Dr Sean Richardson - Black Belt Under The Microscope


  Hi, I’m Peter Cook and today our black belt under the microscope is my good friend Dr Sean Richardson.

Sean is a team psychologist at the St Kilda Football Club, master of mind set and resilience and has a PHD in psychology. He also co-piloted my very first MDE program and even gave me the shirt off his back when I turned up for a T.V show in the wrong attire. Thanks very much for joining me Sean. No problem Pete.

Judging from your accent your not from around here? No I’m from Canada but I spent a quarter of my life so far in Australia, a good 10 years.

So you studied here? I came to Australia to do my PHD in Sport Psychology and ended up staying on and getting some work in the football and eventually getting into the thought leadership community and building my practice from there.

So your practice up until now has been in Australia? Yes it has I have always worked in Australia in my thought leadership in my area of expertise.

And how did you get to white belt? What was your first ten thousand a month in your practice? White belt came from my expertise in resilience and mental toughness and performance psychologies. It was really about taking the ideas that I had learned through the Million Dollar Expert program and apply them to what I did in sport. So I previously had a small contract in professional football and by taking the learning that I did here, was able to repackage and negotiate a contract through the football club that just brought me a whole other level of income.

So the contract at St Kilda came out of your thought leadership? I would attribute a fair chunk of it to my thought leadership in that sense so it’s something that I do year to year with the club but the value proposition to them, the massive increase of value for them to me came out of my thought leadership and how I was able to go about my work with them.

And that’s a mentoring role? It is, look it’s a bit of a mixed role so yes there is probably the biggest role is the mentoring mode for sure.

I have seen some of your stuff around resilience and mind set and got some very cool intellectual property and some very cool thinking that obviously comes from that place or at least be applicable to the work your doing there. Yeah absolutely, I find that it’s a sort of 2 way street. I’ve always in a way always been working in a practice for myself so I think I worked for 2 ½ months all up full time for a boss then after that I thought ‘nah I want to work for myself’ and it’s been a mix of sort of clinical work, sport psychology work, work with the football club as well as a number of smaller human resources consulting management/consulting contracts. And because I was mostly working with my thought leadership, I’ve always been making income originally below white belt level from the ideas in my head from my expertise, what I learned in university, being a psychologist and doing sports psych work.

And then you moved fairly quickly through the different rungs, things accelerated pretty quickly for you. What were the biggest challenges that you faced going from white belt to black belt? Probably one of the biggest ones for me was around a bit of a mindset so having mostly experience in a sport background being an elite athlete myself from the past and then working with say the football club and working with elite athletes in an Olympic sport was this notion that somehow I was the sports guy even though I had done some work in management consulting and I had some contacts in the corporate world, I wasn’t really a corporate person as I couldn’t speak their language, I wasn’t that interested so to speak in corporate affairs. I was very interested in leadership and human behavior in any context which includes the corporate world but one of my barriers was ‘well I don’t really belong there’ or ‘geez I have got some things that would be really helpful but I don’t really belong there’ so that was quite challenging for me because it was a barrier for me to getting out there and take advantage of the market that I could add value to.

And how did you overcome that and what were the results when you did? Well I got some good mentoring within the thought leader’s community so I’d have to say that Matt Church was a fantastic mentor prodding me along the way just to see my own value, really to own my space and not try to be something that I wasn’t, that’s what I love about thought leadership it’s about value and who you are and what you have to give and if it fits someone else’s needs, there is going to be a click and off you go and they’re going to want to buy you. So I stopped trying to come up with ideas that sounded corporate and just own my space as kind of some kind of high performance guy with experience in sport. And when I did that, I got busy. I got very busy, working on my intellectual property.


I may have taken longer than some other people, I’m a bit of a perfectionist (I have written one PHD already) and practically speaking I’ve written a few more on intellectual property since but, I got busy – I was up at 2 oclcok, 3 oclock in the morning – excitedly busy. I was working on my first key note speech and the potential ideas around training programs that flow off of that and potential mentoring opportunities for leadership from with that, so I just worked and worked and worked and worked on that. Just absolutely getting my intellectual property right on that. A lot of personal development in thought leaders, maybe that’s a bit of a paradox (personal development and thought leadership)

Professional development

Professional Development – anything I could do in Thought Leadership, I did. I went to conferences, I got mentoring from Matt Church, the world class presenter, I did MDE 3 or 4 times – I just got absolutely immersed in the whole developing my professional sense in Thought leadership and started to publish it out. Started to share it with people, I shared it with friends, I shared it with anyone I could and one of the opportunities I took was to just doing a free key note to a group of coaches that I got linked up to through Matt Church and I got a number of clients out of that. Through sharing it with someone else and one of the programs I had gone to, he thought my stuff was so good that he wanted to share it with one of his clients who was head of innovation in a major corporate company. Then he introduced me, and he started the conversation.

