With Martin G. Moore

Episode #259

The Things I Wish I’d Learned Earlier: Hindsight and maturity

I’ve been doing quite a few guest appearances on other people’s podcasts in recent weeks, and I’ve been asked on several occasions, “Marty, what do you know now, that you wish you’d learned earlier?”…

There are any number of life lessons that I could absolutely have used earlier on, and lots of stuff that would have made me a better leader way sooner.

But, then again, with the benefit of hindsight and wisdom, I’ve come to realize that the depth and value of any lessons comes from the very fact that they are hard fought and won.

Once you learn them, by starting at the right place, going through the trial and error, (and, yes, a little of the essential pain), these lessons stay learned, indelibly imprinted on your psyche.

In this episode, I look at the life lessons that took me every one of my 61 years to learn, and the leadership lessons that gave me the ability to formulate my No Bullsh!t Leadership framework.

Different lessons come to all of us at different times, which is why your ability to step back to see the big picture is key!

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Episode #259 The Things I Wish I’d Learned Earlier: Hindsight and maturity

before we start…

Before I go into the things I wish I’d known earlier, I want to just briefly touch on the process of acquiring wisdom because interestingly, although part of me says, “Gee, I wish I’d known that 20 years ago“, it really is a moot point.

I often wonder, if I’d known something 20 years ago, would I have been mature enough to put it into action? Would I have had the capacity to understand it the way I do now? Would I have even recognized its importance?

A case in point is my wife, Kathy, who I met at the ripe old age of 45. She used to occasionally say to me, “I wish we’d met each other earlier.” And I would always counter with exactly the same response, which we both completely agree on: “If we’d met earlier, we wouldn’t even be together now. Because you wouldn’t have been interested in me, and I wouldn’t have known how to handle you. We met exactly when we were meant to. We weren’t ready to meet until the day we did.

Okay, so I’ve gone deep early, but this is an important point about the process, and it’s our first principle: When the student is ready, the teacher appears.

Where you are at any point in your life makes a difference to what you are able to learn and absorb. So for example, try re-reading one of your favorite books, which you haven’t read in a while. You’ll see completely different things than you did the first time round. That’s because it isn’t just about the words on the page. A book is a dialogue between the author and the reader. When different readers open that first page, they’re starting at a completely different point.

In the hands of one reader, a book may be completely uninspiring and dull. In another reader’s hands, that same book will completely transform the way they view the world.

The second principle about the learning process is that all of the lessons are cumulative. As you build your path through your career and life, the choices you make set you up for the next set of choices.

When I made the choice to leave Aurizon to take on the chief executive role at CS Energy, I didn’t know whether it was the right decision. It was a tough one to make. I knew it was an expensive decision because I left a lot of money on the table at Aurizon in the form of long-term performance incentives.

But now, as I look back, I know exactly why I made that choice. It opened up the path to what I do now. A different decision 10 years ago would’ve taken me down a completely different road, even though I didn’t realize it at the time.

But just take a moment to reflect on this at the micro level. Deciding to do something difficult today will have a huge impact on tomorrow, because when the same choice arises tomorrow, you’ll either feel more confident or less confident about it, based on what you chose to do yesterday.

As you build greater resilience and more experience, you also build your capacity to go to the next level. Think of it like a video game. You have to complete the level you’re on before you get to progress to the next level. If you were just parachuted into level 42 all of a sudden, you wouldn’t know how or why you were there, and you wouldn’t last very long. Whatever knowledge got you to that level would be perishable.

What conclusion can you draw from my comments on the process? Well, if you’re listening to this episode now, it probably means I’ve turned up in your life at exactly the right time… so pay attention!


The main purpose of this episode is to talk about my compelling leadership lessons, but before I do, I think it’s useful to talk more generally about how my belief system has changed over the years.

Of course, my life perspectives have greatly impacted the evolution of my leadership philosophy. For example, I’m going to talk briefly about my belief that everyone makes choices every day, and they have much more control than we often give them credit for. This greatly influenced how I led people and the level of comfort that I had with doing the hard work of leadership. There are seven life lessons that I want to touch upon just briefly so that you have a better context for any leadership guidance I give.

1. My understanding of success has evolved greatly over the years.

Every time I got to a new level of success, or achieved a goal I’d set, I saw it as a milestone, not a destination. I’ve never expected that any accomplishment would give me a feeling of finality, and material things hold much less allure for me than they once did.

That’s why I was completely comfortable selling our beautiful home in Australia to live in a little rented apartment in inner city Boston, and take on the challenge of breaking into the US market. I’ve just come to the conclusion that the material things simply don’t matter. The most important thing to me now is how much impact I can have on the world of leadership.

