An Imperfect Leader? Perfect.

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Follow a leader who walks with a limp, the man said.


Yes, a leader who walks with a limp has a respect for the trail and has to pace himself. He won’t rush on ahead of you. He has also discovered his own limitations and so will understand yours.  However he has recovered sufficiently to overcome them, and will help you do so too.

Good leaders are not those who have immaculate suits and a PR team.  They are those who know what it is like to have sleepless nights, financial pressure, physical pain, and rejection, and have emerged from these trials “better, not bitter.”

I wouldn’t want to follow a leader who is fearless, either. I want to follow people who are courageous. A person who is fearless cares nothing for  danger. A courageous leader knows how important it is to recognise danger, accept it and determinedly move beyond it.

No, give me an imperfect leader any day, one who has been humbled by the acceptance of his or her own limitations, and has set about dealing with them; a leader who has matured beyond the buccaneering, devil-may-care, immature attitudes evident in those who have not yet sufficiently hurt.

In January this year I had a motorbike accident that could have cost me my life, or at least a long spell in an orthopaedic hospital. The accident wasn’t my fault (the ‘other side’ admitted full responsibility) but I hurt a lot for many weeks, and still do. In a split second it matured my motorbiking experience, making me more aware of others’ limitations, not least of see me coming! So what have I

Crossing the Lysbotn Pass in Norway.
Crossing the Lysbotn Pass in Norway.

done in response to that accident? I’ve fitted daytime riding lights to give others a better chance of seeing me; I now ride maybe 5 mph slower to give them that bit of extra time and distance to adjust; and I generally avoid riding in twilight on unfamiliar roads. Yes, the excruciating pain I initially experienced and the subsequent permanent injuries have changed me. Sometimes, when my ankle is really sore, I even walk with a limp.

So when it comes to biking that might just be, well, …

… perfect?


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Imagine a fairly deep narrow dark cave with one entrance

You really want to LIVE in here?
You really want to LIVE in here?

and exit into the warm sunshine. Imagine yourself just inside the entrance to the cave. Imagine a lion or other threatening wild animal standing outside the entrance to the cave. It knows you’re there.

There were two of them.
There were two of them.

You have a choice: face the animal, or creep further back into the cave. What are you going to do?

Walk out.

Loads of people come to Powerchange with this dilemma. It is not, of course, a wild animal that threatens them but some other uncontrollable threat: losing their home to debtors, bullying at school, at work, or in the community, rejection by someone important to them. What threatens you?

In the face of real danger of this kind, the desire to retreat into the cave is huge. Yet the further you retreat, allowing your fear to dictate your behaviour by pretending it isn’t there or hoping it will go away, the less options you have, until eventually the terror gets you. At the back of the cave you have nowhere to go.

The courage you need becomes available to you with every step you make TOWARDS your foe. Facing the challenge brings freedom, “…and if you fail, at least you fail whilst daring greatly,” as Roosevelt said in his famous speech in 1899. With every step you make towards the light your field of view widens, more opportunities come into view, and your mind comes more fully alive. You’ll learn things you can learn no other way. (And you’ll also see future dangers before they get so close.)

Today I have been coaching three different clients, one was frightened his business will fail, another was frightened her marriage will fail, and the third was frightened she will fail to handle the not insignificant challenges at work. For all three the issue is fear, not the lion.

In the famous work, Pilgrim’s Progress, written by John Bunyan in 1678, his hero’s progress is challenged by two massive lions that bar his route. “Then he was afraid, and thought also himself to go back, for he thought nothing but death was before him.” As he is overwhelmed by the dread, into the scene comes a man who calls out “Fear not the lions, for they are chained, and are placed there for trial of faith, where it is, and for discovery of those that had none. Keep in the midst of the path, no hurt shall come unto thee.”

Maybe I’m that man for you today. “Keep in the midst of the path.” The rewards of victory go not to those who shrink back, but to those who step towards their fears, seeing them as an opportunity to live a better life, even though wounded. Trials strip away immaturity, highlight weaknesses so you can deal with them, strengthen your resolve, and toughen up your courage.

