Leadership by example


This blog post is a continuation from a previous one called Leading Leaders

“We must be the change we wish to see in the world”

Mahatma Gandhi

Everything you do as a leader is watched, assumed or guessed at.  People will copy your behaviors. Your behaviors are contagious.  People will guess at what you are thinking, they will interpret your facial tics and what they think it means.  The absence of your behavior or body language will also be interpreted by those with any level of emotional intelligence. Your behavior, intended or not, is contagious. And people will copy it or comment on it.

Steve Blank recently wrote a good example for how contagious perceived leadership behavior can be, in the following post Leadership is More Than a Memo.

It’s so important to practice what you preach and set the example: You can preach respect and integrity all you want; it won’t mean a thing when you ignore someone’s opinion.

There are many traits that you need to model as a leader. Your thoughts, ideas, and values can’t stay in your head, they need to be expressed in actions and behaviors so others can see them.

You will often need to combine otherwise conflicting traits such as confidence and humbleness, or find balance in a particular trait like empathy. Too much confidence will can lead to assumptions of arrogance, and too much humbleness will lead people to think you are timid, weak, and uncertain. Too much empathy can overwhelm a person, whereas too little empathy can lead others to believe that their relationship with you is artificial.

You need to be adaptable to be able to communicate at a high bandwidth with different individuals. So the words, thoughts, and ideas you share with one person may look different than the way you share it with someone else. The balance changes for every set of people, and even how a person is responding to you that day. If you are looking for a job that is consistent, leadership is not it.

While variance and adaptability is a key part to leadership, as a leader you need to consistently model particular traits in order to build trust. The following traits and topics will overlap.

“Leadership is practiced not so much in words as in attitude and in actions.”

Harold S. Geneen

Each trait will have some quick points, quotes, some will have thoughts, for you to think about and questions for you to answer, as well as a collection of resources I have found helpful.

As I keep learning about humans, grammar and leadership I will update this post from time to time.

Leadership Traits

These are traits that people who follow you will appreciate in seeing.

  1. Approachability
  2. Being Authentic
  3. Showing Empathy
  4. Being Transparent
  5. Showing Appreciation
  6. Being humble
  7. Showing Accountability
  8. Show that you respect Time
  9. A growth mindset for your people
  10. Clear Communication
  11. Inspiration
  12. Good at Influencing others
  13. Stability
  14. That you Learn and grow
  15. That you respect Diversity
  16. That you can make Decisions
  17. That you are Coachable
  18. That you build Trust/Psychological Safety

You may think after reading this list, you are all good, that you cover all of these traits. The reality is that we, like any of us, in the human race will NOT be able to get the right mix of all of these things, all the time. You are a human being, not Supergirl, even she makes mistakes.

Look up Dunning-Kruger effect or The Dunning-Kruger Effect Shows Why Some People Think They’re Great Even When Their Work Is Terrible or

People Don’t Actually Know Themselves Very Well.

Being truly self aware is hard and how we impact people with the unintended ripples in the pond that spread beyond us, from the words that were uttered when tired or triggered. Again you are a human being, unless you are an AI..

We will make mistakes because we are human, and we have 191+ cognitive biases, and that we have not encountered every type of person (in every state in their life, or every culture), or every type of project.

What makes Leadership better (not easier) is talking, sharing, learning, having a coach, having a mentor, being in the room with people different perspectives. What makes leadership amazing is growing a culture of psychological safety throughout your team, department, organization and maybe one day the world. That is a another blog post(s) for another time.

I truly welcome your thoughts, experiences and perspectives. Share them so we all become better.


Make it safe to approach you, give time to be approached, be present and follow up

“Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.”

— Colin Powell

Employees whose managers are open and approachable are more engaged. And those who can talk to their manager about non-work things are even more engaged. People who find you approachable will share information and ask for your advice.  Successful senior leadership is about being able to include people who can openly give you the information you need.

The best managers make a concentrated effort to get to know their employees and help them feel comfortable talking about any subject, whether it is work related or not. A productive workplace is one in which people feel safe (Psychological Safety) — safe enough to experiment, to challenge, to share information and to support one another. In this type of workplace, team members are prepared to give the manager and their organization the benefit of the doubt. But none of this can happen if employees do not feel cared about.

In organizations where the Leaders are approachable, are much more able to catch things before they go wrong and this in turn encourages strong connections throughout the organization. As a leader you are setting tone, to talk who you need to, when you need to, this helps counteract, communication barriers created by title, position, influence, department, etc

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

— Maya Angelou

Thoughts on encouraging approachability:

  • Show warmth, smile and be easy to talk to
  • Be seen, out and about – do not let your calendar get full of meetings
  • Be present, attentive and actively listen to others
  • Approachable leaders learn names and ask questions
  • When you get ideas and suggestions from colleagues or your team, appreciate them.
  • Avoid sarcasm – be more straightforward
  • Be consistent in your actions to avoid being seen as moody, as people will be less inclined to talk to you, where as smiles draw people in
  • Approachable leaders share their mistakes, people see you as a human
  • People want to know you. Don’t hesitate to share a story or two about yourself that shows something about your character
  • Consider making extra effort to be gentle with people who are easily intimidated, or less prone to go “toe to toe.”
  • Approachable leaders tell the truth
  • Be helpful
  • Be mindful of the clothes you wear and the message they send
  • Respond and follow up, when given ideas or suggestions

Ways to kill approachability:

  • Walk around the office with headphones on
  • Avoid eye contact
  • If you are lost in your phone/computer or always have headphones on people will not find you approachable.
  • Multitask in meetings
  • Be known to be judgmental (whether it is true or simple perception)
  • Talk too much without listening, or interrupting or taking someone else story/questions
  • Appear angry, or frustrated
  • Hide in an office or create overt physical barriers
  • Break promises or forget to follow up

Questions on approachability:

  1. Do random people come to talk to you?
  2. How do you make your time available?
  3. How rushed are your in one on one meetings?
  4. Do you pass credit for ideas given to you?
  5. How much do you know about your people?
  6. How do you encourage your leaders to ask you questions?
  7. Are you approachable to all people, regardless of their race, gender or level in the organization?
  8. How good are your inter departmental connections, how good is your non work network?

Resources for Approachability:

Back to the list of traits

Being Authentic

You are human, they are human, share life, its joys and horrors

“Authentic Leaders are not afraid to show emotion and vulnerability as they share in the challenges with their team. Developing a solid foundation of trust with open and honest communication is critical to authentic leadership.”
Farshad Asl, The “No Excuses” Mindset: A Life of Purpose, Passion, and Clarity

I think the leaders I have most trusted are those who are authentic, share their opinions, admit to their failures, build plans with their teams (as opposed to building it on their own), and advocate for you and your career. If things change they admit to it.

We trust people who we feel are authentic and often they will inspire us. Authentic leaders give you the sense they are the same at work and at home. When a leader divides their personality between work and home (sometimes to protect themselves) this leaves gaps that others can sense or see.  This often leaves an impression of a lack of authenticity, and can create a space for distrust.

Authenticity creates trust. We’re drawn to those who “keep it real,” who realize that they aren’t perfect, but are willing to show those imperfections because they know everyone else has them, too.

Authenticity doesn’t mean sharing everything about yourself, to everyone, all of the time. It does mean saying what you mean, meaning what you say, and sticking to your values and principles above all else.

Authentic means, do not be passive aggressive – be open and clear with your communication. If you have say something to choose the environment, timing and say it.

If you are comfortable to be completely yourself as a leader at work, everyone else will feel safe to be themselves.

“Extraordinary things begin to happen when we dare to bring all of who we are to work.”

“We are all of fundamental equal worth. At the same time, our community will be richest if we let all members contribute in their distinctive way, appreciating the differences in roles, education, backgrounds, interests, skills, characters, points of view, and so on.”
— Frederic Laloux, Reinventing Organizations

Thoughts on Authenticity:

  1. What are you your Values and Principles? Write them down, understand them and check your behavior against them.  Reflect on them at regular intervals. Do you have a work self and personal life self?
  2. How often do you reflect?
  3. Who are your mentors, advisers and coaches?
  4. How do you get feedback from your reports?
  5. How often do you solve problems with your team?
  6. When you make a decision do you rely on authority of your position or do you explain why?
  7. How much does your team know about you? How well do you know your team?
  8. Do you share your failures and what you learnt?

Resources on Authenticity:

Bring your whole self to work – Mike Robbins TEDxBerkeley

Back to the list of traits

Showing Empathy

Pay attention, be vulnerable, respond/acknowledge and care for others

 “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

— Theodore Roosevelt

We are not robots or even resources, we are humans. Humans come with emotions, feelings and passions. Apathy is a lack of feeling, emotion, interest, and concern.  One of the most common interview questions in the US is “What are you passionate about?” We want to see people alive, maybe even passionate and human, not apathetic. Can you imagine a workplace with no feelings, no laughter? Is that a place you want to work?

A leader who develops their emotional intelligence will be less likely be caught off guard by what their reports do. A leader who can be present, listen and understand their reports’ rational and emotional states will be able to support and inspire them.

There are at least two types of empathy to consider:

Cognitive empathy.

Beyond listening, try your best to understand your fellow team members and their perspectives. Listen to their ideas, ask about how they got there and the root problem they are trying to solve. Understand the journey as well as the conclusion.

Emotional Empathy

You’ll benefit from showing affective, or emotional empathy. This means attempting to share the feelings of another. For example, if a colleague shares a struggle, you may think: “Well, that’s not such a big deal. I’ve dealt with that before.” This sort of response can strain a relationship. Instead, when this happens, try to think of a time when you felt stressed or overwhelmed, and draw on that feeling to help you relate.


“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”
— Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

Leadership is as much about vulnerability, as it is about confidence.

Showing empathy to your colleagues, will help create strong authentic relationships that will help to grow an amazing culture, and will survive the tough times when they come.

Thoughts on Empathy:

  • How do you protect people who are shy or introverted?
  • How do you protect people who are “Cultural Add” or a diversity hire?
  • How do you react to failure and crisis?
  • What do you do if someone cries or loses their temper?
  • How do you build connection with people?
  • How often do you check in with people?
  • If they are having a bad day, how do you spot it or how do you check in to make sure they are not alone?
  • How do you forgive people?
  • How do you form opinions? Are you judgmental? Can you forgive and move on?
  • How do you make people feel safe? Not just in the moment, but in the department, throughout the whole year?
  • Do you admit when you got it wrong? And than do something about it?
  • Do you look at people as you pass them in the corridor?
  • Do people come to talk you?

Resources for Empathy:

Back to the list of traits

Being Transparent

Share information, be proactive, focus on messaging and who knows the plan

“Shame derives its power from being unspeakable.”
— Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

There’s nothing worse, than the feeling that leaders don’t care about keeping you in the loop, or even worse, that they’re keeping secrets. Transparency does not have to be “Radical” to be effective, there is a balance.  Does your culture have a lot of hierarchy or levels? Does this limit or slow down information? Is you culture overly autocratic or command and control? Is one person making decisions? Do they get upset if others implement ideas?  All of these factors will create resistance for information to flow and create a less transparent culture.

Make sure your vision, intentions, and methods are clear to everyone on your team and that they have access to the information they need to do their best work.

The essence to good change management is that people do not feel surprised, that they could see what was going to happen. Even better if they were a part of the problem finding, problem solving, decision-making and implementation process.

Gossip & Grapevine

Wherever you leave gaps of information, gossip will arise, people will start to make assumptions. You will hear a lot of information and personal opinions. Gossip a natural thing amongst humans. You will have to be good or become good at filtering the chaff from the wheat. Whilst gossip may give you speed of information you will not get from a more formal route, but be careful of trusting it. As a leader you should kill gossip with facts. Where you can get ahead of gossip by proactive with intentional sharing.


If you delay information and people find out from another source, you will lose trust. Or worse they might think you are not in the loop. How much do you share that is true as opposed to gossip? If trust is damaged, your team may stop talking to you, and start gossiping with others.

Teams, departments where the leader is judgmental or disconnected, information will not flow fast and some will never travel at all.  People will hide or delay information if they are scared of what “the boss” thinks.  This will likely also create a strong gossip vine, of incorrect or misinterpreted information.


Employees want to be kept in the loop. If an organisation fails to provide information, employees will go about searching for it in their own way e.g. gossip. To keep employees engaged, organisations need to be transparent. This will minimize distractions, establish trust in leadership, and allow employees to maintain focus on their work rather than going around trying to discover who’s doing what and why.

Copy the Behaviors of the Best

By being radically transparent about performance, companies make sure they are rewarding the competent, not the confident. This helps newer employees see what the most successful employees do, allowing them to easily model the behaviors of the best. As a result, the whole workforce progresses faster, creating a culture of continuous improvement and engagement.

“Don’t move information to authority, move authority to the information.”
— L. David Marquet, Turn the Ship Around!

Transparent organizations get information to people, often this will lead to much easier change management, less surprises, also people giving solutions to problems they see. There is often much stronger trust between organizations and its people when they are more transparent.

Thoughts on Transparency

  • Information audit on who you share information with and why
  • There should be no surprises, if there has to be, be mindful how you share the information
  • Bring people in early to help problem-solve
  • Messaging can lead to over selling and a disconnect from reality
  • How much information do you pass on?
  • What information do you hoard?
  • How surprised are your people about changes? Ask them on a regular timeframe, did anything surprise you?
  • Change is always emotional difficult, how do you make it easier?
  • Cognitive Biases can get in the way

Resources for Transparency:

Back to the list of traits

Showing Appreciation

Thank people for their work, Celebrate the wins, show appreciation during failure

“Recognition is largely about behavior. Appreciation focuses on performance plus the employee’s value as a person. Recognition is about improving performance and focuses on what is good for the company. Appreciation emphasizes what is good for the company AND what is good for the person.”

— The Five Languages of Appreciation

Appreciation is a key part of motivation. How it is delivered depends on the individual. How appreciation should be shown depending on the achievement. Appreciation should be a cornerstone of your culture.

When you appreciate and praise others, you satisfy a basic human need. As your colleagues notice that you appreciate their efforts, they’re naturally motivated to do more. The more specific, the better: Tell them what you appreciate, and why.

And most if not all people deserve appreciation, commendation, recognition, respect, or esteem for something. By learning to identify, recognize, and praise those talents, you bring out the best in them. If you are not sure what peoples strengths are Strengths Finder 2.0 has a tool to be able to highlight what people are the strongest at.

The single highest driver of engagement, according to a worldwide study conducted by Towers Watson is whether or not workers feel their managers are genuinely interested in their wellbeing.

“The difference between appreciation and flattery? That is simple. One is sincere and the other insincere. One comes from the heart out; the other from the teeth out. One is unselfish; the other selfish. One is universally admired; the other universally condemned.”
Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

Here is a slide deck I did on Gratitude or saying Thank You:

Thoughts on Appreciation:

  • Know exactly how each member of your team likes to receive appreciation. Yes ask them directly. If they are unsure, use a question set to tease it out
  • Do team members prefer recognition in front of their team, or the wider public or only in private?
  • Keep evolving and growing ways to show appreciation e.g. handwritten note, gift, have more facetime
  • Create a list of each of your reports for what they like e.g. their favorite drink is, they love this cuisine or dish.
  • Work with others to create an agreed list of career events that should be consistency celebrated e.g. promotion, birthdays, having babies, etc

Resources for Appreciation:

Back to the list of traits

Being humble (checking your ego)

Balance your ego/confidence with humility, realize you are not always right, listen

“A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.”

— Martin Luther King, Jr.

Confidence is important for success. But we are full of errors. There are at least 191 cognitive biases that we can all fall for. Everyone one of us makes bad decisions or has had experience that taught us the wrong lesson. For example, leaders who have become successful because they are decisive, without good advisers, they can become judgmental.

Too much confidence may stop others from sharing vital information with you, because you are unapproachable, or they may feel you know everything.  Too much confidence can also kill creativity, from others.

“Judgment hinders imagination.”
― Roger Fisher, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In

Be humble. Being humble doesn’t mean that you never stand up for your own opinions or principles. Rather, it means recognizing that you don’t know everything and that you’re willing to learn from others.

It also means being willing to say some difficult words when needed: I’m sorry OR I was wrong. And mean it.

Questions on Ego:

  1. When are you an arsehole? e.g. hungry, lack of sleep, ill, new baby, overwhelmed, implementing policy that you do not agree with?
  2. What are your buttons, when pushed you find it hard to control your emotions?
  3. Who do you trust, to give you good advice?
  4. Who will tell you like it is?
  5. Who tells you when you got it wrong to your face? How do you react?
  6. How do you explain your opinions?
  7. Do you think your opinions matter more than other peoples?
  8. Who calls you out when you are wrong?

“Do you know how you can tell when someone is truly humble?  I believe there’s one simple test: because they consistently observe and listen, the humble improve.  They don’t assume, ‘I know the way.’”

Ryan Holiday – Ego is the Enemy

Resources for Ego:

Back to the list of traits

Showing Accountability

Own your own shit, give feedback direct, respect failure, learn from failure, share failure

“Implementing Extreme Ownership requires checking your ego and operating with a high degree of humility. Admitting mistakes, taking ownership, and developing a plan to overcome challenges are integral to any successful team.”
— Jocko Willink, Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win

The Leader ultimately assumes responsibility for their teams’ successes and creates the structure and processes to help their teams deliver on expectations. They also own the failures, and they work towards learning how to prevent them, and prepare the team for the future.

“When it comes to privacy and accountability, people always demand the former for themselves and the latter for everyone else.”
― David Brin

Delegation is not giving away accountability

I have seen a number of times where C Suite or senior leadership have delegated a problem or an idea to a leader. Than the senior leadership does nothing.  It as if the problem/idea has being removed from their brain.  They do not encourage others to get behind the leader in any meaningful way.  I called this ‘Delegate and Abandon’, sometimes work out but if this thing affects stakeholders or multiple peers and it is not on their priority list, they could be holding a ‘poison cup’ and slowly the thing will fail and that leader gets to take the fall.

If you delegated something you are still accountable for the success and you should work with the person you delegated the thing to. Setup checkin times, agree how all parties should ‘play’ in this way and how you can help. Yes, let the leader set the tone, but be an advocate and be available.  Do not delegate and ghost..

Do not delegate feedback

Too often I have seen people give feedback via other people e.g. their bosses, rather than talk to the them direct. You are accountable to owe your own feedback.  This indirect feedback, loses context, specifies that need to be understand and heard by the receiver – and create poor quality feedback.  In my experience, it also creates a lot of toxicity in a culture where people cannot talk directly to each other – through gossip, politics and reputation management.

So next time you have something to say to someone, talk to them directly, not through their boss, HR, or some other way. In you are a leader you need to own this.

Why is accountability avoided?

In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Avoidance of Accountability is highlighted as one of the five dysfunctions.


In the Book Mistakes were made (but not by me) it looks at the consequences that our tendencies to under-rate our own culpability for mistakes and misdemeanours has and to over-rate the intention and severity of the actions of others when committed against us. The ‘us’ here is not just ourselves personally, but also the ‘us’ as a group or as a society as a whole.

Are you inadvertently sending a message that erodes ownership and responsibility among subordinates? We were.

L. David Marquet, Turn the Ship Around!

Share Failures

Owning means sharing what went wrong, the causes and the arising symptoms, so others can learn from the failure.  Hiding failures is a sign of incompetent leadership or worse a judgmental culture.

In the Agile process of Software Engineering it is common to have regular retrospectives every couple weeks, to learn what went well, what should be stopped or failed and how to get better.  Sometime you will hear the term of Continuous Improvement and or Kaizen (the translation of kai (“change”) zen (“good”) is “improvement”).

Thoughts on Accountability:

  1. Own what you say, if you got it wrong admit it
  2. As a leader the words that come out of your mouth, have much more power.  Understand how they make others feel.
  3. Your team will copy your behaviors, how accountable you are to your team, will impact their teams.
  4. Make failure easy to talk about, build psychological safety amongst your team, so talking about failures is OK and expected
  5. Do not haze people for failure, it can create unexpected culture consequences
  6. Communicate the tough things early, if there is not a plan, give them a sense when one will be created and if possible how – they need to know you are on it
  7. With difficult meeting follow up with an email with the key points laid out
  8. No one should be surprised by not being promoted
  9. Own failures and understand why they happen e.g. retrospectives, post failure meeting

Resources for Accountability:

Back to the list of traits

Show that you respect time

Know your Chrontype, Technical time(or non interrupt time), plan you time

We all have the same about of time. How we use it is very important and how effective we are able to prioritse our work will define our success. Also how we use other peoples time in meetings and with requests for information will impact on their success.


