Soul Millionaire

The Thinking Bench

Is This The Lifeblood of Your Business?

I remember listening to the fog horns at night.
Eerie, haunting, yet welcome voices in the quiet of the dark children’s dormitory.

I would lie in bed, and think of how much I loved those things called fishcakes.
And how the song on the radio reminded me of the pretty little girl who slipped into the rock pool today…
crying and splashing about amongst the crabs we were hunting.

But most of all, I hoped my Mum would come this weekend and take me home from this convalescent place.
This beautiful, but alien, place in Broadstairs, Kent.

When you’re just seven years old…
There’s very little that you’re in control of.
And Hope is such a large part of your life.


It drives so much of our striving each day, doesn’t it?
Sometimes, it’s about all we have, when logic and data doesn’t deliver the answers we want.

When you look at the crazy world around you;
The bigoted, angry, polluted, destructive world around you…
It’s so easy to become cynical, and retreat to our tested routine that keeps us safe… but not really alive and meaningful.

But it is Hope – almost delusional – that gets us business owners and leaders out of bed, ready to do ridiculous and unheard of things.

It’s Hope that helped us look at our ranting, self-consumed teenagers, and see the magnificent adults now developing in front of our eyes.
It’s Hope that guides my hand to avoid buying that single-use plastic bottle, even though millions are choking the oceans each day.
It’s Hope that powered Wendy to lead expeditions to build water towers and Grandma’s Garden projects in Africa.

It’s Hope that paints pictures in my head of the wonders our little business can launch into the world next month, next year.

It was Hope that brought a young couple to me, determined to be coached, yet unclear about how they could find the money.
And then, four years later, seeing their revenue multiplied by 10 times.
Whilst mapping out dreams to take the world by storm.

Being around such Hope is a tonic.
Being around those who are simply marking time in their business sucks the energy clean out of our bodies.

What’s also interesting about Hope is this:

When I use it to help me in helping others…
that Hope increases.
It infects those around me.
And then it washes right back over me.
Until my own Hope is multiplied.

It’s a miraculous, often unsung, frequently underestimated, power.

I’m sitting here, in my Garden Office.
The Autumn bees have plenty to work on around our blazing garden.
My Thinking Bench is just eight feet to my left.
And I’m wondering…

What wildly optimistic, illogical Hope for your business are you carrying in your breast today?

Laughing At Life (Even When It’s Tough)

I was clutching my stomach.
I was coughing and wheezing.
I could hardly breathe.
I was staggering as if i was drunk.

I couldn’t help it.
The need to laugh came over me like the relentless waves throwing themselves at the sand, just a few feet away.

No matter what we seemed to say to each other…
Everything seemed more and more hilarious.

Here we were.
The six of us. Three couples. Parents and Grandparents all.
Couples who have worked together, served together, sacrificed together, laughed (and cried) together.
In a questionably-4-star hotel south of Barcelona.
Surrounded by the uglier signs of industry, looming far too close to our resort.

And from morning until night…
We laughed.
And loved being together in our madness.

Each year we go away together.
Usually, we relax in a cool, spacious villa, somewhere in Greece or Cyprus.
But this time – because of my mercurial family timetable – we’d drawn a short straw.

We could have been miserable at the sight of our package-holiday surroundings.
But our love of being together made everything else seem somewhat irrelevant.

In the evenings, we would stroll along a seafront, chatting or silent.
Sighing at the balmy temperature, the clear sky, the delicious moon.

And one of us would start mentioning how ridiculously fortunate, lucky or blessed we were.
We rejoiced in our circumstances.
We spoke aloud our gratitude.

As we each considered, and shared, a little more of our less-than-comfortable childhoods.
As we recalled the courage and fighting spirit of our parents and grandparents of yesterday…
We looked at each other together, today… enjoying such peace and luxury…
And it all seemed – and seems – a miracle.

And we were openly grateful for that miracle.

There is something powerfully healing about Gratitude.

At home, in business, it minimises the seemingly insuperable trials and tribulations of the day.
It shrinks them to the trivia that most of them are. Mere irritations. Frustrations of our expectations.
It allows us to rise to loftier thoughts, feelings and actions.
It allows us to direct our attention to the Critical Few aspects of our life.

I’m so grateful that my children don’t have to walk two miles each day to fetch dirty water to drink.
I’m so grateful that, when I open my front door, the road is still in one piece: not blown apart by mortars last night.
I’m so grateful that my family can travel where they like, when they like… mixing with whom they like, how they like.

I’m grateful that I’m one of the 4% of start-up businesses in the UK, that lasts longer than five years.
I’m grateful that clients trust me with their future; that colleagues trust me with their hopes and well-being.
I’m grateful for the mass of opportunity and possibility spread before me, at the touch of a keyboard.

Most of all, I’m grateful to know what it is to love. And to be loved.

In my strivings and wrestlings and accomplishings today…
I hope that this sense of Gratitude pervades all that I say and do.

And I hope that, in the coming week, you enjoy that same influence – the power of Gratitude – in your business.

The Ultimate Networker

I had trouble keeping up with him last week.

Since Wendy bought him a wheelie zimmer frame (with go-faster stripes), it’s as if he’s turbo charged.
Flies around the place at a rate of knots, he does.

He’s my 94 year old Dad.
We call him ‘Pa Bear’.
We’re in Palm Bay, Florida.
And it’s 7:00 am, which is time for his morning walk.

The sun is already blazing silver-gold on the horizon, such that it hurts your eyes to walk in that direction.
So, Dad guides me around Lockmar Estates, on one of his favourite routes.

These are not like English estates, mind you.
Every house is a low, attractive, lawn-surrounded, double-garaged, palm-tree-shaded spread.
With prices one-third what we’d pay in South East England.

What’s obvious, as we’re stopped by half a dozen other strollers during our journey…
Is that everybody, for a mile around, knows him.

And he seems to know everyone else.
Not just who they are, but all about them.

He’ll tell you who just bought that house, and for how much.
Why the last couple packed up and sold up after just 12 months.
Who is sick. Who is dying. Who just died. And how.