Like the traveller in Pilgrim’s Progress, keep to the centre of your path and prove that such lions are chained.

You won’t die.

But you will have stories worth telling your grand-children.

It’s a Pleasure

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I’ve been thinking a lot about ‘pleasure’ recently, how important it is, and how central and essential to the human experience. I suspect it is very close to the very reason we live.

The pleasure of friendship
The pleasure of friendship

And I want to include all pleasure in this description, as long as it is beneficial to everyone and there are no losers. (So we’ll exclude any thought of ‘damaging pleasure’ and the like, where one person gains pleasure from another’s misfortune, discomfort, or pain, or pleasure results in damage and hurt to others.)

The pleasure  of the artist creating her work, the pleasure of a home-maker entertaining guests, the pleasure of a company director running his business well, and the pleasure of a surgeon relieving injury or illness.  The pleasure of a teenager with her first driving experience, the pleasure of a little child constructing a car from a cardboard box, the pleasure of helping a friend (or an enemy), the pleasure of love in all it’s guises, the pleasure of listening to a stunning performance of orchestral music, the pleasure of the first croaky, squeaky noises I made that day on a clarinet in a music shop in Crawley. The pleasure from using my iMac computer here in front of me. The pleasure of walking away from it. The pleasure of a sweet night’s sleep, and the pleasure of a dawn departure. The shape of my little grand-daughter’s nose. The pleasure I derive from watching over her quieted body as she lies asleep.

I love it when my children experience pleasure, especially in the ‘small stuff’, an item of clothing that fits ‘just right’ and feels so good to wear. The five minute telephone conversation yesterday when daughter Lizza and I had so much fun playfully ‘sparring’ with each other. The pleasure of meeting my son Jonna with a drink half way through a 10k run. The pleasure of watching Ben as he is learning to be a good dad.

And I want everyone who works with me as a coach to experience pleasure.  I want everyone who buys our products and services here at Powerchange, our personal development company, to experience pleasure.  I want to be a continual and overflowing abundant source of all the best kinds of pleasure. Will you join me?  Then we’ll both be able to say…

“It’s a pleasure.”

Terror at Two (and a half) and a Miracle at Fifty-Something.

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I worked with a client recently (we’ll call her Janny) who, at the age of two and a half was rushed into hospital with peritonitis. Her life was saved (obviously) but the trauma she experienced at that tender age has powerfully formed her whole life:

A little child in hospital in the 50s.
A little child in hospital in the 50s.
  • She has lived with a ‘gut-level’ fear, pretty much every day since then – that’s five decades.
  • She has felt a way-out-of-perspective sense of responsibility for other people’s well-being since then
  • She has felt the need to control her world since then

So WHAT is all that about?

A little girl (particularly a bright one as she is) has learned a lot about life by two and a half. However she has not learned about the life-threatening potential of peritonitis or how to handle being separated from a secure home.  She was literally taken from her parents, put in an ambulance and rushed to hospital, where a houseman took one look at her and pulled a ‘shocked’ face – which at her young age she interpreted as fear. (It probably was!) Little children are brilliant at picking up the cues from adults and taking them on board. She certainly did. Janny has been very frightened for 50 years.

In the bed next to hers she could see another little girl “hanging from the ceiling” was how she described it to me, but of course we rationalised it as ‘on traction’ as we talked.  Janny at 30 months, didn’t know what traction was, or that hospitals are there to help, or that the little girl like her in the next bed WOULD soon go home. All she figured out was her limbs were ‘hanging from the ceiling’ and she was hurting. Janny was overwhelmingly worried about her, and powerless to help.  (Empathy at her age?  You bet.) From then on Janny has found it incredibly difficult to live with the thought of anyone being in pain, and spent her life trying to relieve it in others – at huge personal cost.

She didn't know.
She didn't know.