Everyday there are periods when you will make smart decisions, when have breakthroughs, and then times of the day when you make poor decisions. It is a fixed pattern depending on your individual Chronotype. There are three types: early birds, standard and night owls. Establishing your type will help you understand when you are at your best for certain decision making, and when you should avoid making decisions. Taking breaks (20-30mins) also helps reset.

The importance of the Beginning, Middle and the End

In the book ‘When’ Daniel Pink shows the science in how important each of these stages are, the myths associated with each of these key points and how to turn them your advantage. Here are some examples

  • Starting Again – This can often be much more effective than continuing with a false start
  • UH-OH Effect – People focus when they realize that time is running out
  • Encode – People remember just the end of a persons life or a project end rather than the journey, leaving often false impressions.
  • Spend the last five minutes of your day, looking at what you achieved, a basic plan for the next day and send a thank you note.

Technical Work/ NO Interruptions

A lot of different types of work need a high degree of concentration. If you lead teams of technical people, understand their work style and avoid setting up meetings when it could impact on their best concentration time and cycles.

Book time for yourself

It is important you have a chance to catch up with everything and that you have time to plan next steps. Book time in your calendar, to avoid it being interrupted. Maybe even find a room, or a coffee shop so that it becomes your time.


  • Monday 3pm to 3.30pm – Changes to the plan
  • Tuesday 8am to 9am – Learning time
  • Wednesday 3pm to 3.30pm – Changes to the plan
  • Thursday 8am to 9am – Learning Time
  • Friday 4-5pm – Reflection and plan next week

Thoughts on Respect Time:

  • Know when you are at your best and your worst, plan your activities accordingly
  • Know when your reports/team are at their best and when they need to be left to focus
  • Take real breaks
  • Respect others’ time, and recognize their best times may not match yours
  • If you have to cancel a meeting give them a why and be pro active in setting up the next
  • Lunchtime – Do not eat at your desk
  • Plan your time, for you, both planning and reflection

Resources on Respect Time:

Back to the list of traits

A growth mindset for your people

Useful feedback, Real Coaching, asking for advice, create opportunities, Protect, Advocate

“Leadership is communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that they are inspired to see it in themselves.”
— L. David Marquet, Turn the Ship Around!

If you actively support your leaders, you will, have more successful leaders. I have seen more leaders fail because their boss was poor at giving timely feedback and coaching them to success, than any other cause, of failure.


Get your leaders perspective BEFORE you make a decision or judgement when it concerns them. The worst senior leaders make proclamations about what they have done without getting their side.  It seems common sense, to say this but a lot of senior leaders fail to give timely feedback, leaving to days, weeks, months or worse until your annual performance.

Be careful about building a pattern from discrete incidents, until you understand what is going on. People often want the the bad feedback first.

One of my observations about Feedback is in a organization where people give each other feedback rather than rely on their managers above to do it, there is less politics and gossip. Encourage people to talk to each, rather than around each other. If you are unsure how, read Crucial Conversations.

Here is a detailed look at feedback:


Understand the strengths and the areas to grow in each of your reports, have a list that you do not share.  I say not to share as you can create a ripple effect and never allow your reports to RESTART when they move managers. Leaving them on option to restart, leaving the organization and you.

You may not be the best coach for certain areas, find other people to help them with targeted areas.

Creating opportunities

Find space, projects or people that could use your reports to help, when they are able to coach or mentor others, or share their expertise in a presentation.  Allow them to grow beyond you and their day to day.

Respect learning through failure

Leaders will fail. How you react to that failure will define your relationship with them. And it will be watched by everyone else. Do not Haze, this has never be shown to be an effective tool for socializing people into a new culture.


Talking someone down will lead to a self fulfilling prophecy. They will fail. There is a belief that hazing is an effective way of stressing someone to see if they are good enough. A lot of life full of stress, and the reality is that you will see more of a person when under real fire with your support.

Talking someone up can build space and influence they need to do the job you want.  But be careful not to over sell as, people on platforms can fall off.


Growing leadership takes time, and some of best emerge from failure. You will need to be patient and let people fail to some degree.

“Those who take orders usually run at half speed, underutilizing their imagination and initiative.”
― L. David Marquet, Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders

If you are a leader known to grow new leaders, you will attract talent.  You will gain deeply invested talent, who already understand the sector/domain you work in. Leadership growth does not stop once they have the manager title, each level of leadership requires different perspectives, different applications of skills and ever growing ability to abstract and strategize. Consider the Leadership levels and how your mindset and the organization development/training programs fit them.

Thoughts on Growing Leaders

  • Build a culture where feedback is the norm and ok
  • Tease out answers, do not give answers
  • What leadership style(s) are you teaching, encouraging?
  • Leadership trials. Give the opportunity to manage for two weeks, get the whole team to give feedback.  And than give another opportunity later
  • How do you react to failure

Resources for Growing Leaders:

Back to the list of traits

Clear Communication

Explicit communication vs Implicit communication, Change, Be present, Public Speaking

Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand.

— General Colin Powell

The best leaders can communicate what they want and why.  The worst expect you to read the signs. Reading the signs is sadly very common, it is more common with male managers.

Communication is often the basis of any healthy relationship, including the one between an employee and his or her manager. Alex Pentland (MIT) showed that the more cohesive and communicative a team is – the more they chat and gossip – the more they get done.

The meanings of your words

Do you call your people resources? Why are they just a cog to be replaced? Or is it a word  that we use to make easy to abstract from the human. Consider the words and their impact.  Than consider the different cultures in the room and how you are effecting them.


What are the three things you need to say and repeat and repeat with examples. make your point, make it again in a different way and than embed. Should I say it again?

Public Speaking

To be an effective leader you will need to do this a lot.  The good news is this a learned skill and you will get better at it. Involving others in your speech or deck writing is a great way to seek advice and help other understanding your thinking. And they will sometimes give you great advice.

Speaking on the spot

There will often be moments where you have to just speak, rally the troops.. It happens a lot to a leader and not under the best of circumstances. First pausing to think is great it adds gravity to your words.  If you find this difficult, may I suggest taking Improv classes  (Second City is a great school if there is one close to you) these will help in many ways, but especially for this.

Alignment and the purpose bigger than me..

In all your communications show how my job, the thing you are talking about connects to the vision, the Business Goals, etc. Show alignment in all these things.

People do not all listen the same way!

In the book When Cultures Collide it attempts to show how different people from different counties communicate and listen and resolve decisions in different ways.  The same could be said of sub cultures within those countries.


Thoughts on Clear Communication:

  1. Are you talking more than listening? Maybe shut up and lets others do the talking?
  2. Who knows what your plan is?
  3. Who are your stakeholders?
  4. Are you clear about what you want your reports to do and not do?
  5. How good are you at giving feedback?
  6. Does your report know what you appreciate about them?
  7. How clear are you? Ask others
  8. Are you present? When people are speaking to you, should you take a break?
  9. When you are receiving difficult communication do you write notes, to help you process later?

Resources for Clear Communication:

Back to the list of traits


Being a motivator, Advocate for the Business, Be the boss people want to work for, happiness leads to greater productivity, Stress Resistance 

Great leaders move us. They ignite our passion an inspire the best in us. When we try to explain why they are so effective, we speak of strategy, vision, or powerful ideas. But the reality is much more primal: Great leadership works through emotions..

The New Leaders by Daniel Goleman

What helps you jump out of bed and run to work? Your team, the work you are doing, your boss? Who wants to work for you gain?

It is not always the same but they all impact on you, without a doubt part of a leaders role is to help their people do more. How do you?

Something bigger

Hopefully your vision/mission is something you understand and believe in.  Where it is, aligning this to the day to day tasks and projects, will help people connect to something bigger than themselves. Sometimes it is focus on their actual, or it could be wider the work they do as a corporate citizen.

The champion of your people

Grow psychological safety, remove the risk of talking about anything that needs to be talked about.   They need to know that you have their back. That you advocate for them and when they fail you, you help them become better, to grow from the experience.


“Optimism is a force multiplier.”

– Colin Powell

Work for a leader that believes in what they are doing and who they are doing it with, is just inspiring. They will be able to see a path through the troubled times, that everything we have done is not wasted.  Optimists create more businesses.

Colin Powell (in his book, It Worked For Me) says military training is the best preparation for approaching difficult situations with an optimistic outlook. The following was drilled into Powell: “Lieutenant, you may be starving, but you must never show hunger. You may be freezing or near heat exhaustion, but you must never show that you are cold or hot. You may be terrified, but you must never show fear. You are the leader and the troops will reflect your emotions.”

Powell tempers his optimism with logic. “Maybe it can’t be done, but always start out believing it can be done until facts and analysis pile up against it. Don’t surround yourself by skeptics but don’t shut out skeptics who give you solid counterviews.”

“Every exemplary leader that I have met has what seems to be an unwarranted degree of optimism – and that helps generate the energy and commitment necessary to achieve results.”

The Leadership Advantage, an essay from the Drucker Foundation’s Leader to Leader Guide, Warren Bennis


The best leaders are known for all their successes as they get ahead of problems before they occur. This is often because you have the information you need, as people are willing to share, sometimes early to allow you to get ahead of the problem.


“We have three innate psychological needs—competence, autonomy, and relatedness. When those needs are satisfied, we’re motivated, productive, and happy.”
Daniel H. Pink, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Read Daniel Pinks’ book Driven.  Beyond a certain threshold money doesn’t matter; what matters is that people have autonomy, mastery, and purpose in their work and their lives. While external rewards worked for the mundane tasks of the last few centuries, they are actually counter-productive to success in the 21st century where what we really need is more creativity.

Bain Inspiration Leadership Model

In a survey of 2,000 employees, Bain & Company found 33 leadership traits:


“You may be able to “buy” a person’s back with a paycheck, position, power, or fear, but a human being’s genius, passion, loyalty, and tenacious creativity are volunteered only.”
— L. David Marquet, Turn the Ship Around!

Thoughts on Inspiration

  • You need a vision and a plan
  • Should be aligned with companies vision and values
  • Openness to new ideas
  • Turn problems and constraints into opportunities
  • Manage or ignore what you cannot change
  • Coherence between body language and what you say
  • Have a career plan for each member of your team
  • Pay attention to your teams, needs, wants and desires
  • That they matter to you and the company – and showing it

Resources for Inspiration:

Back to the list of traits

Good at Influencing others

Avoid the title trap, win win, seek advice, partnership, peers, relationships, 

I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure, which is: Try to please everybody.

— Herbert Swope

If the only way to get things done is by using your title or position you have failed to influence and are instead relying on control via command and control. This works for a period of time, but it is unlikely get the best out of people in the medium to long term and will impact the culture in multiply ways.


This skill is key to the success of all leaders. It should be a skill you learn, refresh and grow throughout your career. I read Getting to Yes every couple years.

Managing upwards and sidewards

As a leader a strong part of your success will be your relationship with your boss. A great boss will be advocate for you and your team. Be careful in putting your leader on a pestle, they will fail and they will need you to support them. You also need to call them out.

Resourcing Champion

If your team needs more people, you are the person that needs to prove this. It is a fundamental part of your and your teams success.

Adapt your leadership style to Context

There are multiple leadership styles, the following is adapted from the book ‘The New Leaders’ by Daniel Goleman

Style Coercive Authoritative Affiliative Democratic PaceSetting Coaching
The leaders MO Demands immediate compliance Mobilizes people towards a vision Creates harmony & builds emotional bonds Forges consensus through participation Sets high standards for performance Develops people for the future
Phrase ‘Do what I tell you’ ‘Come with me’ ‘People come first’ ‘What do you think?’ ‘Do as I do, now.’ ‘Try this’
Impact on culture Negative Most Strongly positive Positive Positive Negative Positive
When style works best In a crisis, to kick start a turnaround or with under performing employees When changes require a new vision, or when a clear direction is needed To heal rifts in a team or to motivate people during stressful circumstances To build buy-in or consensus or to get input from high performing employees To get quick results from a highly motivated and competent team To help an employee improve performance or develop long term strengths

“People listen better if they feel that you have understood them. They tend to think that those who understand them are intelligent and sympathetic people whose own opinions may be worth listening to. So if you want the other side to appreciate your interests, begin by demonstrating that you appreciate theirs.”
― Roger Fisher, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In

Is Influencing bad?

Some times people get confused between Influencing vs politics vs socializing an idea. The reality is sometimes it is a good idea to talk to people about an idea. People will perceive it a certain way based on their relationship with you, if they do not like you (or the idea) or do not know, you they may see it as political and those that like you (or the idea) will see it as socializing or building the case. Be careful that people may perceive you as self promoting.

Thoughts on Influencing others:

  • Always do it with good intent and honestly
  • Listen to what they are saying to you and really understand it
  • Have a stakeholder map for each project and share it – try not to forget those affected
  • Look for the win win

Resources for Influencing:

Back to the list of traits

Stability (Protecting your Mental Health)

Understand how you react under stress, moving beyond, buy time, process, leave

When overwhelmed or under stress most of us rely on more “basic” approaches to problems, which is not our best approach. Understanding what triggers stress reactions in yourself is incredibly helpful.

The reality is we are all overwhelmed at different times, it could be last night we did not have enough sleep or a specific event, use of trigger word word – all can remove rationality from us.

Some classic examples of being overwhelmed that we tend to ignore are insomnia, headaches, and pain.  A list is here.  Most of us have experience being overwhelmed in a crisis – over time you can learn to break the problem down and delegate. You are not alone.

The reality for us in leadership is that we are often under stress and we are also the victims of stronger use of cognitive biases. They will become more pronounced such as confirmation bias, because its easily and are mental guards are down.

One Psychological test I found helpful was Birkman test, which attempts to show what behaviors you may express under extreme stress. Whilst no psychological test is likely to be 100% accurate, it may point you in the right direction to being more self aware, and where you need to develop better coping mechanisms.

Signs of been overwhelmed:

  • You feel more emotional than usually. Emotional volatility
  • Unable to be present or inability to concentrate or listen
  • Procrastinating on making decisions Difficulty making decisions
  • Unable to feel emotions e.g. Numbness or withdrawal — from other people and activities
  • More things irritate you
  • Physical symptoms include headaches, back pain, digestive issues, fatigue, insomnia

Getting past it:

  1. “If this were the only thing I accomplished today, would I be satisfied with my day?”
  2. “Will moving this forward make all the other to-do’s unimportant or easier to knock off later?”

Time to leave?

Step back and consider:

  • Is the actual problem you? Not every organization, environment or culture is good for you and others will help you thrive and be your best
  • Is the role or project bringing out the worst in you?
  • Is it your boss?
  • Is it your peers?
  • Is the products you work on?
  • Is it the C Suite or Directors?
  • Is it the culture?

If you get a lot of yes, it may be time to move on to somewhere that is a better fit or challenge that will help bring the best out of you. If you asked a fair number of people leaving there jobs or being asked to leave they sometimes will describe it has a “Weight off their shoulders”.

If you decide to leave, consider deeply how you should do it. My advice is do not burn bridges. Not everyone is the same in every environment/culture. And most people will learn, adapt and change.

I think is universally true that we respect people who have grace under fire and if you are a leader you still have responsibility until you step off the plate.

That said you, you also do not have to do an exit interview.

Thoughts on Mental Health:

  • Take care of yourself
  • Sleep
  • Exercise
  • Take vacations
  • Have more than work e.g. play, have fun, date..
  • Have time for yourself
  • Take Breaks
  • Have time for those you care about in your life
  • Spend time with the opposite side to your work.  If is very rational/logical find an outlet for your creativity and vice versa.

Resources for Mental Health:

Back to the list of traits

That you learn and grow

Evolving you, evolving leaders and evolving the team, evolving the strategy, feedback

“When you can truly understand how others experience your behavior, without defending or judging, you then have the ability to produce a breakthrough in your leadership and team. Everything starts with your self-awareness. You cannot take charge without taking accountability, and you cannot take accountability without understanding how you avoid it.”
— Loretta Malandro, Fearless Leadership

I once worked in a place where the vast majority of managers/leaders did very little to nothing to grow their skills with the exception of doing their daily job.  There was no 360 Appraisal system, the performance reviews were annual. There was no book club, no formal training, no on-boarding, it was expected you would cope. People were leaving who just were not being given the feedback they needed and than no coaching – it was like leaders expected people to read minds – I am not sure telepathy is a thing but I have see a lot of ineffective cultures expect it. These cultures often expect implicitly that everyone understands what everyone else expects.  This is often caused by bad male leadership.

Without a doubt on the job experience is a part of our learning and you are responsible for your evolution. That said in organizations that do not really embolden learning in all aspects of leadership will often have problematic cultures.  As a Leader of leaders you are responsible for encourage your people and others to aggressively learn and share, what you have learned.

Focus Learning

If you have a primary capability you are employed to do, how do you know its improving? What are you actively doing to improve yourself?

I would suggest starting with two paths, how to bring my general game up (Growing Stronger) and how do I build for my next full on evolution (Strategic Growth).

Growing Stronger

The first might focus on your areas of development, weakness, unknowns that you do need to learn. Maybe you get this from a performance review, or a coach or a mentor or through other feedback. Find a book, a blog, a podcast that covers that key topic. Maybe its receiving feedback better – Read Thanks for the Feedback – create a checklist, put on your phone and just before you know you are going to receive feedback read those notes or summary. Phillippa Lally and her researchers found changing behavior on average, it takes more than 2 months before a new behavior becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact with you taking the “better route” before it sinks in.  The researchers also found that “missing one opportunity to perform the behavior did not materially affect the habit formation process.” In other words, it doesn’t matter if you mess up every now and then. Building better habits is not an all-or-nothing process. Also do not take this journey alone confide in someone who can help make you accountable.

Strategic Growth

Becoming your 2.0, maybe you pull a job description for the level you want to work towards, say you are missing Finance Experience? Maybe take a course at a local college or University, or you find someone who is willing to teach you. Maybe you take time to process information and you need to be faster, take an Improv course? Find a mentor who is doing that job already.

The power of writing and sharing

It is hard for a human to hold large amounts of information and actively use it in every context.  Something that will help is writing, or teaching others about what you have learned. It will force (well hopefully) you to condense your learning, and understand the wider forces in action. This is also helpful for those who are more tactically driven start developing strategic awareness.

Places to learn from

On the Job

  • Doing the job
  • Weekly Retros
  • One to Ones
  • Coaching/Mentoring
  • Performance Reviews

Designated Learning

  • Training
  • Reading Books/Podcast/Videos
  • Book Club
  • Magazines/Blogs
  • Confrence – either Sector or Skills based
  • Peers coffee/drinks/networking

Thoughtful Creation Learning

  • Creation/Sharing – Colleagues/Conferences/Blogs
  • Mentoring others – Volunteering at Startups Hub or local school
  • Coaching Others – Volunteering at Startups Hub  or local school
  • Editing books/articles of other creators

Learning in leadership has to be one of your core and aggressive skills. You cannot afford to stop, or even pause.  Even in a crisis or in a fire situation pay attention to what you needed to know and what you needed to know deeper. Find time later to understand and learn from it.

If you stop evolving you will stagnate.

“People can have two different mindsets, she says. Those with a “fixed mindset” believe that their talents and abilities are carved in stone. Those with a “growth mindset” believe that their talents and abilities can be developed. Fixed mindsets see every encounter as a test of their worthiness. Growth mindsets see the same encounters as opportunities to improve.”
Daniel H. Pink, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Thoughts for Learning

  • What is your learning plan?
  • Who is coaching you?
  • Who is mentoring you?
  • Are you in a book club with other leaders?
  • What skills are you going to upgrade this quarter? How?
  • What is your learning style?
  • How do actively improve yourself?
  • Do your one to ones focus on operational and fires, how often do you talk about the big picture and how you fit in?  How often do you talk about your career?
  • What skills are degrading as you no longer use them?  Will you be able to get through a round of interviews in your careers?

“One of the things that limits our learning is our belief that we already know something.”
— L. David Marquet, Turn the Ship Around!

Resources for Learning:

Back to the list of traits

That you respect diversity

Diversity brings greater innovation, uniqueness challenges culture to evolve, we share and learn

Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations

Vulcan Philosophy from Star Trek

I am not sure why, but I have always believed that Diversity and Uniqueness are a good thing in humans. I used to think that my thinking had evolved from all the Science Fiction that I read as a Child. Many of the Science fictions books explored racism via different alien races, or that sexuality, gender could be so varied, or that whole civilizations destroyed each other because they could not talk to each other.

Personal I do not look for clones of me or anyone else.

Decades of research by organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists and demographers show that socially diverse groups (that is, those with a diversity of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation) are more innovative than homogeneous groups

Advocates of diversity look for ways to best leverage their asset. They implement new structures and work practices that are radically different from traditionally-minded management approaches..” https://creativityasia.com/workplace-diversity-is-your-asset/

The end of “Culture Fit” and beginning of “Culture Add”

There term cultural fit, has often become a decider in recruitment, but too much Culture fit can lead to a cult, eh? (Sorry I am Canadian).  Or a monogamous culture, where everyone looks the same and thinks the same.

