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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Here Are 3 Practical Skills Amazing Entrepreneurs Need

In this the last of my series of four posts on being a successful entrepreneur, I focus on the practical skills, and more that you need to drive your enterprise.

hp2mpjt5b6In my view, there are three practical skills any successful entrepreneur requires.

Vision, drive and energy are excellent! However, you have to turn that mental and emotional energy into doing, and repeatedly doing, consistently and relentlessly.

Goal Setting

A vision is superb, but within that vision, you must have achievable goals. These will be steps along the direction of travel you wish to achieve, and indicators that you are moving the right way. You will also accumulate immense satisfaction as you tick off those milestones, knowing that you are driving forward to your anticipated end point.

However, that end point will flex as you achieve one goal after another, moving steadfastly forward. You may also experience some knock backs along the way. These may cause you to review and reset your goals, and then begin your forward momentum again.

Learning from both successes and failures is important in this process, as that will help you assess whether the goals you envisaged are realisable. More importantly, will they deliver the vision you set out?

So, a key question here is – how often and regularly do you set goals? I found this year that writing them down at the start of the year and reviewing them monthly helped me to do two things. One, get a sense of how well I was progressing; and two, assess how realistic my initial goal setting had been. Of the ten goals I set in January, at last three have proven unrealistic. Two I amended and am doing well with, and the third I ditched altogether for next year.

Planning and Organising

Of course, setting goals requires then that you write a plan. Planning, in my view, is something of an art form, and also something that not everyone does or likes to do. My experience of working in the public sector for 25 years taught me that plans were documents you wrote once a year and then largely ignored.

My sense here is about writing a plan that fits for you and your direction of travel. It will usually detail bite-sized chunks of activity that will get you to the goal described. The detail is what you need to write, and I am not talking War and Peace here.

However, the goal and the accompanying plan should follow SMARTER guidance. For those unfamiliar with the last two letters in the acronym, they stand for Evaluate and Review. Plans require assessment and reflection. They should help you know that you are making some, maybe a lot of progress. We spend too little time thinking about what we are doing, so make sure you do this as part fo your plan.

The plan should also help you to organise your activity. Some people lack basic organisation skills, so a written plan in this instance will be a massive boon. If you are working with a team on your vision and goals, then your planning document will help them efficiently achieve their tasks.

Finally, on planning, particularly when you are developing a commercial enterprise, you will need a business plan. Though more focused on the financial aspects of your business, the plan of activities is once again a coherent, considered plan for action to meet your goals. If you are in any way reticent about business planning, call me as this is an area of expertise I have developed over some years.


The third and final practical skill you will need is well-honed decision making. Understanding masses of information, making clear analysis, and weighing up potential consequences of your actions all require good decision-making.

Being confident in your decisions lies at the heart of a less stressful approach to being an entrepreneur. You take all the risks, physical, emotional, and financial, and you need to be sure that, as far as you can tell, the decisions you make are taking you forward.

I would recommend some helpful tools, like Decision Tree Analysis and Grid Analysis, but my favourite by far is Edward De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats. I have tried this out in numerous settings, private, public and third sector, and have always found it effective. It is uncomfortable at times, but what it does is enables every voice from all positions thus delivering the widest possible consideration of the decision at hand. I have used De Bono’s tool with both young people and adults. The outcomes for both were compelling.

Again, if you would like to try it out but are unsure, please contact me, and I can work with you on that.

And finally 

There remain two other key elements that will help mark you out as a successful entrepreneur. Firstly, you need to have certain levels of knowledge, which I describe below. Secondly, you need to be social media savvy and employ that technology to best effect for your enterprise. We live in a digital age and you need to embrace that. However, here’s what I think about knowledge.

Entrepreneurial Knowledge

Here I speak about the knowledge you need to run a business. Do you realise how much hard work it will take to find a business model that works for you? Do you know how you will go about that? Do you understand managing finance? Do you know how to raise investment, if required? How happy or comfortable are you with taking risks and experimenting? Best of all, do you learn from your mistakes and failures and, if you do, how do you put that learning into practice?

