If you find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.

Sitting in my office as I look out at a snowy scene, we’re variously trudging, finding a way through or grinding to a halt as we cope with the ‘Beast from the East’ as it has been dubbed. Resilient as the UK is, we’re not so good in extremes of weather.

The joy of snow is however unmistakable, whatever the practical implications. Leaving fresh tracks in the snow is magical and a powerful analogy for life.  Whether a new role, product, process or something that is utterly uncharted in your business or indeed the world, making new tracks is as special as it is sometimes scary. Forging a new path or following your passion can be challenging and hard, but it can also be uplifting and satisfying,  as we invariably discover hidden depths to our being.

Earlier this month, I was privileged to interview Billy Ward, global motorcycle adventurer and journalist.  The conversation was about how he forged his own path, how travel and adventure broadens and widens our perspective, and that the tricky obstacles often turn out to be the greatest catalysts to change and growth.


I hope you enjoy it as much as we enjoyed making it.

And if you need some help or inspiration with finding your new path, you know where we are.

As Ralph Marston said ‘There are plenty of difficult obstacles in your path. Don’t allow yourself to become one of them.’

My warmest wishes,



Procrastination is okay and curiosity is a winner….

Here in the UK we’re having something of a heat-wave ; for those of us in climate controlled environments we’re probably chilled, if possibly longing to be in the warmth and sunshine. Those of us in less ‘well-equipped’ environments are keeping cool as best we can. Either way the weather in the UK creates an extraordinary amount of conversation, action and indeed inaction.

Having not written a newsletter for some long months, it was in fact icy when the last one was written, I have been asked for an explanation.

A couple of years ago I found myself completely on my own, astride an off-road motorbike, slightly terrified, in the foothills of the Pyrenees with a 45 degree slippery slope to ascend on my bike. That particular experience turned out to be the catalyst to writing a book. It was to be a two-year journey of writing, and meeting and interviewing some extraordinary people. Individuals that I feel hugely privileged to have met or worked with, that have been successful or overcome some incredible difficulties and hardship to reach their potential. People from all walks of life, business, sport, the charitable sector and everything in between.


What is it that irrespective of wealth or talent, successful people do that is open to us all? That is what I set out to find out and share, from observations of the incredible people that I have worked with and those that I interviewed and met in the last few years.

Along the way, I met a neuroscientist who contributed the science and rigour to what it is that we do that enables us to flourish and grow, and of course the actions that cause the opposite effect. If we harness our brains and work together, anything is possible. As someone once said, ‘Everything is impossible until someone makes it possible’.

Turns out that procrastination is okay, it occurs due to a lack of information and our brain is signaling that you need to do a bit more research. Curiosity is undoubtedly a winner and I have certainly seen this quality in the greatest leaders and the elite in sport.   What will continually grow our brains however and enable us to reach our potential is constantly seeking out the new and different, our brains work harder and create new cells in doing so. Finally, the power of deliberate action – there’s no denying what can be achieved.

Whatever the weather (wherever you are) what can you do today that is new or different that will shape your future?

‘The Art of Possible – new habits, neuroscience and the power of deliberate action’ is out now on Amazon in hardback and eBook, on iBooks for iOS devices, or click on the picture below.


Look forward to seeing you very soon.

My warmest wishes,


Who are ‘they’ anyway?

“But they said we had no choice!”, I overheard a rather frazzled individual say to another in the reception of a rather large organization. “Turns out we did. It was an unmitigated disaster!”

My client then appeared so I know not how the dialogue continued.

‘They’ seem to be quite a powerful bunch, I couldn’t help but wonder.

When we don’t know who specifically is responsible or accountable, the collective ‘they’ tend to appear with punishing regularity and untold influence.  In the same way that when we’re perhaps anxious about a significant event, we start considering, sometimes unrealistically, what ‘they’ will think.   Do we stop to think who ‘they’ really are? Not always.

The media is currently awash with news about what ‘they’, collective politicians, company executives, did or didn’t, will or won’t do.

When ‘they’ becomes a specific individual, it is so very much easier to make progress and identify who is doing what. Useful when it’s all going swimmingly, even more so when it’s not!

