Feel Like a Vending Machine - Ask More Questions.


Many leaders feel like a vending machine. Staff come to them with problems. They dispense solutions. It's exhausting and keeps leaders down in the weeds, rather than focussed on higher level thinking and work. The article I wrote about it hit a nerve and provoked some questions. Over the next few weeks, we'll explore some tips for getting out of the 'vending machine' cycle.

One of the easiest ways to break the cycle is ask more questions. Questions help you and your staff think through the issue and understand it. From your point of view, you want to be able to offer assistance (if it's genuinely needed) without bailing people out too easily. From their point of view, assisting them to think about the issue increases their understanding and ultimately their capacity. For both of you, the process builds greater trust and understanding making future issues and delegated tasks easier to tackle.


Here are some great questions to ask. You don't need all of them every time. One or two insightful questions create the space for your staff member to come up with their own solutions. They also identify what your most useful contribution to the issue, or your staffs development might be. Even if it is an issue that needs input from you, ask some questions first. It establishes an expectation that staff will think for themselves, and that you value/trust their input. The three questions in bold italics are almost always worth asking.

  • Who is involved in this issue? Who does the issue impact the most? Who would benefit from a solution? Are there any people this impacts who may not be aware of it yet? Who raised the issue? Who do we need to communicate with as we work on a solution?
  • When did you become aware of this? Are there any significant or critical timeframes we need to consider?
  • Where are the resources you need? Do you have access to them?
  • How would you solve the problem? 
  • Why is this important to you/us/the company/our stakeholders? Why do you need my assistance?
  • What is the impact if it isn't solved? What would it take to solve it? What resources/connections/networks would help? What attempts have you made to solve the issue? What do you think would be the most effective solution? What barriers (if any) are there to you doing that?

Go on - Unplug that vending machine!

Leading like a Vending Machine


Do your staff keep expecting you to have all the answers and solve all the problems? Do you wish they would show a bit more initiative and try to solve their own problems? Does the constant flow of requests from your team add to your daily pressure and work load? If you answered yes to any of those questions, perhaps you are leading like a vending machine. Over the years I have  coached many leaders who experience this issue. I coined the phrase "Vending Machine Manager". 

Staff come to the Vending Machine Manager and punch in a request "B4". The machine shakes and rattles a bit. There's a couple of clunking sounds. Out of the flap pops the perfect answer or solution to their problem. It's cool and it's sweet. Next time they have a problem, they remember how easy it was. How cool and sweet it was. Back they come. They punch in "A9", and walk away satisfied. Before long, the Vending Machine Manager has a constant flow of traffic wearing out the floor in front of their work station. "D7", Clunk, WooHoo. "F2" Clunk, WooHoo. "B6"Clunk, WooHoo. On and on it goes - and your workload continues to grow.

From a survival point of view, humans are designed to find the easiest return for energy expended. The Vending Machine Manager plays straight into the hands of that design. To change the dynamic you need to move from dispensing answers to building capacity. Work with your team to build their own knowledge and skill. Make them experts in their own right. If you keep vending, they'll keep coming. Change the game!

The Engine Room

I love working with Small to Medium Enterprise. Talk about adaptable. This segment of the business world is filled with people who see opportunities and move. In many ways they are the engine room of the Australian economy. So many businesses which translate to jobs and opportunities of all shapes and sizes.


The entrepreneurial mind is exciting. People who take risks to bring ideas and people together have many of the same attributes of those who survive against the odds in survival situations.


And despite being many, many people across the country, they often work in relative isolation - whenever I can, I like to support their work.


On the 21st September I’m teaming up with the Growth Box in Malaga to present “Thrive and Adapt – tools for success”


If you are a business owner or leader who would like to network with others over breakfast and come away inspired, come and join us.


The short video is an interview I did with Clive Haddow, CEO at the Growth Box about the event. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SGt-rn-yJFc

and tickets can be booked via this link.




By the way, I’m doing this event free of charge to support the work of Growth Box and all the great SME’s out there. I hope to see you on 21st September for brekky.

Buildings, Births and The Beat

100 years. Depending on how you look at it, it's either a long time or a short one. In cosmic terms it's less than blink of an eye. In lifespans it's either one really long one or around 1.3 average length ones. In career terms, it's about 3 working lifetimes (unless you are a professional sports person in which case it's a lot more).

So much has changed in 100 years. Back in 1917 The tallest structure in the world was the Eiffel Tower. More than 95% of births happened at home. There was no such thing as Mother's Day. Pneumonia was still the leading cause of death.  The average life span was around 50! Perth wan't even connected to the national phone system until 1930.

HB Dugdale and LE Chipper.jpg

In 1917 Helen Dugdale (L) and Laura Chipper (R) made history. They were the first women in WA's Police Service. I'm privileged to present tomorrow among some other awesome speakers to mark the 100 year anniversary of Women in Policing in our state. As I have prepared for the event, I'm humbled by the number of "firsts" that continue to happen as pioneering women stand up and tackle roles that are traditionally male.