For any community to survive it must adapt, it must challenge itself, essential it must evolve or stagnant.  A strong way to keep evolving it is to bring on people who are different i.e. Cultural Add. And those people must be supported not socialized. I am not saying this comfortable it is not, but an evolving community is not comfortable.

“New ideas come from differences. They come from having different perspectives and juxtaposing different theories.”

— Nicholas Negroponte

How are you supporting people are different?

They may have different communication style or conflict style. What is their understanding of team working. How are you demonstrating values that they should copy?

This is journey of an immigrant and it takes about 18 months?  What is it for your company on-boarding process?


People from different parts of the country are surprisingly different..


Thoughts for Diversity

  • Are you are all one skin color, sex, gender, sexuality, culture, nationality? How about your leaders, your C-Suite/Directors, your Board?
  • Where do you recruiters target?
  • Are you still stuck on culture fit rather than culture add?
  • What are you doing?, to up your game in communication, negotiation and conflict skills?
  • Do people that are different have good internal mentors to help guide them?
  • How do you help people that are different, raise their voice?
  • How honest is your on-boarding process, is it about making them a cultural fit i.e. socialization or help them add their uniqueness to the community?
  • How do people share their uniquenesses to the organization?
  • Do you have a comprehensive Unconscious Bias Training program?
  • Are your benefits oriented to to one group or do they exclude another? young men, old men, pregnant woman?

Resources for Diversity

Back to the list of traits

That you make decisions

Unbiased, for the good of the team/business, conflict management, change management

“Problems cannot be solved by thinking within the framework in which they were created.”

Albert Einstein

Let facts drive your decision making, not opinions. As humans we have an incredible number of cognitive biases that drive us to make decisions in certain ways that are sometimes not helpful, correct or even close to the ball park.

When decisions can take time, use that time, consult people who may have something contribute and be careful about asking the same people or people who may agree with you. Have a hypothesis, test it, get rid of it when you can see it will not work. Loosely hold your hypothesis unless you can see it will work. And than ask for other solutions.

Fast decision making or decisivenesses is often see as an important trait, but it can lead to being judgmental.

Be OK with changing your mind when new facts or evidence show another angle.

Nobel-prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman has said that overconfidence is the bias he’d eliminate first if he had a magic wand. It’s ubiquitous, particularly among men, the wealthy, and even experts.

Cognitive bias

We often think we are making the best decision with data we have. Unfortunately our brains are wired to do certain things that are not always helpful. There are at least 181 cognitive biases, but here are the top 18. Cognitive bias can get in the way of making good decisions.


What is your goal?

Decision making must understand what you hope to achieve, the impact and consequences for the decision.

Good Strategy Execution Requires Balancing 4 Tensions

Disagree and commit

As Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos explains, to “disagree and commit” doesn’t mean “thinking your team is wrong and missing the point,” which will prevent you from offering true support. Rather, it’s a genuine, sincere commitment to go the team’s way, even if you disagree.

Of course, before you reach that stage, you should be able to explain your position, and the team should reasonably weigh your concerns.

But if you decide to disagree and commit, you’re all in. No sabotaging the project–directly or indirectly. By trusting your team’s gut, you give them room to experiment and grow–and your people gain confidence.

Change Management

Decisions often lead to change, change is hard, most humans hate change even if they agree with it.

  • Are you a dictator? e.g. “I am the director and I will tell you what you are doing”
  • Are you passive aggressive e.g. “Interesting perspective”
  • Do you hide behind others e.g. “You will tell your reports”

How to change is even important and will differ according to the culture, but here are some suggestions.

  • Involve early on, if possible get the affected to help you review the problem and solve together
  • Agree a plan of change
  • Agree messaging
  • Have a stakeholders map
  • Consider opportunities for review
  • How do you evaluate changes later to see if they were successful?

If you want a list of good exercises for serious change management checkout The Change Leader’s Roadmap.  I have used many of these exercises whilst as a consultant and they worked well

Conflict Management

How you respond to conflict will show to all what kind of leader you are.  Conflict is necessary. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team describes the lack of it as a dysfunction. Of course not all conflict is good, so managing conflict so it produces healthy results is part of a Leaders role. The biggest hint is to make sure all are heard and understood before moving to making a decision.

Unconscious bias

A quick and often inaccurate judgment based on limited facts and our own life experiences. These judgments can give individuals and groups both unearned advantage and unearned disadvantages in the workplace.

Biases are shortcuts our brain forms based on:

  • Our own experiences
  • Things other people tell us
  • Media portrayals
  • Institutional influences
  • Other external influences

11 million bits of information per second go through our senses. We can only consciously process 40 bits. 99% of our mental process is ruled by our unconscious.

If you ever get opportunity take the training.

“I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.”
— Abraham Lincoln


If you suffer from procrastination, maybe this slide deck will help you.  I wrote it for a Women in Technology group:

Being able to make a decision is important, how you do it and who you involved, will create your culture. So decisive is good, but sometimes you should take your time involve others in the decision making process.

Making a Decision

  • How do to evaluate alternatives?
  • Move from decisive to flexible and involve others
  • How is information used? Are you forcing your opinion or was the information used rationally?
  • How is the information evaluated? What biases have you used
  • How is communicated? How will this impact people?

Thoughts on Decision Making:

  • How do you check biases?
  • Are you rested well enough to make the right decision
  • If need to delay a decision, if it is not urgent delay it
  • Can you involve others in the decision, will this help get wider perspective or spot poor thought process
  • How do you evaluate major decisions

Resources for Decision Making:

Back to the list of traits

That you are Coachable

Good at listening, open to change, able to change, able to let go and good at reflection

My best skill was that I was coachable. I was a sponge and aggressive to learn.

― Michael Jordan

Whilst most of us prefer to have a leader who is experienced, smart and inspiration. Most of us as leaders, have blind spots or areas that we need to grow in. Our boss may have indeed hired us to cover one of those blind spots for them or the organization. And let us not forget the world does not stay still for anyone, whether the market changes, completion takes some of our space, technology opens new doors or we evolve as a human race – we need a leader who can change, adapt and grow. Part of this is on us, how can we help our leader be better.

On the other side we like people who report to us that are coachable, if people see you are coachable, they will often help you through any trouble times, or mistakes you make. Lets face it, you will make mistakes or delay a decision, something. If your team know you are coachable you and your team will often grow into something stronger.

If you are coachable  you are more likely be able to accept new evidence/new data and change your perspective. Rather than force the new thing, into your world view, or force it into a pattern you were trying to prove.

If you are coachable, you less likely to be stubborn, judgement and people are more likely to come to you with ideas and concerns because they feel psychological safe.

Core elements to being coachable

  1. Be present and process feedback and be able taken criticism
  2. Choose the rights moments for feedback, get their permission that this is a good time
  3. Insist on the specifics in receiving feedback
  5. Reflect and not just when things go wrong
  6. Be vulnerable
  7. Experiment
  8. Take action on feedback and close the loop with those action
  9. Acknowledge, appreciation and invite more feedback

Challenges to Coachability

I have seen the lack of coachability in managers who were promoted above their ability or just too fast, some are coached to success, but working under a manager/boss/leader that is un-coachable, sucks.

  • Too opinionated/know it all/defensive in feedback situations
  • Too critical of others/Judgmental
  • A poor listener/ multi-tasking/ always on computer or on phone during meetings
  • Too blunt and too bold/lacks empathy/too controlling
  • Too intense
  • Too “me” focused/They find blame elsewhere
  • Too difficult/ unable to connect to others
  • Too nice
  • Not “edgy” enough
  • Too attached to the details/unable to see the big picture/They are not open to new ways of looking at a situation
  • Too slow to make decisions
  • Too easy on performance issues
  • They are unwilling to be vulnerable
  • Unable to change/stubborn/unable to explain their decisions/does not action feedback
  • Unable to recognize gaps and cover him/self aware
  • Picks on bad examples , rather than the story -> Receives feedback and says no, that is not the case,
  • Overwhelmed
  • Victims of their own data

“Coachable people seek out those who speak truth to them, even if it is a painful truth, because it protects them and it makes them a better person and leader.”
― Gary Rohrmayer

Resources for Coachable:

Back to the list of traits

That you build Trust/psychological safety

Avoid surprises, build creditability, build reliability, show authenticity and share credit

“When trust is extended, it breeds responsibility in return. Emulation and peer pressure regulates the system better than hierarchy ever could.”

— Frederic Laloux, Reinventing Organizations

This takes time and effort. Rarely will people give you trust. Usually you will see it form quickly in a crisis or slowly through being consistent.

In the book ‘The Trust Equation’ by Steven Drozdeck and Lyn Fisher. They shared an equation that you build trust through having Credibility, Reliability, Authenticity divided by Perception of Self Interest.  A good article by Anne Raimondi covers this in detail.

Another perspective is advocated by The Trusted Advisor where The Trust Equation uses four objective variables to measure trustworthiness. These four variables are best described as: Credibility, Reliability, Intimacy and Self-Orientation.

Here are my guides for building trust:

  1. Be available and present
  2. To build trust, you must respect how others think and feel. That’s why it’s important to listen first.
  3. Proactive/Preventive support
  4. Follow through – Do what you say you are going to do
  5. Be fair and consistent – Do not play favourites
  6. Be explicit – Do not make them guess what you want from them
  7. Be an expert on something
  8. Build relationships that encompasses more than work

Countering Perception of Self Interest:

  1. Give credit to correct people i.e. who did the work
  2. Advocating may get what you need but pay attention to your peers reactions
  3. Highlight common goals amongst those have this perception
  4. Pay attention to the political and cultural landscape
  5. In cultures where people are passive aggressive they may not give you the feedback, but rather talk behind your back.  This maybe resolved by searching out feedback directly.

Be Present

When you regularly and skillfully listen to others, you stay in touch with their reality, get to know their world and show you value their experience. Active listening involves asking questions, along with concentrated effort to understand your partner’s answers–all while resisting the urge to judge. Careful listening helps you identify each individual team member’s strengths, weaknesses, and style of communication.

Additionally, you send the message that what’s important to them is important to you.

Questions on Trust:

  • Do you know your team – who are they at work and home
  • Understand what motivates them, do not assume, ask them and explore it
  • Get to know who they are, what gravities do they have in their life e.g. family, hobbies, favorite reads/movies
  • What is their leadership style(s), does it adapt depending on the context?
  • How do they like to be led, how do they report to you?, how do they like to receive feedback check both for positive and performance improving
  • Tell them how you like to receive feedback
  • What level of transparency do you prefer?

Resources for Trust:

Back to the list of traits


Eric Brooke Strength Finders Feb 2018


So as part of a team building exercise I redid my Strength Finders 2.0.  It had changed. Here is my previous one

Whilst three strengths  were the same (in bold), two new ones appeared. I wonder how much this survey is affected by the actual job, I do day to day. My work has changed since I last filled out the survey.

My core top five Strengths:

  1. Learner
  2. Individualization
  3. Strategic
  4. Arranger
  5. Command

1. Learner

You love to learn.

The subject matter that interests you most will be determined by your other themes and experiences, but whatever the subject, you will always be drawn to the process of learning. The process, more than the content or the result, is especially exciting for you. You are energized by the steady and deliberate journey from ignorance to competence. The thrill of the first few facts, the early efforts to recite or practice what you have learned, the growing confidence of a skill mastered—this is the process that entices you.

Your excitement leads you to engage in adult learning experiences—yoga or piano lessons or graduate classes. It enables you to thrive in dynamic work environments where you are asked to take on short project assignments and are expected to learn a lot about the new subject matter in a short period of time and then move on to the next one. This Learner theme does not necessarily mean that you seek to become the subject matter expert, or that you are striving for the respect that accompanies a professional or academic credential. The outcome of the learning is less significant than the “getting there.”

2. Individualization

Your Individualization theme leads you to be intrigued by the unique qualities of each person.

You are impatient with generalizations or “types” because you don’t want to obscure what is special and distinct about each person. Instead, you focus on the differences between individuals. You instinctively observe each person’s style, each person’s motivation, how each thinks, and how each builds relationships. You hear the one-of-a-kind stories in each person’s life. This theme explains why you pick your friends just the right birthday gift, why you know that one person prefers praise in public and another detests it, and why you tailor your teaching style to accommodate one person’s need to be shown and another’s desire to “figure it out as I go.” Because you are such a keen observer of other people’s strengths, you can draw out the best in each person. This Individualization theme also helps you build productive teams. While some search around for the perfect team “structure” or “process,” you know instinctively that the secret to great teams is casting by individual strengths so that everyone can do a lot of what they do well.

3. Strategic

The Strategic theme enables you to sort through the clutter and find the best route.

It is not a skill that can be taught. It is a distinct way of thinking, a special perspective on the world at large. This perspective allows you to see patterns where others simply see complexity. Mindful of these patterns, you play out alternative scenarios, always asking, “What if this happened? Okay, well what if this happened?” This recurring question helps you see around the next corner. There you can evaluate accurately the potential obstacles. Guided by where you see each path leading, you start to make selections. You discard the paths that lead nowhere. You discard the paths that lead straight into resistance. You discard the paths that lead into a fog of confusion. You cull and make selections until you arrive at the chosen path—your strategy. Armed with your strategy, you strike forward. This is your Strategic theme at work: “What if?” Select. Strike.


4. Arranger

You are a conductor.

When faced with a complex situation involving many factors, you enjoy managing all of the variables, aligning and realigning them until you are sure you have arranged them in the most productive configuration possible. In your mind there is nothing special about what you are doing. You are simply trying to figure out the best way to get things done. But others, lacking this theme, will be in awe of your ability. “How can you keep so many things in your head at once?” they will ask. “How can you stay so flexible, so willing to shelve well-laid plans in favor of some brand-new configuration that has just occurred to you?” But you cannot imagine behaving in any other way. You are a shining example of effective flexibility, whether you are changing travel schedules at the last minute because a better fare has popped up or mulling over just the right combination of people and resources to accomplish a new project. From the mundane to the complex, you are always looking for the perfect configuration. Of course, you are at your best in dynamic situations. Confronted with the unexpected, some complain that plans devised with such care cannot be changed, while others take refuge in the existing rules or procedures. You don’t do either. Instead, you jump into the confusion, devising new options, hunting for new paths of least resistance, and figuring out new partnerships—because, after all, there might just be a better way.

5. Command

Command leads you to take charge.

Unlike some people, you feel no discomfort with imposing your views on others. On the contrary, once your opinion is formed, you need to share it with others. Once your goal is set, you feel restless until you have aligned others with you. You are not frightened by confrontation; rather, you know that confrontation is the first step toward resolution. Whereas others may avoid facing up to life’s unpleasantness, you feel compelled to present the facts or the truth, no matter how unpleasant it may be. You need things to be clear between people and challenge them to be clear-eyed and honest. You push them to take risks. You may even intimidate them. And while some may resent this, labeling you opinionated, they often willingly hand you the reins. People are drawn toward those who take a stance and ask them to move in a certain direction. Therefore, people will be drawn to you. You have presence. You have Command.

The following  presents the 34 themes of talent, in the rank order.  The themes toward the bottom of your sequence are likely to be less apparent in your day-to-day behaviors.

6. Ideation
People who are especially talented in the Ideation theme are fascinated by ideas. They are able to find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena.

7. Restorative
People who are especially talented in the Restorative theme are adept at dealing with problems. They are good at figuring out what is wrong and resolving it.
8. Self-Assurance
People who are especially talented in the Self-Assurance theme feel confident in their ability to manage their own lives. They possess an inner compass that gives them confidence that their decisions are right.
9. Futuristic
People who are especially talented in the Futuristic theme are inspired by the future and what could be. They inspire others with their visions of the future.
10. Communication
People who are especially talented in the Communication theme generally find it easy to put their thoughts into words. They are good conversationalists and presenters.

11. Intellection
People who are especially talented in the Intellection theme are characterized by their intellectual activity. They are introspective and appreciate intellectual discussions.
12. Input
People who are especially talented in the Input theme have a craving to know more. Often they like to collect and archive all kinds of information.
13. Achiever
People who are especially talented in the Achiever theme have a great deal of stamina and work hard. They take great satisfaction from being busy and productive.
14. Activator
People who are especially talented in the Activator theme can make things happen by turning thoughts into action. They are often impatient.
15. Adaptability
People who are especially talented in the Adaptability theme prefer to “go with the flow.” They tend to be “now” people who take things as they come and discover the future one day at a time.
16. Connectedness
People who are especially talented in the Connectedness theme have faith in the links between all things. They believe there are few coincidences and that almost every event has a reason.
17. Developer
People who are especially talented in the Developer theme recognize and cultivate the potential in others. They spot the signs of each small improvement and derive satisfaction from these improvements.
18. Positivity
People who are especially talented in the Positivity theme have an enthusiasm that is contagious. They are upbeat and can get others excited about what they are going to do.
19. Belief
People who are especially talented in the Belief theme have certain core values that are unchanging. Out of these values emerges a defined purpose for their life.
20. Woo
People who are especially talented in the Woo theme love the challenge of meeting new people and winning them over. They derive satisfaction from breaking the ice and making a connection with another person.

21. Relator
People who are especially talented in the Relator theme enjoy close relationships with others. They find deep satisfaction in working hard with friends to achieve a goal.
22. Maximizer
People who are especially talented in the Maximizer theme focus on strengths as a way to stimulate personal and group excellence. They seek to transform something strong into something superb.
23. Responsibility
People who are especially talented in the Responsibility theme take psychological ownership of what they say they will do. They are committed to stable values such as honesty and loyalty.
24. Significance
People who are especially talented in the Significance theme want to be very important in the eyes of others. They are independent and want to be recognized.
25. Analytical
People who are especially talented in the Analytical theme search for reasons and causes. They have the ability to think about all the factors that might affect a situation.
26. Empathy
People who are especially talented in the Empathy theme can sense the feelings of other people by imagining themselves in others’ lives or others’ situations.
27. Competition
People who are especially talented in the Competition theme measure their progress against the performance of others. They strive to win first place and revel in contests.
28. Includer
People who are especially talented in the Includer theme are accepting of others. They show awareness of those who feel left out, and make an effort to include them.
29. Context
People who are especially talented in the Context theme enjoy thinking about the past. They understand the present by researching its history.
30. Discipline
People who are especially talented in the Discipline theme enjoy routine and structure. Their world is best described by the order they create.
31. Focus
People who are especially talented in the Focus theme can take a direction, follow through, and make the corrections necessary to stay on track. They prioritize, then act.
32. Deliberative
People who are especially talented in the Deliberative theme are best described by the serious care they take in making decisions or choices. They anticipate the obstacles.
33. Harmony
People who are especially talented in the Harmony theme look for consensus. They don’t enjoy conflict; rather, they seek areas of agreement.
34. Consistency
People who are especially talented in the Consistency theme are keenly aware of the need to treat people the same. They try to treat everyone in the world with consistency by setting up clear rules and adhering to them.

Leading leaders


Maybe you are a Director, a Head of X or a Vice President, and you now own a department or multiple teams. Moving from a front line leader i.e managing Individual Contributors (IC) to leaders of other teams – requires a shift in leadership style, decision making, coaching topics, and evolving strategic/abstracted perspective. This blogpost and the following posts will attempt to explore these differences and my thoughts on them.

Leaders are not born, they are made from experience – for some reason they stood up and led.  Effective leaders help us overcome limitations, they help us do more and bigger things than we can do alone. They get the best out of people. They build a better future, looking at potential rather than being stuck with baggage of the past.

The hard thing about stepping up leadership through the levels is the number of stakeholders increases, and how you make decisions will have to change to be successful, or you will fail.  This is best laid out in an excellent article in the Harvard Business Review, The Seasoned Executive’s Decision-Making Style.

Are you a leader or a manager?

“Become the kind of leader that people would follow voluntarily; even if you had no title or position.”

Brian Tracy

I believe a Leader is an evolution beyond just a manager. It’s not a title, it’s how you do the job – where you are breaking new ground with your people and with the area/topic/business you are in charge of. You are creating something new. You are defining and evolving strategy. You are inspiring more from your people than they could do alone.

With this said, I have met great managers who were poor leaders and great leaders who were poor managers. Context matters a lot here, as not all cultures or leaders encourage the best from each person. It is easy to forget that we are each unique, especially when we are encouraged to call humans a resource.

Evaluating your Leaders

Great managers possess a rare combination of five talents.

They motivate their employees, assert themselves to overcome obstacles, create a culture of accountability, build trusting relationships and make informed, unbiased decisions for the good of their team and company.

