Archive for the 'Personal & Self-awareness' Category

Self evaluation using the Characteristics of Admired Leaders

Knowing that I’m always keen to devour anything related to personal development or business my wonderful wife Susie bought me “The Leadership Challenge” for Christmas.

Early on in the book Kouzes and Posner put forward the characteristics of admired leaders based on studies they’ve conducted asking leaders’ constituents to describe what they look for in a leader they would be most willing to follow. Over numerous studies four characteristics continue to stand out:

  1. Honesty
  2. Forward-thinking
  3. Competent
  4. Inspiring

I think that this list is a great tool for self evaluation purposes. If you are reflecting on something that occurred and wondering whether you lead the situation well then you can quickly evaluate yourself against these four characteristics.

I caution against using it  as a list of “things that I must do to be a good leader” because it lists the symptoms or effects of  the character, passion, commitment, beliefs and understanding operating on a deeper level. For example, a reader could take this as “well if I just act forward-thinking then I can lead people.” I personally believe that you must be forward thinking and being forward thinking comes from a deep interest in and understanding of the area you are leading people through. Similarly, a reader of the book might be tempted to think “well if I just act inspiringly then people will follow me.” But you can’t inspire others if you aren’t inspired yourself; when you are inspired yourself, that will just rub off on others. If you are looking to exhibit the characteristics that people look for in a leader then you need to look under the covers.

Inspiration from Sporting Nation

At the end of Sporting Nation (a documentary on ABC) there were some great, thought provoking insights from some elite athletes. My favourite was from Herb Elliot.

Herb recounted a conversation he had early in his career, I think it was with his soon to be Olympic coach. After some discussion his coach said “so why do you want to do nothing but focus on running around and around in circles for the next 3 years, 7 days a week?” His coach answered for him (I’m paraphrasing here):

“You want to have such an intense narrow focus because it will:

  • allow you to experience things you will never otherwise experience
  • allow you to understand things about yourself that you never would if you didn’t push yourself
  • give you a great sense of self-respect
  • give you a sense of self-reliance

I find it fascinating listening to the experiences of people that have achieved greatness at something. Their experience is, at a psychological and philosophical level, always so applicable elsewhere.

Here were some other take aways:

  • There will always be negative things in your mind, you must learn to beat them with your attitude and not take notice of them.
  • What you do must be about the intrinsic value of the activity itself rather than the extrinsic reward.

Don’t let “just this once” get you

My great office buddy Sri pointed me at “The Trap of Marginal Thinking” by Clayton Christensen the other day. I must say it truly struck a cord with me.

Here are my favourite parts:

The marginal cost of doing something “just this once” always seems to be negligible, but the full cost will typically be much higher. Yet unconsciously, we will naturally employ the marginal-cost doctrine in our personal lives. A voice in our head says, “Look, I know that as a general rule, most people shouldn’t do this. But in this particular extenuating circumstance, just this once, it’s okay.” And the voice in our head seems to be right; the price of doing something wrong “just this once” usually appears alluringly low. It suckers you in, and you don’t see where that path is ultimately headed or the full cost that the choice entails.

Many of us have convinced ourselves that we are able to break our own personal rules “just this once.” In our minds, we can justify these small choices. None of those things, when they first happen, feels like a life-changing decision. The marginal costs are almost always low. But each of those decisions can roll up into a much bigger picture, turning you into the kind of person you never wanted to be.

It was something running through my head today when I almost compromised on a hiring decision. The guy was so close to being great but then failed dramatically at one of our coding tests. Failing at the coding test or not completing it in an above average way is a deal breaker. I almost bent the rules, I went so far as to invite him back the following day to work on something together in the hope that things would workout.

Then I thought of the words quoted above and asked myself, if I bend the rules just this once, then what happens? I’ve compromised the business. The others that work with us will see this and it will cascade like a snow ball destroying everything in its path (… slight exaggeration but I like exaggeration).

Busy isn’t always moving forward

A lesson I learnt this year: if you’re busy and you’ve got a lot of tasks and deadlines being set it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re moving in the right direction, even if those tasks are coming from the outside. There are always a lot of different things to do but there are some that are just that much more important than others.

Some quick questions to ask yourself to make sure that you’re doing the right things:

  • Is your task list for the day in alignment with the bigger picture? If not, why?
  • Is this client actually a client you want to keep dealing with?
  • Having complete these tasks will you be any closer to your goal by the end of the week/month?


Using Highrise For Personal Contacts

I just wanted to let everyone in on a new little secret: using Highrise for your personal contacts. Highrise gives you somewhere to keep track of everything you know about everyone (what was her new son’s name?) and keep in touch.

I really enjoy keeping in touch with all the switched on people I meet and I really want to make sure I don’t forget anything they’ve told me.

