The Final Countdown

Europe’s mid-eighties stadium rock masterpiece is rapidly becoming the soundtrack to my life, as I enter the last few days of working and of living in my home of the last 18 years.  With a LONG list of admin and packing jobs, as well as a busy calendar of farewell socials, the pressure to get everything done is acute, and feels greater as each day counts down.

I’ve been counting down to this point since 2015 and ticking off a day then was an equal measure of time as it is now, but the significance is greater when the number remaining is much smaller.  I can now empathise with Einstein and his theory that time can speed up!

For many years I have subscribed to the idea of the End Effect, which I first read about in Mark Forster’s work on time management.  Think back to the last time you went on holiday, or back to December in the days before your Christmas break.  Were you more productive, as you sought to clear tasks before the break?

It is definitely something I have observed over time in myself, and in clients who get so many of their action points done in the days before our next session.  Humans seem to have a propensity for drift, and then a need to speed up to compensate for the drift when we face a hard deadline like a holiday, or a retirement day.  My social calendar has seen the same effect – I’ve been banging on about going away for years, but many people seem to have only just realised they want to see me before I go!

How can we use the End Effect to improve our productivity?  Obviously, I strongly advocate retiring to boost your focus but even in the absence of such a deadline, we can create mini deadlines against which we work.  You could punctuate your year with regular holidays so you become focussed on completing tasks in the gaps between them.  You could have quarterly (or more frequent) meetings to check progress on projects and goals.

But I have seen many people, including me, have regular reviews or progress meetings and still suffer enormously from drift.  The trick, it seems, is to have real accountability, ideally to an external reference point that focusses the mind before the review stage: tax return deadlines are a great example.  Mastermind groups or success clubs have a similar effect if run well, and I saw their power with my clients over many years.

Making clear commitments to actions by a date to a third person such as a business coach or success club seems to activate some part of our character that doesn’t want to let down others, or be seen to “fail” in public.  We seem as humans to fear letting others down more than letting ourselves down.  I can’t explain it, but I can suggest using it.

If for some reason something went wrong and I didn’t retire on 28 Friday, I would obviously be very personally disappointed.  But my greatest fear would be turning up to a networking event in March, shrugging my shoulders and saying “Oops”.

So, how can you use this in your daily life?  Regular readers will have read my blog on the value of having a Goal, supported by a Plan and delivered by daily, or frequent, Actions.  I strongly advocate having 90 Day Plans to give you frequent “Final Countdowns”.  Have a week or two off every 12 weeks, and focus on what needs to be done before your next holiday.

Schedule those actions into weeks within the twelve (don’t leave all of them to the last week) and then be clear on what you need to do TODAY to honour your commitments.  And tell someone – be accountable.


  • have a bigger life goal
  • know the 90-day steps towards that goal
  • plan weekly activity to deliver the 90-day steps
  • Take daily actions to complete the weekly activity.

You may not be heading for Venus, like the somewhat unimaginative Europe lyrics, but you may still stand tall if you reach your own personal goals. For many years I have said that the biggest enemy of success is drift.  All of us can put off something until tomorrow.  But at some point we become aware that our tomorrows are limited.  So don’t waste your todays.

Don’t Look Back in Anger

As the year, in fact the new decade, gets going, it can be a good time to look back and review your progress.  Have you achieved all you set out to, done all you wanted to and been the person you wanted to be?  What lessons can you take, either from life events or from the areas where you fell short of your own expectations?  What can you learn from what went right, too?

New Year's Resolution: Quit making New Year's Resolutions

Whether you follow Oasis, and are determined avoid looking back in anger, or you follow Abba (who doesn’t?) and go by the refrain ‘nothing promised, no regrets’, it is important to avoid reprisals and recriminations when reflecting on your year/decade.  It is far more productive to seek lessons, learnings and future opportunities.

After that reflection, perhaps your thoughts will turn to what aspirations you have for 2020, or the coming ten years.  Where do you want to be at the end of that period?  What do you want to be true about your life?

