Category Archives: Communcation

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..”

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:

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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:

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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




Actions speak louder then words

A person, company, organization community can be judged on its actions and behaviours not its intents. Especially when the shit hits the fan. Its easy to be nice when the world is all good. Behaviours, the culture under stress shows the real capacity of the leadership.

Choosing a name for your startup

Through my marketing career I have helped companies name themselves and their products.  Each journey is unique, sometimes it is quick and sometimes not, it should not be rushed. More recently I have helped out a couple tech startups, think this through. Here are my insights from the perspective of a startup or small business. I will assume you do not have a large advertising budget to educate your consumers or users.

The strongest names tend to be:

  • Unique
  • Easy to say(pronounce) and easy to write(spell)
  • Easy to understand
  • They tend to reflect Values or Benefits of the product not features, not sure of what FBV are? Look here
  • Have emotion as they describe inherit values
  • They may use words, with inherent trust in them, or coming a mythology already in place
  • They may be counter-culture, to rest of their sector
  • At least one noun
Bad names:
  • incorrect spelling
  • acronyms
  • boring
  • based on the latest trend
  • swear words
  • when using two words or more there is an inequality in the power of the words
  • adverbs

Things that do not matter:

Too many companies choose names based on what is available on the web.  URL vs Google search – in my humble opinion people rarely type in the URL bar, but instead will type the company name straight into their search engine (Google, Bing or Yahoo).

Corporate or product naming

Corporate branding – about the values, behaviours and thus culture of your organization.  So that you can attract the right talent to your organization.  In Simon Sineks’ book Start with the Why – people don’t buy what you do; people buy why you do it

Product branding – All about your customers and their needs/desires.

An example from a startup weekend (54 hours – No talk, all action):

We wanted to build a tele-presence (e.g. you could control it from a web browser) robot (on wheels, inductive charging and video camera) that people were comfortable with having in their home, it would either check to see if their pet was ok, used to communicate with tech-phobic granny or sweep the house to see if all was good.  We felt the biggest market was to look after or checkin on either pets or grannies, our price point was $300. Women cared most. So I went to a dog park to see if small dog owners in apartment block inner cities would be interested.  There were more women the first morning, all small dogs, about half could not get home to check their pet at lunchtime and would then rush home after work.  They said “I would love to check-in with Frankly, he is so cute”. The term check-in appeared a lot in conversation.  However they did not like the idea of a robot, it felt too un-organic, but one suggestion was “well if it looked like a bear that would be cool.  So I started asking what animals people liked.. They seemed to reflect the movies of the time so, chicken, panda, penguin and monkeys.. so it made sense to call it ANIMAL + CHECKIN.  So I tried Chicken Checkin – people reacted with a surprise and then a smile (That is good). This played well with the audience would buy it for their grandmother as well (the grand daughters using their own or mothers money for their grand mother). I then used animal names people wanted most on the higher price scale, aspiration and all that. Chicken checkin as the cheapest base model, Chatty Panda for the good model (two way video conferencing) and periscope penguin (extendable neck – kitchen counter).

One other thing I knew the leading competitors at the start-up weekend – one was being led by a local Venture capitalist on home security – so i was guessing they would be going for rational proposition, a touch of fear (of home invasion), republican and money.  Another competitor was being led by a local Angel – another way to give money to homeless people, so very emotional, democrat, and fair.  In terms of name and brand I was looking for humour, clarity, independent, emotional but tying into common sense.  Essentially I was ensuring we would portray something very different in the pitch, not just in product but in style. It worked to a degree we won best presentation.

You can read the start weekend post here.

The importance of emotion

Every word comes with a meaning to a person, it may even not be about the word but the letters used.  They may not or love the name simply because of their history. People always come with baggage.

Literal versus abstract names – its on a scale

Personally I believe the more literal the name, the less education(marketing) will be needed for people to place you. And it is important(why psychology and memory) for people to be able to place/position you if you want mass market rather than just visionary buyers.


How would you choose a child’s name? Why do certain names mean more than others? We have a surprisingly amount of prejudices/emotion based on human names, often based on the first person we met with that name


If you are finding difficult here is a process that may help you discover the name. This journey may help you explore more than just your name but your whole business. Its important to keep it separate from the design process.

Stage One: Research

  • Know your shit – the business, the sector, the competition
  • Know your values – a process in its self, which should really involve others
  • Research your stakeholders – Porters five forces (Customers, Suppliers, Competition, New Entrants, Substitutes)
  • Choose a perspective (Who are the first set of customers you want onboard, who will champion your cause – what is their psychological makeup? What words do they like and use)
  • Your name is not alone – Type, colours, logo – will add clues to what you are about and can dramatically change the way words are perceived.

Stage Two: Get past the NOW

Sometimes people are so fixed about their idea, filter and prejudices that they cannot see clearly.  As the startup journey is very often emotional, it can cloud us from ration thought, which can be helpful.  That said a good name depends on having a strong emotional connection.

First Impressions

Get your team together and put the following questions on flip chart paper – give everyone post-it notes and a felt tip (it limiteds the number of words used) and describe:

Q1 – What do you(the organsation) do?

Q2 – How does your consumer/user benefit?

Q3 – What do you change in your consumer?

Q4 – Why are you unique? This one tends to get more bullshit answers than the others, be honest.

Q5 – What are your values and how does this reflect in behaviours and product/services? (If you are seeking actual behaviours then your values are not a reality, yet..) You should know this BEFORE you consider your name.

Everyone gets to put up there own views, no filtering or founder bullying.  Each idea should be discussed (people can keep adding) and grown. Brainstorming – not sure how? Have a look here.

Stage Three: Record the journey

Reserve a lot of wall space..

