Leadership Yoga: A toolkit to build flexibility into how you lead

The best leaders don’t know just one style of leadership—they’re skilled at several, and have the flexibility to switch between styles as the circumstances dictate.

Daniel Goleman – Author: Emotional Intelligence

Leaders today need flexibility more than ever to be able to lead in different contexts. Many defer to personal preferences even if the context requires a shift in approach. Some hold onto command and control style. Others stick to a non-directive approach. Both can be helpful in context.

The challenge: how to be flexible based on context, whilst being authentic. True to your values and beliefs.

Over the past 18 months Yoga has taught me many lessons. Regular practice has helped unlearn behaviours impacting flexibility, body and mind. The importance of release rather than to push. Not striving for the perfect pose. To avoid comparisons to others.

These lessons from Yoga have relevance for leadership. How often our leadership is rigid, lacking flexibility. How we strive for the perfect leadership style, without realising there isn’t one. How we copy from others the approaches that seem right.

To help you build greater flexibility, below are a set of Leadership Yoga Exercises.

Each exercise is short and performed over time will build greater flexibility and new leadership habits.

Play with the Scale of Influence

Snip20160813_2Scale of Influence: Brilliant Coaching, Julie Starr

The Scale of Influence demonstrates a spectrum of leadership behaviours. From Directive to Non-directive.

It is typical for leaders to think a non-directive approach is “correct”. “Command and control” styles often seen as “incorrect” Both can be over used. Flexibility is key. Be aware of the context and be comfortable at either end of the scale.

Yoga Mat Icons


Ask your team to highlight which option you adopt most and if they would prefer a shift in style?

Explore how Radical Candor feels

Radical Candor is an excellent book which explores the different leadership styles adopted, in particular around feedback. Kim Scott highlights that a balance between caring personally and direct challenge often brings out the best in others.

Feedback & Radical Candor | Our Simple Approach To Guidance

Radical Candor: Kim Scott

Yoga Mat IconsExercise:

Next time you need to have a difficult conversation, write down the key points you want to make. Practice saying them in the mirror. Reflect after the conversation on the key points you were able to make.

Say No for the Day

In the film, Yes Man, starring Jim Carey, the lead character decides to say Yes to everything in his life.

Many leaders find it easy to say Yes, it’s more difficult to say No. Especially with difficult stakeholders and customers. Promises are made as the leader might find it difficult to say no. A leader who cannot say No can have big impacts on the teams they work with, often leading to overburdening.

Become more comfortable with saying No.

Yoga Mat IconsExercise:

Spend the day saying No to every request. Stretch this rule as far as you can. Observe how it feels and the consequences of your decisions.

Spend a day with a team

As you become more senior you increasingly work in “leadership” roles and become more removed from the day-to-day work of the teams. This can make your leadership approach lack a dose of reality.

Microsoft Teams - Characters by MACIEK JANICKI on Dribbble

Senior Managers can build flexibility to lead without relying corporate titles. Joining a team can provide a good reality check. How it feels to be in a “team” environment. Being flexible in how to collaborate in a more authentic, personal way.

Yoga Mat Icons


Clear your diary and spend a day with your team (or customers). Drop your title and see how it feels to work in a team. Also observe how others respond around you.


Are there exercises that help build flexibility into your leadership?

Please let me know and I will share them here!

More exercises coming soon.




An Organisation Design Case Study: What is your Optimisation Goal?

When conducting organisation design it is tempting to jump straight in. What are the roles? How should we organise teams? What process to follow? Commonly, the latest trend such as the famous “Spotify Model” is simply copied.

Before jumping into the design, there is a critical question to be explored: What is your optimisation goal?

An optimisation goal guides your organisation design. It enables you to make decisions in context, find a coherent design that does not conflict with the goal.

Without a clear goal, “local optimisation” occurs. This is when part of the organisation works well but overall performance suffers.

A local optimisation example: optimising lines of code written by software developers.

This local optimisation leads to “busy” developers. It will likely lead to more complex solutions, with many lines of code. Harder to maintain than simpler solutions.

Another example: optimising for customer value.

This goal is much closer to the real purpose, to add value to customers. With this optimisation goal in mind, it will often have profound impact to the organisational design. For example, reduction of layers between the development team and the customer.

A final example: Large Scale Scrum (LeSS)

LeSS is an organisation design framework which is designed for organisations where the optimisation goal is adaptiveness. The ability to turn in a dime for a dime. With this goal in mind, LeSS leads to significant changes to organisational design. Fewer roles, layers and managers.

LeSS, like the Spotify Model is often “Implemented” without contextual understanding. If adaptiveness is not your optimisation goal it will likely lead to sub-optimal results. It may even harm your organisation.

Without optimisation goal clarity, local optimisations will be rampant.

Optimising goals can be subtle and counter-intuitive as this case study highlights…

Optimising for Safety at Alcoa

Paul O’Neill’s tenure at the helm of Alcoa is now the stuff of legend.

Introduced to a group of investors and analysts in October 1987, he didn’t talk about revenue and expenses and debt ratios and earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation. “I want to talk to you about worker safety,” he told the Wall Street crowd.

“Every year, numerous Alcoa workers are injured so badly that they miss a day of work,” he continued. “Our safety record is better than the general American workforce, especially considering that our employees work with metals that are 1,500 degrees and machines that can rip a man’s arm off. But it’s not good enough. I intend to make Alcoa the safest company in America. I intend to go for zero injuries.”

When one attendee asked about inventories and another asked about capital ratios – the standard vocabulary for these kinds of sessions – O’Neill returned to the same theme.

