How to spread joy and goodwill for an amazing 2017?

As we move towards the end of the year, people are typically reflecting on the year past and thinking through their plans for the new year. Often the outcomes can be mixed, so I wondered how I might help you and your team plan for a fantastic year in 2017.

In this post, I set out three simple questions you can share with your staff that will keep you and them focused throughout the year! I hope they help!

What are you doing to make people feel like they belong?

If you set out with a compelling vision and clear values about how you intend to deliver that vision, you will gradually build significant critical mass in your team.

Better still, you will bond your staff that much more efficiently if they share with you in the process of co-creating that vision. People like to feel they belong, that they share a common identity, and that their opinions and views matter.

So, make a goal in 2017 to ensure that this practice – checking out your vision and values – in 2017 is regularly reviewed and refreshed. You will be astonished just how much of a difference it will make to those around you who matter!

What are you doing to help people realise they matter?

In my experience of working in many teams over a long time, I noticed that the biggest drain on an organisation’s vitality, focus and direction are assumptions. Assumptions that they will always be there! Assumptions that they will always come through when needed! Assumptions that they will plough on regardless! And so the list goes on.

Strangely, though it may seem, your staff will want to know that you care.  Your employees want to know that you have some concern for their well-being. That you are interested in what they do and what they say. Your people will want to know that you understand them and want to understand them better. That you show them they matter in the overall scheme of things, even as a small, but vital cog in a large, complex mechanism.

So, make another goal for 2017 to show you care, however, you choose to do that! I bought flowers, cakes and random gifts over many years of leading teams. Even small handwritten notelets on a job well done. Sending a short but sincere Thank You email now and then will make a huge difference. Do this now, and throughout the year, else people will feel largely forgotten, and their trust in you will inevitably bleed away.

How are you helping people work together?

Finally, what is it you do to help your people work together? Both within the team and, internally and externally, across the organisation and its partners. In such collaboration lies the wellspring of creativity, ideas and motivation.

Creative collaboration is not only an excellent way to drive your agenda, but also an excellent way to move individuals into new learning pathways, explore fresh ideas and gain new momentum.

It will also help them to understand better what makes them, their team and their organisation tick! Those relationships and communications may not always be easy or straightforward, but a little healthy conflict or debate is good for the soul, so expose your staff to it, in my view.

Handling conflict appropriately, your team will learn that awkward conversations are possible and often fruitful. They can explore those opportunities and define for themselves new ways to handle situations they may well encounter another time.

It may also help them to say NO graciously, using one or more of the methods I detailed in my post

What now?

Try out these three simple actions, consistently and regularly throughout 2017, and I am sure you will see a massive difference in the happiness and productivity of your team.

Better still, contact me to help you keep that laser focus by regular six or eight weekly coaching/mentoring calls. I charge £50 per hour and can meet up with you ‘live’ via an agreed appointment time and social media method. I will also enable you to record our calls for further reflection and review post session.

I welcome your comments and enjoy engaging in further dialogue. If I can be of any assistance in coaching your leadership practice, building your happiness or developing greater personal resilience, please just ask.

Contact me on or by calling +447958765972.

I am always happy to listen and ready to help.

Thank you for reading and every best wish for 2017!

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40 Leadership Lessons from The Freedom Trail – #26

On the 31st August 2013, Lesley, my wife and soulmate, retired after 35 years teaching in secondary schools. Two days later, as planned, we set off for a magical celebratory holiday, taking in New York, California and Oregon. Our trip became known as the ‘Freedom Trail’.

While on the Freedom Trail, I journaled every day and ended each entry with a leadership moment/lesson.


Leaders set direction – be unafraid to set your pathway

After many days of travelling from place to place, today we were headed to yet another beautiful spot – South Lake Tahoe. We were staying here seven nights and had planned a series of excursions to various other points of interest, using our resort as a base camp.

P1050007Our journey from Chester to South Lake Tahoe was another enchanting scenic drive P1050027
through forests and craggy outcrops.

We had decided to take a different route to the one suggested in the California Road Book and some majestic sights rewarded us. Although born by the seaside, I much prefer the mountains and forests, having been an avid mountaineer in my youth.

Our journey also included a short stop for lunch and a visit to the Eco Centric shop in Graeagle. The town was originally named Davies Mill but was renamed following a competition to find a better name. Graeagle is a charming contraction of Gray Eagle Creek, a local water source. The town only has a few hundred inhabitants, but it was by no means the smallest settlement we passed through on our drive.

We played ‘spot the lowest population’ in the villages and towns we passed through – Canyon Dam was the clear winner with 31!

While town and village sizes varied considerably throughout our journey, the scale of everything else – the mountains, forests and rivers – were spectacular.


Even the local pine cones get in on the act! This part of the California is an amazing contrast to the West Coast, especially around the Redwoods in the north of the state.

We were so thrilled that we had taken an alternate route than the one suggested in the California Road Book, as we had found a charming and captivating tableau unfold before us.

Musing on our time there today, some three years plus on, I would say the current TV adverts about California have it right. It is a massive state, with so many different and exciting things to see and do.

Eventually, we arrived at last – to find our lovely apartment right on the edge of the lake – literately.