The day before something is a breakthrough, it’s just another crazy idea
— Peter Diamandis

Firsts take effort. You have to make your own road. There's no chance to follow or learn from others, only to do the best you can with what you have got. Often there's a lack of resources and active opposition. We've got a lot of pioneers in this state. It's a line from well before colonial times right up to the moment. I'm honoured to be asked to celebrate Women in Policing, and it makes me grateful for all the incredible changes made by courageous people who built their own road.


A Reason to Celebrate?

Today is the winter solstice for us southern hemispherians.  From today the days gradually get a little lighter. I have written before about the power of gratitude to shift how we see the world. It contributes to mental and physical wellbeing, creativity, ability to solve problems, get along with others and a host of other benefits. Mid winter is a time for celebration and gratitude in many cultures - why not pause today and reflect on what you are grateful for.

As I write this the sun is coming up and there is a cacophony of birds chorusing outside. I'm grateful for their song and the opportunities this day brings.

Six Things I Learnt at Comedy School

Each year I set myself a challenge. Some of them have been physical adventures, others reflective or learning. The idea is to stretch myself beyond my comfort zone. I wrote more about why here http://www.mikehouse.com.au/blog/2017/2/15/staying-fresh

This year my challenge was a 6 week stand up comedy course. Graduation was a 5 minute stand up set in front of a live audience. Even though I speak for a living, this was very different - and very confronting. Thanks very much to all the people who supported me on the journey and bravely faced 7 newly minted comics on the night.

Here's what I learnt:

  • Process and method rock - If you can learn the mechanics of what you want to achieve it saves effort and significantly ups your chance of success. Having a mentor/teacher who knows the territory speeds the learning up even more.
  • Process and method are not enough - All the courses, books, videos and you tube clips in the world are not enough to prepare you to do something well. No matter which way you slice it, that takes some time and elbow grease.
  • None of it counts til you are on stage - Process, method, work - all good, but the only way you can know if it works is step into the spotlight and have a crack. Those lights are bright and it feels exposed. There are so many areas in work, life and relationships where we encounter challenging moments and just have to go for it. The alternative is to timidly wonder how it might have been.
  • Theres nothing like a deadline - Even the day before, I didn't feel ready. Knowing I had to deliver put some urgency into the prep.
  • You might have to step out of your well worn grooves - I speak for a living, so I have some very effective and efficient ways of preparing. This was different, and I found I needed to take a different approach to my preparation. Sometimes we can generalise knowledge and skill from one thing to another. Sometimes you have to break new ground. Just doing that made me much more aware of how I normally work, and gave me the opportunity to refine it.
  • They don't laugh where you think they will - Some of the bits I thought were hilarious got no response from the audience... and they laughed a lot at some bits I didn't think were funny. It reminds me of the Tech/start up concept of minimum viable product - to truely know if something will work, you need to get it to a "customer" and find out what they think.

 If you'd like to see how I went here it is. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FNTfFEGpj30&t=2s

When the game is over move on

I was talking to a colleague who has a rapidly growing business in entertainment. They manage artists, bring shows to Perth and create venues for great content. She's a great leader with a clear vision for her business. Her team are excited about creating it with her. With growth come several inevitable challenges for leaders. Systems have to move and evolve to keep up with where you want to get to. As the team grows, vision and leadership become more important, and simultaneously more diluted - Getting good and consistent messaging to staff and the market about what you are doing is critical. Growth also means that there may be times when staff who were a good fit when you were a different size, no longer are.

My colleague was describing a couple of conversations she had with staff who had been with her a while. In the early days, they had been awesome - Productive, switched on and enthusiastic. But that had waned.  She had spent considerable time with them attempting to recreate how it had been but nothing seemed to be working. Motivation continued to drop and they were starting to get in the way of progress.

She decided to have a straight conversation about the expectations they each had for the business and the role to see if that would lead anywhere productive. End result, the person left and was relieved. The staff member had been feeling obliged to stay with the business - feeling she would let the owner down if she left. She'd been excited about it when she first joined and had been a big part of creating the success. The rapid expansion was hard for her though, and she really liked smaller teams than this one was now. She found the constant evolution and growth stressful and wearing.

When they had an open conversation about what the owner needed from staff, and how her staff felt about the environment, it became clear to them both that it was time to move on. For the business it has been like taking a foot off the brake. A new person has joined with skill and enthusiasm for the current business, rather than what it once was. No doubt the person who left is also feeling relieved.

Situations like this are often stressful for everyone involved. It's easy to become victim to unspoken expectations and assumptions. Our perspective gets bent out of shape, and sometimes that results in conversations like this one becoming adversarial when there was no need for that.

Actions we can take:

Employers/Leaders/Managers - Set up clear expectations for people and roles early, and check in with them often. Use as many opportunities as you can to deepen you/your teams understanding of the expectations. Create an environment where conversations about what we expect and whether those expectations are being met are safe and regular. Don't let things fester. If there is tension, friction or conflict do something about it as soon as possible - most big problems start out a small ones.

If you work for someone else - Be bold about asking for clarification of what the business expects from you. If your ecxpectations are not being met, raise the issue and explore it. Don't let things fester. If there is tension, friction or conflict do something about it as soon as possible - most big problems start out a small ones.

For both - If it's time to move on - do it.

