How to Say No Assertively

How to say NO and still have people raving about how helpful you are! Let me share the concept in just over 3 minutes.

Consider this: an abrupt, hard NO is certainly quick, job done. Except that you have a lot of mopping up to do in the relationship and you’ll also have to face payback, one way – or probably several others.

My suggested approach takes longer initially but keeps the monkey off your back and where it belongs. And the other person goes away thinking how incredibly helpful you’ve been. So instead of trying to repair damage, you end up with credit points in the bank instead. And somehow people stop expecting you to do everything for them.

The strategy works, sometimes miraculously, both at home and at work.

Oh and professional coaches – the principle applies to you. You’re not saying “no” to your client, but you most definitely are NOT there to solve their problem and do the heavy lifting for them. Be helpful, empower – but don’t either reject or take over.

Whatever you do, persevere!

Over to you …

Check out the full course in communication and conflict skills for leaders

Leadership Across Cultures: The Scorecard

Businessman Winning Race --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Businessman Winning Race — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Would you imagine that Sub-Saharan African leaders would score highest globally on intellectual flexibility, on breadth of experience and on team development, but lowest on commercial thinking and on their ability to win hearts and minds?

Here are some similar highlights from research published in Harvard Business Review, May 2015 by Gurnek Bains (“Cultural DNA”) of global corporate consultancy YSC. Health warning: these are very broad brush statistics and will mask a lot of local cultural differences.

Latin American leaders? It seems that they lead the world by a mile on their level of drive and ambition, on being engaging and likeable, and on leading collaboration. But only 3% are strong in strategic thinking, and they have the lowest range of experience of any other region.

US leaders are the most action-oriented and also score highly in commercial thinking, but come at or near the bottom in the areas of intellectual flexibility & creativity, authoritative clear-cut leadership, self-awareness, emotional openness and authenticity.

Leaders in the Middle East are globally strongest in commercial thinking and are the most organised & structured leaders, with the strongest orientation to growth. On the other hand, they are beaten only by latin american leaders in the weakness of their strategic thinking.

Indian leaders have the greatest breadth of knowledge, and narrowly lead the rankings in authoritative, clear-cut leadership although these rank low everywhere. They are in fact much stronger in the area of drive and ambition, second only to the latin americans. Their biggest challenges are in the areas of positivity/ emotional resilience and in building relationships as likeable, engaging people.

Europe? Strongest in strategic thinking, in inclusive leadership and particularly in their visionary ability to win hearts and minds (this, by a large margin). They are also the least emotionally closed, with relative strength in perceived authenticity. However they tend to lack drive & ambition and rank low in action oriented thinking.

In China, leaders rank highest in analytical thinking, and have relative strength in their orientation towards growth, in drive & ambition, in being engaging & likeable, and in collaboration (ranking second globally in these areas). They score lowest globally in action-oriented thinking, and equal lowest in positivity/emotional resilience, and perhaps surprisingly in having authoritative, clear-cut leadership.

My Observations – First, I notice that most scores are lower than 50%, suggesting that most leaders lack most of these skills! There’s a lot of scope for development.

Second, while abilities in most areas vary widely, there is a universal lack of  strength in four areas:

  • Authoritative, clear-cut leadership
  • Self awareness and insight
  • Emotional openness and authenticity
  • Forming close, deep bonds.

So there should be huge demand for people like me who specialise in developing leaders! However the lack of self awareness among leaders is precisely why this isn’t always the case.

You have a choice – keep pretending you are doing well, or wisen up and grab a competitive advantage over a relatively weak field by finding a world class coach/mentor.

Every success!







Short & Sweet: Confusion


Recently I have met many business people who seem to value certainty and predictability. In other words, they hate feeling confused. And they look down on other people who admit they don’t have an answer.

This kind of locked-in thinking is not always healthy.

When I’m certain I know the best way forward, my mind is closed. And I might miss a better alternative. So embrace confusion when it comes along – it means you’re about to learn something new!

I facilitate a process which by turns clarifies and confuses, but leads to great, original decision making. If you can admit you don’t know the best way forward, this might be for you!