“I’m not certain you heard me,” said the new CEO. “If you want to understand how Alcoa is doing, you need to look at our workplace safety figures. If we bring our injury rates down, it won’t be because of cheerleading or the nonsense you sometimes hear from other CEOs. It will be because the individuals at this company have agreed to become part of something important:  They’ve devoted themselves to creating a habit of excellence. Safety will be an indicator that we’re making progress in changing our habits across the entire institution. That’s how we should be judged.”

Ref [1]

In the example, “safety” is the optimisation goal.

Over O’Neill’s tenure, Alcoa dropped from 1.86 lost work days to injury per 100 workers to 0.2. By 2012, the rate had fallen to 0.125.

Surprisingly, that impact extended beyond worker health. One year after O’Neill’s speech, the company’s profits hit a record high.

How did this happen?

In complex systems, changes can have dynamic side effects creating a chain reaction. In this case study, safety triggered a continuous improvement chain reaction.

Systems Thinking is one way can start to explore this chain reaction. In particular, Causal Loop Diagrams are a great way to visualise these dynamics.

Here is an example:

Systems Maps - General (7)

Open in Miro

This diagram tells a story.

The headline: by focusing on safety, it amplifies other important factors:

  • Psychological Safety
  • Number of improvements implemented

Lets zoom into those areas….

Psychological Safety

Systems Maps - General (8)

The behaviours of management, especially the CEO, emphasised the importance of safety. This demonstrated to employees that safety was important. As a result they were more likely to raise issues. As issues are found, and resolved, this reinforced to the CEO the importance of safety.

The lesson here, increasing safety, not only physical but psychological, created a chain reaction. The CEO and senior management were critical in role modelling these behaviours. When designing your organisation, think carefully about the behaviours you want senior management to adopt.

Number of Improvements implemented

Systems Maps - General (9)

Safety focus increased improvement efforts engagement across the organisation. The side effect of spending more time investigating safety issues surfaced tangential issues. As issues were addressed it increased employee confidence that issues would be resolved, resulting in more improvement ideas. This success improved the trust between leaders. Improving transparency in the organisation.

The lesson here is that the focus on safety improved other areas of the business. The behaviours overtime created a culture of continuous improvement. This culture had a direct impact on the performance of the organisation impacting the bottom line.

Another lesson, culture is the result of behaviours in the organisation. In the case study they “acted” their way to a new thinking. The behaviours of continuous improvement shifted their identity. This demonstrates that culture can only change when behaviours change. Again, the leaders were key role models in enabling this change.


When optimising for one thing, we need to make trade-offs. Many leaders ignore the fact that optimising for one goal may negatively impact another. They refuse to make difficult decisions relating to those trade-offs. If the optimisation goal is only words you will not get the benefit.

A major trade off was shareholder push back. Paul O’Neill was under huge pressure from shareholders. The risk under pressure the goal dilutes.

Systems Maps - General (6)

As the pressure increases it puts a strain both on the CEO and the senior management team. The teams cohesion will determine their behaviours. If there is shallow agreement, it is likely behaviours do not match the goal. Employees will not believe in the goal either if they do not have positive role models. Key here is for the senior management team to embrace dissent as a positive behaviour. This improves their shared mental models increasing team cohesion. Done in the right way, this dissent will also improve Psychological Safety over time.

How to find your optimisation goal?

Clarity, cohesion and coherence in many organisations is few and far between. This leads to confusion and poor decision making. Hidden local optimisation is rampant reducing organisational performance.

So what are practical steps to avoid this problem?

Here are 5 questions to help:

  1. List down all of the explicit and implicit goals within your organisation Which of these goals are in harmony? Which are in conflict?
    • You can do a causal loop diagram to explore these relationships
  2. Based upon the purpose of your organisation, what goals most enable you to achieve your purpose?
  3. If you were to pick one, what would it be?
  4. What trade-offs would you need to make when choosing this goal?
    • Again, causal loop diagram is great for this
  5. Now, explore the elements within your organisation that influence this goal, both positive and negative.
    • More diagramming at this step too!

This will guide decisions to optimise your organisation.

A final disclaimer…

My analysis intends to show how to use Systems Thinking to diagnose your organisational dynamics.

The analysis is also biased to Narrative Fallacy.

However, I hope this example has shown how optimisation goals, systems thinking and causal loop diagrams can help optimise your organisation.

I’d love to hear how it helps!

Ref [1] – https://www.forbes.com/sites/roddwagner/2019/01/22/have-we-learned-the-alcoa-keystone-habit-lesson/#68ef207458ba

What is your life compass?


A life compass can help keep you focused and aligned to what is important. It can help you recognise when you have drifted away from your purpose and what brings joy.

I’ve been thinking more about my own life compass recently. Two areas have emerged; helping others succeed and mastering emotions. Inspired by Derek Sivers, I’ve found that these succinctly provide the minimum alignment to support my personal reflection and decision making.

Below explains a little more about each one and how they might also be areas for your compass:

Helping others succeed

It is an inbuilt human desire to help others succeed. It is also proven that through helping others it boosts our happiness and life satisfaction:

There is science also behind why this is helpful for a healthy, fulfilled life. 

Scientific studies show that helping others boosts happiness. It increases life satisfaction, provides a sense of meaning, increases feelings of competence, improves our mood and reduced stress. It can help to take our minds off our own troubles too. 

Kindness towards others is be the glue which connects individual happiness with wider community and societal wellbeing. Giving to others helps us connect with people and meets one of our basic human needs – relatedness. 

Action for Happiness


  • When did I last help someone else succeed?
  • Who can i help and what might they need?
  • What can I offer, that i know something about, that probably wont happen unless i take responsibility for it?

Mastering your emotions

A life long journey is becoming more aware of our emotions and internal processing. Much of our thinking is automatic but through daily practices of meditation, journalling, yoga and others we can become more aware of our emotions.