He’ll tell you what, and how, their children are doing; and which ones are at University, studying what.
Whose children are throwing teenage tantrums.
And who is about to get a divorce.

I’ve been doing this walk with him for at least 10 years now.
And I still can’t figure out how he does it.
How he knows what he knows.

But one thing is for certain…
Everybody trusts him.
Everybody shares their heart and soul with him.
And I seem to be the only person with whom he shares these decades of private thoughts.

How does he become the fount of all knowledge?
Well, I’ll tell you.

He does it… because he cares about people.
About what really matters in their life.
And they sense that.

I remember once asking a Financial Planner to talk with me about his achievement in saving his unpleasant, miserable, high-earning client £24,000 in taxes.
He was puffed up with it. Chuffed to pieces he was.

I asked him a simple question.
“Why was that important to your unpleasant, miserable, high-earning client?
You saved him £24,000 in taxes, in order that… what?”

He stared at me as if I was talking a mixture of Greek and Chinese. His mouth wide open and moving silently, like a fish.
He couldn’t answer the question.

Within a few seconds, we could both see that he had no real idea about his client’s life at all.
Merely enough so that he could sign him up as a client.
Then do his professional thing.

What had happened was little more than a well-structured, technically-correct, honest exercise.
Which earned a nice fee.
Whilst satisfying the ego of his client, in ‘getting one over’ on HMRC.

All rather pointless, really.
Nobody’s life changed for the better.
Apart from the nice fee.

The exercise had as much connection to the client’s beating heart of a life, as trying to connect my android to a network from a peak in the Himalayas.

The financial planner had never bothered to find out what his client really, really, really wanted in life.
Because he really didn’t care.

When we care enough about people in business that we truly understand the impact our service has on their life.
When we care deeply about that.

Then so much more that is good will flow our way.

Just ask Pa Bear.

The Gift of Italian Magic

We were laughing so much, I could hardly breathe.
Tears seemed to be streaming from everywhere; not just my eyes.

I was sure I was going to need to dash to the toilet at any minute.
All of this on a full stomach of home-created pastas and pastries oozing Tuscany flavours,
and vegetables that exploded with sun and fresh herbs in my mouth.

It was more than a body could bear.

We were gathered in the cooling dining room of this ochre, cream and sepia villa.
A dozen of us, nestled now amongst hills and a gurgling mountain stream.

Directors of this.
General Manager of that.
Physiotherapist and sculptor.
Translator and teacher.
Editor and publisher.

Oh, and little ol’ me.

We were there to see if the normal skills, the essential logic, the leadership,the processes and systems of our everyday world…
Could be directed to producing something stunningly, breathtakingly creative.
That’s what we were learning to do.
Writing which – just maybe – would entrance and enthral and inspire and captivate.

It was a long shot.
We weren’t convinced, as we started working together on Monday morning

But by Wednesday we were stunned!
There was this laughter.
There were those tears.

To show you what I mean, I’m going to share what was written about a tender scene between two of the group.

Imagine this:
He is a retired director of a major insurance company, laden with stories of his professional success.
Such a pleasant, funny man.
She is a bright, psychotherapist, fragile in form. A polish mother of two little blond girls.

Whilst she was on a day trip, swimming in the sea with most of the group.
He stayed behind, and painted a picture of her standing in the market square of the nearest village.
In the evening, when she returned…
He handed her this picture, in front of the rest of us, as we finished another succulent dinner.

Everybody cried.

This is what was written about that scene:

“This sylphlike child; this child who is mother,
Squeezing this sage, this helpless boy,
With her arms so fragile, and fingers so fluttering,
Until his form is squeezed to a truer size, no mightier than his young, tender heart.

And all his winter-warming accomplishments fall discarded to the cold stones,
And lay bared and uncared around their feet.

What he had written was the stroking of his soft brush.
Dipped in the water of compassion; his living well.
And, with her sip, his words splintered her heart,
Clouding the opening eyes of her astonished soul.

We waited while they flew away, twirling through the clouds,
To collect thoughts and threads from the skies.
And we breathed again on their return;
The tiniest tinkling of a sigh.

Just one tear when they released their embrace.
One tear splashed onto ten cheeks.

We will remember this when we meet again,
Here. Or there.
We will speak of it. But voicelessly,
In case the moment is melted by our mumbling.

And we will weep for joy once more, in the bright silence.”

Leaders and executives come to me, labelling themselves with descriptions of who they are….
And what they’re capable of.

This indescribable week in Tuscany taught us how ridiculous we are.
How crushingly we limit what we’re capable of doing.

And that, taken out of our mechanical, screen-dominated environment…
We learn to think and feel and say and do what we thought was impossible just hours before.

We’re gifted with the capacity to create pure magic.
And the only barrier to that magic is our disbelief in the wonder of our humanity.

Imagine what would change for you if the prison of that disbelief was blown wide open!

Why Raising Teenagers Is Good For Business

He looked at me quizzically.
And then smiled that lopsided smile.

The morning’s church service had just concluded.
Here we were, doing what we always do…
Standing in little bunches of friendships, sharing our week with each other.

I had approached David, who – like me – was navigating the experience of raising teenagers.

You know those alarming creatures.

Last night, your little Princess went happily upstairs to her bedroom.
“Night Daddy. Love You.”

This morning, a ranting alien – possessed with powers to tear your heart completely in two – launched themselves at you.
Pointing out what a complete out-of-touch moron you are.
Before slamming the front door, cracking the patterned glass, on the way to school.

Still reeling from a couple of such days from one of our five children…
I had said, in response to the usual greeting, “Well, I’m fine David. But raising children. It’s a complicated businesses isn’t it?”

To which he responded,
“Raising children? Raising children?
Hmmm. I thought the whole point was that they’re here to raise us.”

He looked straight into my eyes.
Smiled again.
Touched my arm.
And turned to continue a conversation with his wife, Evita.

I was left standing there. Speechless.

