Category Archives: Book review

Are you ready to Dare Greatly?

Daring greatly leadership poster
I’ve been wanting to read this book for ages, ever since I watched Brené’s TED talk (link). I’ve been experimenting with vulnerability, something I have always found difficult, for a couple of years now (Time to get personal – 2016). This book is the gospel on vulnerability, shame and courage. It is really easy to read and is structured with checklists and summaries throughout.
I thought it would be helpful to summarise some of my big takeaways – though I encourage you to read this book and apply its lessons yourself.
Vulnerability is:
  • asking for help
  • saying no
  • starting a business
  • encouraging my kids to try (even if they might fail)
  • calling someone who lost a loved one
  • publishing your work, sending it out, etc
  • falling in love
  • trying something new
  • admitting I don’t know
  • admitting I’m afraid
  • trying again after failing
  • standing up to peer pressure
She has 10 questions she asks to understand the culture of any group or organisation:
  1. What behaviours are rewarded and punished?
  2. Where and how do people spend time, money and attention?
  3. What rules and expectations are followed, enforced and ignored?
  4. Do people feel safe and supported taking about how they feel and asking for what they need?
  5. What are the sacred cows?
  6. What stories are legend and what values do they convey?
  7. What happens when someone fails, disappoints or makes a mistake?
  8. How is vulnerability perceived?
  9. How prevalent are shame and blame and how do they show up?
  10. What’s the collective tolerance for discomfort? Is the discomfort of learning,  trying new things, giving and receiving feedback normalised or is there a premium on comfort?
The space between our practiced values and our aspirational values is the values gap. This is where we can lose people.
In an organisational culture where respect and dignity of individuals are held as the highest values, shame and blame don’t work as management styles. We can’t control the behaviour of individuals, we can only create cultures where certain behaviours are not tolerated and people are held accountable for protecting what matters most – human beings. There is no leading by fear, if we are looking for creativity, innovation and engaged learning.
A daring greatly culture is one of honest, constructive and engaged feedback. However, in most teams and organisations effective feedback is rare. There are two main reasons:
  1. we are not comfortable with hard conversations
  2. we don’t know how to give feedback in a way that moves people forward.
There’s a big difference between mean spirited criticism and constructive feedback: When we stop caring about what people think, we lose our capacity for connection, but when we become defined by what people think, we lose our willingness to be vulnerable. If we dismiss criticism we lose out on important feedback, but if we subject ourselves to hatefulness, our spirits get crushed.
Vulnerability is at the heart of the feedback process. She has a great checklist for preparing to give feedback.
I know I am ready to give feedback when:
  • I’m ready to sit next to you rather than opposite you, and put the problem in front of us rather than between us.
  • I’m ready to listen, ask questions and accept that I may not fully understand the issue.
  • I want to acknowledge what you do well instead of picking apart your mistakes.
  • I recognise your strengths and how you can use them to address your challenges.
  • I can hold you accountable without shaming or blaming you.
  • I’m willing to own my part.
  • I can genuinely thank you for your efforts rather than criticise you for your failings.
  • I can talk about how resolving these challenges will lead to your growth and opportunity.
  • I can model the vulnerability and openness that I expect to see from you.

We can tell a lot about how we are engaging with Vulnerability by observing how often we say:

  • I don’t know
  • I need help
  • I’d like to give it a shot
  • I disagree – can we talk about it
  • I did it
  • Here’s how I feel
  • I’d like some feedback
  • Can I get your take on this?
  • What can I do better next time?
  • Can you teach me how to do this?
  • I take responsibility for that
  • I’m here for you
  • I want to help
  • Let’s move on
  • I’m sorry
  • This means a lot to me
  • Thank you
My commitment as a leader:
  1. I want you to show up, to be yourself, to be open to learning.
  2. I want you to take risks, embrace your vulnerabilities and be courageous.
  3. I commit to engaging with you, standing beside you and learning from you.
  4. I commit to be vulnerable, to be courageous and to dare greatly.
“The key to our transformation as leaders is in realising that getting people to engage or take ownership isn’t about the telling but about letting them come to their own idea in a purpose-led way, and our job is to create the space for others to perform. This is a shift from “having the best idea” or “solving all the problems” to “being the best leader of people”.
This is a shift from controlling to engaging with vulnerability – taking risks and cultivating trust.”
– Christine Day, CEO Lululemon
Vulnerability is the birthplace of creativity, innovation and trust. If you want your employees that take responsibility, take risks and have an entrepreneurial spirit, you have to encourage people to try and to make mistakes (and be willing to stand by them when they do).
Go read it and apply her lessons for yourself!
(Brené has a great chapter on “wholehearted parenting” that is builds on these ideas powerfully.)

My 5 top tips for winning pitches


We all have to pitch at various points of our life and career, whether it is an idea, a product, a proposal, a job or to win new clients. I know lots of people really dread public speaking, pitching and presenting as they worry that they don’t possess some mystical presentation gene (fortunately there’s no such thing), the stakes are often high and the pressure can be debilitating.

I used to be terrified of presenting as a young person, but over the years I have grown to really enjoy pitching. I feel like I have spent my whole career developing this skill, both by presenting and being presented to hundreds of times. I see it like a performance – understand your audience, write script, learn lines, rehearse, get into character, add drama, practice, polish and perform. I find it really brings out the actor in me. One of my best mentors always said “it’s all about the DRAMA”. He is spot on, as a presentation and especially a pitch must be memorable and for that it must have some drama.