2. The time paradox.

And when I say it’s a paradox, I describe it like this: you have no time at all… and, you have all the time in the world!

Let me give you an example. I dropped out of my undergraduate law degree in the early 1980s, and it was exactly the right thing for me to do. But, after a year or two of gazing at my navel trying to work out what I wanted to be when I grew up, I was paranoid about my age. I thought that if I spent another four years at university, I would be 26 years old, competing with 22-year-olds for the best jobs.

In my head, that was way too old. So, my decision about what to do next was heavily influenced by that perception. Imagine that–worried about being past my prime at 26. I simply didn’t realize how much time I had.

But, conversely, we are all here on this earth for the briefest instant. We think we’re going to live forever, and then, all of a sudden our time is up… just like that! And that’s the paradox, which is why I value time a lot more than I used to.

3. Everything happens for a reason.

Now, behind this trite one-liner is an important principle. Every event whether good, bad, or indifferent holds a lesson for us to learn and an opportunity for us to grow–if we choose to take it.

Even though I have enormous compassion for my fellow humans, when I see something bad happen to someone, I realize that it’s just their path. I don’t know why it’s part of their journey, but it is. I can’t put a value judgment on it.

On many occasions, I’ve had to take the unfortunate measure of sacking someone who worked for me. But pretty much every time, it was the right call. One guy I sacked years ago used to call me every Christmas… to thank me! He told me that if I hadn’t sacked him, he never would’ve made the leap to do what he really loved. He set up a business teaching young children the sporting skills and teamwork principles that are so valuable in preparing them for life.

He was a sh!t project director, but he found his true purpose and zone of genius doing what he loved. Ironically, he never would’ve got there unless he went through the awful, demoralizing experience of being sacked from his job.

You never know what someone else’s path is or how they’re going to respond to the adversity they have to face. Sometimes though, the toughest things are the things that we most need, and they’re also the greatest contributors to our long-term happiness.

4. Don’t compare yourself to others and don’t judge them.

Teddy Roosevelt once said,

Comparison is the thief of joy.”

You can’t possibly know what’s going on for someone else.

I’ve known people whose lives seem idyllic from the outside, who then choose to take their own lives. We’ve all seen seemingly perfect couples break up. You just never know what someone else is going through, so don’t compare yourself to them, don’t envy them, and most importantly, don’t judge them. We’re all just doing the best we can with what we’ve got.

5. You have more choice than you think.

No, really, you do! You can choose to change anything at any moment. Over the course of my life and my career, I’ve often heard someone say, “But Marty, I don’t have a choice.” What I’ve come to understand, though, is that we always have a choice. We may not like the consequences that accompany a particular choice. We may not be prepared to take the risk that certain choices would involve… but we have a choice all the same.

If we think anything else, we’re just limiting ourselves. The important thing here is that, if you know you’re making a choice, that alone makes you feel better: more in control, not so much like a victim. It completely changes your mental and psychological take on any situation.

6. The only thing standing in the way of what you want is… you!

Your attitude and belief system determines your outcomes. And, just as it is with your choices, you can make a difference to your outcomes by shifting your attitudes and beliefs.

Don’t let yourself be held hostage by your past. I had a relatively easy upbringing compared to many, but just know that everyone has their struggles, which are personal and challenging to them. Mastery of yourself is mastery of the world around you. You can’t sustainably achieve anything worthwhile unless you earn it, and this is about overcoming your own barriers to illuminate the path ahead.

7. There’s a big difference between being driven and being drawn.

I was very driven when I was young. I achieved a lot of awesome things, and I took every bite of life that I could on the way through. But a lot of that was driven by fear of failure and the need to prove my own self-worth. Pretty effective ultimately, but it didn’t necessarily take me closer to my version of true happiness.

In the last several years, I’ve been drawn rather than driven. I’ve just felt as though I really have nothing more to prove. It’s become much more about self-mastery, and my ability to have impact. So my frame of mind is now, “I never know when someone is going to need me to be at my best”, and I’m drawn to the purpose of improving the quality of leaders globally. This principle might not seem quite as significant as it actually is, but I’m completely blown away by how different the feeling of being drawn is, compared to the feeling of being driven.


All right, let’s hit the leadership lessons. The first thing I wish I’d known was a critical lesson about mindset: making the shift from the mindset of “it’s all about me” to a mindset of, “I’m an important catalyst for other people’s success”.