I’d never seriously considered that possibility.
The complexity, the frustrations, the tears and the roller coaster ride of parenthood.
Well, they all combine to raise us.

To lift us from the self-centred being we would naturally become.
To stretch our capacity for patience, understanding, compassion.
To teach us how to love the seemingly unlovable.

We’re changed.

I think running a business or leading a team does that to us.

Things will constantly go terribly, horribly wrong.
We’ll regularly be wrong-footed, side-swiped, frustrated, knocked off balance.
People will test our patience, and make us wonder if we’re living on the right planet.

What’s really happening, of course, is that our own capacity to change and grow is being tested.

I believe we’re constantly being asked:
“Do You Understand The Lesson That You Still Need To Learn Here?”

Teenagers invariably surprise us, when we observe the astoundingly capable, talented and wise adults they become.
Given the chance, our team and our clients can surprise us too.

The question remains…
Was The Problem Really Me All The Time?
And Did I Grow Up In The Process?

Keep Your People Bouncing

The din of the traffic hit me.
And snapped me out of my mental meanderings.

As I jogged down to the end of the gentle hill of Cavendish Road, I’d forgotten how noisy Colliers Wood High Street could be in the evening.
This tiny section of South London, not much more grand than a few streets between a BP garage and a tube station.

Usually, I turned right, along the High Street, and then jogged in a large square of streets, back towards our maisonette.
But on this late Summer evening, for some reason, I changed my mind.

I turned around 180 degrees, and started back up that hill.
Strange. I’m usually such a creature of habit.

The light of dusk was changing the colour of everything, as I looked ahead at something approaching me.
There in the distance I could see a fluffy white dog, bouncing merrily as if enjoying its own evening jog.
But, where was its owner?

I strained my eyes, as I noticed how its movement wasn’t that much different to a toddler, when they first learn to run.
Because they don’t run, do they?
They sort of bounce.
The movement always makes me smile.

Except I wasn’t smiling.

Because this bouncing bundle looked less and less like a happy doggie.
And more and more like a happy toddler.

I stopped jogging.

For goodness sake!
Who on earth would let a tiny child out alone at this time of night?
They must be careless… or simply insane!

Then I gasped in horror, as my vision cleared.
I recognised the black bouncing curls and the pale nightdress.
This was our toddler.
No more that 30 months old.

How the heck…!

I broke free of my paralysis.
And ran towards her shouting. Frightened witless.

Her beaming smile fell from her face, as I grabbed her into my arms.
I must have frightened her with my own fear.
Because she started wailing as I held her tightly to me.
Why would Daddy shout at me?

I tried to whisper to her, kissing her tears as I shushed her.
And she had settled into muffled sobs by the time we reached our blue front door, her head snuggled into my neck.

We’ll never understand how she managed to open that door.
Nor how she knew how to follow her Daddy down the long road to the deadly High Street.

People do that, don’t they?
They put their trust in us.
They follow us willingly; bouncing along behind us.
Members of our team.
Our clients.

Sometimes they’ll follow us blindly.
Until they wake up to the thought that, maybe, we’re not sure where we’re going.
Or if we do… it’s not where they want to be.

I once asked a team, “What’s Your Business Plan for the Next Three Years.”
Their response was “Plan? We Don’t Do ‘Plan’. We  Do Business By Bumble Here!”

Part of our own personal growth is our recognition that Leadership is about stewardship.
It’s a trust others place in us.
Whether clients, or our supporting team.

In all our self-concerned mental meanderings…
In the foggy business future we have to peer into…

Everybody wins, when we make that stewardship our priority.
And keep their beaming smiles and bouncing energy as one of our bottom-line objectives.

The Sands of Time

“Did you hear that, Aunt Sheila?

Did you hear it, in the night?
I swear I could hear someone shuffling around outside the house.”

She chuckled.
“Honey, that’s just the hermit crabs, dragging their shells around in the cool of the night.
Remember, with the island covered in sand, we’re just a few yards from the beach as far as they’re concerned.”

I have to be honest; for the first two nights I had been scared.
These houses were vulnerable to intruders of every kind.
Everything seemed to be left open on this part of Grand Cayman.

I was a naive 28-year old; albeit full of my own intelligence.
Visiting these relatives, a turbo-prop flight from Jamaica, was an unforgettable holiday.
I met aunts and uncles who seemed to me unnaturally wise, quite apart from being more widely educated (and obviously financially more comfortable) than me.

Aunt Sheila mentioned to me that she was thinking of taking another degree.
This, she reasoned, would help improve her opportunity of gaining a more senior teaching position in the Caribbean.
I can’t recall exactly how old she was. but certainly, to a rather self-absorbed young man, even mid-40’s looked pretty ancient.

My response to her passing comment was “But, Auntie… you’ll be (let’s say) 48  years old by the time you get that degree!”

With a withering look and a patient smile, she responded,
“Young David,” and she paused. “I’ll be 48 years old anyway. Why not be that age, with more knowledge, understanding and a degree in a sought-after subject?”

That shut me up.

Too often, we take a course of business which satisfies and gratifies us for this month, this quarter, this year.
The end-of-tax-year panic is a classic example of such knee-jerk behaviour.

We fail to sit back, see where a market is moving…
And take a longer term view about where our skills need to be, if we’re to be both relevant and in demand.

Rather than worry about the passage of time…
why not concern yourself with the measurably different impact you, your team your business could have on the world?

The impact that results when you go beyond another technical qualification.
The impact of learning how to lead better, serve clients better, make a greater difference.

Steve Jobs expressed it this way, when talking to Pepsi executive John Sculley:
“Do you want to sell sugared water all your life?
Or do you want to come with me and change the world?”

Changing the world might require more investment of your time than winning a couple more clients today.
But wouldn’t you like to create a tomorrow that will leave others amazed for years to come?


Business With Attitude

I see her regularly.
Each time I do, I’m rooted to the spot.

She’s one of Wendy’s heroes. Or is that ‘heroines’?