And no one explained to her that that her mummy and daddy would eventually be allowed in to see her and she would eventually go home, nor that the little girl in the next bed would too. Five weeks separated in the stark clinical environment of a 1950s hospital with starched white nurses and clinical procedures is ‘for ever’ for a little girl.  You can imagine what that kind of separation must feel like. Or perhaps you can’t unless you’ve experienced it.   I haven’t.

When she was better and allowed to leave hospital, she was physically recovered and emotionally scarred, potentially for life.  Until this week, when we sat together in a restaurant and in an hour or so added in the essential ingredients that turned that experience from poison to profit.

Just for the record, I used various Powerchange personal coaching tools that you can pick up and use for ever from our GOLD Coach Training programme once you’ve been trained. They work seamlessly with clients, but you need to learn how they work and how to use them:

  • Personal Revaluation Process to increase her self-worth so she felt strong when working with me
  • Psychological Anaesthetic so she would be able to recall the incident freely and without it hurting again
  • Memory Reformatting to convert the experience from a debilitating trauma into a hugely powerful asset that will empower her way into the future so that she could get her life back on course again.

I didn’t use the Pre-Retroflection tool as I didn’t have time, but you could always ask me about it!

The great thing is you can work what used to be called a miracle with Auto Response Psychology. These days I believe in miracles more that I ever have. We see them so often on our Powerchange training courses and in our coaching, but tend to call them ‘interventions’ or a ‘rewire’ or something else.

Frankly, I suspect Janny will be perfectly happy to call it a ‘miracle’ when she wakes up each morning.

Poverty Knocks

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There is an age-old question: What do you do when people come to you for help, in tough circumstances, you have what they need but they are unable to pay for it? Nothing comes free, so do you pay for it ‘out of your children’s inheritance’ as they would say on Dragon’s Den, or do you keep your focus on creating wealth for the longer term and walk past the metaphorical beggar in the street? Time on the phone with a needy person is literally time away from your family. That is also an aspect of the ‘children’s inheritance’.

What is poverty?
What is poverty?

My answer is, do what you like, but first understand that both courses of action (and every variation in between) produce consequences for you, for them, for us all. No man is an island, but a part of the main, to quote John Donne.  so here are some thoughts:

I spent many years of my life working for a charity, and I have never worked with such demanding people. Apart from anything else, it is amazing how the compassion industry, and each emotionally demanding individual, has mastered the techniques needed to extract cash, time, energy, and love for nothing in return – except, arguably, a freedom from induced guilt. Do I want to encourage this ‘something for nothing’ culture, paid for by people who work very hard to get what they have? I’ve personally been on both ends of this spectrum, by the way.  (I know what it is to be on Benefits whilst trying to put bread on the table for my three teenage children to eat. I know what it feels like to not be able to pay the bills.  I’ll readily admit I don’t know what it is like to live without food clothes or water whilst being shot at in Somalia.)

Poverty in Mumbay
Poverty in Mumbai

It is a real delight to have lots of compassionate and caring people in Powerchange, our company. They are people who have heart, and many of them know first hand what it is to have very little.  They chose to invest in coming to our GOLD Training or get personal development coaching so they can think differently – and get more rewarding results for themselves. (In the case of one recently retired lady, she decided to invest the last pounds of a small and dwindling cache of retirement capital into this course of action. We made it especially worth it for her.) At what point do they say ‘no’ to paying for others (with the cash, time and energy they have personally invested in their training and development) to be coached by them?

There is a parable in the Bible called “The Wise and Foolish Virgins” who turned up at an event wanting to get in, but who didn’t bring with them the equivalent of the car parking money, and tried to borrow it off those who had it. They said ‘no’.  By the time they returned with the money (it was actually oil for their lamps) the event doors were closed.  They were called ‘foolish’ and there was little sympathy for them. The guy telling the story also said “You’ll always have the poor with you”.