My experience of working with many individuals and teams on these matters tells me that two major stumbling blocks arise. One is financial uncertainty. Having a relatively secure paid full-time employment is way different to managing your business independently. You need to decide whether you can live with that uncertainty or not, at least until you establish the operation. Some people are just not cut out for that mental and emotional pressure. How do you feel about that?

Second is understanding financial management sufficiently well to run your enterprise. My advice to you is simple. Find and attend a minimum of a one day course on Finance for Non-Financial Managers. Tonight I Googled that term and returned 17 hits alone on the first page, including a course run by The Open University.

I gave that advice to two close friends last year, both in senior positions within their respective occupations in the third sector. They both sourced the same course, and they both described it as some of the best and inexpensive training they had ever undertaken. Each person acknowledged that it had assisted their ability to manage their respective roles much more efficiently.

And finally, hire an accountant you can build a rapport with and develop trust! I am a trained accountant, and I still have a brilliant accountant. A good one is worth tonnes of gold dust, believe me!

Opportunity-specific knowledge

By this, I mean the depth of understanding you have about your idea, service, product or concept. Is it an innovative proposition? Does it meet particular needs? How easy will it be to bring it to the market? What is the make-up of the market you intend to engage?  How will you determine the price for your idea, product or service? What do you know about marketing? How will this apply to your idea, product or service?

Equally, what do you know of any competitors in your arena? Might you be able to learn from others who have trodden the path before you? Could you find a mentor or coach to help you on this journey? Might there be someone who has taken this pathway and be willing to help you?

I have founded, led and managed five separate commercial businesses. Each slightly different to the other, each presenting some differing challenges. Three of those businesses are still thriving, and I am in the early stages of developing two new joint venture partnerships, a somewhat different model to you running solo on your enterprise.

My learning along the way has been abundant. I have made mistakes, endured disappointments and failures, and experienced highs and lows. What my overall journey has taught me is this final thing.

Is running an enterprise or business for you?

I now know that the decision I took in May 2003 to quit the public sector after 25+ years and begin my own business was my next best decision to marrying my wife.

That business decision and many subsequent decisions have led to a fabulous range of opportunities, outcomes and results. It has not been without its cost, regarding physical, mental and emotional strain.

However, my quality of life has improved immensely over that time, as I have reaped the rewards for the risks that I took, enjoyed working with a broad range of excellent clients, and, in some senses, more importantly, seen some outstanding outcomes and results as a part consequence of my intervention and support to them.

As an independent consultant, I say part impact because it has only ever been a part effect. Either during or at the end of my intervention, my client needed to take action for themselves. I ultimately did not do it for them. However, I have always felt a good deal of pride in a shared professional approach, a sound rapport, a mutual learning journey, and excellent outcomes!

So, whatever your choice, I hope this series of articles about entrepreneurialism has been helpful.

I welcome your comments and enjoy engaging in further dialogue. If I can be of any assistance in coaching your entrepreneurialism 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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Youth work in a time of change in England

The views of young people from Brighton

Over the last eight years, our neighbourhoods and communities in England have seen severe cuts to services we rely on. This includes cuts to local authority funded youth work in England of about 65%, alongside similar cuts in funding to voluntary youth organisations.

Youth work faces difficult times with these cuts and lack of political or policy leadership changing the range and extent of the youth work offer for young people where they live. Brighton is no exception to the dismal picture of cuts and uncertainty and the Council is reviewing future options about what youth services do and how they could be run.

Young people continue to describe how they need and want the non-formal support and advice, the activities and opportunities and the participation in things that affect them where they live which are provided through youth work.

So, what’s been happening?

So what has been happening to youth work in this time of change? Are youth workers and young people doing anything to respond? In Brighton young people have been active for the last three years in coming together across neighbourhoods and interests to share their views and to influence the future. And this October they wanted to find out what other areas in England have been doing. They invited four groups to share their experiences so as to learn from in their campaign to influence the future of youth work in Brighton. The groups were:

22 young people and 12 workers gathered at Spotlight in London to find out how these areas held on to and developed youth work in a time of change.

 What was the conference message?

