Exercises – Liquid Leadership: Inspirational lessons from the world's great leaders


The following pages contain some ideas and exercises relating to the chapters that you can use to help you become a great leader.

Liquid assets exercise (page 22)

  1. Identifying your question is one of the most important activities you can do. One exercise that can help you identify it is this:

    • Think about the three greatest achievements of your life.

    • Think about what each achievement has in common.

      Note: you should remove individual elements of each achievement. For example, if the achievement was winning a bike race the bike is an individual factor. The common factor may be your determination to win or your discipline to train.

    • There will be one factor that is evident in each achievement and this will help you identify your question.

  2. Why not create a visual image of your new set of values, which you can then look at every day, like James Timpson's Mr Men?

    This will help to fill your mind with these values and help you to commit to keep working on them and behaving in a way that is consistent.

  3. Sir John Harvey-Jones claimed that whenever he was unsure whether his behaviour fitted with his own values, he would ask himself the "M'lud question". He would imagine himself in a courtroom having to answer questions about his own conduct. If he didn't feel he would be prepared to justify something, he didn't do it. If you are unsure how to behave in a certain situation, ask yourself the M'lud question.

Liquid crystal display exercise (page 29)

I have helped both individuals and teams create their own visions by acting as a news reporter: interviewing people involved in the task and then focusing on what they would see, hear, feel, touch, taste and sense when the vision actually happened. This is an effective way of avoiding the creation of a vision becoming an intellectual exercise. Instead, it becomes something that is practical and relevant to everyone, especially when they can see their own words being quoted back.

Why not get someone to interview you about your vision?

Alternatively, some other ideas on how you can help craft a vision are:

  • Write a two-page story about who you are (along with a scintillating plot line on how you came to be in your current situation).

  • Try to boil the vision down to a poem or song that particularly captures the spirit of your vision.

This idea of having a poem as your vision was something that Muhammad Ali, the most famous sportsman in history, did when he first burst into the world's consciousness, making bold predictions about how and when he was going to win his fights. He would confidently declare his method of victory by quoting his own poems, such as:


"When you come to the fight,

Don't block the aisles

Don't lock the door,

You will all be going home after round four!"



"I predict that I will win in eight to prove I am great;

and if he wants to go to heaven, I'll get him in seven.

He'll be in a worser fix, if I cut it to six.

And if he keeps talking jive, I'll end it in five.

If he makes me sore; he'll go, like Archie Moore, in four.

And if that don't do, I'll cut it to two.

And if he runs, he'll go in one."

He spent his whole career making similar predictions with an incredible accuracy. These predictions were the result of intense mental preparation, when he would imagine the whole fight, right up to the moment of victory, in minute detail.

In fact, his trainer, Angelo Dundee, once told me that Ali's confidence in his vision was so powerful, he would sometimes remind the photographers surrounding the ringside of his forecasts and warn them to be ready to take their pictures just before he landed the punches to end the contest.

Why not create your own poem that sums up where you are heading?

Sailing by the north star exercise (page 51)

Marketing guru Seth Godin believes that "if you can't state your position in eight words or less, you don't actually have a position" and the same is true for your life's mission.

Try to capture your position by using the following ideas:

  • If you had to write a Yellow Pages advert for yourself, what would you say? What do you offer and why? How would it appeal to a customer? Make it no longer than half a page.

  • Now, imagine writing your epitaph. What would it say to summarize your life's mission?

Drip effect exercise (page 63)

It is very important that you begin to practise how to summarize your vision, so you can repeat it regularly and help to imprint it on the minds of others.

One effective way of doing this is to imagine that you meet the world's richest man, Bill Gates, in an empty lift. When he asks what you do, it's your big opportunity to convince him to take you seriously by the time you both reach your destination. His support could prove vital in your success.

Incidentally, there is a famous story that circulates around Microsoft's offices that Gates once asked exactly that question of a nervous employee, who told him, "I work for you, Mr Gates." Gates politely corrected him with the reminder, "You don't work for me, you work with me."

Here are some tips to help you:

  • In order to write the best possible elevator speech you need to generate ideas. I suggest that you start by brainstorming – either by yourself or with someone whom you trust and who understands your vision.

  • Write down all the things you do for others – in other words, how do others benefit from you, your products or services? Let your mind roam freely. Don't worry about organizing the ideas at this stage. Just jot them down as they come to you, no matter how bizarre they may be. Some of the ideas may overlap, but that's okay. Write them all down. This is the creative process, so go with the flow.

  • Next, think about the reasons people deal with you. Do you improve people's health, relationships, productivity, profits, fitness? Using another piece of paper, write down all the ideas you have in response to this question.

  • Once you have stopped brainstorming, keep the lists handy so you can add to them whenever a great idea comes to you.