The ‘private beach’ was a short walk from our gaff, just one minute, with a marina right next door. The view, as you can partly see, was spectacular. The weather was warm and sunny, and we felt that we were so lucky to spend the next seven days in and around such an idyllic spot.

At the end of the day, we reflected on our travels from Chester and the sights we had seen throughout the day. Our view was that it had been an excellent choice to drive off the beaten track as so many incredible sights along the way brought us much joy.

As always, I welcome your comments and dialogue. I also wish you an entertaining and enlightening experience of this series of posts.

Thank you for reading.

Leaders set direction and will often be rewarded by choosing an alternate path. Be unafraid to set your pathway!

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2016 your best year ever? How to improve in 2017?

In 2016 I applied Michael Hyatt’s Best Year Ever approach to my goal setting for the first time.  I’ve had a brilliant year, though not exactly my best year ever. So, there are still lessons to learn to make next year even more amazing.

In this penultimate post of 2016, I reflect on how I did with Michael’s approach, my learning from applying it, my feelings on using it, and how I intend to improve in 2017.

Finally, I suggest some simple steps you can take to emulate a successful goal setting plan in 2017.

The Best Year Ever Approach

Michael recommends writing down your goals, so I did this for the first time in 2016. He further suggests that you set yourself between 7 – 10 goals across your life spectrum, not just about work. So, your goals need to focus on career, family/relational, health, spiritual, personal/hobbies, and financial elements of your life.

In writing your goals, Micahel advocates an active goal writing approach, using the acronym AACTION, which stands for actionable, aligned, challenging, time-bound, inspiring, objective and narrow. It is a challenge to follow the formula, but it does result in sharper, clearer and more focused goals

Once you have your goals, Michael suggests you share them selectively. I wrote ten goals and shared them with two close personal friends, one in the UK and one in the US.

Finally, Michael counsels a regular review of your goals, on a weekly basis, thus ensuring that the goals remain at the forefront of your mind.

How did I do with my goals for 2016?

For my goals in 2016, I wrote four career objectives, two for my family, and one each for spiritual, financial, health, and personal/hobbies.

On reflection today, my performance over the year was pretty mixed, though I still had a brilliant year, more of which later.

I abandoned my spiritual goal, reading the Master Key by Charles Haanel and practising the exercises, after about twelve weeks, though I did maintain reasonably regular meditation and spiritual reading throughout the year.

I failed to lose weight, my health goal and gained five pounds. Of course, I did say I’d had a brilliant year!

I easily achieved my family goals by being more intentional and ‘present in the moment’.

I fulfilled my personal/hobbies goal well within the time set, and my garden has never looked better than this past summer.

I undershot my financial target by about 40% of the target, but I’d been ambitious from the outset and was unsurprised by this.

As for my career goals, they presented the poorest return. Of the four, the one I was delighted with was my blogging. I set a highly ambitious target of blogging three times a week and, with some gaps through the year, kept to that.

I also made significant progress on my solo book, though did not complete it by the year end as planned.

Nine months later than expected, my new website will appear in early 2017. That has largely been for reasons beyond my personal control, as my son is building the website and other private work, a change of job and his wedding have overtaken events.

Finally, my regular accountability sessions did not materialise as anticipated and the proof of that is clearly in the motley review noted in this section.

How do I feel about my year on reflection?

Sitting here writing this blog post, I feel very relaxed about my overall performance, as I understand why it is such a diverse set of results. I also know what I need to do to improve in 2017 and how I might best do that.

My biggest happiness comes from being far more intentional about my family and that my quality time with my wife and soul mate well exceeded the goal that I had set. That is what has made this year a brilliant year for me, and perversely did for me in meeting my health goal! The highlight of the year was our son’s wedding, which was a magical weekend, and, looking back, that along with all the enriched contact with my family has made this year brilliant. There is truth in there’s more than work to your life.

I am also at ease with the fact that I set myself stretch goals, which I knew would take some achieving. Michael Hyatt advises that your goals need to require your best effort, though interestingly, as human beings we are all subject to frailty and weakness, and I am clearly no exception to that rule. I am, however, progressing well with some of my goals for 2016, though they are not yet fully completed. So I see that as a positive, not a negative.

What lessons did I learn to help me improve in 2017?

On reflection, there are some key learning points from my use of Michael Hyatt’s Best Year Ever approach.

In particular, the spread of objectives gives a grounded sense to your life, including work. Writing them down, using the AACTION formula, also helps to make you think carefully before committing pen to paper and committing yourself to action. So, I will take that route again for next year. Before this, I will undertake a full review of 2016, as also suggested by Michael, to properly acknowledge what happened, learn from that experience, and adjust my behaviour accordingly.

From my initial reflection on my goal setting and practice in 2016, a weekly review of my goals was clearly my biggest failing. Michael recommends this, along with chunking down and writing down actions that help you towards your goals. Taking that bite-sized approach is a necessity for me in 2017, as it will keep my goals at the forefront of my mind, as well as helping me to align my priorities for action.

I also recognise that my accountability sessions proved not as regular as I had planned. I think we might all benefit from that external stimulus to keep us laser-focused, as my great friend Cynthia Bazin would suggest. So a key action for me in 2017 is to set in place a monthly session to do this. I have a close friend here in the North East who I will approach about this over the next few days. I am sure this will help me improve my focus, my actions and my outcomes.

