20 thoughts for business from Sir Mark Elder

mark elder

Described as one of “Britains greatest cultural assets”, Sir Mark Elder is music director of the Halle Orchestra in Manchester and one our nations leading conductors working with the English National Opera, the BBC Symphony Orchesta aswell as assignments all over the world.  I recently held a dinner in Manchester for some customers where Sir Mark attended and spoke for over two hours about some of his experiences.

He is one of those individuals that you can just sit and listen to all night.  I fiercely scribbled notes down, let me share some of his quotes which came out in conversation (in bold) with my additional interpretation about what that would mean for a business.  Here’s 20 things you can learn from one of the countries leading conductors (in no particular order): -

  1. “An Englishmans greatest enemy is his routine” - What elements of you or your organisations routine needs changing, renewing or deleting?  Routine stifles creativity, it’s easy to slip into routine – fight it, stop people going through the motions.
  2. “Fresh champagne, not old champagne” – Sometimes a new player coming in, lifts the whole orchestras performance.  Important to consider if people need to be moved around your organisation, to get their ‘fizz’ back and to provide fresh challenge or whether to bring in new people.
  3. “A performance can misfire but still stay on the page” – This is about resilience and the show going on, despite setbacks.  Learning must be done ‘on the fly’ – in the performance, and you need a team around you that will ‘self-correct.’
  4. “How do you ignite a performance?” It’s a conductors job to inject the passion and your job to ‘ignite’ your team.  Great leaders are a combination of ‘Pyromaniac’ and ‘Fireman’.
  5. “Being a conductor is a combination of head, heart and determination” – Important to understand that as leaders we need to enable the heart, have courage and make balanced decisions.
  6. “If a conductor keels over, the first violinist conducts” – Whose ready to take the stage on your team if you fall over?  Importance of succession planning.
  7. “The oboe always tunes the orchestra” – Which one person or thing is setting the tone for your organisation?   Is yours a perfect note or is someone else nominated to drive the culture to your standard?
  8. “Tell your truth quietly.” – Understanding the impact of big conversations with individuals and how these are best handled sensitively and in private.
  9. “The orchestra must exist separate from me” – In the same way our businesses must be able to function and run without us being constantly present.
  10. “A poor orchestra is a ‘safe’ orchestra who play with no emotion.” Each player must express themselves through their music.  How are you alowing individuals to express themselves and their inividuality?
  11. “The business of conducting is a psychological game” - not unlike the workplace!  People are complex, the chemistry of human performance is complex.  Think through your culture, your assets and ask yourself how you can ‘cook up’ a better outcome by changing or modifying elements of your own behaviour?
  12.  “Champagne without bubbles is a great Chardonnay’ – not everyone can fizz with enthusiasm, particularly introverts.  Seek out the Chardonnay and keep your eye on any extroverts that might be ’going flat.’
  13. “Unless it’s perfect, there’s no beauty” -  What does that beauty translate into in your own team or organisation?  Do people know?
  14. “Rolling a drum takes 12 years practice” – Looks simple, surely everyone can do it? Don’t underestimate tasks that may look operationally simply, they make be complex than you imagine.  Always take time to “understand how the work works.”
  15. “Leave ideas to marinate” – Warren Buffet said “You can’t make a baby in a month by making nine women pregnant” – some things just take time to mature.  Mark said “My chilli is really spicy when its marinated.”  Pressure is for us as leaders to decide everything quickly.  
  16. “A concert hall has to have the right combination of acoustics and size” – Important point about creating the right environment for people to work within to get the best outcomes.
  17. “The Sydney Opera House is a great building, but an awful concert hall” – Who’d have thought it?  It’s an iconic building and loved by Australians all over the world as a symbol of their national pride.  So, sometimes first impressions can be deceiving and some things may not be fit for purpose?  
  18. “You must seek feedback, but keep it to limited people who know you well” – Mark maintains a trusted circle of people who he can trust to give him the critical feedback he needs after a performance.  It is something he seeks a couple of days afterwards, when the dust has died down.  Feedback is key, particularly in understanding your organisational shadow as a leader which is often unintended.
  19. The importance of thinking time.  Mark spends long periods alone to think through his future performances.  He takes time out to access the ‘Alpha’ part of his thinking frequency, essential for a creative person but also equally important for every leader.  Look after yourself, give yourself time to think, away from screens, something I’m always banging on about.
  20. An orchestra has a clear chain of command.  The conductor will always communicate with a section leader but approach a player individually if a performance is not up to scratch.  Like all organisations, chains of commands exit, empowered leaders move across, up and down in order to get the best organisational performance.