For many years now, Mrs B and I have set time aside over Christmas/New Year to review our own progress, and set new aspirations for the time ahead (it is a recurring appointment in my calendar entitled “Goals and Sh*t”).  For at least the last ten years, part of that long-term vision has been retiring and travelling – which is now within touching distance.  We will still undertook the exercise last month, however, because even as we near one major goal, there are others that still need attending.

In my book (The Seven Pillars of a Painless Business), I invited readers to explore their own goals, over a time horizon that appeals to them (most people are comfortable with between 3 and 7 years).  I suggest they consider what they want to be true in the future in 9 areas of life:

Career (your work)

Community (where you live, what social groups you mix in – this might be a social circle, a church or a village group)

Education (what do you want to learn – either work related or more personal)

Environment (not climate change, more where you want to live, what sort of house, what condition it should be in etc)

Experience (what things do you want to do, such as see Antarctica or do a skydive)

Finance (what income do you want, what net worth are you aiming for, when will you pay off your mortgage etc)

Health (for example what weight you want to be, what fitness you want to maintain)

Relationships (what relationships do you want with close family, with your spouse, with your children?)

Legacy (what footprints do you want to leave in the world?  How will you make an ongoing difference to others?)

You should have mid-to-long range goals in each of these areas, which can then be brought back to the coming year.  If you want to get to X by year Y, what do you want to do in 2020 to start the journey?  When will you check-in to make sure you are on track?

I firmly believe that undertaking this exercise each year, and then acting upon those aspirations with regular action through the rest of the 12 months, is what has taken me to my life goals.  I would love the same to be true for you – so take some time out over the weekend to pause, reflect and to dream.  Look forward in hope and excitement, don’t look back in anger.

I Am What I Am

What is the real you?

How much of who you are do you bring to work?  Can you proudly declare “I Am What I Am” like Gloria Gaynor, or are you holding back?  Last month I included a picture of my graduation, as it supported my reflections on 25 years in the workplace.  Interestingly, it attracted what I think is the highest level of engagement of any writing I have ever done (well in excess of 200 blogs or articles).  Was it the writing, the picture, or the fact I was happy to share who I was?

There is a school of thought that one shouldn’t mix business and pleasure – that you should turn up for work with some sort of front or mask on, that all of our working lives should be an act.  I disagree.  Perhaps it is a spectrum – I don’t advocate sharing everything about life, but I do advocate being true to who you are.

Many have faced the trauma of denying their sexuality or their political beliefs because of prejudice in the workplace.  On a more trivial note, there is a proportion of LinkedIn users who rail against any form of personal content with the hashtag #itsnotFacebook – possibly missing the fact that LinkedIn is a SOCIAL media platform.  So being social is pretty much the point, is it not?

I’m part of the #IknowitsnotFacebook camp – I relish the personal interactions that occur with my professional contacts.  Sure, some people share things I wouldn’t but generally I warm to people, and I am more likely to do business or refer to people when they share their human side.

For 17 years these newsletters have featured puns.  I have liked every one of those puns, some people have groaned at them, others have bemoaned their presence.  But people remember my newsletter because of them.  And those people engage with what I really want them to read as a result.  So, if you want to influence others, sell goods or services to others, or to change the behaviour of others, I believe you need to reveal a little of yourself to achieve it.

When I worked at Cranfield School of Management, a colleague used to refer to “opening the kimono” when describing the principle of being honest about what was happening in the business.  That was a distressing mental image then, and would certainly not pass the #MeToo test in the modern era, but the concept is sound, if the phraseology isn’t.  To get the best from our interactions with others we need to be ready to be vulnerable, to be honest, to be open, to take the risk that someone won’t like us, our post or our story.

If you’re going to take that risk, you need to be sure of a few things:

  • What really matters most to you – what do you want to be identified with?
  • What are your values – what intrinsically motivates you and therefore needs to be honoured?
  • Where’s the line for you, or for the community you are conversing in, so that you can judge how much you really want to be you?

In a recent client conversation we discussed the changing cultural norms about language (words and phrases that my client had grown up with are now considered inappropriate for public discourse).  Should he be true to his upbringing and continue using them, or be true to his values of honouring others and accept their sensitivity?  By knowing what matter most to him, what his values are and where the cultural norms now lie, he could judge how much of himself to allow out.

