• December 12 2017
    Leaders. What should you be focussing on in your own development?


    Photo by Alexandre Chambon on Unsplash

    You may have heard about the Johari window before. It seems to be most often used to frame feedback discussions. I certainly learned it as a tool to frame 360° feedback reports and left it there. It was only later I realised how incredible this tool is for examining how a leader leads and where to focus improvement.

    I first thought Johari sounded like a spiritual concept from ancient Eastern philosophy. I was somewhat disappointed when I found out that Johari is merely a mixture of the names of its creators, Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham!

    The model divides communication and interaction into four areas. These are:

    • Arena (Known to me and to others)
    • Façade (Known only to me)
    • Blind Spot (Known only to others)
    • Unknown (Known neither to me nor to others)

    It’s estimated that over 80% of leadership success is derived from emotional intelligence as opposed to IQ and the key ingredient for developing emotional intelligence is self-awareness so we want the smallest Blind Spot possible. It’s no surprise then that the most successful leaders have the largest Arenas - Known to Self and Known to Others.


  • December 7 2017
    Does stuff from work contaminate your family time? Here’s one solution.

     Does stuff from work contaminate your family time? Here’s one solution.

    Many a time I’ve had clients talk to me about how upset they become that they allow their work to impact badly their family. They’re stressed at work or just have a lot on their mind at the time. They might think they’re fine but before they know it they’ve snapped at the kids or been short with their partner. In no way did they ever intend to hurt the people so precious to them but… they did so nonetheless.

    I have a simple question.

    “What’s your ‘going home habit’?”


  • October 24 2017
    Stressed executives often need to make big decisions.  What should concern us isn't what you think.



    When speaking about the impact of stress on the leadership population at last week’s Trusted Coach Directory event, there were quite a few surprised faces when I shared something quite counterintuitive about stress and decision making.

    You would think that under stress we would get more cautious wouldn’t you? Wrong. 

    We certainly become more cautious of others,

  • November 22 2017
    So you want a promotion?

    When people seek coaching they (or their organisation) are very often concerned with getting on. How do they take the next step for promotion?

    Well, to answer that question it would be good to know how managers actually go about making those decisions. In answering that I’d really like to thank whomever it was at IBM who, years ago, decided they wanted to know the same thing.

    The wanted to know how managers make promotion decisions. Specifically how people come to their attention.Those are the questions that IBM had in mind when they carried out research into what differentiated people such that they get noticed. Being noticed meant being promoted, seconded to another unit, or a valuable sideways move. The results were enlightening. There were three key criteria that made a difference.


  • October 12 2017
    Who are you being at work? Identity and Authentic Leadership.



    Some people have a tendency to compartmentalise their personalities and identity. It’s like we are one person at work and another person elsewhere. Some do this consciously, others unconsciously. I strongly believe this is a big mistake when it comes to leadership. I’m not talking about maintaining privacy and not over-disclosing, that’s just good sense. Identity is something deeper. Let me illustrate.

    I learned this lesson many years ago when working with a manager whose development need was in the area of influencing without authority. This was highly relevant for the project she was working on as she had to influence several levels up in her organisational hierarchy. We had experienced a good deal of success but there was still an issue of her lacking some confidence and not being able to assert herself as strongly as she would like.  It was by accident that I picked up on something she dropped in conversation. Imagine my surprise when this woman, whose issue had been a lack of confidence, had competed at fencing to such a level she had been invited to trials to select her country’s team for the Olympics!

  • August 4 2017
    “You’re all grown ups. Just get on with it.”

    I surprised a colleague the other day when I shared Ruth Wageman’s research conclusion that “(leadership) teams do not improve markedly even if all of their members receive individual coaching to develop their personal abilities”.

    At first it may be a surprise but when you think further this makes perfect sense. If you don’t have a strong team design, with a clear and common team purpose that everyone buys into then of course everyone will keep on getting better… but at their own thing. Without clear direction and someone driving shared learning and collaboration you’ll never get the high performing strong team people seek.

    One of the things that I think gets in the way of great team performance is a set of assumptions being made by the CEO and the board. For example: “They’re all grown ups.” “They wouldn’t be where they are without being highly competent and capable. That’s the reason they were appointed.” “They don’t need much direction.”

