Decision Making

[Podcast] How To Thrive As A Leader And Be Your Best Self – Olympics, 3 Questions, 4 Ideas, Crucibles, Buddhism

Toby, what was driving you back then?

I just knew I wanted to go to the Olympic Games. In reflection, I would say that I was trying to prove something to myself. I think that ultimately, I was trying to prove that I was enough.

It was great to be a guest on Jeff Bullas’ podcast recently.

Jeff is an online entrepreneur, influencer, author and speaker on all things digital. He has been featured on Forbes as a “Top 20 Influencer of Chief Marketing Officers” and ranked #1 Global “Digital Marketing Influencer”. His work has been featured in the New York Times, Entrepreneur, Inc., and Huffington Post. Having built a social media tribe of over 700k followers, he now advises startups on marketing and influencer strategy.

Jeff and I met back in my Bluewire Media marketing days and have become great friends, sharing highs and lows of our journeys both personally and professionally.

In this interview we cover a bit of ground:

  • The three questions that have guided my professional journey.
  • The rocky road to Athens Olympics and my physiological response to the stress and pressure.
  • The four business ideas that we assessed before starting Bluewire Media and our decision criteria.
  • The role of crucible situations in my development.
  • How death forced me to look in the mirror.
  • Why Jeff as a social media influencer has reduced his social media interactions.
  • The tweak in my understanding of a key Buddhism story that made me realise that acceptance is a never ending practice.
  • How an evidence-based triangle can help people work better with stress and pressure.

You can find Jeff all over the web:

Please enjoy!

“Who Am I?” (v15,493) – How To Regain Momentum In 3 Mins

If you’re anything like me, you might like to just get straight to the “how to” part.


So here it is.


I’ll explain the backstory afterwards.

Regaining Momentum

As an experiment, I’ve tried this exercise recently with people feeling stuck in different situations: intense negotiations, family troubles, stepping down from their business and assessing job opportunities.


They found it useful. I hope you do too.



Do What Matters Exercise [3 mins]

  1. Open up a new note on your phone.

  2. Title it Daily Practice.

  3. Write in a sub header: Do What Matters

  4. Then allow yourself only 30 seconds to write your responses to each of the 6 questions below in the note you just created.

[NB: I say 30 secs for 2 reasons – firstly to stop perfectionism taking over, secondly to get you up and running as quickly as possible. You don’t need perfect answers here. If you don’t know an answer just write something down. Something is infinitely better than nothing. In my experience, you’ll have a very good gut sense of what matters to you. You can always refine it later.]

Questions (copy these directly into your note)

  1. What are your values?

  2. Who is important to you?
    It can be specific people or groups of people. An important note: I find people often don’t include themselves. This is an exercise in self awareness. Without you, there are no other relationships. So please make sure your name is on the list.

  3. What is important to you?
    This can be broad or specific. They might be goals or more generalised concepts. Up to you.

  4. What is your purpose?
    If you don’t have one, take a guess.

  5. What would you willingly do for free?

  6. What energises you?

Then check this note ideally every day or, if not, then at least whenever you’re feeling stuck.

Add to it and edit it as you see fit. Then use it to guide your decisions and actions.


That’s it.


[If you choose to give this a crack, please let me know how you go in the comments or contact me directly.]



I’ve found that connecting to importance is a pathway to regaining a sense of momentum. Sometimes that’s all that’s needed. Other times acceptance and mindfulness are a required part of the process too.


Bringing some definition to who I am and then reconnecting with it helps me create an internal locus of control and helps me distinguish between my reaction to the situation (which I can’t control) and my response (which I can).

The Backstory

When I resigned recently, I was trying to decide what to do next. I had identified so strongly with my role in my business that when that was removed, I felt I’d lost a part of my identity. I felt stuck.


“Who am I?”
wasn’t a question I could easily answer.


When I did begin to think about it, there was a risk of my response becoming a philosophical swamp.


I opted for extreme utility instead.

Decoupling

I drew this sketch one day and it helped me to think about the situation.

Obviously, the circle in the middle represents who I am.


The radiating lines represent, at a macro level, the expression of who I am into the relationships I have in the world as a husband, father, friend, coach, founder, colleague and into various areas of my life – work, spirituality, health, fitness, social, leisure etc.


At a micro level, a line might represent the expression of who I am into very specific situations like a difficult conversation or my choice to do my work outs at home rather than going to a gym.


(I realised through COVID that the opportunity to train at home was in service of role modelling exercise for my daughters. This has been the single most important factor that has helped me stick to my strength and mobility program.)


Seeing things in this way allows me to decouple who I am from what I do.


It also allows me to choose how I engage in these various activities.

Definition

Once the decoupling became apparent, the next step was to bring some definition to answering “Who am I?”. (Some would say there is no “I”, but that’s for another conversation.)


There are a myriad of ways to do that and I’ve tried a bunch.


