Author: Tom McCallum

Always be Batman


Sometimes I “face the blank page” as a writer, yet inspiration always comes and this site now has over 200 daily posts and I am only building more momentum.

I love this meme, and was reminded of it recently when a huge guy (at least 350lbs and 6 feet tall) sat down next to me on an overnight flight from Dallas to London. He is an engineer and was on his way to Hungary to work on a project. Texas drawl, baseball cap.. and a Batman t-shirt.

Another internet meme (and no, Mark Twain did not coin it) is :

“The two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.”

Authenticity and integrity to create and build trust as a leader, and key to that is self-knowledge and then a relentless and consistent focus on self-awareness and a continued journey to deeper knowledge of self.

As Ed Percival always taught, his 50+ years of coaching he distilled down to :


That said, given the choice between being the highest and truest version of Tom and being Batman ? Tough call.

Hmm.. and if not Batman ? Lloyd Dobler ? Hell yeah !


Movies with Meaning – John Cusack edition

Weekly series. Do please send suggestions via email, twitter etc. You can send a theme and/or specific movies. Each week we feature three movies with meaning, so send in a movie with a sentence or two on the core meaning you take from it and a clip from the movie that speaks to that meaning.

Some weeks my theme is deep and meaningful, this week simply to honour one of my favourite actors with three movies of his that I love.

Writing I Love – The Stolen Child

stolen child

Leaders are often encouraged to be selfless, to be servant leaders (and other such descriptors).

However, our egos are very stubborn. They resist the idea of being selfless, as that means dissolving the ego so as to be of greater service to others, to shift and transform from one state to another.

It is very hard to “think your away” from one state to another, to get “out of your head”. In order to do so, shift from thinking to feeling, create an experience for yourself that is out of your norm.

That can be a walk on the beach, meditation, exercise. It can also be listening to music, dancing, even whirling and spinning as dervishes do for just such a purpose.

I love music and poetry, and the combination for me can be powerful. An absolute gem is “The Stolen Child” by Yeats, put to music by The Waterboys, from the Fisherman’s Blues album recorded in Ireland, and featuring the incredible voice of Tomás Mac Eoin, a local singer of Sean-nós unaccompanied singing.

The poem is of faeries beguiling a child to leave with them, yet as the voices and accompaniment wash over you, only the simplest understanding of the poem are needed for you to be lost in it.

I was reminded of this song last week. It truly dissolves me, it is so ethereal, so other-worldly. Such experiences allow me to come back to this world with heightened senses and lowered ego.

What do you do to enable you to be in that selfless leadership space ?

The Waterboys, then the full poem.

The Stolen Child
W. B. Yeats, 1865 – 1939

Where dips the rocky highland
Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
There lies a leafy island
Where flapping herons wake
The drowsy water rats;
There we’ve hid our faery vats,
Full of berrys
And of reddest stolen cherries.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wave of moonlight glosses
The dim gray sands with light,
Far off by furthest Rosses
We foot it all the night,
Weaving olden dances
Mingling hands and mingling glances
Till the moon has taken flight;
To and fro we leap
And chase the frothy bubbles,
While the world is full of troubles
And anxious in its sleep.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car,
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star,
We seek for slumbering trout
And whispering in their ears
Give them unquiet dreams;
Leaning softly out
From ferns that drop their tears
Over the young streams.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Away with us he’s going,
The solemn-eyed:
He’ll hear no more the lowing
Of the calves on the warm hillside
Or the kettle on the hob
Sing peace into his breast,
Or see the brown mice bob
Round and round the oatmeal chest.
For he comes, the human child,
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than he can understand.

You can’t pour from an empty cup


A recurring theme for me is to encourage leaders to support themselves, to be aware of their energy and what they need to perform optimally.

As flight attendants announce on every flight: “In the event of a loss of cabin pressure… first put the oxygen mask on yourself, then help those around you”.

Another way of putting this is “you can’t pour from an empty cup”. Please have the awareness of how full your cup is, and as I advised in a recent post, “drink before you are thirsty“, don’t let that cup get empty.

The three line job description I use for leaders is :

  • Set and hold the Context
  • Manage the Energy
  • Coach, Don’t Play

That “Manage the Energy” role is about what you as a leader bring to your team in aligning them, energising them activating them, motivating them and more.

However, in order to “Manage the Energy”, you must first ensure you drink before you are thirsty, that you manage your own energy and put on that oxygen mask for yourself.

This week I have been at the amazing Modern Elder Academy in Baja Mexico. The visionary leader of this is Chip Conley, who is an amazing leader. I’ve been around so many over the years, all I would say is that I would follow this man anywhere. If he said jump, I’d only ask him to tell me how high to jump !