Get the Basics Right


Anecdotal feedback from many leaders in many sectors suggest Western Australia is currently facing challenging times. It seems that there is more effort required to secure a sale, and that buyers are more consciously looking for lower cost and/or higher value for their spend. Providing good quality and timely service is always important. In a tough market it seems to me that it is essential. Scrap that - I reckon it's essential all the time. I'm amazed at how ofter I hear of businesses not even getting the basics right. In a buoyant market, it may be overlooked, but in a tight one, it could be enough to get you side lined.

A good mate of mine supervises technical work crews. His role is to liaise with clients, ensure the work is done to spec and act as a technical/safety back up to his crew. He gets deployed all over the world. He has two skills that I reckon make him stand out from the crowd:

  • He's quick - His work rate is high, but more importantly he can get to an unfamiliar location and quickly get his head around the skillset of his crew, the issues on site, and build rapport with the people he needs to liaise with.
  • Great Communication - He'll make sure every one is in the loop. He anticipates issues and gets in front of them. And he's always on the look out for ways to improve the standing of his company and their reputation with clients.

As a result he often gets pulled off his main job to sort out potential issues, and it's amazing how often this is the result of the basics not being covered properly. Recently, the supervisor that was replacing him on the next shift did not have the minimum qualifications to supervise the job. If he had left without rectifying the situation the whole job would have stopped costing many thousands and who knows what in terms of reputation. It's a basic of the job. A fundamental specification that was either overlooked or ignored. That seems an unnecessarily high risk to me.

But it must happen a fair bit - I'm amazed at how often people tell me of clients who are grateful for something that seems pretty basic - like follow up, or customer service, or delivering on an agreement, or holding yourself accountable.

I'm sure we have all experienced the receiving end when the basics are not done well. My wife and I did an online booking for a restaurant a while back. We got the usual email confirmation. When we arrived we were told there was no booking. "On line" we said. The owner then proceeded to berate us for using the online system which was broken. We got a table and breakfast, but we haven't been back, and possibly neither have several other parties who were in earshot of the dressing down we got.

A warm greeting at the door is a basic. It is called hospitality after all, unless they changed it to hostility while I slept.

One of the easiest and most underrated ways to stand out, regardless of your job, position or level of ownership is simply to do what you say you will do. I my mind that includes the basics which are surely implied if not explicitly stated. 

If for some reason it is not possible to deliver on the basics, be courteous, accountable and professional while you negotiate a solution. It will help you stand out from the crowd, and often the only cost is discipline.

Banking for the Future

What's it like being on the team you are on? The experience can be dynamic and productive. A great team performs well, exceeding the results that any one member could achieve. Other teams get in their own way. When the objectives are not clear and people are not pulling their weight, a team can add work and confusion. 2017 has been dominated with discussions about teams for me. Leaders and team members have been tackling the ingredients for high performance and also dysfunction. Over the next few weeks I'll share a series of insights about teams from both sides.

"You have to bank for the future and trust that will get you through the challenges"

Picture this:

The sector you are in is facing the largest change it has seen in 40 years. There's widespread optimism about the change, but also lots of confusion. The big picture looks compelling but for some individual staff and customers it's not great. People are looking for answers and they are not always available - not because anyone is trying to mislead - simply because many things are still on the drawing board. The nature of jobs is changing. Employees are dealing with their own uncertainty while facing a barrage of customer uncertainty and angst. 

One leader reflected on the unofficial nature of some of the teams he is leading. Groups of people who are held together more by relationships and common ground, than because they are an actual team. He spoke of "banking" trust and reliability. Doing the right thing consistently. Following through on promises. 

In an environment that is totally relationship based these are the only tools available to make the team perform. They are powerful tools and in a more formal team setting they often get overlooked.

How do you build trust within your team? I reckon the most powerful way to influence trust is to consistently do what you say you will do. Regardless of whether you are a leader, or a team member, backing yourself in this way creates a sense of certainty and reliability around you. "Banking" credit in relationships will help when the team faces challenges. 

HUH? - Digital Dialogue

The beep of an incoming message had me reaching for my phone. New text message. From a colleague and mate. Like me, he helps people get better at understanding each other and communicating better. The communication between us is some of the best work place comms I have ever experienced. Clear, precise and with each of us checking we have an actual understanding, rather than just an assumed one.

We'd exchanged a few short txts to clarify details of a meeting. We were pretty much done, so I expected his last message would be a simple confirmation.

So the txt baffled me. It was long. It was filled with heaps of detail about the meeting. It seemed to have an impatient tone about it - which would be fair enough. We'd been through the detail days ago.

I started quizzing myself about what it meant. I imagined him feeling frustrated, and wondered if the level of trust we had built had been damaged somehow. I felt mildly angry - does he think I'm stupid, or disorganised? Maybe both.

I sent back:


His reply:


All of a sudden it was clear. He was responding to uncertainty from my end. But I had not sent 2 question marks. I had sent 2 thumbs up emojis, universally understood in our part of the world as "ALL GOOD".

Somewhere in the mobile network/smart phone universe my "ALL GOOD" had changed to "HUH?"

It was a moment when both of us could have acted on our frustration and sent messages back and forth that made the situation muddier and inserting little needles of damage into our otherwise excellent comms.