While not wholly uncomfortable about this, my reflections also affirmed that I lack discipline and self-control at times and I need to improve on these aspects of my behaviour. I have a mind like a butterfly and often move spontaneously from topic to topic, revelling in the glee that new learning brings. I am blessed with an innate curiosity, though I need to become better at channelling it.

Finally, in hindsight, I set myself too many goals, and this is a lesson to take forward into 2017. That indicates to me that I took Michael’s approach too literally and did not give sufficient thought to the process as I might do it. That is a helpful insight, as I had never taken this approach before and now I can refine it to make more sense for me. I am therefore going to set myself seven goals for 2017, rather than the ten I did for 2016.

What does this mean for you?

I think you might take a few simple lessons from this blog post. Goals in life are important, and if they are important, you must deal with them appropriately.

So, take some time to write them down, in a clear, concise, and actionable fashion. Set deadlines for completing your goals spaced throughout the year ahead and put in place a weekly review and prioritisation process.

Set goals that stretch you but are not overly ambitious. Set sufficient goals to make a difference but not too many that it becomes a chore to monitor, review and evaluate them. Finally, set a spread of objectives across your life elements, not just about your work or career, and find someone you trust and respect to help you achieve them!

I welcome your comments and enjoy engaging in further dialogue. If I can be of any assistance in coaching your leadership practice, building your happiness or developing greater personal resilience, please just ask.

Contact me on or by calling +447958765972.

I am always happy to listen and ready to help.

Thank you for reading and every best wish for 2017!

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40 Leadership Lessons from the Freedom Trail – #25

On the 31st August 2013, Lesley, my wife and soulmate, retired after 35 years teaching in secondary schools. Two days later, as planned, we set off for a magical celebratory holiday, taking in New York, California and Oregon. Our trip became known as the ‘Freedom Trail’.

While on the Freedom Trail, I journaled every day and ended each entry with a leadership moment/lesson.


Leaders don’t operate through power

After an overnight stay in Chester, we moved on to Lassen Volcanic Park.

What a place – lovely and sunny but freezing! The top peaks of the volcanoes had a covering of snow. It was a place of wondrous beauty, peaceful yet quite imposing!

We stopped at the first panoramic vista point and got out to soak in the scene – wearing just t-shirts and jeans. Another car pulled in shortly after us. Two ladies dressed from head to toe in ski gear – jackets, ear muffs, gloves – the lot. They couldn’t believe we were standing there so lightly garbed!

We told them that the folks from NE England were ‘well hard’ – and then jumped back in the car to put on jumpers, as soon as they drove off. How we laughed!

As we climbed higher, it got colder and colder. When Les hopped out for a quick photo at one viewpoint, it was even snowing!


We drove right the way through the park, which was about 20+ miles.

Les found the road was particularly scary – with sheer drops either side at times, and U-bends you would not believe! Once I managed to persuade Les to climb out from under her seat – and to take her fingernails out of my thigh, she soon realised just how stunning the views were!


On our drive out of the park, we noticed the ‘devastated area’ where the forest fire raged the previous summer.

We also visited the museum and saw the photos taken when it last erupted badly in 1915 – that was quite a sight! At the museum, you can see some great stuff about the park, its geology, including how volcanoes form, and its wildlife.


Lassen Peak is one of the many active, though currently, dormant volcanoes found around the Pacific Ocean. Formed about 27,000 years ago, it is one of the world’s biggest plug dome volcanoes rising from 2000 ft to nearly 10500 ft above sea level.


We found the Lassen area is rich with lush forests and meadows, rushing mountain streams, soaring mountain vistas, tranquil lakes, seasonal wildflowers and a wide variety of wildlife. This scenic beauty is accompanied by hissing

This scenic beauty had an accompaniment of hissing mud pots, steaming fumaroles, dormant lava dome and cinder cone volcanoes and a remnant of a stratovolcano.

I bet you were impressed with all that information – I copied it from the leaflet!!!!

P1040976As you can see from the photograph opposite, the Parks Department have created many pathways for exploration of the area. We walked on a trail about 2 miles into the canyon to an area known as ‘Bumpass Hell’.

The trek in was a little scary – often a relatively thin ledge – scattered with large rock formations and tree roots – but a long way down!


We were over 8000 ft up, so the air was also rather thin, but that didn’t stop the smell reaching our way well before we saw Bumpass Hell!

We dropped into an area of seething mist coming from the lava beds and the mud holes. The smell was disgusting – it soaked into your skin, and you could taste the sulphur! We thought nose pegs would have been a great asset at this point!

After another brilliant day, we headed back to Chester. Tomorrow we were packing up to go to South Lake Tahoe for a week, and we both thought how brilliant it would be to stay in one place for a while. At least then we would be able to remember where the toilet is in the middle of the night!

Reflecting later that evening on the wondrous power of nature, I began musing on leadership and power. It struck me that many leaders believe they wield power when in truth they lead by influence. In fact, what affects the choices of those they lead are often the leader’s vision, values and their sense of purpose.

As a Head of Service for over seven years, I came to understand that my powers were extremely limited, but my influence grew the more I became known and respected by my staff, my peers and my partners.

As always, I welcome your comments and dialogue. I also wish you an entertaining and enlightening experience of this series of posts.

Thank you for reading.