The Wall of Names – somewhere there should a wall of ideas, post-it notes with names, all are valid ideas. Each person would try to grow each idea, or help it down the evolutionary ladder. The more people you allow into the process the more ideas you will get.  This wall is not limited to words , pictures, sketches and photos are equally good.

The Wall of Customers (for product name) – the same as above but describes the customers you want. Their personalities, their drivers, fashion, music, everything

The Wall of Talent (for corporate name) – What are the types of people you want to attract? We all want smart people to work for us. But what kind of smartness? At a small business level your talent will be limited by the personality of the founder/leader. The unaware founder will want lots of people like them, but with different capabilities. The smart founder will be looking for different types of personalities as building a team is often about weaving, very different people together (as they all have different perspectives and will be able to see different problems and solutions).

Stage Four: Step out of your space

A fair degree of innovation comes from looking at other people doing other things, in other places and seeking what we can learn from them.  In part this happens so often that Michael Porter had two elements (Threat of New Entrants and Threat of Substitutes) in his Porters Five forces model to account for people who can come from another sector and replace what you are doing e.g. Apple taking over music and in part mobile.

Look at other organizations in other sectors (not your own) – which organization would you want to be from any sector profit, non-profit or governmental.  You are looking for the organizations that you admire and would like to emulate in some way.  For each organization breakdown why you like them, into values, people, products/services, get a little deep here, you are trying to truly see past the marketing/propaganda to see how they are connecting with you.

Unique possibilities

After you have reviewed the organizations consider what does not occur in your sector that already exists in another.

Stage Five: Deciding

Choosing a name is not an easy process.  Some people start with code names e.g. Project ALPHA, so they can just label it. Labelling is important for most humans.  If you are on a timescale I would suggest taking everyone out of work to start the above process, allow for no distractions, if possible get an independent to help facilitate the session.  They will concentrate on getting the best out of people in terms of ideas.  What ever you do always sleep on it.  The brain generally does some amazing stuff whilst you are asleep.

Names are like falling in love, you know it.  This can take time. Everyone will feel it.  That said even after choosing you may have doubts, thats ok.

The advocate – you will need at least one person to love the idea and explore its possibilities. Without a true advocate you do not have a good name.

Good places to think about it – Road Trip (with the team, not alone) you are together but in the real world with different stimulations, walk around a shopping mall, go to a conference about something you know nothing about, read an autobiography of someone with a completely different life to you. Lack of sleep can help 🙂 Expose yourself to different forms of stimulation.

Good books

These books are not directly related, but each has taught me something with naming:

Sticky Wisdom – Understanding and growing creative cultures

Eating the Big Fish – About branding when you are the punk on the block

How to have Kick-Ass Ideas – Shake it up

Visual Meetings

Logo Design love

If you want to deeper into branding here are a couple other reccomendations

Designing Brand Identity 

Brand Sense

Brand Portfolio Strategy

I welcome your thoughts and experiences.  Where did your names come from?  What are your favourite names?

A cold startup weekend in Seattle – The rise of the designer

After Vancouver Startup weekend, I pretty much decided to head to the next Seattle event.  Mujtaba Badat @MujtabaBadat (he presented Duke Nuke – one of the winners) and I became friends after the Vancouver event and so drove down to event from Vancouver together.  The Seattle event was themed the “Rise of the Designers”  on January 13 – 15th 2012.

Bootcamp (Thursday night)

I loved the idea of the bootcamp, but we could not get down on thursday night.  In the last event I helped out with business model, marketing, wire framer and social media setup. This weekend I wanted to help out with front end web dev. The bootcamp offered the following:

    1. Get your computer configured with all the tools needed to work collaboratively with your future team members.
    2. Setup and configure a GitHub account with a skeleton project including:
    3. App Engine – web framework with simple user accounts, database, and hosting.
    4. Bootstrap – HTML design toolkit
    5. jQuery – client side Javascript framework
    6. Backbone.js – Rich application HTML5 framework


Entering into the venue there was real energy, most people were up and talking to each other.  There was the fresh smell of pizza, beer and excitement, it was infectious.


I met as many people as I could without being rude.  Sometimes I forget that I have a British accent and I find that americans tend to listen to my accent more than my words for at least the first sentence.

Speaker – Matt Shobe CEO Big Door (@shobe)

Here are some highlights I took from his presentation.

  1. Surpass fear (learn from everyone, the answer is yes to any reasonable request)
  2. Successful teams (speed of execution, empathy, transparency (Good honest arguments))
  3. Openness (No such thing as a private conversation with your customers, Admit your mistakes publicly)
  4. Personality (The spirit of the people who created the product, find opportunities to high-five your customers when they succeed)


The event was hosted by John Morefield (@jamorefield) and Shane Reiser (@shanereiser). There were about 36 designers at the event and 20% returning from other startup weekends. Ideas

So one difference at this event from Vancouver was that you had to put your pitch online.  I liked this, as it made it easy to track which ideas you like. There was about 50 pitches. The ones that stuck with me include:

  • QR Codes for giving to homeless,
  • Robots – Here is Justin’s initial pitch
  • Writing community
  • A wish list of places you want to go
  • After party mobile app
  • make the most of an event
  • A mobile app to plan surprises for people
  • Bus route app
  • Web monitoring to provide affordable home security
  • Superheros mobile app where you could conquer real life locations

The ideas were presented and we than got a chance to meet the pitchers and discuss further. I was looking for an interesting idea, but also people who would be fun to work with.  I wanted to avoid people who came over as too serious or who appeared to need to control. I also wanted to avoid ideas that had being researched in great detail, as then focus tends to be narrowed and there is less clay to play with (although they are more likely to win).  I did not care about how good a presenter the idea pitcher was.  We were given three votes.  After the vote 15 ideas remained.  Each pitcher got 60 seconds to tell us who they were looking for.