State of American Managers, Gallup

You need a method that helps you evaluate your leaders, and maybe HR already uses one.  Below are a couple others if your organization does not yet have a clear framework for leadership and leadership development.

There are a lot of good tools to assess each of your leaders, and one of my favorites is the Talent Dimension introduced in a report by Gallup on Management:

  1. Motivator
  2. Assertiveness
  3. Accountability
  4. Relationships
  5. Decision-Making

I would strongly recommend you read their report, which gives you a basic view of their capabilities. It’s a good starting place.

Korn/Ferry International has a report that evaluates managers’ skills with a focus on how to develop them. It has 15 skills and a table to define them:

  1. Self-Development
  2. Time Management
  3. Action Oriented
  4. Business Acumen
  5. Ethics and Values
  6. Perseverance
  7. Creativity
  8. Perspective
  9. Building Effective Teams
  10. Command Skills
  11. Conflict Management
  12. Decision Quality
  13. Developing Direct Reports (those you manage) and Others
  14. Managing Vision and Purpose
  15. Motivating Others


Checking in with a leader’s team on regular basis is also important, as well as with their stakeholders.  After you have gathered this information, make sure you circle back to the leader and get their perspective in a timely fashion. Work to separate the agenda, politics, personality, and the actual work from each person or group.

I would suggest that for each leader you have reporting to you, create a document and write down your thoughts and questions you want to ask, and keep it through out the whole year.  Add wins and feedback you get throughout the year. This will help you during performance reviews and to spot patterns you wish to encourage or discourage. It will also help you avoid cognitive bias e.g. recency effect, poor memory or only remembering the fires/crises.

Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose

Daniel Pink, in his book, Drive, lists three elements of the motivation formula: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. In situations where people are paid fairly, this trio drives, engages, and stimulates us to do our best work. Whilst I often see good leaders work hard to deliver all three of these for their teams who are Individual Contributors, I have noticed that more senior leaders begin to neglect Mastery or Leadership Development for leaders at mid level.  There is often an over-reliance on ‘learn on the job’, with little opportunity for reflection or professional coaching. A great leader is great at feedback and coaching.

That said, to a large degree your boss defines your actual level of autonomy and the organization defines the level of discovered purpose (e.g. startups are still looking for market fit, whereas a large company like Apple understands its market fit and is evolving it). In a larger organization, the level of autonomy will often be reflected through organisation culture and will either flow from the top, or else middle “management” will create a level of protection for those under their wings.

On an even bigger abstraction, the sector you are working in will impact autonomy, e.g. Banking is very regulated in most countries, thus the sector is reflected in the risk-taking of C-Suite and Board decisions, which is also influenced by perceptions of investor tolerance.

Support and Grow Leaders

Explicit communication (i.e. no telepathy), effective feedback and coaching for leaders is vital.  Every decision they make can cost money, a project deadline, a member of staff, etc. Thus they need it more than an individual contributor.  The reality is that “we” think managers can manage and thus give them less time or less training or less face time.


  1. Have regular, consistent 1 to 1’s with all the people that report to you i.e. that you manage
  2. Do not build collections of feedback, help them understand what they are getting right and not.
  3. Be careful of building patterns of behavior from separate incidents, ensure you know the real context from all sides. Weak Leaders who are too decisive and judgmental people have a habit of creating a pattern and than forcing all the behavior into that pattern e.g. tunnel vision. And we are all weak sometime.
  4. Agree on a method for separating operational, strategic, and career oriented sessions.  e.g. have your leader send you a regular (weekly) operational email, and ask them to point out what needs to be discussed. Have 1 to 1s every week and have a monthly check-in with them which can be an extended 1 to 1.
  5. Be open and approachable – if people think you are judgmental they will not be open or honest with you.
  6. Grow team strength – Through meeting as a team discussing purpose, review if you achieving that purpose together. Spend social time together. Learn together.
  7. Have a clear plan for growing their capabilities.
  8. Create psychological safety. Have you ever been in a room of leaders where no one speaks up? This is usually a sign of lack of psychological safety. A lack of psychological safety (e.g. when a director is judgmental) limits the risk-taking of managers in suggesting creative or innovative solutions, or in raising real concerns. This can stunt their leadership growth.
    1. High-Performing Teams Need Psychological Safety. Here’s How to Create It
    2. How To Build Psychological Safety On Your Team
    3. Take regular surveys on Psychological safety
  9. Do not make them guess, if you have an opinion or made a decision, tell them, own it. Explain the Why. The worse leaders I have served have all done this e.g. made me guess, hint, telepathy, etc.

Good books/reports on leadership:

Why am I talking about this?

“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away”

Pablo Picasso

My own experience so far includes leading teams (24 in total), departments and organizations. Here one post about leading software engineers. In each I have had successes and failures, and both have provided valuable lessons.  I have also been in a leader in multiple countries, and had to evolve and learn multiple national cultures, here is what I learned moving to the US.

My first “department” was running a kitchen (I was the Head Chef). I have since led an organization of 330 staff, then multiple departments with 600 people, and later several departments with 21,000 people total.  My experience is a mixture of Government, Political, Non Profits, and Private sectors.

You can see my full career history on Linkedin.

Whats Next?

I will break up the rest of my thoughts into four more posts. Below is a summary of what I will cover in each post:

1) Leadership by Example

“Leadership is practiced not so much in words as in attitude and in actions.”

Harold S. Geneen

Your behaviors are contagious 

  • Build trust, with those you manage/reports through being authentic, clear in communication and consistent
  • Stay empathetic and thoughtful whilst remaining proactive and decisive
  • Always be learning and stay open to new possibilities
  • Keep your empathy and humility while you evolve through this journey
  • Be a boss that reports(those you manage) want to work for
  • Manage your Ego
  • Admit your failures and help people learn from failures and grow from them
  • Advocate for your people and their needs
  • Advocate for your Brand and Business

2) Create strategy. Build an environment for execution. Adapt.

“After a business implements a strategy, competitors will react, and the firm’s strategy will need to adapt to meet the new challenges. There is no stopping point and no final battle. The competitive cycle continues on perpetually. Produce and compete or perish”

Thomas Timings Holme

  • Understand the business
  • Align with business goals
  • Have a plan and deliver it
  • Balance the needs of stakeholders and those of your team
  • Measure improvements and failure, but do not let metrics define you
  • Be good at change management through early involvement
  • Advocate for your department
  • Make decisions, be decisive without being judgmental
  • Be consistent in reporting
  • Pay Attention to the real world customers and to competitors

3) Grow others & always be learning

“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”

Jack Welch

  • Catalyze the growth of others by facilitating opportunities for achievement, leadership and learning
  • Encourage creativity and evolve it to Innovation
  • Be great at coaching and feedback
  • Grow Leaders and find the right career path
  • Spend time growing your team as a team
  • Have a framework for Team performance
  • Encourage Diversity, manage the growth it takes to be diverse
  • Be great at handovers, make change easier with involvement and prep
  • Build out training for each career path that is important to you
  • Build momentum through on-boarding in a well thought out way

4) Understand and evolve the culture

“Our number one priority is company culture. Our whole belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff like delivering great customer service or building a long-term enduring brand will just happen naturally on its own.”

Tony Hsieh, CEO, Zappos

How we do things around here

  • Strive to build a positive, transparent and constructive culture
  • Understand and define cultural principles, together
  • Build Psychological safety/Trust across your team
  • Understand failure, how to manage your emotions and make it part of evolution
  • Appreciate Structure and how it creates barriers, silos and stupid behaviors
  • How does your physical environment affect people’s work
  • Authentic recruitment – Culture fit vs Culture Add
  • Celebrate and learn when people leave
  • Encourage everyone to own appreciation and celebration
  • Empathy vs rational decision making
  • Understand when you are overwhelmed

5) Get Results

“However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results”

Sir Winston Churchill

  • Through all the above, produce results for the business and for customers

Within each post I will ask questions and recommend books and posts that I have found helpful




Learning Improv at Second City


This is a post about what I learned from Improv at Second City and my journey.  In August 2017, I signed up to Secondcity’s Improv Express Level 1. I have now just finished Level D, with one more level left.

I have organized it so you can get to Why, myths and how it helps out in the “real world” first.  If you care for my journey and what I learnt, that follows.

Why did I sign up?

  1. I wanted more laughter in my life
  2. Good way to meet new people
  3. Always looking for the next thing to challenge myself with
  4. I wanted to add more to my RPGing (e.g. Dungeons & Dragons)

What myths had I heard about Improv, before I started?

You have to be funnyNot true – The classes and the exercises lead you to commit fully to what you are doing. Those who were not trying to be funny were actually easier to play with.

“Don’t Go Onstage to be Funny. Make Relationships.”

He went on to say, in so many words, that audiences like to see relationships developed on stage, and that the “funny” will happen without having to force it IF relationships are made and the behavior is truthful.

Keith Johnstone

You have to be a natural performer. – Not true – Improv focuses more on the commitment you give and the energy with it. Most of us are not natural at anything (ok, I will give you breathing), we learn through experience and classes and exercises speed this up. You will become a better performer through playing the games.

You really have to understand American Culture. – 20% true – No doubt this helps, but you learn from your class and your class learns from you (about your culture). The fusion is something unique.

Do Improv classes help outside of Acting?

Here are some of the areas that Improv classes will help you with, in your real life:

  • Improvisation breaks down the barrier between mind and voice. It increases the mind’s ability to form ideas, and present them in a coherent, relevant manner. Maybe creativity, innovation, brainstorming helps in your life?…
  • Listening is a skill with definitive benefits to any job that involves humans.  Also it is good to hear large vehicles approaching…
  • Concentration skills, helping you to ‘tune in’ to aspects of communication that you might not have previously noticed.
  • Flexibility in your thinking means constantly reframing the situation, adjusting to the conversation you truly find yourself in, not the one you want to be in.
  • Improvisers think on their feet and recognize opportunities as they arise, rather than dismissing so much due to bad “critical thinking”


Why Second City?

Most of the people I spoke to about Improv had good things to say about Second City. Also Second City is just a 20 mins walk from home for me.

Here are the full options I explored:

  1. Annoyance – Taking care of your partner by taking care of yourself, the art of improv, and creating original shows. Mike Napier is the founder and has a unique approach read his post here
  2. ComedySportz – short form & Keith Johnstone games.
  3. IO – Long Form and The HaroldDel Close / Charna Halpern
  4. Second City – Short Form (Viola Spolin games), Sketch, Writing, Directing and a lot more

I should state that everyone who gave me advice said “start with one school and then move to another”. Play with different ensembles, and learn to trust all. The diversity will evolve your skills.

Which classes?

At Second City in Chicago, there are a lot of options for classes. The standard Improv track is one night or afternoon a week. There are a lot of times to choose from. There is also Express Improv, which is two nights a week.  I chose Express as it suits my learning style well.

My Journey

What did I learn from Improv, so far?

  • Commit FULLY – Be bold and CLEAR – Get the fuck out of that chair..
  • Remembering to PLAY again, be MORE spontaneous and be present today, right NOW MoFo
  • Make a choice – Be decisive but not judgmental
    • Give gifts, statements, the ridiculous, do not be timid, you aint a little lamb, you are A HUMAN, unless you are, a little lamb..
    • Taking unknown or unstated facts and shaping them to a new perception or new environment
    • Get comfortable with the uncomfortable
  • It’s fun to make the other person look good
    • ..but this do not mean you cannot initiate some crazy of your own
    • Do not take yourself so seriously, this is a team sport!
  • Play positive…
  • Yes And
    • Sometimes going with the flow is fun, NOT every great idea is yours
    • Be accepting to others’ gifts, every statement becomes the truth
    • Taking others ideas and understanding it better, or from a different approach
  • Listening like a MoFo
    • When someone expresses a feeling, acknowledge it and take it somewhere
  • There are no failures, only revelations. Failure is learning. Mistakes should not slow you down, just learn from them
  • Watching shows at Annoyance, ComedySportz, IO and Second City, helps you evolve your skills and ideas.
  • “the truth is funny”, and that all we need to do is get out of the way to find it

Improv Level A: Ensemble and Play

Murder Staba Yellow Catfish Ensemble = Angela, David, Eric, Gwen, John, Rose, Skyler, Will

Teacher = Cynthia Bangert, she was incredible supportive, and a great teacher to have as our first for SecondCity. You know its Cynthia because she has a scarf.


“Students get up and play a variety of exercises and games. These exercises and games train the analytical side of the brain to focus on simple goals, freeing the creative side and silencing the negative thoughts that can make us freeze in performance (or in life, for that matter). These games are high energy cooperation and a ton of fun to play.”

Level A – Second City

It seems that adulthood beats the shit out of our childlike wonder. This class helps you gain some of that back. We learned to be comfortable in uncomfortable circumstances, and to be comfortable being silly. We did a lot of silly and awkward things to overcome some of our fears of feeling awkward or fearing failure.  Every class I left with energy and smiles. This was an awesome class. Even if you never do any other class, with the right teacher and group, this class will change you.

Some of the things we learned:

  • How to play
  • Object work – Passing invisible objects and maintaining the object shape
  • Using Gibberish instead of English to focus on how to communicate without language
  • How to show Emotions at different intensities
  • Different ways to Heighten a scene e.g. tension
  • Learn to be open to transformation of scene – sharing control of the scene
  • Who = Relationships, define them quickly
  • Where = Location, show your location through your conversation and actions
  • What = activity/relationships dynamics

Improv B: Scene work

Murder Staba Yellow Catfish Ensemble = Angela, David Eric, Gwen, John, Rose, Skyler, Will

Teacher = Greg Komorowski, a smart Canadian teacher, who gave us a good range of feedback. Just call it FootBall…


..which emphasize ensemble building and freeing the creative, non-judgment part of the brain. Students also begin to improvise scenes, exploring exercises that isolate the different skills needed for successful scene work. Students also learn by observing classmates performing scenes, and receiving and observing instructor feedback.

Level B – Second City

Drilled in YES AND

  • Be better with our Spacework: Objects/Environment
  • Make statements in the scene to guide our partners – Assume Knowledge – Be Decisive
  • Listening – Yes, AND Building & Reacting
  • Everything is a gift = there are no mistakes
  • Connecting with eye contact, build connection with your scene partners fast
  • Beat your fear – go before you are ready
  • Mirroring/Give & Take

Improv Level C: Character Work

Ride that Bull Sally Ensemble = Angel, Colin, David, Eric, Eric, Gwen, Jen, John, Lisz

Teacher = Stephanie Anderson, thoughtful, great at giving notes, had some great characters. Check out Girlish.


Students learn how to improvise characters. They explore creating characters through internal motivations, like point of view, status, wants and intentions, and external ones, like experimenting with physicality. Students also continue to explore scene work in Improv Level C, learning how to perform three-person scenes, how to find the beats of scenes, and how to understand and apply subtext to scenes. They learn how to make choices in scenes that help define their character.

Level C – Second City

This class was a merger of two other classes plus one random, a very tall random. We had got comfortable with our previous two levels of class and now we had the opportunity to play with different people. I feel it took us a while to get to know each other. I had Sinus surgery the weekend before this class started and I was told not to do anything too energetic, drink or do anything fun, which meant that I didn’t have the energy to engage in the class the way I wanted to. However, I still got a lot out of it. The different people brought very different types of humor, characters and approaches.

The character class was less energy and a lot more thought provoking about who we are portraying and their relationship to the other characters.

Character Discovery


  • wants/intentions -> scenic subtext (actor objectives)
  • point of view (I think)
  • emotional perspective (I Feel)

Options for:

Responding to character wants/intentions (aka ways to yes and to scenic offers)

  1. React honestly
  2. Provide obstacles
  3. Feed the beast

Internal Discovery of Character (Status)

indicated through behaviors: e.g. vocal, physical, space use, spine, conversational style

  • High
  • Middle
  • Low

Beware of status traps!

  • Character Status NOT EQUAL socioeconomic status or job title
  • High Status NOT EQAL Villain or angry
  • LO Status NOT EQUAL idiot or sad

scenic issue vs conflict/fighting between characters that don’t care about each other

a conflict that may arise between characters who care or need each other

2017-11-15 21.57.28

Improv Level D: Advanced Scene Work

Ride that Bull Sally Ensemble = Angel, Colin, David, Eric, Eric, Gwen, Jen, John, Lisz

Teacher = Julia DiFerdinando, incredible amount of energy, she coached our skills to a much higher level.

Improv Class photo level D

Students explore advanced-level scene work. They focus on synthesizing all the elements that go into strong, well-rounded, dynamic scenes: character, emotion, ensemble, environment, relationship, status, transformation, and more. Students also continue to learn how to improvise group scenes, and receive an introduction to scene styles and genres.

Level D – Second City

We learnt a few new games, and essentially tried to tie together everything we had learned so far, to produce a performance. We focused on some of our collective weaknesses. It felt that everyone really grew in this class, whether it was to become more experimental, become better initiators, become a little more conscious of our effect on other people or more YES AND and less undercutting.

  1. Getting ready for performance – Practice, Practice, Practice
  2. Building strong initiations to scenes
  3. Exploring different characters
  4. Half A Musical Improv Class – this was real fun
  5. Played with a Level E group

Public Performance One – 16 Dec 2017

Barstool Philosophers 15th annual Toys for Tots Improv Show @ Den Theatre

Going Ape Ensemble = Mat, Eric, Pam, Chris, Amanda, Harry (Aka Garry)


Amanda was asked if she could get a gang together to be the warm up act for another Improv group, she grabbed some of her Second City ensemble and invited two strangers (Harry and I) to play with them. We rehearsed together for two hours, drank for a couple more and than the next day performed. The audience was great, the suggestions were fun and the person who invited us told us we “Killed it”.

Running Order – 20-30 mins

  1. Introduction, Host for Emotional symphony – Amanda
  2. Emotion Symphony – Chris, Eric, Harry, Mat and Pam (Suggestion pencil)
  3. Four Square – Chris, Eric, Pam, Harry -> Kevin Hosted
  4. Montarge – All In (Suggestion Star wars)

How did it feel?

The audience was warm, gave us good suggestions. It went really fast, there was a lot of laughter, some awkward but fun pauses.. I felt we listened to each other and committed into all the defined scenes. I really enjoyed playing with this ensemble and playing on that stage.

Public Performance Two – 17 Dec 2017

Improv D Show @ SkyBox Theatre, Second City, Chicago

Ride that Bull Sally Ensemble = Angel, Colin, David, Eric, Eric, Gwen, Jen, John, Lisz

Ride that Bull Sally ensemble show at second city

Running Order – 40 -50 mins

  1. Introduction and first game intro – Eric Brooke
  2. Pimp Freeze – All In
  3. 184 Intro – Angel
  4. 184 – All In
  5. Four Square Intro and Host – Colin
  6. Four Square – David, Jen, John, Lis
  7. Take That Back Host – John
  8. Take That Back – Gwen and Eric Barton
  9. Soap Opera Host – Jen
  10. Soap Opera – Angel, Colin, Eric Brooke
  11. Montage Host – Lis (Suggestion Courage)
  12. Montage – All In
  13. Close – Eric Barton

How did it feel?

The audience was warm, it was after all mostly people we had invited! The hosting across the board was strong, the games varied, with Pimp Freeze, Take that Back and the Soap Opera being our strongest deliveries.  All the others had moments too e.g. Witch Doctor dance or the Boy that jumped in the Montage.  It was a really fun experience. After I spoke to my friends and they all laughed at something and enjoyed the show. Everyone of the ensemble shined at something, it was a lot of fun!

Next Steps

I found the singing stressed me in the half class that we had, so next term I will take Vocal 1 and finish off Improv Level E.


Comparison of tabletop roleplaying games (RPG)

Not all RPGs are the same..

There are different themes, different play styles, different universes and different mechanics (how to calculate how I grow as a character, fight, solve, etc). Next to each game, I have added an overall complexity rating (Simple, Intermediate and Advanced).

Consider the following as a work in progress I will keep adding comments, and updating from other peoples comments. And yes I will listen to all opinions.


Overall Rating

Overall ratings are my perspective on how easy the game is to “get into” and I mean from a combination of Universe, Mechanics/Rules and support materials.

For some they will understand a lot from a set of movies or famous books which will make the transition much easier e.g. if you have watched the Lord of the Rings (LOR) it will be easier to play Dungeons and Dragons or Middle Earth.

Systems that are more crunchy/complex often take longer to get characters created and sometimes can become bogged due to mechanics, of a course a good GameMaster will take what they need and ignore the rest, but either way Legends of the Five Rings or 7th Seas are really easy mechanics (maybe too easy/simplistic) compared to RoleMaster.