Leaders don’t operate through power – their vision, values and sense of purpose influences the choices of those they lead.


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How to be amazingly happy? Here, try this!

I am a massive fan of #Frank Sonnenberg. I love his approach, his thinking and his content, and I would highly recommend following him through social media.

A year or so ago, he published a piece called “Moral Character is the DNA of Success and Happiness”, which resonated with me greatly.

In today’s post, I want to explore his thinking, offering my interpretation.  I am prompted in this by a marvellous conversation yesterday with a close friend and colleague here in North East England. My thanks to him, as ever, for his curiosity and thirst for understanding.

The Components of Your Moral Character

In his post, Frank identified four parts to Moral Character. These were Life Purpose, Beliefs and Values, Character and Actions.

I lay out my thinking on these four elements below, with inspiration from Mark Twain.

Life Purpose

Have you ever considered why you are alive? I have reflected on it often over the years. That is why I have always liked the Mark Twain quote below.

Interestingly, my life purpose, as I define it, has remained pretty constant throughout my life beyond my teen years. I wanted and still want to help people and make a difference in their lives, their families and their communities. I am driven by a notion of social justice and have always had a passionIt is a goal or ambition that many people would also choose.

However, I am equally sure that many people do not give it a thought, better yet decide what it is. They move through life doing rather than being, and consequently, do not develop themselves in a way which makes a greater impact.

In short, what is the legacy you wish to leave behind you? How would you care to be remembered? What impact will a life lived well have on those who you encountered?

Beliefs and Values

Many people hold me in high regard. I know this from very regular feedback I receive from them, both directly face-to-face and via social media and other channels.

A surprise phone call on Tuesday evening this week from someone who I have not seen face-to-face since 2009 brought this home to me. Paul rang me to catch up, while on his way to work. He had noted, from following my social media strands that I had a busy year and wanted to see how I was.

We have corresponded by email and postings on and off over the years but only talked on a couple of occasions.  I met him in 2009 when I facilitated a leadership development programme he attended. We struck up a strong rapport, and that has continued, albeit at a distance. He lives in Derbyshire and works in Nottinghamshire, many miles from my home in Sunderland.

It was a delightful conversation and made my day. Paul’s words were very kind and strongly complimentary. They reminded me that what drew Paul to me so powerfully were my beliefs and values, as lived each and every day. He experienced that directly, though many years before. He saw them enacted in my social media postings and they resonated once again in our telephone conversation.

I cherish my beliefs and values and stay true to them. I live them, express them, refresh them and share them. In other words, I am the best me I can be, and I strive to improve day by day. I am not perfect though I do see progress 64 years on! I am also still learning.

So, have you considered your beliefs and values deeply? Do you live them as well as espouse them? Do you look for continuous improvement?


Your character moves beyond your beliefs and values. It describes your mental and moral qualities, exhibited by your attitudes and your behaviour.

Many people ‘talk the talk’ but they do not ‘walk the walk’. You will have heard this said many times. In my experience, I have seen hundreds of people who could do the former, but not the latter. Why? Merely because they lacked the moral courage, the character to carry through, to follow through and to see an action to its ultimate conclusion.

Here’s something I observe more and more. People are afraid to have awkward or difficult conversations. They shy away from potential conflict? They say Yes when they should say No. They allow themselves to be led, rather than lead. And then they whine, groan, and complain under their breath, privately or to like-minded individuals.

What do they lack? Character. More often, however, it is because they did not create the time to discover who they truly are, what that means and how to utilise it in the most productive way they can. So, take time out, meditate, think, seek support to aid your thinking, and rediscover yourself. You will be amazed at what you see and astonished by what that will do for you!


I have a close friend called Cynthia Bazin. She lives in California, and we have only ever met once face to face, in October 2016 in Las Vegas. I have known her virtually for years. Besides being a great friend, Cynthia is my personal accountability buddy, fellow co-author, and mentor to many, and she is extraordinarily good at that.

One of her favourite sayings is, “Take freakin’ action!” It is powerful and resonates greatly here because all of your thinking, soul-searching, self-awareness raising and so on amounts to nought if you don’t do something with it!

So, Frank’s final element is the one for me that rounds this whole post off. I can be who I am, live my values and beliefs, be laser focused on my purpose, but it does not amount to anything if I don’t act!

What does this mean for you?

So, take what you are, what you have and what you can share and give it, unstintingly, with love, with energy, with enthusiasm, with humour and with passion. The more you do, the more you will receive in return! Like my story about Paul this may come tomorrow, next week, or eight years later. Though to be fair to Paul it has been bubbling along for many years now.

The issue raised here is I know myself; I try to portray that in my interactions with others, and I have done this consistently for many years while trying to improve a little each day.  Paul highlighted that consistency by this comment from his follow-up email written to me the day after our call. He said, “I really enjoyed our conversation yesterday on the phone, it’s always very uplifting talking to you! You made my day too!” I very much appreciate his kindness and delight in the connection we share, even after all these years.

I also firmly believe it is because I understand what makes up my moral character, which is truly the DNA of my happiness and success. Frank’s model remains my bedrock, and I strongly recommend it to you. Think about it, decide upon your position and then take action.

So, how about you? What are you going to do now?