Throughout my career I have tried to be true to who I am, to honour my quirky sense of humour, to respect my political, social and ethical beliefs and to know and express my core values.  I firmly believe that whenever I have, good things have happened.  And when I haven’t been strong enough to be fully true to them, things have gone awry.

How will you bring the real you to work next month?

How will you be true to your values?

How much of the real you will you reveal?

Where did that time go?!

My graduation picture
My graduation picture from 1994 – just months before my professional career started (with my very proud Mum!)

On 1st November 1994 a fresh-faced, newly-married young man, with a full head of hair, reported for his first professional job, thrilled to have found an opportunity within his passion – the environment.  Years before David Attenborough and Blue Planet, he set about trying to reduce plastic waste and to increase recycling.  That was me, 25 years ago.

As I look back on my quarter-of-a-century of working life, it is interesting (to me, at least) to think about what I learnt in each role (I’ve only had three!).  So, a brief career resume:  that first job was at a consultancy (Babtie), providing waste regulation and recycling promotion services to the people of Berkshire.  I was headhunted from there to Biffa, a leading waste management company, to work in the emerging field of packaging waste producer responsibility.

I ended up running a small team with a big financial turnover under a great boss and with amazing colleagues.  After four or five years there I was getting bored, and tired, and I heard of this new profession called coaching.  An opportunity came to work part time in sales for a coach training business, and to build my own coaching business part time.  I started that in 2002, and 17 years later I’m still doing it (and still writing newsletters every month!)

If I were to meet my 22-year-old self, what advice would I share, based on what I have now learnt?

It’s all about people – be connected

Whether that be mentors who share their knowledge and develop you without you realising, or whether it be the teams you work with, the customers you get to know or the wider network who provide support and opportunities for you, it’s about people.  I am indebted to two bosses (both called Phil) for the starts they gave me, and am then indebted to hundreds of others who have helped me over the 25 years.  The coach training school I worked for had a mantra that “People Grow By Connection” and I have always believed this.

When I mentor young people growing their businesses, or just developing their careers, I am always keen that they create, maintain and develop their personal network – within their firm, within their marketplace or within their support community (other professionals, suppliers and even competitors).

How well connected are you?  What could you do build your network more deliberately?

Make every day a school day

I am reminded of my school days every morning, having married my teacher, but in those 25 years I have always been learning.  My professional field has always been developing, my management and self-development skills have always benefitted from polishing, and we’re routinely exposed to new situations that we can learn from: if we choose to.

Some of the value I bring to clients is the range of other clients I have talked to: the diverse spread of industries, belief systems, methods of working and management theories that I have seen and experienced.  They didn’t all work, but they all provided feedback and intelligence on what might be worth a try next time.

How do you learn every day?  What opportunities do you have to work smarter, be better, have more impact?

Inputs are important, but success is about outputs

One of my pet frustrations in my career is that professionals are often judged by how many hours they put in, not by how many outputs they create.  When I was at Biffa my business unit made more per head than most of the units managed by my peers.  But they would judge me on whether I worked an 8, 10 or 14 hour day, not by the profit I produced (or the brand value I created from great customer service).

Don’t get me wrong, throughout my career I have put in a shift when it’s been required.  But a business that requires key personnel (or any personnel) to work 50 or more hours a week isn’t successful, it’s broken.  As a coach I am forever stretching business owners to build a business that is sustainably successful – and that isn’t true of a business where people have to work long hours.  If you can’t make money working 45 hours a week or less, charge more or stop faffing about…

And if you require your teams to work those sorts of hours, you’re out of touch with the modern workforce and will hamper the progress of care-givers and others, who may be your brightest talent.

What’s your own relationship between inputs and outputs?  Are you getting out what you want?  Are you putting in a sustainable amount to get it?

Slow and steady wins the race

At school, I was a long-distance runner.  Not for me the 100 metres, I much preferred the cross-country or the 1500m.  Business, or a career, is much the same – it is rarely about short bursts of pace but more often it is about gradual, determined, planned progress towards a goal.  I have worked with some very financially successful people, and none of them got there overnight.  For one or two there was a “hockey-stick” of sales or profits where it suddenly jumped, but that was always after many, many other nights building up to it.