This has grown a lot since I started.  In part from people asking what is this game like to play.  With the advert of Boardgames really explore what is collaboration?  It seems that we started with very private collaborative systems for players, which is upto the GM to reward and punished, could their be better ways i.e. Coriolis  asking the group to choose its group Talent together or Ars Magica exploring both Troupe Playing and sharing a character i.e the convent.

I know I have to build out the complexity and give specific examples of rules, which I will do over time.

How do you compare RPGs? I would love your thoughts?

  • Style/Theme
    • Theme – What is the universe like, what are the common themes
    • Combat – Abstracted or realistic, including healing
    • Religion –
    • Magic – How Common?
    • Races – More than Human?
  • Roleplaying
    • Ethical framework – D&D Alignments etc?
    • Personalty – Are traits defined? Are they for the roleplaying or are they part of how characters success/failure
    • Group/Individual orientation – Does the game encourage or is it upto the GM?
    • Official Music – Adds to the emotional atmosphere
    • Overall –
  • Complexity/Rules/Mechanics
    • Mechanics/Rules – Overall how are they
    • Dice – Which Dice?
    • World/Universe – How simple or more of a stretch
    • Campaign World – Examples
  • Expansions
    • Quickstart? –
    • Companion Rules –
    • Multiple Editions –
    • Solo Scenario –
    • Card Decks –
  • Community
    • People Playing – Size
    • Scenarios – How many
  • Players/Characters
    • Character Generation – How Simple?
    • Character Growth – How dow my chapter grow
    • Plays well with 4 -6 players
    • Character Mix – For the player team
    • Character Death – How common?

These are different for each grouping i.e. Fantasy vs Present vs Sci Fi

Fantasy RPG

Fantasy includes Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Conan, Pirates, generally medieval time with Swords/Bows and often Magic.

Wipe map and miniatures

Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition – Simple

Lord of the Rings (LOR) kind of world with hope

  • Style/Theme
    • Theme – High Fantasy
    • Combat – Abstracted not very real e.g. HP for whole body, Damage not to specify parts of the body.
    • Religion – Lots of Gods
    • Magic – Common
    • Races – Lots
  • Roleplaying
    • Ethical framework – defined
    • Personalty – Non existent
    • Group/Individual orientation – No rules, depends on players
    • Official Music – no
    • Overall – Can become more tactical play than role-play – depend on DM emphasis
  • Complexity/Rules/Mechanics
    • Mechanics/Rules – Simple
    • Dice – d20
    • World/Universe – Simple for people who know LOR
    • Campaign World – Forgotten Realms
  • Expansions
    • Quickstart? – Yes
    • Companion Rules – A lot
    • Multiple Editions – Yes
  • Community
    • People Playing – Large
    • Scenarios – Small for 5th, but loads for other versions
    • Boardgames – yes, a bunch
    • Computergames – yes, a bunch
  • Players/Characters
    • Character Generation – Simple
    • Character Growth – defined in class and levels
    • Plays well with 4 -6 players
    • Character Mix – Important to have a mixture
    • Character Death – Rare

WarHammer Fantasy Role-play 3rd Ed – Simple

LOR kind of world with NO hope

  • Style/Theme
    • Theme – Dark High Fantasy
    • Combat – Abstracted not very real
    • Religion – Lots of Gods, with a lot of hands on demonic gods
    • Magic – Uncommon
    • Races – Lots
  • Roleplaying
    • Ethical framework – undefined
    • Personalty – undefined doe shave insanity rules
    • Group/Individual orientation – No rules, depends on players
    • Official Music – no
    • Overall – Can become more tactical play than role-play – depend on GM emphasis
  • Complexity/Rules/Mechanics
    • Mechanics/Rules – Simple
    • Dice – Percentiles + mix for damage
    • World/Universe – Simple for people who know LOR
  • Expansions
    • Quickstart? – No
    • Companion Rules – A lot
    • Multiple Editions – Yes
  • Community
    • People Playing – Large
    • Scenarios – Intermediate number
    • Boardgames – yes, a bunch
    • Computergames – yes
  • Players/Characters
    • Character Generation – Simple
    • Character growth – Defined in careers
    • Plays well with 4 -6 players
    • Character Mix – Important to have a mixture
    • Character Death – Uncommon

7th Sea 2nd Ed – Simple

1400 AD with Magic, pirates

  • Style/Theme
    • Theme – Renaissance swashbuckler fantasy
    • Combat – Abstracted not very real
    • Religion – Earth like
    • Magic – Small, is actually advanced technology
    • Races – None – creates difference through country of origin
  • Roleplaying
    • Ethical framework – Undefined
    • Personalty – Virtues/background
    • Group/Individual orientation – No rules, depends on players
    • Official Music – no
    • Overall – Encourages role-playing and rewards in mechanics
  • Complexity/Rules/Mechanics
    • Mechanics/Rules – Very Simple
    • Dice – Percentiles + mix for damage
    • World/Universe – Simple for people who have some earth history
  • Expansions
    • Quickstart? – Yes
    • Companion Rules – Minimal for 2ed
    • Multiple Editions – Yes
  • Community
    • People Playing – Large
    • Scenarios – Small for 2nd Ed
    • Boardgames – no
    • Computersgames – no
  • Players/Characters
    • Character Generation – Simple
    • Character Growth – Archetypes to start than free + Advancement Points
    • Plays well with 3 -6 players
    • Character Mix – Important to have a mixture
    • Character Death – Uncommon

Ars Magica 5th Ed – Intermediate

1150AD Medieval Wizards, Faeries, Demons and God.

  • Style/Theme
    • Theme – Grimy Dark Medieval fantasy
    • Combat – Lethal
    • Religion – Medieval Religion
    • Magic – Rare, the most flexible system
    • Races – Multiple
  • Roleplaying
    • Ethical framework – Un-defined
    • Personalty – Traits, Virtues/Flaws
    • Group/Individual orientation – Group oriented rules encourage
    • Official Music – no
    • Overall – Encourages role-play, multiple characters per player
  • Complexity/Rules/Mechanics
    • Mechanics/Rules – Intermediate, Magic can get Complex
    • Dice – d10s
    • World/Universe – Simple for people who have some earth history
  • Expansions
    • Quickstart? – No
    • Companion Rules – A lot
    • Multiple Editions – Yes
  • Community
    • People Playing – Large
    • Scenarios – Small for 5th ED
    • Boardgames – yes one
    • Computer games – no
  • Players/Character
    • Character Generation – Simple – you will create multiple characters a mage and companion
    • Character Growth – Experience/Aging/Decrepitude/Warping/Reputation
    • Shared Characters – The Covenant and Grogs
    • Plays well with 3 -6 players
    • Character Mix – Important to have a mixture
    • Character Death – Grogs – Common, Companion – Uncommon, Mage – Rare

Shadows of Esteren – Intermediate

Medieval, Dark, Horror, Gothic, Celtic

  • Style/Theme
    • Theme – Grimy Dark Celtic fantasy
    • Combat – Lethal
    • Religion – Medieval Religion
    • Magic – Rare
    • Races – Human
  • Roleplaying
    • Ethical framework – Un-defined
    • Personalty – Rules centered around psychology, driven by a balance of personality traits “Ways” and sanity rules
    • Group/Individual orientation – No rules, depends on players
    • Official Music – yes
    • Overall – Encourages role-play
  • Complexity/Rules/Mechanics
    • Mechanics/Rules – Intermediate
    • Dice – Mix
    • World/Universe – Simple for people who have some earth history
  • Expansions
    • Quickstart? – Yes
    • Companion Rules – some
    • Multiple Editions – no
  • Community
    • People Playing – Small
    • Scenarios – Small but growing
    • Boardgames – no
    • Computer Games – no
  • Players/Character
    • Character Generation – Intermediate
    • Character Growth – Archetypes + Experience
    • Shared Characters – None
    • Plays well with 3 -5 players
    • Character Mix – Important to have a mixture
    • Character Death – Not Uncommon

Other Fantasy I need to add:

  • Pathfinder
  • Legend of the Five Rings

Present with Twists RPGs

These include modern day or in the last 50 years, something we would maybe have learned about in history class at school, if you were awake.

Call of Cthulhu RPG Session

Call of Cthulhu 7th Ed – Intermediate

Find it.. Much Detective work.. Run away! anddd… you’re dead.

  • Style/Theme
    • Theme – Horror and  investigation 1920s (many Variants)
    • Starting Location – Boston, Arkham
    • Combat – Lethal, especially SMGs/Assaults
    • Religion – Earthlike
    • Magic – Rare
    • Races – Human
  • Roleplaying
    • Ethical framework – Un-defined
    • Personalty – Encourages deep character background and focus on sanity rules
    • Group/Individual orientation – One rule on working together
    • Official Music – no
    • Overall – Encourages role-play and fear if a “good” Keeper
  • Complexity/Rules/Mechanics
    • Mechanics/Rules – Simple
    • Dice – Percentiles + mix for damage
    • World/Universe – Simple for people who have some earth history
  • Expansions
    • Quickstart? – Yes
    • Solo Scenario – Yes
    • Card Decks – Yes – Characters, Events, Weapons, Phobias
    • Companion Rules – A lot
    • Multiple Editions – Yes
  • Community
    • People Playing – Medium
    • Scenarios – A lot
    • Boardgames – community is large i.e. Mansion of Madness, etc
    • Computergames – yes
  • Players/Character
    • Character Generation – Simple Archetypes
    • Character Growth – Built around skills used, get better
    • Shared Characters – None
    • Plays well with 3 – 6 players
    • Character Mix – Important to have a mixture
    • Character Death – Not Uncommon

Games to add:

  • Vampire (Simple) – Surprise surprise!… it’s about vampires
  • Werewolf (Simple) – You are guardians of the earth protecting it from Wrym who uses toxins to destroy the planets and humans
  • Dresden Files (Simple) – Detectives with Magic in Chicago
  • Unknown Armies (Intermediate) – You are armed with magic or a gun, slightly insane and you have to stop them.. you know them.. they are real
  • Hero System
  • Gurps
  • Twilight 2000

Science Fiction RPGs

Most of these would be 50 years plus in the future

Star Wars RPGS ession

Eclipse Phase 1st Ed – Advanced

Dark future of mankind, AI, Corporations and technology. Get the backup of you ready, let’s jump through Stargates to take on the evil robots. A favourite.

  • Style/Theme
    • Theme – Dark Future can be Horror, or cyberpunk or Stargate
    • Combat – Lethal
    • Religion – Not Really
    • Psionic’s – Uncommon
    • Hacking – Yes
    • Ship Combat – no
    • Races – Human
  • Roleplaying
    • Ethical framework – Un-defined
    • Personalty – Sanity rules
    • Group/Individual orientation – No rules, depends on players
    • Official Music – yes for 2nd Ed
    • Overall – Encourages role-play
  • Complexity/Rules/Mechanics
    • Mechanics/Rules – Intermediate, crunchy or can be ignore or use Fate
    • Dice – Percentiles + mix for damage
    • World/Universe – A lot but well thought out
  • Expansions
    • Quickstart? – Yes
    • Solo Adventure – No
    • Companion Rules – A lot
    • Multiple Editions – Yes, currently working on 2nd Ed
    • Cards – Yes – Morphs
    • Boardgames – No
    • Computergames – No
  • Community
    • People Playing – Small
    • Scenarios – Small but growing
  • Players/Character
    • Character Generation – Intermediate, unless using Transhuman packages
    • Character Growth – Free/no class + Experience
    • Shared Characters – None
    • Plays well with 3 -5 players
    • Character Mix – Important to have a mixture
    • Character Death – Common, but you have a backup right

Shadowrun 5th – Advanced

Elves, Dwarves and humans in our future with guns, magic and cyber gear

  • Style/Theme
    • Theme – Sci Fi + Fantasy + CyberPunk
    • Combat – Can be Lethal
    • Religion – Earthlike + Mysticism
    • Psionic’s – No
    • Magic – Yes
    • Hacking – Yes
    • Ship Combat –  No
    • Races – Lots -> Elves Dwarves
  • Roleplaying
    • Ethical framework – Un-defined
    • Personalty –  None
    • Group/Individual orientation – Individual
    • Official Music – No
    • Overall – Encourages tactical play
  • Complexity/Rules/Mechanics
    • Mechanics/Rules – Advanced/Crunchy
    • Dice – d6s
    • World/Universe – Big, a lot of different sources
  • Expansions
    • Quickstart? – Yes
    • Solo Adventure – Yes
    • Companion Rules – A lot
    • Cards – Items
    • Multiple Editions – Yes
  • Community
    • People Playing – Medium
    • Scenarios – A lot in all versions
    • Boardgames – yes
    • Copmputergames – yes
  • Players/Character
    • Character Generation – Simple
    • Character Growth – Karma
    • Shared Characters – None
    • Plays well with 3 -5 players
    • Character Mix – Important to have a mixture
    • Character Death – UnCommon

Star Wars 3rd Ed – Simple

Star Wars Movies background

  • Style/Theme
    • Theme – Sci Fi Fantasy
    • Combat – Can be lethal
    • Religion – The Force
    • Psionic’s – Uncommon – Force Sensitive/Force
    • Hacking – sort of
    • Ship Combat – yes
    • Races – Lots
  • Roleplaying
    • Ethical framework – Un-defined
    • Personalty –  None
    • Group/Individual orientation – Individual
    • Official Music – From Movies
    • Overall – Encourages tactical play
  • Complexity/Rules/Mechanics
    • Mechanics/Rules – Simple, except the dice
    • Dice – Special Star Wars dice + mix for damage
    • World/Universe – Big, a lot of different sources
  • Expansions
    • Quickstart? – Yes multiple for different time periods
    • Companion Rules – A lot
    • Multiple Editions – Yes
  • Community
    • People Playing – Medium
    • Scenarios – Small but growing
    • Boardgames – Multiple Games
    • Computergames – yes
  • Players/Character
    • Character Generation – Simple
    • Character Growth – Class + Experience
    • Shared Characters – The ship
    • Plays well with 3 -5 players
    • Character Mix – Important to have a mixture
    • Character Death – UnCommon

Polaris 3rd Ed – Simple

Far future under earth’s oceans. Amazing artwork.

  • Style/Theme
    • Theme – Earths land is radioactive, the only place to live is under the water
    • Combat – Err towards survival
    • Religion – Part of the background but not rules
    • Psionic’s – Uncommon + Polaris Effect
    • Hacking – not really
    • Ship Combat – Underwater Vehicle combat
    • Races – Genetic types/Mutations
  • Roleplaying
    • Ethical framework – Un-defined
    • Personalty – No
    • Group/Individual orientation – Not in the rules
    • Official Music – No
    • Overall – Encourages Tactical Play
  • Complexity/Rules/Mechanics
    • Mechanics/Rules – Simple
    • Dice – d6, d10 and d20
    • World/Universe – Small but well thought out
  • Expansions
    • Quickstart? – Yes
    • Companion Rules – A lot
    • Multiple Editions – Yes – Now 3rd
  • Community
    • People Playing – Small
    • Scenarios – Small but growing
    • Cards – No
    • Boardgames – no
    • Computergames – no
  • Players/Character
    • Character Generation – Simple Archetype or free use of creation points
    • Character Growth – Starts with Archetypes + Experience
    • Shared Characters – None
    • Plays well with 3 -6 players
    • Character Mix – Important to have a mixture
    • Character Death – UnCommon

Coriolis – Simple

Space Arabian Nights. For me this is number one in terms of artwork in the science fiction category followed by Polaris.

  • Style/Theme
    • Theme – Arabian Nights, Old vs New, Mysticism, dark between the stars
    • Combat – Err towards survival
    • Religion – Yes – Uses Muslim Faith as foundation, as impact all of the game
    • Psionic’s – Uncommon
    • Hacking – yes
    • Ship Combat – yes
    • Races – Human
  • Roleplaying
    • Ethical framework – Un-defined
    • Personalty – Sanity rules
    • Group/Individual orientation – Very group oriented, rules encourage and rewards group, even share a group talent
    • Official Music – Yes
    • Overall – Encourages role-play
  • Complexity/Rules/Mechanics
    • Mechanics/Rules – Simple
    • Dice – d6s
    • World/Universe – Small but well thought out
  • Expansions
    • Quickstart? – Yes
    • Companion Rules – A lot
    • Multiple Editions – No
  • Community
    • People Playing – Small
    • Scenarios – Small but growing
    • Cards – Yes – Icons+
    • Boardgames – no
    • Computergames – no
  • Players/Character
    • Character Generation – Simple
    • Character Growth – Starts with Archetypes +Experience
    • Shared Characters – The ship
    • Plays well with 3 -5 players
    • Character Mix – Important to have a mixture
    • Character Death – UnCommon

Games to add:

  • Traveller (Intermediate) – At least a 1,000 years
  • Rifts
  • Rogue Trader/Dark Hersey
  • Star Trek

Summary of things to consider for RPGs

  1. Complexity- Often referred to as how Crunchy (in terms of lots of numbers and arithmetic) the game is.
  2. The size of the Community of the game – the bigger the community, the more resources will become available
  3. If you are a first time GM -> the number of adventures published for the game
  4. How far from reality – The further away from reality takes a longer investment i.e. no humans or science fiction or very different universe
  5. The Number of Players 5 to 6 are best
  6. The Player Mix – A mixture of decisive and support players is good.
  7. Will others GM/Story Tell -> Troupe Style

Running your first RPG gaming session/campaign

Roleplay group

Whether you are a Dungeon Master (DM), Game Master (GM), Keeper of Arcane Lore (Keeper) or a Story Teller, creating a new world/universe with a group of friends, through Roleplaying Games can be an amazing thing to behold.

Why am I telling you about RPGs? I’ve been playing over 30 years, and have tried at least 42 different systems (with additional 30 different versions/editions/variants of all those games). I have kickstarted about nine of these games. Each one has taught something.

I often end up running sessions more than playing, as I’ve usually formed the RPG group from a mixture of “Semi Retired players” and newbies. I’m writing this blog for  “leadership development” to help players run their first sessions, which allows me to play.

This blog post is for three first time Storytellers Stephanie, Adrian and Bill.

You are a Story Teller, first and foremost.

I have broken this down into several sections:

  1. RPG Basics
  2. First Time GM Basic guidelines
  3. Running your first scenario
  4. Making your games immersive
  5. Writing your first scenario
  6. Creating your own campaign
  7. Basic Host things
  8. Getting good at Gming
  9. RPGs I have played
  10. What has Roleplaying Games given me?

RPG Basics

  1. The Game Master describes/narrates the environment/surrounding and sets the scene – Story Telling/Narration
  2. The Players describe what their Characters will do – a mixture of Acting and Improv
  3. The Game Master explains what is the result of the players actions, through both world reacting and the Non Player Characters – Applies the “reality” using the mechanics or rules of the system, Acting and Improv. Improv because the players will often do the unexpected.

Together you and the players weave a tale

First Time GM basic guidelines

Make it as simply as possible. Use everything from published works, I suggest not creating your own scenario at first. Search for online beginning kits. Watch others doing it.

  1. If the game system has a solo adventure that teaches the rules, start there e.g. Call of Cthulhu has Alone against the flames.
  2. Start with with a starter pack, Quickstart or beginning pack e.g.
    1. Star Wars
    2. Dungeons & Dragons 
    3. Call of Cthulhu
  3. Run a couple published scenarios before writing your own and use the Pre generated characters. Make it simple.
    1. Hint – look at the back of the core rulebook, sometimes there are scenarios there
  4. Read the rule book, start with a beginner version, write a list of rules that you know will become important. The act of writing will help you remember better and the list will be useful. This will take more time than you expect.
    1. Hint – Read the sections that interest you first and eventually read it all
  5. Find books or written stories based in the Universe you wish to play, this will help you imagine this place and thus describe it better.
  6. Watch other GMs/Storytellers/DM run sessions – try out gaming conventions, RPG shops or meet ups.
  7. A good old internet search will give you answers to most questions you have, with both reddit RPG channel and RPG stack exchange

Keep your first few games really simple

Running your first Scenario

Wipe map and miniatures

Read the scenario multiple times, when it references rulebook, bookmark them in the rulebook. Read as many examples of how the rules are applied as you can. If you have time play through the scenario on your own.