When it was all about me, I didn’t realize what an inhibitor it was to my leadership growth. I was just focusing on all the wrong things, and that single shift made all the difference. I’m not sure exactly when I came to understand it, but over time it just became obvious to me that as long as I was focusing on my own achievement, my team would remain underdone. It helped me to shift my energy, focus, and learning into how I could make each person better. And the faster you can acquire that mindset, the better it will be for you, as a leader.

Of course, that’s a big overarching theme about how I think, but what about specific leadership lessons?

Well, the best way I could think of to evaluate this was to look at my past performance against the framework that contains all of my accumulated insight and wisdom (such as it is). Of course, that’s the No Bullsh!t Leadership framework. It took every bit of my 30+ years of leadership experience for me to come up with that framework. And of course, even though all the framework elements seem to exist seamlessly in this integrated, codified system, I formed my skill with each piece of the puzzle at very different stages of my career.

I explained the framework in detail in my Wall Street Journal bestselling book, No Bullsh!t Leadership, and of course, we bring it all to life in our flagship program Leadership Beyond the Theory, which is for those people who want to get really serious about improving their leadership capability and confidence.

So, the $64,000 question is, “What are the things that, had I learned them earlier, would’ve accelerated my ability to see the whole picture?“ I got pretty good at some elements fairly quickly. For example, the value focus was something I had pretty much from the get-go. My commitment to overcoming conflict aversion was a theme at the very early stages of my professional career. And taking accountability and holding others accountable was never a problem for me. But there are things that took me many more years to perfect.


There are really only two skill-based things that I look at and think, “Wow, I could have made a much bigger impact if I’d known that one earlier!” Most of the other stuff, in hindsight, I needed to go through the process. But it’s critical to start in the right place, with the right mindset or you’ll never even come across these critical lessons.

1. I wish I’d worked out sooner how the relationship between accountability and empowerment plays out.

Like I said, I was always quite strong on accountability… but the subtlety of empowering people is way more complex than it first appears. And until I worked this out, my focus on accountability was nowhere near as effective as it could have been.

I have no doubt at all that the people who worked for me felt the stress and the weight of the accountability, without the feeling of support and autonomy that comes when they are expertly empowered. My effectiveness as a leader went up 1,000% once I worked out how to balance the symbiotic relationship between accountability and empowerment.

2. How to motivate people individually, using the Challenge / Coach / Confront framework.

This is the practical toolkit that unlocks the leadership dialogue. If I think about the three pieces of the framework:

The Challenge piece is where you set the right objectives for your people, individually. Each person needs to be stretched, but not so much so, that they can’t cope with the pressure or complexity of what you’re asking them to do.

The Coach piece is the fun part of leadership. It’s an iterative process, as you are constantly revisiting the challenge and coach elements to make sure you’re setting realistic but achievable goals. You are searching for that sweet spot that balances anxiety and boredom. With every conversation, you’re helping your people to get a better understanding of your expectations and what they need to do in order to be successful. This, in itself, is motivating.

But more important than this, every conversation gives you the opportunity to learn more about the individual: what makes them tick; their strengths and weaknesses; their likes and dislikes. And you get to see any fatal flaws close-up, if they exist, and are likely to hold them back in their careers and their lives.

But before we get too soft and fluffy with the challenge and coach elements, none of this works unless you set high standards for performance and behavior, which is why we need the Confront piece of the framework.

If you’re challenging and coaching effectively, you’ll spend 95% of your time there, and confronting is only going to be required on the very odd occasion. But without the skill and the will to confront people when they don’t come up to the mark, your challenging and coaching will be diluted.

So much so that your goal of superior performance will be nothing more than a mirage in the desert. You’ll look at it longingly, wishing it were true, but knowing deep down that it’s just an illusion.


The skills that I lacked early on are fundamental to leading for performance. In my experience, there are few things better in life than finding the perfect alignment between getting extraordinary results for your company and, at the same time, serving your people by motivating them more than they’ve ever been motivated before.

If you want to drill into this a bit deeper and really work out what skills you can deploy immediately to motivate your people to extraordinary performance, we’re running a free three-day bootcamp next week called Motivate to Elevate.

There are lots of lessons that only become obvious in the fullness of time. And even then, only if you have the desire, the curiosity, and the commitment to building your wisdom, no matter how difficult that process is. So, try and stay on the path of continuous learning, and when you do find a free kick that enables you to place a critical piece in the jigsaw puzzle of leadership, don’t miss that opportunity… whatever you do!


  • Save your spot for my free 3-day bootcamp ‘Motivate to Elevate’ – Click Here

  • Ep #45: Leaders Are Leaners – Listen Here

  • Ep #57: Challenge, Coach, Confront – Listen Here

  • Ep #27: Unleashing the Power of Your People – Listen Here


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