All posts by Dave Stewart


Here are 3 ways in which you are unconsciously screwing your business and some thoughts around how to recover and lift performance and build resilience.


You love the rough and tumble of operations. Doing stuff. Fixing things. Hearing the applause. Heroic. And at the back of your mind, you know two things.



Take time out of the business. Explore the bigger picture.  What are the trends? The important timelines? What are the threats? The opportunities? How will you evolve a roadmap to communicate and guide the development of the capabilities you are going to need?

Go offsite. Find a place that will inspire imaginative thinking and courageous conversations. Hire an external facilitator. One that will guide you through a structured process. One that will call you out when your thinking gets narrow, biased, or sloppy. One that will help you make sense of complexity. One that will help you converge on a way ahead.

Thank you both so much for an exceptionally powerful and enjoyable couple of days. It has very much jump started our thinking and given us confidence that what we are planning is heading in the right direction supported and bolstered by the ideas we generated with your guidance.”   James. CEO. Training & Events.

Want a strategic planning framework to kick start some big conversations? Get in touch:


More sales. More hires. Your business is growing. But something isn’t right.


You’re losing that unity of effort and common purpose you and your people had when you were smaller. And you’re spending more and more time pulling things back.



You need to look at your operating system. The whole way your business hangs together. Not just your sales model.  Where do leaders and teams focus their effort? What are the predictive metrics that matter? How do you know what works? How will you evolve performance and strengthen resilience?

Find a space that will allow you and your senior team to do some focussed work on this, yet also provide for reflective interludes. An offsite venue that has out-the-door-access into great countryside is perfect. Again, hire an external facilitator to help you define your operating system and your engagement plan for communicating it.

This workshop (or series of workshops) is going to throw up a series of activities and projects that will need the personal sponsorship of senior team colleagues. A well-run workshop won’t conclude until tasks, ownership, success measures, and governance have been agreed and committed to.

“This was an eye-opening few days for us. By looking at our business as a human system and building our understanding of it up from foundational needs such as “Stay True” and “Stay Well”, and addressing others such as “Stay Relevant”, “Deliver Unforgettable” and “Stay Ambitious” we have thoroughly refreshed the way we work together, and what it means to lead this business effectively!”  Neil. Managing Director. Professional Services.

Want an example of an operating system framework to spark some thinking? Get in touch.


So, you have done something about Problem #2, and you’re on the way to defining or re-tuning your operating system.  But performance is still stalling. Patchy success perhaps.  But no consistency.


They are good people, but they are easily distracted by shiny squirrels.



Understanding the operating system is just a first step.  People need to get beyond this and actively use it.  To learn by doing. To develop expertise. To collectively adapt and improve it. To own it.

The boring truth is that once you have a system that works, you need to keep turning the handle on it. You need to deliver on the inputs in order to get the outputs. And you need to have metrics in place to understand and optimise this relationship in the context of your strategic intentions.


Who is going to do all of this? Hire an external consultant to provide critical oversight, some coaching perhaps, and who will hold you and colleagues to account. Longer term consider establishing a Chief Operating Officer role with a seat on the senior leadership team to ensure strategy and operations remain aligned.

“I am excited by the senior leadership team and I can see it growing into a very strong force. The work you have done with them to systemise our business winning and project management processes has created something that feels like a cool and compelling brand! The XXX Way! Thank you.”  Paul. Executive Chairman. Engineering and Technology.


If you are not regularly EXPLORING the wider environment and EVOLVING ways in which to remain relevant, nor paying attention to the quality of operational EXECUTION, then you are probably not leading the business as effectively as you want to be.


Why? This is a quiet time of year for us and we want to develop new relationships.

The health check will involve telephone and/or Zoom interviews with you and selected colleagues against a framework of questions that will allow us to provide you with an insightful and actionable report.

To make sure you don’t miss out on this free and no-commitment offer, get in touch now.

Best wishes,


Dave Stewart
Founder and Managing Director
The Fresh Air Leadership Company
Mobile: +44 7776 153428

The Fresh Air Leadership Company is a Performance and Resilience consultancy based in Scotland, operating UK-wide.

We help leaders and teams EXPLORE their business environment, EVOLVE strategic roadmaps and fit-for-purpose operating systems, and EXECUTE improvement projects that are aligned to strategic intentions.

Quality discourse is critical to success and in addition to working with clients online and at their work place we create  bespoke thinking and development experiences in amazing Scottish spaces with exceptional and unconventional coach-facilitators.

Explore | Evolve | Execute
as if you mean it!

Here are 3 ways in which you are unconsciously screwing your business and some thoughts around how …

Asking the right question

As a leader, being able to ask questions that get to the bottom of problems is important. Right?

Questions, and the way we phrase them, have the power to shape our lives.

Have you noticed how the kinds of questions we ask end up framing the quality of our interactions with family members, friends, and work colleagues?

Have you ever asked your partner, “how was your day?” Or a child, “how was school?”

Odds are that you received a curt, disinterested, and uninteresting reply. Maybe just a stare and a grunt!

Instead, try something like, “What was the best thing that happened today?’ Or in the words of M People, “What have you done today to make you feel proud?”

You’ll engage a quite different part of the brain and will be much more likely to fire up a conversation of surprising energy and passion. One that brings forward the positive stories that would otherwise remain untold.

Turning a negative into a positive

In business, paying attention to how we ask questions is super-important.