Managing your impulsive, emotional Chimp as an adult will be one of the biggest factors determining how successful you are in life.

Steve Peters

Do this regularly:

  • Close your eyes, take 5 deep breaths and ask yourself, how do i feel right now?


Q: What is your life compass?


Superfast: Lead at Speed – Sophie Devonshire

3 Big Ideas

  • Leaders need to learn how to lead themselves in high speed environments to lead others. Energy management in particular is essential for leaders.
  • Decide. Delegate, Deliver. These are the key focus areas for leaders in high speed environments.
  • Simple approaches, with clarity and compelling purpose are what enable organisations to move quickly at scale. Leaders need to create the frameworks and alignment to give others the ability to act autonomously at speed.


The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.

Careful of blaming the lettuce for not growing when the soil is poor

Thich Nhât Hanh

1 Takeaway

If you have more time… Image result for clock icon

Why repeated pace-setting is an essential leadership practice

If someone offers you a seat on a rocket ship, you don’t ask which seat.

  • You’ve got to deliver on short-range commitments, while you develop a long-range strategy and vision and implement it. Metaphor: Walking and chewing gum.
  • Pace-setting is about working out the variety that’s needed in your velocity in order to achieve sustainable success.
  • Second mover advantage; let the competition do the work and spend the money in establishing a category or changing people’s behaviour.
  • Innocent Smoothies – MVP Experiment:
    • At a music festival, we put up a big sign asking people if they thought we should give up our jobs to make smoothies, and put a bin saying ‘Yes’ and a bin saying ‘No’ in front of the stall. Then we got people to vote with their empties. At the end of the weekend, the ‘Yes’ bin was full, so we resigned from our jobs the next day and got cracking.
  • Persistence wins the race not your unique idea
  • Organise everything around Products (customers)
    • Apple had been setting up its store like any other–organized around the different products that it would be selling. ‘But if Apple’s going to organize around activities like music and movies, well, the store should be organized around music and movies and things you do,’
  • Popcorn Leaders can be confusing for teams – Leaders who fire out so many ideas the team are confused about what is really important.
  • Wall Street’s graveyards are filled with people who were right too soon.
  • Key question: ‘How much time do we have before the risk profile changes?’ (Cost of Delay)

Time – The secret to delivering with stamina and speed

I firmly believe that time management is not important; energy management is.

Paul Polman, Global CEO, Unilever

Learn from the mistakes of others. You cannot live long enough to make them all yourself.

Eleanor Roosevelt

  • Effective energy management is not something that comes automatically in today’s busy world of business.
  • Three energy actions:
    1. Exercise
    2. Scheduling around your energy levels
    3. Powering off to power on (work and rest).
  • Barack Obama incorporated at least 45 minutes of physical activity in to his daily schedule when President.
  • Many smart leaders know the time of the day they work best.

If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.

Mark Twain

  • What are your energy triggers–physical, mental, social?
  • The best way is to recognise that the week follows a particular rhythm, and plan accordingly.
  • ‘low-fi’ Fridays. Save Fridays for internal conversations and administration (expenses, emails) rather than important new business meetings or running senior leadership summits which require intense energy.
  • Zap the ‘energy vampires’ in your business
  • American study claimed that only 56 per cent of employees felt physically energized at work.
  • The smartest employers are able to consider the overall environment and design for energy.
  • Decision-making quality drops the longer people go without a break. In one study, where hospital leaders were trying to encourage the use of hand sanitizers, they found that compliance rates fell when people worked long hours without a break.
  • Time is finite. Energy isn’t.

Purpose drives pace

  • The stronger your purpose is, and the more people are aligned with it, the more it will permeate short-term volatilities.
  • Purpose (which should last at least 100 years) should not be confused with specific goals or business strategies (which should change many times in 100 years). You cannot fulfil a purpose; it’s like a guiding star on the horizon–forever pursued but never reached.
  • Purpose Blockers:
    • Confusing purpose with corporate social responsibility or with high-level generic brand slogans.
    • Purpose stays on the poster – Behaviours, especially of the leaders do not align
    • They don’t know how to measure the impact of being purpose-led, and if they can’t measure it they won’t get it done.

Just living is not enough. One must have sunshine, freedom… and a little flower.

Hans Christian Andersen

  • When your purpose is clear, every future decision becomes much easier.
  • Slow decision-making is the number-one speed-killer in organizations.
  • Questions to define purpose:
    • What does your organization do to help people?
    • What is the difference you’re seeking to make in the lives of customers and consumers?
    • Why is it good to be part of what you do?
    • How do you define this in a memorable and compelling way?
  • Purpose Organisations do the following:
    • Stand up
    • Stand out
    • Stand firm

Structure for speed Fast frameworks

  • Questioning, reviewing and being decisive about what the right structure is for your needs can be one of the most influential acts you take as a leader.
  • Organisation Design Metaphor
    • Speed is contextual and choosing the right vehicle depends on the length of your journey, your ultimate destination and what kind of bumps and accidents you are prepared to tolerate getting to there.
  • One of the most effective things we’ve done is to de-layer this organization. There are now five layers from top to bottom. When I arrived there were ten. It makes for simpler, quicker decision-making.
  • Rule of Thumb for Transformation:
    • For every layer in the company, you will need a year to change the culture.

