February 19, 2018

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?

The presence needed for transformational leadership

Two business peopleTransformational leadership i.e. leadership that truly brings out the best in people in a sustainable way requires presence, or rather being present. We need to be involved and connected.

On the other hand…

Transactional leadership that seeks to manage performance just through governance of one kind and another can be conducted in a distant, aloof manner.

In fact…

Distance and aloofness more or less guarantees that the management style can only be transactional because there is no opportunity for a community of trust to develop, and so no opportunity for selfless behaviour to build. And so not much initiative is taken.

Seems obvious when you think about it.

If you want transformation and self-organisation, you might have to live the journey too. You might have to be present—not necessarily active, but definitely present.

Why just being present results in natural leadership

Why just being present results in natural leadershipWhether to lead or to follow is sometimes a choice we need to make, or so it appears.

In fact, just being present may be the best option—not having need of the situation either way.

Connect that with something else and it all makes sense…

It’s often said that when intervening in a situation, it’s the inner state of the intervener which makes the difference, not so much what the say or do—much more who they are. In other words, we pay attention to highly “present” people.

And so obviously…

Those highly present people are the ones we are influenced by. The ones we follow, in fact—the leaders we look to.

Those who have let go of the need to lead or to follow are the real leaders.

Looking for the right words? Maybe you don’t need to.

Three people around a computerWe all face these situations…

Something difficult needs to be tackled with another person. We think they’ll be sensitive about it—either because they won’t like what we have to say or because something upsetting has happened.

And so habitually we think about the right words.

That’s what we’re accustomed to doing, and good words certainly do help.

At least as important though is how we decide to be. Getting our presence right will have at least as much influence on what happens.

We perhaps don’t pay so much attention to this, but…

Consciously choosing, for example, a state of caring, or one of calm authority, whatever is appropriate, and allowing that to be reflected in our presence—our whole being—will make what we actually say much less important.

The right presence beats the right words every time. It’s so much more powerful. And because of that good enough words come anyway.


Start with who you are, not what you’re going to say.

The unchanging nature of leadership

Admiral Horatio NelsonWe’re so accustomed to ever-present change and the need to lead ourselves and others through challenging times, we’re inclined to think leadership itself is a changing field. I am anyway, or I was.

Actually, of course, it’s really the one constant…

I mean leadership in the sense of contributing something to help shape the future, or more literally, “stepping ahead.”

The nature of leading is a timeless quality, resting partly on skill, partly on personal presence, and partly on inner belief and sense of purpose, and more besides—an art much more than a science, and so somewhat elusive.

Our individual knowledge of leadership, of course, changes as we learn and grow.

And yet the nature of leadership probably stays the same, and so a very worthwhile investment.

Sometimes people talk about different styles of leadership. I’m not so sure. I believe all of these styles (or most of them) are part of the range of the best leaders—the ones with the most flexibility. Ultimately leadership encompasses them all.

Postpone the analysis, stay in the moment

Group of business peoplePeople interacting with one another have sensory experiences involving images, sounds and feelings.

Yet we’re often tempted to reach for analytical models; to turn the flesh and blood experience into an intellectual exercise and try to manage relationships at that level. With a professional training, we’re particularly prone to going “into our heads” and disassociating ourselves from the direct experience.

And the problem is…

The opportunity to act is lost, because we’re no longer fully “present” and, so no longer influential. Again and again we do this, every time losing the opportunity to work with the live energy in the situation. Why? Because it feels safer perhaps.

Instead, we could stay in the moment and leave the analysis until later—much later.

To influence other people, we need a real-time, in-the-moment connection; not to disappear into our heads, and instead to stay present, focused on the other people there; to be open and take what seems like a risk (though maybe it’s actually the safer path).

How do you know when you’re fully present? How do you tell? A certain heightened physical awareness of the space and other people, and a feeling of groundedness perhaps? What are your inner signals?

The power of metaphor

Man thinking, looking upwardHe visibly changed in front of our eyes… From a barely there, fidgeting, rather evasive character, he became a solid, three-dimensional, distinctly present person with solid eye contact and a strong voice to match.

What made the difference?

Thinking of a metaphor for the resourceful state he wants—one in which others’ slings and arrows simply bounce off. In his resourceful state, he is a steel sphere, rather a large one in fact. Much, much bigger than any steel sphere I’ve ever seen. That’s the great thing: The metaphor allows you to turn up the volume.


To strengthen a resourceful state for yourself for handling a challenging situation, think of a metaphor for it—could be anything really—and work up the detail. Develop a rich description for it, and be greedy. After all, no one will know. And you’ll have the resource you need.

Here’s a process…

1. Think of the quality you want in want in real world terms. Make sure it’s expressed as the presence of something you want rather than the absence of something you don’t. (In the example, the desire was first expressed as “not let things get to him”. That’s not a good starting point, so we turned it into “things bouncing off”.

2. Once you’re clear about the state you want, ask yourself “That’s like what?” to get a metaphor.

3. Work up the detail of the metaphor and notice how it strengthens your state.

4. Remember the metaphor when you want the state.

So simple and remarkably powerful.

What I took away from the Gerard Kelly tribute

Gerard KellyTotal commitment was key to his success. Glaswegian actor Gerard Kelly put everything into what he did. He was versatile too, playing a great range of roles. Gone too soon.

What is the source of Aung San Suu Kyi’s peaceful power?

Picture of Aung San Suu KyiHow is it that the Burmese generals with access to so much military might fear Aung San Suu Kyi – a slight 65-year woman? OK, so their fear has diminished enough for her to be released, for the moment anyway, but still she enjoys tremendous popular support at home and abroad. Why?

And how is this relevant to the more mundane?

Joseph Jaworski has something to say about this in his book Synchronicity, where he quotes Francisco Varela (coauthor of The Tree of Knowledge and The Embodied Mind) in talking of “a commitment that can only come from someone who has changed his (or her) stance from resignation to possibility. We need to learn how to internalize that capacity.” Varela went on: “When we are in touch with our ‘open nature’, our emptiness, we exert an enormous attraction to other human beings. There is great magnetism in that state of being which has been called ‘authentic presence’.”

Jaworski adds that Varela warned “There is great danger if we consider these people to be exceptional. They are not. This state is available to us all.”

We frequently think of commitment as being to do with level of effort, about how much we do. Jaworski makes clear that he learned commitment is more about being – a choice of state.

So Aung San Suu Kyi’s authentic presence is as potent as the Burmese generals’ military might – a principle as relevant to the everyday as to the achievement of democracy in a benighted country.

As the comittee chairman for the Nobel Peace Prize said “an outstanding example of the power of the powerless” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-11685977.