I think what made the difference was really doing the work, so I had substance. Owning my space, this is what I am about, I’m not trying to be something else, doing the work – I had the pink sheets, I had the foundation, I had my ideas around mental toughness and resilience and what creates a high performance culture and I had conviction about those things cos it was mine. I had the experience of working at the St Kilda football club knowing it really works in the sporting environment and I had the experience in being an athlete my whole life where a lot of work where I drew a lot of my ideas from. I had the father that was an Olympic athlete, I had a lot of friends where I could map my ideas onto. I had a real confidence that what I had to share was valuable and it was the packaging through the pink sheet process and being able to present it in a way that appeared valuable to others that really kind of got me through my first break through in corporate with my own thought leadership.

Yep and the pink sheet that your talking about is a colloquial name we use for the intellectual property snapshot in a way that within thought leaders we capture our intellectual property and one of the things that really inspires me about how you go about what you do and I think that models really well for everyone in the community is you live pink sheets. You really…you think in terms of intellectual property snapshots and you’re always no matter what, you’re always making time to be working on your IP, working on your snapshot and it doesn’t matter how busy you are that that stopped when you got to blue belt or red belt or black belt. You’ve still got your notebook, your sketchbook, you still have got your colour but your still constantly refining your models and your intellectual property. Yep, I get excited by it. I mean I go; I have a thing where I go to the Nom in Canada where I drink crap Starbucks coffee but I still go to the coffee shop. I love going to the coffee shop it’s a ritual for me, go to the coffee shop everyday with one of my notebooks (I’m a bit of a disorganized organizer) so I have multiple notebooks that I take to the coffee shop. One of them is an A3, when I’m feeling really artistic I get that one out and draw all over it and some of them are smaller, but as long as I have something to write on, I’ll go there – I’ll drink my coffee, and I’ll think and try to capture my thoughts. 

The latest of my thoughts, whether it is something I have observed, something I have read or just thinking about a big picture concept. I’m thinking a lot of about leadership, but I also draw a lot of experience from being a psychologist (working in a clinical sense, depression) so I am also thinking about mental health and thinking about high performance leadership and mental health has actually brought me… the combination of those things has brought me great intellectual property.

The constant thinking about it and capturing it in some way that’s, you know I just have IP everywhere. In some ways it gets overwhelming

Yep, Yeah. That’s perfect, cos in Thought Leadership we talk about clever people who are commercial smart, but it’s the clever people first – so it’s the thinking that comes first, the message that comes before the market. You are a personification of that.

Of actually doing the thinking, and doing thinking hard, doing all that it takes to go right deep into it and then finding the conviction in that to then go to market and be very successful when you did. Even though it was a market that was new to you (the corporate market).

What was interesting about it was, business per say was new to me – corporate was new to me, but the personalities didn’t feel new. Dealing with a CEO or a CFO or MD is the same as talking to a senior coach of an elite professional team. So I felt completely at home, completely comfortable going in there because I own my space. Because I wasn’t going in there to try and tell them how to run business (I don’t know what the heck you’re talking about) but what I can tell you is I know human beings. I know how they behave, I know how they respond to leadership and I know how they respond to communication. I know those subtle dynamics that occur between people and I have seen them in play.

We can start out with some of the ways that you can communicate your leadership I know that will have an impact on them in a positive way. Which then I can only assume is going to do all of those lovely business things like earn you a lot more money.

Yeah and then they paid you some of the extra money and paid you quite well for doing that. Whats been your biggest mistake on the journey?

Hmm biggest mistake? That’s an interesting question. Its an interesting question to ask someone whos supposedly an expert in resilience because I have this saying ‘you win every game you lose’ you know you bounce back its like if you have a mistake turn it into an opportunity so I’m trying to think what have I done. I have certainly fallen over, if I could say a big mistake it would be its sort of an ongoing challenge is getting caught up in that perfectionist type of mentality which means that you don’t want to share what your doing until you think you have got it just right so its not like a one off event type of mistake but a potential barrier could keep on popping itself out so if you know you have got that real perfectionist bend its great…I always say aim for excellence rather than for perfection because excellence is fantastic and error and mistakes are allowed in that where as perfection is kind of some sort of illusion so I’d say that that is a challenge for me around that because it will trap you just in the thinking and in the refining of your IP rather than going up-sell it.

Yeah and I am even one lower than that…you know I always aim for excellence but start when your adequate…

Yeah I’m like that’s some good advice from me and I still might be making that mistake like even aiming still too high to a million dollars…

Yeah one of the things that I say to people is we don’t want to stop but once you get to good enough that’s time to start selling. We had one of our participants from the Million Dollar Expert program we ran…


Called up a week after and said I was at this meeting and she was selling an effective coaching program and I hadn’t finished my value model yet but in the meeting I thought well I’ll just run with it. And so she got up even though it wasn’t even her final version – she didn’t think it was anywhere near good enough…she got up and blew the guy away and sold a $10,000 program that she wouldn’t have otherwise sold.

