Resilient Hope

An Investment in Hope

I was honoured to be invited on Saturday to the launch of the British Antarctic Survey’s Sir David Attenborough. Although for me this meant a 14-hour return drive, it was worth it. The launch was a historic milestone and a significant move towards a safer world. Quite apart from that, the launch itself was quite spectacular.

I’d been loosely associated with this and several other major British Antarctic Survey (BAS) programmes, facilitating annual two-day workshops with the UK’s National Environment Research Council and BAS over the last four years. What has emerged for me is a growing admiration for the people involved and their mission. Working in the Antarctic is as near as you can get to the extremes of space travel without leaving the planet.

My SDA Launch Selfie
I just had to take a selfie…

As the real Sir David said in his speech, science has shown us how interconnected we are with polar regions. What happens there affects our lives here and vice versa. It was British scientists who first monitored the thinning of the ozone layer in the Antarctic as long ago as 1944.

This new £200 million state-of-the-art vessel will be able to support cutting-edge science over the next 50 years. It will inform governments with accurate longitudinal studies about trends in global environmental systems.

Where is the hope? Well, we manage what we measure. There is hope for this planet. We can see how what we do in Birkenhead or Boston, Buenos Aires or Beijing effects glaciers and ice flows, marine life and oceanic pollution. And then we can act on that information.

Also, as the Bishop of Birkenhead said at the launch, this will inspire a generation of children to engage with science and engineering.

More than that, the culture I see developing with my client organisations gives me hope for leadership in these fields.

£200 million seems a lot as a UK taxpayer. However, it is an investment in hope, which is priceless.

Leaning to Action Self-Awareness

Transparency and Vulnerability

In my last post, I began to explore radical transparency from a the example of a client organisation. To lead transparently generates trust. This kind of leadership shows up before people with integrity.

However, a lot of leaders baulk at precisely this invitation to transparency. It is a vulnerable place, and for some, it is far too uncomfortable, dangerous even. They would rather hide; hide in their boardrooms, or behind closed doors; hiding behind unnecessary secrecy, behind the obfuscation of corporate jargon, using information as a weapon rather than for engagement with people involved. Or they often pretend, hiding behind a mask. They fear the real them being seen.

The problem is that we are not as stupid as these leaders think we are. We see through their masks. Eventually. We look for integrity and are disappointed to find hypocrisy. We see through the veil of secrecy for brave leaders, and instead, we see fear.

The shelf life of these less-than vulnerable leaders is short. Soon the game’s up. We see you. We see you for who you are.

Warts and All

When Oliver Cromwell won the English Civil War and became Lord Protector – not King – of England, he commissioned a portrait from Sir Peter Lely, with these instructions: the artist was to paint him “warts and all,” and not as the convention of the day would have it, the equivalent to photoshopping a model to make the subject look more attractive. Here was the result:

Portrait of Oliver Cromwell

Cromwell had dealt with his vanity and refused to present an image of himself other than what was reality.

This illustrates that an alternative is available, but it can require an uncomfortable journey for the leader. The warts-and-all leader has experienced shame and dealt with it. They are comfortable with their imperfections. They have a robust “take me or leave me” attitude. They risk vulnerability and show us their true selves. Now, that is leadership that builds trust.

I’ve experienced both kinds. The secretive or pretentious leaders have betrayed my trust more than once and hurt me. So it takes me a while now to trust a leader.

But those authentic leaders I know, and they do exist, can call on me, and I’ll do what I can for them.

I love them, warts and all.

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Leaning to People

The Power of Radical Transparency

One the delegates on a Change Management Practitioner I led shared with us a remarkable initiative within her organisation, Cambridgeshire Constabulary, the regional police force for that part of England. 

What follows is with the kind permission of the Constabulary.

Rumour Mill is, in essence, very simple. It is an intranet discussion board, where anyone can post any question or comment about current happenings within the force. Anonymously.

Cambridshire Constabulary

Let the radical transparency of this sink in for a moment.



On anything! 

Could your organisation cope with that? Would your leaders be courageous enough to provide and promote such a forum?

The Soham Murders

The history of the Constabulary up to that time had been a traumatic one. It was on their patch that Ian Huntley murdered the two schoolgirls at Soham. The repercussions were profound, not just in Cambridgeshire, but nationally. The nation asked whether we were doing enough to protect our children from predators such as Huntley.