I’ve got a personal account with Highrise where I enter basic contact details and, more importantly to me, things they mention in conversation. What they like, dislike, their spouses name, kids name, their kids sports team, details on what they’re working on and more.

Now, you might be saying “who is this guy? some kind of stalker?” Well maybe! (=P) But maybe not. I just enjoy knowing about people because it matters to me. I genuinely care about people and one way of showing you care is remembering. For remembering details on lots of people (and be able to quickly access it) Highrise is one of the best solutions.

As I mentioned before, I like staying in touch. When you’re busy it is tough to remember when and with who you wanted to get in touch with. Not with Highrise, you just setup your tasks and reminders and let Highrise manage you and your relationships. I look forward to those emails saying “TASK: Call Joe”.

Head down, bum up!

Right now is one of those points where it has just been nothing but head down, bum up. For those not acquainted with the saying, this means it has been nothing but nose to the grind, slogging it out without much of a chance to come up for a breath of fresh air.

I’m loving it.

I was never really sure of the saying “if you want someone done give it to someone busy” but now I understand. There seems to be something about that momentum of getting things done.

However, being so deep down in everything I’ve taken on I’m becoming worried that I may be missing the bigger picture. So, I’ve started setting aside a bit of nothing time to let the creative part of the brain take over. You know those moments you’re on the toilet and you think “aha! I’ve got the answer!” – by giving myself a bit of nothing time I’m hoping those creative moments happen more often. I usually find they take an angle I hadn’t thought of.

The Perfect Gift for a Man

Every now and then something comes completely out of the blue that you have to be involved with. Just recently, I heard about The Perfect Gift for a Man through Gavin Heaton. I submitted my story on growing up and becoming a man (many, including myself and my missus when she wants to have a dig, might say I’m still far from it). My story has been included.

It was a great process having to think through the emotions and the events involved in my life.

Anyway, here is part of the press release:

A group of Australian men have banded together to create a book about some of the tough issues facing the average Aussie bloke.

The book, The Perfect Gift for a Man – 30 Stories about Reinventing Manhood aims to get men talking about their feelings in a bid to help prevent male suicide in Australia

Touched by the mental health, drug and alcohol problems facing young Australian men, local bloggers Gavin Heaton and Mark Pollard appealed to their readers, friends and family to honestly share the intense emotions and experiences of being a man. This collection of stories has been published into a high quality book for the first time, using online creative publishing website’s unique self-publishing capability.

The Perfect Gift for a Man is available for sale via the Blurb Bookstore with the profits going to the Inspire Foundation a national non-profit that delivers online programs that prevent youth suicide and improve young people’s mental health and wellbeing.

You can buy the book on Blurb.

7 Things I Learnt In Getting To The First Invoice For infome

infome sent out its first invoice the other day. In getting to this point through I’ve learnt a few things, I thought I’d share them:

  • Do something useful. It seems obvious, but it is so easy to get caught up in cool ideas and grand schemes. All you need to do is do something useful for someone. Businesses want more customers and customers want a good deal.
  • Keep it simple stupid. If you’re going to be useful, people need to be able to use you. It’s tough for them to use you if they don’t even understand what you’re doing in the first place. For businesses, “we bring more customers to your door” and for customers “we get you a good deal on lunch”.
  • Get yourself noticed. Placing massive red lunchboxes with our website on them around North Sydney, often accompanied by a glamorous blonde girl handing out discounts, has played a huge role in getting to this point. By making ourselves stick-out, we made people double take, point fingers and take notice of us. Don’t be afraid to be a bit outrageous. (I loved it when I put the boxes next to some suits handing out pamphlets and the suits didn’t even get a look-in from passers by.)
  • Talk, talk, talk. The more people we talked with the more we improved the business model and the offering. Go and talk to someone. Now.
  • Stick at it. It’s easy to hang up the boots when you’re facing a bit of adversity. It’s easy to move onto the next exciting thing. I’m learning to push through these sorts of things, pushing through is leading to rewards.
  • It’s all about the journey. I’ve been saying to myself, I should have reached this point earlier. However, the more I look back, the more I trace my steps, the more I realise that each and every step along the way has been essential in getting to this point.
  • It’s an internal battle. What’s stopping you from getting that next customer? What’s stoppping you from looking at new partnerships? What’s stopping you? Well, you. You are both the greatest asset and the greatest obstacle you have.

These are the things that have stood out the most. I hope you can take something away from them.

Invoice #0000001

Last night I sent out the first infome invoice. It’s been almost a year or more in the making. Evolving from rough idea, tried concept in many different fields through to what infome is today,

Part of me wishes I could have reached this point sooner. Another part of me realises that there is no way I could have arrived at this point without going through the process I went through.