I think that what some good advice around that is to check with people along the way it doesn’t always have to be sale with a client but just get you know, the moment you have anything like maybe a draft version …that’s what we have mentors for, that’s what you hire people to do is to be a sounding board to be able to go is this going to work you know maybe it’s close and it doesn’t have to be perfect but if you’re uncertain and you don’t have any experience go and get some help. Even if it’s a colleague but a trusted mentor is the first person I reckon.

Yeah very good advice. What other advice would you give to somebody starting out in the white belt to black belt journey?

The first word that came to mind in integrity.


And the second phrase that comes to mind is non judgment. So what people do is they say they are going to do something and they go out and they might try and they fail. So they say they are going to sell a program and they put together you know, some intellectual property, they do there IT snapshots on their intellectual property and they give it a crack and then they set some goals to do so much work in a month’s time and after that first little bit of work they try to sell and it fails they stop.

So at that point they haven’t been out of integrity but the rest of the month how they said they were going to continue to try and sell or deliver, try to get stuff out there in the market…they kind of give up because they feel discouraged and that discouragement comes from judgment of self not what that second phrase that says non judgment which is on an internal level about being able to say ‘you know what it’s probably normal that I failed.’ Expect to fail a lot in the beginning, the faster you can fail the better and it’s not a measure of you as a person.

It could be a good indicator that you didn’t get something right in the process and if you’re not sure how to clear that right up than once again get some mentoring, find out, you know crack open your MDE notebook again and get back at it but the moment you bring judgment in there you will stop. So if you can combine those two things then your going all right.

Yeah, yeah I really like that. One of the things I try to do is not so much not get stopped becuase whatever happens I will get stopped and I haven’t been able to turn off that judgment. What I try and do is shorten the time on stop fall so I try to notice it happening and try and make it less and less time as the time that it takes me to get over myself and get going again.

So look practicing non judgment is probably a long term goal in the mean time just acknowledge that that judging voice is there and it’s not going to go away but you don’t have to listen to it, you can say ‘ok, sure yeah’ and you can beat yourself up but you might even use it as a trigger to get back in focus and action and get back in focus on that next cluster that you work on, that next sort of you know what message are you going to take to what market and what motive and now I know I’m talking MDE language for those who are unaware of what we are talking about here but it’s about picking how you are going to take your intellectual property to the market.

Yeah, beautiful. What differences of being successful in your practice and actually getting this sort of money in getting the black belt made in your life?

I bought a house. My wife got pregnant and in a very short space of time I bought a house I didn’t think I would be able to afford for a very long time. It’s given me a sort of sense of security and it’s interesting because it’s also given me a real confidence about the process which is currently my challenge. So I am moving back to…I’ll have moved back to Canada where you build up to be a black belt level in one country and you go and you transplant yourself as a thought leader you know, it’s all about getting to know people and building a network to share your IP with.

I’ve never worked, I’ve never worked in Vancouver rather than work in a bars when I was a student so I am going back to you know pre white belt in terms of my connections and network and I haven’t started my practice yet in Vancouver but what it has given me is an incredible sense of ‘hey I know how to do this, I have been here before’ a lot of people look at me like ‘oh my god that’s crazy…how come your leaving the country right when you just sort of have taken your business to a new level’…your not like and I just kind of think it doesn’t really matter, I choose to go where. It has given me the confidence to do what I have always wanted to do which is choose where you want to live and make your business happen there and that’s what I have done.

Yeah it’s exciting and I think you will be the first person to get black belt in two countries…

That would be very nice…

Very cool. So that’s obviously your next challenge is now replicating the process and doing a whole new market…

Yeah I think we might have a bit of a story about that down the track.

Yeah we will definitely be looking forward to that…

People will be talking about black belt and beyond like black belt to white belt and beyond again…

Yes black belt back to white belt and back up again. What do you like most about being a thought leader?

That’s a great question. I think I get to….I don’t feel like I’m working I get to…I love what I do. So when I talk about developing an IP I don’t feel like I have to do it but I do it because I like to do it. It’s like this joy where I take my pen and my notebook and I go to Starbucks and drink crappy coffee and I’m like ‘this is work’. I meet clients in coffee shops and I fly to conferences and I get to talk to cool people but I’m talking about stuff that I like, they are my ideas and I have been thinking about these things for years so to be able to share that is great.

Yeah and it’s great to be able to get paid to do it, isn’t it

Yeah! It’s awesome.

Thank you, is there anything else you would like to share? Any final words?

I think that I would be remised if I didn’t share with everyone that I think that if you…for me there is a real mind set shift that’s important here to start off with and it’s getting that this is a hard path in terms of the work that’s required and the time and effort you put in but it really starts with that sense of possibility which is seeing that you can achieve this that it’s not inaccessible.

I have watched…I have looked at that many people from all different walks of life succeed at it. People who don’t they probably…they haven’t seen that possibility and therefore they haven’t actually taken the steps of the actions. There is a very clear path forward here and if your committed and you see that possibility you can achieve it.

Great, thank you very much Dr. Sean Richardson for joining us on black belt under the microscope.

My pleasure, thank you Pete.