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You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him find it within himself. – Galileo

If you open your eyes in the morning and you are still breathing, then you are alive.  Every thing else is a bonus.

Part of my training as an Infantry Officer required me to go to Ranger School, which is primarily a leadership school for combat soldiers who want to join the Army’s elite light infantry fighting forces known as the Rangers.

When I went through Ranger School, it was a 68-day course.  There was the Benning Phase, The Mountain Phase, The Desert Phase and the Jungle Phase.  Ranger courses run all year long, I drew the unfortunate short straw of having to attend during the winter months.  I have never been so cold in my life (well except maybe the time I nearly froze to death in a snow storm when I was 14).

One morning we were huddle together like seals trying to stay warm.  We had on our Gortex winter jackets and we were still cold.  One of our Ranger instructors came strutting out of his command post and yelled,  “Take those Gortex jackets off men.  It ain’t cold out here.  It’s 80 degrees out!  Cold is a state of mind.”

We groaned and shuffled and did as we were told.   Watching us shiver from the cold, our Ranger instructor said with a big old grin on his face, “Men if you make it through Ranger School, for the rest of your life, every day will be a holiday and every meal a feast.”

He wasn’t wrong.

Life is a mental game, and the quality of the game is determined by how you perceive the game in your mind.  If your perception is that life is hard, then you will attract the conditions in your life to make it hard.  Our Colonel told us, before sending us off to Ranger School, that “nothing is as hard as it seems, but if you think it’s hard, it’ll be harder than it actually is.”

To play the game of life well, you must first play a good game in your head.

What’s your mental game like?

I was lucky enough to be at a lecture the other day being given by Joe Simpson.  For those of you who don’t know Joe, he is famous for his attempt to climb the Peruvian mountain Siula Grande with his climbing partner Simon Yates in 1985.  They succeeded where many had failed but an unfortunate accident on the way down led to Joe breaking his leg.  Simon attempted to get him back down the mountain but during a bad storm and poor visibility he lowered Joe over a ledge on a rope, the rope got caught and after 1.5 hours of holding the rope Simon knew he had to cut it to survive.  Joe fell but somehow managed to survive the fall and the rest of the story, as detailed in the book and film  “Touching the Void”, is about Joe’s struggle to drag himself down the mountain.  Against all the odds both climbers lived to tell the tale.

I’d already seen the film a number of times, and we’re all big fans of the story here at Marton House so I was particularly pleased to discover I was going to hear Joe give a motivational speech.  I wasn’t disappointed either.  Joe spoke for over an hour and recounted the tale with little emotion, a difficult thing considering what he went through and it was a truly enlightening experience.

This post isn’t about what a great motivational speaker Joe is, though I’d highly recommend seeing him if you can, this post is about one tiny little thing he said about his experience.

As motivational speakers we quite often use a mountain as a metaphor, in fact one of our friends Clay Lowe uses it in situ as he takes his students up the side of Mount Snowdon.  However is reaching the top all it’s cracked up to be?

When Joe and Simon reached the top of Siula Grande they had a brief moment of elation, they reveled in the views and then they suddenly realised there was nowhere else to go – apart from down.  This was the only point during his presentation he looked slightly emotional and he claimed this realisation was a crushing blow for both of them. On the way back down hardly a word was uttered until the fateful accident happened.

Is it lonely at the top?  Does part of us die when we get there?  How can we eliminate these feelings?

Always having a goal is part of the answer, something that is difficult in mountaineering as every journey has a beginning and an end. When we went up the mountain with Clay we didn’t make it to the top, a crushing blow for us but did the experience bring us closer and make us stronger as a team because of the failure?

You can read more about Joe and Simon’s story here and here.

Steves clean whiteboard

Steve's clean whiteboard


Here is a photo and a blog post from a guy who I mentored a couple of years ago – Steve Keevil. I like his attitude to a problem that dogs us all. A to-do list that you don’t do!