Young people were delighted to meet and to share their experiences of sharing youth work in a time of change. Their messages to the young people from Brighton were:

  • Keep the motivation.
  • Be persistent. It’s worth it. Think about the service for young people you want.
  • Show other young people in Brighton what you are standing up for. Be resilient.
  • You know you are the voice. We are the voice.
  • Be open to new ideas. Once you’ve started constantly look to improve. Gain new members. Reach out to other young people. Push for good quality assurance.
  • Keep on fighting. We are the next generation.
  • Stand together and don’t be in competition.

 Out of adversity – new models

Part of the story shared at this event is how in England there have developed – out of extreme adversity – working models for youth led and co-owned commissioning and providing of youth work. These are pioneering services and probably unique across the globe. It is an extraordinary achievement and one we are proud to share and to celebrate.

A stark warning

But there was a stark warning from the young people. Their experience as a whole was that, while the changes and new organisational structures have led to more young people’s participation, this has been in the context of money being lost to youth work in the same period. These changes have in some cases benefited young people receiving youth work but not always because of the drain on resources. For most of the group the changes caused by the cuts have helped improve how things are run a bit but not a lot; many would not see the changes as a good thing in themselves and would go back to how things were run if that meant more secure resources for youth work now and in the future.

A report on the conference has been posted by John Thurlbeck on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

This is a guest post on behalf of Bill Badham, Practical Participation, who co-ordinated the event. Bill can be contacted at

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How to become more audacious as an entrepreneur

In this post, the third in a series of four posts about becoming a successful entrepreneur, I focus on the elements that help to make you more audacious as an entrepreneur.

Man walking in train linesWhat do I mean by audacious?

The definition of audacious I’m working to here is showing a willingness to take surprisingly bold risks. In my experience, entrepreneurs are not risk averse. They are prepared to move into spaces where others fear to tread and do so with strength and commitment. How do they do that you might ask when others around them shrink back in trepidation?

From my direct experience of leading five different commercial startups and an active, full-time commercial role in a large national training provider, I would say that key to their willingness to take bold risks is thinking, analysis and forethought.

Creative thinking – the primary element

Within our society how would you classify people who take risks without thinking? My sense is that we would view them as rash, foolhardy, and often as lacking intelligence, some might say stupid! 

If you subscribe to that viewpoint, how do you feel about this further perspective? I also believe that in our society today, let alone among entrepreneurs, we still spend too much time doing, rather than thinking. So, what does that say about how we do things, and what makes successful entrepreneurs different?

The essential difference, in my view, is creative thinking. Excellent entrepreneurs come up with fresh ideas and new concepts. They see situations through many lenses and from differing perspectives. They tease out potential pitfalls and obstacles and try to plan around them.

Their ideas are usually original or great adaptations of a previous design or perception. They give them thought and then apply that thinking.

Are you born creative?

I think that the majority of people believe you are either born creative or you are not! That is complete nonsense. Some people have more flair than others when it comes to creativity. However, like any other skill, you can develop your creativity.

How to develop your creativity

I suggest these eight steps to developing your creativity.

  1. Like any skill, you need to make a commitment to developing creativity, and stick with it!
  2. Try becoming an expert in a particular subject. I would say I am an expert on three things – work with young people, leading and managing transformational change, and leadership and management.
  3. Become insatiably curious, maintain that curiosity, and reward yourself when it takes you to new and exciting places.
  4. Develop a mindset that is willing to take risks. Understand that the adage, ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’, has some meaning. Many people will have heard me say at one time or another, ‘speculate to accumulate’. When I say this, I am declaring my mindset, and my willingness to take risks.
  5. Take small steps in your creativity process. You need to build your confidence incrementally, which will boost your desire and willingness to go further.
  6. Create yourself some space to think, and to develop your creativity. Part of my concern of everyday life is that busyness takes over. We are constantly doing, doing, doing! Make some space to stop, reflect, review and think. Better still, record your thinking in a journal, and return to your writing regularly. I journal every day, including writing three things I am grateful for each day, and review my week on a Sunday. It is now so ingrained it is habitual.
  7. Recognise that the creativity process will not flow from the outset. You will encounter obstacles, not least of which may be negative attitudes which creep in because things feel like they are not going well. Those negative attitudes will block your creativity. Stay secure and satisfied in the knowledge that your perseverance will win through.
  8. Understand that fear of failure is natural, but unwelcome. You need to give yourself permission to experiment, to try things out, and to acknowledge that sometimes things will not work out as you planned. However, review your learning and apply it again, and again, and again.