Keep bouncing back,



Expect More from 2015: Strategies for Success from Leading Experts

Strategies for Success from Leading Experts in Personal and Professional Development

.Stressed out help large

I have a free e-book compiled by Thought Leader Gihan Perera for you, including a contribution by yours truly. Find the ideas that will help you to thrive next year! Click the link below, and feel free to share everywhere.




The Toxic Leader

In a recent post I discussed the notion of the toxic workplace. Today – it’s the turn of the leaders!

Gabriel Thorn, a US Company Commander, has written a great post (link below) asking what happened to the US army’s decision to eliminate their toxic leaders, recognising the destructive effect such characters have on morale, and how they cause the best to up and leave.

What we have here is classic ‘tank’ behaviour. Tanks simply roll over everything in their path to get the job done as quickly as possible, and rarely even recognise that they are crushing everything indiscriminately.

What can you do if you have to put up with a tank as a leader?

4 choices:

  1. Stay and put up with it;
  2. Vote with your feet and leave;
  3. Change your attitude towards them; or
  4. Change your own behaviour.

Notice that I haven’t suggested that you try to change THEIR behaviour. Put it this way – how often have other people succeeded in changing YOUR behaviour? Really? And with the tank this is frankly almost impossible.

So consider this instead. Your goal is to command their respect. “We’re on the same side”. Don’t counter attack or get defensive – but do interrupt, back track (“I get it that you think this should be finished by now”), target the bottom line (“The way I’m handling this will save us time and money in the future”), fire your shot then negotiate peace with honour.

Keep it simple, don’t be cowed, don’t get emotional. Win respect and even those toxic tanks will by and large leave you in peace.

Gabriel Thorn’s article: Whatever Happened to Eliminating The Toxic Leader?

The tank and other difficult behaviours are beautifully described, with strategies, in this book:

As I get older …

I’m one of those guys who is shocked at my relatively advanced stage of life – there’s a young bloke inside wondering “How the hell did that happen?”

As I get older some things are definitely changing. My eyesight and hearing aren’t what they used to be, for one thing. And I’m getting crankier. And it’s about time too.

So be warned, I’m determined not to tolerate crap any more. Crap? Like – when I try to be helpful and it’s turned into a negative (stop getting in the way, you’re not doing it right, etc) being talked to like I’m an idiot, or being made to feel that I have no real value. I don’t deserve that. I don’t think I treat others like that.

When I turn 60 I want to feel loved. If I can have that, then I’d like to feel appreciated and respected. If I can have that, I’d like to keep being stretched, to keep learning, and to be fit (those 3 are down to me). And if I can have some fun, music, ‘craic’ and laughter thrown in along the way, happy days.

How about you? What should you stop tolerating? What will you really want in the next stage of your life, whatever that is?

Managing Change: Pure Poetry

This short poem by Portia Nelson is brilliant. It was instrumental, believe it or not, in getting a massive pulp and paper business with 100,000 employees in Indonesia to change its unsustainable deforestation policies. I’ll say more after the poem!

Which of these ‘chapters’ are you experiencing?

Chapter 1

I walk down the street.

There is a deep hole in the pavement.

I fall in.

I am lost … I am helpless.

It isn’t my fault.

It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter 2

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the pavement.

I pretend I don’t see it.

I fall in again.

I can’t believe I am in the same place.

But, it isn’t my fault.

It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter 3

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the pavement.

I see it there.

I still fall in … it’s a habit.

My eyes are open.

I know where I am.

It is my own fault.

I get out immediately.

Chapter 4

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the pavement.

I walk around it.

Chapter 5

I walk down another street.


“An Autobiography in Five Short Chapters” by Portia Nelson (May 27, 1920 – March 6, 2001).

Portia was a cabaret performer way back in the 1950’s, had a part in ‘The Sound of Music’, played the long running role of nanny Mrs Gurney in the US TV series ‘All My Children’, and was also a terrific author and poet. Her book (see the link below) became a mainstay of 12-step self discovery programs.

The Story:

Scott Poynton is an unsung hero. His non-profit organisation, The Forest Trust, has been a highly effective catalyst for managing change, where the United Nations seem to have only been able to dance on the sidelines. An Australian forester, he has helped convince some companies that have been regarded as the epitome of environmental evil by many in the green movement to change their ways. And while a big part is the business case, he is adept at using poetry, imagery and other means to work at a spiritual level with those business leaders.

