Want to be Successful? Learn how to Make Great Presentations

Become a Great Communicator!

Become a Great Communicator!

In this business, we get involved in all sorts of events. Have laptop, will travel. So, the call to make a presentation on coaching to the Irish Midwives conference in Galway wasn’t particularly unusual. On the basis that you can never become complacent, I needed something to grab audience attention right up front. While the first 100 days sets the tone for a political career, the first 100 seconds are critically important in effective presentations. When he did shows with American soldiers stationed overseas, Bob Hope always completed preliminary reconnaissance. He’d find out something quirky about the commanding officer. Then he’d build that into an opening joke and have the audience eating out of his hand. While not many people have Bob Hope’s delivery, we can all steal shamelessly from the method.

Phone a Friend: In times of crisis you turn to your friends, right? As it happens, one of my music buddies, Sean Dowling, is a midwife in the Rotunda (apparently, there are 3 male midwives working there. Who would have known?). I explained the dilemma and he promised to come back with the answer. During the follow-up conversation, Sean was excited. “I have it, I have it” he declared. “You walk on stage to the James Bond soundtrack and declare: ‘Paul Mooney, at your Cervix.'” With friends like Sean, who needs enemies? Googling like crazy I came up with the line “I’m a midwife. What’s your superpower?” and ran with that instead (#chicken).

Humour Works: Humour works well – up to a point. Right up to the edge of the cliff it works really great. Go just beyond that and the fall is steep. One time I sat in the audience at a CIPD conference (85% women) when the male presenter used a poor metaphor to describe the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic rewards, using the old line that payment for doing good work (extrinsic reward) was the equivalent of a ‘fur coat and no knickers.’ He thought it was hilarious. The audience didn’t. There’s a thin line between grabbing attention for the right and the wrong reasons. That’s why using humour is scary for many presenters.

Oops: Fall from Grace: And that’s exactly what happened to me during a recent pitch – this time (again) to a group of nurses. In fact I may have had a double whammy in that neither the content nor the style of the presentation went down well and the feedback was suitably brutal (I brought along a guy to play a piece of music and they seemed to like him – so that’s something to cling to). In this particular case I’d made the rookie error of not doing enough research on the exact needs of the audience and ran a ‘pitch’ for a more advanced group that completely missed the mark. Lesson 1: You have to do your homework and I screwed up.

Public Speaking: Jerry Seinfield said that at a funeral, most people would rather be in the casket than have to deliver the eulogy. So, public speaking is not for the faint hearted. And, no matter how experienced you are, from time to time we all make mistakes and fall from grace. But, here’s the kicker. It’s almost impossible to build a successful executive career without being a reasonably good public speaker. You don’t have to morph into Barack Obama. And you don’t have to ‘win’ every single pitch you make. But, if you are ambitious, you can’t avoid this area. If you are not ‘cured’ already, I suggest you undertake a public speaking course. Something tough (‘if it doesn’t challenge you – it probably won’t change you either’). In addition to honing your speaking skills, the ability to make great presentations builds confidence. So that’s the pitch this week. Now, you just need to get cracking on it!


PS If you would like help with this area – I can send you a workbook on Public Speaking. There’s no cost and no catch. Just send me your email (paul@tandemconsulting.ie).

Feedback Comment of the Week: This guy I know – let’s call him Mike – is a brutal golfer. A couple of weeks ago he playing in a Pro-Am (3 Amateur players get to play a round of golf with a professional). At the end of the round it’s normal that the professional player gives the amateurs some feedback – a couple of golfing tips having watched them play over the past 4 hours.

According to my sources, Mike played particularly badly that day. Hitting drives out of bounds. Duffing iron shots. Lousy putting. Nothing seemed to be working. At the end of the round, he almost ran up to the professional and, like a child, asked: “So, what do you think?” Deadpan, the professional responded: “You need to get 2 inches cut off the top of each club.” A light came on in Mike’s eyes. Finally, someone had diagnosed his golfing problem. He said: “If I get the clubs shortened, will that make me a better player?” The Pro responded: “No, but it will make it easier for you to get your clubs into a wheelie bin.”

PS Lighter Moment: Was working for a manager recently who told me he had outlawed BMW’s? I thought it was something to do with travel costs or air emissions until he explained that it stood for ‘Bitch, Moan and Whine sessions’. Hey, good luck with that.

Key Question: Q: What do you call a Pirate with 2 arms, 2 eyes and 2 legs? A: A beginner!

Proof that men are better friends … (from Joe Bell) 

Friendship among Women: A woman didn’t come home one night. The next morning she told her husband that she had slept over at a friend’s house. The man called his wife’s 10 best friends. None of them knew anything about it.

Friendship among Men: A man didn’t come home one night. The next morning he told his wife that he had slept over at a friend’s house. The woman called her husband’s 10 best friends. Eight confirmed that he had slept over, and two said he was still there.

PPS Officer Fitness Reports: The British Military writes OFR’s (Officer Fitness Reports). The form used for Royal Navy and Marine fitness reports is the S206. The following are actual excerpts …. you couldn’t make it up…

“His men would follow him anywhere, but only out of idle curiosity.”

“I would hesitate to breed from this Officer.”

“He’s not so much of a has-been, but more of a definitely won’t-be.”

“When she opens her mouth, this is only to change whichever foot was previously in there.”

“He has carried out each and every one of his duties to his entire satisfaction.”

“He would be out of his depth in a car park puddle.”

“Technically sound. Socially impossible.”

 “When he joined my ship, this Officer was something of a granny: since then he has aged considerably.”

“This Medical Officer has used my ship to carry his genitals from port to port, and my officers to carry him from bar to bar.”

“Since my last report he has reached rock bottom and started to dig.”

“She sets low personal standards and then consistently fails to achieve them.”

“She has the wisdom of youth, and the energy of old age.”

“This man is depriving a village somewhere of an idiot.”

