This week on Talk Learn Connect, Writer Yvonne Reddin asked Leadership Development - Executive Coach, Howard Hughes to share some TLC (Talk Learn Connect)
“You are the ultimate authority of your own life. You are the guru. Learn how to set yourself apart from the herd.”
This is your description of what you can teach people, what sets you apart from the herd?
Great question. Could you not have picked an easier one to start with? I think the best way to illustrate the point is to tell the story of the cows and rhino:
Once upon a time there was a beautiful lush green pasture that held a herd of cows. They would roam the pasture grazing, ruminating, sleeping and repeat day after day. One day, one of the calves came up to his mother and asked - what’s over there beyond that jungle? The mother replied “Some say that it’s a beautiful place - wide open spaces, lakes, mountains, different views but that’s not for us”
The calf asked if anyone had ever gone there to which the mother replied that very, very few had but they never return. To the mother’s surprise the calf said they would like to try. The mother was horrified!
“Why would you want to leave? You have all you can eat, the warmth and safety of the herd, very few predators... you have it all!” But as the calf got older there was a restlessness in her that outweighed her comfort and so she went to the head of the herd and expressed her desire to leave. “There’ll be no coming back” said the head of the herd. “If you leave us you can never return, you’ll be rejected the same way you are rejecting us now. Why do you want to go when you have everything here? Your family, your friends, food, security...” But the cow wanted to go.
Off the cow went towards the jungle. At the edge she saw rhinos charging through the undergrowth while other rhinos on the far side shouted instructions - “look out, a trap - look out, a hunter - look out, dense growth go around!”
She noticed that the rhinos giving instructions had scars from where they had been hurt. In her heart she had an image of what the promised land look like and it drew her to take the first step. She was nervous at first but she began to gather pace and she could hear what the other rhinos were saying to her.
She followed their instructions and eventually (having avoided some traps but being caught in others) getting out through her own resilience; she got up again and made it through the jungle to the promised land.
She walked slowly over to a beautiful lake to take a well-earned drink. When she bent down to drink, she caught her reflection in the water. She was not a cow but a rhino. And when she looked up she saw the landscape of unimaginable beauty and a vast expanse of freedom.
She turned to her fellow rhinos and said - “I’m not a cow...” to which one of the rhinos said “Look again at the herd you left...” To her surprise, everyone on the other side of the jungle was a rhino but their deep-held and unquestioning beliefs had them convinced they were all cows and they behaved accordingly."
The term ‘herd’ in this case is not a pejorative term. In biology, there is a term, homeostasis where there is an equilibrium between interdependent elements in an ecosystem.
People like to fit in - with family, neighbourhoods, society and national identity. No-one is an island, but many sacrifice their individuality to maintain this equilibrium.
Through my own choices but also recognising that I didn’t do it alone, I have made and lost a lot.
It has been a great learning experience. I have been through the jungle to a greater extent than many but to a lesser extent than others. The net result is that I am now at a place where I can enjoy the view but also assist other rhinos that choose to make the journey.
I have the scars!
Have you always had an interest in coaching or did someone/something else lead you down this professional path?
For my brief stint in U.C.D., I took psychology as one of my subjects in my late teens and one of the first books that I didn’t just read, but consume in my early twenties was The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield.
I’ve always had an interest in improving the current situation. I think I get that from my mum and her mum in turn. It’s a drive towards the positive rather than a recoil from the negative.
Have you ever met people who you consider to have great success but don’t have the mindset to enjoy it? Isn’t that a pity?
So, my interest is in enhancing the existing rather than fixing something that’s broken. Although there is a bit of an overlap.
My career initially was in desktop publishing, running film and bromide for design houses and then in the production end of advertising and graphic design (I was a digital finished artist) Looking to improve my own situation I decided to do something else that I loved - DJing.
While I was working hard I discovered that I had hit a ceiling. When I got married and became a Dad, I knew this was an unsustainable lifestyle so I turned my attention to what I had a passion for. It was actually a lifestyle business - direct sales in personal development - that allowed me to create my exit strategy. The work I did on myself began to show.
To enhance it I decided to get a formal qualification so I took a higher diploma in Life & Executive Coaching. To add further value, I also went and trained as a Firewalk Instructor.
Can you share what becoming a ‘Firewalk Instructor’ entails and what kind of training it is?
Becoming a Firewalk Instructor was an amazing experience. As I say to people, this is the action part to the theory of personal development. When you consider some facts about fire and human skin-
- at 45º C - 51º C skin damage occurs in 1 minute
- at 52º C - 70 ºC skin damage occurs in seconds
- from 70º C upwards skin damage occurs in milliseconds and
- a car engine melts at 200º C - the temperature of the coals is between 400ºC - 500º C.