He sent APP (Asia Pulp & Paper) Portia Nelson’s poem in frustration in 2011, telling their executives that they were stuck in chapter 2. And not long after, they contacted him to say they were ready for change – and that went right up to the Chinese-Indonesian family owners. Now Greenpeace have been signed up as monitors to make sure the company meets its pledges.

How ready for change are you? And your clients?

Read more about Scott Poynton in the Sydney Morning Herald, 29th March, 2014.

Get off your …

Want to be more creative? And reduce your chance of early death by 40%? Then … read on!

Big butt

Think about this. Do you tend to sit for more, or less, than 11 hours per day? Include work time, sitting in the car/bus/train, eating, watching TV and anything else. Well?

It’s strange. Even office workers used to work standing up, then sit down for a break. Now we do the opposite. And as a result, INACTIVITY is the second biggest cause (after smoking) of disease, illness and absence from work in Australia.

Leonardo da Vinci, Winston Churchill and Benjamin Franklin all advocated standing up to improve concentration and creativity. Have you ever tried stand-up meetings? They are remarkably quicker and more decisive in my experience.

The easiest way to counteract the effects of sitting are to get up and move for 2 minutes in every 20. If that’s too often, then every 40 (we start to lose focus and concentration at that point anyway). Or get the blood really pumping for 2 minutes every hour at the outside – doing, for example, some squats.

If you’re thinking “I’m okay, I do an hour at the gym every day/3 times per week” the bad news is that your sedentary lifestyle still puts you at risk. So add movement throughout your day, and encourage your colleagues to get off their back ends as well – you don’t want to have to cover for them when they start taking time off work do you?

You’ll have to excuse me, I’m off for a quick walk!

Keep taking action instead of medication,


The “Rusty Bloke”

I recommend Dr Helena Popovic, who inspired this post.


The Tale of Two Springs

Coiled spring iStock_000007834883Small Coiled spring iStock_000007834883Small

Both of these springs have a bit of magic about them – the more they are worked, the stronger they get. But if left unused and protected from stress, they get brittle and fragile, and could break when exercised. The first spring gets pummelled and stretched all the time, and like a muscle it grows in strength every time. Sure, it complains when it gets tired but overall it’s happy and knows it is growing in this environment, partly because it does a job that makes things easier for every other part of the operation.

However the second spring is kept in the spares cupboard, locked up and wrapped in bubble wrap to keep it as good as new. It looks out and sees how hard the first spring is working and wonders how it could ever do the same. It gets more and more apprehensive that one day someone will open the cupboard and expect it to deliver a top performance.

And when that finally happens, it shatters like glass.

What’s the message for your organisation’s resilience? Are you constantly flexing and stretching, and challenging your people to do the same, so that you can adapt to whatever changes come your way? Or do you stay inside your comfort zone, dealing with what you need to do if you are to get through the day safely?

This is my area of expertise – right now I’m researching the ‘state of the nation’ in companies, organisations or divisions ideally with up to 100 people per work unit, to see how resilient or fragile you are as an organisation, and how resilient your people are emotionally, physiologically, and socially (ie mind, body and team). If interested, or if you’d like to be one of 3 companies piloting my program, do please get in touch.

Every success, Hugh


Build Lifelong Resilience

Two Young Executives Sitting on Space Hoppers

Our long term success depends on our long term social, emotional and physiological health. If we don’t consistently invest in building and maintaining these, they erode and will trip us up, sooner or later.

Even a few hours sitting at a desk affects concentration and productivity, as this limits the oxygen getting to the brain. And eventually inactivity and poor nutrition lead to major career breakdowns, caused for example by strokes and heart disease.

We all need a strong network of relationships around us, in both professional and personal life. We need friends, partners, mentors, team buddies, leaders, experts in areas that we are not, advocates, sponsors. We have to get into situations where we connect with such people. Then it takes time and will to invest in building and maintaining these relationships. Take anyone for granted and they may not be there when we need them!

And we need to have the confidence in ourselves to overcome our inner critic, to experiment and sometimes fail, to take criticism and hard knocks, and to bounce back even stronger for the experience.

Don’t put this off. Take action, and keep taking action, in all three areas.

Email Address First Name Last Name
Password Reset
Please enter your e-mail address. You will receive a new password via e-mail.