Seeing Great Things

A quote from GK Chesterton has always stuck with me.

 “One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peak.”

This analogy can be applied to so many different situations in life but the more I ponder the question of leadership, the more apt it becomes.

We talk about humility being a key trait of an authentic leader. If you’ve reached great heights in your career or business, and you see people below you within the organisation, unless humility is a natural value that resides within you, there is a real danger that you will indeed ‘look down on them’ and see them as being ‘below’ you.

Our language and actions often reflects this view of the world. ‘Climbing the career ladder’, the traditional structure diagram that goes top to bottom, things need to go up the chain for approval.

Nearly 100 years ago, Chesterton was wonderfully describing our ivory towers.

We need to step back and look up together at the grand things in life. I don’t think looking down should play a part in leadership.

Let’s also apply this to our vision. Look up and see a new world – it fulfills you more than looking at the dirt beneath our feet. 


For those interested in the beautiful, descriptive writing of Chesterton, here is the full quote that appeared in one of his Father Brown stories.

“Well, his Scotch religion was made up of men who prayed on hills and high crags, and learnt to look down on the world more than look up at heaven. Humility is the mother of giants. One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peak.” Hammer of God, GK Chesterton.


Forget the plan but remember the planning

“The plan goes out of the window at the first contact with the enemy” is a common statement, obviously originating within the military. Boxing has a similar one following the first punch to the face.

Many of us have spent quite a bit of time lately coming up with numerous scenarios of how the pandemic might affect our businesses. From worst case through to plotting new opportunities, there are a myriad of plans now in circulation.

Obviously not every scenario will happen, and those that do may be quite different to what we assumed.

Where we’ve put numbers to those plans (sales forecasts, budgets, resourcing), or made other huge assumptions for the post lock down world – we know that the chance of variances is even greater.

Are the plans that don’t eventuate wasted effort? Absolutely not – planning is more than the final plan. It gives us a chance to evaluate many different scenarios, to assess how they will affect us and if they do come to pass, how we can react. Even if we are well off beam with all of our plans, the fact that we have spent time thinking about issues means that we will be better placed to react to whatever happens.

Even just talking through possibilities with our teams place us in a better position to react.

Reverting back to the military, I think Eisenhower summed it up best “In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable.”


A fuzzy vision

I’m very fortunate to be on the CELF leadership course (Community & Enterprise Leadership Foundation – in conjunction with the Waikato Management School).

Sure the pandemic has delayed the completion of the course but thanks to Tania Witheford and Peter Sun, we’re keeping learning through webinars etc.

Last week we got to hear Dr Chellie Spiller’s talk about her Wayfinder leadership framework. This was a fascinating insight into how we can learn leadership by understanding navigators who led the great migrations across the pacific.

One point really hit home – her concept of letting the island find you.

I won’t be presumptuous and try to explain this concept (after listening to the original author, how could I compete?) but it certainly did get me thinking.

We’ve become very regimented about goals and purpose. They need to be clearly defined and measured before you even start the journey. Chasing the goal needs to be linear, following a course, again set before the journey starts.

This works for small goals but is it the best method for breaking through and doing something massive and/or new?

If you’re setting off to explore what is beyond the horizon, you can’t describe something no one has ever seen before. You may intend to travel in a straight line but how do you know that there aren’t hidden dangers or opportunities ahead?

Current thinking is that you will head NNE until you come across a deserted island, 3 miles around and covered in scrub. So if you’re blown 2 degrees off course and find a continent laden in gold – you have in fact failed.

I’ve had that ‘itch’ for a while now – that I can’t accurately describe where I want to end up by following my current course. What I want to see happen. I have felt uncomfortable with the need to bore down and clarify my goals, it almost feels like I’m a failure because I simply can’t do it.

I found some work by Stephen Shedletzky that gave me hope I’m not alone with my thinking (see below). Friday’s session has really reinforced it. My course has zig zagged quite a bit over the last few years – and I hope that continues. My head can’t paint a picture of my destination but my heart can talk about it for hours.

A world where business supports community

“Idealistic it’s not about becoming the biggest, the best or number one. It’s not about reaching some arbitrary revenue target, even if it is huge. It is about pursuing something that is infinite – for all intents and purposes you will not ever attain it. It is, indeed, a vision and not a goal. And as you make progress toward that better future state you imagine, you will be able to feel and measure your momentum. A Just Cause is an ideal. It is something so noble that we would be willing to devote our lives and careers toward advancing it. And, when our careers are over, the Just Cause can live on and serve to inspire further progress; that can be our legacy.”


Conflicting posts

One day a passionate plea for those supporting purposeful business to get out and shout about the journey. Next day a post questioning whether this is an appropriate time to push for change when businesses have to be in survival mode.

Have I changed my mind or do I have a split personality?

The truth is, there is never a single direction, answer or belief. We need to question ourselves and critique what we are saying. More importantly, we need to present any conflicting options in a fair and transparent manner. We can supply information and be there to support, but we can’t make decisions for other people.

I want the world to change. I want to scream and shout about purpose – and I want to help people on that journey.

I am not going to demand that everyone changes overnight, and I’m certainly not going to sit here and pretend everything will be perfect if we just become purposeful. This is the real world and there are significant risks out there for our business community.