Careful what you Label

labelLabels come in all shapes and sizes – not the ones you might be thinking of – Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Ralph Lauren et al.  What I mean are labels you attach to others and yourself – fat, skinny, black, white, tall, short, gay, big nose, big ears, fat legs, short legs, geeky, weird, a failure, ugly, you know the list.

Labels say more about you than anyone else and not in a necessarily positive way.  Labels can marginalise, restrict, be critical, condascending and unnecessarily compartmentalise you, or another, into feeling, seeing, or behaving differently.  When we choose to label others, we are often exposing an inferiority in our own self-image. 

De-labeling (not having the need to label by respecting everyone) is a powerful tool in acceptance of self and others.  By giving up labels for yourself – fat, skinny, ugly etc – you can move to a state of accepting ‘self’ as is and others.

Having “PSI” (Positive Self-Image) is about removing the ‘pressure’ to conform to the labels that other people may choose to use, it can be a breakthrough if you determine that the only label you have to live up to in life is “Me as I am.”  By installing this self-worth, you can quickly choose those relationships and situations which do or do not serve you.

A quick exercise is to look in the mirror and ask yourself “What do I see?”. If that reflection is one that feels uncomfortable, it’s likely that your self-image may be poor or bruised.  If so, begin to capture the things that you think are the qualities about you that your friends or family admire.   Think if a blind person met you whether they would be touched by your words or your kindness?  Think who matters, who is in your life and why, if they unconditionally accept you, then get more people like that in your life.    If your life is full of people who want to label and judge, don’t be surprised if it’s something that you feel conscious about or regularly participate in, to fit in.

Real freedom is simply to be a human ‘being’ by recognising that we are all different, there is no right or wrong, everyone has something to contribute, recognising judgment of others is toxic to self and choosing to give up the need to label others.  Why not try it?


should2The word ‘should’ doesn’t serve many, least of all you.

It winds you back to re-run scenarios for situations that have already passed in your own life, or the life of another.

Yet, for many, the word forms a large part of daily conversation and also self-talk.  I should have, you should have……you know what I mean, the re-playing of scenarios, normally when they didn’t go to plan.  Such self-talk is self destructive, punishing you by going back unnecessarily to outcomes which have already been decided on the basis that they are already history.

There is a very simple way to put an end to the self-talk, replace ‘should’ with ‘could…..but I didn’t.”

For example, “I should have left half an hour earlier to miss this traffic” becomes “I could have left half an hour later to miss this traffic, but I didn’t, so there’s a lesson learned for next time.”  This has the impact of shutting down the self-talk in your brain, instead of letting the limbic (irrational) part of your brain rampage across your thought processes.

Prioritising your thinking for creation is what it’s all about.  De-cluttering your thoughts in the same way you would de-clutter a house is the order of the day, leaving space for thoughts of potential and reducing post-scenario analysis, which has little benefit in being re-run when the outcomes are already determined.

2014 – Your Time to Shine


Are you putting something off until the New Year which you could start right now, I mean right now?

Human habit means we often store things up for the beginning of a new year, it presents us with an opportunity to write a new list of goals, behaviours or outcomes we might desire.  One thing that I have observed in successful people is their goals are rarely defined by a single year.  They have the big picture set and relentlessly work towards it, modifying and creating countermeasure in the moment, not waiting for a new year to begin.

Successful people action things, they don’t write a goal unless they are going to navigate positively towards it.  They do things, starting quickly, learning quickly and failing fast where necessary.  You don’t need to wait until New Years Eve, you could start right now.  Don’t assume time is on your side – ever, there are no guarantees of how long any of us are going to be here.

Speaking in Hull earlier this year, I articulated fifteen tips for ‘growing up!’ (Unlimited Potential) which you can read here.  By better defining what you want your higher purpose to be, then working through the actions you need to take to get you there, you will already have the pathway to your personal success mapped out.

If you truly want to shine, then be an L.E.D by ‘Living Every Day’ – taking actions towards your higher purpose with a sense or urgency for the now and see what changes you can engineer.  It’s your time to shine, take it.

Get out of your own way!








