Category Archives: questions

Isolation without loneliness

We know the saying “It’s lonely at the top”. Most of us business leaders, today more than ever, can empathise with that feeling. We face being physically isolated from our business, our colleagues, our customers, our suppliers and the challenges that brings. Being connected physically in the virtual world is now a key resource we have to be able to tap into. This is easier said than done for some of us. We are a hardy bunch and we will adapt as needed.

Being connected psychologically and intellectually is not so easy. For most us, we haven’t any experience of dealing with the current challenges. We are the leaders and so we believe everyone expects us to have the answers. The answers to what? If we are to lead and take ourselves, our companies and our country out of the current fog, we need to feel psychologically safe. Also, we need to be able to tap into like-minded resource to help us remain intellectually alert and curious. This is hard when we have no one that we can really talk to, confide in and lean on and who is in the deep waters with us. This is when the power of peer groups really comes to the fore.

Having a group of like-minded non-competing business leaders to interact with who are unbiased, agenda free and are there only to help each other become a better leader who makes better decisions is invaluable. The group creates a firm foundation for us leaders to investigate unknowns, create more awareness on our knowns, gain clarity of mind and uncover the best choices that will help us make the great decisions needed.

I have facilitated these forms of peer groups for nine years now and I know that now is the time we need them the most. I want you to be able to experience what this resource can do you and your business. To aid the Great British “Let’s Beat This” campaign, I’m offering to set up virtual peer groups by video conference. I will facilitate and you will contribute to them and consume what you need from them. If you would like to use this resource let me know here and I’ll send you the details. I ask only one thing…you commit to total confidentiality once you are in a group discussion.

Let’s get through this together.

Your 6-word purpose

Build Your Village – Love Your People

You are asked to define your life’s purpose in 6 words, what would you say? It really makes you think, doesn’t it. It has made me think for a long time. What has your efforts in life been leading you towards? Family financial security maybe? Making a difference in the lives of those you love maybe? Being the best person you can be maybe? Something material, physical, mental or spiritual?

Since my last business exit I have been focused on helping other ambitious business leaders like me and like most of you I meet regularly, and who would class themselves as just ordinary people, to do extraordinary things for their businesses, their families and their communities.

I am immensely grateful for this quest and realise over this period that joy comes from being grateful and gratefulness comes from loving what you do and who you do it with. I’m one of life’s connectors – always have been and always will be. I love teams and I thrive on building high performing teams of two to hundreds. On deeper analysis I realized that building communities was my passion and I can attribute this to my upbringing in a small village. That village contained every kind of person you could imagine and these people sustained the village through the skills, talents, services, time, attitudes and behaviours that were agreed (but not written) as acceptable in the community. The villagers always looked after their own – no matter what. Everyone was loved for who they were. Occasionally someone would step over the boundary fence of acceptability and they would be invited back in and helped to readjust. When this failed, and it did sometimes fail, the person would be sent away from the village. This could be physically or they could be ostracized. I learned quickly that exclusion from the village was the worst form on punishment anyone could inflict on anyone else.

For me, my companies and my customers’ companies are like villages. The community has to be created, written or unwritten rules have to be agreed, behaviours have to constructive, disputes need to be settled quickly and amicably, new residents need to be included quickly and they need to contribute immediately, everyone has their role and everyone protects each other’s backs. To achieve this the village elders (company leaders) need to generate belonging, exercise patience while implementing consequences for transgressions, build the village and share the spoils of success.

It took me sometime to settle on the six-word story of my life. What I sought to do was to create a sentence that encompassed all I am in everything I do whether in business, volunteering, sports, family or self development. It became “create your village, love your tribe”. Since then it has moved slightly to be more culturally and globally understandable as “Build Your Village – Love Your People”.

Everything my companies SoJedi and Oh Crikey do, from simple executive assistant services to complex digital marketing execution and chairing high performing peer groups is aimed at helping you build you village and love your people.

What’s your six word story. Let’s share our stories on here and enrich all our lives. Thanks. Steve

Trust in the digital age

I’ve not been blogging for over a year now and it’s not for lack of desire…I’ve just been seriously busy and blogging has fallen down my priority of things to get done. Elderly parent comes first, as a family we moved to San Diego a year ago and settling in here came second, work came third and blogging came after that…

However, as I’ve said for a long time now, trust is crucial in building a high-performing business through high-performing people and I’ve always believed that trust is situational. For instance, I can trust someone to complete a complex task and not trust them to do it on time. There are many better examples of where trust is strictly situational.