Check our website http://www.tandemconsulting.ie or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.


Posted in Building Confidence | 1 Comment

Q: Do you suffer from Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

Does this describe you?

Does this describe you?

Client’s visiting Psychiatrists, Counselors, Psychotherapists and Executive Coaches present with a wide range of issues. Some of this is simple (“My new boss is a jerk” or “I’m not happy going bald at this age”) and straightforward to deal with. Other mental health issues are relatively easy to diagnose e.g. depression caused by a recent bereavement or loss. But, sometimes, the diagnosis is more complex  and the fix is neither straightforward nor guaranteed (e.g. addiction or obsessive/compulsive disorder are both difficult conditions to work through). The professional sitting in the consulting room, waiting on that knock at the door, has no advance knowledge of the issues that will drive the conversation.

Anxiety Provoking: The wide range of presenting issues, the difficulty of untangling these (while maintaining ‘unconditional positive regard’) and the pressure to discover a way forward all provoke anxiety within the professional.   While there are many different approaches deployed, there are some commonalities. Generally speaking, the professional comes to a view about what’s happening for the client and what needs to be done to move the needle forward. It follows that the typical journey, is a movement from an initial fogginess to a period of greater clarity (for both parties).

Speed Consulting: For the purpose of our discussion, let’s assume that you are a public patient – seeing a Psychiatrist after an 18-month wait to get in the door (not untypical). After such a long queue, there’s pressure on the doctor to get to the root of the problem quickly and pressure emanating from the client to get relief from the symptoms. Both parties want to drill down to the core – fast. Now, on the basis that you can’t fix a problem you don’t understand, getting the diagnosis correct is hugely important. As a slight aside, some branches of mental healthcare, express a disdain for the term diagnosis arguing that this implies a  top-down [non-egalitarian] relationship; they see themselves involved in a joint problem-solving activity with the client. Leaving aside the niceties around how the process is labeled, how is a diagnosis actually completed? To help the professional feel secure that they have made a correct diagnosis – help is at hand.

DSM-5: The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5 for short – it’s the 5th version) is the product of years of effort by hundreds of international experts in all aspects of mental health. This authoritative volume defines and classifies mental disorders. It has 3 Goals: (1) better diagnosis (2) improved treatment and (3) eliciting areas for further research. So, in trying to make (sometimes speedy) assessments – professionals don’t have to rely solely on their own experience. They have access to this publication which details the typical ‘symptoms’ and the suggested treatment regime for a wide range of mental health conditions. It’s invaluable. The DSM-5,  packages this complex information into an easily digestible format and it makes interesting reading.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder: One of the conditions, labeled Narcissistic Personality Disorder, may be of particular interest to ‘Donald Trump Watchers’. Here’s how the condition is described: Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of ultra confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.

Put down that phone immediately! You don’t have to book a flight to the USA to experience this first hand. Over the past 20 years, I’ve come across Irish people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder on 3 or 4 occasions (both men and women). It’s a particularly difficult condition to work with – not least because the person with the condition is (normally) in complete De-nial that anything is wrong! (that’s not the longest river in Africa).  If a client presents with this condition and they don’t like me/my message, I’m toast. If I don’t like them (realistically, if I don’t feel I can add any value) I walk. So, no big deal. But, if your boss has a Narcissistic Personality Disorder and you have 2.2 kids, 3 budgies and a fire-breathing bank manager who monitors your mortgage repayments – that’s one horrible space to inhabit.

Newt Gingrich: Hopefully I’ve lulled you into reading this far – because I’m really bursting to make one rather simple, but elegant point. In a recent interview, Newt Gingrich (American politician from Georgia: 50th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives) commented on the impact of Donald Trump on the USA political stage. The interviewer played all of the usual cards e.g. misogyny, bullying, ‘alternative facts’ (AKA lies), instructing the ‘free press’ to publish particular arguments and so on. Gingrich listened attentively while all of the charges were leveled against President Trump. His answer: The USA president needs to deliver 2 things (1) ensure that no acts of terrorism are committed on American soil (2) create jobs. He then said: “Everything else is noise.”

Now, whether you love or hate this particular analysis (and, I’m no apologist for Donald) there’s some wonderful managerialism at play here. As executives, we each have key deliverables – a small number of things we need to ‘get over the line.’ Everything else is noise. In doing your own job (which may not include leadership of the free world) don’t get distracted by ‘noise’. Staying focused is the central executive challenge. Regardless of your personality (extrovert, introvert or even Narcissistic), you are paid to make a small number of changes happen. That’s it.

Now that all those extraneous burdens have been removed – have a great week.


Saving Goodbye:  Dr. Sean Brophy recently passed away. Sean was a graduate of the National College of Ireland (then known as the College of Industrial Relations) in Renelagh and went on to specialise in Personal Construct Psychology – where he developed an incredible depth of expertise. According to his friend, Tony Brady, Sean was a perfect example of squeezing the last drop out of life by living in the now. He had a great phrase: “In life pain is inevitable but suffering is optional.” Sean never suffered. Intelligent. Authentic.  Empathic.  Ireland has lost a brilliant executive coach.

Competitor Offering: Dr. Corina Grace is running a Focused Leadership programme – on Lambay Island, off the coast of Dublin.  The retreat, co-facilitated with Chris Blakeley, will be held in May and October this year. The design for the sessions looks great.  Corina can be contacted on 353-86-8049789 (www.graceconsulting.ie)

PS Lighter Notes:

Q: How many narcissists does it take to change a lightbulb?

A: Just one – to hold the bulb, while the world revolves around him!

On a bumper sticker: “Only You Can Prevent Narcissism” (think about that one!)

There are two letter ‘I’s in the word ‘Narcissist’, and they both freaking hate each other!

Check our website http://www.tandemconsulting.ie or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.