Fear stifles, it stops people from doing things and creates inertia, driving the voices in your head to trigger often irrational feelings.  Fear can manifest itself in many ways, inaction, procrastination and physical symptoms.  Ten common fears are: -

  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of Ridicule
  • Fear of Death
  • Fear of Rejection
  • Fear of Loneliness
  • Fear of Misery
  • Fear of Disappointment
  • Fear of Pain
  • Fear of the Unknown
  • Fear of Loss of Freedom
You wonder how we ever get to do anything in life?  Fear may be stopping you from achieving something wonderful right now, but are you conscious of it?  
You’re probably aware of things like a fear of heights or spiders, but is ‘fear of failure’ or ‘ridicule’ stopping you from changing a career, starting a business or doing something you deep down want  to?  Fear of success is also a distortion believe it or not.
It all starts with consciousness and truly understanding those elements in your belief system which are acting as deterrents in you taking big steps towards your goals.  The bottom line is people over-analyse things. Successful people I’ve met generally care very little about the opinions of others, unless they help move them towards their goals.  They have developed the right emotional armour to quickly decipher what does/does not serve them (see this previous post for more info).  I’ve witnessed a common trait in their ability to face their fear and manage the consequences, often being close to the brink, yet still taking one further step into the unknown – managing fear.
I’m not a big lover of heights, yet I always stand by the window in a glass lift or peer over the edge on the top of a tall building. Why? It’s about managing that fear and getting on top of it.  I’m conscious of it, so must work to convert my ‘fear of heights’ into a ‘fear of falling’ then rationalising just how safe I really am in reality to make it logical and evidence based.  A favourite saying is fear is “False Evidence Appearing Real”.   You need to turn your fears into evidence based enquiry, hence standing at the edge and ingoring the irrational.
Society brings with it a whole load of baggage about what is/what isn’t acceptable in terms of things that may place invisible barriers in the way of your success.  Being the best possible version of self is about walking your own path, being true to your values, your higher purpose and those things you feel passionate about. The opinion of others should not distract you, always beware the collective, be your own story.
Walk your path without fear. Take steps into the unknown, create something, align with your true purpose and realise you may well have been getting in your own way. 

Destination @Oprah

Oprah WinfreyIn case you’d missed it, Oprah Winfrey is in the UK this week, promoting the new film she stars in – The Butler.

Arguably one of the highest profile females in the world, Winfrey is rich beyond imagination, powerful and used to dining with presidents, swinging – it’s reported- an additional 1M voters towards Barrack Obama in the American election through an appearance at a campaign rally.

I’ve noticed recently that Oprah has moved much into the realm of spirituality.  Perhaps its always been that way, I don’t watch much TV (by choice) and don’t read the papers much either, so it could blissful unawareness.  Whilst working from home today, I heard her give an interview on the television and the more I listened, the more I felt drawn towards her words, finding incredible similarity to the content of a talk I gave in Manchester last night called “Unlimited Potential” (UP!).

Winfrey spoke during her interview of having “higher purpose, serving others, knowing your calling, leaving a legacy, the importance of inner balance and congruency”, all absolutely key components in the journey of uncovering your true potential in life.  Last night, I asked a room of people if they had figured our their true purpose, judging by the amount of blank faces, there are a few journeys that needed to be figured out yet!

SAT=NAV Yourself

When answered, defining your higher purpose will lay down an important road in your map of the world.  Imagine a satellite navigation system in your head, without a destination, it may randomly take you anywhere from Lands End to John O’ Groats.  With purpose, you build the motorway upon which you will travel to your desired destination, allowing your conscious and sub-conscious to generate positive and clear choices for you, without any need for reference.

When you add your mission and your values to your purpose (vision), you create the most powerful set of programming into your brain, like a super SAT-NAV.  If you ever go off-road, it will always bring you back, automatically re-routing and keeping you on track like a life TOM-TOM.

With your values clear, you’re moral compass gets set in the same way you’d programme a SAT-NAV to avoid toll roads or B-roads, your clear values will provide clarity of which things are important to you in your journey and what things to avoid when presented with them.

Oprah Winfrey has this figured out and clearly it has served her immensly well.  Finding your true calling takes a lot of thought and reflection however the best place to start is to ask yourself the question, What do Iwant people to say, think and feel about me? It becomes more powerful if you imagine your epitaph with your best friend delivering it at your funeral.  What would they say if there was one thing that should stand out about your contribution to life?