There’s a great story about a company that was experiencing a high rate of turnover. Fifteen percent of the workforce was leaving every two years.

The management team ran some staff engagements and found a long list of complaints and concerns. They enlisted the help of an external consultant.

On arrival the consultant asked a different question to the original one. “What is it about the company that makes 85% of employees want to stay? “

Further work uncovered hundreds of positive stories, many of which revealed factors that most of the management team had forgotten about or hadn’t even considered.

Surfacing and sharing these stories prompted a further engagement with staff to collaboratively inquire into a second big question, “How do we need to be to be right together? Right people. Right fit. Right company. Right together.”

Fixing things isn’t a bad approach but is unlikely to move your company much beyond where you were before you had problems. A sort of ‘not bad’ to ‘quite good’ transition. But tapping into what is already strong and using this as a launchpad for enhancement can be transformative and take you from ‘good’ to ‘great’.

Strengths-based questions and a tool to help you

Forming that initial strengths-based question is at the core of the super-powerful leadership philosophy and process of Appreciative (or Strengths-Based) Inquiry.

Appreciative Inquiry is a way of looking at organisational change which focuses on identifying and doing more of what is already working well, rather than looking for glitches and trying to sort them out. Strategic change is fuelled by focusing on the core strengths of an organisation and then using those strengths to reshape the future.

Next time we’ll explore this in more detail via an outdoor workshop we ran in the Scottish Highlands and give you a tool to help you run your own transformative team and staff engagements.

Can’t wait? Need help now? Then get in touch on +44 7776 153428 and

Best wishes,


Dave Stewart
Founder and Managing Director
The Fresh Air Leadership Company
Mobile: +44 7776 153428

The Fresh Air Leadership Company helps leaders and teams figure out who they are and what it is to lead well in their worlds. We do this by creating bespoke no-bullshit thinking and development experiences for leaders and teams in amazing Scottish spaces with exceptional and unconventional coach-facilitators.

As a leader, being able to ask questions that get to the bottom of problems is important. …

Fear of Failure. Breaking free!

Fear of failure is a pretty normal feeling for many business owners. You know the buck stops with you, so the fear of failure is strong and tangible. You live with it. Under normal circumstances you can probably manage it okay. It fuels adrenaline that fires you up and helps you lead, it helps you make decisions in the best interest of the business, it drives you towards building a better future.

But if the fear overwhelms you, your courage can evaporate and you can feel stuck. You may be feeling it right now. You may know of others who are feeling it too.

“Every company is a start-up now!”

Even big, established businesses are having to start over in one way or another. Many have seen sales pipelines dry up. Many are worried their erstwhile customers’ buying habits will have changed for good. Many are reshaping their offers and their operating models.

Nothing seems certain right now. And with this lack of certainty comes fear.

There is the fear of doing nothing. The fear of doing a new thing. Fear of failure. It’s the same as it ever was.

Here are some thoughts from a group of business owners on how to manage and overcome fear.

These are real life strategies which emerged from an outdoor Fresh Air Leadership walkshop we ran a year or so ago in the Scottish Highlands. They feel enduringly applicable.

Symptoms and behaviours

We discussed the way fear manifested itself in everyday life, and these are the symptoms many in the group reported. People were surprised to see that what they thought of as an individual and personal response to fear of failure was in fact a common experience. Reassured too, to find that they were not alone in feeling and acting in these ways:

  • Anxiety that manifested itself in worry, sleeplessness, tummy upsets etc.
  • A reluctance to try new things, low self-belief around execution, a feeling they would be “judged”.
  • Self-sabotage. Unconsciously putting obstacles in their own way. For example, being distracted by seemingly “higher priority” issues which were little more than low pay-off admin tasks.
  • The momentum-stalling pursuit of perfectionism, of getting all ducks perfectly in a row before taking action. A behaviour which ate up time and threatened to squander competitive advantage.

All in the mind

Our discussion threw up the following useful points.

As business owners, we get to define what we mean by “failure”. Ultimately “failure” is a mental construct which we can shape and play with.

Even if we are influenced by formative childhood experiences and traumatic events, community expectations and professional benchmarks, we are ultimately authors of our own stories.

We can therefore interpret “failure” as anything from a give-up death blow to an opportunity for growth and learning. The latter is more likely if we understand what our core and enduring purpose is. Without such a rudder we are more likely to be tossed around in any storm.

Echoing this, one business owner remarked that young children are fearless and that we seem to learn fear as we grow up by being judged at home and at school. Fear is therefore like a learned response to external influences.  If we can learn to focus internally on what makes us tick – and not others – then we can operate in a truer, unencumbered way.

The resilience and growth mindset concept of “falling forward” or “falling upwards” struck a real chord with many. One business owner suggested that the word “failure” could more positively be replaced by “delayed success”. 


Here are the eight strategies members of the group found effective in overcoming the fears that threatened to hold them back. Which one are you most drawn towards?  Perhaps you can use more than one to create more objectivity and courage, and less bias and fear.

#1  Get scared!

The group accepted that the feelings we have around “fear” are common, rather than necessarily natural, and in most cases are positive indicators that we are stretching, growing, and learning. So, embrace the feeling as a “good thing” rather than see it as a sign to stop, shrink, or give up.

One business owner suggested that if we are not at least a little bit scared then we aren’t really trying hard enough.