  1. Add bookmarks to the important sections of rules and/or get a Gaming Screen for your game
  2. Read the scenario at least twice and once a day before
  3. Know how combat works, know how the dice work
  4. Know the descriptions from the areas of each part of the scenario, read them at once out loud before delivering to players
  5. Have a notepad and record, key moments in the players actions, ideas for future games and which rules you are weak on
  6. Bring spare pencils, dice, and paper

Free extra resources and materials

  1. Check online to see if there is an Errata or FAQ, or extras from the publisher of the scenario, or maybe there are extra pre gen characters
  2. Looking online for materials the community may have created your scenario. For Example
    1. The Haunted scenario for Call of Cthulhu I found:
      1. Sound effects for this scenario
      2. Maps for each scene for miniatures for this scenario
      3. Handouts converted onto newspaper articles, police reports, etc
      4. Google 1920 photos to get photos for each of the NPCs
  3. Check online for recorded run-throughs of the published scenario, some people play through Google Hangouts and its not hard to record from there – there is a bunch on YouTube

For your first time, start with published scenarios and pre gen characters

Understanding where people are

  1. Miniatures or even counters, are really useful for really understanding where people are on the map and where they are compared with the party
  2. Use a transparent plastic sheet and put any maps underneath, allowing you to draw on the plastic with a pen (check its not a permanent pen)  to mark things of interest. Or use a washable matt and draw the maps on it. Have something to clean sheet or matt with.

Ensure all players get to be the key to success

  1. Note the skills/interests and ensure they are are needed during your scenario, if they are not make something up
  2. Establish the background with each player. Listen and suggest hooks for each player that you can use later. Use any contacts they have and create a character for each.

You will make mistakes, accept them and learn from them

Be flexible and improvise

  1. For both the GM and players there is a lot of improvisation – you will have make stuff up – use common sense to guide you. Do not worry about getting things wrong
  2. You do not need to (nor can you) control everything – players will often do the unexpected
  3. Do not become a slave to the rules, make common sense judgements rather than spending 15 mins finding/reading the rules
  4. Adapt the plot and the characters (NPC) to the actions of the players (but only if the NPCs should know)
  5. Grow your NPCs from their experiences i.e. they learn from their mistakes too!

It is not GM versus players

GM Hints

From Call of Cthulhu- Keeper Rulebook – Sandy Petersen


  1. Know the the rules, read that book multiple times, make notes, create summaries as if you are revising for an exam
  2. Do not let the rules get in the way of a good game
  3. You interpret the rules, not the players – but do listen to advice from players
  4. Be fair
  5. Be consistent (at least most of the time)
  6. Every game has some crappy rules, over time your group will build better ones i.e. “House Rules”
  7. A good old internet search will give you answers to most questions you have, with both reddit RPG channel and RPG stack exchange

Use Common Sense first. The scenario might not include a light switch, yet you know there is one. Rules are there to help guide you, keep you consistent not control you

Advice from other GMs on your first Session

Dan Murnaghan Be ready to change things at a moments notice! The best laid plans can and will be subverted by your players!

Paul Doerfling “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.” – Moltke. Your players will do unexpected things. The best DMs learn how to roll with it and use it as a springboard for consequences and new adventures. Also, ask players what they think is going on. Then steal the most interesting ideas and weave them into your game.

Work with players on expectations for the game. If they expect a light-hearted dungeon romp and you give them political drama or horror, no one is going to have a good time.

Jack Graham Don’t be too in love with your own storylines. Adapt to what the players think is fun. (Don’t be too in love with the storylines in the published thing you’re running, either. I once ran _Masks of Nyarlathotep_, often considered one of the best published campaigns of all time, and it ended up sucking because I didn’t bend the storyline enough to make it fun for my group).

Tim Rudloff 1st session advice: expect things to go wrong. Memorable debacles can be just as fun as triumphant victories. Be ready to laugh at your own mistakes. Listen to what your players want. Make things up as you go.

Lachlan Harman “I need to pee” = “How did they get HERE?! I need a moment to figure out WTF I’m gonna do now”

Justin Birt Have one random encounter planned out in case things go short or go wrong.

Keeth Ar Ostrich-Watsun This would have to be adapted a bit for the genre, but I find this pretty inspiring and pared down to the essentials: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zTD2RZz6mlo

Lonnie Harris If you’re running a one shot: Try to run it like a convention game. Keep to a time limit. Feel free to move the story forward if they get too bogged down. Make some prep sheets on the obvious gear they carry so they know what stuff does without having to stop and look at the rule book every five minutes.

If you’re running a campaign: Most everything up there except for the time limit. Also have a Session Zero and take copious notes for plot hooks. Make general objectives and/or cool scenario ideas, but don’t flesh them out much beyond some basic encounters/objectives, because all that work just sits if the dumb bunnies go to Venus instead of Mars.

Patrick Fisher Have a session 0 for character building/world building. Saves a lot of hassle and gets everyone excited to be part of the collected story

Cory Vincent Your players will go off your rails. They will do things in ways you didnt plan. It is up to you to reward creativity, punish stupidity, and be ready to go with one or two extra “there was nothing here but you made it a big deal so heres a bossfight”

Making your games immersive

Dire wolf

Become good at setting the scene

The players understand from you what the world looks like, feels like, smells like, sounds like.  That is a lot of description. Practice and put the important description on cards. Practice the descriptions. Do not deliver in a monotone.

Good handouts

Take time to prepare handouts for newspaper clippings, reports, wills, etc

  1. For old print out rub lemon juice on and broil or grill to get the aging effect
  2. Use Newspaper templates
  3. Make handout into puzzle pieces and leave one missing
  4. Have pictures or drawings for each of your NPCs
  5. For encrypted/decoded give reports with whole words missing or strange words or just junk words. Or just blacker marker word as in a redacted file. Make it a puzzle to figure out.


Use all the senses

  1. If you can find music that will be good background use it, it’s a great way to evoke emotion
  2. A friend Luai pointed me here for great sound effects -> https://tabletopaudio.com
  3. Pictures and artwork can help set the scene too. Are your characters wandering the woods? Do a google image search for “abandoned house in forest”
  4. Pictures, cards, drawings of the “monsters” will be really helpful.  If there is a card set for your game get it, this is always a great investment.
    1. Example card decks -> Eclipse Phase: Morph Recognition Deck, Call of Cthulhu Keeper Deck, or Coriolis Icon Card Deck
  5. Example -> for Horror get candles, horror music, get some sound snippets for footsteps, wailing/moaning, surprise the players.. make them scared, occasionally whisper
  6. You want people to feel cool or damp get a humidifier in the room and let it run and watch them wrap up..

Call of cthulu

Play NPCs differently

  1. Choose one characteristic to “ham up” for each NPC
  2. Change how you speak – accents, cadence, pitch, tone, and vocabulary can all vary
  3. To make NPC characters more dimensional and interesting, connect them with someone you know and use similar characteristics/backstory/motivation — that way you don’t have to create backstories for every character and can still make NPCs feel different

Writing your first Scenario

Local map

Most core rulebooks for each system will have a section on how to write a scenarios. Read it. They often will describe the themes of the system and how to show them.

To start my own, sometimes I draw a map and ideas come to me. Other times I will have a plot or idea and I will build it out.  Sometimes in a session players will suggest a plot idea that may not apply but would be good to use later, so take notes.

Copy the format of a published scenario

This will help you not miss anything. The order may differ depending on how the idea emerged, but here is a rough draft on how to put together a scenario:

  1. Start with a summary
  2. Create the main NPCs. Understand their motivations, their end goals and how they will achieve them.
  3. Create a timeline
  4. Map each of the scenes
  5. For each scene/room have a clear list of clues and or items the players can find
  6. Understand the layers of information that the players can discover, where, how and any difficulty ratings/skills
  7. Have cue cards for each block of description for each scene
  8. Create player handouts, the more authentic the better
  9. Make sure you have the stats for each of the “things” the player can interact with.

Visualize each scene/chapter

  1. Draw Maps of the local area and buildings/locations they will venture to
  2. Imagine the NPCs –  what they look like? Sound and speak like? How do they act? Do they have a quirk? What sets them off? Spend a couple minutes with each, yes even talk to them!
  3. Imagine the pathways the player may choose to follow, and what they would see/feel/hear/smell on the way
  4. If you are giving a lot of information, work out a way to make it a handout. This will allow the players to process it and understand it much better. Also helps players who like to touch things.

Handouts for The Haunting scenario

Creating Plot ideas

  1. Idea Creation -> Brainstorm, Mindmap, steal/copy
  2. Steal ideas from other RPG systems, Books, Films, etc. Do not be limited by genre – you can take a science fiction plot and design how it would work for fantasy.

Add Depth and Detail

  1. What is the history?
  2. What other information could they find, where would they find it?

Clear Hooks

  1. Make sure you know how the players will “hear” or “see” the hook
  2. Remind them, maybe with urgency or different information

Adding twists

Once it’s all written consider the story from all angles, look for areas where you can add twists or surprising revelations..

Creating your own campaign

Campaign Map

Start with a small part of the world. You do not have write a 1,000 years of history and design all the maps and extra dimensions.

Build teams not individuals

  1. If you are letting players create their characters, get them to do it together and talk through the process, helping the players fill out the necessary skills to survive. Encourage each player to choose something that other characters are not good at, for balance and to make sure each player has a moment to shine.
  2. Have a conversation about how much inter player conflict you will allow
  3. Limit the ethics framework within the game
  4. Create (or print from book) empty character sheets for players to fill out, with space for stats and background information (and anything else)
  5. If your players choose to create their own characters, take photos of them as a backup – you never know when a character may lose or accidentally destroy their character sheet.

Limit the Universe and slowly expand

Limit your geographic playing space. Choose a small part of the Universe e.g. a county or a town or a neighborhood in a city to start with.

  1. This allows you time to build your knowledge of the Universe and Mechanics
  2. Set time each week to read about the Universe and examples of the mechanics in use
  3. Create multiple Non-Player Characters, some may start just as a name and what they do.
  4. By limiting the Universe you will let the characters be comfortable with it like a baby staying near its mother. When ready or not, expand it further
  5. This will help avoid overwhelming new players

Stories to Arcs

Start simply. Start with small stories that are quick to complete (1 – 3 Sessions), growing to longer stories and than expand to Arcs (Several interconnected stories). Later weave several Arcs at the same time. Grow to be complex but not too quickly unless they are experienced players.

  1. Start with singular sessions i.e. they complete the story in one gaming session.  The sense of completion is important at the beginning and gives the motivation for players to carry on.
  2. Look for opportunities to define long term “enemies” who may escape to appear later
  3. Listen to what the characters/players state they hate during the sessions for ideas
  4. Eventually players will want complexity to their games, multiple arcs will help

Balance the scenarios

  1. Do not kill all the players, think of alternatives i.e capture, etc.
  2. Do not hesitate to punish stupidity
  3. Increase conflict levels, so that you can establish the necessary level of conflict to challenge the players, you can do it through waves of reinforcements
  4. Push the players’ buttons, know what they like and dislike, push them as a means to heighten emotion and distract them from being rational. The best story’s memories are emotional..
  5. Pay attention to the energy level of the players
  6. Have a “Thoughtful path”, a path that may avoid conflict

Town map

Change the scenario styles/themes

  1. In some scenarios you will have time to plan, others drop them into thick of it, occasionally make them desperate
  2. Some scenarios may be be detective work, puzzle solving, combative, politics/influence, a setup/con, Horror, thriller, maybe even romantic – cover all the human emotions

Let players change your story

  1. Listen to them for ideas and even change your ideas to match them

Understand Your Universe

If you are playing an established Universe e.g. Star Wars, work out what you want and do not want from the Universe.

  1. Be clear on the time e.g. after this movie, things change,
  2. Understand where the “hero” characters are in relation to to players

Basic Host things

  1. Find a space that works for a couple hours, that has enough space
  2. Make sure everyone is agreed how you pay/contribute for food, snacks, drinks – not everything should rest on the Storyteller
  3. Share clean up after game
  4. Consider rotating locations, to share the load
  5. Try for 3+ hours. I tend to find shorter times make it hard to keep momentum over several sessions
  6. Consider Weekends. RPGers after work have less energy and can struggle to concentrate

Feeding your players

Getting good at GMing

We all start bad, whether it be we do not know the rules, or our descriptions are not inspiring or we are not good at managing our players’ expectations. Overtime you will get better and grow. You will never be prepared enough, there is simply too much to know.

  1. Find books or written stories based in the Universe you wish to play, this will help you imagine this place and thus describe it better
  2. Watch other GMs/Storytellers/DM run sessions – try out gaming conventions, RPG shops or meet ups.
  3. Keep notes and maps from every scenario and keep making them better. You may move to a new area or change groups and be able to run the scenario again for different players.
  4. Have a scenario for new players for your favorite system, and keep upgrading it.
  5. Run sessions for strangers at a convention
  6. Play and run different games, don’t get stuck on one system.  I have learned so much about Horror from Call of Cthulhu, or how to integrate passions from Pendragon, or how to rethink humanity from Eclipse Phase or how to use Troupe Story Telling from Ars Magica
  7. Create a blog of the campaign and add background details here. Consider it a backup and a way to record your journey, but also excite players in between sessions. Here is an example of a short Eclipse Campaign -> To be Something Better or here is an Ars Magic campaign Crann Eireball. I created NPC posts for players to read in-between sessions. I also put rules, hooks for the players to follow and reports of exhibitions/missions.
  8. Ask for feedback from your players after a couple sessions. Asking the right questions are important e.g.
    1. Do you like your character?
    2. Do you like the setting/Universe?
    3. What is your perspective of the mechanics/rules?
    4. Are you getting enough description from me the storyteller?
    5. Do the NPCs feel real to you?
    6. Is the physical environment comfortable? Table, Chair?
    7. What have you enjoyed so far? (Be specific and give an example)
    8. What do you not enjoyed so far? (Be specific and give an example)
    9. What would you like to see more of?
    10. What would like to less of?
    11. Do you feel you are contributing to team?


RPGs I have played

(That I remember):

  1. Dungeons & Dragons (Red Box , AD&D 1 & 2, 3rd, Pathfinder, 4th and 5th)
  2. Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (1st, 2nd and 3rd)
  3. RuneQuest (3rd)
  4. PenDragon
  5. Mega Traveller
  6. Paranormal
  7. Teenage Mutate Ninja Turtles
  8. Star Trek RPG
  9. CyberPunk
  10. Chivalry & Sorcery
  11. Paranoia
  12. RIFTS
  13. Twilight 2000
  14. Traveller (1st and 5th)
  15. Marvel Super Heros
  16. RoleMaster
  17. Middle Earth RPG
  18. Amber Diceless Roleplaying
  19. GURPs
  20. Star Wars RPG (2nd and 3rd)
  21. Call of Cthulhu (1st, 7th)
  22. Vampire (Masquerade 1st and 2nd, The Dark Ages)
  23. Werewolf (The Apocalypse 1st, 2nd, Forsaken)
  24. Mage
  25. Wraith
  26. Changeling
  27. Ars Magica (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th)
  28. Shadowrun (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th)
  29. Eclipse Phase (1st and 2nd*)
  30. Rogue Trader
  31. Polaris*
  32. 7th Sea (2nd)
  33. Shadows of Esteren
  34. Legends of the Five Rings
  35. MindJammer*
  36. Coriolis*
  37. Dresden Files
  38. Unknown Army (3rd)*
  39. Interface Zero*
  40. Numenera 2*
  41. Elite Dangerous RPG*
  42. Trudvang Chronicles*


What has Roleplaying given me?

In a professional sense, yeah, the real world, Roleplaying helped me evolve my Leadership Skills, Problem Solving, Conflict Management, Big Picture/Strategy skills, Story Telling for Pitches and Presentations, my understanding of Ethics and without a doubt my Empathy. All fundamental core skills for any leader in the modern world and I am a successful leader because of it (My Linkedin Profile).

It has also grown some acquaintances into friends who I care for and have shared many fun moments with. For me RPGing refreshes my soul.

I am a better a human for this fun “past time” hobby and yes it is fun 🙂

Why games are good for you – Board, RPG and War


Without a doubt I love playing games. They grow my skills, they help me evolve as a human and they can even be fun.

“You learn more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”


I have broken this blog post into several sections:

  1. What does gaming give you?
  2. Getting started – boardgames for you
  3. Getting started – roleplaying for you
  4. My gaming journey

For the last three decades, I have been playing games. I own over 250 board games and 400 Roleplaying books(RPG). You can see what I own here at boardgamegeek.

“What does gaming give you?


As a teenager, board games gave me confidence, problem solving skills, pattern recognition and little fear for failure.  Roleplaying Games (e.g. Dungeons and Dragons) gave me the ability to step into someone else’s shoes and imagine what they would do, as well as developing my leadership skills.

Board games can teach or improve important social skills to all ages (especially for children and teens), such as communicating verbally, sharing, waiting, taking turns (i.e. patience), and enjoying interaction with other humans. They can also encourage the ability to focus, and increase your attention span. Even simple board games like Snakes (Chutes in the US) and Ladders offer meta-messages and life skills: Your luck can change in an instant — for the better or for the worse. The message inherent in board games is: Never give up, have tenacity. Just when you feel despondent, you might hit the jackpot, if you stay in the game for just a few more moves.

Many people, when they first start playing games, are surprised at the level of brainpower that board games use. Modern games are often highly strategic and tactical, requiring you to constantly make calculated choices, where you to weigh the alternatives. While all board games are different and each one challenges in a different way, I would suggest that, in general, board games are very effective at testing your problem solving abilities, decision making skills, and tactical capabilities. And some that involve more player interaction bringing out the your negotiating, charm or persuasion skills.


Studies on Games

I am a man of science. So what does science say? Here are a couple studies:


What do I get from Boardgames?

Boardgames tend to be abstract and there is often no continuation from one gaming session to another.

  1. Continuous evolving Strategy and Tactical experience
  2. Improved problem solving under different environments
  3. A better understanding of people under stress
  4. Learning to gracefully fail/lose
  5. Learning to win, and when not to
  6. Learning to understand the nature of chance/probability
  7. Teaching others simple/complex rulesets and tactics/strategy
  8. Learning different game mechanics and how to maximize them
  9. Socializing, Fun and Laughter

What do I get from RPGs?

While similar to boardgames, there is continuation from one gaming session to another. Players become heavily invested in their individual characters, and the skills learned tend to be more about humans than mechanics.

  1. A better sense of Good and Evil, and ethics in general
  2. Team Planning
  3. Leadership
  4. Continuous evolving Strategy and Tactical experience
  5. Ability to walk in someone else’s shoes
  6. Improved Problem Solving under different environments
  7. Investigation skills
  8. Better understanding of people
  9. Teaching others simple and complex rulesets
  10. Socializing, Fun and Laughter

What do I get from WarGaming?

In some ways Wargaming is more mature than boardgames, as you tend to view each games as an experience to learn from.

  1. Having a strategy and sticking to it
  2. Paying attention to opportunities and recognizing when they are a trap
  3. Recognizing when you have lost and should retreat
  4. Understanding the importance of logistics
  5. Understanding Combat Strategy and Tactics and the impact of different weapons systems
  6. The importance of morale on the battlefield
  7. Using terrain to your advantage
  8. Improved Problem Solving under different environments
  9. Understanding your strengths and weaknesses and comparing them to competitors


Getting Started – Boardgames for you

So where should you start? It depends on how many will play with you and how adventurous they are.

Most start with the Family games e.g. Monopoly, Clue, and Apples to Apples. Those with a bit more adventure may start with Settlers of Catan, Smallworld or Pandemic (this game is collaborative i.e. you work together). If you are not affected by crossing the lines of political correctness than Cards against Humanity would be a good start for a small group.

If there is just two of you there are many varieties of card games to get you started, such as Settlers of Catan card game, Gloom or Herbaceous. Or if you like word games, Moot or Quiddler are good.

If you want a good database of games, the best is at BoardGameGeek where you will find ratings, photos, reviews, FAQ, pdf manuals etc.

If you want to learn a game without reading the manual checkout Geek and Sundry as they may well have a review of a game, which will get you up and running faster.  Of course there are lot of videos out there, but remember its Internet, quality is mixed.

If you are worried about what to buy, head to your local Gameshop and ask them, the best game shops will let you play a copy of the game, or give you a good breakdown of how it works.


Finding a Gaming group

If you are alone here are some suggestions of how to find people to play with.

  1. Gaming Shops – That is what google is there for
  2. Meetups – there a lot of gaming groups across the US
  3. Gaming Conventions
  4. Work Colleagues
  5. Friends

Finding the right people for your group can take time, and finding people that reliably come to regular sessions is harder. Be patient.

One Hint -> Watch how people play and lose, that will give you deep insight into the their character as a person.


Not all boardgames are the same

How does a game play? Where is it set? What are your goal? How do you achieve them? These can differ dramatically from game to game. Here’s a list of the different board game categories, or “styles” of play:

Conflict orientated

Some games, like Risk, Dustor X-Wing challenge your tactical skills and invite aggression, pitting you directly against other players. You have to make decisions on who to attack and why. You also have to know how to anticipate losses, as well as how to recover from them.


Some are about finding the clues and solving the “problem”. Clue is an obvious example, and a really good modern one is T.I.M.E. Stories. Murder Mystery dinners are also a lot of fun and easily played with non gamers.

