The Social Animal

I’ve been meaning to read this for a while but haven’t managed to get round to it until now. I’ll post a few useful observations as I make my way through but it makes for a very interesting read so far.

A stand out point so far is that emotional intelligence is key to success in a great many areas.

“The male brain” and “The female brain” are very similar to this book in content and style so if you enjoyed those you might also get a lot from this.

using bullet journal to be a more organised and strategic leader

For the last two months I’ve taken a new approach to managing my activities, my staff and my own development and the results have been phenomenal and it only involves a pen and a notebook.  Two months in I’ve got everything at my finger tips, I’m giving much more responsibility to my staff for their own work, and I’ve got a much better grip of the strategic aspects of my role.  When I told someone about the system I’ve been using they described it as ‘a system for the super-organised’ which I jumped on immediately to correct:

this isn’t a system for the super-organised but a system that can make you super-organised!

I was surprised to find that the system does more than just create order out of chaos.  I came across this system, Ryder Carroll’s bullet journal system, one Sunday morning at the end of May.  After spending the better part of a day what I expected from this system was that my note taking would be revolutionised and I would be much better able to find a note that I’d made about team meetings and then quickly be able to find notes about the Board meetings I attend.  I was right, it did do this and then some.  However, two months in I can tell you that it has also made me a better manager and much more strategic.

This system has allowed me to improve my management style by giving me the structure to better package and give context to work items and shows respect to my staff for their own time and contribution.  Before I started to use bullet journal if I had a question, task or project for my staff I would politely interrupt whatever they were doing and share it with them.  As I was getting to grips with the basics of the bullet journal I was reflecting on this approach and it struck me quite powerfully that this behaviour was at complete odds with my own perception of my management style.  I now capture all the tasks, questions and projects and share them with each member of my team in a weekly one-to-one meeting.  A lot of the time my staff members have caught up with a lot of the items that I might have on my list for them without them knowing I was tracking it and this gives them the freedom and responsibility for sorting out their own areas.  This then means that I can spend time discussing what they did and the outcome of it which is much more about leadership and coaching than it is about functional line management which, at their level, is frankly unnecessary.

The third standout difference from using the bullet journal system is that I’m better able to now focus on the strategic, as well as the fire-fighting, aspects of my role.  There is something about the bullet journal system that encourages you to think in themes/categories which is at the heart of the indexing system that supports bullet journal.  With such a focus on themes and categories it wasn’t too long at all before I started to notice that I wasn’t spending any time focussing on the long-term for my organisation or for myself.  So, I stated a spread in my bullet journal for just this purpose and almost straight away I found myself spending quality time progressing my own career agenda to the benefit of my staff, my Director and the organisation.

When I started to use my bullet journal in June I made myself a promise: if I’m still using it after a month I’m going to share it with the people I work with.  I was and I did.  I created a prezi that explains how to use the bullet journal system and you are more than welcome to use it yourself if you’re familiar enough with bullet journals to be able to use this.

If you’d like to know more about bullet journal visit Ryder’s bullet journal website.


Who is it that we are trying to hire?

Smile, it may never happen

In a recent post by one of my guru’s, Seth Godin, he discusses how we look to hire employees and suggests that we’re interviewing for the wrong skill set (Sight Reading).  Seth suggests that instead of testing whether one can adapt and change, think flexibly, that we should be looking for people who are ‘consistent, persistant and brave’.  Whilst I don’t disagree that we shouldn’t be mesmerised by style over substance I wonder whether Seth has really explored what it is to be on an interview panel and the motivation behind your hiring decision.

I happened to ask the new boss of a very close friend how he had secured the job:

‘he was the first person to walk in smiling and to ask how we were doing.”

I’ve sat on many interview panels and I remember the very first one I sat on as an undergraduate intern looking to replace myself as I went back to University to complete my degree.  What I learned that day I have never been able to forget and it’s a story which I’ve recounted many times.

My own interview with the PR team had taken place only just 12 months before and it was my first interview for a full time job and so I asked around for advice.  My mum, who had been a manager for many years, explained that interviews are generally behavioural, they’re about how you answer more often more than the answer that you give.

