My Writing

My Writing

I get my best ideas from listening to people. Fortunately, that’s my job.

I like to say that people are my library, and my daily writing practice is a way to discover what’s in it: new ideas, inspiration, wisdom, and a little whimsy for good measure.  As your humble librarian I invite you to check out a new idea every day. No late fees ever.

Enjoy…

It is, as it was. Will we learn?

After the Pandemic: Our New World
Image (c) Sky News

When you knew lockdown was coming, did you fill your car up with petrol? I’ve asked that question of many people who live in comfortable ways and areas. None even thought to. Of course, they thought, the petrol stations would stay open. However, ask anybody a Hurricane zone the same question and of course they did, they would always prepare.

Will we learn from this, or go back to our old ways?

Today I’m curating below a short and powerful article written in April and published in a Journal in May 2020 from people who know about human behaviour and response to pandemic threats. A key section:

“We suggest the current pandemic and our collective response to it reveal the contemporary conditions of life, which have been and continue to be defined by gross inequities (Bear 2016). While projections change and responses adapt, the pandemic reveals these are the conditions of life now. This is the pandemic present. It is, as it was.

Whitacre, Buchbinder, Holmes – The pandemic present
https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1469-8676.12829
(c) 2020 European Association of Social Anthropologists

So will we learn?

  • Today it is not April, we are in mid-June and lockdown is easing. Will we forget the lessons?
  • At this moment (some) white people around the world are, and truly for the first time, grappling with systemic racism and what it means to be anti-racist.
  • Almost forgotten in the pandemic apart from wistful mentions of clean air and birdsong, humanity has created a climate crisis and, to date, is still not recognising what needs to be done.

Can humanity not only learn, but truly change? Will moments become movements?

I wonder. I have lived (and lead people) most of my adult life in a country in a Hurricane belt where we always sought to prepare and act, so two weeks before the UK locked down I was loudly and firmly talking about preparing (and amplifying voices that would be heard, to ask, no beg, the government to lock down then). The Government still waited two weeks, at massive cost of lives and to society and the economy.

This is, though, understandable. So many in positions of power and influence live in a world of :

  • Day to day convenience in city life, of overnight delivery and everything available day to day
  • Being a white person in a world of white privilege. Enough said.
  • Having sufficient financial cushioning to air condition your big house, drive your big car(s) and drink your bottled water (oh, but you do recycle those bottles, you do your part for the planet).

To what level is this each of us? To what level will we eventually (or even quickly) drop back into old patterns rather than truly grow and change?

I am always a positive person, yet also someone grounded in reality. Nothing will change unless we choose to change and also encourage others to change. Let us learn lessons from the Pandemic, from the death of George Floyd and upwelling of willingness to be anti-racist, from the awareness and need to address the climate crisis.

As the article below notes, we are in the Pandemic Present. It is, as it was, and yet it seems, more so. Change is literally unthinkable, it is VUCA (Volatile, Unpredictable, Complex and Ambiguous). Those around my age, know we bequeath to our children and future generations a far less stable and certain world. Let us use our privilege, our positions of leadership, let us act from what we have learned.

Now, five hundred or so far more eloquent and expert words than mine:

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Looking towards the future

Past, Present, Future

Yesterday was one of my more esoteric posts: “Musings on Time“. Perhaps serendipitously, no sooner had I posted it than I had a truly inspiring and energising initial conversation with a business leader who, in the time and space created during the lockdown, has:

  1. First, reviewed their decades of Past life and business experience;
  2. Second, from that, been as clear and objective as they can about where they and their business are in the Present;
  3. Third, look towards the Future.

Why, in particular, did that call feel inspiring and energising? Well, it is about where that leader is anchored to in terms of “time”.

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Musings on Time

Time
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen”
opening line from 1984, by George Orwell

The bizarre times and national leadership we are seeing often makes me think of Orwell’s 1984 of late, but that surreality, as well as other pressing topics I’m focussed on, are for another day.

Today I simply quote that famous opening line and move on to musing about Time. I am and always have been fascinated by Time. Sometimes it seems to go so fast, sometimes so slowly, sometimes we feel we can see into the future, sometimes we have a vivid recollection of the past.

My focus on Time also links to my work. When I’m present with a client time often feels like it stops as I listen deeply, whilst I am also always paying close attention to the timeframe the client is focussed on. Short term or Long? Tactical or Strategic? How far ahead is their Vision?