John Blakey’s book “The Trusted Executive” sets out the need for trustworthiness as the key descriptor in place of trust. Last week I was fortunate to be at the Vistage UK Executive Summit and heard Rachel Botsman talk on trust in the digital age. What an extraordinarily brilliant talk she gave. It was well design, clear, simple and powerful – with great takeaways. I’d highly recommend her book “Who Can You Trust? (How technology brought us together and why it might drive us apart).

Think about the question “Is this person trustworthy in this situation?” rather than “Can I trust this person?”. Seems not too dissimilar – doesn’t it? The effect on your thinking is immense.


Essentialism in a growing team

Reading Greg McKeown’s book “Essentialism” or rather listening to it on Audible, I was struck by the premise that if you only action the absolutely essential activities, you will become more productive, more successful and use less time to do it. I agree with the premise as related to your own goals. How does this work in a team environment? Who decides what is and isn’t essential? Greg makes the point that, if you don’t decide this then someone will decide for you. I believe this is inevitable in many superior/subordinate relationships. However, Greg goes on to point out that it is up to us (in a subordinate role) to influence the activation of the essential activities. The book is certainly worth a read, as is the abridged version.

I believe that multi-tasking doesn’t exist unless one of the activities (out of two total) is an unconscious habit. Those who focus on a single task to conclusion tend to a) be more successful, b) get more done and c) build better – more trusting – relationships. I also believe that performance, productivity, and strong relationships are borne out of growing conversations. Now I have a conflict between the essential activities and the non-essential relationship building activities – or do I?

My view is that it is essential in any team environment (two people or more working to a common goal) to build trust. Trust comes from many areas such as vulnerability, honesty, straightforwardness, openness and shared base core values, amongst others. I prefer to think of it more as someone shows trustworthiness in everything they do. They are trustworthy and what you see is what you get. How do we develop this? I believe through conversation that grows both parties. As Judith Glaser puts it in her book on Conversational Intelligence (another good read)…a real growing conversation is co-creational. That is, we all leave having grown and all having taken away more than we took in.

How would or do you deal with essentialism at the same time as building a trustworthy and bonded team? I’d love your thoughts – thanks.





Conversational Intelligence

I posted this originally in my Growing Conversations blog site. I thought it was worthy of inclusion here also…

I’m currently following Judith E. Glaser’s online course on Conversational Intelligence. I firmly believe that you can never get enough learning about any form of intelligence if you are in the people business. As coaches we need to understand all elements of our clients behaviour and be able to ask the elegant and/or challenging questions that bring awareness of themselves and how others see and react to them.

Judith has spent a lifetime studying conversation and her book “Conversational Intelligence – How Great Leaders BUILD TRUST and Get Extraordinary Results” is a really good read with many insights.

One immediate insight from the first few page is…

We all know that there are many levels of conversation dependent on who you are conversing with and what the subject and content contain together with the intended outcome. Judith simplifies this to the following (paraphrasing McNulty style)…

Level 1  Transactional – transfer of data e.g. sales to date, EBITda, name of project etc.

Level 2  Positional – instructional conversation where one person is always holding sway and decision authority e.g. discussion between leader and subordinate where the leader is deciding the outcome.

Level 3  Co-creational – where both parties to the conversation agree and work together to co-create a better future for both. Not one of the parties has authority vested for the outcome and only a win-win outcome can bring the conversation to a conclusion.

There are many variations and mixed interpretations that can be added here. However, if we take these three levels as our datum for evaluating the level of conversation we are either about to start, we are in, or we have recently completed, it enables us to understand better the conversation and adjust accordingly.

There are many more great tools, techniques, tips and case studies in Judith’s book. I will pull some out and note them down here occasionally.

Keep talking – it’s our last free interactive resource 😊


Ask more questions

When we aDid you knowre children we ask tens of thousands of questions. We ask for facts initially…e.g…what is this? As we grow older we start to ask why? We ask why and why and why incessantly as children. Parents get driven mad by their children’s continual search for explanations about everything.

When we get older we start stopping to ask questions. Culturally we are expected to know. Not knowing is seen as being at fault. However, the knowledge available is growing far faster than any of us can keep up with and so, as a percentage of the knowledge we could know, we know less and less every day.

All innovations and inventions start with a question…focus1

  • What would we create if we had a blank page?
  • Where would we look if we had lost our way?
  • How might we include fully all our stakeholders?

We must start and foster a culture of permanent questioning.

Companies groquestionsw by questions…where should we be going?..what areas do we need to innovate?..why are we not expanding in Europe? It is the job of the business leader to grow the business. It is the job of the business leader to ask questions. How can I help my team to grow? Where should we be concentrating?