#2 Do the numbers

How many times do you make a decision based on intuition? You are being guided by experience (maybe?) and bias (probably).  Instead, think stuff through and write it down. Include other people. Mitigate against bias. Reflect on the potential outcomes of any move, estimate their value/cost, and assess their likelihood. For example, a high probability “fail” in a scenario could be at one chance in 10 and might cost £X. By contrast there might be a range of high probability positive outcomes returning between £5X and £10X.

#3  “What’s the worst…?”   

Related to the above, is the question “what is the worst that could happen?” Really dig into this and just see how bad it really could be. Writing it down and assessing it in the cold light of day might change your perspective. Maybe some analysis will suggest that “the worst” isn’t really that bad at all.

#4 Baby steps 

Break the big task down into more manageable chunks by taking incremental steps in the desired direction. These will create momentum without the paralysing fear of envisaging some huge leap costing loads of courage, effort, and money.

#5 Personification

Dig deep into the fear you are experiencing to find out “who” is sitting on your shoulder, whispering those negative, resolve-sapping words. Give the fear a name, make him/her small (“little Johnny”, “silly Sally” etc.) and dress him/her up in ridiculous clothes. Or maybe give the fear some space to say its piece, then put it in your pocket to shut it up.

#6 Perspective

Give the fear some tangible form (do this with your imagination, or even better use a real object) and drop it on the ground. Next, walk around it and consider it from different perspectives. At each point around the circle, look at the fear through the eyes of a different persona/stakeholder etc. This might sound a little bit woo-woo but it can work really well for some people.

#7 Planning 

Planning (on a periodic basis) will help you develop flexibility and adaptability. So, when “Plan A” falters, you already have “Plan B” etc.. up your sleeve. As Eisenhower said, “In preparing for battle I have always found plans as useless, but planning is indispensable!”

#8 People 

All of the above work best when you have others to share the thinking with, and to support and challenge you. Sharing your fears with people you trust can help diminish them. Or give you the push you need to feel the fear and do it anyway.

Now what?

This is a particularly uncertain and fearful time for many of us, so you’re not alone if you’re feeling stuck and unsure of your next move. I hope these ideas have been helpful. Do give some of them a go and let me know how you get on.

At the Fresh Air Leadership Company we help leaders and teams figure out who they are and what it is to lead well in their worlds. So please also get in touch if you need help to step into a new strategy and make new things happen.

Best wishes,

Dave Stewart

Founder and Managing Director


Mobile: +44 7776 153428

17th May 2020

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Fear of failure is a pretty normal feeling for many business owners. You know the buck stops …

Purpose-led, values-based decision making

Decision making when you’re under fire, either literally or metaphorically, isn’t easy.

It takes heightened awareness, the considered selection of an appropriate course of action, continuous review, and drive to see it through. Military decision making processes can help you move from a place of mind-boggling complexity and danger to one of safety, and onwards towards delivering on your purpose.

It’s what helped me during a first 30-year career in the military. It’s helped me work through the shock of being made redundant. It’s helped me work through some shocking verbal abuse by a toxic boss. It’s helped me work through some fast-moving opportunities.

It’s the way we lead when the shit has hit the fan. Or when an amazing opportunity materialises. It’s a good way of leading strategically as a matter of course. And right now, finding yourself in an existential crisis is as strategic as it gets.

As we’re hitting week four of lockdown with no end date in sight, I’d like to share that way with you. Think of it as military experience meets Maslow. Let me know if this helps you too.

Fight, freeze, flee; have a cup of tea!

How have you been coping? Fight, flight, and freeze are animal instincts triggered by your “lizard” brain. You will have noticed your own reaction to the crisis and those around you.

Maybe you have gone into instinctive decision-action mode yet noticed colleagues and family members who have withdrawn and curled up, and others who have busied themselves with non-essential stuff and needed help to become more functional.

On the other side of these instinctive reactions, leaders need to access the slower firing “modern” brain in order to take in a situation, make sense of it, and chart a way forward. Think of taking a moment, having a cup of tea, and having a jolly good think and chat about what’s going on! Think of this as an opportunity to lead by asking and finding the answers to critical questions.

And if you ask questions which are linked to your values and strategic business drivers, the answers will open up ways towards keeping your show on the road and achieving your purpose.

Military meets Maslow. A decision support tool.

The “Purpose and Values-Based Strategic Decision Tool” is derived from how the military think and act their way through everything from the immediacy of an incident to longer term planning of strategic campaigns. It’s a tool which encourages the user to consider how to think rather than what to think.

This is critical in both senses of the word. We have combined this into a Maslow-style hierarchy populated by a number of what we call values-based strategic drivers. You could develop this model with your own.

And please do help yourself. It this can work for you then please put it to good use. Right now, the combination in the model works well for us.

If you’d like a chat about decision making in your business during this time of crisis, let me know. Very happy to help.

Best wishes,

Dave Stewart

Founder and Managing Director

+44 7776 153428

Decision making when you’re under fire, either literally or metaphorically, isn’t easy. It takes heightened awareness, the …

Beyond tomorrow!

We want to talk to you about Resilience. But not right now.

Right now you are getting your head round this rapidly unfolding virus situation. You are fast discovering how resilient your organisation, teams, colleagues, and yourself are. You are discovering the resilient qualities of your families, communities, and wider society.

Soon you will need to think beyond tomorrow. Increasingly so as the situation begins to turn and head towards some sort of “new normal”. Because this moment WILL pass.

"And it is not just acute shock you will need to build resilience for but also the chronic, engagement-sapping ways of working you may have increasingly allowed to take root in your organisation over many years. This hiatus is an opportunity!"

