing—of course it is, but at the end of the day…

What really counts is our own internal order—how organised we are in what we do and how we think and who we are.

Sometimes we need to allow a little disorder outside to have order inside.

For example, it may not be vital to have one neat and tidy task management system. What is vital is effective and, ideally, efficient completion of tasks in a sensible enough order. That might mean running several management systems in parallel and accepting the messiness that entails.

In other words…

Make sure you’re optimising the right thing.

Culturally, the assumption is orderly externals lead to orderly internals. Sometimes it’s the other way round. We need to allow for the possibility—in organisations as well as in ourselves.

And if you’re more orderly inside, you’ll create more order outside.

Discerning patterns, seeing what’s going on

Barely readable street signsHave you ever noticed…?

If you can just faintly hear some music being played in a noisy place… If you know the piece of music, you can make it out, whereas if you don’t, you can’t. It’s just part of the noise.


If you know what some barely visible lettering says, you can read it, whereas if you have no knowledge of what’s written, you can’t decipher it.


If we have some idea of the patterns of behaviour we might expect to see in a situation or an organisation, we can make sense of what’s going on, even with little information. It can even be very obvious.

We might misread things, of course: We do need to be aware of that danger. We might see what we expect to see. But knowing what patterns might arise is a good start.

Contrary to what we usually assume—and as the first two examples show—our sensory experience is actually partly created. We fill in the gaps with what we already know.

What patterns are you looking out for? And how diverse are they? Enough to cover the true span of possibilities?

What’s the difference between a building and a “space?”

Mid sized audienceA building is a building is a building, right? Or is it?

What makes the difference between a physical, inert, very tangible building and a much more intangible, somehow vibrant and stimulating “space?”

Some of the answer will be to do with the objects you have in the physical building and how you control the details of the environment.

These things are certainly important.

More than that though, it must be about the attitudes and energies you bring into the building and how you interact with the other people present—what you put into the room, figuratively as well as physically. Perhaps there’s something about these things being valued in common with other people, at some level.

Maybe bricks make a building and people make a space.

What do you do to make the building you inhabit a “space?”

The vital importance of feedback

Heating controllerMost of us struggle with it, at least at times—taking feedback that may be painful to receive. We might be rather better at giving it than receiving it.

The thing is though…

It’s such an important determinant of success and growth, hearing what we need to hear to adjust our actions and integrating that feedback into what we do.

We wouldn’t expect a control system to work effectively with inconsistent measurements.

So not much point in expecting ourselves to be the best we can be if we shut out feedback.

As Steven Pressfield says, “Don’t let it land in your ego.” That’s the key. (See his short and easily-read book “Turning Pro”.) Instead, stand back from yourself a bit and help others do the same.

A better life lies on the far side of feedback received and integrated. That’s worth remembering.


My new book “The Mastery of Leadership” is now available on Amazon. “Incredibly relevant and thought-provoking” in the words of one reviewer.