I welcome your comments and enjoy engaging in further dialogue. If I can be of any assistance in coaching your leadership practice, building your happiness or developing greater personal resilience, please just ask.

Contact me on or by calling +447958765972.

I am always happy to listen and ready to help.

Thank you for reading.


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How to Say No Graciously, Manage Your Life Here!

I recently read a brilliant book titled “Essentialism – The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown. I highly recommend it to all who want to remove the trivia in their lives and focus on what matters.

Psycho boss imageIn this post, I draw on Greg’s ideas about doing one thing that will make such a difference in managing your life, your work and your relationships. Learn how to say NO graciously.

It is a fundamental life skill

Being able to say NO is an essential life skill. Not just for your work, but in every sphere of your life. And yet I never cease to be amazed at the large numbers of people I meet who struggle with this.

I recently gave a keynote speech to a group of around 80+ professionals. In my address, I asked my audience how many people were able to say NO. Less than 10 showed their hands.

Interestingly, there were even less when I asked a further question about having difficult conversations. Apparently, the notion of conflict avoidance plays large here, but that is a subject for another time.

Practice makes perfect!

Like any other skill, you need to practice it. So, avoiding saying NO when you want to makes the problem greater. If you are British and you are reading this, the situation becomes worse. That is because we have that quaint knack of saying things one way, which have an entirely different meaning to the person hearing.

What that means is you need to take action and to do it as soon as possible. Do not procrastinate, take charge of your life and be bold. You will not believe the feeling that taking back your life will bring!

Reject the notion that you can do it all

If you are keen to take back control of your life, you have to start by rejecting the idea that you can do it all. So many people delude themselves into believing this fallacy. You can’t, none of us can, and you should make a start by accepting this.

Give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, and you have made a massive step forward to taking back control. Consider all your options and filter them, choosing only the most essential. Greg suggests that when your receive a request, if your answer is not a definite YES, then it is a clear NO. I have found this takes a little time to work through, but it is sound advice. Of course, then you need to say NO, rather than fudge around the edges or do the British thing. Typically, we might say, MAYBE, or PERFECT or FINE, when what we mean is the request has just completely ruined our day!

OK – so how do I say No graciously?

In his book, Greg suggests eight separate ways.

  1.  Use the awkward pause – when the person makes the request, do not immediately reply. Take time to think through your options. Often the silence will cause the other person to assume the answer is no, so they will offer a new option.
  2. Try the soft ‘No’, often known as the ‘No, but’ – it works like well when you can make a counter suggestion. If, for example, your boss asks, “Can you work on Saturday”, you might reply, “No, that’s time I reserve exclusively for my family, but I could work on Sunday”.
  3. Try the No that creates some space for you. Say, for example, to a request for a meeting, “Let me check my diary and get back to you.” It holds space for you to think through your best course of action, and then perhaps to use one of the other ways of saying No graciously.
  4. If you need space from email communicators, try using an automatic email reply. It is a commonplace to see them now, and again you get to have the space to think first.
  5. When being overloaded by your boss or work colleagues, say, “Yes, what should I deprioritize?”That throws the ball back to them and can lead to a proper conversation about what your workload is, and its prioritisation.
  6. Say it with humour. Recently, my best friend wanted to know if I would do the 109 meters canyon swing at his daughter’s wedding next January. I laughed and said, You have got to be kidding me!” He took that as an NO.
  7. Offer an exchange of commitments that sets boundaries about how far you are prepared to go. Use the words “You are welcome to use my X. I am willing to Y.” So, for me, a recent example was, “Yes, you are welcome to use our minibus. I am ready to make sure the keys are available for you.” In that instance, the person asking the question was hoping I would drive the minibus for them. That was not going to happen.
  8. Suggest another person better suited to deal with the task. Say, “I can’t do it, but Phil might be interested.” It gives your colleague another line of inquiry and leaves you free to move on without yet another burden.

I have used each and every one of these suggestion numerous times, and I hope they are helpful to you. However, I still believe the most powerful way to manage your life is to be clear about what you will and will not do, and say so to people when they ask you for something you are not prepared to give.

I welcome your comments and enjoy engaging in further dialogue. If I can be of any assistance in coaching your leadership practice or developing greater personal resilience, please just ask.

Contact me on or by calling +447958765972.

I am always happy to listen and ready to help.

Thank you for reading.

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40 Leadership Lessons from the Freedom Trail – #24

On the 31st August 2013, Lesley, my wife and soulmate, retired after 35 years teaching in secondary schools. Two days later, as planned, we set off for a magical celebratory holiday, taking in New York, California and Oregon. Our trip became known as the ‘Freedom Trail’.

While on the Freedom Trail, I journaled every day and ended each entry with a leadership moment/lesson.

P1040679Leaders need to trust and be trusted

What a great way to wake up! Here was the view that greeted us on walking out of our cabin this morning!

Travelling back into California last night, we spent a long time in complete darkness trying to find our latest hotel. We knew it was set in beautiful surroundings, in a forest by a lake and overlooking Mount Shasta – sounds idyllic, huh? However, we didn’t reckon on trying to find it in the pitch black!

Finally, having driven up and down lots of lanes multiple times and ending back up on the freeway several times, with random choice words from me, as I was driving, we arrived.

The lady on reception was almost on the point of sending out a search party!We had telephoned some while earlier and sought directions. I guess those are skills we need to hone!