In the wake of all this, Cambridgeshire Constabulary went through a furnace experience of public enquiry, scrutiny and self-examination. Under exceptional leadership from successive chief constables, it emerged with a culture of exemplary professionalism. 

A lesser, weaker leadership would have withdrawn into itself, become more secretive and guarded. 

But it was in this context that the change team conceived the Rumour Mill.

Culture, once again, is the key.

Culture is the key factor in effective change leadership.

So, if someone, anyone, posts a comment such as, “This initiative will mean the loss of twenty jobs at HQ”, within a couple of hours at most a response is posted by the change team, correcting any wrong assumptions or clarifying any confusion where appropriate.

People following the thread can see the openness of leadership here, and the abiding trust grows that leaders are listening to everyone.

This Rumour Mill is, for me, a brilliant illustration of how a courageous and powerful leadership team is prepared to be radically transparent. And the payoff in restored trust can be huge. 

Rumour Mill is a brilliant illustration of courageous and powerful leadership, prepared to be radically transparent.

Well done, Cambridgeshire!

Leaning to People

The Old Project Management Mindset

Some years ago we conducted some research into high performers in project management, and one of the outstanding differences between them and the control group was a significant behaviour we called Leaning to People. The high performers seemed to get their results because they gave time to the critical relationships around themselves. 

This behaviour was an important discovery. We began to practise this ourselves, prioritising our time with others and found we got much better results in our work.

However, this was not emphasised enough – and still isn’t – on most project management curricula, training and bodies of knowledge. This lack of stress on relationships is understandable but is harmful. Project management as a discipline has a heritage in construction and engineering. However, the overarching worldview of these disciplines tends to reduce people to either resources or obstacles. It’s quite dehumanising.

So I wrote Practical People Engagement: Leading Change through the Power of Relationships. That was nearly five years ago, and it is still my best-selling book. Shortly after it was published, APMG-International adopted it as the core reference for their qualification in Stakeholder Engagement

Again, old project management mindsets can creep in here by referring to people and groups as stakeholders. Worse still, project managers still use the term stakeholder management. Who among us likes to be managed and controlled, especially if that person is not our boss? Often, efforts to influence and achieve positive outcomes can often fail right there.

Developing the skill of Leaning to People, is not primarily an issue of learning a technique, a process, acquiring management tools or models, although these are all useful resources. No, a high-order Leaning to People skill is beyond that. It starts with a mindset. This video illustrates this:

I’ve been working on a new approach to what I have been calling Exploring People Engagement (EPE), an online workshop. This new approach will be an online seminar that I will be launching soon. The new seminar is about leading people through change.  In the seminar we explore a superior mindset, and how we work that out in better ways on our own changes, leading people to better outcomes.

What would happen if we all developed this skill? What if we were able to lead people to change more easily and realise better outcomes? What if we were able to develop that Leaning to People skill set to high order in our daily lives? That would begin to shift things for the better, wouldn’t it?

I want to equip people to lead their change better, to become world-changers.

I have a friend, Rachel, who is a world-changer. She does this in small groups of people at a time. She takes broken women, broken through loss, grief, through domestic abuse, and gently leads them to wholeness of self-identity and hope. What she does is truly transformational. She is a world-changer, one group at a time.

Leaning to People

The Power of Engaging with a Visual Narrative

Yesterday, I dropped by one of pearcemayfield’s courses to see Richard Rose, the CEO, and trainer on this event. The course was on AgilePM©. And I saw the diagram above drawn on a flipchart. I’ve seen this before and I’ve noted the way Richard does it. He tells a story as he draws what is a key diagram for AgilePM.

And he must have done this the day before. The Roles Diagram relates to so much of the AgilePM method that he deliberately does this early on in the course and leaves it on display for the delegates to muse on it as they consider later topics.

A Visual Narrative

I’ve discussed this with Richard and our other trainers. One of the most powerful ways of understanding complex content is through a visual narrative. It seems that people can recall far more of what is being said if they can see it drawn at the same time. And quirky hand-drawn cartoons appear to be even more memorable than if something is homogenized into a PowerPoint presentation. It’s the quirky-ness and the joking in class that sticks in people’s brains as hooks.

All I could do at school was paint and draw and that was the only time I ever passed any exam. It was the only thing I ever got right at school.

David Bailey, Artist

I’ve tried various online techniques, from recording my Prezi-based presentations and using Whiteboard animation software. (See my YouTube channel for examples of both.)