Posted in Management Practices | Leave a comment

Grabbing the Moment: The Importance of Mindfulness

Don't wait until it's too late!

Don’t wait until it’s too late!


‘All this talk of getting old

It’s getting me down my love

Like a cat in a bag, waiting to drown

This time I’m comin’ down’

The Drugs Don’t Work – The Verve

My brother Peter has Alzheimer’s, a progressive disease where symptoms of dementia gradually worsen. In its early stages, memory loss tends to be mild. By late-stage Alzheimer’s, individuals lose the ability to carry on conversations and respond to their environment. While it’s not 100% clear when it started, Peter has suffered from the ‘full-blown’ condition for some time, and has been hospitalised for the past 6 years. It’s the long goodbye. Sometimes when we visit, he’s in good form and with it. At other times he’s lost-in-space – as a result of the condition, medication or both. Sometimes, there’s light, almost comic relief. A couple of months back he informed that he was “punching in long hours”, complaining about the level of compulsory overtime he had to complete while working there, asking if it was legal! But when he mistakes one of my sisters for my mother (long since dead) or when he just can’t respond at all, there’s a great sadness, the last chapter in his life being spent in a disconnected state. Overall, Peter had an interesting and pretty full life. He spent a number of years in Asia, working with the Royal Air Force. When I grew up in Cabra, courtesy of Peter, I had some of the coolest toys imaginable – all the way from Malaysia and Singapore. After the overseas stint, he came home, got married and raised 6 kids. Benjamin Franklin said: “Some people die at 25 and aren’t buried until 75.” So, maybe there’s some comfort in the fact that he had a lot of good experiences until more recent times. Maybe…

Institutional Rhythm: A couple of weeks back I brought along the guitar and played a few songs (cue jokes about playing to a ‘captive audience’). In advance, I’d chosen stuff from the 60’s that he’d likely remember. With music, the melodies and lyrics become hard-wired into our brains. Several of the residents were able to sing along, remembering every word of those older tunes. About 15 minutes into a pretty lively session, the staff served lunch. We’d reached the bewitching hour of 12:30 – the exact time at which lunch is served regimentally every single day. This particular day, December 25th (Christmas) was no exception. It didn’t matter than one old lady was up dancing with my niece. She was told to sit down. Nor that an older man, who at one time played the Accordion, declared himself to be ‘in the band’. Two other people gave a rendition of their ‘party piece’ (strangely, one resident can still tell jokes really well – but can’t converse normally at all). Leaving that day, I was saddened by the inflexibility. The power of routine seemed to have over-ridden human compassion. The needs of the inmates had been trumped by the requirements of the institution.

Zero Control: On ‘mature reflection’, my anger at the care home (it’s staffed by really nice people) was less about Peter and more about my own fears. Let me make an assumption here. Most people reading this blog will have led an independent life and intend to continue to live with a modicum of dignity and self-reliance. Forget about flying in bad weather, poisonous spiders or public speaking phobias. Having to be ‘helped to the toilet’ or wearing an adult nappy has to be high on the list of our worst fears. The loss of control. The replacement of living (in a fully human sense) with a form of existing. “There’s nothing like spending the final years of your life in a care home – surrounded by a bunch of other elderly people” – said no-one ever!

Living Well: The hope is that, like the Dutch and some other sensible Europeans, we could have an adult conversation about end-of-life issues. About how it might be possible to easily end our own life or ease the suffering of someone we love. Of course, there are enormous ethical considerations and key safeguards required. But they have to be weighted against the equally weighty questions about the quality of life living on some ‘Granny Farm’ – segregated from physically and mentally well people of all ages.  Life maintained through the power of pharmacology. Perhaps there are some simple arrangements that might ease the burden.  For example, in Holland 3rd level students reside in care homes with the elderly, completing chores with patients in lieu of rental payments. By breaking up the stigma of older people bunched into one place, it’s an example of a potential win-win solution to twin societal problems. Now, that’s clever.

Back at the Ranch: In the meantime, while we live in hope that ‘Ireland Inc.’ will sometime grow up and tackle this awkward but extremely important  issue, can I suggest two shorter-term responses (1) Make arrangements for when you get old  – by having difficult conversations with your kids now. Don’t postpone it. Ignoring the aging issue doesn’t make it disappear. You are not an Ostrich  (2) Secondly, do what you can to grab life with both hands while you still have some control. Don’t put all your money under the mattress, waiting until you ‘retire’ to enjoy the fruits of your labour. I’m guessing that tomorrow, many of us will regret the chances that we didn’t take today.

Simple ideas. All we have to do now is to pay attention i.e. put them into practice. Hey, let me know what tunes you like and I can start practicing for your visit! Or visa versa.


Saying of the Week. Courtesy of Kevin Empey (Willis Towers Watson): “When you commit, the world tilts in your favour.”  Hadn’t heard that one before and it struck a chord.

Comment of the Week: Was at a retirement ‘do’ for Karl O’Connor – moving on from Ulster Bank after many years stellar service. Karl is one of life’s really good guys. Talent builder par excellence. Anyway, the line was that there are so many middle-aged, ex Ulster Bank people now working for Bank of Ireland,  that BOI has been nicknamed UB40!

Lighter Note: This one from Tim O’Neill (don’t tell his wife Geraldine).



New Dog: This is Lexi. She’s an 8 week-old German Shepherd puppy. I bought Lexi as a surprise for my wife but it turns out she is allergic to dogs.  So we are now looking to find her a new home.

She is 59 years old, a beautiful, caring woman who can drive, is a great cook and keeps a fine house. All inquires to 084-2190122.

From Sean Dowling…A Quiz Question

 Q: What’s the difference between a Rottweiler and a Poodle urinating on your leg?

 A: You’d let the Rottweiler finish!

Check our website http://www.tandemconsulting.ie or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.