I’d like to share 5 lessons I have learnt so far about delivering great presentations and winning new business pitches. I’m going to frame it with a story from my past, a single meeting that took my team from winning 1 in 5 pitches, to only losing 1 in 5.

We had built a great product, we had socialised it, received encouraging feedback and delivered excellent performance through a difficult market environment. When we finally got to the stage of being invited to pitch for new business regularly, we found that we kept losing. We were falling at the final hurdle, despite having an excellent product, team and reputation. We couldn’t understand how we were losing 4 out of 5 pitches.

We gathered everyone that was involved with pitches and even hired an external facilitator to help us manage the conversation. The conversation that we had in that 3 hour session and the hard work the followed, changed our success rate from 1 in 5 to more like 4 in 5. For the next 18 months we won most of what we pitched for.

That afternoon we agreed on 5 things as a group and we committed to changing our habits to follow and apply these consistently ahead of every pitch (no matter how busy we got):

  1. Simplify: We simplified our pitch book so that we could deliver the key messages on a single slide, with no more than 6-10 supporting slides. On each slide we clearly explained the BENEFIT to the client (it had to pass the “so what” test). Our pitch book had a clear storyline, it had ‘drama’ and it emphasised clear different points of differentiation (tailored each time for who we were competing against).
  2. Know your client: We mapped all the key decision makers and influencers for each prospect so that we really knew our client. We would reach out to as many stakeholders as possible in advance to understand their objectives, concerns and objections. We also learnt about their level of sophistication so that we could pitch our messages at the right level.
  3. Practice. We started to religiously script and practice our presentations, especially the key messages, Q&A, as well as anticipating possible objections ahead of each pitch. We would role play each pitch in front of our colleagues who were briefed, given roles and asked difficult questions (even though it felt really uncomfortable).
  4. Design the experience: In the pitch we were clear that we needed to leave the client feeling like we had listened to their brief, we had respected their time, we had responded to their questions concisely and we had clearly communicated what made us different. We always aimed to finish well inside of the budgeted time in order to leave more than enough time for their questions when we could really shine and convey our enthusiasm, teamwork, preparation and responsiveness.
  5. Continuous improvement & innovation: No matter how well we did, we continued to improve the pitch, the delivery, the messages, the charts and the story. We also innovated with new slides, new fee structures and even new products that we knew clients wanted.

As I mentioned before, for the next year and half we won most of the mandates we pitched for and we got better with each pitch. As Aristotle famously said – “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

The only time our success rate fell again was when we grew complacent, started taking short cuts and forgot the routine. Fortunately, we knew what we needed to do to get back on track.

I recently finished reading “The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs – How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience” by Carmine Gallo (it was a birthday present).  It is written in 3 acts (like a play): 1 – Create a story; 2 – Deliver an experience ; and 3 – Refine and Rehearse.

I’ve summarised some of the key messages from the book below:

  • When promoting, selling anything answer the question – Why should I care? Why should my customers care about what I offer?
  • Create a Twitter friendly headline – If you cannot describe what you do in ten words or less, I am not investing. I am not buying. I am not interested.
  • Treat presentations as “infotainment”. Your audience wants to be educated and entertained. Have fun. It will show.
  • 10-Minute Rule – people loose attention after about 10 minutes. Introduce a break in the action: video, stories, another speaker, demo (i.e. some drama).
  • Practice, practice and practice some more.

“Amateurs practice till they get it right, professionals practice till they don’t get it wrong.” – Anon

Whatever it is you are pitching for – be passionate, know why your proposal, idea or product benefits your client, customer, manager or employer and don’t forget to enjoy it.

Best of luck!

Send me your thoughts, experiences and lessons on delivering great presentations, below or on [email protected]

Is your team a ‘Superteam’? Book review

SuperteamsSuperteams by Khoi Tu

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Super stories, super insights and super learnings from Khoi Tu. An easy read though quite thought provoking for anyone in a team, building a team, running a team or trying to fix a team. Find out why the SAS, the British Red Cross, team Ferrari F1, the Rolling Stones and Pixar are ‘superteams’.

My 7 top takeaways for building superteams:

  1. You need a set of shared objectives (clear common purpose); this is the most potent force in attracting the right talent and in getting them to want to do great work, together.
  2. Great teams are led by great adaptive leaders (there is no single style preference here) but  you have to lead by example and ultimately foster a team of leaders
  3. The best teams start by bringing in the best individuals for every role; however, choose people that know they aren’t perfect, but pursue excellence always and want to get better by surrounding themselves with excellence
  4. You have to get the small things/routines right to create the best environment for success (agendas, team size, engagement rules, clear roles, etc)
  5. Individuals have to respect each others’ skills and contributions and have to build trust in each other in order to thrive under pressure
  6. Avoid comfortable harmony and ‘groupthink’; foster and harness conflict and abrasion to ensure sparks of creativity thrive
  7. You have to continuously improve; reflect, review, feedback and change (“this is how we do things here” – is a killer); always seek ideas for improvement from your team using both success and failure as lessons for learning.

I highly recommend this book.

Here’s a link to Khoi Tu’s TED Talk –

View all my reviews on Goodreads.