How will you build better resilience into your world going forward?

First, let’s agree a definition of Resilience. For us it is “bounce-back-ability” rather than some notion of heroic, unbending, toughness.

Here are some simple models and high level commentary to prod your thinking. Not in anyway comprehensive. Just a prod. Think of these as lenses through which to look at interlocking organisational, team, and individual levels. We are not including family, community, and society here, massively important as they are.


We all have blind spots and preferences, and a simple model such as the McKinsey 7S invites you to pay attention to the interconnected elements that make up an organisational system. Where are you strong, where are you weak, what have you forgotten about?

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Most of these “S” are self explanatory, except perhaps for Style. Think of this as including behaviours, leadership, and brand. Note that when the system is out of balance or alignment that the pressure is often felt by the Staff at the “bottom” of the model. Staff “issues” can therefore be symptoms that need wider investigation. The answer isn’t always leadership or a bit of transactional HR.

Incidentally this is why loads of blogs, books, and apps about personal resilience won’t give you a resilient organisation, resilient teams, or even resilient individuals! If, as a leader, you don’t take a systems view of Resilience you are on a hiding to nothing!

For more on McKinsey 7S see here


Two models here.

First is a 2 x 2 derived from the IOD’s Governance Model. Many leaders we consult and coach discover they are spending too much of their time over-managing in the bottom left quadrant, and not enough time imagining a future, shaping it, engaging stakeholders, and building the capability to make it real. They are mostly managing and not really leading.

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The second model is derived from Patrick Lencioni’s “Five Dysfunctions of a Team”. You need to read the model from the bottom upwards. If there isn’t enough trust in the room your team won’t be able to get to grips with tough topics, be challengingly creative, and commit to difficult decisions. A disengaged, topic-dodging team is no good, particularly when facing chronic situations.

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Three models here.

Karen Reivich highlights 7 learnable skills and attributes that will help build individual resilience. Development in just a few of these will make a difference. The task is not necessarily to be skilled in all seven areas, but why not go for as many as you can!?

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Carol Dweck’s “Growth Mindset” echoes a number of Karen Reivich’s 7 Learnable Resilience skills/attributes. Coaching can help people with “fixed mindsets” develop more of a growth outlook and cope with acute and chronic challenges more effectively.

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Finally, this simple “PAD” model is derived from the struggles and ultimate Olympic achievements of Ben Hunt-Davis and the GB rowing 8s. It is a self-explanatory way of turning shit into gold!

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So what? Now what?

There you are. A quick thinking prod using some quite well known models. You will have your favourites that work well for you. Share them.

"To reiterate what we said at the start, individual resilience is super-important but it is a leadership cop-out if you aren’t designing resilience into your organisational system and how your teams work together."
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Get in touch when things are turning round for you. We will help you make sense of your recent experience and help you build better Resilience into your business.

Dave Stewart

Founder & Managing Director

The Fresh Air Leadership Company

+44 7776 153428

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We want to talk to you about Resilience. But not right now. Right now you are getting …

A 16 P Checklist for Shaping a Purposeful Away-Day

Building on our earlier blog “Team Away-Days. Getting the most from your investment in time, money, and goodwill!” we want to share a more detailed planning tool with you.

We have run lots of offsite events. These have included walking workshops to explore skills such as presence and mindset, and topical issues such as the climate emergency. We have also run strategy retreats blending indoor and outdoor work, led multi-day leadership development treks, and facilitated complex simulations with mountain rescue teams for corporate executive teams.

We use this 16 P checklist to co-design events such as these with clients and ensure we collectively deliver on their valuable investment of time and funds.

Hope you find this useful.

#1 Purpose Get clear about the outcomes you need from the event. Write them down, test them with colleagues, and adjust as necessary. Remember outcomes are different from products i.e. they can be intangible and take time to manifest.
#2 Positioning How does the event link to other activities? Are there tangible inputs? Are there constraints, such as timing? How will the outputs feed into any wider programme?
#3 Products What tangible deliverables do you need from the day?
#4 People Who needs to be part of the day? How will numbers affect dynamics, and the depth and breadth of key discussions? How will you communicate your decision? Are there any inclusivity factors that need to be taken into account? For example, timings and childcare, activities and injuries etc.
#5 Partners Will you use external facilitators? If so, appoint them as early as possible, meet face-to-face, and go through as much of this check list as possible.  Work iteratively on the design together. Make sure they are experienced and qualified to work in specific environments e.g. the outdoors, where the hazards are different from the normal office workplace.
#6 Process Be guided by your facilitation team. Running a tightly timed meeting needs a different process from running a creative and experiential inquiry into a strategic theme.
#7 Place Place has a massive impact on the way people think and act.  Seek advice from your facilitation team. They can advise on the most productive environments for your needs. This may be indoors and/or outdoors and in conventional an/or unconventional venues. Be open to moving beyond the sorts of venues you have traditionally used.
#8 Programme Only now can work begin to create the programme to deliver on your event. Leave this initially to your facilitation team. Let them consider what will work given the brief you have shared with them. Again, depending on your purpose this may vary from a tightly timed programme to a more flexible flow with the minimum of anchor timings.
#9 Pre-Work Pre-event one-to-ones between participants and the lead facilitator will unearth key issues and themes; support the design process; generate buy-in, energy and anticipation; trigger early thinking and discussions; and generally de-risk the success of the day. Consider what pre-event work and reading will be useful.
#10 Props What materials are required to support the event? This will emerge during the co-design process with your facilitation team. How are these to be resourced? Where do costs lie? For a workshop these costs will be moderate. For a complex simulation, they could be more. Your facilitation team will also advise on any special clothing or equipment needed, particularly for any event involving the outdoors.
#11 Problems This is all about identifying hazards and putting appropriate controls in place. Your facilitation team should provide you with an appropriate risk management plan. Study this and be sure your event is as safe as is reasonably possible. Be clear about where liability lies.
#12 Provisions Agree with your facilitation team who will liaise with the venue regarding refreshments, food, rooms, audio-visual support etc.
#13 Protocols You are going to be investing valuable time and money in this event. What are the team’s rules around participants being distracted by emails and texts; about being late; about absenting themselves to take calls etc.? Agree this before the event.
#14 Promises An effective event will converge on personal commitments to a set of actions. How do you want these captured? Flip charts? A closing formal minuted team meeting? Pieces to video? Etc. Agree also the governance of how these will be reported on.
#15 Put to Use The only way you and your team are going to get a return on your investment and achieve your desired outcomes is to follow through on your decisions. If you have followed this check list you will already be clear about purpose, positioning, and products; and you will have made promises around next steps. Putting your collective efforts to use should therefore be very doable. Many teams FAIL to exploit their invested time together effectively! If you are in any doubt, consider extending your facilitation team’s remit to monitor and support the implementation, and to ensure everyone is held effectively to account.
#16 Price Price is last because the assumption is you are seeking value rather than focussing on cost. The previous 15 Ps will have built an idea of what goes into designing, delivering, and putting an event to best use. Select your facilitation team carefully and be prepared to invest in quality.