So, yes, time is always an area of fascination and focus for me, but over the period of the lockdown (I’m currently in week 12 of solo isolation as I write this!), I am finding time ever more fascinating. The lockdown is both dragging on endlessly and also flying past. Each day, each week, each month are both passing slowly and fast.

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What do other people think?

What do you think?

I’m going to let you into a key psychological trick that coaches use to get inside the head of our clients when they can’t or won’t say what they really think. We ask “so, what do other people think?”, or similar linguist devices that don’t directly ask for their own opinion.

Here’s the thing. When you say what “other people” think, you are really saying what YOU think.

Yes, there are degrees to this, but as you read on, particularly if you are white, there will be a degree to which what you read that makes you uncomfortable. As with my post yesterday, “Be a Point of Light“, please get comfortable being uncomfortable with this.

The example I am going to give again comes from John Amaechi.

John’s example around “what do other people think?” is stark and shocking.

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Be a point of light

point of light

“You can be a point of light in this and nobody will know,
except things will change.”

John Amaechi

If you are white, I hope this post makes you uncomfortable as it does for me to reflect on what it teaches us.

It is time for white people to lead change against racism. Change. Change only comes through having an open mindset. Change only happens through being willing to get uncomfortable.

Change starts with awareness, and awareness can only happen when we are willing to be open and uncomfortable. When we choose to do all of this, only then can we become more aware of our own racist biases and of those people around us, particularly those close to us.

So, what can each of us actually do? It is not enough to be uncomfortable for a few days, it is way past time to act. The quote above is one of numerous powerful ones from John Amaechi in an interview yesterday. John is the voice that resonates with me more than any other right now, he speaks to me as to what I can get uncomfortable with as a white person, what I can be aware of, then what actions I can choose to take, consistently, to play my part in changing this deep-seated and systemic cancer in our society.

I’ve shared both parts of the interview below and also transcribed two sections giving tangible things you can do as a white person, being:

  • Be anti-racist, particularly with your family and friends
  • Embrace the wince
  • State where you stand on racism and demand that the people around you hold YOU to account.

Change is a systematic and step by step process. Change like this is boring, unseen, moment by moment, awareness by awareness. Once the news moves on, once the protests stop, please continue to commit to being aware, then to being of integrity in leading change in yourself and others.

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Doing Well by Doing Good – Recycling Lives

Recycling Lives statistics

I truly believe in Leading from Purpose, “Putting Purpose first truly drives profit to allow you to further scale your impact.” For more on the scale for impact model, visit this page.

Linked to this, I frequently write about businesses that follow this in their leadership, hence this week I wrote: “Salesforce – Doing Well and Doing Good” focussed on this phrase used by their founder, Marc Benioff.

Previously I’ve written about two UK companies focussed on rehabilitation and employment of ex-offenders, Redemption Roasters and Timpson.

Today, highlighting a remarkable UK business, Recycling Lives, who are also achieving enormous social value, as highlighted in the statistics in the image above.

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Love is endless. Will is finite

Love and will.
inspired by this recent quote by Jerry Seinfeld,
this drawing from Jack Butcher at Visualize Value

Love is a word I wish leaders used more often. Talking about love is strength, just as humility and vulnerability are strengths, just as giving a full apology shows strength. Yes, determination and will are also key, but any individual, any organisation powered by love is infinitely stronger.

I also think of the situation in the world now, and particularly the USA, where there is so much toxic leadership. I have to remind myself that, as beautifully put in this blog featuring the words of Andrew Cuomo earlier in the pandemic: “Love Wins“.

Thank you to Shane Parrish of Farnam Street for sharing in a recent newsletter this quote and the amazing wisdom from Jerry Seinfeld, with it also inspiring the visualisation above by Jack Butcher at Visualize Value.

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Salesforce – Doing Well and Doing Good

Purpose, People, Planet - Profit for Impact Triple Bottom Line

The “new triple bottom line” model from:  “Leading from Purpose” 

I reconnected recently with a senior corporate leader who has always inspired me. They are absolutely focussed on customer experience and combine a strong sense of purpose with a passion for numbers and commercial results.