I often say that friction, tension or conflict, however slight, are an indication that there are different perspectives at play. Sometimes it also means blind spots are being created. If you become aware of of tension, friction or conflict pause and notice how you might react - I was on the verge of slightly crisp and sarcastic response to his txt. Switch on your curiosity and see if you can understand where the other person is coming from. Curiosity will create clarity.

And beware the emoji - regardless of what you meant, who knows what comes out the other side.

The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place
— George Bernard Shaw

Staying Fresh

Do you ever get into a groove? Not the helpful sort that's characterised by flow and productivity, but the sort where you feel you are getting stale. Depending on how deep and long it is you might even call it a rut. I reckon it's part of human nature to experience these times. Most people I speak to have experienced it at least once. Maybe it's a product of our search for certainty.

We are wired to manage our environment in a way that creates some certainty and predictability. Depending on personality and background, some people like more certainty than others. Some of us follow very precise and ordered sequences for almost everything we do. Going back to the same coffee shop, talking to the same people and driving the same way to work are all examples. Others will seek greater variety, sometimes going to extremes. But even then there are ways they create certainty. In the high risk sport of wing suit proximity flying for example, people spend huge amounts of time planning until they are certain enough of the outcome to make the jump. Despite appearances, they don't have a death wish.

Part of life is finding your personal balance between variety and certainty. Enough variety that you don't fall into a rut. Enough certainty that you feel comfortable.

Every year I intentionally do at least one thing that I have never done before. It keeps me fresh. I search for a challenge that will push back some boundaries and expose me to new skills. The experience should induce a bit of fear I reckon - something that puts me in a position of being a beginner with a lot to learn. For me a tandem skydive, or bungy jump would not meet the criteria. While both would be scary and definitely get me out of my comfort zone, neither requires me to learn. In both situations I'm dependant on an expert. 

This year's challenge is a stand-up comedy course that ends with a 5 minute stand-up performance to a live audience. I'm getting sweaty palms just writing about it. Some people don't believe me when I say that, after all I speak for a living, and sometimes it's humorous. But comedy is different I reckon. There's something very exposed about being on stage specifically to make people laugh. And there's nowhere to hide if it doesn't work. Humour is a pretty personal thing as well. What makes me laugh might not make you laugh. It could be a long 5 minutes!  

I recommend this kind of personal stretch at least once a year for anyone. 

  • It keeps you fresh.
  • It's great for brain health.
  • You become more aware of yourself, and sometimes find strength and resources you didn't know you had.
  • You'll probably have some fun.

I think it's especially important for leaders.

  • It reminds you what it's like to be lead, especially if the leader is asking you to stretch yourself.
  • It reminds you that you don't know everything.
  • It awakens creativity and insight that are impossible to access from the rut.
  • It makes you more aware of what it takes to create an environment where people are willing to follow.

What will you do to challenge yourself this year?

If you want to join me at the school of comedy details are here. https://www.schoolofcomedy.com.au/stand-up/

If you want some other ideas here's my article on the same subject from last year.


Rude = Expensive

I looked across the track at the small collection of gear I had packed for this advanced survival exercise. It was nearly dark and I was being patted down to ensure I had nothing other than a pocket sized survival kit on me. I glanced nervously at my eight companions as our gear was thrown into the back of a vehicle. We were handed an envelope and our instructors drove into the gathering darkness, leaving us alone. We opened the envelope and read our instructions, "You are somewhere on one of your 3 maps ... ".

In hindsight the next three days were characterised by hasty decisions and poor communication as we struggled to come to terms with our circumstances. We also lashed out at each other - verbal sparring as we vented frustration about our external circumstances on each other.

Over the 20 years I worked as a survival instructor it never ceased to amaze me how easily individuals and groups could be made to feel they were at threat. In that state, people are more reactive than normal and results definitely suffer. It's amazing how rarely people pause to consider the best course of action.

In the modern work context a sense of threat is not unusual either. Most workplaces experience some level of uncertainty. Mostly it's from circumstances beyond our direct control. One possible reaction is rudeness to the people around us. I can certainly think of more than one occasion when my conduct was not as good as it could have been.

Rudeness in itself is enough to make people feel at threat. It damages psychological safety (How safe people feel). And it doesn't have to be extreme (or deliberate) to have an impact.

  • Raised voices
  • Harsh words
  • Intimidating body language
  • Slammed doors
  • Banter and sarcasm
  • Side conversations and excluding people
  • Disregard for people's time
  • Sending emails, taking calls, checking watches while you should be listening to someone
  • Not following through on things you said you would do

Over the last two decades, Christine Porath and colleagues have researched rudeness in the workplace. They clearly identify many impacts on individuals, teams and bottom line. A recent article in HBR summarises their findings and others in the field. If you want the detail you can find it at hbr.org/2017/01/how-rudeness-stops-people-from-working-together

How we treat each other is largely a choice. We can choose to be civil, even in the most demanding environments. It's one of the few things that we have direct control over which has a massive and positive impact on our team environment. It's an easy way to directly impact cohesion, trust, productivity and engagement. It also takes effort and attention.

