Being a part of it all…

mellowtwoLast week I was really fortunate to join with colleagues for a Diversity and Power training day in Hoxton. It was great to see Jem Peel again and finally meet Eden Charles, someone I’d heard a fair bit about over the years. They facilitated what was a fascinating and powerful learning experience for me, and I really valued it, in three particular ways it seems:

Firstly, the subject matter we were exploring was really stimulating, primarily because we explored it using ourselves, and our community. We discussed our anxieties and fears, practice and awareness around diversity and power, and I found it fascinating. There was much I was aware of and focus on in practice and points of view and perspectives that made me stop and think “wow I never think of that, or like that”. Illuminating, surprising and rich. The exploration also asked us to consider and share our experience of ourselves, our diversity and difference and that was really powerful, valuable and, at times, uncomfortable.

Secondly, the session really helped me get a greater sense of the impact of what goes on outside the training room, on what goes on in it. We all came to the session as colleagues, yet from different aspects of the organisation we work for and support. Different relationships among those gathered, shared histories and first time meetings were all present and for me, my experience was greatly shaped by my context, with those who were there, and important figures who were not.

What that makes me think is we must attend, I must attend, to how much my momentary experience is impacted by history, relationships and narratives, and that these, once acknowledged can allow for a richer and deeper exploration. Perhaps of those elements, or perhaps, in setting them aside, of the ‘reality’ that we are participating in and crating amongst us. Or perhaps both.

And thirdly, the session acutely reminded me of what it feels like to be a participant. A human, seeking to develop; uncomfortable, anxious and with mixed feelings of confidence, fear and uncertainty. As developers we often say ‘discomfort is good – that’s where the magic happens’ and I found it important to be reminded of that feeling and sensation. It was not always pleasant, I needed some time to process, reflect and renew and now, a week on, I find that meaningfully helpful. Though it hasn’t been the most comfortable and enjoyable week, it is been one I value hugely.

So thank you to all those who were there, thanks to all who seek to develop themselves and others, and have great weekends one and all!

Being the change, together we can.


It’s a stunningly beautiful, warm and lovely late September’s day here and mid-morning, rather than keeping going with the work, and consequently raising my stress levels some more, I decided to stay true to my commitment to my newly forty year old self and get out on the bike!

I’m so glad I did; rest, exercise, reflection and some beautiful scenery are all deeply welcome.

I came to thinking about the B Corp movement and the launch event we at Twelve Winds Consulting attended last week and I managed to think through and make sense of some of my feelings about the movement and why it is so important for me to be a part of it. You see making the world a better place through our practice as business professionals is hugely, hugely important to me and…

I can’t do it… alone.

Of course meaningful change requires great numbers of us and the power of the growing movement for social change, however, that’s not what I was thinking on as I rode through the Sussex downs (dodging dragon flies and so on..).

Left my own devices I fail to meet the standards I wish to achieve, my scepticism about these kinds of movements I realise comes from within, I am sceptical about myself. Without the help and support of others; friends, family, partners, colleagues, communities I can often forget, miss and fail to live up to the standards of professional and ethical practice which I hold dear and which I have learnt are deeply important for me to keep working towards attaining.

It’s ironic because sometimes it seems so simple. Yes, working for the good of many, setting aside self-interest and living as part of communities makes me feel great, usually. However, fear, mistrust, doubt and the like, are all parts of my experience as a human being. It is when I am finding it hard to maintain standards and be the best I can be, that being part of a community that upholds them, requires them and holds its members to account is vital. Also when I can be that support for others, my life and work is textured with the meaning and purpose that I cannot live without.

In my first business venture I learnt a lot about how power and reward can be overly centralised and what this can mean in the short term and long term in terms of stress and personal disappointment. I also learnt how rich and positive a community of practice and learning can be and feel eternally proud for my role in creating that.

However, the lack of strong governance, the centralisation of power and executive decision making was definitely lacking and with the benefit of hindsight, a loss to all involved in the venture. What I am hugely grateful for now in my life, personal and professional, is the support, challenge and help that others give me, and that I can give to others, in being part of communities committed to being better together. #bethechange is the call, let’s rise, together and meet it.

Failure, learning and plumbing!

If there’s one place that I’ve managed to fail, repeatedly, over the last decade it is in the realm of home handiwork. Most specifically plumbing! In fact I’ve knocked out the home heating and hot water system at least three times over the past ten years, the first notably with two very young children in the house, in the dead of winter. My wife had packed and was moving to her Mum’s with the kids when…

I got the system back on!!!Gate Valve

And this has happened a number of times. Recently, during the holidays I decided to finally change the kitchen taps. It was not really something that could be put off any longer; we were having to bring buckets of hot and cold water to the kitchen from around the house. Yup, the job had to be done.

