Soul Millionaire

The Thinking Bench

Let’s Hear It for Childlike Traditions!

Our children still remember those evenings.

Slipping quietly between bushes and shrubs in a front garden…
Stealthily creeping up to a front door…

Then ringing a bell, or hammering a doorknocker…
And running like fury, to hide behind a car, giggling and panting in the pitch-black Winter night.

Sometimes they’d trip and go flying in the ice and snow.
Sometimes they’d slide down a muddy slope, and smack into the side of our car.

But the tears would soon turn to laughter as they watched people come out of their houses…
Look around the quiet street, to see who that could have been…
And then smile in amazement as they saw the parcels and boxes of food and other goodies on their doorstep.

Our family called the tradition “Christmas Elves”.

The children knew that Dad would write a fresh Christmas Elf poem each year.
Whilst Mum would help them to wrap the parcels beautifully.
And off we would drive…

Traditions.

Some warm us, as we revisit them time after time.
They bring certainty, security, comfort, a sense of belonging, and help us build precious memories.

Others, however, are not so helpful.
They hold us bound to limiting myths and legends that have long since passed their sell-by date.

They even trap us in half-truths and falsehood.

In business – life is crammed full of them.
The older the business, the more crammed it becomes.

They  become infused into a company’s thinking.
“This is the way we do things here.”

We lose the wide-eyed wonder of a child’s constant questioning.
And we swap discovery for the comfort of them.

Seemingly harmless traditional mantras such as “It takes 21 days to form a habit”
Which, research shows, is complete nonsense.

Tough-driver traditions like “Lunch break is for wimps. I eat sandwiches at my desk”.
Which is a perfect way to reduce creativity, increase toxic exhaustion, lower productivity, dilute discernment, multiply errors.

Traditions such as “Because I’m the Leader, I make the strategic decisions here. My team put them into action.”
Which is a brilliant way to stifle the thinking power of the people who work at the cutting edge with your clients.

I’m sure you can think of a host more.

Now, I realise that Jesus Christ was born in April, in Bethlehem.
Even though we love celebrating his birth in December.

But – whatever your faith or philosophy – it can be a glorious, compassion-inducing tradition.
Particularly when you ‘get it’.

If we would stop the breathless rushing around of December.
If we will but pause, and consider the traditional thinking and routine behaviour we’ve slumbered into.

Maybe then we can grasp the opportunity to change our future.
Maybe then we can bring greater Joy To Our Own World.

And the world around us.


A Windrush Legacy

His delight and relief was palpable at my end of the phone.
Then, just as I’d expected, his chuckles changed to choking sobs and muttered “Thank You’s”

It had taken two frenetic weeks to help him and his family find accommodation, warmth, safety in this bitter British Winter.
To help them navigate the baffling route of immigration from a, literally, murderous environment in a chaotic city.

Now, for a few more delirious weeks, these highly skilled, faith-filled, bright, loving people could smile, rejoice, live without fear.

And I walked down my garden path towards my home… sobered, humbled.

Stepping into the warmth of my kitchen, I poured myself a hot drink of Caro, with a generous spoonful of honey.
Then shuffled lazily into our lounge, and sank into the comfort of a cream leather settee.

The log fire was ready to light. It would soon crackle merrily and dance gold and orange across our faces and warm walls.

I thought back to my parents, caught up in the Windrush exodus after the War.
And wandered what fears, officialdom and bigotry they faced, as they stepped off that ship, a lifetime ago.

Then I heaved a sigh of relief at the life that is mine.

Here I am… running my own business.
Living in my very own home.
Creating, coaching, lifting, encouraging, teaching, writing.
I decide the Why, What, How and Who of my day.

I’m free.
Blissfully, gorgeously FREE!

Free to make mistakes and enjoy triumphs.
Free to decide what I earn, and who I serve.
Free to keep my income without awaiting nighttime, threatening knocks on the door from local, kidnapping gangs.

I’m free to write this blog, and not look over my shoulder in fear of Political Correctness.
Free to speak my mind.
Free to worship, laugh, sing and play.
Free to design, build, shape the life that I want for me and my family.

From deep inside me erupts the desire to be more excellent at what I do.
To reach many, many more people with hope and help and encouragement.
To provide such an experience for them that our engagement becomes a transformative delight to them.

With all that we fret about.
With all about us – mankind – that needs to be so much better.

This really is an extraordinary, richly rewarding time to be alive.

May our behaviour towards each other, particularly in business, reflect that.
Today.
Tomorrow.