Building on our earlier blog “Team Away-Days. Getting the most from your investment in time, money, and …

Slow down and wise up. 3 reasons why deceleration is key to smart leadership and how to do it.

Conventional business development is all around speeding up and going for growth. Anything less than bigger and faster is often seen as failure. Technology enables us to be connected to work and the world 24/7, the pace of life is unrelenting and making decisions at pace becomes the norm. Because that’s business, right?

But slowing down and taking stock can help your business stay relevant and reap great rewards.

By decelerating we mean creating the time and space for business leaders to stop and think. It is about time out of the business to work on the business. It is about getting heads out of the operational noise and thinking strategically. It’s about building resilience, reflecting and re-energising.

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Smart leaders know that quality thinking is crucial, and while stepping off the operational hamster wheel might feel counterintuitive, the value of doing it is huge.

And if you feel you’re too busy and overstretched to contemplate pausing and lifting your gaze for even half a day, then perhaps you have stopped being a leader and are in perpetual operational management mode.

Think about that! A business with failing leadership…

Here are 3 reasons why deceleration makes great business sense.

#1   Living at speed is unsustainable

Busyness is seductive. But it isn’t really good business. Activity isn’t the same as achievement. And a continuous focus on operations, fighting fires, tackling problems, and never getting on top of things is a sure-fire energy sapping route to melt-down. It’s not clever and it’s not healthy for anyone.

Why is this good business sense?

You are going to kill or lose people. These are costly and avoidable business risks.

Slow down, wise up.

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#2   Slowing down enables high quality strategic thinking

Deceleration isn’t about slowing down the delivery of business-as-usual, it is about creating a space where leaders can lift their gaze and start to explore the big possibilities that lie beyond immediate operational problems, and to shape the steps that will turn these into high value successes.

It’s about quality thinking: about direction and priorities; about building capability; about being resilient; and above all, about remaining relevant and in business This is absolutely key, and can’t be adequately explored while head-down, arse-up fighting operational fires.

Why is this good business sense? 

Better thinking, better conversations, better decisions, and better execution around bold strategic goals will accelerate achievement of success – however you define this for your business.

Put another way, crap thinking will lead to crap everything else you hold dear – revenue, profitability, cost avoidance, environmental impact, health, happiness etc..

#   3   It’s a powerful way to deal with the really hard soft team performance stuff!

Self-awareness, trust, fear and mindset are issues that many leaders and their teams wrestle with, and fail to front up to.  These are the building blocks of team and organisational performance.

Slowing down and tackling these issues takes guts and a well thought out approach. An inspiring offsite space supported by experienced coach-facilitators will open up new levels of collaboration and clarity of purpose for you. Go for a walk, undertake a joint activity, strip away the work masks and connect.

Why is this good business sense?

When you get to know one another at a more human and honest level you’ll be amazed how trust and the quality of conversation blossoms. Ultimately the quality of collective decision-making improves.

Or you can continue to limp along as a dysfunctional operationally focused team that is too unaware or scared to make the investment in dealing with a wholly avoidable situation.

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How to decelerate

None of this is rocket science. The difficult bit is actually following through on a decision to do it, and doing it on a drumbeat that matches your business cycle, or on an as required basis in between times.