Posted in Positive Psychology | 2 Comments

To get Thrust – you need Trust

Don't underestimate the importance of Trust

Don’t underestimate the importance of Trust

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines trust as firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something.” In simple terms we can reduce this to whether people actually believe what you say. Ernst Hemingway said: “The best way to find out if you can trust someone, is to trust them.”

The Donald: We saw this in the recent elections in the USA. Despite the fact that Trump’s pronouncements were somewhat ‘elastic with the truth’ (now cleverly re-labelled as “Alternative Facts”)  a majority of voters (electoral college) signed up with him for the next 4 years. Arguably, a key factor in the non-election of Hilary Clinton centered around the question of trust e.g. the use of a non-governmental email system. While few of us really understood the implications of this, it served to create a strong perception of un-trust-worthiness i.e. negative campaigning on the trust issue worked! Closer to home, a detailed survey by one university group demonstrated that couples reported ‘trust’ as being the #1 issue which they value in a relationship. So in politics and in personal life, trust ranks high on the ‘importance list’ for most people. The exact same point applies in organizations. We know about the need to install organization ‘hardware’ (strategy, systems, structure, skills and so on). But we also need to programme the ‘high-trust’ software. Trust is a critically important ingredient in all high functioning relationships. Yet, even where the importance of this is recognized, it’s hard to define this in a precise way or know how to build this. Trust is an elusive concept and always seems to be just slightly out of reach.

High Performance: While this assertion is difficult to ‘prove’, in my experience, high performance organizations are almost-always built on a foundation of trust. Staff may not always like the specifics, but they trust the leadership team’s ability to move the organization from today towards tomorrow.   It’s back to that simple idea: Do staff believe what the leadership team say?  That data used to support arguments is genuine?

Building Trust: Part of ‘trust building’ is being clear and consistent in what you say. But it’s more than this. What you ‘do’ needs to align. A couple of years back, I completed a customer services overhaul project for a multi-national in Munster. The reception area was certainly impressive. A 10’ by 10’ copy of the Mission Statement hung on the wall – signed by every single staff member – declaring life-long-love with customers (delivered through leading edge technology and world-class service). When we peeled back the layers on that particular onion, the Customer Services Manager was the worst-paid Director (by a mile). The customer services team were housed in a virtual dungeon area of the plant (no natural light). They were using 2nd hand Steelcase furniture that the engineers had abandoned. But, most telling of all, no-one in that plant had actually visited a customer site and there were no formal metrics (absolutely zero) for measuring service. Yes, some things are shiny on the outside. Like donkey droppings!

Active Listening: Here’s another twist. In the political arena we are schooled to believe that ‘changing your mind’ is negative. We are often informed through the media that Minister X or Party Y ‘rolled back’ on their commitment to do Z. This is offered as evidence  of weak leadership, typically against a backdrop of pubic pressure. But, are U-turns always negative? At the most recent Resolve Annual Conference held in the Irish Management Institute, Marie Moynihan (Dell VP) told the following story: To reduce costs, Dell decided to change health providers and move to Glo health. The packages on offer were broadly similar to their current provider but offered a significant discount in premiums. When they attempted to ‘sell’ this new arrangement to staff – there was uproar. While only 5% of staff had opted for enhanced medical coverage – it turned out that a lot of people were ‘thinking about doing so’. Their family profiles were changing. While baseline cover with the new provider was cheaper, enhanced packages were more expensive. So, the company renegotiated the deal with Glo and made a number of accommodations to the points made by staff (they didn’t address every single point made). This ‘ability to change your mind’, to listen, to park the idea that the senior team have a monopoly on wisdom, is part of trust-building. If someone comes up with a better argument – doing a U-turn is not a sign of weakness or managerial pragmatism – it signals a partnership approach to the way you run the business.

Teaching Trust: Given the importance of ‘trust’ in relationships generally – and in the employment relationship in particular – you’d expect to see this topic in lights – high on the teaching agenda. Despite my mini-research (essentially a ‘trawl’ through the curriculum of six post-graduate programes in management), this topic is missing-in-action. It does not feature at all. Yet, as David Hurst reminds us: “Trust, like the lubricant in an engine, is noticed only when it is gone and the motor has seized up.” When you begin to wonder if you can trust someone (or not) then you already know you don’t. This topic should be a central part of the management curriculum for external and internal leadership development programmes.

High Performance requires Thrust e.g. the propulsive force delivered by jet engines. But, you only get this when the bedrock of Trust is in place. When is the last time your leadership team had a decent conversation about this? It’s a topic for your Leadership  agenda, for sure!


PS Lighter Moments

Trust is the most important thing in a relationship. You have to be 100% sure he won’t tell your husband!

According to a recent survey, 4 out of 5 Urologists smell apple juice before drinking it.

I don’t mean to brag, but I completed my 21-day diet in 4 hours and 30 minutes.

BIG Question (from Norman Harte): “If the USA Secret Service Agents come under attack, do they shout: ‘Donald, Duck!” 

Check our website http://www.tandemconsulting.ie or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.

Posted in Management Practices | 1 Comment

Conference Visiting: How to ‘Out-think’ the Competition

Pick up on a ton of good ideas...

Pick up on a ton of good ideas…

Every year, like clockwork, I get invited along to the PwC annual business conference. To be honest, it’s not normally a ‘barrel of laughs’ (it’s not meant to be), but comes with the guarantee of a bacon sandwich and a hot coffee to kick-start the heart on a cold Winters’ morning. The conference is brilliantly organized – a master class in event management, professionalism and courteousness.

Key Speakers: The line up of speakers had both good and bad news. The really great news was that there were no economists on the menu; thank God for small mercies. Economists are people who summarize their thoughts into 438 PowerPoint slides. They are business historians – brilliant at explaining what happened but brutal at predicting what will happen. Gary McGann delivered the keynote – certainly one of the best Chief Executives/Chairman that Ireland has ever produced. He didn’t disappoint. “We need to create wealth before we distribute this and not visa versa.” So, what were they ‘take aways’ from the session? Here’s couple of thoughts.

