What am I working on?

I believe that wisdom can only be created through our own action and effort. We do that by exhausting our own resources working on problems, ideas, and asking ourselves tough questions. Here you will find (almost) daily posts of the things I'm trying to figure out for myself. Have a quick scroll through and see if you can find something that interests you :)

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Stoic leadership: How to respond and deal with recognition and praise

  1. It’s nice to receive recognition and praise, but it’s not why you do the work.
  2. You do not rely on recognition to motivate you to do your best work.
  3. Does an emerald look worse because no one recognises its beauty? No. So even if no one ever recognises your work, you do your best regardless.
  4. You never let it go to your head. You receive it with thanks, but you turn back to the work immediately. There’s always learning to do. There’s always growth. You don’t let it puff you up.
  5. Return to modesty, humbleness, and always be ready to learn from others.
  6. Don’t forget, everyone is better than you at something.
  7. Get your head into a space where you simply do not need or look for recognition.
  8. Be so busy giving others recognition that you don’t need it for yourself.
  9. Celebrate other people’s wins and successes as if it were your own
  10. Be happy that other people are receiving recognition and credit for your ideas.
  11. You don’t keep score.
  12. What matters the most is that you do the right thing…

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Know thyself [work version]

  1. What is my unique value?
  2. What should I be saying yes to?
  3. What should I be saying no to?
  4. What makes me feel good/bad?
  5. What conditions allow me to be at my best?
  6. Who do I want to be at work?
  7. How do I behave when I’m angry or frustrated?
  8. When do I find myself outside of my integrity?
  9. How do I accept and deal with feedback?
  10. What do I have complete control over?

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Coming back to my values – was I the person I wanted to be today?

Almost daily I write a reply on an index card to the following question:

“Who do I want to be today?”

I’ve been doing this consistently since February 2021, and it was only today I realised that I was only doing half the exercise!

The part that’s missing is to, at the end of the day, look back over it and see how closely my actions and behaviours corresponded with who I wanted to be today.

I share this with you for a few reasons:

  1. It’s a very simple exercise
  2. It has helped me to do better work (and it may help you)
  3. On bad days, it has helped me come back to my values

…and right now, I’m looking back through three months of entries and it’s clear to me a) who I *really* want to be, and b) what I struggle with on a daily basis.

Here’s a snippet of what keeps turning up for me:

  • Smile
  • Be kind
  • Listen and be genuinely interested in others
  • Pay attention
  • It’s not about you
  • Lean into your strengths
  • Believe in the value you bring
  • Be the best teacher/coach you can be
  • Ask great questions
  • Don’t take things personally
  • Don’t let fear control you
  • Don’t make assumptions
  • Just be yourself
  • You don’t need to prove yourself to anyone
  • See the potential in others
  • Assume that people are good and trying their best
  • Elevate and celebrate others

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What can you rely on when things are uncertain?

I’ve had a number of major ‘career’ transitions this past 10 years.

A highlight reel:

  1. Left home to start my first management job (19)
  2. Employee to student (at 29)
  3. Student to entrepreneur (at 31)
  4. Entrepreneur to employee (at 38)

Of course, there’s always uncertainty when making big changes and decisions, but when I look back I never really got bogged down or distracted by the uncertainty.

Why is that?

About 18 months ago me and a friend were both going through a major career change, and although we had both landed in a good place, we were both unsure about many things.

That’s when we changed our thinking.

Instead of worrying about what’s uncertain (not within our control), we focused on what is certain (what we have complete control over).

Here’s a quick list of what we could rely on:

  1. Our work ethic and willingness to do the work
  2. Our ability to study and learn quickly
  3. Our ability to get on with and help other people

For me, knowing that these three factors are always within my complete control gives me the certainty that I will do well wherever I end up.

Over to you…

What can you rely on when things in your life are uncertain?

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How to do better work

  1. Let go of perfectionism
  2. Don’t let fear control you
  3. Lean heavily into your strengths
  4. Strive for better, rather than best
  5. Make mistakes and learn from them
  6. Be strict about who and what gets your energy and attention
  7. Get really good at saying no with kindness and integrity
  8. Get clear on the conditions for doing your best work
  9. Focus on what you have complete control over
  10. Accept that you can’t do everything well
  11. Know and respect your boundaries
  12. Remove pointless distractions
  13. Take control of your schedule
  14. Ask for help quickly and often
  15. Measure your work on inputs
  16. Embrace constraints

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Entrepreneur vs employee…

What do they have in common with each other?

They both want to:

  1. Make the world a better place
  2. Work hard for something that matters
  3. Feel fulfilled and satisfied at work
  4. Work to serve and help others
  5. Provide for and create a better life for their family
  6. Learn, grow and get better
  7. Make their dreams a reality
  8. Create ambitious ideas
  9. Express their agency and have choices

…and, they also make sacrifices and take risks for their work.

I feel we all have a duty, perhaps more now than ever, to look at what we have in common with each other and challenge these stereotypes.

Let’s work together to mend the fabric, rather than tear holes in it.

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How to get buy-in for your ideas

One of the most common challenges I see in my work is leadership spending very little time thinking about how to communicate a change or solution to their high-performing teams.

A lot of work goes into solving problems at the leadership level, and often times the value of that work is dramatically diminished by poor communication.

Simply put, solving a problem is only half the work. The other half is where you put time, effort and energy into communicating it to your team.

You may have the single best solution, but if your team don’t buy-in to it then you are going to be spending a lot of your time and energy dealing with resistance and push back.

Leaders present their team with solutions and wonder why they get problems.

Instead, leaders should present their team with problems and get help creating solutions.

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“If it doesn’t exist you really have no right to talk about it”

I watched a video from Joe Satriani (guitarist) today. He said:

”If it doesn’t exist you really have no right to talk about it. If you are brave enough to take that first step and put that first stroke of paint on the canvas or lay down that first rhythm part, then you have the right to talk about it further and get other people involved”

I thought to myself…”Ok, I better get to work then! I won’t talk to anyone about this project until it’s done. That’s the challenge. Just do it, and don’t tell a soul.”

It’s all too common set goals and immediately sharing them with the world. But it’s just more distracting noise about a thing they might do, rather than something they actually produced that adds real value.

Two other examples:

  1. Architects (band) – you don’t hear about their new album until the first single is released.
  2. Ryan Holiday (author) – you don’t hear anything about his new book until it’s being published.

So, what’s the lesson? Creating something people want to talk about is more important than talking about something you haven’t yet created.

Anyone can talk a good game about what they are going to do. What’s rare is getting the head down, staying quiet and getting the work done.

It’s the quiet ones we should be watching!

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Who am I letting get to me?

Many people don’t like being told what to do. They want to feel in control and make independent choices about what they give their time and attention to.

Which is completely fine, however…

…at the drop of a hat, they will let their emotions carry them away by getting defensive, angry and drawn into the drama. They may even change their whole direction just to prove other people wrong.

You may not like being told what to do, but you ultimately let other people control you in a different way. Either way, the outcome is the same – you are being carried away by other people.

You are still being told what to do.

What’s the lesson?

It’s somewhat easier to reject overt instruction – like being verbally told what to do by someone else – but it’s much more difficult to recognise when your emotions are making irrational decisions for you and changing your behaviour based on how the people around you act and behave.

Ask yourself…

  1. Who’s carrying me away?
  2. Who am I giving control to?
  3. Who am I letting get to me?

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