Here is what he says:

For a long time the white board contained a lot of items that I failed to do.

Ideas that were had and never achieved.

And then I’d beat myself up over my lack of achievements and then procrastinate from actually doing something proactive to change this. It became a slippery slope.

So this year… the simple rule is, if it’s not on the board then I’m not working on it.

So I’ve done the same here at Martonhouse.

Seth makes an interesting point here around unemployment and what you do with all that spare time.  We can’t avoid it, redundancies are happening and if you are unfortunate enough to be one of those people how do you become more than just another statistic?

Seth talks about freelancers with more time on their hands but what about people who were actually employed by somebody, what do they do?

The effect of being made redundant is harsh and  can be incredibly debilitating.  For years of your life someone or something has given you something to do for at least 7 hours of the day, now if you don’t motivate yourself nobody is going to find another job for you.

Is finding a job full time work in itself?  It can be, initially at least but then gaps start to appear in the day and you find yourself watching TV shows you wouldn’t normally know even existed.  This is wasted time, time we’ve never had before and time we don’t automatically know how to use so it is easy to unknowingly treat it as leisure time.

Seth suggests to the freelancers to increase their reputation and visibility.  As a former employee you may not even have a reputation outside of your own workplace so maybe it is time you began to build one.  What are you good at?  Think about both in and out of the workplace.  Think about anything and everything.  

For example maybe you were employed as an accountant and maybe you are an expert in a piece of accounting software such as Sage.  It’s time to promote this ability by helping others and offering support on the most popular forums.  Start a Sage for Dummies blog where you give simple plain advice every day.  Talk to your local newspaper about writing a tax column.  After as little as a year doing this your reputation and visibility will be so high you could probably start your own business and the best thing is your customer base will be already waiting – they are your fans, followers and readers with whom you have built the utmost confidence.

Alternatively maybe you have an interest outside of work that could turn a profit if you put your mind to it.  That star seller rating you earned by accident on eBay could give you a head start on becoming a reseller for a product or range of products or maybe your love of the kitchen could give you a good base for a culinary qualification or even starting your own bistro.  Believe it or not you don’t even need a store front to do such a thing, a local couple here in Bournemouth run a successful ding venture whereby people pay to be their dinner guests in their own home.

It is time to think on your feet.  Next time you find yourself sitting in the void find a way to fill it.  It could just turn things around.

In a time of post-Christmas recession I was most intrigued by the swarms of people hitting the high streets in the period between Christmas and New Year.  The number of high street shoppers in the “sales period” was up, sales however were dramatically down.

Obviously cash is an issue for many, even those who like to max-out their credit cards and what with Christmas always being an expense could it be a case of there is little left for the impulse buying, bargain hunter?  This is of course the case for many but I don’t believe it to be the only reason.

In the week prior to Christmas many of the big online retailers started their sales and I for one picked up all of the stuff I was hoping to buy in the post-Christmas sales which left me firstly with no money allocated for spending and secondly no reason to spend.  I ended up going to the sales only to find myself completely bored with rifling through endless DVDs and music with no real goal in mind.

Online sales are up, particularly in that week prior to the holiday.  My theory is that many, like myself grabbed a bargain or two before Christmas and then after Christmas had little to do, fell into the bored at home with the family and ended up doing the Christmas routine of heading out to the sales.  Hence busy shops but not much buying action.

Retail in the high street has sadly dug a hole for itself and it is really expensive just to have a premises there.  

So what can the high street do to reclaim the impulse? Well the evidence shows that people are still going to the shops, and getting footfall through your door is half the battle.  When they’re there you’ve got to keep ’em there.  Daily deals are one idea which would not only attract people but also keep them coming back regularly.  There is also a lot of free publicity for daily deals, check out Hot UK Deals for one.

Another hurdle is having something unique compared to competitors.  Zavvi and HMV are very similar for example but HMV support the niche markets quite well such as a very good classical selection, usually in a quieter area of the store.  