  • March 22 2017
    Are you or your people unknowingly helpless?
    Image © Gregor Findlay

    In 1967, the famous psychologist Martin Seligman and a colleague started a series of experiments looking at how a perceived lack of control relates to depression and mental illness. Sadly this involved giving electric shocks to dogs and as a dog owner I’m glad to say that ethical considerations have changed since the ‘60s.

    Thanks in part to the suffering of those dogs, Seligman discovered what we now know as ‘learned helplessness’. This occurs when “an organism (a person) learns that it is helpless in situations where there is a presence of aversive stimuli (pain) and has accepted that it has lost control, and thus gives up trying”.

    Last year Seligman and a colleague, Steven Maier published an article saying that they were wrong. It turn out that "passivity in response to shock" is not learned at all. It is the default, unlearned response to prolonged aversive events." While they got the mechanism wrong, the result is the same. Dogs and animals alike will stay passive (helpless) and suffer, even when they have the freedom to do otherwise.

  • March 7 2017
    Context is king in team coaching
    © Massimiliano Leban 2008

    It’s accepted that organisations will perform to a higher level when their leaders work effectively as a team. Good teamwork creates synergy, where the combined effort of the team is greater than the sum of each individual’s effort. An effective leadership team utilise their different perspectives, experience and skills to solve the increasingly complex problems facing today’s organisations. They create new solutions and in collaboration, deliver way beyond a collection of the most brilliant individuals working independently.

    To quote Ruth Wageman, “Senior leadership teams, like other teams, need expert help in learning how to become better at working together over time.” Leadership team coaching is one of the three enablers for leadership team performance that she and her colleagues outline in the book ‘Senior Leadership Teams’ which builds on decades of research.

    As a leader of a team or as an external team coach, where is the best place to start with a leadership team?

    My gut has always told me to go for purpose. After all, if you’re not clear about your purpose as a team you are effectively lost. How can you work well towards goals that are unclear? I’m not alone in my instinct telling me to start with purpose. Speaking with a highly respected coach and prolific author, Professor David Clutterbuck, he shared that his ‘go to’ start point for leadership team coaching (if under time pressure) is also purpose.

    One of the reasons that purpose is so powerful is that, aside from having something to align the team to, it gives meaning. There is little motivation without meaning. Purpose is indeed critical so it’s tempting to start there, but this is the time to take a step back. The phrase “There is no context without meaning” resonates. What’s the context within which the team is working and is the team purpose right for that particular context?

    We need to ask some key questions:

  • February 24 2017
    Derailment - The (mostly) ignored phenomenon that hurts us all

    In 1988 a train driver ignored a red light and a horn warning. The resultant derailment caused 5 deaths, and 13 injuries. This was the Clapham rail disaster

    In 1997 the Southall rail crash caused 7 deaths and 139 injuries. Again, a driver failed to stop at a red light. Great Western Trains received a fine of £1.5 million for violations of health and safety law.

    Most of us will remember the horrific, albeit dramatic video of the 2013 Santiago de Compostela derailment in Spain, where sheer recklessness by the driver left 79 dead and 140 injured.

    What have rail disasters got to do with leadership in our organisations? All of these derailments were failures in human beings. Even when systems were in place, they failed due to human inattention, and a failure in moral character. Just like we need our train drivers and airline pilots to be paying due attention and free of significant flaws in character, we need the same of our leaders. If we want secure careers, we need this of ourselves.

    Leadership derailment costs…big. Consider just three high profile CEO failures:

    Fred Goodwin resigned from RBS in disgrace in 2009. A month later the bank announced a £24 billion loss - the largest annual loss in UK corporate history. The former chief executive was stripped of his knighthood in 2012.

    Carly Fiorina promising operating margins of 3% from the HP/Compaq merger but the PC division earned a meagre 0.1% on $21.2bn in sales and the share price dropped to 55% below its pre-Carly position.

    Martin Winterkorn, as Volkswagen chief executive admitted he bears the responsibility for the Dieselgate scandal, costing $24 billion in settlements so far. Never mind the reputational damage.

    The cost to our Organisations, to Citizens and Society as a whole is massive. However, it’s not just at these heady levels that derailment occurs. Throughout the layers of management in our organisations, the unexpected failure of our leaders is a critical issue that needs more attention.