All of us have moments where we crack or fray and resort to rudeness out of frustration. Perfect politeness is not the goal. But in situations when we accept rudeness from ourselves and others it gets worse, not better. Increasing levels of incivility become the norm of 'how things are done around here'. Looking at Porath's research, it's way too expensive on almost every measure to allow that. And it's on the rise.

Reflect on how you, your team and your business conduct themselves when some of these common stressors occur:

  • Giving or receiving feedback about performance
  • A new deadline, or urgent of piece of work
  • A customer complaint
  • The photocopier crapping out in the middle of an urgent print run
  • An interruption when you are in the flow of work
  • New (and probably onerous) requirements from an external regulator, customer or market
  • A long day to meet a deadline
  • Scope creep
  • A financial loss
  • Personal pressures from outside work like a puking kid, unexpected bill, or relationship problems
  • Something not going to plan

Here are four things you can do to influence how cohesive and effective your team is. A single individual can influence others by paying attention to these things. It's even more effective when whole teams (or organisations) decide to remove rudeness from their environment.

  1.  Aim - to treat each other well in spite of the pressures you face. Work on respect and integrity. Even when there are hard messages to deliver or receive, do it politely.  
  2. Recognise - the kinds of situations that tend to push your personal buttons. What about the team? Start spotting rudeness and noticing its impact. Also recognise that different people have different levels of skill around rudeness. It's much easier to avoid if you have had lots of examples through life of people who handle adversity without getting rude. 
  3. Clarify - the kinds of behaviour that you want to see, and the ones to avoid. Also the situations that may trigger rudeness. Be as specific as you can. Discuss it politely away from heated moments. Talk about what you will do when you see, experience or perpetrate rudeness. Discuss how you might raise the bar and hold each other to account. Explore where the line is between healthy banter and rudeness for your team. When people do something you consider rude, give a clear example of both the behaviour and its impact on you.
  4. Apologise - when you notice something you did or said had a negative impact on others. Do it whenever you know you have crossed the line, however small the crossing might be. Accept other people's apologies with grace. Remember it is unlikely to be perfect, cut each other some slack.



4 tips for leaders under pressure

I'm kicking my year off with a bang! Next week I'm working with a diverse group of forty leaders. Together they represent State Primary Schools, Oil and Gas, Health, Environmental Services, Not-For-Profits, Human Services. There's a mix of people who founded and own their business, and others who are entrusted to lead it. Some are large, publicly listed companies and some are small. 

Together we'll be looking at Leadership Under Pressure! Regardless of sector or size, leaders are facing unprecedented levels of pressure and change. Leaders are dynamic people with a passion for getting great results. Sometimes that has an impact on their own wellbeing. Here are four tips for leaders under pressure.

Breathe - It's easy to get caught up in the rapid fire transitions between all the meetings, roles and responsibilities of the modern leader. We are not well adapted to that, but it's not an option to stop either. It all has an impact - adding stress hormones to our bodies, reducing sleep, gaining weight etc. Slow rhythmic breathing sends a clear signal to your body to switch off the stress response. Unless you are a well practiced monk, it's unlikely that you'll get through a whole day focussed on how you are breathing, so just focus on the transitions. As you are going from one thing to another pause and take 3 long slow rhythmic breaths. It will help shed the stress of what you just did and focus more effectively for your next leadership challenge. It's quick, easy and effective.

Nature - There's piles of research showing that even small amounts of time in nature rejuvenate us in all kinds of ways. Creativity, problem solving and mental clarity all improve, as do wellbeing and resilience. There's lots of other benefits too. See if you can get a small slice of nature every day. Lunch in a park, walk, meet by the riverside, sit under a tree (also a great place for a meeting) watch a flock of birds.

Clarity - A leaders role can sometimes feel like an endless repeat of the same messages. That's a good thing. Investing time making sure people understand vision, direction and expectations is rarely wasted. It's easy to get caught up in endless frenetic doing which can result in a lack of clarity. In turn that breeds confusion and inefficiency. I see so many teams doing work over because of lack of clarity. It sucks energy, motivation and resources. Make it a priority to build clarity. Even if it takes you away from your immediate task list, the result will be more progress in the long run.

Progress - For many of the things we work on, it's hard to feel a sense of progress. Take time each day to acknowledge the achievements of the team. Creating a sense of progress is a great way to inject energy and maintain motivation.

I'd love to hear from you about what sustains you under pressure.

Wishing you a 2017 filled with great leadership moments!




Add Gratitude

Several people commented last week about Adding Gratitude. It hit a chord. Some of you were grateful for the reminder. Some wonder how. Here are some practical ways to add gratitude over the next few weeks.