Deciding who to join?

  1. QR Codes for homeless donations I really liked and they had a decent sized team.
  2. Robots: the pitcher (Justin Wu) I had met during networking and I loved his energy but he had only two others on board, one tech and one interior designer.
  3. The Surprises App had a really big team, maybe too big.
Here is Justin’s initial pitch:

The Team In the end I decided Robotic team, as they had no business person (yes I wanted to code, next time), I had never worked on a physical product before and I knew I would enjoy working with Justin (he has sooo much of energy, and surprisingly he works at Microsoft!). We moved quickly to find the best location, a window for light, a white board and near where the food would be setup.. The team consisted of Justin @jzwoo (Microsoft engineer) – standing at the back, Guru (Microsoft engineer) sitting down on the left , Elijah (Interior Designer) hiding at the back on the left  and me (the nutter in red). Justin basically wanted to find a business model excuse for playing with robots!  We brainstormed use cases, the strongest seemed to be:

  • Checking in on elderly parents
  • Playing with your pet at lunchtime
  • Security for second home owners or people who travel a lot

Getting to know Robots

Justin talked about the capabilities and what we would have to build ourselves.  From this we felt that an Open source robot operating system, with a modular chassis into which you could plug and play extra hardware and sensors. The intention was to allow the shell to be different shapes and materials. We also considered giving 1% of profits to WWF and modelling our robots on endangered species Making money with a consciousWe live on one planet when it’s done it’s done. So we considered what could we do sustainably. 100% Organic Polymers seemed easy enough. We debated the concept of Cradle to Cradle – essentially we take back your dead robot to recycle and reuse.

We broke up for the night and I started playing with some ideas for names, concentrating on the product rather than the company.


Up early with the Dogs

In the morning I went to the nearest dog park to gut-check some early name and price points with the locals and to see if I could learn anything to help us. I learned that the most receptive target market was young, professional woman, who live in small apartments (especially tower blocks) and whose commute to work was at least 25 minutes.  The price point seemed to be under $300  I tested a number of names and found that animal concepts worked well, but that most women did not like made up names.  The name “Chicken Checkin” brought a number of smiles to people’s faces.  Pushing a bit further, most of the people I spoke to had grandmothers who they all felt guilty about not interacting with enough and that about 50% did not live anywhere near them,


I sold the “Chicken Checkin” idea to Justin and the rest of the team as they came in, and updated them on what I’d learned. Justin worked on giving an us a set of robot feature set that would cost under $300. This was a product name only, the company name would be Life Style Robots.

Drafting the Business model

Version One Life Style Robots

I found some research conducted in Japan that showed elderly people preferred robots to look like robots or animals but not humans (maybe they watched Battlestar Galactica). Also women tend to care more for aesthetics of a device (and this was rise of designer weekend). So I played with some concepts and trialled them out on random women in coffee shops and fellow weekenders. I worked on animals that had fat bellys so to be able to accommodate the chassis.

  • Chicken checkin – to be our cheapest option under $300
  • Chatty Panada – Use an iTouch equip device and allow for two-way video and be under $600
  • Periscope Penguin – To be able to see above a kitchen counter to be under $700
  • Reaching orang-utan – with long arms


So during saturday several mentors came over to ask what we were up to.  After describing our idea they would give their perspective. Early on some of the advice was tough to listen to as it was extremely critical.  Each of them had some really different styles.  The style that really worked was those mentors who owned their perspective and gave what they saw as our weaknesses with ideas about how we could overcome them. At some point on saturday we had two mentors come and give their perspective, both were pretty aggressive with their opinions.  Some of their advices was not helpful as they wanted a lot and we just did not have the resources (people to carry them out). We as a team felt really deflated.  Justin had being to a couple of events and he said he called this “Mentor Whip Lash” and his perspective was to take the good advice and follow our instincts.  Labelling it seemed to help. For the mentors that came after this, whilst we listened, and I wrote copious notes and then we also chose what to ignore and what to take on. NOTE – this is not say that the advice that was given was wrong, in some cases we needed to process it, others we wanted this to be our path, and not the mentor’s. That said mentors sometimes need to tell us the uncomfortable things.

Social Media

Facebook page is the easiest, least resource intensive way of getting a presence on the internet.  That said, you need 25 likes of your page before you can own the URL for the page. So my poor Facebook friends got spammed.. I asked some of the other teams to help out too.

Mock design

Elijah (our interior designer) took the Chicken concept to heart and started to mould a physical mock-up.. Of course we are building a physical product! Clearly the egg came first.. Software

Justin and Guru concentrated on the software: in our perfect world we want to show the robot being controlled by a web browser or via smart phone whilst video chatting.

Who should pitch

Sometime during the day Justin said that his head was going to be in making sure we could present the robot and asked if I could present the pitch. I nearly said no but he looked stressed when I started to, so I agreed.  We talked about how to divide the pitch, I would get two and half minutes (out of four) leaving the rest for the robot. At some point on sunday one of the mentors check us out and the presentation and told us that Justin should pitch as does not sound “above the audience”. Sidenote – Over the last couple years US TV and film has put a lot of English people into ‘evil’ character roles. I wonder sometimes if is becoming part of the american psyche to assume that we are.  (Mwa-Ha-Ha-Ha-Haaah!!)


During the day, teams stopped for 15 minutes to give each other updates with where they were, including accomplishments and problems.  Most teams stayed in the same space which kept the energy high.  I believe a couple of teams went to a VC’s office and another some other office space.

Drafting the pitch

So as the cards fell out, I ended up  building the presentation deck as I was the only one comfortable with design and presentation software.  So I built out the skeleton of what we need to cover. My process is to put down everything, work out what is missing, fill it out and then replace all the words with images.

