Category Archives: Advising

How to find & choose an executive coach

A CEO once described to me how isolated they felt, “trapped somewhere between my Board and investors looking down at me, and my team looking up.” It wasn’t an issue of authenticity, they just couldn’t be as completely candid with their Board or team as they could be with me, their executive coach. There are lots of reasons that people decide they want to work with an executive coach, but what exactly is the role of an executive coach, and how should you find and choose the right one for you?

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15 of the best articles about leadership for a startup CEO

As an executive coach, I help startup founders, and founding teams, navigate their transition to leadership. If you are a startup CEO or other early member of the leadership team, you often find yourself thrust into the spotlight of leadership without much prior experience or training.

As part of my Scaling Leadership coaching programme, I curate a reading list of leadership articles for clients to read and reflect on. From the thought provoking to the practical, here are 15 of the best articles to help you transition from founder to startup CEO or other member of the leadership team.

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The Lindy Effect: a simple heuristic to help you choose your next book

In his book Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder (Amazon UK, US), Nassim Taleb provides a simple heuristic, known as the Lindy Effect. The effect simply says: that the expected life of an item is proportional to its past life. You can use this heuristic to help you choose your next book based on the wisdom that they might contain.

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Do these 2 things to get better at coaching your employees

The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever (Amazon UK, US) is one of the best books I’ve read for managers and leaders who want to use a coaching approach with their employees but don’t have the time or inclination for formal training. It’s short on theory but long on practical tools and techniques that are a shot to the heart of great coaching.

The author identifies seven questions to ask when taking a coach-approach towards engaging with your team. Rather than spoil the book, I’ll share two challenges that he identifies for anyone seeking to be a better coach-manager or coach-leader.

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What is the difference between coaching & mentoring?

The words coaching and mentoring are often used interchangeably, though there are in fact important differences. In his book Coaching for Performance (Amazon UK, US), the late Sir John Whitmore, explains what the difference between coaching and mentoring is. Whitmore is the founder of the coaching movement in the UK. The book is widely considered to be the industry gold standard for performance based coaching.

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Howard Marks & Nassim Taleb on the role of luck & randomness

Howard Marks is one of Wall Street’s wisest investors. He co-Chairs Oaktree Capital Management which has approximately $100 billion in Assets Under Management. He’s also the author of  The Most Important Thing: Uncommon Sense for the Thoughtful Investor (Amazon UKUS). A highly successful investor, and multi-billionaire in his own right, Marks is clear that luck has played a key role. I explore his perceptions of luck in this post.

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Paul Kalanithi teaches us why technical excellence is not enough

Paul Kalanithi, M.D., was a neurosurgeon and writer. He graduated from Stanford University in 2000 with a B.A. and M.A. in English Literature and a B.A. in Human Biology. He earned an M.Phil in History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine from the University of Cambridge before attending medical school. In 2007, Paul graduated cum laude from the Yale School of Medicine. He returned to Stanford for residency training in Neurological Surgery and a postdoctoral fellowship in neuroscience. In 2013 he was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer, though continued to work, completing his neurosurgery residency in 2014. He also authored the book When Breath Becomes Air, which detailed his journey through treatment and eventually his death in March 2015. He is survived by his wife Lucy and their daughter Cady.

Although I’d heard of this book before, I first stumbled across it in a charity shop about one month after I’d finished 5 months of chemotherapy for colorectal cancer. I cried my way through much of the book, but I had to read about Paul’s journey and his exploration of life and death. Continue reading

How to be a great mentor

What does it take to be a great mentor? Talking at the launch of the Forward Partners mentor network event I shared my thoughts about mentoring entrepreneurs (Forward Partners are a leading London-based early-stage venture capital firm). I talked about the importance of listening and understanding, before giving advice, and suggested some questions that mentors can ask to helpfully open up a mentor conversation.

I started with a quote from Sal Virani’s recently released book Mentor Impact. Based on over 200 mentor interviews and extensive personal experience of working with accelerator programmes across Europe, he launches the book with a quote from one of the best mentors he interviewed (also a founder who had been through an accelerator programme). That person’s advice to other mentors: Continue reading

Do management consultants add value?

Sam Altman is the President of Y-Combinator, an American seed fund with investments in over 840 companies including Dropbox, Airbnb, Stripe, Reddit, Zenefits, Instacart and Weebly. Sam sent a Tweet out the other week expressing the view that consultants get paid the most money whilst delivering the least value. Sam is of course entitled to his perspective but I’m not comfortable with it.

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What is the definition of focus?

An inspiring idea and early validation of your business model are just the start of the entrepreneurial journey. When it comes to scaling, there are a thousand and one things that you could do, but you must focus on the one hundred and one things that you can actually do with limited available cash, resources and time. In Tren Griffin’s blog A Dozen Things I’ve Learned from Steve Jobs about Business, he references one of my favourite quotes from the great man, and a second that I’ve not heard before.

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Why you should always begin with the end in mind

7habitsI picked up my copy of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey the other day. I remembered that one of Covey’s principles was to begin with the end in mind and I’ve been doing some detailed thinking recently about what my own end is, so to speak. It struck me that there’s some useful lessons in the book about how to grow a business in 2015.

Covey says that beginning with the end in mind is based on the principle that all things are created twice. First a mental creation, then a physical creation. He uses the example of building a house: “you create it in every detail before you ever hammer the first nail in place” he says. Continue reading

Governance for startups: how to build and manage a Board

shutterstock_136036394 (2) Black and WhiteAny startup that has successfully raised follow on funding (angel and beyond) is going to find itself with external investors to keep happy and to do this effectively requires some form of governance structure to be put in place. Achieving this is not actually that complicated but if you’ve never set up a startup Board before, or put any kind of governance structure in place, then it probably feels like a daunting task. Continue reading

Business lessons from David Bowie

Did you manage to make it to the acclaimed ‘David Bowie is’ exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London? Bowie is an incredible talent, combining undeniable song writing ability with outstanding creative flair. He is a true innovator, whose fame has real momentum through constant reinvention. Whilst the days of the Thin White Duke, Ziggy Stardust or Aladdin Sane may be over, Bowie is arguably as well known now as he has ever been.

Whilst exploring the exhibition my mind turned to thinking about what business might be able to learn from him. In a world where pop stars increasingly come and go, David Bowie’s (talent based) fame has endured. This post takes a look at why, and what lessons business can learn. Continue reading

Why is Sir Dave Brailsford such a master of strategy?

Sir Dave Brailsford, Performance Director of British Cycling and principal for Team Sky, understands what real strategy is, how to formulate it and how to execute it. His strategic approach has helped British riders achieve a record haul of Olympic medals at three successive Olympic Games, produced a World Champion in Mark Cavendish and two successive Tour de France winners in Sir Bradley Wiggins and now Chris Froome. Continue reading