  • Schedule your decelerator events. Be brave and take 3 days and 2 nights. Maybe once a quarter, whatever the right drumbeat is for your business.
  • Craft a programme around a theme, an inquiry, not an agenda. You want to encourage divergent thinking and creative conversations. That said, the back end of your time together could/should be more convergent around decisions and commitments to action.
  • Go offsite. Go somewhere inspiring. Not the same old hotel conference room.
  • Hire really good coach-facilitators. This is a key investment. They will challenge and support you as well as handle all the logistics and activities. They will co-design the event with you, and help you achieve your goals. They will give you the space to be fully present with your colleagues. And they will hold you to account in the weeks that follow your decelerator.
  • Do stuff together. Don’t sit on your backsides around a table. And don’t just get pissed at the bar. Mix it up. Do stuff together that brings you all alive and takes your heads, hearts, and souls to a bigger bolder place. You want everyone to bring their whole selves to this. Your coach-facilitators will give you some brilliant ideas.
  • Be inclusive. The last thing anyone needs is for a heroic sporting boss to impose his/her favourite challenge activity on a terrified, divided and disengaged team. Not smart.

Now that you are up for slowing down, have a look at one of our other blogs on how you might go about designing an offsite decelerator for your team:

And here is an example of one of our Business Team Decelerators coming up in March. Why not bag it while it is still available?

In any event, we would love to support you in some way, so get in touch now by calling me on +44 7776 153428 or emailing me at

Dave Stewart

Managing Director, The Fresh Air Leadership Company

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Conventional business development is all around speeding up and going for growth. Anything less than bigger and …

Right now, your business isn’t going anywhere!

2019’s lessons in letting go to grow my business

Entrepreneurial Scotland had found me a business mentor, and he wasn’t pulling any punches.

“Dave. You are very creative, and you deliver amazing development experiences that really help leaders get clear about big challenges and what it is to lead.

But your business doesn’t really have a marketing and sales function. Right now, your business isn’t going anywhere.

Businesses have two parts. Finding the great customers you want to serve, and doing great work for them. Simplz!

You need a growth strategy and a marketing and sales engine to make this happen.”

And so started a process of my letting go in order to grow. Letting go of the idea that I could learn along the way rather than investing in expertise to build a proper engine for growth.

It has been about seeking the support of mentors and coaches. To tap into their objectivity, experience and wisdom, and to create focus and accountability.

Doing it all myself was about the fun of finding stuff out (a positive) but also about pride, a cost-mindset and wariness around cashflow. All a bit narrow and timid!

Could mindset be something that is holding your business back?

So what?

The obvious lesson in all of this is about understanding what you are great at and then finding really gifted people to cover the areas where you aren’t so strong. Obvious, but not if you are sleepwalking. It takes self-awareness, a readiness to be mentored and coached, and the faith to invest significant funds.

The choice is simply between bumbling along the runway or actually taking off!

So, what does the Fresh Air Leadership growth engine look like now? Here is a quick tour and a lot of loud shout-outs to some fabulous organisations and super-special individuals. Hopefully this will give you an idea of the skills sets you might need to consider as you develop your own business.

Firstly, I want to highlight two membership organisations in particular: Entrepreneurial Scotland and the global Scottish Business Network. What makes these stand out is the level of interest and active care they invest in members. They are driven by members’ success and they are dynamic and pushy in the best of ways. They work hard to understand your needs and then present the services that will support you – mentors, coaches, workshops, round tables, networking events, UK and overseas programmes, and targeted introductions etc.

They will do everything they can to create the conditions for your success. Membership isn’t a passive act and it’s a worthwhile investment. They make you work and hold you to account, both necessary to make things happen for you and your business. Big personal shout outs to Lisa Ferguson, Claire Johnston, Russel Dalgleish, Christine Esson and Kendra Byers.

Glasgow-based business mentor Les Meikle has helped me see the business from the outside and develop a growth strategy around a clearer value proposition. He is objective and doesn’t pull his punches. His challenges led to a major rebranding exercise which was expertly conducted with many of our clients and associates by Bristol-based content marketers Sonja Jefferson and Sharon Tanton.

All have worked as a team with Borders-based graphic and web designer Ali Montgomery. Bristol-based strategic storyteller and content marketing coach Sharon Tanton continues to help with developing our content and Bristol-based filmmaker Remco Merbis and Fife-based photographer Jay Golian have provided stunning film and stills imagery.

Bristol-based voice and impact coach Chris Grimes prepared me for my video voice-overs. Cumbernauld-based Juls Christie-Clark is about to start coaching our use of social media to boost our messaging and brand. And all of this is serving a powerful lead generation process developed with, and held accountable to, inspirational Glasgow-based mindset and sales coach James Fleming.

Now what?

There is a bigger story that wraps in our super-gifted associates, fabulous partners and wonderful clients. For now, this blog is about waking up, letting go, and investing in some serious expertise to build a fit for purpose growth engine.

Building this has brought home to me how much further and faster you can travel if you get the right help. I might have been able to figure out all the moving parts on my own, but it would have taken a fair while, not months to get really going. And without the support and accountability I may well have wandered off the path and lost focus.

A new decade is just around the corner. So what are YOU going to do about developing your business

Dave Stewart

Managing Director

The Fresh Air Leadership Company


2019’s lessons in letting go to grow my business Entrepreneurial Scotland had found me a business mentor, …

Mood, Mindset, and Money.

Three things for Heads of L&D to consider before buying outdoor experiences

If you’re about to spend company money on leadership and team development, stop and read this first!

As a Learning and Development (L&D) professional you are successful in growing organisational performance through developing employee capability. It’s up to you to source the right blend of e-learning, on the job training, external courses, coaching and more to get the people in your organisation performing at their best. When it comes to team and leadership development, you have a broad mix of options to choose from.

If you are researching outdoor programmes and experiences for your leaders and teams (see our Why Outdoors? Seven Great Reasons) you’ll want to know how these will move the performance dial for your organisation, and how to find the right provider to deliver it for you.