Editing is expediting

  • Focusing on less is a radical way to make you better and to make you faster. Become an effective editor.
  • Example in action:
    • The ceramics teacher announced that he was dividing his class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the ‘quantity’ group: 50 pounds of pots rated an A, 40 pounds a B, and so on. Those being graded on ‘quality’, however, needed to produce only one pot–albeit a perfect one–to get an A. Well, come grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the ‘quantity’ group was busily churning out piles of work–and learning from their mistakes–the ‘quality’ group had sat theorizing about perfection and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.
  • Constraints shape and focus problems, and provide clear challenges to overcome as well as inspiration.
  • Silent Meetings:
    • The meetings start with proposals being shared and everyone reading them then and there. They have 15–30 minutes’ silence to do so. Those proposals can be no more than six pages long, a constraint that speeds up communication. This ‘Study Hall’ start to meetings is an initiative from Jeff Bezos, who explains that it is more effective than PowerPoint: ‘If you have a traditional PowerPoint presentation, executives interrupt. If you read the whole six-page memo, on page 2 you have a question but on page 4 that question is answered.’
  • Avoid at all costs list:
    • Step 1: Write down your top 25 career goals on a single piece of paper.
    • Step 2: Circle only your top five options.
    • Step 3: Put the top five on one list and the remaining 20 on a second list.
    • Step 4: Focus on the other 20 items – Put things in place to stop doing them!

Know your audience, know your team, know yourself

  • Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare.
  • Ten leader attributes (Gallup)
    1. Confidence
    2. Delegator
    3. Determination
    4. Disruptor
    5. Independent
    6. Knowledge
    7. Profitability
    8. Relationship
    9. Risk
    10. Selling
  • The more senior you are, the more important networking is in finding new roles as you move careers

Improve yourself by the writing of others, to gain easily what they have laboured hard for


Truth Candour, conflict and the helpfulness of honesty

  • Radical Candor is important when you are thinking about the need for speed. It is radically time-saving.
  • Politics = people choose their words and actions based on how they want others to react rather than based on what they really think.
  • Bring these out into the open:
    • Elephants = big things in the room that nobody is talking about
    • Dead fish = happened a few years ago that people can’t get over
    • Vomit = something that sometimes people just need to get off their mind
  • Creative abrasion is the ability to have difficult conversations. It’s like taking sandpaper and polishing something. You have a number of diverse points of view in the same room, and everybody is riffing off each other’s ideas.
  • Disagree and Commit = ‘Look, I know we disagree on this but will you gamble with me on it?
  • ‘Leaders wanting to be liked’ as one of the most dangerous traps in business.  ‘It’s much more important to be trusted and respected. If people like you as well, that’s a bonus, not an objective.’

The power of the pause

  • Typically, it takes new CEOs six months to start to affect business, so resist any urge to promise results quickly.
  • Good questions to ask when joining a new company:
    • ‘What should not change or be messed with?’
    • ‘What should be changed?’
    • ‘Give me examples of bottlenecks’
    • Do you have a talent or skill you don’t get to use now in your position?’
  • Take time; don’t make time

Hire smart, fire fast

First-rate people hire first-rate people; second-rate people hire third-rate people.

Leo Rosten, American writer and humorist

  • One of the most important things you can do to lead at speed is: find the right people (and keep them).
  • ‘careful of blaming the lettuce for not growing when the soil is poor’ Thich Nhât Hanh
  • Do not tolerate brilliant jerks–the cost to teamwork is too high,’ says Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix.
  • Rosten’s Law’: ‘First-rate people hire first-rate people; second-rate people hire third-rate people.’
  • I’d rather have a hole than an arsehole.’
  • If you join Zappos and don’t like it within a week, you can take a $ 4,000 bonus and leave.
  • Hire PANDAS (Uruly)
    • Positive and passionate.
    • Agile
      • Communication
      • Simplicity
      • Feedback
      • Courage
      • Respect.
    • No ego and nurturing.
    • Determined to deliver.
    • Action-oriented A + players
    • Social DNA and sense of humour.
  • ‘Hire fast walkers.’

Decide, delegate and deliver

  • Making decisions and executing decisions. Your success depends on your ability to develop speed as a habit in both.’
  • In any organization, clarity over who will make decisions and when they will be made is key. Time is wasted if this isn’t set up clearly.
  • Adopt an action bias. You will never have perfect information.

I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do

Leonardo da Vinci

  • An imperfect decision on Monday is better than the 100 per cent perfect decision on Friday.
  • The Power of Doubt Approach
    • Scope: How wide is the implication of what we see? Is this trend/ this change purely enterprise-specific, industry-specific or more broadly macro-economic
    • Speed: This is about being less concerned with micro-managing pace and more about what uncertainties will dramatically affect us in a systematic and structural way.
    • Significance: Is it noise and chatter or a genuine shift in the way the world works?
  • Guiding Questions for Decisions:
    1. How does the decision I’m making fit with the priorities we’ve agreed?
    2. What impact will it have on people inside and outside the organization?
  • Bain RAPID ® model to identify who inputs and who decides.RAPID®: Bain's tool to clarify decision accountability - Bain ...
  • Steps to make a decision
    • Proposal
    • Argue
    • Agreement
    • Who will own
    • Timing
    • Vote – Decision agreement check
  • It took 600 Apple engineers less than two years to develop, debug and deploy iOS 10. Contrast that with 10,000 engineers at Microsoft that took more than five years to develop, debut and ultimately retract Vista. The difference was in the way these companies chose to construct their teams.

The Leadership Energy Monitor: A self-care tool for leaders

Leaders are fuel for others so it’s important to monitor your energy levels regularly and refuel often.

This energy monitor allows you to reflect on your current energy levels and take action to refuel as required.

Toby’s Top Tip: Once a week spend 10 minutes scoring your energy across these 9 dimensions. Ask this question for each area:

Is this energy area draining, neutral or charging?

This simple exercise allows you to take any refuelling actions. It keeps your energy at the right level to lead yourself and others.