Yet nothing seems to stimulate people’s engagement, aid recall, and help integration with other aspects of a subject as seeing a live discussion drawn. Even more so, nothing seems to help me develop my understanding of a new subject better than if I can sketch it out as I explain it back to someone else.

What was the best live illustration you saw drawn that has stayed with you?


Never enough time? Is that really your problem?

I was talking with one of my clients the other day, and as I asked how he was doing, he replied with an ironic smile, “Never enough time, Patrick.”

“Never enough time.” This cliché rolls off the tongue too quickly when we describe the state of overwhelm.

But what we say matters. What we say can often condition our thinking, our mindset, even our self-image. We need to be careful. Clichés can become the furniture of our thinking.

What we say matters. It can condition our minds. Our clichés become the furniture of our thinking.

Is the problem really not enough time?

Let’s reframe this. Look at it as a supply and demand problem. We have 24 hours in a day. Nothing will change that. Supply is fixed.

Which one of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?

Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 6:27)

Of course, we could race through that 24 hours faster. We could cover more ground. We like to call that productivity.

Sure, we could do that. And probably we could remove a lot of pauses along the way. But we are likely to get diminishing returns the harder we work. Also, in a state of chronic urgency, we can make sacrifices we later regret; that is, if we live that long.

No, fundamentally it is a demand problem. We find ourselves accepting too many commitments into our day, our week, our month, our lives. We over-commit. We don’t want to make choices about our purpose, our priority. We don’t want to place boundaries around our time.

What about reducing that demand?

Well, that would take courage. That would mean making some choices, saying some powerful no’s to people we want to please. It would mean admitting that we have been more driven than free.

It’s easier to keep saying, “I never have enough time” and hope that things will get better.

Saying no to things is tough at first, but we find it’s worth it later on.

Meanwhile, some of us are finding freedom in our daily lives. We make hard choices. We are prepared to say no to people we would otherwise like to please.

And we find it’s worth it.

A free course that takes you through the workflows of how I use bullet journaling for my Daily Heads Up, Gratitude List, Weekly and Monthly reviews.

Personal Margin Self-Awareness

Multiple Priorities? Really?

This article is updated from the version published earlier in 2018.

Very likely, the following scene will be familiar to you.

I was invited to facilitate a strategic workshop. I was told fairly early on, “We have 32 strategic objectives we need to meet.”

“OK,” I replied. “Which one is the most important?”

You can probably guess my client’s reply…

“They all are.”

Now, what’s wrong with this picture?

When 32 strategic objectives are all a priority, something is wrong. Badly wrong.

If you are inclined to say, “Nothing, that’s just the way business has to be in these complicated days,” then I would ask you to think with me for a moment. Too many of our organisations are like the proverbial donkey who is stalled into inaction because of two competing piles of hay.

Surprise Findings in Neuroscience

The more we learn about the human brain, the more we learn how awesome is its capacity, but also how limited it is to consciously focus on things in the foreground of our awareness. Neuroscientists put the number of items we can concurrently focus upon to be as low as four.

So we have a dilemma. There are all these targets our organisations set us to meet, but we can only focus on a few.

One Thing

Recently, as part of the current release of our Leading Yourself Workshop, I released a book review of Gary Keller’s The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results. At one point, Keller explained that the word Priority entered into the English language in the 14th Century. It came from the Latin word prior meaning first. What surprised me was that it was only made plural in the 20th Century: priorities. Think about that. To previous generations, to talk about priorities would have been madness.

I suspect the human brain, and a team, and a project, and even an organisation works better with a priority than it does with priorities. Priorities (plural) begin to generate confusion, internal competition for attention and erode focus.

What if we were to budget to one priority in any given moment?

OK, complex organisations do have a number of matters to achieve, but budgeting to one priority begins to make us dig deeper. We begin to see the dependencies between different objectives, where some enable others. For example, here is an Outcome Relationship Model of an Olympics Legacy development.

Outcome Relationship Model Example

We begin to see the real drivers of organisational success. Maybe some of these objectives or targets can be met, or more easily met if we were to focus on the one thing.

Focusing on One Thing

As an individual, if I invest time now in making this blog post a priority at this moment, focusing upon it exclusively to everything else that clamours for my attention, it may help me meet some of my other objectives later.

Focus is inseparable from this kind of singular attention.

Now, this is not to say that my priority may not change during the day; it does. Nor will my priority today be the same as tomorrow. Or next week. Or next year. Priority is the matter I should focus on now.


