We are all a product of our genetic inheritance, our past experiences, environmental influences and all the people we have engaged with through our lives.
We also have choices – I have learnt we don’t have to be victims of our past. My wonderful Irish mother told me at 6 years old that “You are now the man of the family – look after your mother and your sisters.” I only knew one way and that was with my fists; luckily my anger and this aggression was redirected early enough into boxing and rugby, to save me from incarceration!
My mother had the courage to take us away from an alcoholic and violent father who I have learnt to better understand, to forgive and to value what he gave to us. She took on 4 jobs at once for a period to pay school fees to get us in to great schools and we flourished (eventually). Things didn’t start well! I did the Entrance Exam to get into my Christian Brothers’ school. The Headmaster wasn’t very Christian when he told my mother I was ‘a slow boy’! My mother told me with the clear intent to motivate me to show the Head he was wrong. I was at the top of the class in my first year and was moved to the higher stream – I didn’t look back.
Inevitably, though, there was a legacy. Early trauma and a subconscious sense of rejection led me to be a highly sensitive, competitive and reactive young man and a driven, ambitious Army officer. I spent years dealing with the few good and the mainly bad side effects of ‘imposter syndrome’ and the need to constantly prove myself. I thrived working with my soldiers bringing enthusiasm, endless positivity and love and care and that was paid back many times over.
I wasn’t so good at leading upwards – feeling judged didn’t help me. Subconsciously, I am sure this took me back to being ‘a slow boy’!
I set goals, sometimes madly ambitious, throughout my life. Too often, I didn’t have the courage, nor the humility, to share them and ask for help. I was too afraid of failing. Whether I was successful or not, I could have made things a lot easier for myself and given friends, family and mentors the joy of being involved if I’d shared my thinking and my goals.
At the age of 42, life began to change dramatically for me. Adopting two young children and leaving the Army launched me on a journey I wish I’d started many years before. I joined a leadership development and coaching business and by being coached and learning to coach and develop leaders to be more effective, I have been able to focus hard on myself, my values and what behaviours and beliefs I could adopt to be the best version of me. It has been an immense privilege to work with some of the best and brightest as well as some of the least privileged people here and abroad. The learning I have taken from that work and from being a father and studying attachment theory, neuroscience, Buddhism, leadership and happiness have transformed me into the man I am now – a man I can be proud of.
“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage”
– Lao Tzu
I learnt about the plasticity of the brain, that we can change our behaviours (more on this shortly) no matter how old we are and that was liberating. I realized I had changed fundamentally when I had to deal with a ‘betrayal’ in my life and instead of the obvious and familiar reaction the words that came to me and drove my response were ‘dignity, love and forgiveness’. I have had an amazing life, achieving many things and yet the way I handled that situation is the thing I am most proud of. The new me was a surprise!
My study of neuroscience helped explain what had happened to me. Research shows us that behavioural change demands four criteria to be satisfied:
- Self awareness – an awareness of the behaviour you wish to change and why
- Focused attention on the new behaviour
- Deliberate practice of the new behaviour; so creating and strengthening new neural pathways and allowing the old behavioural pathways to atrophy
- Therapeutic support from coaches, mentors, leaders, parents peers etc. To be effective, this demands genuine connection with, and belief in, the person being supported.
I gradually embraced all four and powerful feedback from a brilliant team who believed in me and supported and challenged me accelerated my journey of change. This is possible for anyone!
Make it Yours’ unique online goal setting web application (the Visual Success Map (VSM)) has its provenance in my service career. I taught Campaign Planning for 3 years to operational staff in the UK and abroad. The Visual Success Map is equivalent to the Campaign Plan Schematic – a visual representation of the big picture route from where you are now to an End State and a set of Success Criteria you aspire to achieve. The VSM is a product of this background, my learning and the latest thinking on how to engage our senses and our brain to make sticking to our goals more likely. The collaborative nature of the app encourages innovative thinking, challenge and support, making behavioural change and targeted success a realistic goal. The resources shared on the app templates present our broader learning by connecting slide packs, YouTube videos from TED and other sites and relevant documents to assist learning and keep people on track.
Helping others on the same journey, inspiring them to be the best person they can be in order to be the best leader they can be, has been utterly fulfilling. This work creates a positive and sustainable ripple from better leadership, parenting, collaborating and friendship. Working with outstanding colleagues from elite sport, the services, government departments, business and education over the last 14 years, we have consistently secured transformational impacts through programmes, workshops and coaching. We can provide a wide range of references and feedback. All this leaves me determined to do more through the vehicle of Make it Yours and in partnership with Leading Sustainable Performance (LSP Ltd). http://www.lspleadership.com/
We launched Make it Yours in 2012 and our latest refresh comes at a time when I am getting clearer on the life I want to lead. I want to have a rich, full and fulfilling life. I want a life that provides me the freedom to travel, experience other cultures and make a positive difference in society here and abroad. I want more time for the most important people in my life, my own development and the things I love to do. I want the opportunity to present what I have learnt about the power of positivity, about how to embrace everything life has to offer, how to take pleasure from work in whatever form it takes and help leaders operate at their best and create working environments which engage their people and develop them to be their very best too. Introducing our ‘Winning Routines’ offers transformational possibility to individuals, teams and organisations. Creating a positive ripple and a legacy that endures is my personal goal.
A very senior Government official said recently “You have shaped a generation” having co-led a senior leadership development programme for his organization in collaboration with partner organisations to his over an 11 year period. The shift in the culture of his organization is palpable and makes the commitment and work immensely worthwhile.
I am not going to be as available as I have been in the past. I will work with the Make it Yours team and collaboratively with others to scale Make it Yours by giving away as much as we can and employing our unique app to help people at low cost. The work I do will be targeted to have the biggest impact on people and society. I very much hope you will support me and the aims of Make it Yours!