My interest in personal investing has meant I have come across all manner of get-rich-quick schemes, stock tips or “overnight-millionaire” ideas.  Yet the person I worship in the field is Warren Buffet, who has spent decades quietly and determinedly building possibly the largest personal wealth in the world.  Small, repeated steps over a LONG time, allied with the power of compounding, delivers unbelievable results.  Whether that be in building a career, investing for retirement or in growing a business.  So, I would tell my 22-year-old-self always to have patience, always be moving forward and always keep an eye on the long-term goal.

What’s your long-term aim?  What slow and steady steps do you need to take action on to get there?

What about your career lessons?

These are my thoughts after 25 years.  What have you learnt in your career?  I’d love to hear! I

Who Is Your Scrum-Half?

Players playing rugby

This month we are in the midst of Rugby World Cup 2019, and it is hard to believe four years have passed since I attended the opening ceremony of the last World Cup at Twickenham: a lot has happened to me since then!  It is hard to believe that the hope and expectation as an England fan at that opening ceremony could be so quickly and comprehensively crushed with our early exit.  Luckily, we are already guaranteed to progress further than we did in 2015!

As an England fan, it is far nicer to turn one’s mind back to 2003, when Jonny Wilkinson’s drop goal secured the extra time victory against Australia in their own back yard.  Happy days.  Reliving that passage of play in the final moments of the game reminded me of just how much it embodied team play: the forwards ground out the extra yardage to bring the drop goal into range, Jonny was hanging back, ready to do his job; the whole team, indeed the whole country, trusted him to execute the play when the moment came with his reliable right foot: but at the centre of it all was scrum-half Matt Dawson – standing just off the back of the ruck, watching the field placings, choosing the moment and distributing the ball at just the right time.  For him to orchestrate that cup-winning move, he needed the time and space to make the right decision.

I believe this is a useful metaphor for business owners and managers (or indeed any of us in our private lives).  We are too often drawn into the hurly burly of the ruck, with all those big, heavy forwards crashing into us, buffeting us and overpowering all our senses.  It is hard to make cool calm decisions with over 20 stone of Australian meat sat on you.

Alternatively, business owners can be drawn to being wingers – standing safe and away from the action, ready to pounce and take the glory and the accolades.

Instead, business owners need to be like Matt Dawson at scrum half.  Close to the action but not embroiled in it, with the vision of all the possible plays and with the mental freedom to pick the right pass.  My job as a business coach is often to drag them out of the pack, or bring them in off the wing, so that they can add value to their team by orchestrating the correct play.

I recognise the challenge for business owners to take that role.  I have been, and sometimes still am, in that struggle myself.  I also recognise the value in stepping into that position, which is why it so often comes up with clients.  Of course, the 2003 rugby metaphor doesn’t suit all clients (some are not interested in sport, and some wouldn’t even remember it as they’re too young!), but the concept applies to most.

How could you step into the scrum half role more yourself?

Step back from the ruck – schedule time in your diary to think strategically (and honour it)

Read the play – have the data (not just your feelings) on what is happening in your business, so that you can clearly judge what the state of play really is

Pick from the playbook – once you know what is really happening, draw on your experience, your colleagues, your trusted advisors and your coach to decide what you need to do

Execute – take action and see each step in the plan through (don’t be half-committed!)

React to events – if it goes well, celebrate (and repeat if appropriate).  If it doesn’t (LINK), dig in until you regain momentum, then step back again and repeat these steps.

If you want a top-quality, experienced business coach to be with you through the process, making you honour the time set aside, helping you to properly assess what’s happening, and provide a sounding board as you choose the play you want to make, I’m here for you.

Champion result!

Success - go get it (written on a blackboard)

Congratulations to Katarina Johnson-Thompson on her World Championship medal.  As I watch the footage of her amazing two days of events, and of her setbacks in the past, her story resonates with me in terms of the life of small business owners.