Making Friday Mean Something More

This is why I love working here.
Seated at the bottom of my Bee & Butterfly garden.
Full length windows providing all the scenery I could desire.

Whatever the season or weather, I  am assured by the calm rhythm and purpose of Nature.
Flora and fauna responding miraculously to their surroundings… by concentrating on what is truly important.

The lessons are invaluable, constant and mesmerising.

The same cannot be said of our supposedly superior species.

Somebody coins a phrase such as “Black Friday”
And the country loses all sense of sanity, perspective and emotional well-being.
Plunging into a frenetic, gorging grab for whatever is trivial and shiny.

As long as it’s Half Price.

Meanwhile…
Our family is rocked today by news of the fragility of our humanity.

And we are humbled and quietened by Life. Particularly the brevity of it.
Forced to face questions about what Truly Matters in mortality’s season upon season.

For us, the name given to this crazy day of throwing money takes on another meaning.

Many of the projects seated neatly in my In-Tray seem less important somehow.

What rises to the surface…
What shines as a priority…
What becomes screamingly important…
Is the need to better nurture our relationships.

Family… team… clients… community.
All those people impacted by the ripples of our passing, and sometimes shortsighted, behaviour.

That, surely, is our priority.

I believe it is artificial and unhelpful to divide life into discrete segments: Home and Office.
In reality, our comings and goings are one indivisible whole.

They’re just Life.

And the quality of the relationships we nurture, the people we lift – wherever we are – will ultimately stand as the contribution we make.
The mark we make in this world.

Starting with this day we call “Friday”.


If You Could See What A Child Sees

I looked down at the cool, beautiful, silent marble squares of floor.
They had always been so. Cool and beautiful.

But they had lost the life that I tried to recall.
The carefully carved squares hadn’t seemed so sadly silent before.

I stared at my shoes; well my blue and white trainers.

“Trainers? And they’re not supposed to be that large.” I whispered.
“They should be small feet. Small feet in soft blue slippers.”

But that was decades ago. And I was just nine years old.
Years ago, when I had stood in this glorious, echoing church.
A church far too magnificent for a large cluster of nuns and the freshly scrubbed rabble of St Raphael’s Children’s Home.

A church full of hushed whispering, of giggles, of singing that soared and dived.
A church where the children stood, bathed in the dancing colours streaming through lofty stained glass.

And I was one of those children.

Now, impossible years later, here I was, standing in a July day, on the same marble which had been made hallowed by my childhood footsteps.

This was where I first learned to ask deep, sweeping, awed questions.
About Life. And it’s meaning and purpose.

Today, many of those I meet in business struggle to even ask those same questions.
Let alone respond with lucid answers.

It’s as if they’re scared.
Terrified that, if they don’t have answers, then they’ll be faced with the question:

“So, what exactly AM I doing here? And why?”

And so we find people looking for meaning in their work.
Meaning in front of their screens, where they used to find coherent meaning – and answers – in their religion or well-versed philosophy.

Those you work with want more than a Job today.
Most want more than a Career Ladder, which they’re destined to climb and clamber.

What they want… what they yearn for… is to know that they’re engaged in something of significance.
“Otherwise, what’s the point, eh?”

Your responsibility… my responsibility… as a Leader,
is to help them uncover and make sense of the meaning and significance within their work.

That’s one of the prime requirements of our role.
That’s our job: our Leadership Job.

Ultimately, it’s how they’ll judge us.

And with that judgement, they’ll either offer their backs for pay.

Or they’ll devote heart, mind and soul to make their efforts sing such a song…
That the world will want to listen.


The Torch We Carry

I admit that I wept.

When they played ‘The Last Post’ at the memorial on Sunday.
On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
I wept.

I wept not just for the young men.
Young men who never knew that I would exist.
But whose very existence allowed me to walk the rising steps of Peace and Plenty that are mine.

I wept not only for the horror and pointless waste of precious human potential.
800,000 Precious Human Potentials never given the opportunity to blossom on England’s Pleasant Pastures.

But I wept also for me.

I wept to think that I could ever forget to say ‘Thank You’ to those who have laid paths and wreaths of Possibility before me.
My ancestors, battling to survive and rise above their meagre circumstances.
My brave Windrush parents.
Teachers and friends and leaders who nurtured me, in spite of me.

And the Young Men.

They expect me to do something with this.
With this Flaming Torch they have handed to me.
This Torch called “Freedom” and “Opportunity”

And they will ask me, when I next meet and embrace them.
They will ask me what I did with that Torch.

And I will tell them.

I will tell them such a story.
A story which is far from complete. Not by a long shot!