Why is it then that we expect our business leaders to have all the answers. As a leader of people in whatever walk of life your job is to question your team’s answers and not answer their questions.

How present are you with your people? Are they a distraction? Is answering their questions the quick and easy way out? How will they allow you to grow if you don’t allow them to grow?

Creating great questions requires us to be great listeners. How well do you really listen? What if you could only ask a question based on the last sentence of the person in your conversation? What would have heard? How clear would the conversation become?

So ask more questions..and question more answers.

Learn how to ask better questions. Talk to me…why not?


Conversation – are we losing it?

Conversation is our World’s last free natural resource – are we losing it?

I’m not given to blowing things out of proportion. Well, at least I think I’m not. What do you think? To find out I have to ask you and we would start a conversation. The outcome would be unclear at the start and we would explore the subject by asking questions and listening to the answers in real time and then responding. Yes – I know that’s a strange concept but it does seem to work quite well when the people concerned understand the rules of conversation. Sadly most of us seem to have forgotten them.

I travel extensively. Trains, planes, buses and car travel are getting quieter and quieter as everyone who is together on the journey is existing alone but together somewhere else in space, and maybe in time, facilitated by their digital technology. Anyone who does speak is frowned at, especially if it is a one-way conversation on a mobile phone.

Hey! I hear you say – you’re teched up to your eyelids. I admit it – I am, and I’m trying my hardest to not be. However, I get some really strange looks if I start a conversation on any mode of transport with someone I don’t know. I get short shrift even from those I do know!

Before I get too hard on the people who use technology rather than their voice to communicate, it does have amongst it’s attributes of speed, immediacy and being location free, a great advantage…you have to read the whole message before you can reply. This rarely happens in a real conversation with everyone anxiously waiting to get their oar in and regularly butting into other people talking before they are finished. In the real world we are losing the art of really listening. Without really listening, real conversations cannot happen. However, although you have to wait to see the whole message, there is no emotion, tone, emphasis or pauses to help you interpret its meaning. This can lead to serious issues. Listening to messages is better, as are innovations like Face-time and Skype but they are not as good as face-to-face in my opinion.

The other advantage of digital conversation is that you can spend time composing great questions, even elegant ones. However the same issue arises in that it isn’t possible (not even with emoticons etc.) to understand the nuances intended in the question.

It seems to me that there needs to be a mixture perhaps. We can sit together face-to-face and compose our messages and send them. The other person can notify us that it has arrived and we can then say it. The receiver then gets time to compose their response and send it and then say it. And on and on. This way we have to listen fully and we get time to respond properly. Gosh – that sounds good.

Well that last paragraph was a load of old twaddle wasn’t it? I don’t know. Shall we chat about it?

All I do know is that we are losing the art of listening, losing the art of asking great questions and, if this continues, we will lose our greatest asset – the art of conversation. From conversation comes understanding. From understanding comes awareness. From conversation comes negotiation. From conversation comes compromise. From conversation come the seeds of peace. Conversation is important. Let’s not lose how to use it.

Try every day to have at least one mindful, meaningful and memorable face-to-face conversation where both people listen well, ask great questions and both grow as a result. Talking is good for you.

Why do we need a “Why?”?

whyWhy is why the question we need to ask ourselves before we know why our why is our why? What if that’s a silly question? Is it a silly question? What drives us to have a why and why does it drive us? Why do we have whys? What’s behind our driving passion? What’s behind our reason to exist? Do we need a reason to exist?

Is existing enough of a reason? What do we get from having a driving reason? Why might a driving reason be essential for a happy, healthy life? What if that’s not true?

This train of thought took me by surprise some years ago when, while out clambering up some steep hills in training for a much larger mountain expedition, I was thinking about what I was doing in the here and now and I started searching for some meaning to why I was doing it over and above the need to pay the mortgage and put food on the table.

I started by asking the question…what if we assume that the vast majority of people need a purpose to get out of bed each morning? That purpose can be as basic as the need to work in order to survive or a driving force centred on a life long personal objective. How do we come to know why we get out of bed each morning? What is our why? What is at the heart of every one of our whys?

For example, why am I writing this blog? What does writing this blog provide me with? What is it about writing this blog that fulfils the reward I require to justify the writing of it?

What will happen for me if I write this blog?

What won’t happen for me if I write this blog?

What will happen for me if I don’t write this blog?

What won’t happen for me if I don’t write this blog?

What if simply “it makes me feel good” is the only reason to have a why?

If it is, then why does it make me feel good?