She has had major implosions in previous championships.  She put herself out there, and things went wrong.  Lesser people would never have tried, but she took the risk and felt the pain of failing but then got back into gear and finally reached the rostrum.  I see the same in business (my own and other’s).  We have good and bad years, good and bad ideas, we might take a job that doesn’t work out and we leave after a few months.  But somehow we don’t let that define us and we come back for another go and mostly, it seems, it works out.

Watching KJT’s face as she ran down the final straight of the 800m, I sensed a feeling of determination and resilience.  There was no Bolt-like showboating, no agonising diving for the line to win by a whisker.  Just steady, determined, resilient completion of the task at hand.

In those last few seconds, KJT knew that she just needed one foot in front of another, to calmly get the job done.  She also knew that she didn’t win gold in those last few seconds, she won them in the years of training, of failing at other championships, of learning hard lessons, and correcting the source of failure.  Her lack of adrenaline and drama was telling – she just quietly (it seemed to me) got on with the job.

I am in no way a world champion like KJT.  I have neither the talent, athleticism or drive to achieve what she has done, which is why I admire her.  But I feel I know how that final straight feels.  I’m in my own now.  The years of dreaming, planning, spreadsheeting, working, investing, organising and talking are all slowly coming to fruition.  I know that if I just keep putting one foot in front of the other my dream will come true (24 weeks for those who are counting with me).  The final straight still feels long, and something unforeseen could knock me off the path (not sure what that would be in this metaphor – a track invasion or tripping over a stray dog?!), but I trust that my past performances have now put me in the best position to get over the line.

What’s your equivalent?  What actions do you need to keep taking to reach your world championship gold?

And KJT is already thinking of “what next?”  She knows the Olympics are next year, and she needs to do just as well in 12 months to secure her next place in history.  I have huge adventures to look forward to on the other side of my current finishing line too.

What will you be aiming for on the other side of your current big goal?

Just Keep Swimming

Dory fish

Some readers may remember Dory the fish in Finding Nemo (and may be frightened to hear the film is over 15 years old!).  As well as being slightly ditzy, her strength was in her cheerful persistence in the face of adversity, hence her catch-phrase “Just keep swimming”.  Over the years, I have known many business owners who have had to remind themselves of that maxim from time to time.

As I was pulling together my thoughts for this blog (yes, I do actually think them through!), and the theme of keeping swimming was coming to the fore, a friend in the business world, Mike Foster, posted on LinkedIn reference to an analogy based on Snakes and Ladders.  In life, as in the board game, we encounter events which takes us backwards and opportunities which propel us forward.  Whatever these random ups and downs, what gets you to the goal (such as the top of the Snakes and Ladders board) is the repeated act of rolling the dice.  Some may get there faster and others will travel more slowly, but consistent, repeated action, combined with a bit of luck, will get you there.

Recently I wrote about the importance of knowing your purpose – what the point of any undertaking is.  Once you know that big picture, you can contextualise any action in the light of that purpose or aim.

As I near the end of my working career, I can see how I have had snakes and ladders in various parts of my life, but because I have been persistent in rolling the dice or, like Dory, I have just kept swimming, I am in touching distance of the bigger goal.

Let us assume that you were moved by my recent blog to consider your own purpose or point in life (either overall, or at this specific juncture).  Once armed with that knowledge, how do you move toward that goal?  Here’s a simple four-step process:

Goal         Clearly define where you are headed.  You may not know the exact route, but at least be clear on the destination.  It may be one large life goal or a number of smaller goals that add up to your desired ideal life.

Plan         Knowing where you are now, and where you are heading to, come up with a plan that will start to take you there.  Again, you may not know the exact route, or every step, but at least have a plan for starting to put things in place.

Action     Good things only come to those who wait in Guinness adverts.  For the rest of us, we have to take action to move towards our goals.  In my experience, these are often small steps that just need repeating regularly.  Which brings me to:

Repeat    Einstein said that compounding was the eighth wonder of the world, and he was a clever guy.  After over 20 years of saving and investing, of building businesses and planning my future life, I’m inclined to agree with him.  If you know the actions that are part of your plan to get to your goal, and they work, you need to keep doing them.  Not for a week or a month, but for many months or years.  Keep rolling the dice.

What’s your bigger goal?

How do you plan to reach it?