I wonder if those executives at Tesco knew who ‘they’ were , the ones that were supposedly accounting for what was going on financially and should maybe have been accruing more effectively?

They (!) evidently hadn’t come across the salutary little poem ‘Who’s job is it’.

This is a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody.  There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.  Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.  Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job.  Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it.  It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have.

Do you know specifically who is doing what for you in your organization or personally?

It seems that ‘they’ have a little too much power in the world. Is it timely to start reclaiming some of it back and redressing the accountability and responsibility balance.

After all when people are given autonomy, generally individuals rise to the challenge and deliver……very, very well. Richard Branson knows this and has recently announced that his employees can choose exactly when and for how long they take a vacation.  Productivity will soar.

People are very able and have names with history and heritage, let’s be specific and perhaps the collective ‘they’ might just start to go away or at the very least have a little less influence.

Have a fantastic week.

Board rash.

Board rash I discovered, can develop as a result of friction between one’s torso and a surfboard due to sand adhering to the wax, this is easily remedied by wearing a rash-vest. Unlike, I couldn’t help musing, the friction and tension I had observed developing during a board meeting the week before.  The feeling of discomfort however was probably similar.

For the first time this summer, I tried surfing, it has always been something of a wistful desire. Sitting on a board waiting for a wave and then feeling the slight swell of the ocean, paddling hard, becoming aware of the bubbles of water at your feet, the surface of the water ahead of you changing to peculiar flat swirls with almost a stalling motion signifying the moment to get up. Then up, the adrenalin rush, the feeling of being literally on the water at the behest of nature is just breath-taking…..

That moment was, in truth, the odd nanosecond amongst hours in the sea, falling off more times than I can recall and many times realizing the moment had passed. Much ingested seawater later, I can just about ride a (little) wave.

A delegate appeared in the break at a recent workshop and said ‘leading’s hardest when people are upset or emotionally charged, the rest of the time it’s ‘relatively easy’, right? ‘Well, yes’, I said ‘a leader that notices what’s going on and takes action especially during tough times will stand out significantly from those that notice what’s going on but don’t actually do anything.” ‘No quick fix then, okay, thanks’, he said and went off for a coffee looking thoughtful.

Metaphorically speaking, we can either take action and go for that wave even if the net result is more seawater and another plunge into the sea, or we can watch the moment go by, observe from the sidelines and wash up on the beach. Alternatively we can act and get stuck in, the experience is richer and the more accomplished we become. Awareness develops and that’s better for everyone!

In 1969, two young men Doug Warbrick and Brian Singer set up RipCurl.  The culture and ethos today is still all about the surfer and the sea although there is of course now a mighty successful commercial element too. It is a great case study of noticing what’s required, getting stuck in and doing something about it – be it product or a changing market. The people who run the company were and still are the test pilots. And even today on a clear day with a brisk wind running straight from the land, you’ll be pushed to find anyone in the RipCurl offices  – hurrah for that!

Billabong, the embattled global surf brand, in contrast, has perhaps not taken action where it may have and has just announced losses of almost $860million.

An inspiring adventurer and explorer I know oft lives by the adage ‘better to die on the adventure than to die waiting for it’, he has achieved much, is a brilliant motivator and has made many things possible both for himself and those around him. This adage may be a little extreme for some of us, however if taking action makes the difference, I reckon it’s worth the risk. As TS Eliot put it ’only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go’.

Have a fabulous autumn and if you need a little assistance in how far you can go, you know where we are.

My warmest wishes,


Connecting strengths and the smell of pink?

‘Strength lies in difference…… not similarity’, as Steven Covey famously said.

smell of pinkIt was a rare visit to a cocktail bar with some friends prior to an evening out.

As the Master Cocktail Maker and Bartender was turning the mixing of drinks into an art form (I was more than just a little mesmerised), he suddenly leant towards me holding a tall, exotic-looking bottle and said ‘don’t you think that smells of pink?’. All the while stirring, mixing and shaking, he said again, as I was smelling from the top of the bottle, ‘don’t you think that smells of pink?’. 

