Direction is overrated*

When someone asks you for guidance or direction, resist giving it to them immediately.

Instead, try responding:

“I’m happy to share some thoughts, but first I’m curious what you think?”

It’s very likely the direction asker already has ideas about how to move forward, they just need help (and permission) to share them with you.

As a leader, you can give this to them.

*Unless you’re lost in a foreign country with absolutely no idea how to get home and your Google Maps isn’t working. In this case, directions are great.

What conditions are you creating?

Amy Edmondson, who popularised the notion of ‘psychological safety’, points out that the best performing teams fail more, not less, than poorly performing teams.

This is not because they actually fail more, but because members of the team feel comfortable reporting/sharing when they’ve made a mistake.

That is to say: the best teams have leaders who create the conditions where admitting to and discussing mistakes is okay.

‘Tis the kind of counterintuitive insight that once you see, you cannot unsee. Like the time I discovered that brushing your teeth in the shower saves at least 120 seconds in the morning (you’re welcome).

All that to say, as a leader in your field what conditions are you creating for those around you?

Dadding and leadership

I’ve had the last 7 weeks off learning to be a dad.

Naturally, this has resulted in a lot of thinking, pondering and questioning, usually at 3am as I bounce up and down at the end of the bed ‘shhhhing’ and gently patting our newborn son back to sleep.

As I emerge from this bubble (in my vomit stained T-shirt and aching right shoulder) it dawns on me that showing up for a newborn requires you to practice and embody the three most important skills of a modern leader: humility, empathy and curiosity.

I am constantly humbled in service of this little squishy human and reminded that I have no idea what I’m doing (and that’s okay). I am seeking to understand and empathise with what might be going on for this tiny creature so that I can best serve him. I am curious every day and trying to figure out what might be the best way to support him and my wife.

It is these same three skills that sit at the heart of the best leaders.

ie: Great leaders have the humility to acknowledge that they don’t know everything, and seek to surround themselves with people and ideas that can help them, they empathise with their people and show up in service to them and they are curious and coach like in the way that they help develop themselves and those around them.

The beauty of these skills is they are choices that we get to make every single day. With that in mind, how might you show up with a little more HEC today?

How are we handling?

In New York City there is a recurring gathering between some of the best speech pathologists, laryngologists, and voice teachers in the world.

Each gathering, any number of them will stand up and share with the group a situation where they feel stuck.

For example: “This is a situation I found myself in recently. These are the interventions I’ve tried with the client so far. Nothing is working. I feel stuck. What am I missing?”

Then, the rest of the group shares ideas, questions and insights about the situation from their own perspective.

“Have you thought about this…?”

“What would it look like to try…?”

“This reminds me of another situation, here’s what we did…”

In doing so they cultivate and leverage the collective intelligence of the group to help make them all better and deliver better outcomes for their clients as a result.

In the altMBA we called this #howarewehandling, a dedicated Slack channel where coaches from around the world could share a situation they had that could benefit from other perspectives. After posting in this channel any one coach might get 3, 4, 5 or even 6 others from all corners of the globe chiming in with questions, feedback and insights.

This channel was magic and made us all better, even those who caught up and read the channel after the fact.

I recently shared this with some senior Executives recently and their eyes lit up “WE NEED A CHANNEL LIKE THAT” and off they went and created one. Jen Waldman and I also spoke about it in a recent podcast, and have since been inundated with messages of people wanting to create their own version.

So now, it’s your turn. How might you create a space as generous, insightful and, yes, magical as these?

Instead of ‘difficult’ conversations

What if we framed them as ‘courageous’, ‘necessary’, or ‘important’ conversations? Or how about ‘crunchy’, ‘noodly’, or ‘rumbly’ conversations? Maybe even ‘curious’, ‘constructive’, or ’empathetic’ conversations?

Might that change how we feel about them? Or how we show up and approach them?

The way we frame things influences the way we feel about them and the story we tell ourselves about them.

So if a particular framing isn’t working for us, we have permission to consider another.

The greatest aerial skier of all time

Jacqui Cooper competed in 139 World Cup Events, 9 World Championships and a ridiculous 5 Winter Olympic teams. She holds 5 world titles, 39 World Cup medals, 25 World Cup wins and 3 major World Championship medals.

This makes her the greatest aerial skier of all time.

So what might we mere mortals learn from such a back-flipping, pike-twisting legend?

Well, across every single jump in her 20-year career, Cooper stuck the landing just 20% of the time. TWENTY PERCENT.

Put another way: 80% of the time the greatest aerial skier of all time didn’t get the outcome she was seeking.

80% of the time she tried something and it didn’t work out.

80% of the time she found learning in something hard and painful, and managed to keep moving.

I’m finding this to be a noodly backdrop for all the stories we tell ourselves about perfectionism, making mistakes and the hairy, smelly and misunderstood notion of ‘failure’.

My new favourite acronym for all leaders

Because you don’t already have enough acronyms in your life, amiright?

This badboy is a good one though, I promise.

It’s simply, WAIT and it stands for Why Am I Talking?