I’ve come to realise that it is a lot harder work then I thought it would be, however it isn’t hard in the way I thought it would be. Instead, it is hard in that you are confronting yourself each day, questioning yourself and pushing yourself forward. It’s easy to slave away writing code, writing plans and writing documents. It’s hard, so hard, to work up the courage to walk up to someone you’ve never met and convince them to pay you for a service that has never been used before. The battles you face are with the conflicting voices in your head, rather than with those around.

I love it. Every bit of it.

The Perfect Gift for a Man

To me, becoming a Man (as opposed to a man) is an endless journey where there is always something new to learn. A Man aligns his actions with his dreams, takes responsibility for himself and others, and moves forward. A Man grows beyond just an awareness and understanding of himself and comes to an awareness and understanding of others; not as things in his world to possess or use, but free individuals in their own world with their own dreams and pursuits. A Man gives the world everything he has got and gives those around him the freedom he hopes to receive.

I am lucky to have supportive parents who challenge me and encourage me to make my own decisions. When I was younger they were worried that I would burn myself on the stove, so Dad turned to my grandfather who said “let him burn his hand, he’ll learn his lesson and be more careful next time”. I did end up burning myself and I certainly learnt an important lesson. That’s the thing about Dad, he makes sure I consider each option (even though he tends to bend his advice towards his preferred outcome) but will always let me burn my hand even if it means picking up the pieces afterwards. I believe this approach has helped me make the first steps to becoming a Man.

That isn’t to say I make the right decisions. Boy have I made some bad decisions! When I was 18 my family moved to Adelaide and I decided to stay in Sydney and move out with my girlfriend with whom I had a chaotic relationship. It was both the best and the worst decision I’ve made. It enabled me to pursue the opportunities Sydney offered however it accentuated the problems in our relationship. Moving out with my girlfriend was a mistake I had to make to learn about people, what I wanted from life (or didn’t want), how to handle myself (or not handle myself), and that its important not to let things linger when a decision has to be made.

The morning after my parents left I was driving up to my new house to go to work and my journey took me under the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It was HUGE. It struck me for the first time that my decision to move out was HUGE. I started crying. To this day the bridge, to me, is symbolic of tough decisions. It is such an inspirational yet intimidating structure. I love it.

I guess I’ve been lucky because of my parent’s guidance and because I’ve always had a sense of direction. As a kid I learnt how to write software for computers and soon began to believe that my purpose in life was to be a great software developer. I relentlessly pursued my dream and developed a globally available mobile game when I was fifteen. It wasn’t until I took a job as a software developer straight out of school that I realised it wasn’t for me; I enjoyed creating things I believed in. I still believe this and am relentlessly pursuing my dream by running my own business. Whether my dream will change again, I don’t know. What I am sure of is that the pursuit of each dream will lead me to discover if it’s right for me. It’s win-win. It’s all part of the journey.

I’ve had a couple of failures along the way and these have forced me to push my boundaries. I don’t see failure as a negative thing; it forces me to closely evaluate myself and the way I do things. A mentor of mine who was teaching me about sales once said to me “you need to work out what’s in it for them”. This has had a profound effect on me and I’ve learned that when you have an idea but no money, your ability to inspire others is your only currency. It has also opened my eyes to an alternative way of dealing with people in general; I think more about what’s in it for them.

The other night another mentor and friend advised me to “accept that people will always act in their own self interest.” Whilst it might seem like he undervalues the good in people, simply accepting this as fact has led me to form better relationships with people. For years I’ve failed to realise that everyone around me is just trying to get the best out of life, just like me. Once I realised this, I came to see that behaviour that I might consider to be negative (friends not returning calls, people pushing in cues) might just be my misinterpretation of people who are just like me and caught up in their own world. Life overwhelms everyone. Coming to accept this has given me a greater sense of freedom.

Just recently I’ve met a fantastic girl who has given me an even greater understanding of others and myself. She has helped me transcend me and my ego. She challenges my world view and some of the beliefs I didn’t even know I had. Recently, she poked so hard that I came to realise that whenever something goes wrong in my life, I use a coping mechanism where I turn negatives into positives to inflate my ego. For example, I recently failed an assignment and my immediate reaction was “what idiots they clearly aren’t as intelligent as I am” and literally felt larger: my ego + 10. It was only thanks to my girl that I came to notice my habit. By acknowledging it I can now chose to apply it or not.

I’m actually having difficulty writing this next bit. All of these little events along my journey to being a Man have led to one moment. The moment my Dad said “I really think you’ve become a Man.”

I don’t think this is the end though.

This has been written for the Perfect Gift for a Man initiative.

Scott Middleton
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