Drafting Business Model Version two


Saturday night I worked on the website as I was the only one with any front end web skills.  I did not finish it for the weekend.  I was looking for a playful style, that showed a prototype mentality. Its in HTML 5, Css 3 and Javascript so it may not work on IE9


Concept diagram & logo

Elijah built a couple of concept diagrams so you could see our device to scale and then he started on a logo. Building the pitch deck

I pitched a couple of times to mentors and strangers alike. I am an amateur designer and would loved to have a graphic designer on the team to help me build out the visual story.. We got some good news the pitch length was going to be five minutes.  Now we could really cover the business model.

Business Model version three

At some point we narrowed down our target market to provide senior citizens with life style robots and dropped home security and pet care. Whilst they were nice additions there was no way I could sell all three markets in three and a half minutes. Better to focus. Guru pulled a competition analysis together. Elijah helped me pull out some more figures together and Justin gave us the final breakdown of components and costs.


During the day I kept researching to find some real nuggets of information and to be ready for the Q & A. I think this is where our team size hurt us as if we had another person we could have worked out all the figures we needed for a professional, investor pitch. I went to a couple of stores to find some senior women (over 65) or women in their fifties (their daughters) to talk about our Chicken checkin. I spoke to five woman in their fifties, three out of five liked the idea, but on two occasions they were with their daughters (grand daughters) who really liked the idea.  Again, three out of five (woman in their 50s) did not live anywhere near their mothers. I had a great conversation with one elderly lady who frankly I wanted to adopt as my grandma! She had a great sparkle in her eyes and was very cheeky. Practice, Practice, Practice

I found a quiet spot and practiced my pitch out loud and timed it.  I was coming in at three minutes forty. I showed it to a couple of others in another group and got feedback. Later, I joined the locals around pioneer square, talking out loud whilst wandering around. 😉  I even practiced my chicken noise with a homeless guy for a while. I got back to find the pitch length was back down to four minutes.. back to two and half minutes. I watched Mujtaba give his (it was very good for CloudSense) and I gave mine.  We gave each other honest feedback.

Err.. Snow in Seattle!

I love snow, trying to think about the project not skiing down a mountain 😉 Maybe we could put the robot on skis or a board and test it.. Pitch order and technical check in

About 4pm we chose our pitch position. Our team felt going near the end to help us buy more time to get the robot ready, so we might learn from the other pitches and be more likely to be remembered by the judges after 14 pitches (a lot to remember).  We ended up pitching last!

The other pitches It’s really hard to pay attention to all the other pitches, when you are waiting to do your own.  I think I watched nine:

  • Iron Curtain was polished, this was led by Seattle venture capitalist Greg Gottesman, who also pitched.
  • Street Code was powerful, this was pitched and led by one of the judges (Mike Koss who was replaced by Adam Philipp). They had two pitchers.
  • Suprize had a lot of bumps but was immensely funny (in a good way)
  • WhichBus was gorgeous
The Judges were well natured, yet asked some good questions.  Adam took on some of the aggressive business questions.

Our Pitch

I knew I had to bring the audience back to life after a long weekend and 13 other pitches and Q&A. I had to give them all the energy  I could muster (I was balancing my drinking of energy drinks with water), but being sensitive enough to feel what they wanted from me.  Our pitch can be seen (well just heard really) on Ustream and starts at 45:20 it misses about 10 seconds but the sound quality is really good OR or you can see below on YouTube. It starts with Chicken Checkin Screen and ends with Demo Time.. Sorry cannot get the slide show to exclude the other images..

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I started the pitch with a Buuraaa ac (chicken noise).  A couple slides in I noticed a big spelling mistake in one of the slides (I changed the word right at the last moment).  I would have liked to allow some of the jokes to rest with the audience but I did not have time.  At the end of my section I asked the audience to cluck to encourage our chicken checkin robot to come out.  The audience was awesome! 🙂 I am pretty sure I even heard a judge cluck 🙂 I then handed off to Jason at 2 minutes 40ish, to demo the robot.  Of course there were a couple technical hitches but we showed it working.

The Q & A

The judges were speechless. “The obvious question is… I guess there isn’t an obvious question….”  was tweeted out referring to Scott Rutherfords’ reaction (one of the judges).  I got asked some good questions and I gave OK answers, but I should have practiced this more. There were questions about the serious uses of the robot, what market validation had we done, an offer for help and the cost margins.

F*ck, we won something..The judges awarded five companies and we won best presentation and came third, prizes for which included:

Iron Blanket (@Iron_Blanket)came out top with the best business model, followed by Street Code(@StreetQR_Code) with the best market Validation, followed by us (Chicken Checkin) for the best presentation, followed by Surprise with the best UX.  With honourable mention going to WhichBus for best design. More detail can be seen here on Geekwire.  For the other teams have a look here


We had to drive back to Vancouver, so we headed, straight after the event (with the snow we were not sure how icy the roads would be), so we missed the after party 😦 .  Mujtaba and I reflected on what we learned, how it was different from the Vancouver event, how are respective pitches went and what we would do differently next time.  It was at this point I noticed how HUNGRY I was, having not eaten since breakfast..  Junk food here I come..

1.  The size of teams

I think Iron Curtain had 14 bodies and Surprise was 13 bodies, having that many people really helps what you can deliver in a weekend. Clearly you need good leadership if your team is that big. At just 4 people we needed more people, but we did good.

2.  Graphic Designers and Artists are important 

We did not have a graphic designer, in fact 75% of team were engineers. Having that capability on your team will make such a difference in UX, branding and story telling. I need to find a way to recruit one next time.. Maybe show them a very badly drawn presentation that breaks ALL of the principles..  Just in case you want more proof, here are the sketches I did in my hostel for the pitch for the website (saturday night). 3.  Pre-weekend work

Both in Vancouver and Seattle it felt like, those that had some good pre-market research done before the weekend started. This gives a team a real edge, as it can be quiet difficult to do effective market research at the weekend.  Some people avoid their e-mail, some businesses are not even open, depending on the weather it maybe possible however to find people shopping, which gives the possibility of some direct marketing (face to face clipboard questioning).