Taking on board the advice I made a conscious decision to be a human being (which is ironic because to make such a conscious choice could be argued as in-human or sociopathic).  I decided to be really chatty and friendly and not let my nerves show through.  I don’t think I remembered the interview questions much longer than about a week afterwards but I do remember the chat with one of the interviewers as she showed me out after the interview has concluded.  In that two or three minute walk I made my best effort to befriend her and I think it may have worked; I got the job and I’m still friendly with that same person who interviewed me 12 years ago.  She actually told me later on that our little conversation is what sealed the deal between me and her and she reflected back on my interview positively when they came to decide whom to hire.

“Too weird, too boring”

On the day that I conducted my first interview I sat next to that same person who had interviewed me and along with the chair – another colleague in the office – we reviewed the afternoon’s three interview candidates.  I was there to observe and ask questions but I wasn’t a voting panel member. We were really looking forward to the first two and agreed that number three was an outside bet at best.  The first applicant came in, we stood up, shook his hand, we exchanged hellos and sat down – this was probably less than 30 seconds – we hadn’t even asked the cold open (something like, tell us why you’re interested in this role) before I was able to have an opinion.  The interview lasted about 15 or 20 minutes.  Immediately after he’d walked out and with the door closed we looked at each other, I was actually too nervous to say anything because I thought I’d make a mistake.  My friend went first ‘no, he was weird, I’m saying no’.  The chair was mortified ‘you can’t say that, you’ve got to judge him on the interview’.  ‘I did’ she said ‘and he failed.  I wouldn’t want to work with him, he was creepy’.  They looked at me, and I told them that I was in shock.  I explained that having an opinion of ‘yes’ on paper it felt like ‘no’ in person and within those first 30 seconds. He gave good answers but didn’t demonstrate any of the values of our team and gave legitimate reasons in support of my ‘no’ decision.

The second person came in and I was quickly struck by his attitude and at the end of his interview my friend said as much before I had a chance.  By now the chair was mortified because she felt that our mutual friend wasn’t taking this seriously and that we’d have no decent reasons for saying no other than ‘weird’ or ‘boring’.

Motivation of interviewers

All three of us were nervous of the final candidate because if the first two looked good and turned out terrible, how would she fair?  At the end of her interview we looked at the chair ‘Okay, I get it.’ She said ‘I knew straight away with her’.  My friend and I chipped in ‘me too’.  In the first 30 seconds she had smiled, lit up the room, made us smile and laugh a bit and got on with the interview.  The chair called her that day to offer her the job, she accepted and turned out to be brilliant in the role.

What my friend had said after the first interview about working with the person we would hire stuck with me that day and ever after.  If you’re on an interview panel and – if all other things are equal (that is to say they were able to demonstrate the required skills and you’re in the position of choosing between candidates) what you’re left with is their ‘fit’ within your team or organisation. If you don’t think like the person in front of you is going to work well with your or your team and you can justify this fairly and if necessary to the candidate when asked then it is valid.

This isn’t an excuse to allow personal prejudice to sway the decision, if you have a man or woman and you ‘prefer’ one gender of applicant over another that is not the same as thinking about fit with the organisation. Nor is race, sexuality or age. This is about thinking about the qualitative skills that a person possesses and what this tells you from the interview answers given.

Side note

Subsequent to my experience above I’ve had formal training on how to conduct interviews and I can see why the chair of that panel was mortified by some of the reasoning given following the candidates interviews. What I understand better now is how and why it is appropriate to use the formal structures of an interview process to allow parity and comparability in combination with qualitative assessment of the values and style of working that a person demonstrates during the interview.


Passion is a desire, insistence, and willingness to give a gift. The artist is relentless. She says, “I will not feel complete until I give a gift.” This is more than refusing to do lousy work. It’s an insistence on doing important work. This relentless passion leads to persistence and resilience in the face of people not accepting your gift.

Seth Godin, Linchpin