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.


Quiet Leadership – Night Swimming

Ian nightswimming

“Nightswimming deserves a quiet night” ~ REM

Leadership takes many forms, yet common to any style is the adage that “it is about what you do, not what you say”. For those who model quiet leadership, it is absolutely in what they do, not what they say.

This photo from five years ago evokes a personal story that speaks to the power of quiet leadership. (more…)

Slow down to speed up later

Cambridgeshire Oct10

Soon I will be travelling for ten days to Cayman and the USA, blending seeing clients, family, friends.

Whilst most of my active clients are on retainers, over the years I’ve built deep relationships with a number of clients who call me in periodically to support them as needed.

One such client overseas has asked me to spend a day with their team on this trip. When I asked them what they would like me to support them with, the client principal, with lots of experience of the work, sent a list of three specific tools and frameworks they’d like me to cover with the team.

Simple enough, at one level, but today let me use this example, as well as a story around the photo above, to explain what I mean by:

Slow down to speed up later


Slow down – what do you see?

Monday 1st October. It is 7:35am. I got out of bed at 5:30am in Edinburgh, then got a bus and then the train through to Glasgow. It is almost freezing, I am kicking myself for not bringing my winter coat. Even though it is early, people are walking at high speed through the cold early morning, most with heads down, many looking at their phones.

I was, however, in good time for a breakfast meeting, so what did I see when I slowed down a little? (more…)

None of us is bulletproof – advice for founders


I had lunch recently with an investor who expressed frustration about founders of startups and scale-ups.

They are not a fund partner, nor VC or from the Private Equity world. No, they actually built a business of value and lived it for the whole journey through to an ultimate sale and cash out for a significant sum, thus giving them space and funds to invest in other businesses. Cards on the table, I prefer such investors as they’ve been through it personally, rolled the sleeves up. Experience brings empathy at a level that is irreplaceable. This gives them a powerful edge in mentoring founders, who often are sorely lacking sounding boards on the roller coaster ride.

So, why was this investor so frustrated when I met them? Could it have been that they wanted to vent along the lines of my own common frustration with founders focussed on raising round after round of funding without actually building a business that generates revenues? Not that day, though certainly something I may write about another time!

No, they were frustrated with founders pretending they are bulletproof. (more…)

Recapturing the power of intuition


“Our world seems like a heap of fragments and it is hard to see how they cohere. Wisdom has been replaced by knowledge and knowledge has been replaced by information. Pieces of data. Chunks of data.”

Iain McGilchrist, author of “The Divided Mind”,

speaking in the documentary”Innssaei – The Power of Intuition”

In our modern world, we have largely forgotten the power of intuition.

On this site, I often muse on ideas and themes that may appear tangential at best to the theme of leadership. However, the term I use here is #OpenLeadership, and that is about being open in many ways. including to listening to “the sea within”, as the tagline to the documentary Innsaei puts it.

Let me talk to you today, then, about the power of intuition, and also a few thoughts on how to recapture it for yourself. (more…)

Setting your personal context


Today let me put it to you that, in many years and thousands upon thousands of hours as a coach, the single most powerful tool for coaching is Context.

Today I’ll talk specifically about the power for an individual of setting a personal context and three focal areas for action aligned to that context.

To get there, as the diagram indicates, one needs to ask oneself different questions to arrive at what both drives and supports you to move forward from the present.


Your playing small does not serve the world


This week has been rich with 1:1 meetings in Glasgow, Edinburgh and London with amazing people from a wide variety of backgrounds.

These meetings, and one in particular, reminded me of three things:

  1. We have far more in common than we allow ourselves to recognise
  2. Profound Beauty can create a shift
  3. Repetition, repetition, repetition

Let me explain, and I hope you can take your own leadership learnings from my experience. (more…)

Leadership lessons – from an orchestra conductor

dressage orchestra

Yes, that photo is of a horse and rider doing dressage being conducted along with a chamber orchestra. My friend Steven Roth, a conductor of many years experience, has even conducted dancing horses !!

Steven is Executive Director of Scottish Ballet and I love meeting up with him when we can to exchange ideas on leadership.

We met recently for breakfast in Glasgow and afterwards he sent me this hysterical clip of Mr Bean as a conductor, then later shared some leadership lessons he takes from it.

Thank you for giving me permission to share, Steven ! (more…)

What do your people need? Lessons from natural disasters


Recently I read an article on how Starbucks responded to Hurricane Irma hitting the USA. In the piece, it referenced Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

This catapulted me back 14 years to one of the most powerful leadership and personal experiences of my life, the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan decimating the Cayman Islands.

Today let me share some of what I learned, referencing the work of Abraham Maslow and also how Chip Conley, shortly after Hurricane Ivan hit Grand Cayman, developed Peak, which became a book where he took Maslow’s hierarchy into business, which is how I first came across someone I am privileged to now call a friend. (more…)

Managing Energy – learning from comedians

kevin bridges

One of the simplest and most powerful tools I’ve learned for leaders is to focus on the “three tenets of leadership”

  • Set (and Hold) the Context
  • Manage the Energy
  • Coach, Don’t Play

Recently one of my brothers came down to London and we watched Kevin Bridges do a comedy show to 3,500 people at one of my favourite venues, the Apollo in Hammersmith.

It was a master class in Managing the Energy, so today I’ll share what I’ve learned from comedians about this, as well as the concept of these three tenets and what they mean for leaders. (more…)

Ferguson and Cantona – Vulnerability and Strength

cantona celebration

Eric Cantona’s famous pose of celebration after his greatest goal

Eric Cantona played for Manchester United from 1992-1997. One of the greatest football players I have ever seen. Majestic, commanding, sublimely skilled. A leader, a talisman, a game-changer.

He was also, when he joined, thought to be mercurial, a maverick, unmanageable, yet in Sir Alex Ferguson he met the greatest football manager of all time and someone who worked with him brilliantly.

Alex Ferguson was known to be one of the very toughest football managers, yet the letter he wrote to Cantona after he retired from football displayed open-ness and vulnerability, giving an inside view as to what truly powered Ferguson’s management of his team. Or, should I say, his leadership. After all, a football “manager” can’t be on the pitch to play and inspire, can’t score the goals to win the matches. Cantona certainly did both.

Today, that letter, my thoughts on what leaders can learn from it, as well as some background on Sir Alex Ferguson and videos showcasing the sublime Eric Cantona.


Noticing beauty

noticing beauty

A theme building on this site is the power of Beauty.

Today, a contribution from Kay Scorah, which has me musing on beauty and how it links with the power of noticing. (more…)