Imagine a cheeky, chirpy, laughing, football-loving teenager.
Now see that teenager crippled – almost overnight – by arthritis.

When she passes me, painfully hobbling, every muscle in my body tenses, ready to catch her if she trips.
Just as Wendy tenses when watching her slowly raising her body from her chair as she fulfils projects at work.
But to leap to her aid would be insulting to her fiercely independent spirit.

What is a constant source of surprise is the humour that is ever there, each time I speak to her.
A chuckle at Life.
Leaving a conversation with her, I’m aware that I’m smiling.


She reminds me of my Mum. Crippled in the same way.
Yet greeting each sunrise with a sense of wonder. Touching each flower with a sigh of delight.
Encouraging me, and laughing with me when she could see the weight of business, finances, children, ministry and grandchildren on my shoulders.
Then closing each day with a prayer of gratitude for every breath, every relationship, every moment.

An Attitude of Gratitude.

I’m fortunate to meet a variety of business leaders in my work.
Most are a joy to be with.

Some are puffed up with their own accomplishments, desperate for the world to acknowledge them.
Just like when they were 10 years old,  calling out: “Look at me Daddy! Look what I’ve done!”
Except now it’s “Look at my accomplishments, my achievements, my acquisitions, my accumulations.”
With an underlying theme of “I did all this.”

There’s a sense of entitlement there. “I deserve this, because I’m brilliant.”
It pervades the business from top to bottom.
It is picked up, and subconsciously mimicked throughout the team.

Yet there’s hardly an acknowledgement that they’re sitting in a society already wallowing in luxury as a norm.
Or that everything could be taken away in a fragile second.
In the skip of a heartbeat. The bursting of a tiny blood vessel. The flickering of a tired eyelid behind the wheel of a car. The result of a test.

When a business understands the privilege that is theirs in the trust that the public places in their hands…
When that business recognises that each talented, creative team member could walk elsewhere at anytime…
When that business shows that it is grateful for their genius, their energy, their caring…

Then a sense of gratitude weaves its way through the whole culture.

Everybody who touches the organisation ‘smells’ it.
They’re not sure why. But they smell it anyway.

It’s a beautiful, ennobling, uplifting quality of character.
It enriches those lucky enough to be in its presence.

Try it.
It Gives Your Business Real Attitude.

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

The two-minute video ended.
So, I looked around the room.

And there were tears.
From men and women.
Unashamed, unabashed, tears.

One of those present wrote to me later, to express how comforting it was being in a room of non-judgemental people.
Which meant that they didn’t have to act a part.
Didn’t have to be ‘Professional’ (whatever that means).

They could be authentic.

That was Wednesday last week.

By Friday I was driving down to Chichester, to meet one of my favourite people in business.
Andrew Walsh. Former mentor and dear friend.

Andrew has held various senior roles, from Group Financial Director of a quoted PLC…
to Non-Exec Director of three European banks.

He can be tough, logical and driven when needed.
But he’s also unusually sensitive, insightful and compassionate.

As we stood outside Chichester Cathedral he told me of his closing remarks made at each of the series of Leadership Programmes that he delivers.

Having watched strutting, hard-bitten senior executives strip away their posturing and posing…
He observes board members’ reactions as those executives share episodes from their life stories.
Every time, tears flow.
Unashamed, unabashed tears.

Then he concludes with something quite ridiculous in British and European business circles.
He tells these tough, sometimes ruthless, men…
That he loves them.

LOVES them!

I said that to a client recently, after asking him some challenging questions, and giving him some blunt counsel.
You should have seen the beam that lit up his face!

I’ve studied the principle and components of Trust in some detail for more than 10 years.
In every piece of research I’ve digested… Being Open, Authentic, even Vulnerable (stopping the ‘professional’ role playing and acting) is an important element of developing trust.
And doing so rapidly.

It’s a constant factor in those reports.

I cringe when I hear comments – from bright, capable business leaders – like “I Don’t Do Touchy Feely.”!

What could be more important than TOUCHING another person’s life, so that they’re blessed by their engagement with you and your firm?
What could be more valuable than helping a client to FEEL that they are deeply understood and cared for, when in your presence?

“Stiff upper lip” and “Big boys don’t cry” speak more of emotional constipation than professional maturity in our business relationships.

When we learn how to lean more on our humanity… and less on our logic and science, facts and figures…
Relationships will deepen…
Trust will develop more rapidly and easily…
Our work will become more fulfilling…
Our smart, intuitive clients will willingly pay us more…

And we will enjoy a richness in our life that has evaded us before.

The Georgie Factor

I met him this week.
I’d hoped that I would, one day.
Especially since we’d been talking about him for two years.

But, yesterday was the day that technology came through for me.
I sat in West Sussex.
He bounced around in Hertfordshire.
And he actually spoke to me.
Even offered to share a drink with me.

Well, he didn’t so much speak to me… as chuckle with me.
And, sitting in my Garden Office, that Wendy irreverently calls my ShedQuarters) I chuckled too.

When he smiled, my face on the Zoom screen showed that I was wreathed in smiles too.
When he laughed, I couldn’t help laughing with the sheer magic of the moment.

This was George.
(I feel privileged to call him “Georgie”)

If I were to live until the Queen was obliged to write to me…
I doubt that I will ever meet a more joyful spirit walking this earth.

We’ve been talking about him, even before he arrived in this world.
I hope I get to talk about him for many more years to come.

One day, George will grow to understand the powerful influence that his existence has had.
Because everybody feels better for having met him. Everybody.

And as we waved to each other, and blew each other kisses, I was left wondering…

What impact does my existence have on the life of others?
Moreover, since who I am is reflected in the business that I’ve created (that’s a given)…
What impact do my professional activities have on those whose minds and hearts they touch?

Another George (G Bernard Shaw) made this insightful comment:
“This is the true joy in life… being used for a Purpose recognised by yourself as a mighty one.
Being a force of Nature instead of a feverish little clod of self-importance, of ailments and grievances;
complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”

What about you? What about your business?
Is that a force of Nature, capable of lifting others’ lives?