I will tell them such tales – of risk, of adventure, of stumbles and rising again.
Of failure and disappointment.
Of joy and reaching and accomplishment.

I will show them that I woke up. And refused to any longer ‘play small’.

I will hand that torch right back to them.
Burning brightly.

And – I believe – they will laugh with me.
Once more.


Bend It Like Barmy

It’s strange.

I don’t remember much of that two-day event.
thirteen years ago… it’s little more than a blur.

But…
I do remember signing the disclaimer form.
I do remember looking at the two ashen faces either side of me, as we sat… and watched.
I do remember that my breathing was fast, and shallow.
And that my hands hurt, as I clenched them so hard.

I remember watching a young lady volunteering to be first in our group.
She went up.
And she did it. She only bloomin’ did it!

Then it was my turn.

I walked up to one of the coaches facilitating the event.
He had a clean, crisp, bright wooden board held up to his chest. Held tight.

I held the wooden arrow horizontally, so that it’s feathered end sat neatly in a groove in the board.
Then I held the pointed metal end to my throat: in that soft, vulnerable part, in the dip between your left and right collar bones.

He looked unflinchingly into my eyes.
“David.” he said. “Can you do this?”

I felt a scream rising from my gut.
But swallowed it fiercely down.

“Yes. I can do this.” I know my lips and throat moved. But I can’t recall hearing my voice.

“Will you do this?” he asked, calmly.

“Yes. I will do this.” I heard someone say.
They told me that it really was me.

Then I pushed firmly towards him.

I could feel the arrow pushing – inconceivably – into my throat.
And – even more conceivably – I continued my relentless push towards my partner-in-lunacy.

I know. You’re struggling to believe what you’re reading right now.
But I’m sitting here… telling you…
The Arrow Bent.
And Then Snapped Clean In Two.

I have the two pieces in my attic.

And I still don’t believe it either.
I just don’t believe my insanity: agreeing to take part in that moment of sheer ridiculousness.

Nor did Wendy when I returned home.

But I’m here to tell you…

More often than not…
The barrier to our extraordinary thoughts and deeds…

Is our Fear.

More often than not…
We refuse to believe how magnificent we are.

And we run our businesses accordingly.
We live within that fearful circle.

What could our influence be… if only we would approach each week with “Fearless Possibilities” as the heading of our To-Do List?


The Medici Touch

“Just keep breathing.” I whispered to myself.
“Just keep breathing, and raising your knees one by one.”

I could no longer remember just how many steps the curly-haired guide had mentioned, down there on the streets.
How many we’d have to climb to reach the top of this timeless tower.

What he didn’t mention was that each step was just a tad more steep – and narrow – than your average stair at home.
And each few steps took us into a new spiral, which made my head spin… until I’d lost count anyway.

Above and below me I could hear the wheezing and coughing of those who had clearly paid for an adventure bigger than their hopefulness.

But inevitably, we clambered, exhausted and jubilant, into Italy’s October brightness.
Then shuffled anti-clockwise around the small balcony atop this huge, stunning, loudly visible, red-tiled dome.

Duomo di Firenze. Formally Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Flore.
The Cathedral of Florence. The Cathedral of Saint Mary of The Flower.
A work of architectural genius, taking 140 years to complete.

And then we could see it.
Spread out below us, this beautiful, historic birthplace of Renaissance art and science.
Endowed and flaunted by jealous dynasties like the Medici’s.

Firenze.
Or, ‘Florence’ to us foreigners.

Dotted with palaces, proclaiming wealth and power, well-stroked egos and fiery imagination and rivalries…
Narrow paved streets radiating from the glory of il Duomo…
Countless mortal stories of triumph and tragedy, opulence, oppression and ordinariness… played out across century upon century.

And me, just a passing wisp of breath and awe.
My tiny, inquisitive life hardly a blink in the rolling babble of this glorious, famed city.

Which makes me wonder about the furious strivings of our everyday business.

Will they matter just a few years from now?
Or can we leave a mark on the comings and goings of humanity?

What we do in our offices and our meetings and our technology.
Will it leave behind a legacy worth mentioning?
Something that others will gaze at, point to, with wonder and gratitude.
A few tiny years from now.

I wonder…
What’s the glorious legacy you’re leaving on the community around you…
Through the instrument of your business?


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.

Hope.

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.

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

So…
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.
Everybody.

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.
Writing.
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.

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.
Paused.
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.
Lauren.
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.

Strange.
Wonderful.

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.

Gratitude.
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?

Aaaaarrrggghhhh!

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.