Finally try rewarding your customers for making the effort to come to your store.  This could be something as simple as giving away your old product promotional material, or holding how-to sessions like they do in craft stores.  When did you last see an ironing tutorial in a clothes store or a lesson on how to fill in a cheque at a bank?

They are just a few ideas, feel free to throw in your own.  We all know change is coming.

1.  Create a clear and compelling vision
A compelling vision acts as a beacon of light that keeps your people focused on where you want to go.  Napoleon Bonaparte achieved great victories on the battlefield.  Part of his success was due to his decisiveness and the decisiveness of his field marshals in making decisions.  Napoleon made sure his field marshals knew what to do when they didn’t know what to do.  His standing order was: “In the absence of orders, march to the sounds of the guns.”

2.  Focus on the future; leave the past behind
A young monk and an old monk come to a river. There’s a beautiful lady standing there who needs to get across.  The old monk scoops the lady up in his arms and carries her across the river.  The lady kisses the old monk on the cheek and thanks him for his kindness.  The young monk raises an accusing eyebrow at the behaviour he has just witnesses; for the Order he and the old monk belong to, forbids any physical contact with women.  He decides not say anything. The two monks continue on their journey.  After a few miles, the young monk stops to confront the old monk.  “How can you live with yourself having broken our most sacred vow of never touching a woman?” The old monk shakes his head and says: “Brother, I left that woman by the river an hour ago.  It is you who are still carrying her around in your mind.”

3.  Be open and visible
Never mind email, get belly to belly with your people; let them see and feel your presence. Good leaders lead from the front and set the example for others to follow.  When I reported in to my first combat infantry battalion, my company commander showed me around the company area.  He eventually showed me to my new office:  “And here’s your office, but you’ll never see it, because if you’re doing your job properly as a leader, you’ll never be in it. Your place of duty is in front of your troops.”

4.  Listen with no agenda
Your people like to be heard and they like to know you’re listening.  Listen actively with no agenda other than to listen and understand.  Steven Covey tells us, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  In order to do that, you have to listen.  And it doesn’t to every now and then let your folks have a “moan” session.  They’ll feel better for it.  I once remarked to my Platoon Sergeant that our soldiers complained to much.  My Platoon Sergeant looked at me with a big old grin and said: “Sir, if they ain’t complaining; they ain’t training.”

5.  Accept mistakes as your own; take the praise for nothing
As the leader everything is your fault, no exceptions! You are responsible for everything your people do or fail to do.  If they fail to meet their targets, it’s because you failed to provide the proper guidance and support.  You can delegate tasks and authority, but you can never delegate responsibility.  If your team exceeds its targets, make sure it’s your people who get all the credit, and be sure to praise them openly and honestly.


Not strictly true, but slightly true. Check out this link to see what I’m on about. It is a new technology that allows multi-camera streaming so you can cut between 5 clips yourself. The top big window is for the main image. The bottom 5 mini thumbnails are your camera options.

So that is interesting from an IT angle. But it could also be an interesting training opportunity. What kind of training and learning could be told this way? What options does it open up? What interactive learning techniques could be applied?

For instance a coaching piece where one camera is one a sales advisor, one on a customer, one on 2-shot of both and one on the paperwork or product. You explore the scene yourself, just as you would in a real-life coaching session.

Leadership and life guru Clay Lowe has just sent me an incredible email which challenges leadership (or lack thereof), within the business world.  So as the business week comes to an end I’ll leave you with Clay’s thoughts for the weekend.

“Treat people right.  Show them that you care.  And they will do anything for you.”    

In the army, I have had the privilege of working for some great inspirational leaders; leaders whom I had no qualms about following into combat, not just because it was my job, but because I trusted and respected these officers and believed in their ability to keep a clear head and make sound judgements and decisions that would get us home safely once the smoke had cleared from the battlefield. 