Leadership Energy Monitor (1)


60 Second Summary: Unlocking Leadership Mindtraps – How to Thrive in Complexity – Jennifer Garvey Berger

3 Big Ideas

  1. Our default thinking patterns often lead us incorrectly in complexity
  2. There are 5 mind traps
    1. simple stories.
    2. rightness.
    3. agreement.
    4. control.
    5. ego.
  3. Mindfulness is the most powerful way to help you lead yourself and others effectively in complex environments


Too much agreement, while pleasant, makes us follow a narrow path rather than expanding our solution space. It makes it harder to create and pursue the wide span of options that will leave us prepared for whatever the uncertain future demands. With complexity, we need diversity of experience, approach, and ideas, and we need to learn how to harness conflict rather than push it away.


Experiment at the edges rather than at the very center of the issue. In complex systems the center is the most resistant to change, so it’s best to stay away from it.

1 Sentence Summary

In complex environments, leaders need to find new ways to lead themselves and others. Understanding new ways to notice and escape these mindtraps is a leadership super power.

If you have more time… Image result for clock icon

The interactions of unpredictable things creates complexity

Key challenges:

  • We evolved for a different time. A simpler, more predictable time.
  • We use default thinking patterns that were not designed for today’s complexity.
  • We rely on our intuition which is often wrong. The best course of action is often counter-intuitive.
  • We are built to simplify and segment
  • We tend to try harder rather than try something else.
  • We feel confident when something seems obvious and logical. However this is a danger sign in complex environments.
  • We try to control what will happen next; but in complexity there are too many interrelated parts. Control is futile.

Message for leaders:

  • Focus on creating the right conditions in the environment for people to succeed.
  • Increase and deepen your connections within system. This will help you lead in complexity. The number of connections matters.
  • In complex, fast-changing situations, we will not ever be able to agree on the one best thing, because that simply doesn’t exist.

Trapped by Simple Stories

Our desire for a simple story blinds you to a real one. Narrative Fallacy

Simple stories dramatically limit the range of thinking and feeling about what’s possible.

Complexity requires you to look at a broad range of options, not just a narrow perspective based upon the story you have created.

Looking back at something, we can tell a coherent story about it that makes it sound inevitable and neat.

To escape we need to find our way out of our simple stories and back into our complex real ones.

Humans are wired for stories; the bad news is that our automatic stories are probably too simple for a complex world.

Simple Story Traps:

  1. looking for a beginning, middle, and end;
  2. filling in the missing pieces;
  3. assigning roles to the characters.

We fix characters in our stories: heroes and villains. It is hard to see beyond the characters we assign people. Once assigned villains may never become heroes in our eyes. Halo Effect.

Confirmation Bias – To create our simple stories, we pick and choose the data we remember, and we add in little bits of data if it makes for a better case.

“It is the consistency of the information that matters for a good story, not its completeness. Indeed, you will often find that knowing little makes it easier to fit everything you know into a coherent pattern.” – Consistency Bias

Daniel Kahneman:

Notice and become aware of your simple stores.

“Life, so full of contradictions and surprises, rarely ever makes complete sense. The pieces of the puzzle seldom fit together perfectly.

When they do—beware!!!!”

Trapped by Rightness

Trapped by rightness. Just because it feels right doesn’t mean it is right.

We each look at the world and believe we see it as it is. – Naïve realism

Leaders often fail as they:

  • ignore data that might show them they are wrong;
  • don’t listen well to those around them;
  • get trapped in a world they have created rather than the one that exists.

Many Leaders are not self-aware of their own thinking traps. They are blind to their biases.

“we have excessive confidence in what we believe we know, and we have an inability to acknowledge our ignorance and the uncertainty of the world.”

Daniel Kahneman:

Experience locks us even more tightly into the trap of rightness. With experience comes an expectation on ourselves and from others that we will be right. Many experts are expected to be right.

We discard any data that might suggest we’re wrong. Confirmation Bias

We feel right even if we are wrong.

Scenario from book:

Imagine you’re in a meeting with the executive team and you’re presenting the final recommendations of a piece of work your team has been engaged in for the last month. You’ve been over every last piece of the data and you know exactly what should be done, and now you’re just informing the team and getting their approval. A new colleague, who has joined the team since the last time you’ve presented on this topic, begins to ask questions no one has raised before.

What is your emotional reaction?

  1. Defensive but confident. You and your team are the experts. You know how to lob answers back to all these tricky questions. He’s probably just trying to make an impression on the boss.
  2. Annoyed and offended. Who does this guy think he is to march in here and waste everyone’s time with immaterial questions? He’s so arrogant to think that he could have things to add with no knowledge about this at all.
  3. Open and curious. How great that you could have thought about it so much and still have someone who had questions you hadn’t thought about before! What a helpful addition this guy will be to the senior team with such an unusual perspective and a curious mind!

We mostly listen to win. Listening that makes you right and the other person wrong.

Listen to Learn – Holding the possibility that we might be wrong. Listening with curiosity.

Trapped by Agreement

Longing for alignment robs you of good ideas.

Connection is so important that our brains experience social pain and physical pain as nearly the same thing.

Too much agreement, while pleasant, makes us follow a narrow path rather than expanding our solution space. It makes it harder to create and pursue the wide span of options that will leave us prepared for whatever the uncertain future demands. With complexity, we need diversity of experience, approach, and ideas, and we need to learn how to harness conflict rather than push it away.

Humans are drawn to agreement as a sense of connection. We are drawn into shallow agreements to maintain connection. We fear rejection from our social group.

Leaders can mistakenly think agreeability is a virtue and that disagreement should be fixed with compromise.

Many leaders try to stamp out disagreements amongst teams. This create shallow agreements. Leaders in complexity need to embrace disagreement and be comfortable with it.