Prior to this, whilst on holiday, I had had a niggling feeling that I didn’t know how to turn the hot water off. Well I found out, though when I got under the kitchen sink it seemed I’d not got the water fully off. So I went back to the airing cupboard and tightened everything some more, then I went out to the stop cock for the cold and did the same. And changed the tap, with much straining and discomfort and, I thought, eventual success.

I was delighted, excited, and ready to turn everything on and rejoice!

However, ten minutes later I felt dreadful, panicked, so gutted… the hot water hadn’t come back on. You see, I think it was the cold that was still leaking through in the first place, and my overzealous tightening had broken something, somehow. My grand triumph was a disaster!

However, this has happened before. I’ve learnt, I think, that even in the despair of failure there is hope and that must be held on to. The other thing I need to do in the depths of my failing is to stop, think in fact, talk things through and not plough on regardless and desperate. This can only, and has often, made things worse.

The problem with failure is it is so very personal. For me the feeling of failure is dreadful and in plumbing my deepest insecurities and inadequacies are sharply revealed. Not because they are particularly extreme or unusual however, for me that is where it gets really tough. I think we all ‘fail’ in different ways. Failure needs to be recognised as an emotional, personal, experience, as well as the fact of not accomplishing something.

This time around I talked it through with my brother in law (who is a plumber), made some sense of what had gone wrong and, rather than wait for him to replace the broken gate valve at the weekend; I bought a new valve, drained the tank the next morning, replaced the valve, turned everything back on and felt brilliant as it all worked fine! OK there is a drip under the sink however, that’s the next project! Cue knockout number four!

Every time the heating and hot water has been knocked out I have managed, with help, exploration and discussion to get things working again and every time, there has been a period where I have felt pretty useless. And every time I’ve learnt loads and ultimately gained in confidence. Ironically the confidence that lets me go on to make more complex mistakes in the future!

In the first instance, that cold cold winter evening, the experience led me up into the loft where I began understanding the way the unseen elements of the system work. Consequently, the failing led to experimentation and finally finding ways to unblock and get things moving through the system again. Most recently I have achieved even more awareness of the whole and am starting to learn how to manipulate, mend and even develop the system.

At every stage help has been sought, thinking, intuition and experimentation have been applied, and useful stuff has been learnt.

Failing takes us beyond what we already know and are aware of, and is the best teacher there is. The problem is, is that for all of us, in different ways, it is sometimes really not a very nice experience. And there are ways to mitigate that, self-knowledge, help from others, acknowledging and sharing emotional distress and trying to be kind to myself all help me get through the tough times of failure and into learning from, and through, failure…

The numbers! and learning… I think!

OrangeFish“Toby’s hoping we don’t pick the financials!”
Was a fun, friendly and not entirely inaccurate comment made at last week’s entrepreneurial network formation meeting. We’d shared our ‘origins, influences and what’s important to us now’ stories and as always I’d talked about Regency College.

As I mentioned before when writing about failure; it isn’t until the pain of the experience (according to the literature) fades that we can really begin to learn from failing. I’m finding this to be very true. For example I found myself telling the Regency story with much greater clarity on what we, and I, did really really well, and what could have done with some development… “not so good at the numbers”!

(Though having half your business wiped out overnight by a change in legislation might challenge the very best financial management)

Hence the playful comment, though I suspect people probably pick up that I’m not quite the bookeeping type (a role of mine at Regency even when turning over 1.5 million?!?) pretty quick. Not that I don’t love numbers and related sciences rather, when, as I did early this week, I spend a lot of time with them, my head starts to hurt, I lose concentration and my mind wanders…

I also really do, well certainly did, prefer the spending element of thigs… Something a business needs to keep in check!

Again, reflecting on the legislation change I had to sneak in above, Seamus, Helen and I saw the wave a long way off, we created an appropriate strategy to cope with it and… failed to implement it well enough. Would dealing with these things have made a difference? We’ll never know, though I’m certain they would have, though what difference who knows and so on…

…and it isn’t regret that’s talking here, I am delighted to be doing what I’m doing now, in fact exactly what I wanted to do and had the vision of doing when I left Regency College…

No it’s not regret talking, it is, in fact, learning. There’s so much to learn from our experiences, good ones and really tough ones and maybe the tough ones are even richer than the good.

Certainly above there’s some really interestng stuff on having a comprehensive and broad approach to business management and development, and then something on implementation – vision and strategy are great and then…


Useful stuff (and just a scratch on the surface). Both for me and I hope for others. Have a great day :-)

Entrepreneurship, leadership and choice…

Toby LindsayWhat is entrepreneurship and the entrepreneur?