Here are three broad categories of outdoor programmes and experiences which may help you decide what you need. They are not so much discrete choices, but options which you might want to take elements of to help you develop the requirements for your programme.


Fun, fizz and reward

If you want to reward your people, then getting them off site and engaged in something fun and physical is a great option. You will want a provider that offers a clearly defined product, sometimes literally out of a box or off a shelf, and something they have turned the handle on lots of times before. They will have a virtual and hard copy catalogue of some sort.

You will be looking to pay an appropriately low to moderate price per head for this.

However, the bottom-line benefits of these kind of ‘fun & fizz’ days are often short term. When they work well, they lift people’s mood and can boost the feel-good factor in teams. There is a sense that ‘morale’ and ‘cohesion’ have improved. This can be an illusion. The afterglow will fade. Behaviours are unlikely to change. And performance improvements will be short term.

This category is a cost.

If not carefully scoped and communicated they can be divisive. And the more physical and demanding they are, the more you may inadvertently favour the ‘gladiators’ in the team and alienate the others. You may unwittingly deepen rifts and reinforce negative dynamics.

Wild. Very wild!

Teamwork, character, endurance

Expeditions have long been held as a means of developing “character” and aspects of teamwork.

These usually involve extended time away in testing and arduous environments, and the learning of skills from, and expedition leadership by, technical experts.

Think of Raleigh International and the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race.

“Vision quests”, an umbrella term for rites of passage and discovery of personal purpose, can also be included in this broad category. Vision quests – in the modern, western interpretation of the term – can also include therapy-based programmes.

This is a category that holds considerable physical and psychological risk and is potentially expensive in time and money.  Make sure your providers are appropriately qualified and experienced and have robust risk management arrangements in place.


Self-awareness, trust, and courage

This category is specifically about individuals and teams; and you are interested in outcomes that improve business performance.

You are investing in deeper work which is potentially transformative in a whole range of ways. Not just individuals’ behaviours and “soft” (non-technical) skills, but subtle and not so subtle changes in organisational culture and performance. Depending on how you scope your requirement, this category will also promote awareness of and connection with the wider natural environment.

This will include, for example, high pay-off coaching and facilitation around self-awareness, trust, courage, mindset, collaboration and more. It can encompass retreats, treks, and simulations. It can also include workshops in outdoor settings – “walkshops.”

Your provider will not only keep you safe in the outdoors, and take you to inspirational places, they will have the skills and experience to co-design bespoke programmes and experiences. They will have the confidence to create the conditions for your people to explore and evolve with as little or as much coaching and facilitation as needed to achieve your goals. These skilled coach-facilitators will work dynamically in-the-moment with your people in the service of your desired outcomes.

You are looking for long term, high impact outcomes. This category is about business value rather than price. It is about investment rather than cost.

So, if this is an investment, how do you demonstrate return on investment (ROI)?


Clarity of objectives, evaluating outcomes

The Kirkpatrick Scale has been used in various forms since Donald Kirkpatrick first published it in 1959. Most recently updated in 2016 by his son James, the scale can be used as a framework to demonstrate the ROI that training delivers.

●      Level 1: Reaction The degree to which participants find the training engaging and relevant to their jobs

●      Level 2: Learning The degree to which participants acquire the intended knowledge, skills, confidence and commitment based on their participation in the training

●      Level 3: Behaviour The degree to which participants apply what they learned when they are back on the job

●      Level 4: Results The degree to which specified outcomes occur as a result of the training.

But be careful. With the emergence of informal and user-directed learning and development, and other influences on employee performance (e.g. leadership changes, new systems and processes), a clear mapping between a training event and performance outcomes – at Levels 3 and 4 in particular – may be hard to make.

That said, participant and stakeholder narratives can be powerful and valid if collected as part of a well-directed inquiry process.

We make a point of discussing and agreeing with clients up front how evaluation will be conducted. Typically, evaluation will involve pre-event engagement with participants to explore, amongst other things, their specific needs. This ensures that a very high degree of relevance is designed into our programmes and experiences from the outset.

Post-event verbal debriefs and evaluation questionnaires (that reflect the specified objectives and outcomes) are combined to create a Level 1 understanding. Further engagement with client sponsors over the subsequent 3 – 9 months allow for the development of evaluation at Levels 2, 3, and 4.

What now?

Once you’re clear on why and how you’ll use an outdoor programme as part of your L&D mix, look for a provider that you can work with to co-design and deliver what you need.  (See our blog on Team Away-Days. Getting the Most for your Investment).

It may be that you need to develop a programme or simulation that brings together aspects of all 3 categories. For example, a simulation (such as one of our Mountain Rescue themed Leadership Missions) designed to deepen trust and creative challenge in a team ahead of major organisational scale-up can involve the fun and competition of search drone flying, as well as the stretch of trauma management and cliff rescue, whilst primarily focused on an inquiry into how the team needs to operate with courage, resilience, and common purpose.

For this, you’ll need an experienced and creative “Mindset” provider that really understands business, not a Mood booster or a Wild experiences expert. The provider will also need executive coach-facilitators with appropriate outdoor qualifications and arrangements with specialist partners where necessary to deliver a logistically seamless, safe, and high value business leader program.

A creative and experiential “Mindset” provider like The Fresh Air Leadership Company has the skills and experience to advise L&D professionals on how best to achieve their leadership and team development goals, and will work with you to shape a powerful programme that delivers what you need.