Dungeon Quests

These are often collaborative games, where a group of adventurers (the players) head somewhere dark and try to survive whilst achieving some goal. These are often RPG/Boardgame hybrids, such as Mice and Mystics, Mansions of Madness, Arkham Horror, or Castle Ravenloft.

Resource Management

Games like Monopoly, Firefly, Civilization, Twilight Imperium and Scythe challenge your resource management skills, as well as your ability to make decisions in the present that can yield exponential gain later. Some games are primarily economic games, and you may even learn about investments i.e Planet Steam or Tesla vs Edison or Startup fever.


Strategy & Puzzle orientated

DominionCastles of Burgundy and Puerto RicoYou don’t compete much with the other players, instead building up your own area and trying to score points. These games challenge your ability to weigh decisions against each other and calculate opportunity cost.

Collaborative or Team orientated games

For those who do not like conflict there is now a whole range of games that encourage collaboration i.e. Pandemic, Spirit IslandShadows over Camelot, Robinson Crusoe, and Dead of Winter.


Other types of games:

  • Legacy Games -the board and game evolves after or during play (Risk Legacy, Pandemic Legacy)
  • Political games (Diplomacy, Junta)
  • Search & Gather (Merchants & Marauders, Pirates Cove)
  • Betrayal Games – They start off as collaborative but it turns out during the game someone maybe working against you, in some cases this an optional version of the game in others not e.g. BattleStar Galactica, Shadows over Camelot, Pandemic with the Terrorist. Check with your group that they understand what will happen, also make sure that you have several copies of the rules, so the “Traitor” can understand their rules without letting on who they are.

Summary of things to consider for Boardgames

For reviews check out BoardgameGeek, Geek & Sundry or Starlit Citadel video Reviews.

Here is how I compare and contrast boardgames, when choosing to play or buy.

1. Complexity

How big is the rule book? Is it easy to read? Do the examples make sense? That said some games are great just the instructions suck.


  • Look at PDF of the instruction manual online, so multiple people can learn the game at once
  • Watch a YouTube video How-to-play walkthrough Geek & Sundry is a good start

2. Setup time

How many pieces are there? How do you record impact on your “empire”? How many cards or counters need to be setup? Twilight Imperium can take 30-40 mins to setup, where as Dominion may take less than 10 mins.


  • Buy extra bags or one of the organizing kits, this will get you up and running faster
  • Put cards in an order that makes sense

3. Competition vs. Collaboration

Some players do not like conflict and others do. Check in with the mood of the group, sometimes you just want to fight the game and other times you are up for a fight with your friends.


  • Having a variety of games will help with this, as well as knowing your fellow players.

4. Chance/Random

Some games like Chess are all player choice, there is no randomness. Others, like Snakes and Ladders, is all chance and no choice. Settlers uses a die to determine which resources will be given out each turn, so it’s a combination of both. Combat games use a variety of choice and chance mechanics to determine the outcome.

5. Player Interaction

If you like your friends, and if you want to spend the evening talking (instead of in silent concentration), games that encourage interaction are good. Some games only encourage attacks between players e.g. Scythe and not trading. Others have minimal if any interaction e.g. Puerto Rico.

6. Growth and Snowball effect

Some games have what is called a snowball effect, where the powerful get more powerful and the weak will die off.

So players might be eliminated, e.g. Risk, or end up feeling bored and frustrated, e.g. Settlers of Catan. Other games are kinder and allow players to restart e.g. Pirates Cove, but the chances are you will be so far behind you will never catch up. It’s important to see if anyone gets left behind in the game, and if you have a player who reacts badly to falling behind or being eliminated, it may be best to avoid these games.

The other aspect of the Snowball effect is that if you make mistakes at the beginning, the whole game could suck for some or all players. This can happen if you are deeply unlucky with the die, or if you suck 😉  The reality is you can learn and improve so watch and absorb, you will get there…

7. Number of Players

A lot of modern games limit the number of players to four. Is that a tribe? (I don’t think so). Some delight you with an expansion to extend to five players for a bunch of dollars or pounds.

Again, it’s definitely worth a collection that has a different number of players. You never know how many people will show up for games night!

8. Time per player

The first time you play a game, expect the initial time to double, until you figure out how the game works.


  • Read the rules once before you play and if you have time play against yourself or with a friend.
  • Teaching rules all the time can become exhausting, share the load: Get all the players to download the PDF to their phone. Having access to more rulebooks will help the game move faster.


Getting Started – Roleplaying games for you

If you have no idea where to start, try the Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Starter Set or Star Wars RPG Beginner Game, unless you find another world you want to really play. Starting with a simple game will get you unfraid and ready to explore other games/universes. Also, starting with a starter set saves on spending a lot of money on books until you are ready.

If you have not run a session before, keep an eye out for my post for first time Dungeon Masters / Game Masters.

Not all RPGs are the same

There are different themes, different play styles, different universes and different mechanics (how to calculate how I grow as a character, fight, solve, etc). Next to each game, I have added an overall complexity rating (Simple, Intermediate and Advanced).

Fantasy –

Fantasy includes Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Conan, Pirates, generally medieval time with Swords/Bows and often Magic.

Present with Twists

These include modern day or in the last 50 years, something we would maybe have learned about in history class at school, if you were awake.

  • Vampire (Simple) – Surprise surprise!… it’s about vampires
  • Werewolf (Simple) – You are guardians of the earth protecting it from Wrym who uses toxins to destroy the planets and humans
  • Dresden Files (Simple) – Detectives with Magic in Chicago
  • Call of Cthulhu (Intermediate) – Run away! anddd… you’re dead. Horror and  investigation
  • Unknown Armies (Intermediate) – You are armed with magic or a gun, slightly insane and you have to stop them.. you know them.. they are real

Science Fiction

Most of these would be 50 years plus in the future

  • Eclipse Phase (Advanced) – Dark future of mankind, AI, Corporations and technology. Get the backup of you ready, let’s jump through Stargates to take on the evil robots. A favourite.
  • Shadowrun (Intermediate) – Elves, Dwarves and humans in our future with guns, magic and cyber gear
  • Star Wars (Simple) – You should know this
  • Polaris (Simple) – Far future under earth’s oceans
  • Traveller (Intermediate) – At least a 1,000 years
  • Coriolis (Simple) – Space Arabian Nights

Summary of things to consider for RPGs

  1. Complexity- Often referred to as how Crunchy (in terms of lots of numbers and arithmetic) the game is.
  2. The size of the Community of the game- the bigger the community, the more resources will become available
  3. If you are a first time GM -> the number of adventures published for the game
  4. How far from reality – The further away from reality takes a longer investment i.e. no humans or science fiction or very different universe
  5. The Number of Players 5 to 6 are best
  6. The Player Mix – A mixture of decisive and support players is good.
  7. Will others GM/Story Tell -> Troupe Style

The first game experience really defines whether someone comes back to RPG. So no pressure but… choose the game wisely and make sure everyone gets the opportunity and space to participate.

My Gaming Journey


Family Boardgames

Like most, I played card/board games as a child e.g. MouseTrap, The Game of Life, Super Cluedo Challenge (Clue in the US), Monopoly, Chess, Backgammon, Mah Jong, Casino, etc.  Good games for passing the time with family and friends. As a teenager I played Risk with friends taking a whole day to complete the world conquest games.


I played a couple war-games as a teenager, some counter, some miniature, some rules coming from magazines, mostly based in the Second World War.  Around 1983/4 Warhammer Fantasy Battle was released.  This is a miniature war game in which two armies fight against each other, but fantasy based, Lord of Rings mythology e.g. Elves Dwarves, Orcs, etc.  I played with friends and in tournaments with a Wood Elf army – They favored fast movement and range attacks, but had some specialized Heavy Infantry.

Later I discovered Advanced Squad Leader, a WWII counter tactical-level board war-game. Extremely complex and thorough. It’s interesting redoing tactical situations that actually happened during the second world war.

Space Marine was created by Games Workshop Ltd and consisted of Epic scale (6 mm) miniatures games. Later they were replaced by Warhammer Epic 40,000 which worked at the same scales but had all new mechanics. I built a large Eldar army and played a lot of games again both with friends and in tournaments.

Other war-games I played at this time included Flat Top, Harpoon, Air Superiority, The Hunt for Red October, and Supremacy.

War gaming taught me a lot about military strategy and tactics, the importance of logistics, a lot of history, how to cope with the unexpected i.e. dice rolls, how to predict your competition and their likely moves, and how to learn from failure and success.

Board Games

Finding friends who would play war-games was tough, especially because war-games are such a big investment (i.e. a couple hundred painted miniatures, a BIG table, scenery and a day to play).  This led me to explore boardgames which took less time to setup, learn the rules and play.

Some of my favorites from this time period 80s – 90s are Kings & Things, The fury of Dracula, Block Mania, Talisman, Axis & Allies, Shogun, Twilight Imperium, Dragon Masters, Mighty Empires (this was a strategic version to Warhammer Fantasy Battle). These were all produced by Game Workshop, which I feel was its peak in creativity at this time.

Board gaming for me was mostly a fun and social thing to do with friends and new people. That said I learnt from them in terms of problem solving.


Through Warhammer Fantasy Battle and Games Workshop I learned about Warhammer Fantasy Role-play. We played The Enemy Within campaign led by Shane Johnson. Later, through a University student (I was still at College i.e. 16 years old) and part-time shop keeper (Gaming shop) Alan, I learned about a new D&D campaign, just starting.  This was redbox D&D and I started with a level 1 Mage through to something double digits level. It was an amazing campaign which relied on a lot of roleplaying. The Dungeon Master (Steve) really opened by mind to acting the character, their motivations and conflicts e.g. Roleplaying rather than just tactical play i.e. surviving and getting Gold.

Later I discovered at Exeter University (UK), a big RPG group. This expanded my playing into new RPG games such as AD&D Second Edition, Mega Traveller, Vampire, Amber, etc. At some point I attended my first RPG Convention, where I played first edition Ars Magica. The way the game dealt with personalities and emotions, it blew my mind. My regular gaming stopped after I left Exeter, UK 1992.

Roleplaying has continuously opened my mind to different possibilities, new worlds, and new ways to solve problems. The people I played with were also important, I learnt a lot about them through how they played and how they reacted to successes and failures. For most it was pure escapism from their lives, for others it was the opportunity to be something better in their minds, and for others it was the opportunity to be something worse than society would allow them to be. For all it was a moment of freedom.

Gaming Again after 16 years

I started Gaming when I moved to Vancouver, BC, Canada in 2008 (from the UK) and I met new gamers. Most of my games that had survived this time period had progressed through several editions/versions.

I met a LOT of boardgames and RPGers in Canada. I wonder if cold prairie nights encourages more people to play games, rather than simply watching TV like in the UK.

My modern boardgames favorites are Risk Legacy, Eve Conquests, Middle Earth Quest, Eclipse, Merchants & Marauders, T.I.M.E. Stories, BattleStar Galactica, Starfarers of Catan, Shadows of Camelot, Terra Mystica, Civilization, Village.

My modern RPGs favorites are Eclipse Phase, D&D 5th Edition, Coriolis, Ars Magica 5th Edition.

My modern Wargame favorites include Warhammer 40,000K, Advanced Squad Leader

Playing with adults is different to playing with teenagers, in part it’s less emotional, except for those adults who never learned how to fail. RPG characters that people play as adults, are generally more complex and games have kept up with this multiple layering of personality.

I think gaming will add a lot to your life, your experiences, your skills, and your friends. And I think it’s a worthy investment. I hope it brings you as much joy, frustration, and laughter as it has brought me. 


First Job in the USA

Taking it by the horns

Eric riding a bull

Here is a presentation that I presented to some of my colleagues at Enova about what it was like to move to the USA.

The Journey of an immigrant from UK, via Canada to US

  1. Why am I talking about this?
  2. How did I get a job at Enova?
  3. Why did I come to work for Enova?
  4. Cultural adjustment/shock
  5. Eric arriving in the US
  6. American/Chicago Culture
  7. Making friends with Americans
  8. Working With Americans
  9. Leading/Working with first job immigrants – What can you do?
  10. Why employ someone diverse?
  11. Who is Eric as a person?
  12. Making Eric stronger/Surviving Immigration

You can look at the Slide and Speaker notes on slideshare here

GenCon 2017

GenCon is a gaming convention where 60,000 people appear in Indianapolis, Indiana, US to play board games, participate in role-play games, show off cos-play and many other types of fun, each year. This year was the 50th Anniversary. There were 19,000 events and 500 exhibitors.

This was my second time at GenCon.  I have been playing board games and RPGs since the 1980’s. You can see most of my collection at www.boardgamegeek.com/user/ericbrookeBoardgames (221) and RPGs (289).

If this is your first time I have broken tips and hints out at the end of each section and put top eights things to do at GenCon, at the bottom of this section.13932891_10157188228870545_6326010070941764624_n

Getting Organized

Sales for tickets started in January and Housing (all the Hotels become available in February). We bought tickets (April 2017) and discovered there were no hotels and then we searched the web and still no hotels. Thus we cancelled within 2 hours, and of course lost money (cancellation fees). I consider this an actual con as you cannot see what hotels are available before you buy the tickets, easily solved by sharing this information upfront. Have to say I have little trust of the organizers but it is a good event.

A couple of friends bought tickets earlier, and found hotels in January and they noticed in July that Hotel spots started appearing. So we bought new tickets and booked a Hotel near the airport (Wyndam) at $500 for three nights.  This also meant we would have to rent a car ($339) to get to the Hotel and drive into the conference each day, parking ranged from $10 to $30 per day depending how much walking you wanted to do.

Ticketing & Housing Tip

My suggestion is to get your ticket in January at Pre-Registration. For Housing be there (on the web) the moment the housing opens up, know your group and book together.

Here is the dates laid out for 2017:

Key Dates

  • Sunday, January 29, 2017 at noon (Eastern) – Badge Pre-Registration begins.
  • Sunday, February 12, 2017 at noon (Eastern) – Housing reservations open.
  • Sunday, May 28, 2017 at noon (Eastern) – Event Registration begins.
  • Saturday, July 2, 2017 at 11:59 pm (Eastern) – Pre-Registration ends. All shipping method changes must be completed by this time.
  • Sunday, July 2, 2017 – Registration begins. Badge prices increase. All purchases fulfilled through Will Call only. This is the last day to cancel badges for 2017.
  • Monday, TBD at 5 pm (Eastern) – Housing cut-off date, the last day to make new hotel reservations.
  • Wednesday, August 16, 2017 at noon (Eastern) – Onsite Registration begins.
  • Thursday – Sunday, August 17 – August 20, 2017, Gen Con 2017 happens live at the Indiana Convention Center.

Booking Events

My preference for events is writing seminars/workshops and RPGs sessions.

The website sucks. It’s hard to navigate 19,000 events some which are good and some which are not. You really have no sense who your GM/DM is going to be and how much experience they have. A lot of events had sold out by July, so we were playing mostly evening sessions.


Event Tips

  1. Book Events early, so you can plan your experience better and match to your preference e.g. mornings/afternoons/evenings
  2. Some people recommend getting the “Generic tickets” and just turning up to sessions, a lot of people bail at the last moment, so there is often empty spots.
  3. The Writing group does have a booklet which is a lot easier to navigate. It is usually available with some goodies at the conference.
  4. Pay attention to which search options you have selected


Exhibit Hall

This is kinda of amazing, its big and there is a lot of booths, many, many games and a lot of people. Not only is there an opportunity buy many games, but there is a lot of play testing available, to try out games.


Exibit and buying tips

  1. Break up the Exhibit Hall into several time chunks and search by block, its big and a lot of people. You will literary get emotional exhausted if you try to do it in one go
  2. Note some games do sell out on the first couple days. For example Spirit Island and Twilight Imperium sold out on Saturday.
  3. Some studios you will have to line up for i.e. Fantasy Flight Games.
  4. I generally find games are cheaper bought on-line, there are some deals to be found at GenCon, but they are usually used on the first couple days.

Your First Time at GenCon?

Some advice for first time attendees:

  1. Do things at GenCon that you can’t do at home
  2. Don’t over schedule
  3. Food pack – bring a water bottle, nuts and dried fruit, protein bars
  4. Remember Dice, Paper & Pencils
  5. Lunch – Take it early or late – There are a lot of food trucks, but the good ones build up big lines fast.. eat 11.30 or after 14.00
  6. Choose one or two games a day
  7. Attendance – Thursday is by far the lightest day of attendance, and is a good day to see the dealer hall.  Friday is busier, and Saturday even more so.  Not as much happens on Sunday

My Experience at GenCon 2017

Eclipse Phase GMing

So I love Eclipse Phase RPG for many reasons. Thus I offer to GM for them at the Convention. I did last year (my first GenCon) and this year. Posthuman Studios will pay you to do so, though I do not care about the money and instead do it to introduce new people to the game and help out a small Studio.

Pre Convention we played two sessions via Google Hangouts.  Marc Huete ran both sessions and they were a lot of fun.

I have to shout out for David Cooper who does a lot of organization to get GMs from all over the US, to fill 37 Sessions, 6 Scenarios, with 3 different rule systems (1st Ed, Fate and 2nd Ed) and 14 GMs. Thanks David.

Why you should run sessions

One great reason for helping a studio run sessions is that it automatically gives you a group of people to give you advice on GenCon, as well as challenging you to be a better story telling and good drinking people to talk about games. Some like PostHuman pay for your time, give you a free pass to the convention and buy you a couple of drinks.  Also you also get into an early play test group.

Things always change

The first day I could not go, so I delayed my arrival by a day and arrived Thursday. But my partner could not go to end of day so I took a GrayHound (4 Hours) and she drove down later that evening.



13.00 Pick up Pass an event tickets – super fast

13.05 Get GM Pass

14:00 Legends of the Five Rings RPG – Open Library – 4 Hours

New game to me, interesting and simple mechanics. The scenario was very ritualistic, with etiquette being very important, pulling heavily on Japanese culture.

The fictional setting of Legend of the Five Rings is similar to feudal Japan, though it also includes aspects of other Asian cultures, as well as magic and mythicalbeasts. There is no given name for the entire world which the setting describes, so “Rokugan” is used alternately to refer to the specific nation within the setting or to refer to the entire world.


18:00 Ars Magica RPG Seminar

I have been playing since first edition 1987, the current versions is fifth. Good news a New version is being worked on, I was worried that they had given up on Ars Magica.


Ars Magica is a role-playing game set in ‘Mythic Europe’ – a historically-grounded version of Europe and the Levant around AD 1200, with the added concept that conceptions of the world prevalent in folklore and institutions of the High Middle Ages are factual reality. The players’ involvement revolves around an organization of magi and their allies and foes both mundane and supernatural. The game was originally developed by Jonathan Tweet and Mark Rein·Hagen, with its first edition published in 1987.

The current edition (the game’s fifth) was written by David Chart, and published in 2004 by Atlas Games, who continue to develop new material for it.

Ars Magica was one of the first examples of a Troupe system. Early editions recommended that the players collaborate to create the campaign world and story.

Each player has an opportunity to be Story Guide. (e.g. alternating by-play session, ‘chapter’ of a story, or at the whim of the troupe)
Each player has more than one character; when the primary character lacks opportunity or reason to participate in a session (typically due to laboratory or library activity), a secondary character is played.
To enhance the ‘authenticity’ of the historical setting, the game uses medieval Latin for a number of key terms, particularly in the game’s most prominent feature, a system of Hermetic Magic.

19:00 7th Seas RPG – Heroes of Altamira – 4 Hours

7th Sea is a “swashbuckling and sorcery” themed tabletop role-playing game set in the fictional world of Théah. The mechanics are very simple.  We had a fun game.



Breakfast -> Wild Eggs -> Good

Writings Craft -> How to Write an Amazing First Page

The first page can make or break a book. Whether you’re trying to impress an editor or hook a reader, we’ll show you how to wow them! Featuring Toni Weisskopf, Leigh Perry, Marco Palmieri, Dan Wells

Here are my notes from this session:

  1. What are your promises to the reader?
  2. Who is this character?
  3. What is coming?
  4. First draft  -> Is what you want to say
  5. Final draft -> How do I want to say it
  6. Introduce magic or technology elements
  7. First page advertise your book
  8. Remember those Promises
  9. Write the first line after you know your story

“I like to be dropped in it, Grab the reader by the throat, Give me dramatic imagery”

  • Allows for discovery
  • Total immersion
  • Author wants me to keep up
  • Emotion and visceral

Eclipse Phase RPG – GM – Dog Star – 4 Hours

Doom metal laser whales on a helioseismic crusade tackle a high-tech dungeon crawl in the heart of a star.

All five were newbies to the game, and fun to lead in a story.