A tailor working just down the road
A tailor working just down the road

So here is some advice for you to take or leave. Take a long, hard look at what your policy is on giving away your life time, and make sure you are absolutely happy about what you are about to do. Then do it with a full and willing heart, knowing that it is a clear positive choice for you.

It was an emergency worker who reminded me one day that the most important people at an accident are not the victims but the emergency crews.  If they forget that and put themselves at risk, there is no one else left to help.  That is why a life-saver will keep away from a drowning person until they stop struggling and are ready to do what they are told. (There is also the old adage about giving a person fish or teaching a person to fish, too of course. What happens when you’ve taught them perfectly well how to fish, but they don’t want to do it?)

My choice is to be generous within the concept of win/win/win – and to provide a little to start with, seeing what that person does with it. I ask “Are there clearly definable multiple ‘wins’ coming from this for everyone involved?”  If it makes a clear difference to their situation and is not ignored or wasted, I may give some more.  If it is not responded to in action (words in this context are cheap) then I stop. ‘My children’s inheritance’ needs to be invested with an evident return on that investment.  Unless there are all round multiple benefits, I’m not very likely to donate it, or donate much, however clever or pleading the person, or however ‘noble’ the cause.

I’ll leave that opportunity to my children.


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I love the power of affirmation.  Regardless of whether a person is doing the ‘right’ thing or not, it is possible to affirm them without agreeing with their actions.

In a world beset with uncertainty and insecurity, affirmation transforms the day, the week, the month… a lifetime.  Without a shadow of doubt, I need it, and when we’re facing uncertainties or are under pressure, most of us do. The readiness to affirm others is a mark of leadership and very motivating.

Gladys Aylwood
Gladys Aylwood

Affirmation is powerful.  It draws us onward and upward.  It helps us make decisions, makes us feel safe.  It reassures, calms, and re-centres our thinking.  And it is independent of age. Both the older and younger generations on either side of us can do with some.

And you do not even need to know a person to provide affirmation.  Here is some for you. Ready?

The truth is, regardless of the things you’ve done wrong or badly, there are so many things you’ve done right – and incidentally ‘right’ doesn’t mean perfect.  It is easy to lose sight of those ‘right’ things, but in the quieter moments of your life you KNOW it is true.

Yet the good thing about you as a human being goes beyond what you do or don’t do, and how well you’ve done it. The good thing about you is that you are actually here on this earth.  Your presence here matters.  The choices you make matter too, and both of us know that, deep inside, you want those choices to be the best.  Of course most of us can look back and see choices that were not that brilliant, but that isn’t the point.  You wanted them to be, and that longing deserves to be honoured and affirmed.  That way you’ll learn from the past and build a better future – as we both know you want to.

Interestingly, even when you’ve behaved badly – perhaps wanting revenge, struggling with bad thoughts when people have mistreated you or have not understood your intentions – even those things were an attempt (however inadequate or misguided) to protect yourself from damage, redress injustice, and restore a better balance of power. Good motives.

And while we are on the subject, a quick final word. Affirmation isn’t ‘psyching yourself up’ or conning yourself. Affirmation takes a fuller look at what exists in your life that is good and admirable, and focuses on those good and praiseworthy things.

Gladys Aylwood was born in the early years of the 20th Century and went out to China to spend her life looking after needy children. She rescued hundreds from the ravages of the Second World War, including walking the children across the mountains to freedom as they fled the Japanese invasion of their town (Sound of Music eat your heart out!) Gladys worked with long-term prisoners too, violent men who could easily have injured the ‘Small Woman’ as she was known because of her diminutive stature, and she was once called to the prison to quell an out of control riot!  The prison governor said of her “If there are 99 bad things about a prisoner and one good thing, Gladys will find it.”  The prisoners knew that too. She was on the hunt for things to affirm.

And found them.

Caring too much?

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Heart specialist: Well, sir, your stressed condition is caused by an over-active sense of responsibility.

Patient:  You mean I care too much?

Heart specialist: Precisely.