When they told me that one company they are very much interested in moving to is Salesforce, it reminded me that I hadn’t highlighted Salesforce and their founder, Mark Benioff in any of my #DoingTheRight thing posts or in writing around the “new triple bottom line” model above and how this is the time for us to reform capitalism.

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Judge each other by the content of our hearts

Judge each other by the content of our hearts.
Art Acevedo, Chief of Police, Houston. Photo from The Guardian

Our Brokenness

You’re clutching with both hands to this myth of “you” and “I”

Our whole brokenness is because of this

Rumi – translated and edited by Omid Safi, in the book Radical Love

I’ve often been feeling lost in anger and frustration in recent days over the racial injustice that has boiled over. Last night I stepped away from the constant stream of news and sat with the beautiful book of teaching from the Islamic mystics, Radical Love, and this poem stopped me in my tracks.

Gil Scott-Heron said “the revolution will not be televised”, yet in all 50 states of the USA and in countries all over the world, thanks to both media and phone cameras, the revolution is being televised. And yet, the revolution will still not be televised. The revolution must come in our hearts.

I truly believe in humanity and that human beings are intrinsically good. This time, and yes, particularly for white people across the world, is a time to look into our hearts, to truly recognise our biases, our prejudices, subtle and sometimes unconscious as they may be. Let each of us practice Open Leadership, modelling those qualities and:

Be Brave, Be Hungry, Be Open, Be Humble

Let us be open in these ways, then the revolution can come, as Art Acevedo, Chief of Police of Houston says in this impassioned speech, when we “judge each other by the content of our hearts”:

Change ourselves and we change the world

"We can't change the world until we change ourselves." - The Notorious B.I.G.

My most recent posts have been about racism in the USA and UK and how change must come from those with privilege, and yes, white privilege, starting with white people genuinely being open to listening and learning about why their country and the world is systemically racist.

Today sharing this from my inspiring friend, Jeff Raker of LevelUp Leadership in the USA, a man of great purpose and love for his fellow humans.

In light of recent events, I was drawn to an illustration that is helpful to answering the question: “What should I do/What can I do?”

Those who work on themselves, will be the most successful leaders, and the greatest change agents for our world. In the crypts of Westminster Abbey, the following words were written on the tomb of an Anglican bishop who lived in the 11th Century:

“When I was young and free my imagination had no limits, I dreamed of changing the world. As I grew older and wiser, I discovered the world would not change, so I shortened my sights somewhat and decided to change only my country. But it, too, seemed immovable. As I grew in my twilight years, in one last desperate attempt, I settled for changing only my family, those closest to me, but alas, they would have none of it. And now as I lie on my deathbed, I suddenly realized: If I had only changed my self first, then by example I would have changed my family. From their inspiration and encouragement, I would then have been able to better my country and, who knows, I may have even changed my world.”

Start with yourself and you will have taken the first step to changing your world.

Jeff Raker, Level Up Leadership

#DoingTheRightThing – Leading when everyone is watching

Sharing some examples of leaders doing the right thing.

Doing the right thing

I haven’t been sleeping well for the last few days with what is happening in the USA. Honestly, I’ve been despondent, feeling that nothing will ever change, that so many white people around the world simply don’t care.

Yesterday I wrote: “Integrity is also doing the right thing when everyone is watching“. Colin Kaepernick started his peaceful protesting against racial injustice in August 2016 by taking a knee during the national anthem before NFL games. Pretty soon he was (and remains) ostracised by that league, without employment in the sport he loves. It is so easy to be despondent.

Heck, the Spike Lee movie “Do the Right Thing” came out over thirty years ! It is so easy to be despondent, yet this morning I choose not to be.

For quite some time I’ve been writing here and highlighting on twitter examples of leaders who are #DoingTheRightThing.

Well, the world is watching. Many in positions of power are not doing the right thing, and yet, many are. As Fred Rogers would say to comfort children: “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” So today, needing a lift myself, sharing with you some examples.

I leave you with the Police Chief of Houston Texas, Art Acevedo. A leader who has spoken out strongly against issues such as gun control. This weekend he spoke strongly about the people of Houston, of feeling their pain, of coming from love rather than hate, of coming together for their city.

#Leadership.

Integrity is also doing the right thing when everyone is watching

George Clooney, Michael Clayton and integrity
Closing scene from “Michael Clayton”

Today I’ve been thinking about my children and what I want them to ultimately remember me for. I know they know I love them, and what else? Well, our children learn from us not only in what we say but what we do, so I hope they have learned from me just how critical it is to be of integrity.