Is it an achievement or a way of living? Is leaving, closing and moving on from a successful venture to start something new simply an example of entrepreneurship? Individual failure therefore should be taken in the context of the bigger picture or the potential future opportunities that open up. Also is calling time a good strategic choice, even if administration then follows? What can we know about what might have happened?

Entrepreneurial leadership, like all leadership calls for uncertain decisions made in the face of unknowable cost and risk, with there being no possible recourse to testing out the future to see how it will go.

Therefore entrepreneurs and all leaders must make strategic decisions as a venture into the unknown and do this in the best possible way they can, knowing that their actions can never be perfect or without consequence…

Authentic Leadership or Leading Authorship?

Toby Lindsay Leading AuthorshipThe other week I was really bowled over by the cartoons of Dr Nina Burrowes which I found through twitter. I particularly liked this on authenticity as it really got me thinking about authenticity as authorship. Thinking that a really significant factor of “being yourself”, being that there is no “fixed and permanent self”.

Well that’s something to debate I’m sure, however, if we do believe in the potential of humanity, the possibility of change, development and learning then we must, surely, accept that we are living creations that change through time, continuously.

How much of that we control ourselves, how much emerges from the huge range of interactions and relationships we have and how much the notion of individual and group is real or illusory, is something I’m really interested in and…. don’t want to get into here. What I do believe is that we have some control and ability to influence who we become and that that…

…is a big deal.

Later that week I had coffee with a friend and really cool guy who I met as I was just starting to make sense of the ending of Regency College. He’s seen success and failure and has some great stories to tell. He’s also pretty much stopped doing paid work and is pushing hard to change and challenge things in education. As I said a pretty cool guy.

Anyway he had been asked over to France to talk to some senior executives about leadership. And he told about me about how the talk went. “Well the first thing I said was there is no such thing as leadership”, leading to concerned looks on the faces of his audience…

He then went on to say how he talked about the activity of “leading”, that people who had power could be leading or could be controlling, could be delegating and allowing greater responsibility to be taken on, or could be closing things down and taking peoples power away from them, not in his view “leading”.

I’ve probably not done his words justice however, I was very struck that he was challenging the gathered leaders to consider themselves as actors who needed to focus on every single thing they were doing, in the moment, as opposed to some grand theories of “leadership”.

Later on those two ideas mentioned above kinda came together a bit in my head and I was thinking about how much we talk about “authentic leadership” and wondered if the above two ideas; authenticity as authorship and leading as creating power of action in others might combine to develop the idea of “authentic leadership”?

Could we then understand “authentic leadership” to mean something like “leading that allows others to have more ability and power to author their own individual and group realities”

i.e. Leading Authorship?

Graduation and personal power!

Toby Lindsay GraduationJust arrived in Canterbury and marched up the hill to my office at the University of Kent. I’m nicely energised though it is warmer than I’d expected!

No time for a shower as I’m off to join in some of the graduation fun….


This is a great privilege and pleasure. Canterbury is thronged with proud and lovely looking people of all ages and nationality. It’s a big deal and great to get involved with.

I’m reminded of my own graduation four years ago. A wonderful affair, not least because many were there, including me, who at one time or another on the programme didn’t look like they’d make it. Some weren’t, including Annie who died while we were on the program and our set advisor dedicated the journey to her in his moving and powerful after dinner speech (plenty of tears there)!

For me it had been a week of costume drama. The graduation with the ever so impressive congregational march was on the Wednesday and on the Monday I’d been in the High Court as Regency College took on the Secretary of State for the home office. That was a moving and powerful day too, we won, on the day I’d say (the long term cost made it somewhat pyrrhic in the end), and the most moving and powerful thing for me was hearing Mr Justice King say:

“She does not have the right, she has the power, it is not the same thing”

in response to counsel for the Secretary of States assertion that what had been done was within her rights.

Much that day I enjoyed; the session unfolding in our favour, the extraordinary experience of being in Court, calling in the results to relived, jubilant and anxious colleagues however, that one statement was the one I quote again and again and was what caused me to shed a tear or two on the day.

Why is that?

I think it is important and so very useful to recognise and inquire into that which causes deeply emotional responses in ourselves. My understanding now is that I feel very strongly about rights and power particularly the abuse or use of power without the careful consideration and balancing of human rights. So many issues in the world today that I am deeply concerned about I can relate to through seeing people assert their power without the careful balancing of the rights of all those who are involved.

Yet abusing power is not something that happens “out there”… I grassed my daughter up the other day for eating a Curly Wurly in a “not a very good Dad whatsoever moment”! That betrayal, under pressure, in the heat of the moment has been forgiven, thankfully, however, it was a moment where my emotional need and, to be honest, anger got the better of my commitment to use my power well.