We believe the world needs better leaders. Contact me now to explore how we can help.

Dave Stewart

Managing Director

The Fresh Air Leadership Company

Three things for Heads of L&D to consider before buying outdoor experiences If you’re about to spend …

Team away-days. Getting the most from your investment in time, money, and goodwill!

You love the idea of using the great outdoors to explore some of the team and leadership issues you’re facing. You feel it would be worthwhile to go offsite for a day, get people together to do some important thinking and planning, or just to get to know each other better. But making that happen is easier said than done.

Busy schedules and pressures from all areas of the business mean that getting everyone together won’t be easy. You’re already sold on the value that a change of scene and perspective, or an inspiring shared journey could bring to your organisation, but not everyone will see it like that. People will want to know what the return on investment will be for a day spent away from their desks, and you’ll need answers that they can get behind.

If you’re considering incorporating outdoor away days into your leadership and team development activities, a great framework to use is based on Kipling’s 6 Wise Questions: Why, What, Who, When, Where and How?

Here’s a planning sequence that will help get everyone on board, and some inspiration to help you picture the kind of outdoor experience that could work brilliantly for you and your team.


So, the first really important question is, “Why?” Why do you want to get the team away for a day? Where does this fit into your wider ambitions for the team? What’s the problem you’re trying to solve? What will be different when you succeed?

Sometimes there is a single tangible focus e.g. “we need to nail decisions and agree actions around our new structure”. At other times the challenge can seem more slippery. “The team just isn’t firing on all cylinders, motivation is patchy, some people just don’t get along and it’s affecting morale, and we’re going around in circles trying to make changes. We need to get out and get unstuck!”

Whether the issue is crystal clear or a bit muddy, you’ll need a simple statement of intent that everyone can buy into and which will guide planning for a successful day.


Do you envisage your day as a tightly timetabled meeting or a more creative and less tightly structured exploration of a knotty issue? Maybe you just need space to let relationships breathe. Or a rewarding day of fun and inclusive activities?

Do you have an idea of what the tangible deliverables and less tangible outcomes from the day need to be? Your “Why?” will guide your answer.

For example, you might want to end the day with some clearly minuted actions; or you may just need to know that participants have spent undistracted time getting to know one another, and that levels of trust have improved. It’s a level of connection you will sense rather than measure objectively.

Who and When?

Who do you need to be part of the day? How will numbers affect dynamics, and what impact will this have on the depth and breadth of the discussions you need to have?

How will you communicate attendance? Are you planning other events that will bring in the wider group of stakeholders?

Are there other inclusivity factors that need to be taken into account? For example, are all participants able to take part in the planned activities, physically and diary-wise? And will participants who are parents be expected to make different arrangements for the school run?

Who will help you run the day? It’s a great idea to hire an external facilitator. Having a specialist team plan and run the day will allow you to be fully engaged with colleagues rather than worrying about managing a process and a whole load of behind-the-scenes logistics.

An outdoor-based away day will demand skills and qualifications that may not readily be available internally. This takes us to “Where” and “How”.

Where and How?

Place and process have a massive impact on the way people think and act.  Discuss your answers to the previous questions with your facilitation team and let them propose the “Where” and “How” to best meet your needs. They will have some great ideas.

The outdoors for example is a naturally fabulous creative thinking environment.  Add expert facilitation and your away day is likely to be a super-powerful experience.

Check out this 60 second video and this download if you need additional material to share with colleagues to excite them about the power of the outdoors!

We have run lots of offsite events. These have included walking workshops to explore skills such as presence & impact and topical issues such as climate change; strategy retreats blending indoor and outdoor work; multi-day leadership treks to clarify, prioritise and plan personal development programmes; and complex simulations involving mountain rescue teams and other specialist providers.

Ideas to inspire your purposeful away day

Here are some quick ideas to get you thinking about the kind of experience that could work well for you:

If you’re looking to get the whole team behind a shared goal and to collectively design the journey then a walking workshop using a local area of outstanding beauty can be inspirational. Build in a pub lunch half-way round to create “table energy” and you have the best of indoor and outdoor environments.

If you want to get the senior leadership team offsite to explore and evolve key strategies then exploring a landscape that gives you big vistas and inspires creativity can help people think and feel way bigger. The Scottish Highlands are ideal for inspiring ‘top of the world’ thinking, and can be combined with the luxury of castles, Highland lodges, and inspirationally sited hotels if your purpose is to reward the team too.

If you want to embed a new mission based way of working, a crucible experience like the one we designed for a bank could help. We worked with a mountain rescue team and a film producer to help the bank’s executive team explore different leadership strategies, team working, and real-life priorities. This was a highly visceral experience which participants continue to reference, and which anchored their insights far more than any desk-based ‘lunch and learn’ session ever could.

If you’re looking to get the team to trust each other then an away day that weaves disclosure and other exercises into the itinerary can be powerful. Have a look at our blog here for one such exercise you can experiment with right now!

Fresh Air Leadership Away Day Planning Tool

This template will help you plan a really effective outdoor experience. And it will help you engage with your facilitation team. They will love you for it!

What now?

If you have found this useful and want to know more about running great outdoor leadership experiences, we will be very happy to advise. Just pick up the phone and call me on +44 7776 153428 or email direct at

Dave Stewart

Managing Director

The Fresh Air Leadership Company

You love the idea of using the great outdoors to explore some of the team and leadership …