Leaders in complexity should focus on the conditions that make disagreement normal and safe for all involved. This starts with the leader role modelling and welcoming people to disagree with them. Reduce fear and increase phycological safety.

High-performing organizations use “family” the most common descriptor of their culture.

We are taught as small people that when we disagree, we should compromise. This means we are built for compromise.

In complexity, having more options is always better, because you can’t possibly know beforehand which options will actually pay off. So the urge to compromise in complexity takes you from two viable options to one potentially mediocre one.”

The keys to unlocking this mindtrap are to remake what agreement means, what conflict means.

Complex situations have so many pieces and perspectives that each one of us might see a slightly different set of possibilities. Leaders should create the conditions for these dissenting, diverse thoughts to be heard.

Trapped by Control

Trying to take charge strips you of influence.

Leadership is often assumed to be “the person in control” Our books, tv shows and films often portray strong leadership as the person on control of the situation .

Trying to control everything is futile.

We have a natural tendency to locally optimise rather than look at the more uncertain, unclear bigger picture.

We measure the easy things, rather than what matters.

We have a hero basis. We assume the senior leaders have the power to make change happen. However sometimes the more senior a person’s leadership position is, the less likely she is to feel in control.

There are simply too many intersecting factors to believe that the force of a single person, no matter how effective, can control it all.

In a complex world a broad direction (like “more self-sustaining”) is way better than a narrow target (“ take over dry cleaners”) – Leadership Intent.

Leaders should open horizons to direction rather than destination, and to influence rather than control.

Experiment at the edges rather than at the very center of the issue. In complex systems the center is the most resistant to change, so it’s best to stay away from it.

“Alter patterns, not outcomes.”

Apply systems thinking to look at the whole situation and notice patterns. Change patterns through experimentation.

Trapped by Ego

Shackled to who you are now, you can’t reach for who you’ll be next.

People have a natural tendency of “preserving their reputations, putting their best selves forward, and hiding their inadequacies from others and themselves.”

We believe we have changed much in the past but won’t change in the future

Everyone has a second job: most people are spending time and energy covering up their weaknesses, managing other people’s impressions of them, showing themselves to their best advantage, playing politics, hiding their inadequacies, hiding their uncertainties, hiding their limitations.

Ego protection is the single biggest loss of resources that organizations suffer every day.

Leaders in complexity spend less time creating and defending a particular version of themselves and more time letting life transform them.

Coaching question to raise awareness if your ego

  • What is at stake for me here?
  • What is the hardest part about this?
  • What is the best part about this?
  • How do I know this is true?

Find your growth edge

Escaping the Mindtraps

Becoming more mindful is the most powerful way to be more self-aware of how our default thinking is helping or trapping us

Mindfulness increases connection to:

  • Our purpose
  • Our bodies and emotions
  • Comparisons for ourselves and others

Connecting with our purpose

“Greater purpose in life consistently predicted lower mortality risk across the lifespan, showing the same benefit for younger, middle-aged, and older participants across the follow-up period.”

The journey is more important than the destination

“Discovering your purpose is not like finding the perfect pair of shoes”

Frederick Buechner says that your purpose, your calling, is “the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” It is a necessarily interconnected dance between what calls each of us and what the world calls for.

Finding your purpose and living toward it is as much a process of discovery as it is of creation. Create the conditions for that awareness to emerge for you, and then see if it can shape your future.

Connecting to our bodies

Our bodies keep us grounded in what is rather than allowing our minds to trap us with what might or should be.

Treat your body as a source of knowledge and support rather than the vehicle that carries you from meeting to meeting and sometimes breaks down annoyingly.

Connecting to our emotions

People who can name their emotions in nuanced ways (“ I’m anxious about this job interview but also excited and energized!”) have surprisingly better outcomes in a wide variety of places than those who lump everything together (“ I’m super nervous about this job interview!”).

They are more able to recover from setbacks, can better manage their anxiety, and handle the unexpected difficulties of life.

Emotions have shades. They are not binary. The more we can notice the emotional shades the more aware we become.

5 Daily Habits to Boost Productivity BEFORE you Go Online

“Focused, productive successful mornings generate focused, productive, successful days – which inevitably create a successful life.”

Hal Elrod

When I arrive to my office….

I will not check my emails

A hard habit to build. Don’t sit down at your desk and dive straight into emails. Starting in this reactive way, will lead to low focus and progress.

I will fill my Water Bottle

Super simple but important.  Read more

I will write my gratitude journal

One sentence, on a Post-It Note, describing something to be grateful for. Stick to workstation as a reminder. Helps on even the worst of days.

I will Review Weekly Goals

Spend 10 minutes Monday mornings setting 3 goals to achieve in the week.
2 work related, 1 personal.
Keep this simple. No SMART objectives. A simple statement of intent.
Review progress every morning.
  • Red – Off Track
  • Amber – Risky
  • Green – On Track
Use a Good Notes Journal or paper.

I will Refine Task List on To Do

Microsoft To Do is a great tool. Prioritise with the Eisenhower method
See how many items you can put into the “Don’t Do” list. It’s my most important list!
When working in a team, you might use a task management tool like JIRA.

Only now is the time to go online

Now is the time to go online. Start with these two habits to help continue focus:

I will review emails (Action simple, Add Harder tasks to To Do list)

Review inbox. Action simple items that that need less than 2 minutes. Add any other actions to To Do list in prioritised order.

I will schedule my diary

Habits performed so far give three crucial pieces of information:

  1. Status on Weekly Goals
  2. To Do List
  3. Current Diary Commitments

Organise your day to complete the most important items not only urgent matters.