4.  Accessible network

Having friends to help out to cover spots that your team is missing is really helpful, I saw this happen both in Vancouver and Seattle..  As well as having friends respond to your survey to get some serious validation. Maybe give some of your specialist friends a heads up and an offer for beer..

5.  Awards

Having the awards broken down into why they were in best was really good. However, there was a little confusion (and a lot of emails) as the judges did not state beyond best design, best UX, best presentation, best validation and best business model any order of winner(s). But this was cleared up after Geek Wire published an article declaring the winner – Iron Curtain (well done guys) and that the order reflected the position of the winners (reverse). We just have to work out how to reward developers with some credit now.

6. Pitching

I learned from my first startup weekend that you need to always focus on how, what you are doing is going to help the pitch. I think I took too long in letting go of parts of the pitch (e.g. the two other sectors – pet owners and house security), mentors certainly told me what to concentrate on, but on occasion I resisted (because targeting 50 year old women seemed a tough nut to crack and maybe not so fun).  I think my pitch was OK, but not brilliant.  Areas I could have strengthened it were in demonstrating the market validation and building out the finances. Maybe having that extra slide with component prices etc, ready for the Q&A.  And of course I should have practiced the Q&A with some of the team to be stronger on the answers. Don’t get me wrong I am extremely proud to be part of a team to win best presentation and win some prizes, I just want to learn and be better.

7. A place to reflect and share

As there was no online announcement, there was no place to see the final winners and prizes given. In additional people like myself write blogs, to reflect on the experience, process it and hopeful learn (and publicly show off our failures and successes).  It would be good to have a final page listing the winners, the final teams and who was in them (with contact details) and blog postings. On this occasion the GeekWire Article and the #swsea(twitter tag) became the informal places to carry on the conversation.

8. An idea? Angel List for Startup Weekends

It would be awesome if Startup Weekend started to keep an archive of all the startups, maybe even profiles for people who do it on a regular basis. Maybe even game it like foursquare? Maybe that could be my next pitch??

Other Perspectives:

After finishing this article I re-surfaced and found some other posts, have a look: Harmony Hasbrook  on the team “Hungry, Thirsty, Bored.” Dwight Battle on the surprise team. Paige Pauli on the WhichBus team. Katie Kuksenokon multiple teams.

[Update] Here is a promotional video looking at the Designer story.

BIG Thanks to:

A place to stay Not from Seattle I stayed in the Green Tortoise Hostel

The Venue – The Hub A great location, one BIG room. Thanks to Lynsdey  who was an awesome hostess.

The Startup Weekend Crew  Thanks to John, Sean and Ashley (@A6Hodgson) – You are a great waffle maker 🙂

The Food Was awesome, particular the Thai food on saturday night.

T-Shirts Thanks to Rohre from Five Bamboo for the T-shirts.

Extra Video Thanks @adamlovering for the extra video!

Your recruitment system maybe losing you paying customers and damaging your brand

Your brand is the COMPLETE experience, every interaction, anything that can change motivation and/or attitudes, with your company.  This can  include the consuming of your product and service, repair, suppliers and yes your recruitment process. The good modern brands are human and often concrete, you can trust them.


You are only worth an automated response..

If a person spend hour’s, maybe days writing a letter of introduction, adapting their resume/CV, maybe even pulling a slideshow or video together for you. And than they receive a notification that you will not even bother contacting them, because you have so many applicants.  You know this type of letter:

“Hello Applicant,

Thank you for your interest in XXXX Company and for sending us your resume link and supporting information. We’re always looking for the best and brightest new candidates who are interested in joining our fast-growing team.

Please note, due to the vast number of enthusiastic applicants, we are only able to contact those we select for interviews.  We will however take the time to review your resume, cover letter and all related materials you’ve sent through, and will contact you if you are selected as a shortlisted candidate.

We frequently add new positions to the Careers Page so keep an eye out for more opportunities to work at XXXX company.


Automated response”

I wonder who in an organisation is so naïve that they feel that this experience will encourage the ‘recruit’ into buying any of your products let alone a service. Many organizations don’t mash together their HR and marketing talent.  When the applicant started the process the applicant was a keen advocate, which you have turned into something else.

No closure for the applicant

The typical scenario is where the applicant is not even told when you have been thrown out of the process, or when the process is complete and they have not got an interview. The applicant then does not even get a chance for closure. The first they may hear is through a press release on your website or indeed nothing. That’s just plain mean and very common.

As an applicant we only care if you have the capability

Most employers will not look at a candidates’ application if they have not even taken the time to write a relevant cover letter that covers off the person spec.  So they expect you to spend time on them but they are not always willing to do the same. Aren’t good relationships formed on equality?

You are just a transaction..

It seems most Applicant Tracking Systems have being built from the aspect that you are just another process to deal with.  They do not see you as a human that or you should be treated with dignity or respect. In fact the more they ‘take over’ the process the less human you are treated. People are not simple nor are the ways you should interact with them.

We are often more protective of our friends than ourselves

The applicant may not be alone during this journey through your recruitment system, as they may share it with their friends e.g. can you check the letter please, especially if they are woman.  Friends don’t take it kindly if you reject, ignore or attack their friends. You haven’t just pissed off one person; congratulations you just gained two pissed off people for the price of one – who now thanks to online social media have the ability to share globally. They may not indeed talk about the job application process, they just may look at all your marketing as another ‘poke in the eye and respond negatively.