P1040665She described our accommodation as a wooden chalet in the woods, and it sounded fantastic.

We stayed in the fanciest cabin ever. There was a Jacuzzi bath in the bedroom – wow! The best of it was we did not appreciate the setting until the sun rose and we left the cabin. As the opening picture shows, the view was stunning!

P1040694Breakfast was sat looking up at the mountain. It was so pleasant just to sit and soak it all in and have a lazy start to the day.

However, it was soon time to pack up and move on. We were headed to Chester, but not before a quick drive up the mountain to about 8,000 feet, where the road just stopped! It was quite a sight, already snow-covered, and freezing, while we had a bit of a wander.

P1040702Les found some friendly natives. She would call them chipmunks, but the locals called them ‘chicarinas’.

They are very quick little blighters to catch on camera – and so she did brilliantly to catch one! It was so peaceful up on the mountain, except for a chance meeting with two ladies who looked equipped for the Arctic. They were amazed to see me wearing a short sleeved shirt! I told them I was from North East England where people are hardy!

P1040715About 80 miles down the road we stopped off at Burney Falls and had a walk round one of the forest trails. Again, it was very peaceful and obviously animal spotting day!

Another 50 miles or so later, after lots of winding roads through the forests, we had spotted this place on the map, so thought we’d stop and take a look
P1040733It was a place called ‘Subway Caves’, which was, in fact, a volcanic lava tube. According to the notice, it was a third of a mile tunnel hollowed out and left by the lava as it erupted and spewed out onto the landscape. We’d never seen anything like it.  There was lots of information about it on several boards – most of which we now can’t remember.

As you can see from the photograph, I was keen to explore. But just beyond me, the tunnel became pitch black. We had hiked into the middle of nowhere, following a random sporadic trail marker to the entrance. Obviously, being so remote, there was no guide and, you guessed it, no lights.

Les was unsure about exploring, but fortunately, I had a flashlight in the car.

P1040747I eventually persuaded her that all would be well and to trust me in that. So off we ventured into this pitch black tunnel.

Les started to panic after about 10 minutes – hoping we had good batteries and hadn’t taken the wrong turn in the dark!

Interestingly, a third of a mile in the dark seems a long way! The floor was so uneven too, ridged and pitted by the movement of the lava, and spotted with cracks in the floor where you could hear running water. There were also large boulders everywhere, which is not great when your illumination is limited.

However, hanging onto me for grim life, we finally reached the end and revelled in having undertaken the trip and in seeing its formation. Les was also pleased she had trusted me to do the walk in the lava tube, though she admitted afterwards that it was not one of the best experiences she’d ever had and was not keen to repeat it. I complimented her on her courage and thanked her for the trust she’d placed in me.

P1040760Back at the car, Les managed to catch one the local birds on camera, a much more sedate pastime than walking through a lava tube by flashlight!

Leaving Subway Caves behind us, we headed on toward Chester, arriving there in the early evening.

It had been a brilliant day, with more new experiences to add to our collection. It had also been an icy day up in the mountain areas, so we were both glad to get some hot food and switch on the heating in the room rather than air conditioning!

Reflecting on the day, I noted that leaders need to trust and be trusted. We had walked a third of a mile through a pitch black lava tube and emerged to tell the tale. Despite her misgivings, Les had gamely soldiered on, and we were able to dispel a mistaken belief we shared, which was that lava tubes would be smooth. They are most definitely not! They are, in fact, rough and spiky inside!

As always, I welcome your comments and dialogue. I also wish you an entertaining and enlightening experience of this series of posts.

Thank you for reading.

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12 Latest Insights Here On Amazing Generation Z

Following on from my recent post, Youth Work in a Time of Change, I wanted to share twelve insights I uncovered this year that will impact our understanding of Generation Z – young people aged 14 -21 years. The ideas are focused mainly on British young people; however, I believe there are cultural crossovers that relate to young people elsewhere in the world.

People jumping for joySome Board development activity for Trafford Youth Trust prompted my research; as did my on-going chairing of Circle Crew for Change Limited, the UK’s first ever youth mutual; and my continuing concern about the massive gap in youth policy here in the UK.

What, no youth policy?

Here’s a challenge. Google the government’s GOV.UK website today using the keywords Youth Policy and see what you find. I know you will find nothing that is recent that relates to informal education work with young people. In fact, today, the second item in the search list is dated July 2014 and is the Youth Justice Board Twitter policy.

To reinforce my view, I gave a keynote speech to the Army Welfare Service – Community Support Services annual conference in early November. I did a similar search the day before the speech using Youth Work as my search terms. That day I found roughly 40 items listed on the first page of my search. These were the items:

  • Schools – 17
  • NEET and EET – 8
  • Apprenticeships – 2
  • Childcare – 2
  • International Development – 2
  • Health/Well-being – 2
  • Child Death – 1
  • Child Sexual Exploitation – 1
  • LGBT – 1 [and they didn’t even get the title right – LGBTQIA]
  • Disabled and SEN – 1
  • There were three other articles on the Princes Trust, Local Charities Day – 16 December, and the Evaluation of the Uniformed Youth Social Action Fund

Now, setting aside the vagaries of indexing, do you think I am making a point here?

Is no youth policy a bad thing?