Still, one thing Chip owned this week is how tired he is from running about two months in a row of workshops at a place which is also his home, where as one group leaves each Sunday morning, another one arrives that afternoon. Chip has been masterful at managing his own energy, and at the same time.. wow.. back to back to back to back. This is a beta test of the Modern Elder Academy, and one learning is that when it goes live, for all the team managing and leading it, they will run a programme which allows the team to manage their energy, to fill their cup. That way they can keep filling up their cup so as to be at their absolute best always for those they choose to lead, to serve.

Drink before you are thirsty, as you can’t pour from an empty cup.

In closing, I also want to express my deep appreciation for Chip, Jeff, Christine, Carla, Tony, Saul and all the team at Modern Elder Academy. I leapt at the opportunity to come to Baja, my cup is absolutely overflowing. Deepest thanks.



Less is more – leave space

space between the notes

Seth Godin recently wrote :

“Since the dawn of the industrial age, tighter has been the goal. A tighter system, with less slack. Tighter connection with customers.

The thing is, tighter is fine when you’re trimming a sail or optimizing a production system.

But many things in our lives need to be looser. More room for innovation. More slack for peace of mind. More spaces for surprise.”

This week I have had an extraordinary experience as part of the beta test of the Modern Elder Academy in Baja. The concept and philosophy are powerful and of huge value to the world. The curriculum is excellent and the facilitators amazing.

What makes it most extraordinary though is the environment, and that includes leaving space. As I wrote in “Listening, your Superpower” :

The french composer Debussy said : “La musique, c’est ce qu’il y a entre les notes”. The poetically translated English version is “Music is the space between the notes”. The French more literally translates to “Music, it is what is between the notes”

In that post I share my knowledge on what makes for great listening, and the greatest part is to listen to the “space between the notes”.

At the Modern Elder Academy, the magic is in the space between the notes.

A few past participants, so used to their busy task and goal oriented lives, have begged for more content, more teaching, more notes, more things “to do” both at the Academy and when they get back.

To me I’d encourage the reverse. Be ever more in nature, create experiences to embed learnings through feelings, or “Sentio ergo sum“.

In all of our lives, let us have the intentionality, commitment, discipline to leave space.

Meditation is the absence of absence

I’m writing this from Baja at the Modern Elder Academy, a one week intensive programme led masterfully by Chip Conley and Jeff Hamaoui.

Reflecting on the power of building close trust and collaboration in a group and what emerges from that.

In a session yesterday, Chip riffed on the power of presence, and that in our uber-connected world  we often have our faces in our phones and that is absence.

One of the parts of the week long gift of this immersion is daily morning meditation. Chip then referenced this by noting that Meditation helps us not be absent.

It hit me :

Meditation is the absence of absence.

I then shared that with one of our compadres, Jeanne, who said “hey, a koan”, which google tells me is :

“a paradoxical anecdote or riddle, used in Zen Buddhism to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and to provoke enlightenment.”

The more we think, the less we know.

The more we are in our head, the less we use our heart to find wisdom

Feeling a sense of being enlightened I can take back into the world in my leadership,



Smashing Paradigms – Drink before you are thirsty

Latest in the series on Smashing Paradigms. For my story-telling explanation of the definition of a Paradigm, see “What is a Paradigm“. One way of defining a paradigm is “we’ve always done it this way”



This week I am feeling more privileged than ever as I am in Baja as a participant at the beta of the Modern Elder Academy.

Chip Conley is beginning a movement to change the way we look at ageing and the value our “Modern Elders” do, can and so will have for humanity at all ages and stages.

Inspired by the environment (see yesterday’s post on “Change your environment, change your outcomes”) today I give you my riff on and exercise on “five things you, as a Modern Elder, would like to share with Millennials that they could do that would make a big difference for their future lives”.

I thought particularly here of of young adults in their early 20s and the paradigms of our society. Get an education, choose a profession, choose an industry, narrow things down, get on the career track.

Consider that societal guidance, and also please consider my advice from my own experience. It is heartfelt. I title my guidance :

Drink before you are thirsty


In cycling in hot climates, cyclists all carry water bottles, but it takes experience to learn to drink before you are thirsty. You can carry on riding at high speed and high effort and be dehydrated and so lose performance long before your body tells your brain you are thirsty.

So, don’t wait until you recognise you need to do these five things, do them now, or at least soon, Trust me, you’ll benefit immensely.


Change your environment, change your outcomes


Nice view, wouldn’t you say ?

How about this eight second video to give you a fuller sense, including the sound of the surf on the beach.

This stunning location is where this week I have had the awesome privilege to be part of the beta test of the Modern Elder Academy, the brainchild of Chip Conley, who regular readers know is a leader who truly inspires me.

Chip and the team have created an amazing environment designed at all levels to create a space for transformative change for participants.

The home page of this site talks about elevating, about seeing our potential and bravely creating and achieving brave and transformative change.

This week, through the programme, the facilitators, the “compadres” in the cohort supporting each other, I have again and again been witness to profound and powerful changes in participants that will see them go back to their lives and make even deeper impact for themselves and others.

I am a participant this week too, and this has absolutely applied to me too, and I am so grateful to Chip and absolutely everyone here for that too !