Your worse case scenario is that you have just given them the motivation (see this TED video) for the job applicant and their friends to dislike your products and services and look to your competitors.

Bottom line – the buying power of every rejected applicant is?

In the end this will affect you financially. The chances are that you will reject more applicants than you will take on board.  You will, probably still want them as a consumer? Who will pay a company that has just rejected them? or even taken the time to communicate, er, anything after the initial application.

Not just B2C

In the B2B sector relationships are even more important and in the end B2B purchases come down to a very human emotion e.g. Trust.


StartWire, recently completed a survey of 2,000+ job seekers, asking how a company’s application process affected their view of the brand. This is what we heard:

  • 77% said they think less of companies that don’t respond to job applicants,
  • 72% would be deterred from recommending or speaking positively online of your company
  • 58% said they’d even think twice about buying your products or services if they don’t ever hear from you after they submit their application.


Outsourcing to save money

I wonder who missed the lessons from out sourcing call-centres to another country where the understanding of both culture and language was insufficient to handle the customer care in an appropriate manner. Now its automated on a computer (and they are really known for their customer care!), you are not even worth a human response.

Good ‘customer service’

If your customer service system treats your customers as just a transaction you deserve to go out of business.  Humans want to be treated with respect and dignity.  Even politicians know this hence why some of the most sophisticated marketing happening on the planet is happening in election campaigns.  But some of the best sustained examples I have seen in customer service are from Zappos ( or Freshbooks (  They essentially treat you with respect and appreciate your time is as valuable as theirs.

Who is accountable for this?

Maybe the CEO for not paying attention or CFO for cost cutting, or the HR leader being squeezed or even the CMO for not considering the brand impact.  In the end HR needs people to ensure a good experience.

The days of unaccountable recruitment and HR process are coming to an end if you are consumer-facing provider.


On-line accountability

On-line systems are rating well everything. For example it’s only a matter of time when people start rating recruitment systems and HR.  We already have individual rating systems for people such as

It will not get easier to find talent, just more competitive

The economist wrote two pieces about how hard it is in get the right talent:

The Search for Talent –

The battle for brainpower –

Another article of interest – Canadian tech CEOs see shortage in talent. –

In these circumstances, is it wise to give job applicants a good experience? They may return and have grown since they last applied, if you gave feedback last time, they may have responded to it and exceed your expectations on the next attempt.

Gen Y

Now add Generation Y behaviour to this and you have an interesting power cake just around the corner.


Is your recruitment system losing you customers and damaging your brand? How many job applicants did you reject last year?  How much social influence did they each have?

Corporate/Organisation culture

It seems to me that corporate culture is on a journey from repression to expression from viewing human beings as number, resources, sales figures to, surprise, human beings. It can be seen in the HR titles e.g. VP Personnel -> VP Human resource -> VP People.  I think the organisations that have the lead HR person reporting into finance or corporate or operations are worse off.  There is one person, that a lead HR person should report into i.e. CEO.  In terms of political power HR are generally one of the weakest on a board (if they are even on it), I think in part because so many of their process orientated capabilities are being outsourced, maybe because people are too complex or too emotional compared to finances/sales/operations. Or maybe its because in some organizations leaders are taking on the role of HR for their teams (about time).

Reward, if possible give feedback and say thank you

The job applicant, was a person who wanted to help your organization grow, for a moment in time were probably your most passionate advocate.  Yet they are often treated like robots, resources or costs.  How would you like to be treated?  If someone has invested more time in your company than the average, why not say thank you.  Tell them what they are missing in terms of capability or fit and prove you mean it. I think the best companies employ on ‘fit’ before capability.  Who is to say that this person maybe a future employee? Consider it another form of relationship marketing.

Leadership accountability – Don’t pass the buck!

If a candidate gets through a number of stages, it should not be HR having to give the bad news, the leader should do what they are paid for and give the bad or good news. I believe leadership is taking on the responsibility of your decisions both the easy and tough ones.


  1. Tell the applicant when they have been removed from the process.
  2. Give some useful feedback; the chances are that you have spent some time human processing anyways; at least give the biggest single reason why they were knocked out.  You may find that there are a lot of standard reasons e.g. you do not have enough relevant experience or the average interview applicant will have 5 years more experience.
  3. Say thank you in some meaningful way.
  4. For those who you think culturally match, consider other posts or put on a watch list.  But be careful no one believes “we will file it and if something comes up we will contact you.”
  5. The deeper the experience (number of interviews) the more likely rejection will be felt.  But also they are more likely to be match for your organization and thus the more likely they may be a future employee.
  6. For all candidates that have being interviewed by the manager, should be given the news by the manager.


You are nothing without your people.  The ones you have now and the ones you have yet to work with.

Why should I be your next CMO/VP Marketing

Dear CEO,

There are Marketers who are marketers… then there are Marketers that are techies, entrepreneurs, educators, leaders, community-builders… and marketers. I’m not your average Marketing VP: I’m a Marketing VP with benefits and I’d love to help you take your company to the next level.

To cover off on the traditional stuff first, I’ve chalked up about 19 years total in marketing, communications and campaigns. My experience in every sector from government and non-profit to private corporations, and in several markets, reflects a breadth that mirrors your client base. There are few-to-no delivery channels I have not explored, and I have a habit of driving organisations to get a ahead of the wave in using the latest and greatest, with social media no exception. I’ll leave my resume to provide the details of my engagements and achievements.

Now onto the bonus material…

You’ll find I have zero distance to travel when it comes to creating marketing strategy around a SaaS model. Spending the last two years creating a tech start-up has honed my product management, development and business model know-how to a fine point. In fact, technology is and was my first love: I have computer science degree, an IT consultancy to my name, led 110 people IT department and more recently refreshed my hands-on experience with a web dev qualification.