The nearest Firewalk Instructors to me were in Switzerland in order for me to get my qualification. I was there for a week in a quaint log cabin that was over a century old- I was told. There were only two students and we were straight in that evening with a small 1m x 2m fire. When I look at it now, it was so small. Then, it looked like the gaping mouth of hell and I questioned my mental state for being there.
For the week we had daily classes which incorporated arrow snapping (breaking arrows with the hollow of your throat), rebar bending (bending steal 9mm rebars used in construction with the hollow of your throat) and smashing blocks with your bare hands.
Each exercise designed to expand your mind from the confines of what you think is possible for yourself.
We also did glass walking (literally walking on broken glass in your bare feet) and we also washed each others feet as an act of humility and also recognising that each of us is a temple that houses the Divine.
It culminated in a 40ft firewall which we had built ourselves. For some doubters of the Firewalk experience who say that you are not on the coals to burn your feet - this was the tester.
For me, this wasn’t the toughest of the Firewalks. On one of the days we built a small fire away from the cabin; maybe about 3 metres in length. As the coals glowed everyone else walked off to the cabin. Left alone with the fire they told me it was up to me whether I wanted to walk or not.
No was looking and no-one was judging. It was the most powerful, introspective experience. Usually in firewalks you’d be in a crowd. Even with the four of us there - two instructors and two students - it was enough to give a higher buzz. You could ‘borrow’ some energy, as it were. There, alone in the Alps with the fire is something I’ll never forget.
"It’s about not looking for reward in every action or interaction. I think office politics can be a big hindrance here; where some people are promoted on the credit of work that you have done or where people compromise standards in order to get the bonus"
How has the pandemic affected your business and how did you manage the initial isolation both professionally and personally?
Not much changed for me during the pandemic. My life was and is in the home. Marketing and training in the morning,Daddy Daycare in the afternoon and then back to interviewing my leads in the evening. This works best for me as I advertise in different time zones.
My wife, Mary took the home office and myself and the kids worked from the kitchen table. I can’t emphasise enough the importance of having some sort of timetable to work to. Self discipline is key. Self mastery is also key when you are all living in the same space so closely and for such a long period of time.
Cabin fever can creep in under your conscious awareness but when you get slightly depressed and snappy it’s time to go for a walk! It’s time for a change of scenery.
The school were excellent at continuing to provide the curriculum online so there was a template there. Thankfully, the weather was also excellent so the kids could play in the front and back gardens. With technology being what it is nowadays, the kids could communicate with their friends online. So as such, there was never a rock-bottom sense of isolation. Additionally, the Friday Virtual BON meetings where you and I met were great to bridge the temporary restrictions.
Professionally, I think it has done more good for my business, as people started and are starting to develop a ‘lifestyle’. People are no longer afraid of ‘the void’ that comes from when you have time to relax. Families reconnected with their kids and partners, got reacquainted - caught up. I think the pace of life has people always looking to be ‘busy’ and they feel a sense of guilt or waste if they’re not doing something; if they are idle for any period of time.
“What could I be doing instead?” Again, if you have timetable, a visual representation of how you are spending your time it is actually more freeing than restrictive (talking from personal experience - it’s a paradigm shift I had to make)
It is also recognition of how you spent your time which is as immensely beneficial as knowing where you are going to spend your time.
"I’m human and I do like rewards and recognition when they are spontaneous or as a random act. These are the perks of life that I think enhance it"
Can you share any words of wisdom that helped you in your successful career?
Do it because it’s the right thing to do and do it with a grateful heart. To some, it may seem like a simple statement but it’s really quite a challenge. Something it has taken me years if not decades to achieve.It’s difficult because it means the shedding of our most basic survival instincts; to amass. It is the subjugation of the ego that is driven by gain or fear of loss
In the great book - Drive: The hidden Determinants of Human Behaviour by Daniel Pink - I learned that rewards are addictive. Brian Knutson - Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that dopamine is released to the nucleus accumbens when people are offered a reward.
This is the same reaction as addiction and causes people to go from risk-averse to risk-seeking behaviour.
I find now a better or lasting reward than a job well done for the right reason. When you do it with a grateful heart then there is added energy, fun and the time flies. Controlling your inner reward means you’ll never be disappointed and, paradoxically the more you receive in return.
As Garth Brooks said “You are never truly rich until you have something money can’t buy”
You can contact Howard at: