Being Like A Bumblebee

This morning, as I was eating my breakfast, I noticed a bumblebee on the windowsill. For the entire time I ate my breakfast, the bee threw itself against the window, again and again and again, in a futile attempt to get outside.

Even as I left to go about my day, its persistent (albeit fruitless) efforts continued.

It made me think about how we can be like that bumblebee sometimes.

We can expend enormous amounts of energy towards something which, no matter how much effort we put in, it just ‘aint gonna work.

In fact, sometimes we can keep going, becoming exhausted, bruised and battered in the process, without seeing the signs it is time to let go.

We can get really ‘stuck’ – in a metaphorical sense.

As Albert Einstein once said, “If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting the results you’ve been getting.”

Where are you behaving like that bumblebee in your leadership (and in your life for that matter)?

Where are you expending enormous amounts of energy but getting nowhere?

Where are your current paradigms which you need to let go of, or shift your perspective?

Where could you move more into flow?

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Dealing With Disappointment

Earlier this week most of New Zealand watched in awe and excited anticipation as the New Zealand Sevens Rugby Team took on South Africa in the Commonwealth Games final match.

We were looking forward to a good, clean, confident game. And with the Kiwis as the clear favourites, we all expected Tietjen’s boys to bank yet another convincing win.

But our expectations were quickly incinerated. The win we were vouching for did not eventuate.

After a remarkable run of thirty consecutive victories, dating back to the inaugural Sevens appearance at the 1998 Games, the dream ended before a sold-out crowd of 50,000 people.

It prompted me to think about the almighty weight of our expectations – and the expectations of others, for that matter.

What happens when we fall short of them?
What happens when the dream deteriorates?
And how do we deal with the disappointment?

I have seen this phenomenon occur in leadership time and time again.

Although nothing can prepare us for the feeling of perceived ‘failure’, there are some practical tips which can help.

Here are 5 tips for dealing with disappointment:-

1. Realise (and tell yourself as you lick your wounds) that disappointments, setbacks and ‘failure’ are all part of the journey to success and accomplishment.

Take any person, organisation or entity that you would consider a ‘success’.  I bet you a million bucks they have all overcome some adversity (or many difficulties and setbacks) to reach their pinnacle. An obvious example? Steve Jobs. Remember when he was fired from the company he founded? Not a particularly enjoyable day at the time for him, granted #understatement, but he often spoke of how he learned more from that experience than many of the successful moments in Apple’s history and described it as “the best thing that happened to me.”

If you are not stumbling, making mistakes or failing at some stage, you are not learning, growing or succeeding. Period.

2. Learn from it. Insight can only come from reflection, not necessarily the experience itself.  The sevens?  I bet there is now a huge amount of dissection, evaluation and reflection taking place around what went wrong, what they can learn and how they can use the experience to grow and develop.

Don’t fall into the trap of blame. That’s destructive.  My very first blog post in The Leader’s Digest talks about how to Use the Difficulty.

3. A bit like heartbreak, allow yourself a little pity party. But don’t stay wallowing for long. It’s OK (in fact darn right important in my opinion) to allow whatever feelings you have about the disappointment or failure to be recognised, felt and allowed to be expressed. Trying to brush aside uncomfortable feelings like sadness (or grief, or anger) tends to mean they surface in other, less helpful ways – or hold you back from moving forward.

So the adage of “move through not around” may be helpful here. Particularly if you are the leader or coach, its important you enable your team members the space to verbalise or share their feelings about it. Cue, listening.

4. Create a next steps strategy. Once you have completed the above three steps, note down what the next steps will be as a result. Know what you will do, how you will respond and the flow on effect of every action. Again, preparation is key.

5. Keep going. Perhaps this is the most important thing we can do. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and persist.

Here are three people who did just that:

Henry Ford: While Ford is today known for his innovative assembly line and American-made cars, he wasn’t an instant success. In fact, his early businesses failed and left him broke five times before he founded the successful Ford Motor Company.

Akio Morita: You may not have heard of Morita but you’ve undoubtedly heard of his company, Sony. Sony’s first product was a rice cooker that unfortunately didn’t cook rice so much as burn it, selling less than 100 units. This first setback didn’t stop Morita and his partners as they pushed forward to create a multi-billion dollar company.

Albert Einstein: Most of us take Einstein’s name as synonymous with genius, but he didn’t always show such promise. Einstein did not speak until he was four and did not read until he was seven, causing his teachers and parents to think he was mentally handicapped, slow and anti-social. Eventually, he was expelled from school and was refused admittance to the Zurich Polytechnic School. It might have taken him a bit longer, but most people would agree he caught on pretty well in the end, winning the Nobel Prize and changing the face of modern physics.

If you’re a successful leader, disappointments are inevitable…it’s how you handle them that counts.

“The size of your success is measured by the strength of your desire; the size of your dream; and how you handle disappointment along the way.” – Robert Kiyosaki

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My mother has many endearing traits. One of them is to regularly rearrange the furniture in her flat.

I asked her recently why she does this and she replied – “It makes me see things I’ve had for years in a new light. It makes my space more workable – each time I get it looking even better; and it’s a creative outlet.”

It made me think about the concept of rearranging.

Nature does a superb job of using rearrangement to shift things up, move things along and help things to evolve in a better way.

Author and expert on creative thinking, Roger Von Oech, points out – “The moving plates of the earth’s crust form new land masses and surface features. The shuffling of DNA genetic deck through sex produces new life forms.”

Organisations can also benefit from regularly ‘rearranging  the furniture’, metaphorically speaking.

How can you rearrange your existing resources to increase efficiency, improve creativity or merely do things better?

Try putting your ending in the middle.

Or the centre on the top.

Or the inside on the outside.

The left on the right.

One really effective way of rearranging is with cross-functional promotion.

Lion Nathan is an example of one organisation which has used this concept effectively. They often take key talent in one function and promote them into a different one.  A finance director into a sales director. A marketer into an operations role.

The benefits? Retention of talent. Growing bench strength for promotion. Knocking down of silos.

How can you use the concept of rearranging with your products? Innovations? Operations? Your teams?

Be like my mum and ask yourself today – “what can I rearrange?”

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The F Word

Unfortunately, one of the most prevalent emotions I see in organisations is fear.

A little bit of fear is self-preserving, but I have seen it plague organisations like a vicious disease.

Often it is seen in hefty doses – much more so than compassion, care and empathy.

It may not present as terror, but it can show in more subtle, insidious versions of this same base emotion.

Here are some versions of fear in other guises:

Anxious, avoidant, cautious;

Concerned, fearful, frozen;

Insecure, intimidated, guarded;

Overwhelmed, panicked;

Stressed, tense, terrified;

Trapped, vulnerable, worried.

When fear is commonplace in a culture – when people are afraid of speaking up, challenging, giving feedback, making mistakes, failure, making a fool of themselves, losing their jobs (the list goes on) – it’s bad for everyone.

Fear is the opposite of love.

That’s what John Mackey and Rajendra Sisodia say in their book Conscious Capitalism

“Fear is the opposite of love. When we are completely grounded in love and care, fear is not present. Conscious businesses seek to eliminate fear.”

Why is it a disease?

It stymies big picture thinking, bold moves.

It’s the antithesis of creativity. Where fear lives, creativity does not.

Fear is limiting, it makes us smaller.  It is the opposite of expansive, innovative expression.

As a leader, how do you get rid of fear? 

First you have to identify it.  Here are 5 common red flags:

  1. No challenging. Do your ideas get challenged by those reporting to you? If the answer is “never” or “hardly ever”, it’s a sign to sit up and take note.
  2. People pleasing behaviour. Lots of yes’s and hardly any no’s in the common corporate repertoire. Lots of people pleasing by lots of people indicates fear.
  3. People scared to make mistakes or fail.
  4. An abundance of conservative and risk-avoiding behaviour.
  5. A lack of creative or innovative approaches.

Here are 6 things you can do to banish fear.  For a start, ask yourself, what behaviour/s could my boss demonstrate to reduce fear?

  1. Actively ask and encourage your direct reports to challenge you and speak up if they disagree.  More importantly, when they do, don’t jump down their throats, marginalise them or penalise challenging.  How do you feel about challenging your boss? What could he or she do or say that would reduce fear? See The Emperor’s Clothes post for more on this.
  2. Embody the mantra of mistakes being essential for learning, in addition to helping people to develop and grow from their mistakes. Repeated mistakes are a different kettle of fish.
  3. Encourage creative thinking and innovation. See here for tips on how to encourage creativity.
  4. If you see workplace bullying, name it and address it immediately.
  5. Have a policy which protects and encourages whistleblowing of unethical behaviour. Imagine what could have happened to Enron if this had been in place, along with less prevalence of fear.
  6. Most importantly, model expansive behaviour yourself. Show others you are willing to get into the red zone.

What other tips do you have for preventing fear in the workplace? Please leave your comments in the space provided below.

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How To Reconnect With Your Purpose

This week, I had to go away to ‘come home’.

In other words,  I had to leave my everyday life. My daily routine. My busy busyness. My must do’s, to do’s and should do’s.

I needed to leave the ‘doing’ in order to rediscover the gift of ‘being’.

This allowed me to reconnect with my purpose as a leadership coach.

It came in the form of a 10 day holiday in Fiji.

I don’t know if it was the seductive, heady lull of tropical heat, or the fact I just hung out with my husband, children and one of my best friends for a while.

Maybe it was the inspiration I received from reading two outstanding books – Conscious Capitalism and Essentialism.

Or the solitary morning runs along the beach.

Perhaps it was the long stretches of nothingness.

Or maybe it was a combination of the above.

Regardless of the source, the most significant lesson I (re)learned was the importance of regularly stopping and just being.

Stepping away from our everyday lives catalyzes the regaining of perspective, clarity and intention.  Most importantly, it helps us to reconnect with our purpose.

We’ve long known the benefits of having a higher purpose as an organisation. John Mackey and Raj Sisodia dedicate an entire chapter to it in their book Conscious Capitalism.

But great leaders also know their purpose; their ‘True North’.

Why is it important to know our purpose?

We are most fulfilled and happiest when our work is aligned with what makes us come alive.

Knowing our purpose means recognising our deepest motivations and convictions.

As Roy Spence and Haley Rushing put it in their book ‘It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For’ –

“If you have a purpose and can articulate it with clarity and passion, everything makes sense, everything flows. You feel good about what you’re doing and clear about how to get there.”

As a leader, knowing your purpose is asking yourself:-

“What is the contribution I want to make?”
“What do I want to stand for?”
“How do I want to add value to this world?”
“How can I bring my unique strengths to bear on the work I do?”
“What is my True North?”

Knowing your purpose is important because it:-

Inspires us.
Activates vitality.
Helps us prioritise our energies.
Cuts through the white noise, competing demands and exhausting dross.
Empowers us to say no to unnecessary things and instead focus on what’s essential.

It’s a definitive statement about the difference we are trying to make in the world.  And in my opinion, that’s kinda important.


You don’t need a tropical holiday to reconnect with your purpose – although it helps 🙂

All you need to do is move out of action and into a more reflective place.

See here and here for simple ways you can build reflection into your life.

What was my purpose which I reconnected with?

To ignite better leadership.

To share the cornerstones of great leadership – self-awareness, listening, stillness, authenticity, consciousness, courage and compassion – with as many people as I am possibly able.

To enable in others, the ability to access these tenets of effective leadership and in doing so, influence workplaces to become the fun, successful and meaningful places they have the potential to be.

Now it’s over to you. How can you reconnect with your purpose?

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Time and Place

Today I’m excited to introduce guest blogger, Martin Fenwick, to The Leader’s Digest. Martin is an executive coach at Altris – a leadership development and executive coaching company based in Auckland, NZ. Martin is also a regular contributor to the Altris leadership blog.

My mum used to say “there is a time and a place for everything”.

This was her way of letting me know I had chosen the wrong time or place, following whatever I had just done.

The thing is, she didn’t always tell me (if at all) when the right time and place was. So, most of the time I was left guessing the appropriate alternative or outcome myself.

Feedback in the workplace is often similar.

You might not get told until it’s too late.
You might never get told at all.
And, you may get told what’s wrong but not what’s right.

My mum’s adage is a sound reminder of two key tenets of feedback – that of time and place.

Some feedback is not delivered at all because the ‘giver’ is worried about the ‘giving’.

Thoughts such as…

Will this make them dislike me?
Will this cause an argument?
Maybe they worked it out themselves?

…and other such concerns, can delay feedback at best and stop it at worst.

When it comes to time, late feedback is better than none. But, timeliness makes the feedback more useful.

Feedback on the spot is often just a symptom of annoyance. Irritation and lack of thought will come across in immediate feedback.

Feedback within a couple of days is still feedback.

Think about it, structure it, and make sure it’s clear, specific and unemotional. Ask if you can give it first, then the receiver will be more likely to value what you are presenting.

Add the element of place and the benefit of feedback is improved.

Never in a busy corridor or open environment.
Never in front of other people (that comes across as point-scoring).
Don’t summon them to your office (that’s a power play).
Don’t email them out of the blue (it’s not permissive).
Don’t email your boss and colleagues to tell them first (that’s setting up a whole environment of self-justification or damaging someone’s reputation).

Keep it just between the two of you.


Try and find a neutral location, with plenty of time (don’t keep looking at your watch) and  quiet surroundings (no distractions), before going through your well thought out unemotional feedback.

Then, listen to what they have to say. You have set up the time and the place and they get to seize the opportunity too.

They may not agree, and you may even find you were working through your own lenses and perceptions a little. But if done well, the relationship you have should be improved by the time and place for good feedback being adhered to.

Click here to read the Altris blog.

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The 7 Deadly Sins of Speaking

Do you sometimes find people don’t listen when you’re speaking?

If we want to speak in a genuinely engaging way, we need to avoid certain speaking behaviours.

Sound expert, Julian Treasure, highlights these in this interesting TED talk, so watch it when you have a few minutes. Not surprisingly, he’s easy to listen to!

Here are the 7 deadly sins of speaking:

1. Gossip. A bit like a massive feed of junk food, it might feel good at the time, but more often than not, afterwards you regret it. For some, it can be easy to fall into the trap of gossiping, particularly when someone else initiates it. When this happens, do your best to divert the subject.

2. Judging. This Native American proverb sums it up.

Grant That I May Not Criticize My Neighbour
Until I Have Walked A Mile In His Moccasin

As a leader always seek first to understand. For more on the topic see here.

3. Negativity. If you find your default position when faced with challenges and setbacks is to blame others and criticise, you may be suffering from the toxic cycle of negativity.  If you get known for this, people are likely to switch off to you and your messages. Don’t be that guy.

4. Complaining. I love Julian’s humour in describing complaining as the “national sport of the UK”. But in all seriousness, when you find yourself starting to move into complaining mode, ask yourself, “in this situation, what’s within my control?” – and focus on that.

5. Excuses. Passing the buck is the antithesis to accountability and responsibility. Can you imagine being engaged by a speaker who uses, as Julian so aptly describes, “blame throwing”?

6. Lying. If you’re prone to exaggeration, this can sometimes extend the truth to the point where it becomes a lie. This is the easiest way to lose the trust of an audience.

7. Dogmatism. The confusion of fact with opinion. Being bombarded with other people’s principles without any consideration of your own is a sure fire turn off.

By contrast, there are 4 cornerstones of powerful speech which form the acronym, HAIL.

Honesty – be true, straight and clear.
Authenticity – just be yourself.
Integrity – do what you say in order to build trust.
Love – not romantic love, just wishing people well.

Public speaking is never a breeze, but it’s an essential skill for leaders to master. Remembering Julian’s tips can help to provide a sound foundation when preparing for your next speaking engagement.

Do you have any points to add to the list above? If so, I’d love to hear from you – please leave your comments below.

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