Values finders, strengths finders, psychometric profiling, vision building tools etc. I’ve always enjoyed these kinds of rabbit holes. Some reports really resonated. But more often, they have ended up buried as attachments in my email, never to be seen again.


The other challenge with these exercises is that they can take a long time. The time investment becomes a barrier to getting started and a barrier to putting the insights into practice. And to me, that’s where all the value is created.


So 8 weeks ago, rather than starting from a blank page, I opted to grab what I had – my values and a vision statement that I’d done in past exercises. I hadn’t created the Do What Matters exercise at that point.


I added them to a note to reflect on each day before I started work.

Editable

I found myself editing that note most days or simply highlighting parts that didn’t sit well or I felt needed updating. I also added some things like purpose and behavioural principles.


By having it editable, I’d stumbled across an empowering insight: I have the chance to change it every day if I choose; to make it more of who I am; to remove parts that no longer fit.

What my note currently looks like

This is different to how your note will have turned out. I didn’t have that exercise structure when I started this.

It absolutely captures the essence of my responses to those questions though. They’ve just been captured and rewritten in a different format.

Feel free to copy this too if you’d prefer to use this as a starting point. I’ll leave up to you.

Daily Practice

Version 15,493 [NB: I’ll explain this next]

Do What Matters

Purpose

  • To build a better world by helping people bring all of who they are to everything they do.

Values

  • Love ❤️
  • Gratitude 🙏
  • Humility 🌱
  • Exploration 🌌
  • Contribution 🌅

Vision

I earn respect by being deeply connected to my family, friends, work and life; by exploring ways to bring all of me to everything I do and helping others do the same.

People say that I am humble and a voracious learner; that I integrate all parts of life; that I’ve connected them with fascinating people and had a tonne of fun together.

I build trust by doing what matters; acknowledging when I’m wrong; listening and asking questions first; sharing my stories; living my strengths and walking my talk.

The highest standards I uphold are characterised by focus, patience, reflection and action.

My legacy will be that I loved deeply and was loved in return; that I impacted the lives of my family, friends and millions globally; that I made the world a better place; that I had an impact on the grand challenges of our time; that I contributed far more to humanity’s pool than I took away.

Behavioural Principles

  • Committed action I am all in. I bring all of me to everything I do. It’s hell yeah or not at all. Pressure, stress, fear, vulnerability are the price of entry.

  • Ideas are free, strategy + execution is everything. I pause and consider then execute fast to test and learn.

  • Do what matters I manage priorities not time. Importance is my compass, as is fear. Time is non-renewable.

Version 15,493

A few weeks after I’d resigned, a friend asked me: “How’s Toby 2.0 going?”.


It was the editability of the note that made me think that this wasn’t really version Toby 2.0.


How many versions had there actually been?


I realised that this note was an imperfect but workable definition of who I am today. And that there have been thousands of versions prior and hopefully many more to come.


I really like the idea of being an architect of who I am, so I found a calculator (link below) that would tell me how many days I’ve been alive.


Turns out it’s 15,493.


If versioning happens daily, and assuming I make it, then tomorrow I’ll be at version 15,494.


I realised that the work of being myself is never done, it doesn’t have to be perfect and I can always update it tomorrow as I reflect and learn.


Until death that is.


I find that liberating.



Associated Links

Calculator

Other posts about transition

How To Script Difficult Conversations – Getting Hyper-Tactical With Values.

I’m insanely busy. And I still have to do my work over and above our time together. So that means you need to give me something pretty special Toby.”

I was 5 minutes into a workshop. I’d asked: “What do you want to take away from our time together?”

This immediate challenge rattled me. But I had to respond.


“Thanks for being real with me. I’ll definitely use that to sharpen up how we work through this together.”


It was the best I could do at the time. I pushed my way through the slide deck.


I was pretty relieved to get out of there. And as I did, I could feel my frustration rising.


What the hell? Why wouldn’t they come more open minded about this? What kind of attitude is that?


It chewed me up over the weekend. I couldn’t let it go.


It took a few days to get distance, to regather my perspective.


The frustration remained, but I couldn’t fault their logic. They were right. Time is precious. It is non-renewable. Theirs and mine.


Now I really felt the pressure to deliver. How could I have any kind of impact at all? Let alone ever be invited back to do any further work?


The next workshop opening felt like a crux moment.


This was a group that I might have historically put on a pedestal. I knew this was going to be a difficult conversation for me.

What I said

5 days later, I opened the second workshop with mindfulness and then individual reflections around the group. I listened to them all.


“I have a few of my own reflections.”


I jumped in.


“I know that you all have an enormous amount on your plate. We spoke about a lot of externalities last week – covid, floods, conflicting priorities, conflicting stakeholders.


I’m really grateful that you were willing to be so real with me. That’s super important and I’d like you to continue to be.