What else will you develop as you grow?

Interestingly, as you grow, you will find yourself better able to solve problems. You will be looking for solutions to the things you uncover as you think. You might identify a splendid idea, but there are obstacles to overcome. How do you deal with them? By applying sound problem-solving techniques.

There are numerous ones you can use, such as SCAMPER, the 5 Whys, CATWOE, and, of course, ForceField Analysis, which is one that I have regularly used over many years. Try them out, find out which suits your need best at any given time, and apply it rigorously.

You will be amazed at how much further thinking it will generate, and maybe even new ideas and variations of perspectives that you had never considered. Better still, do it with a partner or a team for additional thinking power and be unafraid to ask for help. In my experience, people respect you more if you do that.

What else will happen as you create solutions?

I have noticed that the more solution focused I become, the greater the range of opportunities I recognise. I see trends and patterns emerging that I had not seen previously, and these lead to new ideas and possibilities.

However, best of all, identifying solutions and opportunities give you a sound base from which to plan. Creativity and problem-solving do not exist in a vacuum. They should lead to action, to some defined outcome. In most cases, this would manifest in a plan to take your thinking forward.

In my final post in this series on Thursday, 24th November 2016, I will set out some of the practical skills that I think would take your creativity, problem-solving and opportunity identification forward.

I welcome your comments and enjoy engaging in further dialogue. If I can be of any assistance in coaching your entrepreneurialism 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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7 Excellent Interpersonal Skills Here For Authentic Entrepreneurs

In my last post, I began a series of four posts reflecting on the skills needed to become a successful entrepreneur. In this second post, I focus on the seven core interpersonal skills and abilities that all successful entrepreneurs need to drive their enterprises.

City at NightWhy Interpersonal Skills and Abilities?

As a successful entrepreneur, you’ll have to work in close collaboration with people. You will deal with them on all sides and in different ways. It is, therefore, critical to developing your relationships with them be it on your team, with your customers, suppliers, and stakeholders, and potentially investors.

Some people might appear more gifted than others when it comes to interpersonal expertise, but I know from coaching and mentoring many people over the years that you can develop, learn and improve it. As I noted in my last post, you start with self-awareness. The more you learn about yourself, the more you can improve, the better chance you have of growing excellent interpersonal skills.

In my experience. these are the seven critical interpersonal skills any emerging and developing entrepreneur requires:

  1. Motivation

How well are you motivated to do what is needed to drive your idea or your passion? Are you a self-starter, or do you need others to take you? I talked with a colleague this week, whose employment contract ends in December. I asked what plans she had for a new job, and she mentioned that friends were encouraging her to go free-lance. In the same conversation she also freely admitted she was lazy. Believe me, being lazy and being an entrepreneur is an oxymoron!

  1. Ethics

What is your ethical base? How much do you live your principles and values? How readily do you share those values and ensure those around you clearly understand, respect and observe them? Do you treat people with respect, fairness, integrity and honesty?

My upbringing by a Presbyterian mother with strong values and a passion for change for the better and a Mackem father who loved history, books and practical problem solving, provided a fantastic model for embedding and practising a strong ethical base. My approach is often favourably remarked. I have honed and fine-tuned my approach over the years, but my platform remains politeness, common courtesy, and an openness to all.

  1. Communication

In the modern day, can you communicate across all media? Are your verbal skills polished? Do you write fluently and concisely? More importantly, can you apply these same skills across a range of social media? Are you not only familiar with those media, but also comfortable in using them? Do you know which media will work for your and your enterprise?

I have always been an articulate and erudite communicator, both verbally and in writing. I have a grammar school education and an abiding passion for reading to thank for that. However, my son made my first website out of a WordPress blog in Christmas 2010. He urged me to take up social media and to blog too, so that I was ‘visible’ in a crowded marketplace, I was just 58 years old. Social media was a different planet altogether. Six years on, through an organic growth process, I use various social media channels fluently and love to engage them. I also learn brilliantly from them.

