It’s Not ‘Not there’

Simply because we can’t see or hear something doesn’t mean it’s not there.

not there

Often, in fact, it’s right in front of us.

More often than we admit we choose not to see or hear things. It starts as a young child and the habit only becomes more subtle and more discreetly executed as we get older.

Statistically speaking 49.999% of us are in the bottom half of our chosen field of expertise, be it sport, academics, leadership or even parenting!

The perception we typically create for ourselves, however, is that we are in the upper quadrant and, in some studies 90% of people believe they’re above average!

Known as Illusory Superiority this bias has some interesting outcomes – and not always as you might expect.[1]

Ola Svenson (1981) surveyed 161 students in Sweden and the United States, asking them to compare their driving skills and safety to other people. For driving skills, 93% of the U.S. sample and 69% of the Swedish sample put themselves in the top 50%.[2]

Interestingly there is also a tendency for people in the face of a challenging task to suffer from the “worse-than-average” effect.

What makes these two tendencies interesting in unison is that it suggests as managers we will often overrate our ability to deliver a message and underestimate the threat our staff experience in new and challenging tasks.

Rather than pat ourselves on the back for delivering a great message and then expressing great disappointment when our staff don’t execute as expected, we should ensure that we examine deeply where such ‘missions’ fail.

Is an irate manager the result of our own unreality (about their ability) rather than an intrinsic failing in those we manage?

How often as managers do we check in with staff on their comfort with what is being asked of them?

How often as managers do we reassure our staff of our belief in their capability to do challenging tasks?

Simply because there is no noise, no feedback, no protest, doesn’t mean it is not there.

[1] has a great run down on it.

[2] Svenson, Ola (February 1981). “Are We All Less Risky and More Skillful Than Our Fellow Drivers?” (PDF). Acta Psychologica. 47 (2): 143–148. doi:10.1016/0001-6918(81)90005-6.



Corporate Culture and Personal Identity

I’m not sure when Corporate culture became a thing – it certainly goes back to the eighties; you could spot IBM employees from 100 metres away, the confident swagger, fresh-pressed clothing and overt conversation.

Somewhere along the line ‘we all fall into line’, well, actually, no.

If our corporate culture and management style doesn’t recognize the individual we have neither an enviable culture nor a valid management style. Just because you have a great corporate culture doesn’t mean it’s a place all the people you ‘need’ are going to love it.

I'm still not sure if this was serious?
I’m still unsure if this sign was serious!

I predict the next big movement will be ensuring personal identity is built into and supported by corporate culture.

This will be a ‘thing’ because increasingly companies are realizing they need all manner of personalities and styles to make their company hum and high turnover of staff in any single area is a significant problem. If, however, they can embrace differences in individuals while integrating the corporate culture and company objectives then rewards will follow for everyone.

In the early stages of my own career, I was wooed by employers who thought the best way to retain my services was simply to pay more. The answer to keeping me happy was much more complicated – the mentoring I craved and the engagement I sought with senior management was most of what was required.

I stayed with and worked hardest for those where my identity was strongest – provided the basic culture was aligned with my values in the first place – though mostly I expect those things to go hand in hand (if the ‘outside appearance of the culture of a company doesn’t align with your values, don’t go there).

If you believe in your staff you need to feed them, and when you do, be aware that while some want steak and chips others want flowers or simply someone to listen to them. Almost anything can actually be accommodated with all but the very worst of corporate cultures and/or employees if you just take time to lean in and learn.

Collectively the individual identities in your organization will always be bigger, stronger and more enduring than your corporate culture, just imagine the strength of what that would create if they could all fit together in a dynamic ‘living’ organization.

Courage does not equal Courageous

What is Courage?

I realise blogging about courage is an act of courage in itself!

Mostly I think courage is when we do anything where we are the initiator of that action.

Courage can range from accepting fate through illness or injury, to doing something for the very first time – for children that might be tasting a new food (actually that would be the same for some adults I know too!).

Under such a definition the vast majority display courage every day.

So to display courage is not extraordinary, though as leaders we could do a lot better at recognising it and supporting it.

But then there are the courageous. These are the people who display courage on a daily basis – perhaps by the hour – “Big Kahunas” as I have had remarked to me recently :).

Within the ‘courageous’ there is also an important distinction to make. It would be easy to say courageous people are therefore leaders, but this is not always the case.

I know some great sportspeople and athletes, and when involved more heavily myself it was perhaps the more courageous ones I least wanted to be like. They lived in their own world and expected the world to laud over their achievements. For me they were self-centred and ungracious and generally far too egocentric at one level at yet often insecure at another. (As an aside it was interesting reading multi-sport legend Steve Gurney’s recent book – Lucky Legs – and the personal and soul searching journey he endured after ‘retiring’)

Courageous leadership requires you to be focussed, hungry and determined, no doubt about it. However it is always a team ‘sport’.

Without a team of developing leaders under a leader then it is odd to think they could consider themselves a ‘leader’. I wonder who comes to their parties and celebrates their success. I wonder if they even have success. Perhaps they are the only ones to believe their own press?

These are the un-courageous of our organisations. The ones who hide behind systems and procedures, who stall progress, suppress talent, blame others, and generally do all they can to protect the status quo as it concerns them.

May the truly courageous survive them, have the strength of self belief and the camaraderie of communities like this blog to know that right ‘is right’ and sharing your gift, your view, your energy is your calling.

Keep changing your world. This is a (the only?) way for courageous potential to get out and make that difference. Encourage others to be courageous and demonstrate true courageousness in leadership.