  • Service People - Say a genuine thanks for their service in restaurants, bars, transport, shops, entertainment and more. At this time of year service people often bear the brunt of people's frustration. Stop and consider for a moment how this busy time of year is for them and what their service enables you to do. Say thanks and tell them why you are grateful.
  • Booze Busses - Imagine the impact of looking the cop in the eye and saying "Thanks for the delay - I'm grateful that you are helping keep our streets safe.
  • For leaders - Your people! What have you been able to achieve this year with them. You might express gratitude to them individually, or in a card. Maybe you'll do it a a big function.
  • For Followers - Your Leaders! Leaders rarely get thanked. It's more common that they will see only the issues and problems that people want them to solve. What opportunities have been created for you by the leaders in your life.
  • When you get a gift - Ok so it's not what you wanted. If all you do is compare your gift to your expectation, you are likely to be disappointed. Be grateful for the time and thought that someone has taken to get you a gift.
  • Loved Ones - Often the people closest to us see us at our worst. At busy times of year like Christmas, it can seem like you are just plowing through endless lists of things to do. Deliberately set the intention of being kind and gentle to each other. Tell each other why you love them. Take the time to notice and tell them about at least one thing a day that they did to make your life easier, feel more supported, or put a smile on your face.
  • Yourself - What are some of your greatest strengths and passions. What opportunities have you had. What skills do you possess.
  • Connect with Place - Some times life throws massive challenges our way. In times like this gratitude can be hard. For many Christmas is a sad and depressing time of year filled with challenges. If that's you, if it's hard to find gratitude in any of the above, then maybe you can find it in this place. Australia is a very safe, very prosperous place compared to many other spots in the world right now. If even that seems to big a stretch for you focus on the micro in the place. Notice trees and their shade, clean drinking water, the song of a bird, warm sun on your back, the smile of a stranger, colours in the sky the sea and the land, the smell of summer rain, or the first hint of a sea breeze on a hot day.

Research tells us that a daily habit of gratitude profoundly impacts our wellbeing. It significantly reduces depression, increases resilience, brings genuine happiness, creates a sense of progress and physically rewires our brain for greater creativity, problem solving ability and personal effectiveness. It's one of the easiest, quickest and cheapest gifts we can give ourselves and the people around us. And it also turns out that the impact on our wellbeing is about the same, regardless of whether we are grateful for big or small things. I could be grateful that I'm not living in Mosul right now, or grateful for a silly conversation with my wife that made me laugh. The scale of those things is vastly different, but their impact on me when I am grateful for them is similar.

There's so much to be grateful for, both big and small. All we have to do is take the time to find it.

I'm signing off for Christmas. I hope you and the people around you find many reasons for gratitude that refreshes you, strengthens you and sets you up for a great 2017.

One of the things I am grateful for is the time you have take to read my content this year. I greatly appreciate it, especially given all the other things you could choose to read.

See you next year.

Surviving Christmas - Tips for the silly season

It's a crazy time of year isn't it? Looming deadlines, social events, awesome food. Here are my top tips for managing the craziness.

  • Reassess Workload - There's always a frantic push to get things completed before Christmas. Some of the things you are working on deserve the priority and push, but more often that not, the pressure is caused by an arbitrary deadline - Christmas! Review what's on your plate. Be ruthless about what definitely needs to be done now and what could wait to January or even February. For one of my coaching clients this week, just having permission to consider that it might not all be urgent allowed for clearer decisions. In the long run it will also equal better quality work.
  • Clarify Expectations - At this time of year we add in heaps of extra social events, more food and alcohol. We have people around for meals and celebrations. Invest time in clarifying expectations for yourself and the people around you - Boss, partner, kids, colleagues, customers, suppliers, etc. Get a clear picture of what people expect and then work out what's actually achievable. We are having family over for Christmas lunch. We started making a list of all the things we wanted to do around the house before hand. It was a big list, and was never going to happen. That's a recipe for stress and disappointment. We got down to what was really important and why, and made a plan from that. Everyone is clear. We keep talking and updating each other as things are done, or timeframes change.
  • Survey Obligations - Lot's of people feel obliged to do all kinds of stuff at this time of year. Catch up with everyone. Drink or eat to much. Stay up late. A bit like work load, some of this can be done next year. It's OK to say no.
  • Build Buffers - When you are making your plans, don't forget to factor time for packing, travel, organising yourself and the people around you, and down time. Be realistic about when and where you can be places.
  • Help Out - Notice when the people around you are feeling the pressure. Do small (or large) things for them that take the pressure off. It might be as simple as the dishes, or taking the bin out. It might be more more than that too. Be kind to each other.
  • Add Gratitude - Take a few moments out, preferably daily, to be thankful. All the frantic deadlines and celebration can have us distracted from the many good things and people that surround us. Say thanks when people do things for you. Notice and appreciate what you have. Research consistently shows that daily practice of gratitude is one of the best things we can do for our mental wellbeing, resilience and outlook. You might like to add it to your nightly conversations with people, express it in art or keep a journal. If you lead a team be sure to express your gratitude for their work.
  • Stay Healthy - Drink plenty of water. Keep up with the sleep - add some 20 min power naps here and there. And smash heaps of fresh fruit and veggies as well as all the rich yummy stuff we both know we are going to eat. That will help to keep your body and mind in reasonable shape.
  • Get an Elf - Seriously! The little guys are so productive and cheerful they just catch you up their enthusiasm.

Next week we'll look at fatigue and some tips to manage that.

Be Bold!

Have you ever had moments as a leader when you have felt unsure and timid. I certainly have. Regardless of whether you hold an "official" leadership role, we get called upon to lead in all manner of ways. Leading is an interesting thing to do. And in my experience it's a great way to grow. Leadership has presented opportunities for some fantastically positive outcomes and some subtle influence with people that has steadied the ship. It's also presented challenges, self doubt and a reasonable share of mistakes.

 Sunrise over the Southern Ocean

Sunrise over the Southern Ocean

 I spent most of last week on the beautiful south coast of WA with a group of year 9 boys. These emerging young men were walking, paddling, cycling and surfing and learning about leadership in practice.

There were some outstanding young men and we had some great conversations about what makes a good leader.

One in particular stood out from the crowd. He was able to positively influence his peers, rally their focus and energy and organise them for a result. His presence created a sense of calm and certainty. That was on a good day. There were other times when he was right in the thick of disruptive and counter productive action. Chalk and cheese. It was as if a different person showed up. 

We had a great conversation about it. He was really aware of the swing and said he much preferred to lead well. When I asked what was holding him back he had the answer straight away.

Self Confidence. 

He was concerned about what people would think, unsure about making the right call, not wanting to seem too confident, afraid of the attention he might receive, sometimes feeling the weight of responsibility. These are familiar themes from the work I do with leaders, and from my own experience. 

To lead is to step up in many big and small ways. It takes boldness. To say what needs to be said. To do what needs to be done. To acknowledge the efforts of others. To be responsible and accountable for your results. To raise the bar. To move between the spotlight and the background as the situation demands. To think ahead. To collaborate. 

However and wherever you lead. No matter how large or small your role. Be Bold!

Stuck? Make the most of what you know.


A few weeks ago I wrote about focus. Often our focus shifts in response to what is happening around us. Requests, tasks, pressure, health, distraction, fatigue and other variables have our focus moving between hard and soft, fixated and broad. If the shifts happen without us consciously choosing them, we can end up operating with an ineffective focus. Each mode of focus is highly effective in some circumstances and ineffective in others.

Some of you wanted to know more about how to recognise and use focus more effectively.

Yesterday I was talking with a highly competent and experienced colleague. She's one of the best thinkers I know. Few people can match her for productivity. She's highly valued for her ability to analyse complex situations and find clear paths for effective action. Over the last few years she has consulted in many different industries and sizes of organisation, always adding significant value.

She'd been asked to present a case study from her experience. It was to include lessons learned and would act as a catalyst for a strategic discussion in her current organisation. It was creating a focus problem. Her focus was narrow and soft. She was scanning for specific elements (Narrow) across the full range of work she had done (Soft) to find the best single example of effective strategy. Much of the consulting work she has done has been confidential and highly specific to the business she was working with at the time. Very difficult to find an example that she could share, and that had clear lessons that could be generalised to the current context. 

A soft and relatively narrow focus is highly effective when looking for something detailed and specific. That's what my friend was using as she scanned back though her work. One of the problems of soft and narrow focus is that if you can't find what you are looking for it drifts toward hard and fixated. As frustration grows this can be further exaggerated, and an ineffective loop is created. You get more and more fixated.

When she told me about her frustration with finding something specific in her past work that was clear, relevant to the new context and didn't breach confidentiality, I saw a focus problem. I asked, "What if instead of presenting a specific case study, you presented the strategic themes that have been relevant across all the industries, companies and situations you have worked in?"

The question shifted her focus from fixated and hard to soft and broad and she was instantly able to bring her vast experience to bear. She'll no doubt rock the room with her insights and expertise.

If you're feeling stuck, notice where your focus is and ask yourself if it's time for an intentional shift.

As a leader, start paying attention to the focus of the individuals and teams around you. Develop the skill of asking questions that shift focus when people become ineffective or stuck.

Much of the work that I do in facilitation and coaching shifts focus which enables individuals and teams to use what they know to greater effect. Feel free to be in touch if I can assist you with that.



Fast, Free and Legal - Enhance your performance

It's finally started to warm up here in Western Australia. Hydration is back on the agenda!

Up until late last year I spent part of each year instructing advanced survival exercises in the Pilbara (a hot, arid region of Western Australia). It's a hot climate, and the daytime temperature often exceeded 45 deg. Celsius. 

Despite my experience in the environment it was easy to get mildly dehydrated, which can leave you feeling irritable, sluggish and finding it hard to concentrate. Interestingly, I often feel the same around 2 or 3pm on a day in the office, or delivering training. My inclination at those times is to reach for some caffeine, or a sugary snack, but it's water that my body really needs. Perhaps you can relate to that.

Almost everyone on those courses experienced some level of mild to moderate dehydration. Symptoms much like the ones I experienced can sneak up on you. By the time you feel thirsty you are already 2 - 3% dehydrated and the first thing to suffer is mental function. Our ability to make sense of data like maps, spreadsheets, and technical information and our ability to do calculations diminishes.

The most extreme example I've seen was a documentary participant on a walk in the Pilbara. She had not been drinking enough because she felt the water was making her feel nauseous (a more advanced symptom of dehydration). I reminded her about the drop in mental function we had taught her about and then asked her to multiply 2 x 4. She um-ed and ah-ed for a while and then said "I should know the answer to that, it's not hard, I just can't find it in my brain". She drank more water and recovered overnight.