Two factors to boost your success


I perform these habits in the same location and roughly same time every day. This environmental prompt can increase your ability to form habits

If you have ever walked into your kitchen, seen a plate of cookies on the counter, and eaten them just because they are there in front of you, then you understand the power of location on our behavior. James Clear

Read more: https://jamesclear.com/habit-triggers

Tiny Habits

These habits are small in size but big in impact. Each habit takes minutes to perform but have a huge impact on my productivity. This routine provides stability and comfort, reducing my morning anxiety and stress.

Read my book summary: Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg for more inspiration

Book Summary: Knowing Doing Gap – How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action

The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action

3 Big Ideas:

  1. Common Leadership trap – Gathering knowledge but taking no decisive action
  2. Five examples of the “Knowing Doing” Gap:
    1. All Talk no action
    2. Consistency with past behaviours valued over changing, even if old behaviours are ineffective
    3. Fear prevents acting on knowledge
    4. Measurements obstruct good judgement
    5. Internal competition creates inattention to results
  3. Ineffective mental models of human behaviour by leadership reinforces the knowing doing gap


  1. IDEO on organisational design: “This is the best we can think of right now. The only thing we are sure of is that this structure is temporary and it is wrong. We just have to keep experimenting so it keeps getting better all the time.”
  2. Leadership incorrectly think: “The performance of the team comes from the sum of individual actions rather than interdependent actions. The team is greater than the sum of individual actions.

1 Impactful Takeaway:

When promoting change, make old behaviours impossible to do. To make it harder, increase the time, money, physical effort or mental effort required to do the old behaviour. Also change the daily routines so that the old behaviour doesn’t fit so easily into the day.

A simple example: Sit teams together which makes it harder not to collaborate

The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action

Big ideas Expanded:

Automatic behaviour happens when people:

  1. feel pressure to hit deadlines
  2. are fatigued or burnt out, lacking mental energy to do things differently
  3. have psychological fear – When people fear for their jobs, futures or even self-esteem, they will do what they have done in the past
  4. think quick, decisive decisions are valued by senior leaders
  • Social Proof + Consistency = Automatic unchanged behaviour

Major events that enable change:

  1. Shock – There is a sharp interruption in what people are thinking, feeling and doing. There is something that states very clearly, the old precedent is no longer valued
  2. Strangle – Something occurs to make the old way of working very difficult to do. This is needed because otherwise, the shock of change will backfire and cause people to cling even more tightly to their old ways
  3. Specify – Clear and explicit behaviour expectations are set, and support provided for people to act in this new way.

Steps to drive out fear:

  1. Prediction – Give people as much information as possible
  2. Understanding – Give people the why, the bigger vision and purpose behind certain decisions
  3. Control – Give people as much influence over what happens, when, and the way they happen. Decentralise decision making as much as possible
  4. Compassion – Show empathy and listen to the concerns of your employees

Eight guidelines to limit knowing doing gap:

  1. Why – Understand the why not the how – the underlying principles and reasoning for a certain behaviour – Don’t copy/paste behaviour
  2. Teach – Ensure your senior leaders teach others – e.g. following a training course, task your senior leaders to teach that knowledge to others
  3. Reward – Value action more than plans and concepts
  4. Safety – Increase safety and allow mistakes/failures – There is no doing without mistakes
  5. Fear – Fear fosters knowing-doing gaps – drive out fear
  6. Collaborate – Promote internal collaboration not competition
  7. Measure – Measure the system – The areas that provided learning into how we are working – example, lead time
  8. Role model – Leaders must role model and value action not talk – Scrap powerpoint presentations in place of progress review

Signs your organisation is substituting talk for action:

  1. There is a belief that managers talk/plan and others do
  2. Internal status comes from being critical of others
  3. No follow ups are done to see if what was said was actually done
  4. Inattention to results – No reflection on if outcome was created
  5. People forget that making a decision doesn’t change anything without action
  6. Leaders believe that once they have said it, others will do it. They do not follow up
  7. People are promoted based upon how “smart they sound” rather than the impact of their actions
  8. Complex ideas, language and concepts are valued more than simple solutions
  9. Leaders commonly ask teams to do more planning or gather more data before they can make a decision

Consistency with past behaviour:

  • The pressure for consistency reinforces ineffective practices. People who seek new ways of working and behave inconsistently to others are viewed as confused, in decisive and even two faced.
  • Commitment to past decisions signals consistency and persistence. Often considered a desirable behaviour.
  • Humans have a “need for cognitive closure, a desire for firm answers to questions, and an aversion to ambiguity” Leaders need to become more comfortable with ambiguity. This is not intuitive.
  • Most organisations have unwritten rules of behaviour. The cultural norms are often unknown to those within the organisation. Only by acknowledging and surfacing these unwritten rules can the organisation start to change.
  • One of the only ways to significantly change the organisation is to create a new one. This helps break from the past and start a fresh.
  • An unstated assumption the higher you go in an organisation, the less mistakes you will make” – This makes senior management freeze and often become highly fearful of change. The perceived risk of losing power due to failure is greater
  • Many companies and leaders have an incorrect model and oversimplified view of human behaviour.
  • Talking about change and planning for it can suck up so much energy that by the time the organisation comes around to implementing they already have change fatigue. They cannot increase effort when it is most required in the first 90 days.

The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action


5 Mindful Writing Exercises for your Self-Care Toolkit

“Write hard and clear about what hurts.” 

Ernest Hemingway



Our thoughts can often be all consuming. We can feel locked in by our internal dialogue, unable to escape.

Writing is a great way to process your thoughts, relax your mind and gain clarity. A 2011 study published in the journal of science found that students who journalled were better able to ease their anxieties.