In addition, my career here in Canada began as VP Marketing for a Vancouver SaaS success story, Vision Critical, where I led a major re-branding initiative, a new website launch and contributed to sustained growth throughout the recession despite major marketing spend curtailments. Speaking of which, you can’t get away with working at a market research company without great data to inform and back-up your efforts: whilst there, I initiated the first customer satisfaction system. In all marketing I do, I expect to deliver ROI metrics.

I have a passion for people: I love them. I just can’t help it.

This has taken me down a number of roads, including serving, developing and communicating to communities (and the multiple groups, agencies, businesses and services therein) as a politician.  What this brings to my marketing (aside from experience of managing budgets of £71 million and approximately 400 staff) is getting the balance between a results-driven and value-driven approach. All great brands are built around emotions and values.

My bordering obsession with human psychology helps me to both understand client needs, both in product features, but also in terms of the complete customer experience and the messages they want to hear. It also makes me a great leader. I’m the guy that puts out a lot of positive energy and gets to know everyone. I also relish the opportunity to grow those around me: you’ll see that education and training forms a major theme throughout my career. Right now, I teach Marketing, Public Relations and Advertising part-time for BCIT.

CEO, I hope this provides a sense of what I can bring to the table. Successful marketing requires a great CEO – Marketing relationship, so I believe fit is as important as capability and I would love the opportunity to see if we get on. 🙂

Kind Regards

Eric Brooke

P.S. Here are a couple of opinions about me:

“Eric is a prolific thinker and one of the most well read individuals I know. While he is skilled in Marketing and Communications, he is a strategist at heart, looking for greenfield to take companies and pushing organizations to consider bold new directions. While visionary in his thinking, Eric is equally tactful in his negotiation. He is one of the few people I’ve met who can succinctly articulate and communicate multiple sides of an issue without offending anyone in the room. He knows when and how to move around roadblocks, invite debate, and get things done. Eric is someone who can really make a difference in organizations large or small if given the runway to do so.” Jason Smith, President, Vision Critical

“Eric Brooke is a professional, thoughtful, inventive and provocative marketer and communicator. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Eric on a number of projects, most recently and most deeply on a task force charged with rebranding Vision Critical and Angus Reid Strategies. In this role, Eric brought a tremendous amount of energy, branding experience and resourcefulness to the task. He did an excellent job balancing the need for being a team player with being willing to challenge conventional thinking and the status quo – a role we needed him to play.

In addition to understanding marketing, Eric also has a deep knowledge of communication, change management and organization development – in our case bringing a company brand/vision to life for staff and customers. This is something that sets him apart from those who have only had experience with traditional marketing and will be truly valued by those who require successful transformation.” Andrew Grenville, Chief Research Officer, Angus Reid Strategies

Branding for Tech Startups

A lot of people seem to believe that a brand is about advertising. That it is merely corporate identity, the name, and the logo, the colours used.

So here is what after 19 years of marketing I uses a definition for my start-up and my marketing students.

  1. Its starts with the founder(s) vision,
  2. It shifts according to the team they have built and their values plus behaviour
  3. Its is limited by the technology used
  4. Its expressed and reflected in the product built
  5. And finally it is decided on by users and their experience both with the product and customer/support team

Whilst it starts with the founder(s) it is decided and defined by your users.

I believe good strategy and brand can support each other.  It’s not about spending lots of money on an icon, name or colours.  It is about the sum expression of what you are already doing.

For me a good strategy and brand go together through having a vision, mission and values.  These will evolve but they will help guide your decisions – what space am I in (Vision – some call this Brand promise), How will I change it (mission) and how will I make decisions (Values).

Here is ours once we had done this, it was easy to develop a corporate identity as our prime value is Growth, hence the tree and colours.  This value set has/is helping me make a large number of decisions about what we are and what we are NOT.

Once I wrote the vision, mission and values name came to me i.e. Professional You. Not in a sudden flash admittedly. Personally I prefer names that are concrete and that mean something.  If you take no time I believe it shows your users that you do not care, that you are only temporally, why should they invest in you if you can not get the basics right.  Sometimes sharing this journey (of choosing your name) can also be powerful when users want to know who you are.

It is both my strategy and brand; my pitches are cleaner for it, my messages cleaner and my decisions easier. People tend to trust clarity, if you are clear people find it an easier journey to trust you, branding can help you with this.

So far I have spent nothing on advertising, on creative agencies and a local (Vancouver) designer helped with the logo for free.

Occasionally I tweak the vision and mission as I form better ways to describe what we are up to.

It will continuing evolve but in the end users decide, so do not forget the importance of your customer/user facing staff if they are happy your customers are more likely to be also 🙂

P.S. Do tell your users who you are and what you are about.  It is always disappointing if you go to the About Us on a web page, to see that you don’t care to make an effort or even bother to introduce yourselves and its not polite 😉

Abstract vs Concrete

I think abstract is dead and concrete is in. I am biased its my style, I am a survivalist, if I could build a shelter to protect me from the impeding zombie or alien invasion I would 😉

Technology companies and their expressions

Do you remember those websites from technology companies in the 90s’?  For me they seemed to love the abstract.  It felt like technology people were leading web development and to a degree they were. Admittedly the technology did not make it easy.

In a recent gig I worked on creating a new web site in which the aim was to  show off the people. This was a professional services company and most business development relied heavily on contacts and relationships.  In effect people were buying these people and their brains.

Technolgy companies who offer faceless applications make me sad and very unlikely to trust them. All these applications that you should make my life easier and make me efficent seem to be lacking the human story, they are/were abstract and expected me to understand their ‘clever’ context.

I think showing a technology in action in is a way to help but you need to show what it does for a person, its more concrete and less abstract. Don’t talk about it show it.