Phone’s On: Claire Byrne, the moderator, issued the first instruction of the day: Keep your phones switched on! We had to log onto a particular site and were expected to ‘vote’ on a range of questions raised during the conference. Historically, when you attended a conference there were two immediate instructions (1) In the event of a nuclear explosion, please run towards the green EXIT sign at the speed of Usain Bolt (2) turn off your mobile phone ‘right now’ and keep it off for the duration. But the world has changed. People no longer want to be passive attendees. They want to be ‘part of the action’ – with live tweeting, voting and commentary – even on TV shows. Picture yourself on the couch with the remote control in one hand and a smart phone in the other (you’d need to be an Octopus to drink wine at the same time). Welcome to the new world of participation – where even formerly staid management conferences have become a full contact sport. This is a quiet revolution. Think back a single generation. Do you remember ‘negotiating’ with your mother (“I’ll only wear Super Dry” or “I’m definitely not eating Chili Con Carne”). I don’t. But my kids see this as absolutely normal. And here’s the kicker. My kids have become your employees. They won’t accept Genghis Khan managers who think they have a monopoly on wisdom and don’t involve them in decision-making. If that’s your current company culture, get ready to lash out big headhunter fees because Millennials ‘vote with their feet’. Metaphorically, everyone’s phone needs to be kept ‘switched on’.

Know Thyself: Many years ago I had an idea which was quite similar to I-Tunes. With literally hundreds of CD’s, I normally only liked 2 or 3 songs on each and mentally posed the question: what if people could ‘select’ music that really suited them? Sometime later, in Portugal, I had an idea about integrating solar panels into regular roof tiles. Those big ‘square’ solar panels bolted onto roofs of traditional houses looked incongruous. I knew there’d be a bigger market for solar if this could somehow be ‘integrated’ into regular tiles at an affordable price. Just a couple of months ago, Elon Musk announced that he was bringing this exact product to market. So, why didn’t I take any of these great ideas forward? Well that might be something to do with my complete lack of entrepreneurial spirit and knowledge around commercializing any of this stuff. Career wise, I’ve been moderately successful by following a simple formula (1) Know what you are good at (2) Milk it shamelessly. Many years ago, an Organization Development consultant in the US (Professor Bob Fulmer) offered the following advice: “It’s easier to get a new audience than a new speech.” When I work in the Executive Coaching space I meet all sorts of executives. Most of them are on the ‘up’. Some have plateaued. A small number have fallen off the ladder/wagon completely. But they all have one thing in common – a single red thread binds this disparate group of executives together. They all ask me to help them figure out their weaknesses, where they are ‘less than perfect’, how they can plug the gaps. Of course, I listen and it can be useful to ‘shore up’ obvious deficits. But I always suggest that we also identify their strengths and work on pumping these up. We’re all flawed diamonds e.g. like those random ‘product ideas’ I get but never do anything about. Generally speaking – the best bet is to ignore your flaws and keep polishing the diamond.

Ostrich Mentality: Did you know that China will soon be the largest economy in the world? You might also know that it’s run by 7 men who are politically ‘less than transparent’ (great line from their Politburo after the recent elections in the US: “That’s what you get when you have democracy”). Or, perhaps you’re concerned about North Korea’s increasing nuclear credibility – which is starting to worry a wider group than fish in the South China Sea. Alongside those sobering facts, we had a large serving of Brexit for Breakfast. It was a geo-political tour de force changes that could/might/will (don’t ask an economist) impact ‘Ireland Inc’. Sitting listening to all this stuff, I was conscious of my own role, well down the food chain. And, I became occupied by a single thought. How will any of this stuff impact me? Having lived in Asia and with 3  kids (2 Asian) I’m particularly interested in events in that part of the world. But only in a ‘nosey’ way. Not in an: ‘Oh God, what’s going to happen next’, kind of way. I was reminded of the quip by Mark Twain who said: “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, some of which actually happened.” We have a fixed amount of processing capacity, or ‘head space’ as they call it in Finglas. Why fill it up with stuff that you can’t control? I’ve teenagers. That’s enough stuff that I can’t control for one lifetime (“you can only be as happy as your ‘unhappiest’ child”). If there are things happening externally that you need to be aware of/do something about – then of course you have to do it. You don’t want to be like Charles Handy’s ‘frog’. But, the rest of it, the stuff that you can’t do anything about, just take an Ostrich stance and give yourself a break (the trick, of course, is to be able to differentiate between what you need to respond to and what you can ignore).

Time Out: When I sign up for conferences, the date is always sometime far into the distant future. Then on the day itself, I have a zillion reasons not to go. I’m too busy, falling behind on my day job. Someone, somewhere is screaming for something. The rush-hour traffic into town (in the teeming rain) will be a nightmare. And so on. But once you make the effort, that ‘thinking time’ in a darkened room – staying open to new ideas and insights – has two specific upsides (1) you might actually learn something from listening to someone at the conference (2) you might learn something from calming down and just listening to yourself.

Book that ticket to your next conference. It’s a sure-fire way to ‘out-think’ the competition.

Have a great week.


PS: Great Advertising: Thai video called ‘Smoking Kid’. It shows a sequence of clips where children go up to adults who are smoking outside of their workplaces and ask them for a light. They tracked the response. Apparently, the calls to a smoking quit line, shown as part of the video, increased by 40%. Brilliant.

 Lighter Note: Conference Attendance:

Three lawyers and three MBA’s are traveling by train to a conference. At the station, the MBA’s each buy tickets and watch as the three lawyers only buy a single ticket “How are 3 people going to travel on only one ticket?” asks an MBA. “Watch and you’ll see,” answers one of the lawyers. They all board the train.