Just seeing this glorious acronym on a page provokes us to be more intentional with when and how we communicate, the byproduct of which is we’re likely to do more listening. It gives other people in the room a chance to contribute and feel heard and works especially well in partnership with EARS.

To hear more check out this short 20min podcast episode.


A few months ago I was chatting with my friend Stacey about different work styles, and she asked me a question I think all leaders should ponder: “Why do you still choose to commute to a shared office when you can work from home?”

I replied: “I come here for what I can’t get at home: banter and human connection.”

And I meant it.

I no longer go to an office expecting to do deep, focused work without distraction because I can do that better at home. I also don’t go to an office to sit on video calls from 8 am to 5 pm because I can do that more comfortably at home.

Instead, I go to an office for conversation, human connection and, yes, banter. I go there to share ideas, think creatively and laugh. Ultimately I go to the office because it makes me a better, more social person. Plus it’s fun to wear proper pants every now and then.

All this has me wondering: where might you make space for banter?

What Humpty Dumpty can teach us about storytelling

A few weeks ago I sat through a lengthy and confusing presentation in a dimly lit conference room struggling to find meaning or purpose in the story being shared. The whole experience reminded me of our good friend Humpty Dumpty and the world’s simplest three act structure to telling better stories:

Act 1: Set the Stage and Spark Curiosity “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.” Straight up you’ve got me intrigued. Why on earth is he up there? What’s he doing? What’s he thinking? What’s going to happen next?

A great story captivates the audience’s attention from the outset, sparking their curiosity and setting the stage for the journey ahead.

Act 2: Build Tension and Engage Empathy: “Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.” Oh, HELL NO Humpty. Is he going to be okay? Why wasn’t there a railing for him to hold onto? I’m sure he’ll be fine, this is a nursery rhyme after all, and we love a happy ending.

A compelling story presents a challenge or conflict that captures the audience’s interest and empathy.

Act 3: Deliver a Climax and Resolve the Tension: “All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again.” Wait, what?! You mean even the entire King’s army couldn’t help poor old Humpty? What happened to happy endings? Ergh, this story is brutal, I need a drink.

A memorable story concludes with a powerful climax addressing the tension that was built in Act 2. It provides closure and resolution, even if it’s not a happy ending, as in the case of old Hump.

All compelling stories have these three acts in common. So next time you share a story or are giving a presentation consider how you might ‘do a humpty’ and tell it in as few words as possible using this simple three act structure.

Two questions to ask your team

A little Sunday challenge for all you leaders out there working in and/or leading a team.

Take 30min out of your next team meeting and have everyone respond to these two questions:

  1. What’s your superpower?
  2. Where are you stuck right now?

That’s it.

It doesn’t require you to solve anything, provide an update or put together a slide deck (please, don’t put together another slide deck). Instead, it requires you to lean into the real, human skills of humility, vulnerability, empathy, and curiosity, and to do so in service of connection.

My new favourite leadership metaphor from Barack Obama

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to see Barack Obama speak in Melbourne. How’s that for a fun sentence?

For 90min he sat back on a lounge chair riffing, telling stories and sharing wisdom to the 10,000 of us who managed to snaffle a ticket.

Around an hour in he casually mentioned, what is my new favourite leadership metaphor. I’m almost certainly paraphrasing, but here’s how I remember it:

“Leadership is like a relay… you get given the baton having had no control over what’s happened before you, and so all you can do is focus on what’s in front of you. All you can focus on is taking the baton you’ve been given and running your own leg of the race, before passing it on again.”


This strikes me as brilliant for many reasons. At its core I think it speaks to focusing on what we can control as leaders (and not getting stuck on what came before us or what is outside our control), and doing so in a way that we are proud of regardless of all the other runners beside us.

It’s a metaphor I plan on noodling on for weeks and months to come as I consider what metaphorical races I have coming up and how I want to receive the baton and take it forward.

O’s and C’s

Do you loathe giving feedback? Does it make you want to burrow into a hole like a wombat and not come out? Are you constantly looking for the ‘right’ thing to say?

Well, you’re not alone.

But fear not my four-legged, furry, marsupial friend, I’ve got a simple, mini-framework that I think will help. It involves doing just two things: sharing something you observed and asking a curious question. I call it: observations and curiosities, or O’s and C’s (cue The OC soundtrack).

Here’s what it might sound like in action:

  • I noticed you were really quiet in that client meeting, and I’m wondering what’s on your mind? or;
  • I heard you say you’re overwhelmed and I’m curious how can I support?
  • It sounds like you’ve really thought through this plan in detail, which makes me wonder: what do you need in order to take action?

That’s it.

So the next time you’re in a feedback conversation, avoid serving up the dreaded sh*t sandwich and instead, try on some O’s and C’s.

Do you compete or collaborate?

I recently went to an annual industry awards night. The kind where 500 people come together to reflect, celebrate, and recognise those who’ve excelled over the last 12 months.