The same day, whilst watching my daughter play in the park and my son play football I made a phone call to someone who really appreciated it. I didn’t need to; I could have left a situation to work its self out, not exercised my power and abdicated…. That situation is one where I honestly felt I made a positive difference and I’m pleased about that.

Using our power well is something that we all have the opportunity to do more of and better, equally so with using our power badly. For me, recognising that something I care about so deeply is something that I, on a daily basis, am challenged by is really important and useful.

It doesn’t help me climb the mountain but it does tell me that it is there for climbing, should I so choose.


University life

Dolphins“Universities, man - you can’t get nothing done, the ultimate go slow!”

Well I work in a university, some of the time, and  yup I can relate to this but, and it is a big but, there is a lot to be said for an atmosphere where you are not always being watched over to make sure you are going as damn fast as you can!

At the Centre for Employment Competetiveness and Growth when we make a cup of tea, we make it together and… Sit down… Drink tea, Talk.

For about fifteen minutes.

This usually happens at least twice  a day. And I go back to the stack, of work, and I feel refreshed, energised and interested. It’s good.

It has got a lot to do with my colleagues, who are awesome, and this type of group behaviour is definitely so; something I’ve experienced more in universities than anywhere else. And I have had a few jobs… When lunchtime comes around we all, sit, eat, and talk.

It’s pretty special.

And yes, there are other things that make me feel like I am banging my head against a brick wall! I guess there are ups and downs wherever you are, just let’s make sure we appreciate the ups!

Today however, Dr Simon is in Canada presenting to the great and good and Dr Mark is in Liverppol, Kazme and Harri don’t seem to be around either, so I guess I’ll just sip this green tea on my own and reflect a bit. So please, if you have colleagues with whom you can sit down, have a cuppa and just be with for a bit…


Failiure, it works!

Jellyfish beautifulFailure is fine right, we all fail and failure is a great opportunity to learn yes?!?

Well yes….


Learning from failure means we have to feel…


At least a little bit and maybe a whole lot more. Not sorry for ourselves, not shameful, not full of self-pity. Just that sort of general bad, crappy and sad feeling.

Why? Because failing is not reaching the mark, doing less than we had hoped, knowing better was possible… It is a great opportunity to learn BUT I think a lot of people use “learning” as an excuse to box up the hurt of failure and move on without learning anything at all. Not that some avoidance and distraction isn’t really useful and much needed for a while…

When our business was failing and we were going through insolvency and bankruptcy my wife said to me “if you say anything about learning I’ll f&@*ing kill you”, wise (and beautiful) woman! Because that wasn’t the time to learn, it wasn’t a time I was capable of learning. Jeez after two and half years of processing, avoiding, going through the grief of my partner’s suicide and recovering my confidence I do, now, feel like I have learnt something and can approach the expereince and learn still from this rich and deeply painful fail.

It’s only when the emotional trauma of a fail is over or significantly diminished that we can begin a process of critical reflection that is a requisite of learning. This learning leads to change, change in how we are, how we view the very fail itself and how we act. If you say you’ve learnt and you’re doing the same old stuff over and over…

Well you’re keeping that learning pretty well hidden!

I don’t mean to be overly flippant, this is serious stuff and if there’s one thing I’ve learnt from failure it is; it hurts, it’s tough and it’s ultimately pretty great.

Good luck with it!

Canterbury nous arrivons!


family fishHello Kent! And everyone 🙂 Here I am on the six eighteen (in the morning) from Brighton, heading towards Canterbury and my new office at Kent Business School!

I am feeling great!

So I figure the post there must be really really good, as the five am start is still feeling like a fine thing to be doing and the long commute, a great opportunity to work, read, write and so on. I also think, there’re some interesting questions we’re looking at in the Centre for Employment, Competitiveness and Growth, namely what makes performance in organisations sustainable over time?

This is the third iteration of the Promoting Sustainable Performance project and an interesting picture is starting to build up. We’ve identified ten characteristics, common to successful-over-time SME’s and this has led to the development of the successful BIG Journey and Network initiatives. What I’m very keen to discover more about is how people in organisation bring these characteristics into their lived working lives?

It is great to say “the delegator” is present in, successful-over-time organisations, however; how does this become lived? What enables “the delegator” to emerge and what inhibits or prevents this occurrence? One thing I want to look at in more detail, are the kinds of conversations that people have, where the characteristics of sustainable performance are understood to be present.

So I’m very much looking forwards to getting stuck into the Kent project and also deepening and furthering the work I’ve been doing with Telos partners in supporting ambitious owner managers, in their personal and business development. I’m also looking forward, with my family, to a move, a new start and a slightly shorter commute. Canterbury nous arrivons!