  • Look at the ideas you have already written and choose the ones that are most likely to stimulate conversation when you meet Bill in the lift.

  • You might find it helpful to break the elevator speech into two parts. The first part could describe what you do and the second part could describe the value and benefits you offer others. For example, "I help people design and landscape gardens so that they can enjoy them all year round with minimal fuss" is one speech I heard that illustrates the point.

  • Next, write the speech out and practise saying it out loud. Does it get the key ideas across? Does it stimulate interest? Is it easy to say? Above all, does it sound like you?

You should also think about using other methods to communicate your vision. Break your day down into stages, such as the start of meetings, morning roll calls, lunchtimes.

Is there an obvious way of reminding people about your vision that is similar to Stelios's morning meeting or Bill Sweetenham's breakfasts?

Water gauge exercise (page 69)

Motivating yourself to persevere in the face of failure is sometimes difficult. A cost–benefit analysis is a good exercise to do whenever you feel like giving up.

First, write down your goal. Draw a vertical line down the centre of the page and write the heading "benefits" at the top of one column and "costs" at the top of the other.

Now think about how you might achieve your goal. Imagine yourself being successful and attaining whatever it is you really want to happen. As if by magic, your dream has become a reality. In the "benefits" column write down all the benefits that would flow from you achieving your goal. Think of everything you can: how achieving it might make you feel better and enrich your personal and professional life; how it might improve your income, add meaning to your life or help the people you care about most. Keep on adding to the list as you think through the various ways in which you would benefit from achieving your goal.

Next, in the "costs" column jot down some of the things that will require some effort to achieve your goal. Perhaps you will have to write a few more letters, faxes and emails, or make a few more telephone calls. Perhaps you might have to attend a few more meetings. Perhaps you will have to change a few of your habits.

Now take a step back and look at the two lists. Once again, imagine yourself achieving your goal and compare the costs associated with the benefits. When most people complete this exercise they realize that the benefits far outweigh the costs and they find themselves thinking that it is time for action.

Goal :




Another effective exercise is the following:

  • Identify one behaviour that you want to see.

  • Identify all blockers to it that currently exist.

  • Identify incentivesthat youcouldput inplaceto encourage others or yourself.

Example: Want to encourage others to be creative




Encourage creativity

Leaders are too busy to chat and pursue ideas

Suggestion box where ideas can submitted


No evidence of any new ideas ever being adopted

Monthly meetings where time is scheduled for new ideas


History of criticizing mistakes when creativity has gone wrong

Dedicate a space where mistakes are celebrated and can be learned from rather than punished


Peer pressure to conform

Introduce a reward scheme for good and new ideas


Lack of trust in team that ideas will be stolen






Liquid sunshine exercise (page 83)

You can train yourself to be optimistic by completing a thinking record.

Be on the lookout for situations in which you have negative emotions, for example where you feel angry, frustrated, nervous, ashamed, disappointed, scared, embarrassed, lonely, hopeless, guilty. Complete the following details for each situation:

  • Make a note of the emotion because this will lead you to have a negative thought ("I am stupid"). At this stage it is important that you don't let this go; this is how it builds up to become a bigger problem over time.

  • Catch the thought and subject it to some analysis. Is it true? If not, what is the alternative?

Before he became a successful football manager, Jose Mourinho was a sports teacher and coached disabled children in football skills. He completed a chart similar to this and believes that learning to curb his own negative thinking and become an optimist is one of his greatest achievements.

Time and Date


Negative emotion

Automatic negative thought

Rational alternative thought


Reading the papers on a Sunday morning is one of my greatest pleasures and I always like to predict the subsequent results of sports teams by reading the quotes of their managers. It is amazing how many of the optimistic managers achieve success compared to their negative contemporaries.

Read the following statements made by English football Premier League managers during one particular season and decide whether they are essentially optimistic or pessimistic. Try to identify which two managers achieved success at the end of the season, which one was relegated and which one was later dismissed.

  1. "History tells us that we aren't mature, that we don't have the mental strength; that we aren't tough enough to come up week after week as the good teams do."

  2. "There was one 20-minute spell when they were a little bit quicker to the ball than we were. I was proud of my team; however, we are a little depleted at the moment but if we keep up the same levels of passion and intensity, we will be successful."

  3. "Gutless, heartless, clueless and no passion. Where do I start after a display like that?"

  4. "Their passing was better than ours during the first half and our concentration levels dipped slightly. We will improve these aspects of our game and will be better next week."