Benefits also include:

  • Boosting self-esteem
  • Creating “Me” time
  • Relieves stress and anxiety
  • Increasing creativity
  • Letting go of thoughts

As simple as it sounds, writing can be incredibly daunting. What should I write? How should I write it? And our inner critic asks, is it good enough?

Mindful writing has been in my self-care toolkit since 2018. I’ve incorporated into my daily and weekly routines alongside meditation. I can speak first hand of the benefits listed above, especially the ability to let thoughts go by writing them down.

I have developed several different writing exercises which i’m sharing here so you can add mindful writing to your self-care toolkit.

5 Mindful Writing Exercises

  1. Become more present
  2. Examine a difficult relationship
  3. Explore Your Identity
  4. Relax physical pain
  5. Increase Emotional Awareness

Download Mindful Writing Exercises

Book Summary: Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything

Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything

Rating 5/5

3 Big Ideas:
  1. Create a constellation of habits, tiny in size but big on impact
  2. B = MAP – Behaviour happens when motivation & ability & prompt converge at the same moment
  3. Behaviour change is a skill that can be mastered

“There are three ways to change behaviour: have an epiphany, change environment, change habits in tiny ways.”

“There are 7 steps in Behaviour Design:

  1. Clarify the aspiration
  2. Explore behaviour options
  3. Match with specific behaviours
  4. Start tiny
  5. Find a good prompt
  6. Celebrate successes
  7. Troubleshoot, Iterate & Expand”
1  Question:
How can you make the habit easier?

Big Idea 1 – Create a constellation of habits, tiny in size but big on impact

Anatomy of Tiny Habits method (ABC):
  1. Anchor moment
  2. New Tiny Behaviour
  3. Instance Celebration
Tiny Habit Maxims:
  1. Help people do what they already want to do
  2. Help people feel successful
Change creators:
  1. Have epiphany
  2. Change environment
  3. Change habits in tiny ways (Most likely to lead to change)
Core Concepts:
  • Start with three very small behaviours, even just one
  • Create a constellation of habits, tiny in size but big on impact
  • Keep changes small and expectations low
  • People change by feeling good, not by feeling bad
  • B = MAP – Behaviour happens when motivation & ability & prompt converge at the same moment
  • Willpower is a myth. Bad habits are due to design flaws not character flaws
  • Removing a prompt is the best first move to stop a behaviour happening (e.g. remove chocolate from the fridge, remove phone from bedroom)

Big Idea 2 – Behaviour happens when motivation & ability & prompt converge at the same moment (B=MAP)

Image result for bmap bj fogg
  • Lack of behaviour is not a motivation issue. Its often an ability or prompt issue.
  • Motivation is a bad lever to push. The motivation monkey tricks us into setting unreasonable goals.
  • Motivation is like a party-animal friend. Great for a night out but not someone you would rely on to pick you up from the airport.
  • Motivation is a like a wave. It arrives in temporary surges. It’s unpredictable and unreliable
  • Hope and Fear strongly influence motivation. They push against each other.
  • Motivation and Ability have a compensatory relationship
Ability Chain:
Things that make the habit easier/harder
  1. Time
  2. Money
  3. Physical Effort
  4. Mental Effort
  5. Routine
Untangle habits using same process you grow them. Break the ability chain.
Make it easier:
  1. Increase skills (requires high motivation and often time)
  2. Get tools and resources (often requires money)
  3. Make it tiny
Golden Behaviours:
  1. Impactful (aspiration)
  2. Want to do (motivation)
  3. Can do (ability)
Golden behaviours can be done on your hardest day! Monday morning!
Types of Prompt:
  1. Person – Your internal reminder e.g. memory, physical (bladder)
  2. Context – Environmental – e.g Sticky on my fridge
  3. Action – Habit stacking – After brushing my teeth i will floss
Prompt management is one of the most difficult tasks in modern life. Limit the noise
Troubleshooting Habits:
  1. Check to see if there’s a prompt to do the behaviour
  2. See if the person has the ability to the behaviour
  3. See if the person is motivated to do the behaviour
Habit Categories:
  1. Uphill – require ongoing attention to maintain but are easy to stop
  2. Downhill – easy to maintain but difficult to stop
  3. Free-fall – extremely difficult to stop unless you get professional help
Habit Personas (Applied in groups):
  1. Dolphins – High motivation, high ability (Focus here)
  2. Turtles – High motivation, low ability (Focus here)
  3. Crabs – High ability, low motivation (Require incentives)
  4. Clams – Low ability, low motivation (Ignore)

Big Idea 3 – Behaviour change is a skill that can be improved

Skills of change:
  1. Behaviour Crafting – Knowing how many new habits to do at once and when to add more
  2. Self insight –  The skill of knowing which new habits will have meaning to you
  3. Process (Systems Thinking) – Knowing when to push yourself beyond ton and ramp up the difficulty of the habit
  4. Context – Redesigning your environment to make your habits easier to do
  5. (Growth) Mindset – Embracing a new identity
Behaviour Planning:
  • Aspirations = abstract desires e.g. wanting kids to succeed in school
  • Outcomes = more measurable e.g. getting straight A’s second semester
  • Behaviour = something you can do right now e.g. open textbook read five chapters
You can only achieve aspirations or outcomes overtime. A behaviour you can do right now
Swarm of Behaviours
Brainstorming possible behaviours to help achieve an aspiration or an outcome
If you plant a behaviour in the right spot it will grow without coaxing: Where might this habit for naturally in your daily routine?
When designing a new habit, you are designing for consistency
  • Most important part of the approach
  • Emotions create habits
  • Celebration must come immediately after or during the habit for it to stick. E.g A message two days later wont work
  • Celebration is habit fertiliser
  • Celebration is a skill — It does not always come naturally