Of course, it is!  In my view, it is an absolute national disgrace!

The social condition of our young people is not clearly understood. And, neither is the impact that excellent, well-resourced informal education [read youth work] can and would make.

I lay out below what my research earlier in the year indicated. Noreena Hertz, writing in The Guardian on 19 March 2016, titled “Think the millennials have it tough”, prompted my thinking.

That thinking was then complemented by content from the World Health Organisation’s  March 2016 Report, “Growing up unequal”.  And further supplemented by material from “Young Blood”, a White Paper exploring Modern British Youth Culture, by an integrated creative agency known as Amplify, who have an interest in global youth culture from a consumer and brand perspective.

I then added to these insights from my observations of working in recent years with Generation Z young people through Circle Crew for Change, and other youth and community organisations.

12 Revealing Insights – though not all necessarily new!

  1. Technology is essential and multi-screening, and multi-tasking is common.
  2. They feel that life is hard and unequal. [The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) March 2016 report[1] suggested that British teenagers are among the most troubled of 42 nationalities surveyed, only Macedonian and Polish teens are less happy with their lot.]
  3. They feel pressured by schoolwork and worried about the way they look.
  4. They live in a time characterised by the hangover of economic decline, job insecurity, increasing inequality and a lack of economic optimism.
  5. Asked whether they thought their lives were likely to be more of a struggle than those of their parents, their answer was an unambiguous yes; views included:
    1. 70% were worried about getting a job;
    2. 72% were concerned about debt and not just student loans;
    3. 70% were concerned about terrorism, not knowing a time when anything other than this existed, either in reality or virtually; and,
    4. 70% cite inequality as one of the issues that worry them greatly, as many as those who are worried about terrorism.
  6. They are profoundly anxious – the WHO recorded a threefold increase in the past ten years in the number of English teenagers who self-harm.
  7. They are deeply distrustful of establishment institutions doing the ‘right thing’.
  8. They feel the same way about government – only 1 in 10 trusts them to do the ‘right thing’.
  9. 92% believe that helping others is important.
  10. This generation does not consider that ‘society is fair and everyone has an equal chance’. Instead, they believe it is the colour of their skin, their sex, their parents’ economic status, and their social standing that will determine their future.
  11. They value authenticity and desire connection, either physical or virtual.
  12. They increasingly appreciate active co-creation, as it supports their desire to be self-sufficient.

I think Noreena captured it beautifully when she wrote, “This selfie-taking, yet unselfish, connected yet lonely, anxious yet pragmatic, risk-averse yet entrepreneurial generation of young people seem very different to those preceding them.”

So, what does this mean for us?

These reports and insights draw from relatively small samples of our Generation Z population. As such, they are not indicative of whole populations. However, they do represent, at least to my mind, some worrying trends, attitudes and thinking.

I shared my research with young people at Circle Crew. One committee member, Chloe, summed up their collective views rather succinctly. “That’s my life, John”, she said!

It was a fascinating counterpoint to how well I believe she and her peers have grown on our journey together over the past five years. But, therein lies the rub I guess. We have moved forward together.

We have moved forward together because myself and others were there to provide that. As public sector youth services continue to decrease around our nation, where does an increasingly significant burden fall, and how well do those carrying that weight fare in our awful policy and financial vacuum?

One final thought

As I undertook my research, I grew increasingly uncomfortable at just how much the insights resonated with me, particularly since checking them out with young people I thought I knew well. That left me with one particular question, and one which should resonate with you if you are in any way, shape or form engaging with Generation Z:

How well do you know them and how best will you respond to their needs, wants, and interests?

I welcome your comments and enjoy engaging in further dialogue. If I can be of any assistance in coaching your youth work or leadership practice or developing greater personal resilience, please just ask.

Contact me on or by calling +447958765972.

I am always happy to listen and ready to help.

Thank you for reading.

[1] World Health Organisation researchers were particularly struck by how life satisfaction of those aged 11-15 had gone down everywhere surveyed.

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What do you actually think? Is common sense common practice?

I support the view regularly expressed by Jim Kerr that common sense is not common practice. In fact, over many years of working, I’ve seen too many supposedly intelligent leaders and managers make some of the dumbest mistakes! One of the best being a newly-appointed Head of Service exhorting all his management team, me included, to adopt his new policy of ‘Ready, Fire, Aim!’

Man on top of a rockYou might, like me, think “Please save me from people who read management books and completely misinterpret what they are saying”. However, this was one case, among a litany of occasions, when common sense didn’t prevail.

In this article, I will set out why I think common sense is not common practice and what we all need to do to get this back on track.

What stops our common sense taking precedence?

In short, your organisation’s culture. People spend too much time doing things ‘the way we do around here’! So, they don’t see the wood for the trees. Your rules, processes, and systems, not to mention the possible educational experiences you received at school and beyond, have robbed people of their ability to think for themselves.

And thinking for ourselves is when our common sense comes to the fore!

How do we fix that?

I support Jim Kerr’s other views that we need to focus on character in the people we recruit, and on cultures that enable people to flourish.

We need to hire rigorously, invest in people’s professional development, and help people become both independent and creative. We need individuals who ask the question, “How do I make my teammates better?” Not those who look to blame others when things go wrong.