In chatting with the winner of the Business of the Year afterward, I asked what change most helped set them up for success in the last 12 months. His answer made me smile the kind of smile that is reserved for when you hear something you know you can’t un-hear. It was a truth bomb. A mic drop. A real-life noodle scratcher. Something that is so elegant in its simplicity but requires a lot of intentional leadership to execute.

“Our two teams went from competing to collaborating. From not communicating and hiding information from one another to openly sharing and learning from one another.”

This hit me right between the eyes (which is saying something given I’m 6″7′ and all) and now I can’t help but wonder:

What would it look like for you to move from a posture of competing to a posture of collaborating? What would it look like to be a learner and a sharer? Someone who intentionally seeks to rise all boats, rather than only focus on their own?


It turns out my wife might be right: I’m a bit of a faffer.

That is: I spend a decent amount of time being ineffectual.

How do I know this? Because I have a colour coded spreadsheet to prove it (so it must be true).

Having recently read the Peter Drucker classic The Effective Executive I decided to do a ‘time audit’ and track where and how I spend any given work day. It’s an exercise recommended in the book as Drucker asserts “it is amazing how many things busy people are doing that will never be missed.”

Determined to not be one of these people I created a spreadsheet and tracked my time in 30-60min blocks for a couple of weeks. The findings were confronting.

For the most part, when in client meetings, offsites, workshops and coaching sessions my spreadsheet looks good. I show up and I’m effective and present for these. Where things get scary is in the white space in-between these activities. In the gaps in between meetings, offsites, workshops and coachings.

In this subliminal space it seems I shuffle the metaphorical, and actual, papers a LOT. I do things like check my inbox (every 16 seconds), pick my up my phone without realising I’m doing it and set off to refill my drink bottle, only to get distracted on the way to the kitchen and return 13 minutes later with an empty bottle wondering what I set off to do.

In short, I faff.

Of course, Drucker was onto something. Just knowing you’re doing this exercise and have to write in your spreadsheet how you’re spending your time is enough to shift your behaviour. And now that I see a pattern of these pastel yellow Excel cells (the colour of choice for activities that I concluded were ‘faffing’) all through my week, I realise that I’m not being as intentional with my time as I hoped. Moreover, I realise that these are tasks that as Drucker says if I do less, won’t be missed.

So where does that leave me? Well, as James Clear has said “time magnifies whatever you feed it” so I’m on a mission to feed it less faff. To be less aimless in the white spaces on my calendar and instead be more intentional and deliberate.

PS. for more on this topic, checkout this podcast with me and Jen Waldman.

53 great questions to help you navigate difficult conversations

I recently asked a Zoom room full of 20 senior leaders and executives what questions they ask when navigating difficult conversations. In less than 2min this group generated 53 great questions that I’ve included below (unedited, so as to preserve the magic) for you legends to use.

Maybe, just maybe, this list will make your next difficult conversation just a little less ‘difficult’ and a little more generous, empathetic and curious:

  1. How can I support?
  2. What are your thoughts on this?
  3. How does that make you feel?
  4. What’s the biggest challenge here for you?
  5. Firstly ask about how they are…
  6. What are some options you can think of here?
  7. I’d love to hear your perspective and what I might be missing…
  8. What is your greatest struggle at the moment?
  9. What are your blockers and how can I help?
  10. What is keeping you up at night?
  11. How do you think I can best support you ?
  12. If you could change one thing what would it be?
  13. What else might we do…?
  14. What’s your POV on…..?
  15. Can we walk though your position?
  16. What can we do to clear the way for you on this?
  17. What is your biggest challenge?
  18. How do you see this being resolved?
  19. What are 3 other ways forward?
  20. How can I help to navigate through this?
  21. How could the team support you through this?
  22. What’s your idea of success?
  23. Have you resolved situations like this before?
  24. How can we help make this better?
  25. How can I help?
  26. Is there anything we/I could do to help
  27. Interesting you said x, what is it that you mean by x?
  28. What’s your definition of success in this situation?
  29. Can you explain the problem to me?
  30. Do you mind running me through…
  31. What’s the one thing you need right now to help you?
  32. What do you think about that? How can I help?
  33. Let’s focus on what you want to achieve next
  34. How do you feel about this?
  35. What would be your ideal outcome?
  36. Follow up question to what’s keeping you up at night….what else is there?
  37. What is your number one goal/objective
  38. I would what makes it difficult for you to complete this task so that i am able to support you in a way that adds value for you
  39. What is the outcome you are seeking to achieve?
  40. And what else?
  41. How can I help you achieve your goals?
  42. I need your help with something..
  43. What are the things we can control in this situation?
  44. What does success look like for you?
  45. Why do you think that matters?
  46. If I were to help, what would that look like for you?
  47. What is stopping you from being the best version of yourself?
  48. What does success look like to you?
  49. How can I help you achieve your goals? What goals are you hoping I can assist you with?
  50. Can you please help me understand why this is a priority?
  51. Is there anything we have not discussed which you feel we need to?
  52. Is there anything that is going on outside of work/this project which is causing you stress? How can we help you?
  53. What do you think we need to improve?