I will not judge those who choose survival over purposeful business. On the other hand, I will not give up trying to change the world. A business may choose survival today and that is OK. We can talk about purpose again next month…



The current dilemma

As we come out of the lock down, will you pursue business wherever you can find it? The very survival of your company is at stake – as is the income your team, and their families, rely on. Shouldn’t you be doing everything possible to put bread on the table – and allow your people to do the same?

On the other hand, will you take this opportunity to conduct business only with those who share your values or purpose? It is a chance to reset and refocus – why not seize the moment and bring alive your passion? If you’re willing to ignore your values at a time of crisis – are they really your values? Now is the time to prove it.

With my passion for purpose, it’s easy to sit back and say “this is the time to start the journey towards a better world. Let’s not go back to a rampant, anything goes business environment”.

But – if it comes down to base survival of your business, and the people who rely on it, do I really have the right to ask you to take that risk?

Yes I want a world full of purposeful businesses – but if we want thriving communities, we need thriving businesses.

I can’t answer this dilemma for you, all I can do is offer my support and to trust that you will make the right decision – based on your specific situation.

Go well and trust yourself.






Let’s stamp our feet!

I have commented on a couple of posts today about the world post lock-down/pandemic. Both of these posts were about a new future, one were purpose and impact ruled the business world.

That is what some many of us want – but remember I blog under the name The Optimistic Cynic. I may want this change but I’m too cynical to believe that it is going to happen automatically, just because people want it to.

I thought I’d repeat my comments here because I believe that they’re important.

If we let it, the world will go back to how it was. We’ll see a continuation of the slow change that we saw prior to the pandemic but our dreams of real, significant change will not be realised. UNLESS – we all double down on our efforts to lead, support and encourage that change. It’s our responsibility to make sure real change can happen and we need to be accountable (to ourselves) to ensure that we do this. We need to take every opportunity to spread the message – to business and to Govt. We need to be there for each other, supporting and encouraging. We have to put our hands up to help those who are starting on this journey. It’s time to share our passion, loudly and proudly! It’s up to us!

We also have to stop preaching to the converted. Let’s find ways to increase our sphere of influence into the wider corporate and government sectors. We need to champion our cause to those who haven’t heard it before, and those that have heard but not heeded it. We need new audiences for our message – we simple have to break out of our echo chambers. Who are the most resistant to change? Who are our fiercest critics? These are the people we need to engage with.

Maybe we should be bringing back soap boxes at every street corner….

Perhaps we should be banging on more desks…

No maybe or perhaps, we need to get fired up!

Is it time for change? Really?

I wrote this as a comment to a really good post on LinkedIn that said it is time for change and we need to make the most of the opportunities this virus has unfortunately presented us with.

“Many people in the impact space are thinking (or is it hoping?) that we will see significant change come out of the current pandemic. My concern is that these conversations and aspirations will be shared amongst those of us already on that page. My question is – how can we make this so mainstream that we will bring on-board a whole new set of leaders, influencers, organisations and basically anyone else? The world was already changing albeit slowly. What can we all do to make our passion a reality across our communities, bringing the economy along with us? We must do more…”

Sitting back reflecting on what I wrote, I have to ask myself, what am I doing?

If I truly and passionately believe that business is an awesome resource for doing good, and have often stated that it’s so easy to do – what am I doing to share this belief? What am I doing to help businesses along this path?

It is up to all of us to get this message across the whole economy and sitting talking to ourselves isn’t the way to do it.

I’m an old fashioned introvert so anything that appears remotely self-promoting doesn’t come easy but maybe it’s time to stand up.

Time to put it out there in a post, LinkedIn, here I come

  1. I believe that my book is an easy guide to how businesses can do good – using normal business techniques.
  2. I’ve blogged about my thinking
  3. I’m always able and willing to talk to any business, person or group about this way of thinking.

 Post coming up to broadcast what I can offer at this time.

What are you going to do?

Feed-back on Touch Point

With everything in lockdown, people have turned to reading so I thought I’d quickly share some of the feedback of received on Touch Point, seven business strategies for a better world.

This type of thinking should be taught at university.”

Great ideas, the danger is middle managers play power games by interfering with the messages up and down.”

“The university should give this book to all its Management School students.”

“It was really good. I didn’t know you had it in you!”

“So easy to read. I enjoyed it and I’m not even a business person.”

Thanks to everyone who has let me know how they found the book – I really appreciate getting your feedback.

Remember if you haven’t got your copy yet, you can order online here.

Bah technology – who needs it?

I’ve just returned from 14 days ‘off grid’ – no internet and no cell coverage – and guess what, I survived!

In fact I didn’t miss it at all.

The first few days I did missed the football results (and not keeping up with the transfer window was also tough) but even that ceased to be an issue.

I was outside, in the fresh air, doing manual work. It was great.

Now I’m back home, I’m online again with work, book launch, football and watching Netflix.

You could say it was only a couple of weeks and that the sun was shining but in all honesty, being outside doing physical work beats technology for me.

Let’s put things into perspective. If we lost the internet, our species would evolve and carry on. It is just a passing phase on our long journey.