Category Archives: random

Leadership isn’t management

My gripe for today.


I cringe when I hear the phrase ‘distributed leadership’.

I fight back the rage building within me whenever I hear someone exchange the term ‘manager’ for the term ‘leader’.

Let me be clear about this – I love the concept of distributed leadership. The world would be a wonderful place if the people with the vision and passion were given the space to drive change. My gripe however is this – people seem to be using these two terms interchangeably.  ‘Leadership’ and ‘management’ are not the same thing, for one very simple reason: accountability.

Sure, ‘leadership’ is a quality we would hope ‘managers’ exhibit, and one would hope that any organisation would provide opportunities for staff to develop their skills both in terms of leadership and in terms of management, but they are not the same thing. You can be a leader because you have the vision and drive to make change happen. You are a manager because you are accountable. Leadership is a whole subject in it’s own right, but it’s also a really important subset of management.


Ignore the rest of management at your peril.

The limit of your ability

Nothing more can I teach you. – Yoda


In the early part of this millenium, I spent a lot of time teaching people to play the guitar. I’m quite knowledgable and fairly technically proficient as a guitarist, so it was with delight that I would help others in their own musically dexterous journey of development. Along the way, this would introduce me to a whole host of different artists and bands, as I was always keen to ensure that my students learned the songs and tunes that they wanted to play, not just what I wanted to teach them, or worse still, what I felt they should learn.

Sometimes this was really easy to prepare for. Often, the songs had already been transcribed and posted online (yep, this was the 2000’s after all!), and if it wasn’t something I had in my own music collection, it was simple enough to find the track online to listen to.

Sometimes it was harder to prepare for. I couldn’t find the track online. A transcription of it hadn’t been shared online, and I would sit patiently beside my cd player, paper in front of me, guitar in lap and pencil between teeth, shuffling between ‘play’, ‘pause’ and ‘rewind’ to get down on paper what I needed to help my student learn the track.

Often, a track the student would suggest was complex – arguably too complex. They may not have reached the required level of dexterity or speed to emulate the exact notes played by the artist. In many cases, we split the learning up, first learning the chord accompaniment, then perhaps some of the patterns or riffs that formed the key features of the track, before building up to a detailed breakdown of the solo. Often this breakdown would be performed in sections, at slow speeds before knitting it all together and cranking up the pace. What drove them on was the desire to learn something that motivated them.

Occasionally, you’d hit a wall. There is a limit to both my dexterity and the speed at which I can pick. I remember working with a student to learn ‘Surfing with the Alien’ by Joe Satriani. Whilst I can play all the phrases and notes Satch plays when broken down into chunks, I can’t play the whole piece at the recorded speed. I vividly remember the feeling of telling my student that although I could teach him how to play it, I couldn’t actually play it myself. I was a moment of pride watching in awe this student surpass my own ability, as he was a more technically proficient guitarist than me.

How do we cope when we realise the limits of our ability? Do we strive to improve and better ourselves? Do we hide it away, and hope that no-one finds where we will fail?

Image credit: Terriko.


We have a local supermarket that we only visit in a food emergency. Do you have one like this? You don’t shop there regularly, as you get both better deals and better service elsewhere.


This particular shop is a disgrace. It’s many years since I worked in the retail industry, but even what I learned then if put into practice now would radically alter the shopping experience of customers. When you walk in the door, you can’t help but notice that the windows have been cleaned, but the aluminium surrounds have possibly never been touched with a cleaning product. The curled up welcome mat should be binned. The basket holders are invariably empty, prompting to you collect one from the nearest overflowing stack at a closed till. They once had a competition to win a TV, which was perched on the only available table they could get their hands on – the one with the wonky leg from the staff canteen no doubt – you daren’t get too close incase it fell on you. The floor is manky, and I mean proper filthy. I remember an Assistant Manager in another chain in the 1990’s having us nightfill boys on our hands and knees with scrapers ensuring the floor was free of random debris, dirt, stickers and chewing gum – this local shop almost seems to wear this detritus as a badge of honour.

I could go on…

Why has this shop let itself go so much? When it opened it was beautifully presented. Does the store manager not walk their floor? Do they think customers don’t notice? I think the answer to the problem is simple: complacency.

They are the only reasonably large supermarket for 8 miles. They rely on the fact that a lot of locals either can’t or won’t travel the distance to their nearest competitor.

Well, I’ve bad news for them. They’ve started building work this week on their newest competitor, and it’s in the same town. Time to up your game, I think. Anyone who is that complacent deserves to go out of business.

Ask yourself this: are you constantly trying to ensure you meet the needs of your customers? Are you providing the best service you can? If not, your competitors are getting closer – in some cases, quite literally.

Image credit: Mary Hutchison.

They’re with us

On a regular basis I now pass underneath the Erskine Bridge, and it reminds me of a laugh we used to have at the toll booths whenever we drove over it years ago.

It’s a really simple thing to do, but when you drive through a toll booth, simply pay double the fare and say that you’re paying for the car behind you – “They’re with us” – even though they are a complete stranger. It was always really funny and heart warming to watch the look of incredulity on the face of the driver in your rear view mirror as they drew up to the booth intending to pay, only to be met with the toll booth operator telling them that their friend infront had paid for them.