Thirst is often misinterpreted as hunger, so we eat, which diverts more of the body's moisture resources to digestion and also increases the feeling of sluggishness. Some studies estimate that most of us experience 2-3% dehydration in the course of a regular working day in an office environment. Mental performance suffers because the body priorities water to digestion, kidney and liver function, hydrating your lungs, maintaining your blood flow and a host of other essential functions.

So, here's some simple tips to keep your magnificent human brain hydrated and operating at full power.

Start well - Start the day with a glass of fresh water.

Keep it Up - Aim to drink around 2 litres of fresh water per day (more if you are very active or it is hot).

Drink don't Sip - Drinking a cup full (200 - 300ml) at a time increases the effectiveness of the water in your system. You don't have to scull it, but you should drink it within 15 minutes.

Keep Track - Keep a clear one litre water bottle on your desk , so you can monitor how much you drink. Monitor input by output. If you urinate less than 4 times a day and it is dark and smelly, you need to drink more. One of caffeine's effects is that you will urinate larger quantities of clear fluid, masking this effective way to monitor hydration.

Be Proactive - Drink before you feel thirsty.

What about my coffee - Caffeine is OK but also speeds dehydration, if you drink a lot of coffee, tea, or energy drinks increase your water intake.

Pre-dinner Drinks - Drink a glass of water 15 - 20 minutes before you eat or snack.

Afternoon Pick Me Up - Try a glass or 2 of water instead of reaching for the chocolate and coffee mid afternoon. 

Enjoy!! - keep your high performance brain topped up and enjoy the energy and mental sharpness!

There are more and more studies being done about the long term health benefits of water. Conditions including Alzheimer's, Arthritis, Pneumonia and many others benefit from good hydration. On top of your improved daily mental function you will be improving your chances of long term health as well. 

To your good health!!

Finding Balance - Is is achievable?

Work:Life. Sleep:Awake. Exercise:Rest. Time:Money. So many things we try to balance. 

People talk about finding balance only to lose it again. I reckon a lot of the frustration we experience is caused by our expectations of balance. It's as if we expect to find the magical point where the many (and often competing) elements of our life are perfectly balanced. In the rare moments of balance we are fooled into thinking that it's done! Surely we shouldn't ever have to consider it again. Life should just stay in balance shouldn't it? 

But balance is a dynamic state. Imagine balancing a broom stick on your finger tip, or walking along a rail. It can be done but it requires practice, focus and constant adjustment. As your skill improves the adjustments become less dramatic and less prone to fail. You get better at reading and responding to the feedback telling you you are off balance.

So ditch the expectation that balance will be a static state. Keep an eye on the sometimes subtle signs that it is wavering. Expect to make adjustments. Just like with the broom stick, the more you relax about balance, the easier it becomes.

What adjustments do you need to make this week?

Focus - Broad and Soft vs Narrow and Hard

When I was learning to fly, I was introduced to the Air Speed Indicator (ASI). The ASI is the flying equivalent of a speedo. It tells you how fast you are going. Whether you are taking off, landing or just flying around there are important speeds to be aware of. You manage speed to get the best performance out of the aeroplane. Unlike a car, speed is managed by raising or lowering the nose, rather than adding or reducing throttle. Lift the nose and it slows down and starts to climb. Lower the nose and it descends and speeds up. There's a window of best performance speeds for different aspects of the flights. At each side there is an extreme that you really need to avoid to stay safe. Too slow and the aircraft stops flying. Too fast and you risk structural damage or loss of control. 

Like most trainee pilots my focus was fixated on the ASI. I would watch it like a hawk to get the right speed. My focus would become increasingly fixated and hard. Trouble is, it doesn't work that way. There's a bit of lag between what you do and the speed shown on the dial. Trying to control speed with your eyes glued to the instrument means you porpoise through the sky - nose up, nose down, nose up, nose down. The speed never settles and you literally chase the needle, and the plane all over the sky. When you get too fixated on the needle you can end up with a growing oscillation that is increasingly out of control. 

To fly well your attention has to be outside the plane, with occasional glances at the instruments to confirm what you observe. A broad, soft focus allows you to see how the plane looks relative to the horizon, how the controls feel, the sound of the engine and the wind over the wings. These things along with the ASI allow you to fly smoothly and well. With your head up you can also pay attention to other important things like other air traffic, weather, and where you are. Hard fixation is a dangerous recipe. 

There are times when a hard fixation is useful. Analysing specific and complex data, and some types of problem solving are good examples. You don't want to be distracted by a broad view. Other times we need to scan more widely to be effective.

A great example of this is in sales. It's easy to get a hard fixation on the features and benefits of whatever you are selling and start lashing a potential customer with what you want to sell, in the way you want to sell it. We've all experienced this at some point - a salesperson flat out answering questions about the product or service. Trouble is there's a disconnect, none of the answers are to the questions that are important to you. It's like they are not even listening. In a worst case scenario you walk away from something you would otherwise have brought. 

A great skill in business is to be aware of your focus and intentional about it. Consciously decide what sort of attention/focus is best for the situation you are in, and then choose tools to help you maintain it.