What action will you take to start the journey?

What will you put in place to make sure you keep doing those actions? 

How will you just keep swimming?

What’s The Point?

Don’t worry, I’m not questioning whether it is worth carrying on now that the country is potentially being lead off a cliff by BoJo and his Bullingdon friends!  Instead I am focussing on possibly the most common question I have asked in my coaching career.  In a whole range of situations, it is worth stopping and asking ourselves why we are here.

When you are holding an internal staff meeting, ask yourself what is it meant to achieve – what is its point?

When you are meeting a client or prospect, ask yourself what you want out of it – what is the point of talking to them today?

When you are ploughing through emails, updating your work social media or getting bogged down in administrative trivia, ask yourself what the purpose of each activity is – what is its point?

When you are poring over spreadsheets, generating voluminous management reports and over-analysing the data, ask yourself what value it is adding to the business – what’s the point of doing it?

When you are watching Love Island or box sets of Killing Eve, ask yourself whether it is taking you towards your life goals.  What’s the point of those hours on the sofa?

If you don’t know your life goals, how will you know the point of anything?

One of my business friends, Hayley Monks, is inspiring in many ways but especially so on this topic.  She has had a very successful career in the utility sector, managing big teams and bigger budgets.  When we talk about business meetings, what to do in certain conversations or how to move a project forward her first question is always along the lines of “what’s the point?”.  I am sure it is one of the factors in her success and impact.

Another business friend recently discussed with me the Japanese concept of Ikigai.  This is a Venn diagram of four circles representing the following:

  • What you love doing
  • What you are good at
  • What the world needs
  • What you can get paid for

The philosophy of Ikigai is that if you can find something where these four interests overlap, you will have found Ikigai (which roughly translates as “reason for living”).  There is some research which suggests that this leads to longer life.  As business owners, we should be looking for business ideas that achieve this, and we should, where possible, be looking for team members who can find Ikigai in their roles and careers in our businesses.

If we are going to do that, we are going to have to understand the answers to those four key questions:  what do we love; what are we good at; what does the world need and what can we get paid for (profitably).  If we truly know the answers, then we will have discovered what the point is.

And if we know what the point is, we will know how internal meetings, client interactions, email traffic, projects, spreadsheets and our leisure time all lead us towards it.

Then we just do the things that have a point, and don’t do the ones that don’t.  Simples.

So, where does Ikigai lie for you, and what’s your point?

The Naked Truth

Channel Four have recently aired a series called Naked Beach, a reality TV show centred on the premise that if you spend time around people comfortable being naked you will become comfortable with being naked yourself.  In each show, three guests with body confidence issues are hosted by a group who are very body confident (despite not having supermodel bodies).

What limiting beliefs prevent you revealing the naked truth (on a beach or otherwise)?

I recommend watching the programme, some of the psychology is fascinating.  As I watched I wondered whether it was something other than the nakedness of the hosts that had an impact on the guests.  The hosts, as well as being comfortable with their bodies, were unfailingly positive in outlook.

To see the guests’ reactions to the exercises emphasised the importance of this outlook – those guests that had positive mindsets (growth mindset as Carol Dweck would call it) seemed to respond more quickly to the challenges.  In fact, seeing the guests undertake the same exercises and react differently reminded me of the maxim:

Two people can experience the same thing but have very different experiences.

The impact of what happens to us is as dependent on how we react as it is on what happens.  Our mindset determines our experience.  To see the power of our preconceptions, watch this excellent video from camera manufacturer Canon (and thanks to Chaz Snell for introducing me to the video).

I believe our experience is our choice.  Of course, to quote Forrest Gump, “Sh.t happens”, but how we experience that happening is our choice.  We can choose how we react.

How do you generally react?

Are you positive or negative?

Are you a multiplier, increasing the positivity, or a Death Eater, sucking the energy from a room?

What do you choose to be going forward?

Most of us face limiting self-beliefs of one form or another.  Many may hold beliefs that would stop us having the confidence to be naked – literally and metaphorically.  Yet we are brighter than we realise, and can achieve more than we can dream of.  Face up to the naked truth of how great you are, and be free to realise it.

