Author: Tom McCallum

Leadership – Being alone with our thoughts

“tout le malheur des hommes vient de ne savoir pas se tenir en repos dans une chambre”

“All of humanity’s misfortunes stem from man’s inability to stay at rest in a room”

From Pensées by Blaise Pascal, written in the 1600s


A search on this “My Writing” page currently returns twenty articles referencing the  keyword “silence”.

If you’d like a quiet hour or two to muse eclectically on this theme, I offer you the search here.

I keep coming back to silence as a theme, so why is that ? (more…)

Storytelling as Aural History

stories are light

In the early 1990s, we saw the beginnings of the widely available internet. Dial up only, super slow, very expensive.

At one point I read an article in, I recall, Time Magazine, about the explosion of use of the internet by people, often older generations, seeking to research their genealogy using the new resources available.

In the article, I read that Scotland was one of the world leaders in making such registers of births, marriages and deaths open to the public via the internet.

The General Registry of Scotland had partnered with a business called Scotland Online, and they’d even already set up online payments along with this public / private joint partnership. World leading indeed!

My family is largely from Scotland, so my natural curiousity had me, sitting in the Cayman Islands, go online and pay and search records and research my father’s side of the family (reasonably easy, as our surname is not that common), and within literally minutes I could track this back to the 1700s!

I then went online to some bulletin boards (some may remember those!) and found a member of the family from the tree about three generations ago. They had also been researching my great-grandfather and had a fascinating story to tell around his funeral.

Now, my grandfather was still alive at this time, so I planned a trip to visit him a few months later in the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. I’d never asked him about the family, but this time we sat down several times and he told me tales from his childhood.

He then died shortly afterwards, quite suddenly.

What if I’d not asked him?

What information may not have been passed down to the next generation?


Leadership – Take action, even put yourself at risk

Bravery in leadership can often mean acting rather than waiting for others. It also has matters of degree in whether or not leadership puts yourself at risk.

Two quotes I have always looked to are :

“Let not any one pacify his conscience by the delusion that he can do no harm if he takes no part, and forms no opinion.

Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.”

~ John Stuart Mill


First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

~ Martin Niemoller

So, in the most powerful form, acting is brave if we choose to put ourselves (or in psychological terms, our identity) at risk.

In other forms, there are things we can do that have little or no risk.

Each person has their own way to choose to take action, how much risk they are willing to take. (more…)

Leadership – Repeat ad nauseam


One turn of phrase around telling people something over and over is to say you “repeated ad nauseam”, or literally until you were sick.

One of the simplest to address gaps I see in leaders around engaging their people is to assume they have communicated their message enough.  (more…)

Storytelling : Never make a point….

“Never make a point without telling a story, and never tell a story, without making a point”

~ Ed Percival

Another lesson from the master, Ed Percival.

A hugely important part of leadership is about engaging your people.

People connect to stories, so don’t just give them logic and rationale, tell them stories.

This week I started interviewing leaders from around the world and gathering their leadership lessons for the book I am writing on #OpenLeadership. In each interview, I ask them for stories and have already had the #goosebumps experience in listening to them. (more…)

Coaching Skills – Asking is about Connecting

Today I sit on my terrace early in the morning, preparing in my own way for coaching calls with two new clients from an organisation I am supporting as they bravely transform.

While sitting quietly as I tend to do before such calls, I opened my online notes of “things to read, watch, listen to” when I have this kind of space, somehow serendipitously choosing to watch a TED Talk by Amanda Palmer called “The Art of Asking”


So, a “Tom-ism” is: “A leader is someone others choose to follow”

If you make someone follow you, you are a boss, not a leader. If you ask them to follow you and they choose to, things are very different. In addition, those first followers are truly important, as once they follow you, others join them. The more enthusiastic your followers, the more others follow you, and then you have a movement.

Asking people versus making them is more powerful, but why would people choose to do what you ask? The answer is because you have connected to them and we all crave connection.

Amanda Palmer’s superpower is connecting with people, she has done this her whole life, it is her supreme gift. (more…)

Writing I Love – Self-Awareness and Rumi

The Guest House Rumi

Up until about a month ago, once a week I posted “Writing I Love”, then chose to stop setting a regular schedule for it and simply to allow #Flow, with that last post being one I wrote the day Anthony Bourdain died.

More recently I wrote “Leadership – The impact of beautiful art” which was in part inspired by one beautiful line from David Foster Wallace:

“We’re all lonely for something we don’t know we’re lonely for.”

I love to read widely and be inspired by art and writing.

This week I read an article called “A Beginner’s Guide to Self-Awareness” and all of this lead me back to the favourite poem above by Rumi, The Guest House, which speaks to me about the bravery it takes to choose to be the truly open and vulnerable self it takes for self-awareness. (more…)

Bravery – Do one thing every day that scares you

do one thing every day that scares you

Yesterday’s article started with the words:

Are you Brave Enough? 

Bravery is a key word for me…..

This article was linked to HR leaders and being brave and also applies to all of us. Bravery is a key component of leadership, including self-leadership, one I come back to over and over again in my writing.

This reminded me of a phrase that has helped me to keep stretching, keep seeking to grow, evolve, learn:

“Do one thing every day that scares you” (more…)

Time for HR Leaders to…Be Brave

Are you Brave Enough ?

Bravery is a key word for me.

Perhaps it is the entrepreneur in me who not only is “risk tolerant” but feels that life is not meant to be lived in a pallet of muted pastels but in vibrant technicolour. Whatever the reason, I choose to work with leaders, businesses, organisations that are brave, that choose to stretch out of their comfort zone, are comfortable being uncomfortable.

Now, in my work I come across lots of senior HR leaders in large corporations and organisations, yet very rarely do I come across any that are truly brave, that look to stretch, seek the transformative change, go against the grain.

When I do find such leaders, I look to build relationships that last with them, to learn from them and to support them as they look to drive change for their employer, their people, their customers and other stakeholders.

Again and again, I have been to HR conferences where the talk is of the common complaint that, though people are the greatest asset, many HR leaders are not considered strategic, nor offered a true “seat at the table” in leadership teams, “C” Suites etc.

Unpopular as it may be to some, my belief is that a core reason is that so few will actually champion (and put their own careers on the line, if that is what it takes!) the brave initiatives and actions that need to be taken.

If you are an HR leader and reading this, I hope I am nudging you to consider that, however brave you are being, perhaps you could be a little (or a lot?) braver.

Why am I writing this today? Well, recently I read a short report from a top business school Darden at UVA, called “RETHINKING TALENT MANAGEMENT: A BRAVE NEW WORLD“, pdf download here. The conclusion of the report reads (bold highlights added are mine) :

Leaders in talent management have a choice: they can hold on to the past, or they can embrace the new. How does one know when to change and when to stay the course?
Here’s one thing we know will be universally true: playing it safe isn’t an option anymore. Organizations are changing too rapidly. In order to keep pace, leaders will need to find the courage to let go of some old approaches and pioneer new ones. Taking an agile approach to innovating and customizing talent programs with the focus on customer needs (employees and leaders) – and not HR needs – is a solid method to enter this brave new world.

This is an excellent report drawn from fifty interviews with key HR leaders, highlighting “big trends” and “big questions”, and looking at what needs to happen to adapt to change.

However, and it is a big “but”, of those interviewed, only between about 10% and 25% of those interviewed are actively taking each of the number of steps enumerated in the report as being needed to address these big trends and big questions.

Those big trends and biq questions are shown below. For more, review the report.

Big Trends

My question today for HR leaders (and resonant for all leaders who see these “big trends” and feel they will inpact their organistion)  is simply this.

Are you brave enough ?