I have looked for this calibre of leader in the companies I have worked for since I left the army.  I have had the privilege of working for some great managers, but sadly I have not found many leaders in the corporate world.  In the 11 years I have been working in the civilian sector, I can think of only two individuals that I have worked for who were great leaders; leaders whom I would do anything for, not because they were paying me, but because I trusted and respected them and believed in their ability to lead and would have happily worked for them for free.

Why are there so few exceptional leaders in the corporate world?  I think it is because there is a lack of effective leadership development.  Yes there are leadership workshops out there and managers get sent on these workshops for a day or two and then they go right back to managing and not leading.  My theory is that it is easier to measure management, and managers don’t have to engage with people at the same emotional depth, as a true leader is required to do.   

The U.S. Army spends 4 years training its future leaders before they ever step in front of troops to lead them.  How does that compare to a 2-day workshop on leadership that is so common among leadership training in industry?  Some might say that military leadership is different.  I would argue that difference is only in degree, not in kind.  The fundamentals of leadership are the same.  How a leader applies those fundamental is the same regardless of industry or sector, or whether it is military, political, religious, or commercial leadership.

Major General John Hendrix flew down to Fort Bening, Georgia to speak to new group of new captains.  I was among them.  He gave us a big pep talk on how important the role we were about to assume was to the army and to the nation.  He reminded us that America was entrusting the lives of its sons and daughters to us as future company commanders.  And God forbid if we should fail them or betray that trust.  He ended his speech by saying:  “Treat soldiers with dignity and respect and show them that you care, and they will do anything for you.”

I wrote these words of his in my journal and have carried them around in my heart ever since and every time I find myself leading a group of people in whatever capacity, I unfold these words and reflect on them. 

My first day on the job at General Electric, an old-timer pulled me aside and said:  “General Electric might sign these peoples’ pay-check, but they work for you.  Treat them right and they will do anything for you.”

The common theme these two leaders shared was not lost on me.  

Treat people right.  Show them that you care.  And they will do anything for you.

Just recently Seth Godin released his latest marketing book called Tribes. This time though marketing is actually a byproduct of what the book is truly about – leadership.

This fact remains however; How do you lead without followers? Even more vitally how do you create interest in something in the first place?

There’s a great quote in the free Triibes e-book, which came from a group which Seth began in order to prove a point really. The quote comes from Dr. Saleh AlShebil, speaking about an iPhone hackers group.

“Get a group of people from anywhere, driven by a passion for something, target a single goal, challenge them and let them do “magic.” “

Is it really that simple?  

Can you actually make yourself the single hub of a common interest for the many?

Does it have to be a non-product related spin?  

Absolutely not, just look at Apple and its loyal bunch of followers, they make nice simple shiny things and the followers spread the word and create more followers.

Does it have to be computer related?

Nope.  Just look at the success of the Mini over the years.  Originally a small, quirky car which created a large number of followers by being different and more importantly friendly.  Now with the new Mini it has a new owner, BMW but they have taken everything great about the ethos of the Mini and used it as a central part of the campaigns.  When you buy a Mini you even get a handbook on how to interact with and attract other Mini drivers.

Can a faked tribe become a real tribe?

Yes.  Kellogg’s have been running an advertising campaign for Crunchy Nut Cornflakes for years around a mythical group called the “Crunchy Nutters”.  Now there is a Facebook group dedicated to people who love Crunchy Nut Cornflakes.

If you want to see more evidence of this kind of thing in action check out the Triibes e-book.  It makes a fascinating insight into not only leadership and the following of leaders but also why groups or tribes suddenly appear.

Get it here.

 

 

Image from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Maasai_tribe.jpg

If you are looking for some design inspiration, maybe for a rebranding exercise or if you are just trying to raise your visibility a peg or two then help is at hand.  Smashing Magazine have a post today about the 7 Ingredients of Good Corporate Design which should give you some good pointers and get you started.

I’ll add one thing to it though, which should apply to each of the 7 ingredients – keep it simple.

 

 

Image courtesy of Today’s Inspiration

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