Courage is not enough, be exceptional.

Noticing the good things

One of my good things!
I thought this post would be easy. It hasn’t been.

Educational – yes. Easy – no.

The idea was a fun list of the really good things I have seen managers do over the years, excluding functional stuff like business plans, strategy development and budgets.

The problem was – I had to think long and hard.

The conclusion is a little sad.


    • I don’t recognise the good things or
    • There are not enough good things happening

I suspect the answer is a bit of both

However here are some of the good things which come to mind (in all cases without sufficient examples!):

    • Celebrating the success of others
    • Promoting a bright and promising future for everyone
    • Building and supporting talent
    • Recognising people issues and dealing with them immediately
    • Fighting for the right training for the right staff
    • Not defending the indefensible
    • Taking appropriate ownership of problems
    • Demonstrating a sense of humour
    • Demonstrating humility
    • Admitting wrongdoing
    • Allowing others to be wrong
    • Supporting ‘failures’
    • Advancing others
    • Employing people better than them
    • Promoting change not building fortresses
    • Talking with and being accessible to all employees
    • Being human
    • Growing leaders
    • Putting the big stick away
    • Being loyal to their employees
    • Delegating well
    • Putting themselves in the line of fire
    • Opening up new opportunities
    • Being visionary
    • Being patient
    • Being impatient

What great moments can you think of, or what attributes would you add to the list?

What good things or great things would your ideal leader do? (On that point it is amazing how few ‘leaders’ give stuff away free via blogs like this – though here is one I was directed to a few days ago Ask Brian Martin)


This post is largely visual and is drawn from an insight I had with a client last week when trying to explain ‘Unlearning’.

I’m very much interested in your feedback as I think this is a useful conceptual and visual model. It is not Yin/Yang or Tao but shares a number of their principles while exhibiting a number of differences.

The concept is sort of simple.

Imagine a ball is one half Learn the other half Unlearn.

For learning to take place you replace the unlearning – with each being of equal force/quantity.

The notion is the effort to change is driven by the fact that not only do you need to adopt new learning but you need to displace old learning of an equal mental/ emotional weight.

This is the cornerstone of the model, as displayed on the left.

You may think it is easy to reject this with a model based on your ability to learn new skills but consider that many of these new skills will be ones you had not previously thought you could adopt:

You are usurping the belief that you Can’t with the belief that you Can.

Until the Can’t is fully displaced there is no way that you Can.

Have I lost you yet?

I hope not.

Another example;

You will be in two minds about this post. Either you think I’m right or I’m wrong.

I can’t be a bit wrong – because that still means I’m wrong.

So until you can feel that no part of it is wrong then you can’t feel that the whole thing is right.

You must completely displace all of your ‘wrong’ sentiment with something of equal force that it is ‘right’. The process is incomplete until you entirely replace one with the other.

As a further illustration, consider completely new learning.

At first this stumped me. Until I realised Knowledge replaces Ignorance. Further if you choose to ignore ‘knowledge’ you must therefore be choosing ‘ignorance’ (not choosing to Learn).

I was taught by my first coach – What you resist resists.

I think in many ways this model is a versatile articulation of that principle and shows clearly why change resists and why life can feel so out of balance – particularly when you are going through significant change.

Note also: with this model the healthy or desired option is always on top.

I have written a much longer paper/exploration on this, which I am willing to share with anyone who is interested. Please contact me if you wish to review this and provide feedback. I explore sequences, nesting and evolutionary learning based on this simple model. I have used the term ‘ULO’ (Unlearn Learn Orb) to describe the model.

Many thanks, Richard

Remov ng the I

I - would not do this!!
A discipline which has been great about blogging has been removing the “I” from my posts. Not the word I, but “I statements”; statements about me.

This blog is about my thoughts, not ‘about me’.

I have often cut material from posts because it was detail about me and was not critical to the message.

Cutting out “I” made the posts stronger and more relevant to the recipient.

Whether I have done this or done that is never the point.

Readers can reasonably assume that I have done, tried or observed everything that I write about. Beating my chest about how well, or otherwise, I did is not of value in creating learning or engaging dialogue with my readership.

It’s OK to be confident but not arrogant. The distinction is an important one.

I hope these posts show confidence and courage not arrogance and neediness.

Yet in the organisational domain, and many social settings “I” is a huge component (and the first sign to have me looking for another conversation). Often the introduction is of no relevance to the topic and under some other guise:

    I was thinking about this when on my flight to Zurich the other day… (I fly internationally you know)

    When I was with ‘important person’ last week… (Understand that by inference I am an important person too)

    Yes service is terrible, the guys at the Audi garage couldn’t even call me back…(Did you know I have an Audi?)

    What did you do for the holiday weekend? (Just wait until I tell you about mine…)

I’m sure you get the drift.

It is easy to fall into the trap of wanting to promote yourself. Often what you achieve is to demote others. They perceive you as full of self importance or ignoring of their comment. And especially entertaining to observe in small groups is the “mines bigger than yours” extension of these conversations – “Oh yes my flight to ‘terribly important place’ was delayed too…”

So think about your “I statements”.

Hold them back.

Try leaving the world to decide for itself whether or not you are nice, important, well travelled, well-heeled, clever, well connected etc.

I predict your success at removing “I statements” will lead to (for starters):

  • More constructive conversations
  • People being more willing to share with you
  • Your personal trust and respect increasing
  • You seeing more goodness and greatness in others

I’ll be off now.

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