Looking at what you said and did this week… did someone in this world rejoice that their life has intersected with yours?
Or did they find you in a state of mind where the world was not devoting itself to making you happy?

Having spoken with you, will they carry with them, for at least one precious week, the way that engaging with you and your business has made them feel?
Has being in your presence – listening to your comments – been an experience of delight, and brightened their life for a moment?

George will one day work out his Purpose for being here, walking amongst the rest of us.
Until he does… I’m grateful that his unconscious Purpose is to bring joy to the lives of others.

I wonder what you and I can do in our work, so that (whatever else we accomplish) 
our clients and our team come to us… not because they’re obliged to… but because doing so is something they eagerly look forward to?

Thank you, Dear Georgie, for that lesson.

Working With The Palest of Excuses

You’ve never seen me go white, have you?
You know… white.
As a sheet.

You might say that it’s pigmentally impossibly.
But, I assure you… there have been one or two times in my life when I’ve felt the blood drain clear out of my face.

The last time was about 25 years ago.

I was sitting in front of President Mann, the ecclesiastical leader responsible for 8 churches in West/East Sussex. Think ‘Bishop’, and you’ll get the idea.

“David” he smiled.
“We’d like you to accept the assignment to oversee part of our very successful Youth Programmes.”

Oh right.
“You’ll be responsible for developing leadership and teaching skills in the Young Women’s Programme”.

“Great!” I said. “Just up my street.”

“Yes, I know.” he continued.
“That will also mean that you represent me, as the Presiding Minister over all of their events and activities, during the next three years.”

“Oh, right.” I hesitated. “Such as…?”

“Well, your first assignment is the week-long Young Women’s Camp… in Wales.”

“But President.” Here’s the white-as-a-sheet bit. “I hate camping. Hate it!
I’ve suffered two disastrous attempts. And I hate it.”

Then he smiled.
That “Are-we-really-going-discuss-this?” smile.

One month later I found myself seven hours drive away, on Wilks’s farm in West Wales.
The scenery bathed my soul and took my breath away.

But one week, with 50 energetic, mouthy, unfairly-bright teenage girls?
With five children, you get used to a home regularly made chaotic by PMT.
But 50?


That week – the first of six years of camps – proved a glorious Baptism By Fire.

There were snake bites, dashes to hospital, broken fingers… PMT…  torn ankles. diarrhoea…
There was cliff-walking, cliff-abseiling, cliff-jumping (don’t ask)…PMT…
kayaking, water fights, flour fights, midnight hikes, Hunt the Dragon (the Dragon is Wilks’s tractor. Don’t tell the parents)…

There was MDK (if the “M” stands for “Murder”, guess what the “D” and “K” stand for? Definitely don’t ask!)..
ice cream fights, egg fights, midnight hikes … more PMT…

Those 50 young women became intertwined with our family’s lives. They became part of our story.
We grew to love them. Even the gobby, rebellious ones. Particularly those.

Through the years, I’ve attended their weddings, coddled their babies, chased their toddlers, taught their teenagers.

Those mouthy girls are now the leaders: in business, in church, in communities, in their families.

In the constant turmoil of business… change is frequently thrust upon us.
Legislation, technology, regulation, client expectations.

We can whine and blame and moan and kick.
We can go pale with anger and fear.

Or we can ask this question “What Is It That I Need To Learn Here?”

And this: “Is It The Business That Is Required To Change Now?
Or Is It Really Me That Needs Changing?”

Maybe there are times when you can match my white-as-sheet.

But you’d be hard-pushed to match the torrent of emotional memories that well up, and the gratitude I feel…
For those who have asked me to face up to my greatest fears.
And seek the glorious possibility that is beyond them.

The Tiger In Your Office

Detective Duffy looked through the hole in the wall that he had drilled.
And held his breath in disbelief.

The bed in the apartment had been flipped upside down, and shredded through, as if it were paper.
The wallpaper looked like a cat was sharpening its claws.
A large cat.
A very, very large cat.

In fact, 500 pounds of Bengal tiger.
And all 500 of those pounds cooped up in a tiny apartment in Harlem, New York.

No wonder neighbours had complained for a while about very strange noises coming from those rooms.

It wasn’t surprising that the owner eventually ended up in hospital. Then in jail.
Nor was it surprising that the hospital didn’t buy into his story about “Being bitten by my dog”

Of course, Ming The Tiger had been sooooo cute and cuddly when first taken to this cramped home.
And, somehow, the owner had grown accustomed to Ming’s rapidly growing presence.

Rather like Professor Henry Higgins singing (about Eliza Dolittle) in My Fair Lady “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face”.

Habits in business – and life – are like that.

Little cuddly exceptions and imbalances.
Little impositions on others around us: particularly our ever-forgiving team and our family.
Just this once.
Just this once more.

Far too frequently, I meet those who are trapped and mauled by their habits.

Leaders who think that they’ll serve their team and their family better by being in the office “Just this one more Weekend. This 14 hour day. For this special reason.” 
When what everybody needs them to do is to get out of the office, refresh their thinking and make better decisions.

Perhaps the little half-truths to their teams that “won’t hurt anybody.”

Perhaps, the firms consumed by End-of-Tax-Year manic behaviour.
Which was perfectly acceptable when there were just 40 clients.
But highly questionable when there are 400.

And when asked “Why do you continue to do that?”
They say, in different ways, “Because that’s what we do here.”

Then there are the relationships which float along.
With little new to say, once the busyness of raising children has subsided.

In business, we stop ‘The Rhythm of Habit’ by getting leaders and teams far away from their office.
Preferably in a place whose beauty and tranquillity creates a different kind of thinking.

In our family, Wendy and I have learned to stop ‘The Rhythm of Habit’ by having Date Nights.
Every week.

And by using Sundays to rest and worship and think and read and stroll and talk.
Talk about things that really, deeply matter.
Or talk about things that simply swell our hearts and make us laugh.
As well as spending time with beloved family and friends.