So, back to environment, which is one element to the secret sauce of the “MEA” experience.

The physical environment is the start, it is absolutely stunning and world class. The next layer is a cohort aligned around the powerful message and vision in the book Wisdom at Work. Cohort members in the beta read an advanced version of the book, you can buy your copy now as a pre-order (published September 2018). Also, stay tuned to this site for more news on when the Modern Elder Academy opens applications to the public for education programmes in the autumn and winter of 2018.

wisdom ar work

Beyond the physical environment, the cohort themed around the Modern Elder book (and the movement this will create), the curriculum has been patiently fine tuned over the five month long beta test by the amazing faculty, However, beyond ALL of that, I wont give away specifics, but the Culture of the MEA is astonishing and truly abundant in being of service to participants and a broader and expansive vision for humanity.

In such a carefully and lovingly created environment, I and the other cohort members have all had incredible experiences, and again I am deeply grateful.

Change your environment, change your outcomes.

Please consider what changes you can make in your own environment to change your own outcomes.

You may not go to Baja, but a few ideas :

  • Who do you spend time with ? Be around a tribe that inspire you to aspire to more
  • Are you happy with your work environment ? If not, what can you do to change that ? Do you need to develop where you are to create change or perhaps have the bravery to leave and go to your next challenge ?
  • What about your physical body ? Happy with your energy, your shape ? strength ? resilience ? All too often we ignore that and it impacts our performance ? How intentional are you around what you eat, your exercise, sleep ?

So much more you can consider, these are a start for you.

Movies with Meaning – Trust and Consistency

Weekly series. Do please send suggestions via email, twitter etc. You can send a theme and/or specific movies. Each week we feature three movies with meaning, so send in a movie with a sentence or two on the core meaning you take from it and a clip from the movie that speaks to that meaning.

Recently I was at a talk given by Rachel Botsman, author of “who can you trust” who I found last year (thank you google search) is pretty much the only other person using the term “distributed trust” to describe the trust revolution ahead of us (and I’ve written about this in multiple posts on this site).

Anyway, inspiring talk and one piece she talked about was to ask who the most trusted person in the UK is. A survey has been done on this, and the answer was David Attenborough, who has been making TV documentaries on nature for many decades, and is still doing so in his 90s.

To me, the key reason we trust him is his consistency. He has never varied in what he is about, what he does, why he does it.

There are many elements around what makes us trust others, today I focus on consistency. Yes, the work of Joseph Campbell means that so many movie characters live the dramatic steps of the hero’s journey, yet some of our heroes we trust as they have a powerful consistency of intention and purpose under pressure throughout.

Writing I Love – We flatten the topography of their lives


I post every Tuesday on “Writing I Love” and every Wednesday on “Movies with Meaning”. Why do I do this on a site with writings themed around leadership ?

As I wrote recently when reworking my home page :

“I write daily posts highlighting various leaders, doers, dreamers, leadership methodologies and related themes that inspire me.

Writing allows me to share thoughts, ideas, insights and wisdom from people I admire, also adding my own ideas and musings synthesized from such inspirations.”

The key phrase there for me is “that inspire me”, and reading and movies often inspire me.

In our busy lives, it is important to leave room for inspiration, whether than be reading, movies, being in nature, being active, talking to friends, listening to brilliant people share their wisdom. Whatever inspires you, do you do as much of it as you wish ? If not, what is lost ?

A key part of leadership is inspiring others, and to do so we must also keep “topping up our tank” ourselves with what inspires us.

So, recently I woke up one lazy Saturday morning , lay in bed and scrolled twitter, then saw a tweet from a thinker, speaker, writer who has inspired me for years, Nilofer Merchant.

(Do watch her TED talk on walking meetings and read “The Power of Onlyness“).

Nilofer had shared an article on Shondaland on “The Sanitized Words of Complicated Women” by Dianca London, talking about how we have reduced the richness of work and human story of the likes of Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Audre Lorde to inspirational memes.

In the article, this stunning line leapt off the page at me :

“We flatten the topography of their lives”

I nearly leapt out of bed at the resonant brilliance of that line.

How often do we flatten the topography of our own lives, live a flat life, look to simplify, give the answer “fine” when people ask how we are, etc etc.

Our lives are meant to be lived to the full, letting our light shine, and also being brave enough to look at our shadow, at the fullness and wholeness of life ! Don’t flatten your topography.

As you can see, I am inspired by this one line, this beautiful writing.

I then flow into thinking “what an amazing opening line for a book that would make !”, and then to considering great opening lines.

I’ll give you just one, and it is from one of my absolute favourite books, a masterpiece of magical realism, where one gradually lets go of the need to understand plot, timelines, narrative flow, and simply surrenders to the fantastical magic that flows from the pen of one of the greatest authors we have ever known.

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”

Gabriel Garcia Marquez – One Hundred Years of Solitude

Do more of what inspires you !