The need for speed

We are in a world that ‘requires’ instant gratification. We have become impatient.  Whilst we can Google anything we don’t want to unless we have to. We want to click and swipe less. We are being bombarded with thousands of messages every day and we start to ignore or even deny the existence of the things too big or complex for us to understand. To understand something that is abstract takes longer than something concrete, in part because we have a framework to reference. Coming back to gratification we generally know that if something is concrete it is more likely to gratify us quicker than an abstract thing.


There are a bunch of successful logos, but I think the ones that are really succesful come from something that actually exists.  Yes we can train our brains to fill up the brand cup and understand the values and their brand promise but in the end I think the journey is quicker and more complete if the thing actually exists. And maybe the more common it is the more reminders you will.  I think designers can be so ‘clever’ that they are the only person who understand what they have done.  This may miss the opportunity to ‘educate’ a viewer about the company and its values.

Company Names

There was a horrible stage in human history where we decided to reduce company names to acronyms. OMG the letters.. What is more disturbing is the number of North America tech startups that are repeating this era.  It makes me want to give free branding consulting.  Ok why is it bad?, enuff screaming already.. You are expecting the viewer to know or care, to work out who you are and what you are about.  Yes a logo can ease this journey.  But a society where instant gratification is driving force or goal, people will make a judgement in the first few seconds if they want to engage, consider it like dating, you know straight away if you are physical attracted to someone, it is no different with Logos and names.

Choice limitation

As our lives and choices become more complex we often looking for a simply journey or option. If I want Orange Juice I just want orange juice and the packing that can help me a quick simply choice will win. I DO NOT care if it has 15 features, I want to know it is orange juice the real shit not the frozen from concentrate shit. Make it simply.

Its got legs, Spock..

For a while we consumed and created media in abstract environments e.g. office desk, office chair, computer and monitor. Yet we are starting to bring those devices into new spaces and out into the world..  now they are travelling with us rather us travelling to them..

Visual Thinkers

We are already this, but we are starting to use it in more mediums and ways. Cinemas, Television, Videogames, WYSIWYG Interfaces, smartphones, they have all infected us with their UX ways.  First they had to train us how to use their interfaces.. Now we are needing less and less training.. in part what was once abstract is now concrete and we have learnt more in UX into lean into what is ‘natural’ for humans.

Tactile Thinkers

Our entire body is our biggest sensory organ.  We started with abstract controllers and now we are going back to basics.  We got diverted with Keyboard, Mouse, Talbets, Palm Pilot, and now we are waving our figures and hands and legs around to control devices (with iPhone, Kinect). We are starting to control, and engage with real and virtual environment through more concrete controllers.


For some of us where concrete ends and abstract starts maybe further along a scale.  I reckon those who have taken their education and learning to higher level through books/web or higher education will see somethings that are abstract to others, as concrete to them. I think the human mind will allow you to build a tower of babylon into the skies, built on partly concrete and abstract to understand something out of the reach of others.. Maybe that is what genius is the ability to exist in a world entirely of abstract concepts.. But I am guessing that this is still a minority in our human race.

At what point do the facts matter?

Like many Tech junkies I have being following the rumours, the comments and the suggestions about the iPhone 4 and its so called antenna ‘issue’.  I think its fair to say that most rumour sites and newspapers have really exaggerated the overall impact of this issue.  I was left with the impression that about 50% of users were ‘suffering’.  Some experts and  journalists were ‘suggesting’ a product recall.  The Consumer reports were not recommending the phone implying this issue did not affect any other phone, as it was not mentioned for other Smart Phones..  And of course this was Apples’ Vista from Microsoft..

So I thought I would watch Steve Jobs press conference with his side.

  • All Smartphones have issues, interesting comparison here
  • He stated only 0.55% of iPhone 4 customers have called AppleCare about the antenna issue.
  • Return rates through AT&T for iPhone 4 are at 1.7% for comparison iPhone 3GS return rate was 6%.
  • AT&T data on dropped call rates. Less than one call per 100 more than iPhone 3GS.

I was very surprised to hear these figures, not because I don’t believe Mr Jobs but because my impression from the collective media was so out of sync with the facts.

Consumer Reports apparently missed the same issue with all of the great smartphones out there.  It makes me wonder the quality of their testing. Were they driven by listening to the buzz?  A quick web search shows a lot of smart phones with simliar problems..

It did not escape my attention that the vast number of critics making comments about the iPhone 4 did not actually own one.  Was this a form of iPhone envy?  It goes without saying that general public view Apple as the leader in the market, which from figures they have a bit to go, why worry about facts..  But humans do love to knock the ‘perceived’ leader in the market.

This social media hype, reminded of the DJ that was announced dead on Twitter, until he tweeted revealing it was not true. What if he did not have a twitter account?  What if he titled is next album “From beyond the grave (according to twitter)”

People really like to pass bad news fast, regardless of if it is true.. mobs seem to form on the online social media tools quicker around negative issues.  I think online social media tools can pass stupidity, far faster than any tool we have had in the past.  And I think the human race will prove this too the extreme.  But of course we should not forget the other side, that social media tools are very effective for passing propaganda from one firm to another.

I feel disappointed that most of the reports from professional journalists, including the New York Times had sources that stated things which according to Apple are “patently false.” hmm does that mean I trust a corporation over a newspaper..

It worries me that facts are not important, that there is no accountability for untruths.  It seems less and less people check the sources of information or at least confirm with another source. It feels like people are lazy about their information and its’ validity.  This is often covered up as ‘opinion’ and maybe I am just as guilty.  I am a little old fashioned I will try to check the facts, read different newspapers to get past the propaganda pieces and past the editors ‘view’ or the owners ‘view’… but like many on this planet my thirst for ‘knowledge’ sometimes outsteps the need for proven facts..