The MBA’s take their respective seats but all three lawyers cram into a restroom and close the door behind them. Shortly after the train departs, the conductor comes around collecting tickets. He knocks on the restroom door and says, “Ticket, please.” The door opens just a crack and a single arm emerges with a ticket in hand. The conductor takes it and moves on.

The MBA’s discussed this and agreed it was quite a clever idea. So after the conference, the MBA’s decide to copy the lawyers on the return trip and save some money. When they get to the station, they buy a single ticket for the return trip. To their astonishment, the lawyers don’t buy any tickets at all. “How are you going to travel without a ticket?” asked one perplexed MBA. “Watch and you’ll see,” answers a lawyer.

When they board the train the 3 MBA’s cram into a restroom and the 3 lawyers cram into another one nearby. The train departs. Shortly afterward, one of the lawyers leaves the restroom and walks over to the restroom where the MBA’s are hiding. He knocks on the door and says, “Ticket, please.”

The Pope And Bill ClintonAfter a meeting with the Pope, Bill Clinton held a press conference and announced that they had a very successful conference and actually agreed on about 60% of what they discussed. When asked what they had discussed, Clinton replied: “The Ten Commandments.”

Check our website http://www.tandemconsulting.ie or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.

Posted in Management Practices | Leave a comment

New Year’s Resolution: Don’t let Anxiety Drive your Behaviour

This Year it's going to happen....

This Year it’s going to happen….

The hi-pitched scream brought Linda running. The unfamiliar bedroom and pitch blackness were both confusing. Somewhere in the dark, I could hear her shouting: “Are you ok? Are you OK?”

Lying on the floor at the side of the bed, my knees and the side of my head hurt from a hard landing. But, the dented pride was worse than anything physical. I’d woken abruptly from a nightmare – then fallen out of bed. It was in the middle of playing soccer for Ireland in the Aviva Stadium. Given my athletic ability, that’s some leap of faith. While I actually have a couple of soccer medals, they were a reward for telling jokes on the bus, rather than any prowess on the pitch. Earlier that evening, I’d watched the Irish soccer team on TV. Shortly after falling asleep, I managed to secure a place on the Irish team, took a full volley shot at an open goal in front of 50,000 people, completely missed the ball and tumbled from a high mattress onto a tiled floor. Try explaining that to a wife who thinks you are having an acute myocardial infarction. The next morning, she almost had a heart attack herself, laughing, as I explained the dream. Yes, it’s hard to be a hero in my house.

Dream Interpretation: Typically, dreams are the way we ‘work out’ anxiety. The central messages can be easy enough to unravel and often relate to inner turmoil occurring in your life at the point in time. In this specific case, the issue was anxiety, the potential embarrassment of screwing up in public. As part of my job, I regularly make presentations to large audiences. But I was wrestling with a forthcoming ‘pitch’ – where we had to sell a difficult message to a particularly hostile group. To help work all of this out, my unconscious mind signed me up for the boys in green (#COYBIG). It was all going well, until I missed that ‘sitter’ and the crowd started jeering…. That’s how the day started…

Road Trip: Later that morning we took a road trip across Spain. About a million years ago, I’d learned a couple of hundred Portuguese words. Reckoning that this is ‘close’ to Spanish (not), I was confident of finding my way to a particular train station in the heart of Seville and then making the rest of the journey by bullet train to Madrid. Buy a map? No way, Jose. Not for someone with my language expertise! At a truck stop, located exactly in the middle of nowhere, no-one spoke English and they couldn’t understand a single word of my pigeon Portuguese. So, I resorted to sign language. Have you ever tried to mime a train going through a tunnel without appearing as a social deviant? It’s becoming clearer to me why I’ve never won the Christmas Charades Contest. On my third attempt at saying “Chu Chu” with a Spanish accent, Linda and Nicole (my youngest) staggered outside, doubled over, bursting out laughing. Here’s a good book title I’m thinking of working on: ‘How to amuse your family by making yourself look like a complete dope’. The anxiety:  Perhaps getting lost in the wild – ending our days as slaves on some Bull Farm in the Spanish prairies?  It’s probably because being ‘lost’ (even in a civilized place) makes us feel out of control.

Tattoo Parlor: Last weekend Nicole got her 1st tattoo, the Chinese symbol for ‘sisters’. She’s very close to her sister from County Meath, who was adopted at the same time. We found a tattoo artist in Bray whose claim to fame was ‘inking’ Brittany Spears. Hey, if it’s good enough for Brittany – it’s good enough for me. Yes, hit me baby one more time! Sounds like a slogan for a Donald Trump rally. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t persuade Nicole to avoid tattoos. So, I deployed the killer argument, rolling up my sleeves and showing off the scars. When I was a teenager there was a single tattoo artist in Dublin – a guy called Johnny Eagle operating in Bolton Street. By the age of 16, I’d accumulated 5 stupid tattoos – running down both forearms. One of them declared ‘Paul’, perhaps guarding against a future bout of Alzheimer’s when I’d forget my own name. Nicole’s anxiety? She wants to ‘grow up’ and appear as an adult, not a child. That concern underpinned her wish to get a tattoo (I’m trying to make the same point again i.e. anxiety is a huge driver of behaviour for all of us).

Hiding Shame: It seems like ancient history now, but when I secured my first managerial role, the tattoos protruding from the bottom of my shirt cuffs seemed incongruous. The solution was quirky. I bought 12 sets of tennis wrist-bands and single handedly invented the medical condition of ‘weak wrists.’ That behaviour was driven by shame/anxiety about those tattoos and what they signified at that time (working class, tough image). Some years later I bit the bullet and had the tattoos removed by skin graft and now ‘have the scars to prove it’. So, why relate these episodes? Because the first step in controlling your own behaviour, is to understand its cause.