So what is the antidote to the person who  worries too much and is fearful for the sensibilities of others? What about the person who interprets worrying as being loving and caring, or experiences high levels of ‘natural concern’. “I’m concerned, naturally.”

For most of the people around me, the problems come not when they care but when they allow that caring to be detrimentally invasive. Parents, teachers, the State, all have a vested interest in caring, and the very caring starts to damage the people they care about. Caring can become imprisonment  – literally. How many people do you know who are in a caring claustrophobic family or work environment from which they are desperate to escape?Max on Apathy

We see this in the environment, with people driving their large 4×4 vehicles three miles to drop off half a dozen bottles at the bottle bank ‘because they care’. Someone called this “straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel”. We see this in overprotective parents cushioning their children from the harder realities of life ‘because they care’ and wondering why they never seemed to grow up. We see this in health, with people becoming ill as a result of obsessions with cleanliness ‘because they care’ – they have been unable to build up the very antibodies to disease they need to protect them, or worse, their family hasn’t. Yes, it is possible to care too much – and steal responsibility away from the person you are trying to protect.

And then there is the tyranny of ‘What Will People Think?” Of course in a world community of trading, we need to be sensitive to image, the results of our behaviour, and how we come across, but there is only a fine line between that and being controlled by those other opinions. Actually, we would be a lot less concerned about what people think of us if only we realised how little they do. And even when they do feel strongly about something we’ve said or done, maybe we need to  give them the time and opportunity to get over their offendedness by us ignoring it. When did you last hear someone stand up and say that if people are offended, that is their problem?  No, there are those in our world who use being offended as a first choice weapon, a lever to control. Or worse still we say someone else would have been offended, in our humble opinion, without knowing if they actually were or giving them the opportunity to say so for themselves. So much for free speech – and personal responsibility! (It happened to me recently, and when I checked it out the person said, “You were joking Andrew!  I’ve got much more important things to be concerned about than silly things like that!”)

Please be reassured, I am not advocating deliberately hurting people – though the medical professions do it all the time in their attempt to relieve pain (another blog title there, I think?) – but I am advocating identifying what you are responsible for – and what you’re not. No need to be the Jolly Miller on the River Dee who “cared for nobody, no not I” but rather to have clear personal boundaries.  And me…?

Well, yes, you’re right. I spent a lot of time in the first half of my life bowing to bullies as they tried and often succeeded to control me, whether that was in the playground as a child or in other contexts as an adult where bullying is much more subtle – and can even be wrapped up in the excusable guise of ‘caring for me’.  All too often the I’m-only-saying-this-because-I-love-you, or the this-is-for-your-own-good line is a way of handling our own frustration, disappointment, anger, embarrassment, hurt or fear, as well as sometimes being an unconscious attempt to control. And yes, it has taken me a while to realise that whilst I am of course responsible for what I do and say, you are absolutely responsible for what you do with what I do and say.

So who do you care too much for? Who is being actively damaged because you don’t know when to stop caring? It reminds me of a comment from one of my children when I was going on about something that I had allowed myself to be offended by:

Son: Dad, do you have 20p?

Me: Yes, of course I do.

Son: Phone somebody who cares.

He had it right.

The Poet

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I thought he was great. (He thought he was small)

His damaged self-image no longer stood tall

The little old poet lived his life in a dream

His scratchings expressed a monotonous theme.

Few people would read the hard-written lines,

The handful who did saw the pitiful signs

Of a poet obsessed with declaring his pain –

The shrewd and the clever marked the writer insane.

Compelled from within to blurt out what he found

In the depths of his mind (now regarded unsound),

He suspected his writings were close to the norm

for a largish percentage of those who are born.

It was many years on I discovered his script.

The most powerful pages were tear-stained and ripped,

Discarded, unwanted, rejected, unread;

For all these decades they’d been silent and dead.

As the reader moved slowly from one line to the next,

Freeing his spirit to dwell on the text,

He perceived, not the agony, aching, and strife,

But the heart of a poet exploding with life.