Remember, the core of a successful entrepreneur, wherever they are, is selling their vision of the future to a range of interested parties. And we live in a global marketplace! Excellent communication has never been more vital.

  1. Listening

I am a huge advocate and practitioner of positive dialogue. It’s about mutual, satisfactory understanding through the interchange of ideas, views and positions. It’s about the flow of meaning. It’s about adding value to mutual understanding. It’s about avoiding polarisation, and not stifling conflicting or different points of view.

However, it is mostly about active listening, about listening with an empathetic ear.

Active listening is hearing what other people are saying, not waiting for your opportunity to speak more. It is also about taking what you hear and doing something positively with it. Building deep relationships with a range of people has at its core listening actively. And you will need those contacts to drive a successful enterprise.

  1. Emotional Intelligence

“Great leadership works through emotions. If leaders fail in this primal task of driving emotions in the right direction, nothing they do will work as well as it could or should.”

So said Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee in their seminal work in 2002, Primal Leadership: realizing the power of emotional intelligence. 

The study of neurogenesis – the growth of brain cells, and their use for learning, continues apace and has revolutionised thinking about how we can grow and develop. I am fascinated by this and other linked research.

I believe myself to be emotionally intelligent and feedback from many people over the years suggest this is the case. That is why I remain wedded to the view that being authentic is at its core about managing your emotions and those of others around you. The accepted view is that the higher your Emotional Intelligence score, the easier it is for you to do this and work with others. The good news is that it is possible to improve your score.

Two effective ways are one, to become more intentional, drawing on the motivational force of your prefrontal lobes; and two, become more practical. According to Goleman, we all have acquired bad habits that replacing. Becoming more practical, focusing on simple, repeatable steps that model a better practice, helps us to remove those bad habits and cement better habits.

  1. Negotiation

I find it remarkable that as long as I have worked in various sectors, I have met only a few people who have had formal training in this skill set. What most people call negotiation, in my experience, is no more than a form of horse trading, akin to crude bargainings, like selling your house, car or some other possession.

Proper negotiation is about truly valuing the other party and each understanding the other’s position. It is about ensuring that you each walk away from the negotiation feeling you have gained, and although this may involve compromise, you do not feel oppressed or cheated in the process.

When I was working for Hereford and Worcester County Council Youth Service many years ago, they invested in negotiation skills training for all senior and middle managers. It was one of the best courses I ever attended and the lessons I learned then have served me well ever since.

So, for the sake of successful enterprises, be sure to seek out some negotiation training.

  1. Leadership

Many of the above skills and abilities are intrinsic to being a successful leader, and entrepreneur. However, are you able to lead yourself? Leadership begins within you, and so your starting point should be a reflection of what you know, what you bring, and how you demonstrate that leadership?

That leadership will come from different learning, new knowledge, broad experience, and a range of skills, abilities and knowledge that you will grow as you develop. It should enable you to lead and motivate others. It should also allow you to delegate work to others, to provide you with the opportunity to deal with more strategic and developmental matters.

In the summer of 1970, I failed to secure an officer candidate opportunity for the Royal Military Academy on the last day of the selection process. In August 1996, I became Head of the Sunderland City Council Youth Service. In April 2015, I published my first co-authored book on leadership, and I am now writing my first solo book on leadership. Those small examples demonstrate that leadership is a journey. It is about doing, not about titles. It is most of all about learning.

I welcome your comments and enjoy engaging in further dialogue. If I can be of any assistance in coaching you 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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Do you want to be an amazing entrepreneur?

With apologies for a break in posting occasioned by recent holidays in WiFi random Tenerife, and a successful eye operation, here’s my latest post, the first in a series of four, on the subject of becoming a successful entrepreneur, which describes the skills, mindset and attitudes you need to become amazingly successful.

Man on a mountain topStart where you are!