Here are the answers:

  1. Manager was dismissed.

  2. Manager was successful in taking his team to the European Cup Final.

  3. Manager's team was relegated.

  4. Manager's team became the League champions.

Finally, simple affirmations can have a hugely beneficial effect on the way we think and feel. Emile Coue, a French pharmacist and psychotherapist, was one day asked for a specific medication by a very insistent patient who didn't actually have a prescription. Knowing he couldn't dispense the medicine, Coue gave him a sugar pill instead, telling him that it was an even better remedy than the one he had been asking for.

Some days later, the man, who had made a full recovery, returned to offer his thanks. Realizing that it could only have been the patient's own attitude that cured him, Coue set about creating a method to help other people benefit from the power of positive affirmations. He devised his well-known formula for those recovering from illness: that they should say aloud, 20 times every day, "Every day in every way I'm getting better and better".

Do you have a similar affirmation that you repeat during times when you feel at your lowest?

Invent your own below:

Make a splash exercise (page 93)

One exercise any leader can use when struggling with a problem is to offer perspective and write the problem down before then asking the following questions:

  • What's the worst that can happen?

  • How can I find this funny?

  • How can I turn this situation into a chance to learn something about me?

If this doesn't work, relax and walk away from the problem before approaching it again with a playful and open mind.

Take horses to water exercise (page 103)

Leading by example is a behaviour that has long been acknowledged as common to all great leaders. There is a famous story about a young foot soldier who approached Alexander the Great during a forced march across the desert with his army. Water was running desperately short and the soldier offered Alexander some of the precious liquid from his own rations. Alexander paused and then asked the soldier if he had enough water for all 10,000 men. On being told no, he slowly poured the water he'd been offered into the sand.

Within two hours, historians claimed that every single soldier knew about this incident. Huddled around their fires in the cold desert night, there was only one topic of conversation. It was accepted that they were on a horrible mission and that lives would be lost, but they were all in it together and they had the right man leading them.

Sir Clive Woodward recognized this approach when he was in charge of the England rugby team and adopted it in his half-time team talks. He called it Second Half Thinking and he used the ten minutes to influence the thinking of his players. Rather than worrying about whether they were winning or losing after the first half, he insisted on his players changing their shirts and wearing a new kit while he thought about his own words to influence the mindsets of the players and re-focus them on winning. He describes how those crucial ten minutes should be used:


0000-0002 minutes

Absolute silence

Think about performance

Shirts off

Towel down

New kit

0-0 on scoreboard

0002–0005 minutes

Coach's assessment

Take on food and fluids

0005–0008 minutes

Coach's final word

0008-0010 minutes

Absolute silence

0-0 on scoreboard

Visualize kick-off

Why not do a similar breakdown for the first few minutes of your own day, and focus on the behaviours you want to lead by example with and demonstrate to others?


0000–0002 minutes


0002–0003 minutes


0003–0004 minutes


Deep dive exercise (page 117)

We all have voices in our heads that are giving us information. We rarely get the opportunity to stop and listen to these voices and determine if they are giving us helpful information or not.

The "In the dock" process helps you to find out what is true and what is false in your beliefs about people. It is a great technique to discover what tricks your mind may be playing on you. It runs as follows:

  • Write down your belief as a statement of fact (e.g. "I believe that people are lazy").

  • Get frustrated, negative and miserable and now, with no censoring, write down everything that supports your belief. Don't analyse or restrict yourself, just scribble wildly (e.g. "most people don't like work", "most people do as little as possible to get by").

  • Balance things up a bit. Be loving and nurturing and see the best in people and be as optimistic as possible (e.g. "people want to help others").

  • Now read through each statement and ask whether it is true, false or don't know.

    True is something that is provable. It should stand up in a court of law. There is no judgement involved, it is the truth. False is the stuff you know deep down is rubbish. Watch out here because your brain is tricky and will often phrase things in a nebulous way that sounds true. Be strict – if it is not absolutely true, it can only be classed as false or don't know.

    Sometimes you will find statements that could be true but you are not absolutely certain. If it is a prediction – for instance "my team will be less successful" – it can at best be a "don't know" because you don't know the future. However, "everyone in my team will hate me" is false because there is no way it can be true. If in doubt, write the statement again using language that is definitely true.

  • By writing what is true and false your issue will change, sometimes quite dramatically. With this new perception, write down what your belief is now.

Here is an example that I used with one leader:

Belief: My team will never be able to deliver a great presentation to the bosses



They haven't prepared enough – FALSE

They want to do well – TRUE

They want it to go wrong – FALSE

They know this stuff better than anyone – TRUE

They are not good enough – FALSE

This is a great opportunity for them to show what they can do – TRUE

They will go blank and forget everything – DON'T KNOW

They can learn from this and get even better – TRUE

They are out of their depth – FALSE


In this case the only DON'T KNOW is whether they will go blank, so he helped them prepare by suggesting prompt cards as a reminder. He then felt very differently about this presentation.