Now, what is integrity? Two weeks ago, in the post “Be of Integrity” I referenced the saying: “Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching”. Yes, and, integrity is also doing the right thing when everyone is watching as illustrated by this quote from my post yesterday: “Time for white people in the UK to talk about racism“:

Integrity is what you do when no one is watching; it’s doing the right thing all the time, even when it may work to your disadvantage. Integrity is keeping your word. Integrity is that internal compass and rudder that directs you to where you know you should go when everything around you is pulling you in a different direction. Some people think reputation is the same thing as integrity, but they are two different things.

Tony Dungy

Politics and public leadership in these times is low on integrity, low on humility, accountability, apologies and high on blaming others, avoiding responsibility.

Heck, this Sunday morning I’m low on words to say on this, so instead I’ll simply reference a past post from my themed series that, over time, featured over 60 movies, this one entitled : Movies with Meaning – Say Anything.

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Time for white people in the UK to talk about racism

racism and rioting
No, not Minneapolis this week, but London in 2011.

I write every day here. Most days the words simply flow out of me, but some days are harder than others. Some days I can’t think of what to write about. On those days I simply open up my computer and open the blank page. Typically, an idea then appears and I start to write. Pretty soon it is flowing easily again. However, some days are harder than others.

Today is one such today. Today I wake up feeling sad, angry, frustrated, powerless. At what? Today it is about seeing the ever-present and systemic racism in our world come out of the shadows and erupt once again into violence. Today it is America, but it could easily be right here in London.

So, today it feels hard to write, and it feels pointless to write about my usual topics. And yet. And yet there is something to write about. I’m going to write to you about how it is high time for white people in the UK to a) educate themselves about racism in this country, and b) to talk about it.

Yes, I’m angry. Yes, this an unusual post for this blog on leadership, and yet, I am reminded of the words of Tony Dungy, the first black coach to win a Superbowl:

Integrity is what you do when no one is watching; it’s doing the right thing all the time, even when it may work to your disadvantage. Integrity is keeping your word. Integrity is that internal compass and rudder that directs you to where you know you should go when everything around you is pulling you in a different direction. Some people think reputation is the same thing as integrity, but they are two different things.

I moved to the UK three years ago and found racism to be systemic and deep-rooted, yet bring up the topic with white people here and the typical reaction is discomfort and the classic reaction in such situations of using deflective humour then hurrying to change the topic.

So, some may be uncomfortable with me writing this today. Heck, I’m a little uncomfortable using this audience, this focus on leadership to write this. And yet, today I do. This matters, all our voices matter.

This blog has a global audience, yet today I focus in on one segment, white people in the UK. If that is you, please consider where you sit with this. Please think, please consider talking about it, “even when it may work to your disadvantage”. Integrity is not a popularity contest, it is about doing the right thing, always. Consider what is the right thing for you to think, say, then do.

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Would you have fired Michael Jordan?

Michael Jordan
credit NY Times (see link to their article on Michael Jordan below)

If your superstar performer is toxic for your team, what to do?

My answer is, as I’ve written about many times, including here, here, and here, always the same: Be rid of them, now

Now, if Michael Jordan had been on your team, would you have fired him?

For those who have watched the ten part series “The Last Dance” which was released recently, this question is on the mind of many.

Let’s look at the question once more with that example in mind and also to give you space to consider how you approach this in your own leadership of your team.

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Specialist? Generalist? or Specialised Generalist?

Specialist, Generalist, or Specialised Generalist.
Specialist? Generalist? Or.. Specialised Generalist

Are you a specialist or a generalist? Simple enough question, yes? Also a common one posed to Tim Ferris, and today I share his five minute Youtube video where he talks about this. I love how he makes it simple:

  1. Unless you are truly brilliant at one thing, don’t be a specialist
  2. Instead, combine two or three skill areas
  3. When choosing those skill areas, focus on them being as rare and valuable as you can.
  4. Do this and you can be a “Specialised Generalist”

I love how this brings focus! Instead of being a generalist who is good at a lot of things but doesn’t stand out in any particular field, by combining a particular few rare and valuable sets of skills and experiences, one can create a space of value.

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