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.




A perfect combination
Robert Winston said in a recent interview the single best thing people can do to improve their lives and health is exercise.

I am often disappointed by the number of out of shape executives I see.

I am being a little harsh because anecdotally I expect healthier people, committed to looking after themselves, will be disproportionately represented in the upper echelons of management.

I know many executives who compete successfully in Ironman’s, Multisport, Marathon’s etc., I feel such activity provides an insight to what got them there.

Seeing 30 year olds struggling to walk up hills or run after their kid’s makes me wonder “Why make this a battle for the rest of your life? Why set a poor example for your family to follow?”

A quick internet search turned a credible list of 21 proven benefits (I have issue with those items starting “may…”but I guess it’s still proven that it ‘may ‘) those I think most relevant in a leadership context are ( I can attest the last 5):

  • New brain cell development
  • Cognitive and mental function enhancement
  • Prevention of cardiovascular disease
  • Stress management
  • Strong immune system
  • Blood pressure lowering
  • Cholesterol lowering effect

So my question is why wouldn’t you?

I’m not saying everyone should start training for the New York Marathon (there’s better ones!), an hour or two a week of serious exercise is all that is needed.

Everyone can do something. For example I can only run infrequently as I have broken both ankles and legs in the past but I can still meet my goal of the last 16 years (running 10kms in fewer minutes than my age in years).

Some options:

  • Mountain bike
  • Swim
  • Walk (as in WALK not stroll)
  • Cycle/ indoor trainer
  • Play lunchtime soccer or other sports
  • Refereeing

I realise a high percentage of my readership know/do all of this, so here’s some thoughts on what could be done in the workplace:

Company sports teams/ running or cycling groups at lunchtime (for bigger cities)

  • Paying entry for selected events (declare this on an annual basis for simplicity)
  • Bike storage facilities that cost almost as much per bike as per car (kidding, but you get my point)
  • A room with exercise equipment. or partnering with a local gym ( I hate gyms but many love them)
  • Team events where “I’m scared of…” “I can’t.. “ is countered by “We’ll support you and help you.”(And quell all the show offs – they are counterproductive)
  • Recognising best effort not best ’performance’
  • Decent changing rooms and showers

    And the best method of all

    Leading by example

Always the optimist

At times being an optimist can be a costly exercise. Is optimism a high risk / high reward lifestyle compared to playing safe? Or does playing safe carry greater risks with fewer rewards? Unfortunately the way many organisations are structured rewards the latter rather than the former.

Surely optimism is the only way we can truly hope to move forward. If we cannot imagine a brighter future surely we can’t attain one? And if we are not in pursuit of a brighter future, then?

The alternative to promoting a brighter future: To not see a future, or to promote a worse one? By my book that leads to followers who will either be inert or doomsayers, and an outcome I don’t wish to be part of.

Must Leaders actively promote a better future? I contend this is one of the most valued, but unrecognized, parts of the role.

Leaders must be optimists and must share the optimism with their followers.

In researching this post I came across strategic philosopher Max More who kindly gave me permission to reference one of his essays from 1991.

I have redrafted his list of characteristics of a ‘Dynamic optimist’ as follows (download Max More’s actual list here)


  • Selective Positive Focus
  • Refraining from Complaining
  • A fundamental creative openness to possibilities.
    [pullquote]Merely believing that everything will work out fine without taking action makes one a foolish optimist, not a dynamic optimist.

    For optimism to give us the power to overcome the limits in our lives it needs to fully recognize reality, not hide from it. Max More[/pullquote]

  • A Sense of Abundance
  • Constructive Humor


  • Reason, not fear or desire
  • Seeking continual self-improvement
  • Experimental and fresh
  • Self-Confident.
  • Self-Worth
  • Personal integrity and responsibility.
  • Creating positive environments

I think this is a timeless and tremendously inspiring list and recommend placing it prominently in ‘your head’ or in your office. It also measures well against those leaders (in all walks of life) I most admire.

Its relevance for the current times is absolute. We need optimism desperately (is that oxymoronic?). True leaders must step up and lead the ‘dynamic optimists’ charge, with a keen eye for the others in their midst/teams.

Nothing in Max More’s list is kooky or too new-age, it is concrete and actionable. Anyone can do this, in any occupation or lifestyle.

The worst part is it’s harder than it looks.

In the mode of dynamic optimist it is however easier than what the alternative will create. I’m an optimist but now I’m going to be more actively so.

Are you willing to give it a whirl? My prediction is this will improve your future as a leader and as a human being.

I’m printing this out now, by the time this post is launched (one week hence) I’ll give you an update of the impact.

Note: I also urge you once more to visit Max More’s site for a great mind workout.

What success looks like


Just now for the briefest of moments I felt like Malcolm Gladwell or Stephen Levitt. I unwittingly conducted a social experiment which told me way more than I expected.

The experience was such a success I’ve parked the blog I had lined up and gone for a playful theme.

I’ve actually found what success looks like and at the same time discovered that it looks nothing like happiness.

How did I do this?

Well, learning from the better blogs around, including the crafty blogs my wonderful wife follows (like Sew Liberated, Tiny Happy) I realised I needed to put a bit more life into my blog with images and colour, try to show that I have both imagination and style, and perhaps even a little bit of soul.

I went looking for free images on the web and found this site which appealed due to its curious name MorgueFILE.

So what did I search for?

I started with “growth”, “flying”, “learning”.

Mostly these were hohum results but I started to get an idea so I did two consecutive searches:

* Happy

* Success

And the result:


showed page after page of children, flowers, trees, fountains, more flowers, love hearts.


had page after page of bank notes, American dimes and silver dollars.

I’m still laughing out loud.

Is society really that strongly conditioned?

Surely happiness is success?

And maybe that is the clue right there.

Happiness is success, but success, as society traditionally measures it, is not happiness.

Indeed it is the tension between happiness and the traditional notion of success which tears at us much of the time.

For they are intertwined. Probably the original and enduring chicken and egg dilemma.

How do you work with this tension?

What does each mean to you?

I’d like to know…


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