I’ve made many mistakes of judgement in my life.
But I’ve learned to recognise a tiger when I see one.

Somewhere, in each of our offices and homes, there’s a cute, cuddly tiger cub.
You might want to think again, the next time you’re about to feed it.

Do They Rave About Your Show?

Our legs took on a life of their own.
So, we rose to our feet.
Me whistling. Both of us taking turns at roaring.
And our aching hands clapping as hard and as furiously as our arms would allow.

The rest of the audience rose with us.
One here, another there.
Then the whole of the shouting, whooping Palladium audience.

From the first notes of the opening overture…
Heads had bobbed, feet had tapped, silently (and not so silently) we had mouthed the words that had captivated us since childhood.

For three hours we were not in possession of our souls.
We were held bound… transported… by this ridiculous, glorious story and spectacle.

The King and I.

How could they do this?
How could Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein lift us out of our ordinary world…
Long after they had left this earth?

How could they take a spoilt brat of an all-powerful, polygamous king and make us love his arrogant childishness anyway?
How could they weave themes of slavery, the belittling of women, the death of loved ones, the innocence of children, and wonderful, wonderful love…
And make us laugh, cry and sigh in unison?

As we took the train home from Victoria, exhausted and happy, three themes were already forming in my addled mind.

Firstly, The King – with his delusions and his fragile grasp on what-he-thinks-he-absolutely-knows – is not unlike us… entrepreneurs who start, or lead, our business.
On the one hand, what we think we know is based on assumptions, half-truths and stories we weave in our heads.
On the other, the world looks to us to do things that are so ludicrously not-doable…
If we thought too hard about them, we wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning.

Secondly, we often allow ourselves to be slaves.
Habits that are no longer helpful.
Fears that paralyse us and hold us to comfortable routines, which we know will at least make money;
but are seldom the best we’re capable of.

Thirdly, we are creative beings.
Our minds and hearts are capable of soaring.
If we exercised the courage, our childhood games prove that we can create The Extraordinary.
We can do more than fill our bellies, clothe our backs, collect our stuff and protect ourselves.

If we would care just a little more…
We can lead a business that will bless the lives of others.
And that very act will live on, somewhere, somehow, in someone’s life.

Long after the show is over.

The Wonder of Time Travel

I knew I was gawking.

I knew my mouth was wide open, as I stared at the doors.
That pair of great, weather-beaten oaken doors at the front of this magnificent place.
This place of memories.
This place.

My cousin and I looked at each other. Our mouths unable to form the words finding their way across our faces.
Countless decades on, we remembered everything, as if it were yesterday morning.

This was last Saturday morning.
He had flown from Canada, to travel back in time whilst we both had the chance.

The first time I had stood here and stared, I was barely 7 years old.
I hadn’t been prepared for these doors to open, and a black-and-white apparition to glide out.

I had never seen a nun before.
Apparently, they had to catch me as my legs gave way.

This was The Convent.
London Colney, Hertfordshire.
And here I would spend the next 7 years of my childhood.

Here, my cousin, my sister and I would join the rat-pack of children whose parents couldn’t  care for them.

Here we would learn to climb holly and oak trees, collect world-beating conkers, build crystal radio sets, ride “look-no-hands!” on bikes too big for us.

Here hide-and-seek, amongst corridors, cloisters, trap doors and hidden attics, could last a whole day.

Here we would roam meadows full of flowers and fields full of cow-pats, and islands and moats and spinneys and glades and streams.
In a 70 acre playground where every day was an adventure. And every apple, gooseberry and greengage was there for the ‘scrumping’.

Here we would make our own toffee, churn our own butter, milk our own cows; catch our fish and kiss our convent girls.

Here we would cry for our parents.

But here we were loved and taught by amazing nuns who created a world of consistency for our confusion, caring for our chaos.

We were The Convent Kids.

At noon, we started to head back down the long, straight, tree-lined driveway; grudgingly heading home to West Sussex.

As we turned to gaze back one last time, I asked my cousin: “If you could go back in time… what would you tell that little boy?”
And we discussed the wonders, astonishments, tears and laughter, loves and losses, heartaches and triumphs of our life.

So, here’s the question:
“If you could come back in 5 year’s time.
If you could walk and talk with the person you are in business today…
What would you say?

  • What hope would you be able to provide?
  • What perspective and insights would you give?
  • What would you say about the fears sitting in your breast right now?
  • What would you say about the decisions you’re about to make today?”

Some may see this as a futile exercise in imagining what can never be.
I disagree!

All of us have experienced moments when our inklings, our intuition, our heart…
knows things that our mind – and our wavering courage – is not ready to accept.
We instinctively see what we will have to face up to a year from now.

If we would listen more to these promptings, I believe we would find more joy.
I believe we would save ourselves many wasted months and years.
In business.
In life.

There’s A Hole In My Bucket

I can’t help it.
I laugh until I cry. Every time.

I’m watching The Bucket List.

Car mechanic Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman) is dying from cancer.
Billionaire Edward Cole (Jack Nicholson) is in remission.

Mere weeks before, fate had landed these two strangers in the same hospital room.
Both discovered that they wanted to complete a list of things to see and do…before they died.

So, together, they set off on the adventure of a lifetime.

Now Edward is standing by Carter’s hospital bed, desperate to see his dearest friend survive this next operation.

In this poignant moment, Carter gives an article to Edward, explaining the source of his friend’s pretentious, rare, hugely-expensive coffee – Kopi Luwak.
The article explains that Kopi Luwak is made from the excreta of the cat-like palm civet, after they’ve eaten coffee berries.

Edward has spent years strutting his delight in sipping cat’s poo!

In that hilarious scene, Carter reaches over and crosses off another item on his Bucket List…
“Laugh Until You Cry”.

Many will see the point of this film as the excitement, anticipation and fulfilment of our Bucket Lists:
Things we’d dreamt of, things we’d promised ourselves.
But never got around to doing… sometimes until it feels woefully too late.

But I see something quite different here.

