Published: 14/03/2012 09:01 - Updated: 14/03/2012 09:06

We should celebrate our cultural identity - and add to it


Motivational coach and sports psychologist Don MacNaughton is author of The 12 Hidden Laws of Performance. Here he gives his view on the similarities in outlook of a trans-Atlantic auld alliance...

The idea for the Scots-American Leadership model came when I was asked to speak at a three-day business/personal development conference in Asheville, North Carolina.

As I considered how I could bring something fresh to the US personal development marketplace, I thought deeply about where I came from, my roots in the Highlands of Scotland and what made the Scots so successful over the pond.

What if I combined the cultural strengths I noticed in Scotland, those of humility, resilience and integrity, with the cultural strengths I noticed in the USA, those of energy, optimism and above all the celebration of success, to create and encourage a dynamic, generative business culture.

I recognise that the values we will talk about are generalisations, but I would suggest they help us make sense of the world.

One of the challenges is to recognise and celebrate our cultural identity while having the flexibility to add to ourselves in a way which makes us grow positively and achieve more.

Humility: "A man’s a man for a that" — Robert Burns

Keeping their feet firmly on the ground is one of the traits Scots have been traditionally good at. Some of the great Scots of the past, such as Andrew Carnegie, put their success down to factors such as self-discipline, their upbringing, or having a great team around them.

This trait adds strength to a leader by enabling others around them to share in their success and relate closely to them.

The leadership thinker Jim Collins recognises this trait as one of the central attributes to what he calls a "Level 5 leader", a sustainable leader whose leadership is not primarily based on charisma.

Resilience: "Fall down six times get up seven." (Robert the Bruce and the spider.)

Strength of character is baked into Scotland though the harsh terrain. Modern Scotland has a strength of character about it that will allow leaders and followers to adapt to the changing world. Dealing with and learning from disappointments, and adopting an attitude of "no-failure-only-feedback," is the basis of learning and one which you can embrace. The cyclist Grahame Obree is the epitome of resilience, bouncing back from huge setbacks to achieve world success. Or the racing driver Sir Jackie Stewart who, at the peak of his Formula 1 career, had the strength of character to retire when at the top because of race track safety, and his concerns not only for his own welfare but that of his fellow drivers.

Integrity: "Keep your Word." (Columba, 1400AD)

In a complex business world of fast changing allegiances and positions, a level of integrity is highly valued to those business leaders trying to navigate the chaotic white water of the 21st century business environment. A simple definition of "integrity" which makes sense to a lot of people is simply, "Keep Your Word".

The International Leadership Centre, Columba 1400 on the Isle of Skye, is for me a touchstone for leadership integrity, reminding all, "to be true to your potential".

Integrity is central to Scots values and has been important to "Scotland" throughout the world. Scot Gerry Rice, director at the International Monetary Fund, recently said: "Scotland as a brand is seen for standing for trust and integrity."

Energy: "The United States was not built by those who waited and rested and wished to look behind them. This country was conquered by those who moved forward." – (John F Kennedy)

America has an energy that enables possibilities. Its history is one of opportunity, so it is no surprise how dynamic and innovative the USA economy appears.

When energy and possibility is converted by leaders from general desire through clarity of purpose then action, it is contagious and opens up an exciting world. An American of Scots descent who, love him or loathe him, epitomises this, is Donald Trump. Possibilities simply flow out of him..

Optimism: "Optimist – a person who travels on nothing from nowhere to happiness." (Mark Twain)

America expects to be successful. Martin Seligman in his book, "Positive Optimism" identified this trait as one that is highly beneficial to living a happy and fulfilled life. Expect to be successful and base your optimism on your skill and capabilities.

Celebration of Success: "I am the greatest." (Muhammad Ali)

Of all the American values I have identified, the one which I admire the most is the ability to celebrate your success. To take pride in your achievements and allow yourself and others around you to feel good about success, positive progress and learning.

If I could give you one gift, this would be it, the ability to celebrate your life in a way that allows you to shine.

The author Marianne Williamson said it beautifully. "Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. We are all meant to shine, as children do. As we make our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

Choose today which of your strengths you will identify and work from. Have fun and remember: life is a journey. Learn from your disappointments and celebrate your successes.

Donald’s personal blog can be found at




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