We may not pass through many toll booths now in our lives, but why not consider doing something similar? Paying for the coffee of the person behind you in the queue at the coffee shop, or staff canteen? Buy two tickets at the vending machine and hand one to the person behind you in the queue? Simple things to make your day a bit brighter, and to give a complete stranger a lift or a laugh.

Image Credit: irrefutableundeniable.

The windows to your soul…

The treasure – of – an endless – ocean – of love – lies – in your – soul – behind – the windows – that are – your – eyes. – Steve Vai

Time is precious. We spend much of our time bustling from one task to the next, without much chance to stop and reflect on where we are, or what we are doing. Even when we find ourselves in company with time on our hands, we find ingenious ways to fill it, without actually interracting with people that are in our immediate environment. I used to spend a lot of time on trains, and often found myself embarrassed when I made eye contact with my fellow passengers – a brief moment of connection, insight or even friendship lost due to social norms – it’s almost as if the unwritten rule of the commuter is not to engage with those seated around you.

What a missed opportunity! What diverse life experiences we all have, and could gain so much from simple interraction. What could we have learned from each other? What could we have shared?

Do your interractions with the others you encounter today give an insight into who you are? Have you shared with others today something that is important to you? Do your eyes convey to others your beliefs or values in life?

Image Credit: frech.

Volunteer 2014

The thing that impressed me most about the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games was the Gamesmakers. People from all over the place giving up their time to be a friendly face and help visitors to the capital get the best out of the games, and to ensure the games ran smoothly.

You now have the opportunity to note your interest in volunteering to help out at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth games. A new site has opened where you can register your interest. All that you’d need would be 8 days for the games themselves, 3-4 days for training, and one day to pick up your uniform and offical pass. Perhaps most importantly, as the site says –

If you can still smile when the 76th person asks you the way to “Saucy Hall” street, we want to hear from you.

Register your interest at

The best shoe shop sales person in the world!

When I was around 15, I met a girl called Karen from Stewarton. She and I were taking part in a Summer Mission organised by the Church of Scotland.

At one point in the week, she was asked up in front of a large group of people to say a bit about herself. She was a student with a part time job, but when asked what she did when not on summer mission, she replied “I’m a shoe shop sales person”. Her interviewer, (who knew her well, incidentally) said “Is that what you do? I thought you did something else. What’s your ambition in life?”. She replied dead-pan “To be the best shoe shop sales person in the world!”

I don’t think that was Karen’s ambition, but it got me thinking – what a great sentiment! Perhaps our society would be a much better place if we could have such ambitions – not to pursue some fanciful goal, but to truly transcend and work hard at what we do, whatever that may be.

Image Credit: Yukon White Light.

Are you ok?

How many times each day do you either ask or respond to that question? We’re very good at asking it of those that we are close to, and being genuinely concerned about their response and their welfare. But what of complete strangers?

I’ve recently returned to cycle commuting. It’s wonderfully liberating to start and end each working day with a cycle, and as my commute is a significant distance, it gives me plenty of time to both unwind from work, and ponder things that I’ve either read, heard or seen. My journey to and from work is taken by a number of other cyclists, and there is a lovely sense of camaraderie or joie de vivre (can it really be ‘camaraderie’ when encounters are so fleeting? Perhaps joie de vivre’s ‘exultation of spirit’ captures it better…) when cyclists pass each other and briefly raise a gloved hand from the handlebars, or nod of a cycle helmet in acknowledgement or greeting. Occasionally there is enough breath to say “Hello”, or a sarcastically sanguine “Turned out nice again” owing to the joy that is the west coast of Scotland’s rain.

Occasionally, you meet someone who has had to stop at the side of the road, more often than not to repair a puncture. It’s lovely to see other travellers offering assistance, starting with the phrase we hear so often – “Are you ok?” How life affirming it is to hear complete strangers offering assistance, and being concerned about the welfare of others.

You might not cycle to work, or meet people fixing punctures often, but each day you come across complete strangers who would benefit from you asking such a simple question – “Are you ok?” What’s the worst that could happen? You end up talking to someone you’d rather not talk to. What’s the best that could happen? Two people enjoy a lift of spirit over a simple interaction.

Perhaps ‘joie de vivre’ is a better phrase after all…

Image Credit: Mark-Hobbs.

Ambitious targets…

When I set up this site, I had huge ambitions, but little time. I’d planned to post every day, but didn’t manage that very well! Instead of feeling bad about not publishing every day, perhaps I should just feel better about when I do manage to share my thoughts?

So, intermittent service will now be resumed – after all, I’ve got loads to write about, and I’m conscientiously trying to manage my time much better now too.

Image Credit: Michelle Ward.

Being green

Green Web Hosting I once read a post that claimed how detrimental to the environment web technology was. It was very interesting to read afterwards a post from Google setting the record straight. Whilst I don’t doubt that web technology is in some way detrimental to the environment, the alternatives that we seem to take for granted would appear to be far worse!

When I decided to come back online, it was really important to me to find a host that did something about this. I wanted to find a host that used the greenest tech available, and offset against that which it couldn’t alter. For those reasons, I’m happy to promote my host – supergreen hosting. They are very reliable, and have been exceptionally quick to answer any question I have posed of them. Good news on both fronts there then. (Yes, I know they are owned by…)

Kermit the Frog once famously said – “It’s not easy being green” – there are lots of other steps that one could take to improve their carbon footprint – so this is just a simple, random act to consider today. How green is your host?