The depth of emotion so much like his own

Reached into the reader as he sat alone,

Established communion with the battling bard

Who’s path to my door had been hauntingly hard.

Oh you who are reading my writings today,

Are tempted to try them and throw them away,

Remember there’s more in the gaps in-between

Than ever there is where my pencil has been.

Examples of Dadhood

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You must have read Robert Kiyosaki’s book ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad’.  It is a world best-seller and an excellent read. I had two dads too. My two dads each gave me a different perspective on life, both highly valued.

Philip Sercombe was my natural Dad. Independent, ferociously hard-working, humble, highly sensitive, exceedingly generous, intensely proud of having been a Royal Marine, and a devoted Christian determined to live out his faith, my real Dad left home mid-teens to get away from a repressively Victorian, legalistic home and make his own way in life. His best ever decision was to marry my mother Betty (an exceptionally saintly, though thoroughly down-to-earth woman, now 90) and together they reared us four kids through the tough days of post-war Britain. Dad was great. He died a few years ago at the ripe old age of 88 and there were 200 mourners at his funeral – which says something.

But Dad wasn’t perfect, nor the only ‘Dad’ I had. This week I visited the grave of Campbell McAlpine who was born a year before my real father and died last January. Campbell was my mentor and friend for 35 years and was most of the things I needed that Dad was unable to be. Campbell wasn’t perfect either, but understood me in a way Dad couldn’t.  He was a guiding light through good times and bad, and one of the most secure people I’ve ever met. I needed that.

The family together for a summer supper last year.
The family together for a summer supper last year.

I have three amazing children, a daughter and two sons. Both the sons, Ben and Jonna are expecting to be dads in the next month, and I’m feeling a little insecure as to what I may have shown them about dadhood.  We’ll see.

And that’s the point. What have I shown them? Regardless of what I might come up with now, it is the dadhood of the last 30 years that counts the most. I’m quietly reliving the years when they were small, the things we did and didn’t do through their teenage years, my dadhood whilst they were going through university, and their business careers, the lot. Thankfully there are few regrets – and they themselves are very reassuring as they talk about their upbringing.

The philanthropist Albert Schweitzer once said, “Example is not the best way to influence people. It is the only way.” Whether I’m being a dad, coaching dads in Powerchange, or thinking about the sort of dad I want to be in the future, I know it is what I show in my life that has the most influence. As Eliza Dolittle said, “Words, words, words – I’m sick of words.  Show me!”

Example – its the only way; especially when it comes to being a dad.

“Kind to Self”

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I love the refreshment of tumbling water.
I love the refreshment of tumbling water.

If there was one thing we are truly short of in this world, it is people being kind, and not least, kind to themselves. “Kind to Self” is an essential ingredient to healthy living – and in case there are one or two who think “Selfish!”, that is not what I mean. Being selfish in that negative sense is a result of trying to compensate for an absence of true kindness.

When you know kindness, you do not need selfishness. Kindness is the perfect antidote.  Kindness brings strength and authority to your life. It is not the same as pampering. A kind parent isn’t one who lets a child run rampant and buys whatever they demand, but rather gives that child security, and provides flexible boundaries sufficient to explore risk and still enjoy a sense of conditional safety. “Kind to Self” means taking responsibility for your own happiness and not hoping everyone else in the world might make you happy. “Kind to Self” results in inner freedom.

When it comes to being (or is it ‘doing’?) “Kind to Self”, I plan to be the expert and I’m keen to learn how to do it better. When the container that is my life is filled and overflowing with kindness, the people around me are going to well-and-truly benefit from that overflow.

That’s the reason I’m off on my motorbike in a minute. I need a short break from the delights of Powerchange to be alone with my thoughts for a morning. (Roy will get a break from me too!) In my case “Kind to Self” is to honour the need I know I have to recharge. I’ll give myself some individual attention, some positive solitude and come back refreshed.

See you later!