I evidently had looked somewhat askance. I understood the question, I said, but I’ve never considered what ‘pink’ smells like! The delicate scent of a rose, the sweet aroma of marshmallows, even the revolting liquid the dentist asks you to wash your mouth out with, but the smell of ‘pink’, no.

It got me thinking about connections, difference and the powerful differentiators that businesses can gain when they connect the very different dots, if you will, that make a great business.

We all think differently, create differently, process and structure differently.  We’re also all innately wired, as humans, to like those that are like us. Those similar to us appear, on the surface anyway, to be easier, and those less like us can appear to be more difficult – sometimes even intimidating.

However, when a group or team comes together with those that are not ‘like’, and find a shared goal, vision, values, business fundamentals or whichever, and harness the power of that difference, it is visceral, gritty and most often very successful.

Leaders and CEOs who surround themselves with those that are better than them and different, that have strengths and expertise where they lack, reap the rewards.


They find a way to connect, to value the differences and the business therefore finds progress that not only unifies, but also delivers greater bottom-line results.

Look at Calgene, the US biotech co. The company has delivered a 1,400% return on investment since 2003 by thinking and doing differently, where the pharmaceutical sector is struggling with a patent expiry crisis.  Biotech is a prime example of wide and different thinking.

Some would say to wake up to what’s going on, one needs to smell the coffee, so to speak.  Maybe it’s time to consider what pink, or even blue for that matter, smells like in your business.

It might lead more swiftly to the sweet smell of success!

Business Performance Coaches

Steve Driver is MD of Spirit Circuits, a Hampshire-based manufacturer of printed circuit boards. Three years ago the company was in trouble. ‘There was no real harmony among the board of directors. They were going in different ways because there was no overall direction,’ he admits.

The situation was especially bleak as Driver had spearheaded a management buy-out of a division of his former company that he had, in turn, put into liquidation. Seven months later, ‘the new company had the old behaviour’ and was ‘haemorrhaging cash’.

It was Driver’s accountant who suggested he contact a business coaching organisation. He attended a presentation by Shirlaws and liked what he heard. He says: ‘When I put it to the board that I wanted to use a coach, it was deemed an unnecessary expense at a time when we were losing money. But I absolutely believed it was the way forward for the company. I am the MD and the major shareholder, so when I told the board what I wanted the answer had to be “yes”.

‘Two people objected, so they were removed before the company could go forward or else it would have been a dead programme.’

Mike Wheatley, CEO at Envisional, a Cambridge-based internet security specialist, also experienced a lukewarm response when announcing he wanted to introduce a performance consultant. ‘People are very cynical. They like to joke that bringing in a mentor is pink and fluffy,’ he says, noting that the mentor he used soon illuminated faults in the team. ‘We have got rid of people. That is not the object of this, it is a side effect.’

Leadership Styles

Kate Tojeiro established and runs the business coaching outfit Xfusion. Working with organisations of all sizes, she focuses on areas such as leadership styles and building effective communication techniques.

In practice, she says, this may mean going into an office one day a month to facilitate group and individual coaching sessions – perhaps using a business tool like psychometric testing or organising day trips – to understand whether the leaders in an organisation are geared towards the same goals.

For an MD or chief executive, the objectivity provided by a good consultant can be invaluable. Spirit Circuits’ Driver says that after bringing in a mentor, the board were forced to ask questions like:

    • Who’s leading this company?


  • Who’s giving direction?



  • Who’s looking after finance?



  • Who’s generating sales?


Eventually, the company shifted its business model from concentrating purely on production to providing a good service.

According to Driver, there has been a 25 per cent growth in turnover and a 35 per cent uplift in profit. ‘We’ve gone from being a loss-making business to a very profitable one in the space of 18 months to two years,’ he says.

As for the length of time you use a mentor, Driver notes that after about a year of coaching he recently put a stop to it. ‘We were using it too much as a sounding board as opposed to a coach. It was turning into a management meeting and we weren’t yielding anything from it.’

That, however, isn’t the end of the sessions. ‘It’s more of a sabbatical,’ says Driver. ‘We’ll revisit it in six months and take it to another level.’

By Marc Barber