While it certainly helps to have strong technology skills or depth of expertise in a particular area, these are not defining characteristics of entrepreneurship. Instead, you need self-awareness, and the desire and determination to either grow or build upon some essential traits such as creativity, mental, physical and moral resilience – in particular, enduring in the face of difficulties, and the social and transformational skills needed to build excellent teams.

Why be an entrepreneur?

I became a private sector entrepreneur just short of my 51st birthday. In truth, I’d been an entrepreneur much of my time in my previous 25+ years in the public sector, as every job role required me to develop a business. Many people, too many in fact, thought of them as public services, but I always regarded them as businesses. To my mind, you need to be entrepreneurial whenever you want to take things forward.

So, in my public sector career, I might have pursued so-called ‘funny money’ [Government and European funding], explored and developed new products and services, improved my customers’ experiences, built great teams, or whatever was required to make a real impact and a real difference. 

Defining entrepreneurship

Some experts think of entrepreneurs as people who are willing to take risks that other people are not. Others define them as individuals who start and build successful businesses.

However, thinking about the first of these definitions, for me, entrepreneurship doesn’t necessarily involve starting your own business. It is more normal now to recognise people who don’t work for themselves as entrepreneurs within their organisations. On making the change to the private sector, and managing my business, I noticed a marked increase in being labelled an entrepreneur. I’d argue that I’ve been an entrepreneur a lot longer than the last fourteen years.

So, what does it take?

Irrespective of how you define an “entrepreneur,” one thing is sure: becoming a successful entrepreneur isn’t easy, and it is even harder to become an amazingly successful entrepreneur.

So, what enables one person to successfully take the plunge, while an equally skilled or knowledgeable person does not? Are entrepreneurs somehow genetically different? Or do they have a different view of the world?

Though many researchers have studied the subject, there seem to be no definitive answers. What is known is that successful entrepreneurs seem to have certain elements in common. These items are:

  • Personal characteristics;
  • Interpersonal skills;
  • Critical and creative thinking skills; and,
  • Practical skills.

In today’s post, I will focus on the first of the elements.

Personal characteristics

I noted above that you need to start where you are. So you first need to examine your personal characteristics, values, and beliefs. Do you have the mindset that’s typical of successful entrepreneurs? You can assess this by answering honestly the questions detailed below.

  • Optimism: Are you a positive thinker?  Positivity is a critical asset, as it will get you through difficult times while you are finding what works for you?
  • Vision: Can you quickly grasp the ‘big picture’, and provide an explanation to others? Do you often see where things can be improved? Are you able to create a compelling vision of the future, and then inspire other people to engage with that idea?
  • Initiative: Are you a curious person, keen to explore new ideas and concepts, and always ready to solve problems and happy to take the initiative?
  • A Desire for Control: Do you see yourself as a leader, willing to offer a compelling vision that others might follow?
  • Drive and Persistence: Do you have high levels of enthusiasm and energy? Are you a self-starter, and are you willing to work hard to achieve your goals?
  • Risk Tolerance: How risk-averse are you? Will you take calculated chances, even when the information available to you is unclear or uncertain?
  • Resilience: Are you physically, mentally and morally resilient? Are you able to get up when knocked down or back? More importantly, are you a continuous learner, growing from your mistakes and failures?

The missing ingredient

To complete my thoughts on the personal characteristics required of amazingly successful entrepreneurs, I’d suggest there is one missing element from the list above. When I was contemplating moving from the public to the private sector, back in May of 2003, I discussed my idea with my wife and son at length.

We shuttled back and forth over as many pros and cons we could identify. Arriving at our collective decision about a new career pathway revealed the missing ingredient – courage. We all had to take the plunge, as my new job faced uncertainty, risk and potentially failure.

We took the plunge, and now, in my fourteenth year as an independent consultant, we have never looked back, except to say what a great idea it was and how delighted we were to take that decision. The courage of belief, of action, of your ability to overcome obstacles and limitations, is necessary to make a success of your choice. Holding your nerve when things don’t go well, managing periods of frenetic activity with periods of calm, being clear about managing money and cash flow, all take courage. If you have it, take the plunge. If you don’t, stay 9 – 5 and the security of a regular salary.

I welcome your comments and enjoy engaging in further dialogue. If I can be of any assistance in coaching you 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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