Personal Psychology: Most people are fascinated by their own psychology. Yet we don’t always know why/how we’ve come to develop particular traits or ways of thinking/behaving. Many times we are following a sort-of invisible train track that guides our behaviour without conscious awareness. Now, here’s the deal for 2017. My New Years resolution is not something new. It’s the continuing goal of working on myself. By understanding myself better, I have a better chance of improving my interaction skills with others and monitoring my ‘self-talk’ to keep this positive and mentally healthy. In short, I want my behaviour to be driven by choice – not by anxiety. Not by fears, concerns or elements of a negative self-image which was laid down (like those train tracks), when I was much younger. We all need to repeat the mantra: “I’m the Chief Executive of my own life.” Hey, this year I’m even going to prove it.

Warm Regards to you and your family for the coming year.


PS:  Had a conversation during the week with Turlough O’Sullivan (formerly Director-General of IBEC, now CEO of Resolve). Commenting on the Reference Checking blog he said: “If I had to sum up 25+ years of business experience in 2 words it would be this: ‘Check References'” 

Funny Santa Stories: They run a Santa party for the members kids in St Annes’ golf club. Our ‘local Santa’ asked one young girl: “And what would you like for Christmas?” She said: “I told you yesterday in Arnott’s” (Dublin Department store which also has a Santa). I told that story to Dermot Murray who relayed the following. At a kids Christmas party  run by the Bank of Ireland, the person designated as Santa (now, that’s one job you never want to be deemed suitable for) was conscientious. He asked Dermot the name of his cat (Monty). At the party, Santa said to Dermot’s son: “If you are leaving some treats for Santa, keep them up high because last year Monty ate them all.” The reply: “We only got him in August!” Now, from a 6-year-old, that’s really magic.

PPS: Lighter Moment: Feeling Sluggish. On a recent golf trip, Joe Bell, told exactly 417 jokes. Most of them were ‘unprintable’; this one was certainly memorable. It might even help you with that New Year’s diet resolution. Look away immediately if you are of a sensitive disposition….

Guy goes to the doctor and complains that he’s feeling a bit sluggish. The Doctor takes down some general details and then asks him to describe his diet:

“My day kicks off great when I have a full Irish. Brown toast, 6 slices, mushrooms, beans and 3 eggs over easy. And, whatever else is in the fridge. I can’t stand waste.”

“Then, around 10, I’m normally a bit peckish. So, I have a small sandwich, ham, cheese, a yogurt, sometimes a few chicken wings. They make a great snack.”

“What do you do for lunch?” the doctor asked:

“Oh, the boss has recently installed a new canteen in work. It’s the business. I can’t walk past those chips without getting a bag. Maybe a cheeseburger with bacon and a lighter dessert – a mousse or something like that. You don’t want to ‘do the dog’ on it.”

“Mid afternoon, I usually get an energy dip. So, I go for something healthy – maybe nuts – in a Snickers Bar with a couple of packets of Salt ‘n Vinegar Tayto in a sandwich. Easy on the butter.”

The doctors eyes opened wider: “What would you typically eat for the evening meal?”

“I have to tell you, the wife is some cook. She puts on a terrific spread. Every evening at 6, I horse into a full 3-course roast dinner. Gravy, onion rings, the full nine yards. You can’t beat a small bowl of ice-cream to get that fully satisfied feeling along with a bottle of real lemonade to wash it down.”

“And, that would be it for the day?”

“No, no. After a few hours of TV, my stomach’s starting to rumble. Some nights I give herself a break and slip down to the chipper for a long Ray or a Batter Burger and chips with mushy peas. You need to get the greens in.”  

The Doctor Says: “Slip over to the coach and take off your clothes. I want to conduct a physical examination.”

As the doctor is walking across the consulting room he says to the patient. “Ah, I can see the problem straight away. You only have 1 Arse!”

Ease into the New Year with this story….a guy attended one of our music gigs just before Christmas. He was impressed by the fact that a group of ‘oul fellas’ were playing some modern music. Told me about a group in a small town in Kerry who are all in their late 70’s and early 80’s and still going strong. Their local ‘nickname’:  One Erection.

Check our website http://www.tandemconsulting.ie or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.


Posted in Positive Psychology | 1 Comment

The Success Recipe: What does it look like?

All I want for Christmas is...

All I want for Christmas is…the recipe for success!

I was dragged out of a deep sleep early last Thursday morning. Cillian slept through his alarm and was late for work. Daddy Taxi to the rescue – again! The speed limits only apply after 8am. Right? On the way there – dressed in slippers, a dressing gown that’s seen better days and the previous nights T-shirt – I was reminded on an innovation I’d seen in New York many moons ago. It was a clock where you place a $5 (or $50) bill when you set the alarm. If you don’t hit the snooze button on time, the phone shreds the note! Genius. I suppose you could do it with a Galaxy Note 7 on full charge and get your money incinerated!

On the way to work, Cillian told me the following story. Last Christmas his buddy got a present of an alarm clock that physically shoots a projectile to help wake you up. Part of the design is that the missile has to be replaced in its cradle to cut off a piercing air raid alarm siren! One summer morning, when he’d slept with the bedroom window wide open, the thing shot through to the garden below. They guy spent 15 minutes in his jocks (light Irish summer rainfall), searching for a 2” plastic missile. Now, that would wake you up better than any Americano! (unless she was very pretty). Yes, there’s something about getting up early that gets the day off to a flying start. Henry Ward Beecher said: “The first hour is the rudder of the day.”  You need to jump up and knock the ice off the Rooster!

Success Behaviour: Some people seem to incorporate incredible self-discipline into their lives. Getting up early and going to the gym. Chairing meetings with the authority of Vladimir Putin. But the rest of us struggle with an energy roller coaster and get distracted by the latest shiny new object (email alerts, the new almond flavoured Magnum). So, is there some sort of recipe that guarantees success? As we head into a New Year, the ideas listed below seem simple – but they work (most of the time).