In my coaching, I recommend clients identify maybe three or four planned tasks they intend to achieve each day. Among those, I ask them to identify their MIT, their Most Important Task. This is the daily priority, that one thing they commit to achieving that day. The real value, though, is not the MIT itself; it’s in the process of deciding that MIT. This is where we gain clarity and leverage over our day.

Now, this is not to say that we can expect no surprises during our day. What I identify in the high-performers, the Positive Outliersis a quality of mental agility to switch in a moment their priority. Something comes up. It requires urgent attention. They fully focus on that task. And when they are done, they return to their MIT. This is very different from multi-tasking two or more priorities at the same time.


The MIT is my technique for identifying my personal priority each day. What is yours? Leave your comment below.

Photo by Evan Dennis on Unsplash

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Leaning to People Self-Awareness

Empathy + Compassion

Some of the most influential people I know do more than empathise with me. Empathy is important. But when it comes down it, what truly separates world-class influencers from manipulators?

One of the most acutely painful moments in my life made me quite vulnerable. I approached a man who was a leader. Len was also a great talker. He was ready with opinions on most things.

But when I told him my news, he did something unexpected.

He wept with me.

Len is no longer with us, but I remember him with great fondness and deep appreciation, not least for that moment. For me, it was a defining moment. His compassion transcended his talk, his opinions, his wisdom. At that moment, he showed me great leadership. At that moment, I realised I needed something other than counsel and direction: I needed someone to walk with me in my pain.

I read this quote recently from Seth Godin:

Empathy is not sufficient. Compassion is more useful because it’s possible to talk to someone who is experiencing something that you’ve never experienced.

We cannot always expect to have had an experience similar to others. And we can never expect to have had another’s experience exactly.

Like empathy, there are examples that corrupt the meaning of the word compassion. But I leave it out there for you today.


Empathy + Compassion. This combination truly separates the forensic manipulator from the servant leader.
Positive Outliers

Deep Work

The turn of the calendar year is traditionally a time where we review the past year and look forward to a fresh year, a fresh start.

As you look back over your year, what do you feel? Disappointed at so little achieved? Surprised, because you achieved more than you perhaps realised? A mixture of both?

For most of us, there is that feeling that we are not making as much progress as we would like. Often in the midst of busyness, we feel like we are spinning wheels: accelerating hard but getting nowhere.

Could the reason for this be partly the way we work? 

I read Deep Work recently, a book that raises key issues for us all in the way we work. 

I found the book to be a worthy and helpful exploration of how blocks of concentrated, uninterrupted work can make a massive difference to our contribution. It is written by Cal Newport, a young professor in computer science at Georgetown University, Washington DC. I recommend it.

Ultimately it comes down to this:

We can continue to live our lives as victims of distraction or we can take deliberate steps to do something about it.

We can continue to live our lives as victims of distraction or take deliberate steps to do something about it. #deepwork


Deep Work’s subtitle is Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.

I have to say that I was a little wary of the word rules in Newport’s sub-title. I find that rules are often much-loved and defended by enthusiastic but legalistic beginners, who know a little but extrapolate it to anything and everybody.

But I need not have been too concerned. Newport takes a careful exploration of ways people have established deep work and concludes that one size does not fit all in the lifestyles of intense focused activity.

The Paradox of Work

I found Cal Newport’s analysis of the world of work fascinating. He explores a paradox: trends exist which show that in most fields of knowledge work – from academia to marketing, journalism, software engineering, to business consulting – deep work offer huge advantages to those that practice it consistently.  Yet, most organisations permit – and somethings consciously promote – environments that are hostile to periods of concentrated, uninterrupted work.

As a coach, I’m particularly aware of this in the lives of several of my clients.

Some quotes from Deep Work:

Busyness as a Proxy for Productivity: In the absence of clear indicators of what it means to be productive and valuable in their jobs, many knowledge workers turn back toward an industrial indicator of productivity: doing lots of stuff in a visible manner.”

“Deep work should be a priority in today’s business climate. But it’s not.”

Cal Newport portrait

Cal Newport

Taking Ownership of My Productivity

It all starts by refusing to be a victim. #doingyourbestwork

Nevertheless, I am finding ways to protect my deep working. In my own book, Leading Yourself, I look at proper focus competing with distraction. Distraction is always crying out for our attention. Our route to success is largely determined by our owning this problem of distraction and dealing with it.