Would you want them to say something like – “My good friend ______ worked all the hours that god sent in their pursuit of happiness” or “My good friend _______ changed the lives of everyone they met through their ____________”, you get the idea.

Unleashing your true potential is like installing the latest computer programme in your operating system, it updates your life “APP” to the latest version of you and gives you true clarity on your direction of travel, which is the only journey that matters.

The Flow

flowSerendipity and Synchronicity occur a lot in my life.  It’s not always been the case, or maybe it was, but perhaps I wasn’t conscious of it.  Over the last year it’s been truly bizarre and I could re-count numerous tales to you of opportunity simply walking straight into my life.

But why and how does this happen and can it happen to you?  First answer is that it can happen to you too! It’s all about being absolutely crystal clear about your goals in your life, what regular readers will know I call your “Ding!“.  The most important part of the whole exercise is to ensure that a huge chunk of your vision and mission involve serving others, assisting them in order to assist you.

In business this means being generous with your time, referring people, introducing people, connecting others, sharing your knowledge and genuinely becoming interested in the success of other people.  When you do this, you’ll find that that generosity becomes re-paid in the long term in reputation enhancement, opportunity donation and business referral back to you.  Ultimately, success will flow back to you.

The same applies to wealth creation, give generously to others without condition.  The value of what you give is relative, not everyone is Bill Gates able to practice billion dollar philanthropy.  It can be as simple as popping ten pence in a donation jar if someone hands you some change, I have a simple rule to put any change that is silver straight into a charity bucket each day.  Small acts of giving create a flow of wealth back to you.  To receive you have to give.  There’s no direct rule or ratio to this, so a daily donation of 10p might not send back a million dollar lottery win but something will come back in a moment of serendipity or synchronicity, so be aware and look for those moments.

The point is, it’s all about flow.  If you want something to enter your life, then be prepared to serve and give generously to another first and without condition, for it to flow back to you.  Giving is a fantastic way of feeling great, increasing your self-esteem, confidence and sense of purpose.  When I look back in my own life, I became one hell of a lot more conscious of this flow when I had become very specific about my higher purpose – “To inspire and encourage the unlimited potential (UP!) in others.”

Part of the mission to achieve that vision or purpose includes “growing myself through growing others”, which links straight in to the idea of other people – get it?  That’s why I speak at conferences, write blogs like this, give generously to good causes (people or charities) and can choose the things that I prefer to spend time doing or working towards.  It’s actually very simply, you can do exactly the same, all you need to do is get your personal “Ding!” sorted out (your higher purpose), then put that into action every single day and see what happens.

Also have a read of this previous blogpost which gives some further help on how to derive your personal vision, mission and values.

So what are you going to do next?

 pool table

“Nice shot Dad, but what are you going to do next”. Those words hit me and this blog title came straight into my head. Picture the scene, a bar in Faliraki, Rhodes.  My son and I playing pool whilst my wife and daughter did some holiday shopping.

I’d just potted a difficult ball and was busy self-congratulating myself (helped by a few beers) when I saw the white rolling behind another ball which effectively left me snookered to pot the black and win the game.  There was the business lesson right there, it’s all about thinking one shot ahead.
Reality is, I normally do, however I’d taken my eye off the ball. This was the last shot before the black, competitiveness had kicked in, my need to win had distracted me from the normal process of potting one ball at a time and thinking ahead to the next shot.  There are a few thoughts which came to mind: -
1.  Competition in business can lead you to chase for short term wins with the potential to lose the big picture goal. Adrenalin, excitement and the environment you are in can contribute to this.
2.  Always be aware of pressure and how it can impact your thinking and ability to drill your pre-defined processes.  Elite athletes are taught this way, to simply execute what they do in training day after day, regardless of the occasion.
3. The metaphor for thinking one shot ahead is a great way to think about business planning. If we do this, what would the shot after be and are we well positioned for it? 
4. Every situation is a potential moment for learning, look for the insights.
5. Be quick to reflect on the level of your success before calling in the massed marching bands.
6. There is another obvious one related to alcohol intake, but hey I was on my holidays :-)
Seeing how my son had improved both his pool and table tennis playing skills over our holiday was another important insight about the brains ability to quickly learn and adapt.  Both of us rapidly increased our skill by playing every day, committing to memory (both mental and muscle) the strokes, weight and movements needed to improve our respective games.
Ecoutez et Repetez
Like anything in life, if you systematically repeat something, the brain quickly creates new synapses to accommodate the new information.  A reminder to commit to those things that are important to you through regular review, so that they become committed to your sub-conscious.
During our holiday, I invested time in re-reviewing my personal vision, mission and values aswell as writing a 50 point plan of all the things that I feel are contributory to living a life of happiness, success and unlimited potential. 
This information, processed, documented and validated remains stored in the parietal area of my brain like an auto-pilot or wiki, for constant referral to.  By this regular review, like the table tennis or pool, it can only serve you and improve you by participating and repeating the practice regularly.  
As your brain then runs your systems like breathing, heart regulation and digestion, it can also run your positive direction of travel, improve your circumstances and potential to achieve your goals and make the whole process second nature.  An easy win for anyone wanting to improve their personal success in life.