  1. Clear Goalposts: Are you clear on what exactly you are trying to achieve and how this will be measured? Today? This week? In 2017? In his TED talk, Simon Sinek (author of Start With Why) makes the point that Martin Luther King didn’t become famous for the line: “I have a plan.” It was something bigger. So, what’s your aim point in 2017? What inscription do you want to have engraved on your tombstone? Aim high.
  1. Saying No: We all need to be loved and want to ‘chip in’ to resolve life’s problems. But for some people this need is so strong, they get run ragged looking for approval. You don’t have to solve world-hunger (every single day). And, you shouldn’t allow yourself to be bullied by anyone (a boss, aging parent, an overpowering spouse or anyone else). Acquiring the ability to say no is a helpful addition to your psychological armory. Try assertiveness! You might like it (and, on the subject of approval seeking, will all adults please stop posting messages like: “Just arrived in Helsinki Airport” unless you need to source a taxi from there). This need for constant attention is not cool and actually damages your brand!
  1. Relinquishing Sainthood: Family therapists tell us that the roles played in early life often continue throughout our entire lives. The first organization we were part of was our family. That’s where we learned the rules and how to survive. But, so much of this stuff is unconscious. For example, approval seeking from a boss (we all do a bit of it) can be likened to looking for attention from a parent. You need to become attuned to the signals. Shy away from conflict? Constantly use humour to lessen tension? Have difficulty in expressing what you really feel? A lot of this stuff has its roots in our nuclear family (in my case, the term ‘nuclear’ is quite apt). For a couple of years, I unconsciously took up the role of rescuer. Like Red Adair, I felt the need to fly around and extinguish all family fires. No more. A friend, John Randles said: “Why don’t you get down off that cross for good?” As soon as I figured out why I felt compelled to behave like this, I was able to discard the fire-fighting uniform. Now, I do stuff I want to do – with a real heart rather than thinly disguised resentment. This isn’t an argument for selfishness. But it is an argument for establishing boundaries and sticking to them. You may not get canonized; but there’s a solid chance that you will become happier in this life.
  1. Self-Acceptance: Who doesn’t like James Bond movies? I’ve always been a little disappointed that those 007 opportunities seemed to pass me by. But, somewhere along the line, I’ve come to accept myself – flaws n’ all. It’s taken time (and I’m not fully there yet). But, if you don’t love yourself, it’s hard for other people to love you. Giving up on perfect is such a liberating idea, I can’t understand why more people don’t try it.
  1. Shit Happens: Part of being resilient means accepting that life is not fair i.e. some good and some bad things will happen. Mike Tyson, the former Heavyweight Champion of the World said: “Everyone has a plan until they’re punched in the face.” I know that this is largely common sense, but it’s not common practice. Some people have a continuing expectation that life will be all powder snow and great skiing – setting themselves up for disappointment. It’s like the old cynics recipe for a happy marriage i.e. set your expectations low!

No doubt you will have your own ‘tricks’ to keep mentally healthy and positive in the year ahead. Of course, if you are struggling, you can always make a start by purchasing one of those money-shredding alarm clocks and stuff it with Drachma (before the advent of the euro, sleeping in was much cheaper).   Why not put together your own mental toughness list for the next 12 months?

I hope that you enjoy the Christmas break and 2017 brings you every success. Thanks a million for keeping up with all the rants – which are set to continue next year! And, if you are disappointed with your Christmas present, spare a thought for someone, somewhere, who is receiving a Mayo jersey.  Up the Dubs!


PS Next Blog: 9th January. I know, I know. You can barely wait!

PPS Lighter Note: From Kevin Griffin. It’s never too late to tell Christmas 1 liners (some are a bit vulgar – but that’s Kevin for you!). Perhaps his behaviour will improve next year – but I very much doubt it!  Look away now if you are easily offended….

Q: What do you call a kid who doesn’t believe in Santa?

A: A rebel without a Claus.

Q: What is the most popular Christmas carol in the desert?

A: Camel ye Faithful.

Q: What do you call people who are afraid of Santa? .

A: Claustrophobic

Q: What does Santa bring naughty boys and girls on Christmas Eve?

A: A pack of batteries with a note saying: “toy not included.”

Q: What nationality is Santa Claus?

A: North Polish.

Q: Why are women’s breasts like a train set a kid gets at Christmas?

A: They were originally made for children but the father wants to play with them.

Q: Why is Christmas just like your job?

A: You do all the work and the fat guy with the suit gets all the credit.

Q: What do you call a blind reindeer?

A: I have no eye deer

Q: What do hip hop artists do on Christmas?

A: Unwrap.

1st guy: “How come you never hear anything about the 10th reindeer, Olive?”

2nd guy: “Olive?”

1st Guy: “Yeah, you know: ‘Olive, the other reindeer, used to laugh and call him names’”

Last One: A timely Christmas thought from the ever-popular Aidan Cahill: Golf Game

Four old-timers were playing their weekly game of golf. One  remarked how nice it would be to wake up on Christmas morning, roll out of bed and without an argument go directly to the golf course and meet the lads. His buddies all chimed in “Let’s do it! We’ll make it a priority – figure out a way to meet here early, Christmas morning.”

Months later, that special morning arrives and they are on the golf course. The first guy says, “Boy this game cost me a fortune! I bought my wife a diamond ring. She can’t take her eyes off of it.”

The second guy says, “I spent a ton too. My wife is at home planning the cruise for next year. As I was leaving the house, she was up to her eyeballs in brochures.”

The third guy said: “As we speak my wife is at home admiring her new car, reading the manual on how to bluetooth the phone.”

The last guy in the group is staring at them like they have lost their minds. “I can’t believe you all went to such expense for this golf game. I said to Mabel: “Well babe, Merry Christmas! It’s a beautiful morning for either golf or sex?”

She said: “Don’t forget your hat.”

Check our website http://www.tandemconsulting.ie or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.

Posted in Executive Coaching | Leave a comment