And there are others like me. These people begin to gain performance improvements in their work by separating themselves from the patterns of the overwhelmed and harrassed majority and produce excellence.

It all starts by refusing to be a victim, and by beginning to see oneself as powerful. It starts with adopting a new mindset towards oneself and one’s work. Then one finds techniques to defend and enhance one’s best work.

Free Email Series

Doing Your Best Work email series

I’m not a fan of New Year resolutions. But I do think at the turn of the year, often with an absence from being driven by workloads over the holidays, this is an excellent time to take stock.

I’m beginning a short email series on 2nd January, called Doing Your Best Work. Click here if you would like to receive these four emails. Pardon the pun, but…

I go deeper. 🙂

I wish you a better, more hopeful and effective New Year.

Positive Outliers

Gratitude: the anti-oxidant to stress

I want to begin by thanking you.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you are an essential reason for my work. You bring out the best in me. I’m very grateful for that. 

So, thank you. I wish the very best for you and your loved ones this festive season.

In my work on the Most Powerful Daily Routine, gratitude, saying thanks, is a principal part of it all. The effects of appreciation on the person giving thanks are many. One of the most significant benefits for me is that it raises me above the voice that says, “You’re getting nowhere. You are just going around in circles. There is no progress.” By merely listing three things I am thankful for in the last twenty-four hours is convincing in shaking me out of that lie.

As I write my gratitude list, I usually surprise myself. “Oh! Yes, I did have a productive day yesterday, didn’t I?” or “Yes, there are some important steps behind me now.”

A Gratitude List is a powerful anti-oxidant to stress.

So it boosts my motivation as I go into the next day.

Here is an example, over a few days in June, of how I used this with an analogue daily planner:

A daily routine with a gratitude list

The daily log – my planning and prioritisation process – is on the left-hand side, and the gratitude list is on my right-hand side.

I explore this routine more deeply on my Leading Yourself online workshop, which I will be re-launching soon. I will also be opening the Positive Outlier Academy for those wanting to meet like-minded people who wish to grow so that they bring their best selves to their work.

As you can see, a lot of the items I am thankful for are in my relationships with those around me. This reality for me is likely to be the case for you too.

And here’s the paradox that the run-up to the holiday season highlights for many of us:

  • What is of most value to us is not about the stuff, about material things, but the people, particularly the people we love; and
  • What often erodes our relationship with these people is just busyness and the urgency that we let take over our lives. We are just too busy to give people that most precious gift: our time. I explore that more in the Leading Yourself workshop.
There’s a paradox in the run-up to Xmas: people matter more than stuff, but urgency means relationships suffer.

Since this is the last article I am planning to publish before 2018, I thought I’d try something different,

My 2017 Gratitude List

So here goes…

What I am personally thankful for in 2017 for:

  • My wife, who is now fully recovered from her back injury, and again can make such a difference in the lives of everyone she meets; for our marriage, which, after 28 years, just seems to get richer and richer.
  • Our new home in Kent, England, which is a real gift.
  • Every family and person who opened their home to us in the eleven weeks between leaving Oxfordshire and moving into our new home.
  • The former colleagues and people with whom I worked at pearcemayfield while I was involved with that once great company.
  • The faith community at Eastgate, for their openness, courage, and authenticity, for inviting me into a journey that’s much bigger than I am, and that had drawn out of me such possibilities.
  • My growing number of subscribers, who keep me sharp and improve my work.
  • My clients, who trust me with their dreams.
  • The virtual Heaven in Business group, for their example and encouragement.
  • My children, their partners and our grandchildren, who each give me such deep joy in discovering and delighting in their uniqueness.
  • That I know 2018 will be even better!

Look out for some exciting announcements early in January.

I aim to kick off 2018 by opening the Positive Outlier Academy.

Also, if you want to know more about the Most Powerful Daily Routine, I will be launching a refreshed version of the Leading Yourself online workshop, as well as some new material on writing.

For some of us, the run-up to the holidays is acutely stressful.

It shouldn’t be so.

So here’s something that might help you. I’d encourage you to write your own 2017 Gratitude List, and see what happens. Gratitude is a tremendous anti-oxidant to stress.

Let me know how you get on. Leave a comment below.

A free course that takes you through the workflows of how I use bullet journaling for my Daily Heads Up, Gratitude List, Weekly and Monthly reviews.