What is it about the why that makes me feel good?

What part of my why might I ignore with no loss of feeling good?

I asked myself…why do whys provide us with purpose?

What is it about the last question that makes it the easiest to answer?

Do all our whys make us feel good?

Do all our whys answer the question about why we are here i.e. why we exist?

If neither of the questions above generates a “yes” answer then is there a reason to have a why?

If the answer to both of the questions above is “yes” then the reason to have a why is obvious.

The questions now revert to “why does it make us feel good? And “How does executing our why prove to us why we exist?

Will asking all these questions simply send us looking for answers in ever decreasing or ever increasing circles, finally disappearing somewhere unpleasant?

If we assume that no one wants to delve into the deep philosophy of why we exist and only really wants to know how best to attain a real and fulfilling life, then I suggest that we all need to understand what drives us.

What do you love doing? What makes your heart sing? What are you simple great at? What gives you most satisfaction? What would you do if no one judged you? What would you do if no one was watching? What would you do if you had no external responsibilities? What would you do if you had a totally free choice, if it wouldn’t harm anyone and if you only had a year or so to live?

I looked at this by trying to identify what were the really great questions to ask myself? It is hard to focus on asking yourself a great question without attaching some form of judgement to it. It is hard developing the really insightful question without attaching some vested interest to it. So I asked my coach to help me.

She asked me “Why is it important for you to find why your why is your why?” Well that stumped me for a good week or two. All the answers I came up with just led me to the question “and is that why finding your why is important?” and the answer was always “not really” because they were all results of implementing what I believed to be my why. They were all outcomes and not initiators.

So, as much as I find it hard to trace my life back to my infant years, I decided my why must be in my make up, must be a function of who I am currently and must have been formed in my unconscious mind a few years after birth.

After a few months of contemplative, mindful, meaningful discussions and memorable conversations I realised that my why is centred on a single limiting belief that can be traced to my experiences as a new school student aged about 5. Now I know why I have a why I can forget about it and just get on with being me and becoming the best me I can be. Now I know I can change my limiting belief into an empowering one and my why can now take on a greater purpose in my life.

It’s been hard. It’s been fun. It’s been rewarding. It is certainly a worthwhile exercise and I have since studied the topic at great length and helped many others uncover why they are who they are and why they do why they do things.

I wish you a truly enlightening journey finding why your why is important to you.



Mind over Matter

brainHow much does it matter to you for your mind to be as fit and well as possible? My friend Keiron runs a cognitive testing and development business (MyCognition) where, for a few pounds, you can get your cognitive strengths tested. I came out with an overall strength of 68%, which I was appalled with, until Keiron told me the average is 60%! Since then I’ve been undertaking ways to increase the wellness of my mind.

My quest has taken me into the depths of meditation; into full-on mindfulness; self-hypnosis; into activities that stretch both sides of the brain like juggling and I’ve also taken up exercise on a relaxed basis e.g. jogging, walking, hill walking, golf and the like. My cognitive skills have improved but not as much as has my hearing, my short-term memory and my aching bones.

Now to the real crux of the matter. How has my mind changed? I’ve become more focussed, less distractible, more relaxed around stressful situations, more level headed and less impulsive. My decision-making has improved greatly which is borne out by better results and my team are enjoying more autonomy and a greater sense or teamwork. Can I blame it all on improving my mind? I don’t know. However, whatever I am doing is having some wonderful unintended consequences.

Here’s an example from this morning. I set out for a 5 kilometre run around our community streets. I wanted to be mindful of the event and so I concentrated on bringing my mind back to my breathing every time it wandered off. I noticed how all the front gardens are 90% green with little colour. I surmise this is because they stay green all year and so the garden looks tidy all year. I’d never considered this before. I noticed that 80% of owners drive into their front drives in a forward direction and then reverse out. I noticed how this could be a safety issue as the high hedges obscure the view from of the main road for the driver. I noticed street details I’d never seen before and we’ve lived here 25 years. There were many more observations.

The absolute key to the experience was that it took me no longer than normal to complete my run and at the end I felt I had a lot more energy left than normal. I also realised that a couple of difficult work situations have potentially simple solutions.

Was this all due to a mindful run? I don’t know. What I do know is that looking after my mind as much, if not more than, my body has given me an increased energy, better focus and a much more rewarding quality of life.

As with all things it won’t suit everyone but I do urge you to at least try it for yourself before you dismiss it. We need strong leaders. A strong body and a well and strong mind are, in my opinion, integral parts of great leadership.

It would be wonderful to receive some of your experiences. Thanks. Steve