After they’ve fulfilled the initial excitement of a few of their adventures…
Both men are faced with two questions:

  1. What kind of man have I become?
  2. What has happened to my relationships with the people most dear to me?

And both men find themselves painfully, heart-achingly lacking.

It’s easy to be enticed and consumed with achievement, accomplishment and making our mark in the world.
Meanwhile, relationships always hold the biggest emotional risk – as well as the greatest capacity for deep happiness.

In my ministry and my coaching, I’ve witnessed enough pain to last two lifetimes, when a person finally faces up to how misplaced their priorities have been.
Constantly rationalising their unbridled pursuit of success.

I’ve also observed and experienced unspeakable joy when we invest our finest energies in the nurturing of relationships and the building of other’s lives – at home and at work.

“Have I Brought Joy To Others?”

Surely, for those of us fortunate enough to have experienced decades of adult life…
This is the essential Bucket List Question.

Business Feels So Much Better This Way

Our family still recalls the joy we felt in the Summer of 2012.
The Summer of the London Olympics.

My wife could barely walk 20 steps without stopping for breath.
Because this was before her heart operation. (Today, she comfortably swims 20 lengths.)
So we pushed her around the Olympic Stadium, and allowed 30 minutes to climb the steps to our seats.

But the scenes we witnessed still bring smiles to our faces and wonder to our hearts.

Yes, we rejoiced in seeing the might of athletes like Ennis and Farah, Hoy, Trott and Wiggins, Ainslei and DuJardin,  Rutherford and Stanning.
But the Paralympic Athletes – the Superhumans – made us gasp in genuine awe.

Beefy, grizzly men either side of us bawled like babies at the sight of the David Weirs and the Hannah Cockcrofts with jet propelled wheelchairs.

Our spirits were lifted, not just by their vanquishing their competitors and claiming Gold.
But also by their overcoming “Am I Less Than?” to become “Greater Than We Thought Possible!”.

Competition demands the best of us.
But I wonder – when this spills over into our working life – whether we know when to stop competing, vanquishing, dominating.

I see messages that encourage us to be powerful, fierce, self-glorifying.
We continue to separate, divide, go our own way. Become Them and Us.

I watched a video this morning which reminded me that what I really need – in my personal and business life – is to grow more kind. To be more loving. To be more generous.

I thought back to the two people – a Financial Planner and a Compliance Manager – each of whom I coached, Pro Bono, for an hour this week.
Their gratitude was effusive.
I felt like laughing with the enjoyment of it all.

It’s likely they will never become clients.
But surely I can afford one hour to help someone who feels lost, confused?

When I behave like that, it washes back and flows over me.
I feel more at peace.
I feel more whole.

To find opportunities to be more generous, sensitive, collaborative; less desperate for our share, or our need to be right.
To be one.

Doesn’t this make of our world a more delightful, more peaceful place?

Whatever Happened to Alfie?

He was different somehow. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why.

I knew him as a humble Senior Administrator in a financial planning support team.
Alfie, the cheeky, chirpy, Saturday-Night-Alright chappie; living for the weekend.

But this time, as I slid into his nippy black BMW, I looked and saw somebody different.
Calmer. a strong assurance behind that smile.

I must have stared too hard.
Because soon he was telling me the story.

He and two buddies had ‘done’ America: 28 States in just 12 weeks.

But it was South America that stuck in his memory… searing his mind, and piercing his heart.
It was that gold and silver mine in Bolivia.

It took a mere £3 sterling to persuade a shift supervisor to let them join the men down in the mine.
Just a couple of hours, you understand.
Yet another American adventure.

What he wasn’t prepared for was what they faced in the deep, black belly of the earth.

Here, in this dark hellhole, men were smiling and greeting them warmly.
The smiles made possible by chewing coca to stave off hunger, thirst, pain and fatigue for a few precious hours.

Here father and son hacked out survival, choking on the hot, gaseous air.

Here Health and Safety meant poor health, and precious little safety.

Here, existence beyond the age of 45 was a cause for celebration.

The joking between the buddies stopped.
They were able to tolerate just 3 hours, crawling on their hands and knees. Shivering and soaked.

They had to get out. They had to get out. They had to get out!

At the surface, they violently sucked in clean air once more.
They didn’t immediately say much to each other. They didn’t need to.

Alfie aged a full decade in those 3 hours.

Back home, Alfie would never again look at his life of privilege, opportunity and luxury in the same way.

Work became more than a ticket to fill himself – with whatever – in the weekend.

The week became an opportunity to fulfil and serve: to do something with meaning, purpose and contribution.

He became an inspiration and role model to the team.
He progressed quickly to Paraplanner, Senior Paraplanner, Junior Adviser.
And then Chartered Financial Planner.

He has even helped launch a  new Financial Planning brand.

This is the second time in just a few weeks that I’ve shared a “Wake Up” story.

I do it because well-rewarded routine can be such a smothering thing.

I believe many of us are called to do a Greater Work than we’re currently attempting.
The challenge (I’ve found in my life) is that Greater Work comes with a need for us to change.

There are times when I’ve stumbled over a Great Possibility.
But I’ve picked myself up, and hurried off as if nothing had happened.

Other times – like this year – I’ve dived into the uncertainty.
And felt my whole being charged with new life and capability.

I wonder what Greater Work is calling you?
And are you listening?

The Wisdom of Pa Bear

His laughter is infectious.

Once he starts, I follow. For the sheer joy of it.
And Wendy, listening in, can’t help herself either.

This happens every Sunday evening.
I call him at 5:00 pm our time: 12:00 pm in East Florida.
And we laugh and cry together.

He’s my Dad. My Papa.
We call him, affectionately, Our Pa Bear.

Yes, he’s slowing down in his reactions.
So would you, aged 94.

But here’s what’s fascinating…

He hasn’t lost his quick Jamaican humour. His native wit.
Our children adore him for that.
Just as they love the sound of his patois.
And he’s smarter than the average bear, that’s for sure.

I remember questioning some decisions he was making, five years ago.
I discussed this with his beloved friends and neighbours, Mary and Marvin.