I also realise that I can’t really help you with those things. I’ve never been in your roles. But I can empathise with how that might feel – I’ve had to work with pressure too.


The one thing I can definitely do though, is help you explore a different way of working with stress. I’ve used it for myself and I’ve helped others use it to navigate and deliver in high stakes situations.


It’s also really important to me that I make a contribution here. I’ve added up the time and it’s 76 daylight, non-renewable hours that we are all committing to our work together. Including me. That’s a lot. So I’d like your help.


What is it that you truly need to take away from this program?


What are the specifics so I can tailor the work accordingly and maximise the impact?”


The intensity in the room had dialled up. I could feel the tension.


The challenger spoke up.


“I need these two things and as quickly as possible…”


We agreed amongst the group that these would be the focus. The pace quickened, the tension lifted and we were away.


The only thing missing was the slide deck. It never came back out.

Why I said it

As the stoics say, the obstacle is the way (great book titled the same by Ryan Holiday on this).


The challenge on this occasion was a gift that allowed me to get to what truly mattered to this group.


Once what matters becomes clear, I’ve seen huge shifts in energy and focus in myself and in others. It certainly worked this time.

Here’s how I arrived at the specific script above.

Planning

Having five days between the workshops gave me a chance to respond rather than react. Another stoic lesson from Seneca: The greatest remedy for anger is delay.


I’ve been given advice recently from James Charlesworth, founder and CEO of MakerOps: Know your opening line. And know your agenda. By thinking at this tactical level, it forced me to get concise with my approach.

Writing I didn’t just think it through, I wrote it down. Writing forces clarity for me. The night after the workshop, I reflected and wrote down everything – good, bad, ugly. The day prior, I wrote my script and practiced it.


Values

I find my values most useful when I get hyper-tactical with them. The more specific the better, especially when a situation gets tough. I use them to plan my exact opening lines for challenging meetings, for key note presentations, for difficult conversations. In this instance it was the opening lines of the second workshop.


My values are: Love, Gratitude, Humility, Exploration and Contribution.


I used each of them to script a part of my reflection back to the group. Using them acted as the cues to prompt me as I spoke and as key words throughout. Here’s a deconstruction of the script by my values.

Love

[For me, Love in a work setting means recognising and acknowledging the suffering of others.] I know that you all have an enormous amount on your plate. We spoke about a lot of externalities last week – covid, floods, conflicting priorities, conflicting stakeholders.

Gratitude

I’m also really grateful that you were willing to be so real with me. That’s super important and I’d like you to continue to be.

Humility

I also realise that I can’t really help you with those things. I’ve never been in your roles. But I can empathise with how that might feel – I’ve had to work with pressure too.


Exploration

The one thing I can definitely do though, is help you explore a different way of working with stress. I’ve used it for myself and I’ve helped others use it to navigate and deliver in high stakes situations.


Contribution

It’s also really important to me that I make a contribution here. I’ve added up the time and it’s 76 daylight, non-renewable hours that we are all committing to our work together. Including me. That’s a lot. So I’d like your help.


What is it that you truly need to take away from this program?


What are the specifics so I can tailor the work accordingly and maximise the impact?”

 

Acceptance

I also knew I’d be nervous before this conversation. I had to practice acceptance and expect the nerves, the sweaty palms to show up. They did. I had to accept that all of this was the price of entry to this conversation and me making a contribution with this group.

Mindfulness

I open nearly every workshop with a very simple mindfulness activity. It’s a 4-7-8 breath: breath in for a 4 count, hold for a 7 count and out for an 8 count. Do that three times and come back to the room in your own time. (You could try it now if you like. It only takes a minute.) This was an easy one to include in the flow of this situation.


I’ve come to learn that I don’t need to lose my eyes and breathe though. Some people wriggle their toes in meetings and notice the sensations. Others mindfully take a sip of water. Another time, when my father was dying, a Zen Master Mary Jaksch told me that I would know I was present in conversations with him if I could tune into the sounds around me.


I see mindfulness as the scalpel between my reaction (which I can’t control) and my response (which I can choose).


In the end, this script and process worked for me. I recovered the situation and found consensus on the exact items that would make this time most valuable. I feel immensely grateful to the challenger. As uncomfortable as it was, we were all substantially better off.

 

Practice

I was taught early the value of difficult conversations. Growing up, my mum insisted on us having them. Often prefaced with “This might be an uncomfortable one, but I have to ask you…”, she continues to be one of the people who challenges me most directly.

The nuance I’ve added from this situation is that I now have a repeatable process to practice. By getting extremely specific with the application of my values, I know more precisely how I can step into difficult conversations. And with practice, hopefully it won’t take me 5 days to respond.

I’ll still inevitably “fail” in these conversations at times. For sure. But I also feel now that I’ll walk away from them at the very least having tried to be the person I want to be in the process.

And that matters to me.