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, all centred around the ideas of #OpenLeadership. Enjoy…

Story time. The hat that caused chaos

chaos at carifta
photo : Cayman Compass

Chaos? A hat? Yes, a hat. Not even a hat, a latex swim cap.

Trouble, you say, what do you mean trouble?

Chaos! International incident! (well, nearly 🙂 )

Pull up a chair, I’m going to share a story in writing I’ve told many times. Perhaps it has evolved in the telling to a legend, I’ll leave that for you to say.


Captain Kel – Seize the Day

Captain Kel Thompson and Steven Coe
Cayman Airways pilots Kel Thompson and Steven Coe

In writing another article on “Leadership lessons from a Swim Referee” I was reminded of something a mentor and dear friend often said to me. Captain Kel Thompson described being a commercial pilot as “endless hours of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror“.

Recently I wrote about “Response-ability“, talking about whether we are able to respond in the moments of truth, or do we simply react?


Leadership lessons from a Swim Referee

swim referee leadership

This past weekend I had the privilege of being  “on deck” as a Referee as I spent a day at the Olympic Pool in London, an architectural marvel and a centrepiece of London 2012. My first time in the building and the first time as a swim Referee in the UK. Many thanks to the swimming community here for welcoming me.

After the day, with my focus on writing and sharing, I reflected on what leadership lessons can be gleaned.

I do feel that leadership is part innate, but it can be taught. A third layer is that we all have leadership within us, so with self-knowledge, we can be open to learning. So, let me talk through leadership in swimming as a Referee, the “CEO” of a swim meet, and let’s see what lessons pop out as I write.


Are you a Ford or a Ferrari?

I love to support and to work with a person who is a “Ferrari”. Read on, and if you recognise yourself here, I’d love to talk to you and support your journey. This can start with a call, a cup of coffee, and out of this I know we will connect you to something in and for you on your journey.

So, are you a Ford or a Ferrari? Both are cars with merits, but why would you use a Ferrari to do the work of a Ford? You could drive to work, drive around in traffic, run an errand, do anything routine in a Ferrari, but it is meant for, born for, yearns for more. A Ferrari can drive slowly, it can carry you from A to B, but is that realising the potential of such a magnificent car?

To me, the greatest Ferraris all have V12 engines, and there is nothing like the sound of a finely tuned V12 in full song with all 12 cylinders in harmony being used to the full.

In my experience, these are three main types of “Ferraris” in human form.


Investing in time to make an impact

Recently I wrote about a quote from a report on CEOs that said :

Leaders of industry [are] extremely bad at thinking”

Today I was speaking with a friend who I regard as one of the most brilliant thinkers I have ever met, and who has massive untapped potential to change the world. Big words, yes, and that person IS that amazing.

And yet… that person told me they don’t have enough time to read. If they don’t have time to read, how much time do they have to think? What new thoughts are they having and where are they coming from?


Not all those who wander are lost

A few days ago it was Halloween and I found myself on a long walk home from a meeting somewhere new to me. I was on a long call with a friend and so didn’t check google maps on my phone.

I found myself a little off with my innate compass, ending up walking through a park, then down by the river, across a beautifully lit bridge, and finally, as it was early evening on Halloween, through a residential area with loads of parents and young children in costume wandering around having a great time.

It reminded me of the line from a poem :

“Not all those who wander are lost”

~ JRR Tolkien

I was wandering, but I wasn’t lost. It was an unexpected joy on a wonderfully crisp Autumn evening in London.


To burn out or to fade away?

In a recent post Ok is not ok, I noted that Neil Young said: “It’s better to burn out, than to fade away” and Kurt Cobain included that in his suicide note.

Today I was reminded of the late, great Bill Hicks. Absolutely not politically correct (so be warned if you google him), he was a genius of a comedian and thinker, who died at 32 and, over 20 years later, the memory of his work is etched into the memories of so many.

As Tom Waits described him: “Bill Hicks – blowtorch, excavator, truth sayer, and brain specialist. He will correct your vision. The other will drive on the road he built”

Others will drive on the road he built. Amen.


Keeper of the Vision

I’m about to give you the sum total of all my learning on leadership from many decades of devoted work, research, curiosity etc

Want the secret to great leadership?

The role of a leader is a one-line job description :

Keeper of the Vision

That is it. Simple.

Nothing you do is more important. Everything else is meaningless without this.


Take time to think

Take time to think.

“Easy to say, harder to do”, is, I am sure, the response many will give.

Why is that, though? Logically, the vast majority of the returns in any business or organisation come from big thinking, not the execution.

How is, then, that this quote comes flying forward from the “Think Unthinkable” report :

Leaders of industry [are] extremely bad at thinking, and they don’t get challenged very much either”

I encourage reading that report, in which there is much about both parts of that statement.

So, how about taking time to think ?


What happens when we find silence?

I recently read Silence in the age of noise by Erling Kagge, and a couple of themes came out for me.

One was that while yes, we can find near-absolute silence by heading out into the wilderness, silence is available to us at any time, in any place. The key is to still our mind.

There are many ways to do this, and each of us may have our own method. For me, sometimes it is in getting into a rhythm of doing easy and relatively “mindless” tasks that slow down the mental chatter and create space. I can then often connect in a “flow” and thoughts “join up” for me as if from nowhere if I simply go for a walk, stop and have a cup of tea, or even listen to music.

Silence can open up creativity, innovation, and simply being in the present.


Power of Silence

I’m exploring the concept of silence, including reading this book :

Silence in the age of noise

The author once spent fifty days walking solo across Antarctica with no radio and I’m fascinated by his observations on silence.

To me it is far deeper than being in nature, it is about silence within silence. We all have the ability to be silent, be still at any time, to be totally present to each moment. Within such silence, there is real power.

So, why don’t we seek silence as the gift that it is? Why do we choose to be always busy, to seek the pleasure of the dopamine fix of checking our phones rather than discover the happiness, the lasting serotonin contentment, of being at one with ourselves and nature?


Pesky Humans and Kilkenomics

In workshops, leadership off-sites, retreats etc, a few themes typically emerge when wrestling with the toughest of issues. One of those is around people. I often lighten the tone when leading these by saying something like:

“wouldn’t your business be simple if it weren’t for all those pesky humans?”

Always gets a laugh. Seriously, though, most accomplished businesses and their leaders are great with numbers, process, logic. What keeps leaders up at night are almost always issues linked to understanding people.

Why, then, is our education at all levels so skewed towards understanding numbers, logic, rationale etc rather than behaviours and what drives them?


Pendulum Leadership


A pendulum is a favourite device for me as a coach. So often I find people beating themselves up around their behaviour, and, more particularly, how when they choose to change a behaviour they often “overcorrect”.


Ok is not ok

ok is not ok

Thank you to Alton Byrd for posting this online. Alton was one of my first sporting heroes, the greatest player I ever saw in British Basketball.

He and I were both fortunate enough to be taken under the wing of the late, great Ed Percival, who Alton calls his rabbi, I call simply “Yoda”. I consider Ed my greatest guide and mentor, as does Roger Philby, who wrote this eulogy:  “My Hero – Ed Percival”.

My first significant interaction with Ed was when I’d said something in a group that had overpowered the conversation. In a break, I apologised and told him I’d “dial it back”. Ed was furious. He rose up to his considerable height, stepped in towards me, and said: “don’t you EVER {expletive deleted} do that! This world needs your full self!”. Ed’s famous phrase was “Be More You“, and that simple phrase can be life-changing.

So, the phrase “ok.. is not ok” comes to mind when I read what Alton posted.