Marvin commented:
“Dave. When it comes to money, your Mum and Dad have been around the block a few more times than we have.
You might just want to give them the benefit of the doubt.”


I reminds me of that verse I relearned in my 40’s:

“When I was 5 years old, I thought my Daddy knew everything.
By the time I was 15 , I had discovered my Dad was an idiot.
But when I reached 25 years, I was amazed at how smart my Dad was becoming.
Now I’m 45, I realise that my Dad knows everything!”

I never stop learning from him. Particularly in the last few years.
I hope that process never stops whilst he’s still here.

Life Long Learning.
It’s one of the genuine Elixirs of Youth.

The day we think we know it all – in business or life – is the day that our lives start diminishing.
We get smaller.

There are times in my coaching when I leave a conversation thinking: “Wow! I was almost as good as my two coaches (Don and Jane)!”

During those times I feel as if I had used the finest of scalpels, in the gentlest, deftest of ways, to help my client lift the problem clean out of their life.

There are times when I return to my desk, and I swear I see my former french teacher’s red scribble on my Post-It note:
“Could Do Better.”

I had behaved more like a surgeon wearing gardening gloves and galoshes.
So, out comes the notes from my coaching courses.
It’s time to relearn.

Now, the temptation might be to learn more… so that we can strut more, impress more, or earn more.
Plenty of people do that.

I’ve come to appreciate that the greatest delight comes in learning… so that we can better serve.

And then a strange thing happens:
When we genuinely serve, rather than try to impress, coerce or persuade…
Our love grows for the people that we serve.

If we’re lucky, we share with them things that make a difference to the Joy in their lives.
Things that matter.

There you have it:

To Learn.
To Love.
To Matter.

Pa Bear would approve.

Beware The Ascot Head-Butt

It’s a favourite of mine: scrambled eggs and smoked salmon (on brown toast).
In some parts of the world it’s called Eggs Ascot.

I walked into the Moran Hotel, looking for my host.
She wasn’t difficult to spot. One of the most memorable smiles on the Financial Services circuit.

We settled down, with eggs on order.

“Well, you called the meeting.” she started. “What’s on your mind?”

My cue.
I waxed lyrical about the possibilities and opportunities of working more closely together.

I stopped for breath as my Eggs Ascot arrived.

She smiled at me. That smile. And responded…

“Dave, that all sounds great. Really it does.”

I held my breath. I could distinctly hear a “But…”

I was right.
“But… I don’t think I want to work any closer with you.”

“What!” I blurted out.
“Then what on earth am I doing up here in Chiswick at this ridiculous hour?!”

“It’s a good question.” she calmly continued.
“So, let me explain why I’m saying what I’m saying.”

With a mouthful of toast and smoked salmon, what else could I do but listen?

“The problem with you, Mr Scarlett, is that you’ve lost track of who you are.
You’ve become really boring, just like the rest of the consultants dropping into this market.”

And then the neat head-butt followed.

“You’ve gone all Marketing-Schmarketing in the last few years.
And you sound no different to anyone else.
I’ll say it again: Reeeaaally boring.”

With a delicate coup de grace to follow…

“Whatever happened to The Soul Millionaire, eh?
You know. The spiritual, quirky, interesting guy that people were talking about.”

Finally, the ultimatum.

“When I see you going back to being that guy… THEN I’ll be happy to talk to you.

In the meantime, I need to get to another meeting quickly. 
So, I’ll just sip this coffee, pay the bill, and leave you to finish your scrambled eggs.”

And she was gone.

There are so many voices.
They flood us with their information,
They smother us with their opinion.

On top of which every Best Practice Meeting tells us This is how you do it. Just copy me.”

We think that by copying their Best Practices, we’ll become successful and happier too.

It seldom works that way.

The passion and innovation flows when I decide:

  1. Who I really am;
  2. Who I want to become;
  3. and Why I believe I’m here.

When I uncover the answers to those three questions…
Then commit to doing something about them…

It is then that I can create s business which is uniquely meaningful, even life-changing.

The Truth About ‘Despicable Me’

Wendy loves the film ‘Despicable Me’.

I try hard not to enjoy it; pretending I don’t see the layers of messages carefully threaded throughout.
As with other Pixar films, most of those messages are, of course, designed for us adults.

But, every now and again, I find myself standing in the middle of our lounge “Just passing through”
…and realise I’ve been standing there for 10 minutes, smiling at the screen.

However, it wasn’t until last year, as I started writing my current book, that I realised why I find the messages in this particular film so very funny.

The truth is, ‘Despicable Me’ is the perfect depiction of many small businesses.

– There’s the Genius with the craziest, scariest of ideas;
– What’s craziest is that the Genius has the capacity to achieve those ‘crazy, scary’ (wouldn’t the world would be a much duller place without them?);
– All they need is a team of helpers – Little Minions – to carry out their ‘crazy, scary’;
– That is, they recruit people – very bright people – who become ‘functions’ in the fulfilment of their brilliant ideas;
– They certainly don’t want those Little Minions to become Great Minds or Decision Makers;
– For goodness sake! That’s the Genius’s role!

And that’s where the funny story stops being funny.

Because, Little Minions – even highly qualified and well paid – will give you their backs.
They’ll do a good job in the 40 hours they’re with you.

But they’ll never give you the passion of their hearts.
Nor the creative miracle of the best of their minds.

They’ll never create what is Truly Great – for you, your clients, or for anyone else.

So you – The Genius – your clients, and the world around you…
Well, they’re all smaller – emotionally and spiritually poorer – as a result.

If you’re going to recruit people…
If  you’re going to have (seemingly) little people in your life…
Recruit them with the intention to build and nurture them into people who are, ultimately, at least as amazing as you.

Everybody wins. Starting with you.
And your influence for good multiplies and magnifies. Even in the smallest of businesses.

Ask Felonious Gru, of ‘Despicable Me’ fame.
He finally got it.
He put the interests of the children first.

He’s never been happier.