When The Path Is Unclear

This morning I was hiking in Coquetdale, in the Northumberland National Park.  Whilst we were hiking across open heather moorland, there was a footpath.  But you wouldn’t have known it at first glance.  For much of our route the heather had grown closed over the path – we couldn’t see our feet or the path. 

When the path is unclear, we rely on waymarks.

As we hiked, I noticed some lessons that have parallels in our business lives:

  • It doesn’t matter if the immediate path is unclear, as long as you can see a waymark ahead.  When we couldn’t see our feet or the path, we had to rely on two things:
    • The occasional white-topped posts bearing the footpath arrows to give us our bearings; and
    • Faith that the trail was solid below the heather, so that we could put our foot down below the heather, out of sight.

Often in business the immediate path before us is unclear, so we rely on targets or key events in our business calendar as waymarkers.  We can’t always see that the steps we take today will take us to the goal, but if we keep moving forward we do know we will get there

  • The road to the top is rarely straight.  We were climbing to a cairn high in a ridge, but the route curved and chinked, following ridges and avoiding burns (the boggy bits).  In business we set linear plans and then can find that life takes us through some chinks and turns before we get there.  Staff, customers, competitors and ourselves are all complex parts of a large ecosystem, and the result of their interactions rarely provides a straight route to the top.  And this is fine, provided we are following our waymarkers.
  • Look up occasionally.  It is easy to get so intent on placing our feet carefully, so focussed on the immediate and the near-term that we fail to check we’re still on track for our waymarker.  It pays to look up occasionally and make sure.  And of course, it pays to take in the view from time to time.  At work we need to take time out of our busy days or weeks to make sure our activity is still taking us where we want to go, and to monitor progress and celebrate successes.
  • Beware false trails.  With a gazillion sheep in Northumberland, it is easy to deviate from the footpath and find you are just following a sheep trail through the heather.  Or a clear line through the heather looks like the path, and turns out to be a stream or bog.  We need to be able to recognise what is really taking us to our goal, and which is either leading away, or will transpire to be uncomfortable or dangerous terrain.  What do false trails look like in your business?
  • You walk faster near a waymark.  As we passed each white-topped post (and there were many) I noticed how we seemed to be more motivated and faster-paced, whereas when the way was unclear between posts, or we couldn’t see the next post in the distance, our progress was slower and more uncertain.  In business we need to make sure we, and our teams, have sufficient clear waymarks, at appropriate frequencies, to maintain momentum.  This is why I am a fan of daily/weekly/monthly/quarterly goals and targets.  It builds momentum.
  • Take small steps if the path is unclear.  When the heather was covering the trail, we couldn’t stride out like we could on the grassland.  We couldn’t be sure of a safe footing, and sometimes the bearing was unclear.  So we took sensible, smaller steps that kept us moving toward our goal, but didn’t place us in danger.  When the path is unclear in your business, what small steps will keep you moving forward, without undue risk?
  • Some things are harder when you’re small.  I noticed that it was hard work wading through the heather for miles at a time – with your shins are being continuously whacked.  When I commented on this to Mrs B I received some direct feedback that it is even harder when the heather is whacking your thighs.  We may each face the same challenges at work, but their impact will vary depending on our skills and attributes.  As leaders, we need to be open to the challenges our team is actually facing, and help them deal with them on their terms, not ours.  We may not fear presenting in public, or analysing a page of numbers, but a colleague might.
  • Don’t patronise.  I can tell you now that in the interests of team cohesion and a positive working environment, it isn’t wise to patronise an intelligent, independent woman just because she is a foot shorter than you…
  • Don’t multi-task.  Either keep on hiking to maintain progress, or stop to take notes on your phone for a blog that has just occurred to you.  Don’t try the two at the same time.  That’s how you step in a boggy bit and end up with a boot covered in mud.  At least I hope it was mud, there were a lot of sheep on that hill…

We reached our first objective and were rewarded with stunning views for miles in all directions.  We then achieved the secondary goal, and were rewarded with a pint of quality bitter, brewed on-site in a village pub.  I hope you can find a way to keep moving forward when your path is unclear, and will enjoy similar rewards when you reach your objective.