We need to ensure that our teams can think, reflect, challenge and learn. In my direct experience of leading and participating in teams, people rise to the challenge, and learn better and faster, if it is their challenge.

So, what about you?

Where do you feature on the independence scale? If you were scoring yourself, 1 = low and 10 = high, where would you be? How good are you at setting task parameters and letting individual staff figure the rest out for themselves? How often do you do that, and then micro-manage them? Be honest!

Remember, leaders create leaders. The wider the thinking on a given topic, the more likely you are to generate creativity and innovation. My experience of grass roots working, and leading front-line staff, is that they know the job. They need your support from time to time, and motivation and inspiration occasionally. Mostly, they also need you to use your common sense and let them lead their part of the work.

Why people struggle to rise to the occasion

Leadership and common sense should go hand in hand. In my experience, they rarely do.

Why, because people are afraid, insecure and uncertain.

They are afraid to admit they don’t know it all. People are anxious that someone might be better at parts of their job than them or they think someone is after their job. They are uncertain because they are not sure how to progress issues and are afraid to ask for help.

Common sense would tell them that the first is probably true for all of us. But what might be gained by admitting your lack of knowledge or inexperience?

The second may be true, but it doesn’t make that person a better leader or better suited to your particular role. Acknowledging the value and depth of skills, knowledge and experience in your team is a no-brainer for me.

The third may be true for many, but is that a weakness? Imagine what might be gained by just asking?

Thinking, rather than reacting, is the key

My sense is that people spend too much time doing, and too little time thinking. They don’t think sufficiently, and they don’t apply the learning from that thinking. They tend to react or overreact, rather than stop, reflect, review and figure out another way forward. Better still, do that with elements of your team or your whole team, whichever is best suited to the task at hand.

I am still amazed at how many organisations I have encountered over that past 38 years, who have still not mastered this common sense approach. Take proper time out to reflect, review, evaluate and plan. Do it in support and supervision sessions, do it in team meetings or staff away days. Do it wherever is appropriate, but do it, record the outcomes of the thinking and then put those results into practice. If you are seeking excellence in all you do, this is the way forward.

I welcome your comments and enjoy engaging in further dialogue. If I can be of any assistance in coaching your leadership practice or developing greater personal resilience, please just ask.

Contact me on or by calling +447958765972.

I am always happy to listen and ready to help.

Thank you for reading.








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40 Leadership Lessons from the Freedom Trail – #23

My apologies to readers who have followed this incredible journey for the nearly two months gap in posting on this thread. Some new amazing adventures and an eye operation have intervened. However, today I resume my story.

On the 31st August 2013, Lesley, my wife and soulmate, retired after 35 years teaching in secondary schools. Two days later, as planned, we set off for a magical celebratory holiday, taking in New York, California and Oregon. Our trip became known as the ‘Freedom Trail’.

While on the Freedom Trail, I journaled every day and ended each entry with a leadership moment/lesson. With apologies for the absence last week, here’s another one.

john-scott-barry-smilingA leader’s curiosity knows no boundaries

Today was a day of ‘firsts’! Seeing wild elk at Prairie Creek Meadow, taking the Sky Ride to some fabulous vistas, and then seeing ‘Big Country’ Oregon for the very first time, as we crossed over from California were amazing.

However, today was also a day to meet up with two great online buddies, Barry Smith and D Scott Smith from our Lead With Giants community, face-to-face for the very first time! We often talked by Google Hangout, both about Lead With Giants stuff and a joint book project. However, we had never met face-to-face, in person.

So, when they heard I was planning to travel to Northern California, they suggested we meet up. I must confess my US geography was a little shaky, but when I realised it was just across the northern Californian state line, it was a no-brainer!

That was the reason for heading to Oregon, as we were meeting up in Roseburg. Barry and Scott were carpooling to meet up mid-morning.

A Meeting of Giants

barry-john-scott-sitting-smilingI was so excited, as we had been chatting online since December 2012, and I had become firm friends with both Barry and Scott.  You can tell by the smiles what a wonderful occasion it was!

Meeting up with LaRae Quy in San Francisco had been my first Giants/co-author meet up, which was fantastic! We had such a great day and now here was my second opportunity to meet people in person.

Well, what great people – so lovely to meet them. We stayed chatting in the hotel for a while.  It was like meeting old friends.

My wife commented on the photo below that she hoped I was talking about fish! To be honest, we covered so much ground it was incredible.

barry-john-scott-sitting-talkingEventually, we went to lunch and chatted and swapped stories for a happy few hours until it was sadly time for us to head back down south for the next leg of our journey.

My wife and I had counted on staying in Roseburg for maybe a couple of hours. Mount Shasta we knew was a fair drive away. However, time rolled on; we were having a great time and learning so much about each other, and the next thing we knew it was 4 pm!

So, we sadly took our leave, though significantly bolstered by a deeper friendship and the joy of knowing that the characters we knew from virtual reality, were even better in person, just like LaRae!

Our onward drive to Mount Shasta took longer than planned, as a consequence, and we arrived at Mount Shasta in complete darkness. But, that’s a whole other story for next time.

As always, I welcome your comments and dialogue. I also wish you an entertaining and enlightening experience of this series of posts. Thank you for reading.

Leaders’ curiosity knows no boundaries, and they are ever alert to opportunities.

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