Eclipse Phase RPG – Sympathy for Uncle Silence – 4 Hours – Tim

Jovian trade negotiations with the fiercely independent city-state of Hyoden conceal deadly intrigue as Firewall operatives hunt a dangerous weapon.

This was probably the most effective and efficient random group of people who played together, that I had ever experienced at GenCon. Tim was our GM and did a great job.



Breakfast -> Wynham -> Awful

Writers Craft: No Room for Ego – How to Take, Give, and find Critique for your writing

  1. Find good critique partners
  2. Have people who are different to you
  3. Avoid people who can only tell you how great you are

GM Session Get Together Eclipse Phase

Posthuman Studios (Rob, Jack and Adam) get together with most of the Eclipse Phase GMs who ran sessions for Posthuman Studios. We talked how the sessions went, made comments on scenarios, and talk about life, GenCon and games.

Writers Workshop: Wrinkles in Time

The strategies and rewards of tense, pace, time, and memory in fiction. This writers’ workshop includes specific discussion and exercises on tense (the many variations even of “present”), control of pace (including full-throttle tips), the various functions of fictional time, and the chance/means to mine our own memories for more honest stories. For writers of all genres and levels.

Here are my notes:

  1. Readers should know when. Every page must have 3 senses. And each page must have time
  2. Readers recognize breaks and new chapters mean time has gone by, so you need to reestablish time
  3. Look for simple ways to show change in time ex. First day of school. Next chapter, Christmas, or thanksgiving.
  4. Always try to avoid comments like “3 months later”. Be more clever and subtle with your time marker ex. “A week ago you told me this”.
  5. You can also set up time at the end of the scene ” next time I’ll see you you’ll be married”. Author used classic events before and after a wedding to set time for readers without ever saying time.
  6. Fiction time montage is possible ex Stephen king’s the last stand directors cut
  7. How does character mark time? Ex. A kid marks time by “Brady bunches”– this also teaches you about the character. Character with heart problem, how many heartbeats? It builds character and articulates time in interesting way.
  8. Pace: should be fast-paced– most publishers want this. Ex. Author started with 3 months, got it down to 15 days
    1. ex. “A bomb in this room going off in a month vs. 5 min” time makes everything more exciting. Time fixes everything. To make things hard for your character, you have to take away time. Be mean to your characters, put the pressure on. Don’t give your characters time
  9. Start your story in the middle, shit is going down, ignore the backstory. The first sentence must grab you. Need to catch attention of agent, editor, reader
  10. End chapters to cut out bullshit. If you nail it, don’t keep talking. Shut up, end chapter. Every book should start in the middle of action and end with “do something cool”, mic drop. 1 chapter could be 2 pages. Also, get rid of scenes you don’t need
  11. Exception: Slow down for the emotional stuff. 2 pages on coming to terms with tough shit is okay
  12. You can make backstory interesting by making it a scene. “I was there…”. Gatsby is great at backstories as scenes
  13. Who is telling your story and why. Depending on how long ago it was, different perspective on their own story. Time affects characters’ perceptions too
  14. Learn how to play with tenses. Because we live in all tenses, our characters should too.

Whats up with Eclipse Phase & Posthuman Studios? Seminar

A lot about second edition – Simplified character development, updates to Asyncs,  33/66 rule, update background to reflect the U.S. present day and what science has discovered in the last seven years.

Dinner -> Cerulean Restaurant – Really good

The Bad Trip – Call of Cthulhu RPG – 4 Hours – GM -> Tony Messerges

Life is always grooving at Professor Green’s pad. As he likes to quote Kerouac, “All things are like visions beyond the reach of the human mind.” Freaky man, freaky.

Last time I played Call of Cthulhu was in 1987.  This was an amazing session which ran over by about 90 mins.  60’s music playing and hypnotic setup. A lot of great props. A fun random group with one guy who was using GenCon as is Bachelor party.


After the session we went for a few drinks @scottys, with Dan (Eclipse Phase GM), Adam, Jakob and others. We had some great conversations about games they were playing.


The Anatomy of Action in Writing: The Craft of Storytelling

Join award-winning author Maxwell Alexander Drake as he takes you deep into the action, breaking it down piece by piece, and giving you tips for creating more realistic and exciting action scenes.

  1. Your plot needs to be tight -> Your plot is a Jenga tower with the last piece before it falls
  2. Draw everything, map it all out
  3. Use photos for each character, google them
  4. Ask every character their motivation, even the guard who dies right away
  5. Five stages of grief e.g. PTSD Buffy
  6. 70% of book readers are female
  7. Make people uncomfortable
  8. Dialogue is not just a conversation it fills out dev, motivation
  9. Words have weight, power
  10. Avoid adverbs
  11. Setup plot – Plant. Tend, Reap
  12. Scene openings – Macro to micro
    1. Micro opening starts with singular description
  13. Paragraph size determines pace
  14. Small paragraph adds weight
  15. Avoid speech tags
  16. Italics in their head
  17. POV rule stay in one persons head, unless you are certain

The Anatomy of Action in Writing: The Craft of Writing

Join award-winning author Maxwell Alexander Drake as he explores when and how to use physical conflict and using words to craft action. Action that your readers will not simply read, but experience.

I will add more notes here later

Buying – Call of Cthulhu, Boardgames Planetarium

  1. Call of Cthulhu Books – Keepers Rulebook, Investigators Handbook, Quick Start Guide, Keepers Screen and Doors to Darkness (Beginning Scenarios)
  2. Coriolis – scenario
  3. Eclipse Phase, second edition Quick Start Rules
  4. 7th Sea Books – GM screen and Nations Volume 1
  5. Element Boardgame
  6. Planetarium Board Game (Tiger Stripes came with it for free)


To Buy

These are games, I heard great things about from multiple people at the convention

  1. Spirit Island Board Game
    1. Jakob and Dan told us about this game they have already played a bunch of times and love it
    2. Bought it and played loved it
  2. Twilight Imperium Board Game
    1. Asked staff about the changes, they sound good – Greater politics, simplified technology ladder, better defined plastic pieces and box container.
    2. Pre-Ordered gam for $110, it was $150 at the Convention
  3. Expanse Board Game
  4. Get plastic covers for cards in my most played games.


Maybe Buy

Games to do more research on:

  1. Sid Meier’s Civilization: A New Dawn
  2. Photosynthesis
  3. Red Markets RPG

Games I would love to play at GenCon next year

  1. Ars Magica RPG
  2. Coriolis RPG

Thoughts from GenCon 2017

  1. Lots more Miniature war-games than previous years
  2. More Science boardgames

Next GenCon go to

  1. Lucas Stadium
  2. Board game library
  3. Second-hand games

Apple Worldwide Developers Confrence #WWDC17 #YearOfTheEngineer

Each year Apple holds a Developers conference called Apple Worldwide Developers Confrence or for short WWDC.  It is a great place to learn and talk about Mac OS, iPhone Apps, TV Apps and Watch Apps. This year it was in San Jose, CA, USA and lasted five days.

It was a fun conference, with an incredible amount to learn and absorb.

Overall I would say #WWDC17 was the year of the engineer, they have given us so many great new APIs and better tools so we can produce some great experiences for our users. The AR/VR and Machine Learning tools are really setting a solid foundation for a interesting and diverse future.


Early 2016 after working on mainly Web application development for a bunch of years. I took leadership of the Mobile Team at Enova (FinTech), which started with just working on an iOS App. Later in 2016 we eventually added an Android Squad. Last year the whole iOS Team applied for WWDC and none got a ticket, its a lottery chosen on your Apple ID.

This year when we applied we expected to be lucky to get one. So of course we got three! Nick a Senior iOS Engineer, Dan our Mobile UI Designer and myself all won tickets in the lottery. I offered my ticket to our other iOS engineers at Enova, they declined. So I went to #WWDC with Dan and Nick.


Nick, Eric and Dan from Enova

Pre Confrence

There was 5300+ people heading to this the conference, which made booking flights and hotels fun.  The Hotels are booked through Apple and you need to move fast.

We all downloaded the WWDC App. In hindsight we should have also downloaded the Parties App.

As a team we discussed what we wanted to get out of conference, what sessions we were interested and discussed what questions we wanted to ask the Apple Engineers – you can book sessions with them and discuss your Apps. Great for both your designer and engineers. Not all the session are revealed as they will show up after the Keynote.

Day -1 – Sunday

Up early to travel from Chicago to San Jose.

Getting a conference pass was fast and easy for me. We all got a pin to represent our country, and set of Apple icon pins and a Levi Jacket.   Arriving at the Apple conference they had set up a outside garden with music, food and drink. The rest of team came through different routes,  we met up for dinner at MOSIAC.


The Confrence

Day 1 – Monday

I got into the lineup at 6.02am. I figure there must of been 1000 people infront of me. I saw people lining up at 7pm the previous day. The reality is that first few lines are saved for VIP and the media.

So you will be stuck in a line up for hours, getting to know the people around you is a good thing and helped pass the time. I met some interesting people from a NewYork Agency, Calgary MRI scanning, Day of Wonders, German Bank, Domino Pizza, Danish FinTech, and Canada RBC.

We talked about many things but there was definitely a couple themes of frustration around a lack of customer research and respect for UX in most companies when working on mobile. Most people seemed to build for a generic user. Others talked about Product Managers who did not really understand the differences between web app and mobile apps.

Once we got inside there was a light breakfast and coffee.. thank you.. after a total of 3 and half hours later I sat down at 9.44. I was in a centre block but a ways back. If you were smart like Dan who lined up after me he got a much better spot by checking where there were gaps i.e. single seats up in the front.

The good news is the room was big enough for everyone all 5,300 to get into the keynote room. Though room is fairly flat so having a tall person in-front of you is going to add hours to your neck dancing skills.

The Keynote was fun, and full of energy. Things that jumped out included iOS 11, Xcode 9, Swift 4, Metal 2, Machine Learning, ARKit, VRKit, Apple File System, and HomePod.  From a hardware perspective it felt evolutionary more than revolutionary. with the exception of the 18 Core iMac Pro of course. The real meat and a lot of it was in the software releases. All the things I wanted to see heading in the right direction. A lot of important things to take Apple Engineering to the next level.

Lunch – 5300 people is a lot to feed, there were a lot of places though both outside and inside to eat your lunch.

The Platforms State of Union – this got a lot further into key software updates – it was awesome with lots of stuff we can use in our day to day as an iOS engineer i.e. Xcode catching up with Android SDK, machine learning and a lot to do with testing…

Xcode 9 – Rebuilt Source Editor, Refactoring in Swift, Codable, Language Modes, Faster Builds, faster indexing, GitHub Integration, ViewController update, No need for Mac OS X Server (fingers crossed one day you can build on a linux box), Testing multiple devices at the same time, Wireless Development and a lot lot more..

iOS 11 – Drag and Drop (iPad), new PDFKit, QR Codes, new Video and image formats, Machine Learning, Metal 2 and yea much more.

After the team headed out to a Taurinus Brazilian Steak House – Happy Hour.  We recommend it, the grilled pineapple was amazing.  Than we headed out to find some random parties

I met a lot of App developers at the Beacon App Party from Dark Storm Comics, Historic house overlays in New York, a couple of the scholars and Apple engineer. Beacon is meet ad-hoc people App and a bunch of people used to find people with common interest at WWDC.

Day 2 – Tuesday

Actually had a light breakfast, as opposed to multiple coffees and head out early (7am) to see Michelle Obama. Her talk was down earth and full of good advice.

In another great talk that day Dr. Christine Darden told us about her journey from Monroe to NASA. I learnt a lot about sonic booms and how to reduce them.

Sessions for the day

The links are to Apples Videos, I will add my summary notes as I transcribe them. Note that links take you to the video page, but there is also a resources tab which includes a pdf of the presentation and full API documentation where relevant.

  1. Michelle Obama
  2. Christine Darden – From Monroe to NASA
  3. Your Apps and Evolving Network Security Standards
    1. New developments in certificate handling, TLS, and certificate status checking
  4. Privacy and your Apps
    1. Love CoreLocation When in Use
    2. Safari ViewController
    3. DeviceCheck
    4. Intelligent Tracking Prevention
  5. Swift 4
    1. Faster, easier to use Strings that retain Unicode correctness and add support for creating, using and managing substrings (only keeps what you sliced), Multi-line string Literals
    2. New Generic Features – where clauses, subscripts (PartialRangeFrom)
    3. Smart key paths for type-safe, efficient, extensible key value coding for Swift types
    4. Enhancements to creating and manipulating Dictionary and Set types
    5. Extends support of archival and serialization to struct and enum types and enables type-safety for serializing to external formats such as JSON and plist
    6. Enforced exclusive access to memory (Ownership)
      • Make it easier to reason about local variables
      • Enable Better programmer opt
    7. Access Control – private and extension work better together now
    8. Composing a class and any number of protocols
    9. Improving Cocoa Idioms – Smart Keypaths, Swift Archival & Serialization
  6. Introducing Core ML
    1. Bringing Sentiment Analysis, Handwriting Recognition, Translation, Scene Classification, Predicting text, Music Tagging and more to your device
  7. Updating Your App for iOS 11
    1. UIKit Bars, Avoiding Zero-Sized Custom Views, Margins & Inserts, Extending Safe Areas, Scroll Views, Self sizing Table views, Swipe actions,

Many years ago I met an amazing CTO/engineer (David Dossot ) in Vancouver, he now works for Apple so we headed to the Infinity Loop to share dinner at Cafe Macs. We had some great conversation and awesome food.

In a previous life I had worked at Apple, as a Genius in the Applestore in Vancouver, BC. Our training at that time brought us to Cupertino and CaffèMacs was my favorite place to eat for several weeks.

After I headed to Buddy build party, than the GitHub social and than Apple Social with a  live band.  Engineers I spoke to today included from Tumblr, another Creative Agency, a UK Bank and a lot of engineers from Vancouver, BC Canada (where I moved from before working in Chicago).

Day 3 – Wednesday

Sessions for the day

  1. Natural Language Processing
    1. Some great examples to get you started
  2. Debugging in Xcode 9
    1. Wireless Development, ViewController Debugging, NS Progress, Thermal Notifications, Performance Updates, Key Paths
  3. Whats new in Foundation
    1. File Provider Communication
    2. Improved NSString ↔ Swift String range conversion
    3. Discrete NSProgress support in NSXPCConnection
    4. Thermal notifications on iOS
    5. Copy-on-write NSArray, NSDictionary, NSSet
    6. Data inlining
    7. Faster calendrical calculations with lower peak memory
    8. Faster bridging of NSNumber to and from Swift
    9. KeyPaths
    10. Key Value Observing
  4. Essential Design Principles
    1. Why all of theses are important to you -> WayFinding, Feedback, Visibility, Consistency, Mental Model, Proximity, Grouping, Mapping, Affordance, Progressive Disclosure, Symmetry
  5. Advances in Networking 1
    1. ECN, IPv6, Network Extensions, and Multipath protocols
    2. An essential change in URLSession
  6. Advances in Networking 2
    1. New URLSession APIs to better handle connectivity fluctuations, to schedule background session tasks, and to receive progress reports for session tasks

Today I met a lot Gaming App developers and learned about their challenges.

For dinner Dan and I hung out with Jaqueline from Calgary first at the Fairmont and than the Farmers Union.

Day 4 – Thursday

Women@WWDC Breakfast

This morning was a little harder to focus, as I headed for Breakfast an Apple employee asked me “Hey you care about Woman!, you should go this Women@WWDC – knowing when to do what I am told  😉 I joined the session. It was really good – why Woman should have male allies, how to invite them and how to support them.

One comment really rang true, I have to be invited to go to a Women’s event.. in part because I do not want Women not to have their safe space. But I do care and inequality deeply frustrates (actually it make me angry) me.

Sessions for the day

  1. Core ML in depth
    1. Great Presentation with some simple examples that any engineer could play with
  2. Design for Everyone
    1. Learn how designing for accessibility and inclusiveness
  3. Advances in Core Image
    1. New ways to efficiently render images
    2. Custom CIKernels in the Metal Shading Language.
    3. CIFilters that include support for applying image processing to depth data and handling barcodes
    4. Vision framework can be leveraged within Core Image
  4. What’s new in Testing
    1. XCTEST Enhancements
    2. Async testing – XCTWaiter, XCTestExpectation
    3. Multi-app testing – App Groups
    4. UI testing performance – .first, Block-based NSPredicate
    5. Activities, attachments, and screenshots – XCTActivity, XCTAttachment, XCTScreenshot
  5. Whats new in LLVM
    1. API Availability Checking for Objective-C
    2. Static Analyzer Checks
    3. New Warnings
    4. C++ Refactoring
    5. Features from C++17
    6. Link-Time Optimization

Apple Bash

Fall Out Boy played at the Apple Bash, 5,000+ people in a park with alcohol and food. Not from the US I had never heard them but they put on a great performance.


Today I met engineers from RBC, a Creative Agency, and several education App companies.

Day 5 – Friday

Women@WWC Scholars

A  number of the Apple scholars presented their ideas and answered questions from the audience.


Maybe #woman would be more interested in coding if the examples for Computer Science courses were more interesting and not just calculators..

  1. Writing Energy Efficient Apps
    1. The cost for waking the radio is high
    2. Control retries and be mindful
    3. A number of specific examples
  2. Business Chat
    1. I can imagine a future where people could sell via chat, or we could support so much easier with customer taking a screen shot of what they are seeing, debugging will become so much easier whilst not awkward for customer and we could share videos of people solving common problems or take a screen shot or needed information. Or just pay with Apple Pay
  3. PDFKit – yes, yes, yes
  4. Design Session with an Apple Designer
    1. This was incredibly useful, we asked him to look at ourUK OnStride App

Talked to an iOS Engineer from Ticketmaster, two from Apple, and an education App.

Thank you

I deeply thankful that my company Enova sent me along with the team to WWDC and to all the staff at Apple that pulled together a most awesome event.

After Thoughts

Broad thoughts for the conference organisers:

  1. The quality of talks was excellent
  2. I love there were some all star woman i.e. Michelle and Christine and a lot of engineer woman presenting technical talks, as well as womane@WWDC breakfasts
  3. I deeply appreciate Apple is starting to sneak Peek future products
  4. I spent a lot of time in line ups – like hours and hours
  5. Meeting people was a little hard – some suggestions below:
    1. Ask when people sign up what they want to get out of conference for example I would love to meet up with other FinTech companies and learn from them. Make this public on a website or add it to our badges
    2. Or have a noticeboard for people to state what problems they are trying to solve, and types of people they want to meet
    3. Maybe support an App like Beacon to help the adhoc stuff happen
    4. Maybe have a recruitment board
  6. Maybe vary the music a bit
  7. Have big neon signs at the back of the hall so people know where they need to go when exiting or have the presenter tell people, it was very confusing on the first day
  8. Communicate more to people when they are lining up what the plan is and not just the front, maybe use your App?
  9. Overall the conference felt encouraging, positive and I learned a lot

Hints & Tips for Attendees:

  1. If you win the lottery, book your hotel and flight fast
  2. Book the parties fast – There is sometimes a list and there is a party App. Some of these go with 15 mins of becoming available
  3. Consider booking the place you want to have dinner as they fill up with 5,000 extra people in town. We just went to dinner early, where we could
  4. When booking appointments e.g. UI, App Store, they open at 7am (for that day) and they literary all go within 60 seconds. Be ready and ensure your internet is ready
  5. Use the Lab sessions to troubleshoot the new software release and your App
  6. Bring Business Cards, you meet a lot of people and maybe never seen them again
  7. Bring water and snacks for the line ups
  8. If you are alone do not be shy in grabbing those middle empty spots in the KeyNote
  9. The Platforms overview talk is the place that it really gets real for engineers
  10. Prepare for the appointment sessions, make sure your App is working so you can show them. Know and target you’re areas of weakness.
  11. Note all the extra conferences that appear around WWDC

San Jose

So a big plus the Airport is close to the centre. There are a lot of places to eat, most of the week the centre felt lacking people. Friday night was like the whole place was invaded. There were a lot of humans. Most of centre area was very walkable.

Call Outs:

  1. Social Policy offers good food and coffee, the seats rely on perhaps some extra cushioning you may bring with you
  2. Taurinus Brazilian Steak House – was good and has a happy hour at 5pm to 6pm during the week
  3. Farmers Union – good comfort food and we had great service
  4. San Pedro Square Market – A great range of food

Post conference

I booked my flights late so most of my options were 18 hour trips with connections. So I took the next direct flight leaving 10pm Saturday. This gave me the opportunity to update this blog, consider the upgrades that Apple presented this week for Enova and what we needed to do vs. wanted to do. I also got the opportunity to catch up with another Apple Employee and friend Jerry who works in Apple University. We spent a good six hours talking about AI, tech, education, science fiction and writing.