I once got called the “King of the Three Letter Acronym” (TLA).  I do use them a lot when speaking and presenting, but also to remind myself of great insights or when talking with others.  TLA’s can be very useful in ensuring an audience goes away with “one key thing” from a talk, something they can easily remember.

One that I use in my own life is “TIM” which stands for “This Is Me”.  Early on in my career I spent my time fitting in.  Wearing the right corporate uniform, using the right business jargon, saying things I felt people wanted to hear and conforming.  I guess I just was trying to be liked and doing what needed to be done to move up the ladder!

Only later did I realise that I wasn’t doing myself any favours by diluting who I was with others.  Effectively I was two people, one person at the office, another at home.  This led to a fundamental misalignment of self, which needed correction.  Misalignment stops you being the best possible version of you and I continue to meet lots of people who can really identify with this concept of a “private me” and a “professional me”.

You can align those two things into a common definition of “me” which then becomes the true and authentic version of you.  Life is far simpler and you spend less time on what other people think about you and more time on your own happiness.  A recommendation I always give to people is to have clear in their mind their own Vision, Mission and Values (VMV).

Vision – What are you doing this all for? (An easy to remember one-liner).

Mission – What are the major things you need to do to make this happen? (tip, don’t create too many, keep it simple.  Think of your main effort(s).

Values – What things really/truly matter to you in life?

One extra I like to add….

Morals – What are your “no-compromise” morals?

I have those things in my mind, stored across multiple devices and written down in key places.  They are a constant reference point and act as a great compass in the journey.  From first thought to the final list took me a couple of months of thought, refinement and deletion.  When finalised, you’ll get a great sense of perspective of the real you.  Acknowledge and accept that, then go and be you.  Change a few things if you have to as there is no set of rules anyway that you have to be wedded to the past definition of you, whether that’s internalised or how others may view you.

So,  in your head think of this TLA.  “Hi, I’m TIM” – (This Is Me).

If you do prepare your VMV and get some clarity as a result, will you let me know via a comment or a note on Twitter.

Lead Yourself into the Light – 10 Tips

Over the years, I’ve read a huge quantity of books around leadership from biographies to methodologies.  It’s easy to copy a successful formula if you are trying to develop your leadership capabilities however you may end up not being the true and authentic version of you.

As I rose up within my own business, it started to dawn on me that I got far more done when I spent more time just being me, not trying to be a Jack Welch clone.  People responded to me far more when I stopped trying to be something/someone I wasn’t.  From that point my career rocketed, on to lead the UK organisation from humble beginnings as a fax salesman.

To this day, I could kick myself for the “work mask” that I had developed in my early years.  Only when I began to work with business psychologists in 2000, did I realise the error of my ways.  Over the following years, my leadership style has simply been focused on being the best possible version of me – that’s it.  Let me share with you 10 simple things that I have learned about leadership as a framework which may work for you: -

  1. Being truthful with yourself.
  2. Being truthful with others.
  3. Respecting everyone regardless of where they sit.
  4. Pressing CTRL+ALT+DEL on your past and living in the now.
  5. Letting your true personality come through not what you think other people want to see.
  6. Being compassionate when making tough decisions.
  7. Always giving space for others to give a view.
  8. Being fair.
  9. Admitting your shortcomings and mistakes.
  10. Seeing everyone and everything as a potential for learning.

Back to my opening paragraph, this is not about creating an army of “me’s”.  These are just some of the things that allowed myself to be the best possible version of me, when heading up a large organisation.  I’ve found that the topic of leadership is more about respect.  Respect for self, others and your wider environment, however you define it. When you practice that, it drifts you more towards the familiar descriptions of what “leadership looks like” in a book but with your personality stamped all over it.