Reflections on Leadership

flamingo reflectionSo far 2017 has been  what might be called an interesting year and we haven’t even hit Easter yet!

One of the many things that’s  been  fascinating me is how in SA,  and also in the UK and USA, supporters of political leaders so obviously emulate the behaviour of that Leadership, and then how relatively quickly that behaviour can spread and be taken up by others.

What’s worth considering is that the workplace is no different.

Staff consciously, and unconsciously,  imitate the behaviour of leaders within an organisation,  copying the positive  things leaders do, but also replicating  the negative things as well.  In many organisations managers  describe people as having “bad attitudes,” but often the culture created by leaders is the root cause of the problem. As Robert Whipple of the Trust Ambassador notes, if these same problem people are put in a culture of trust, respect, and challenge, many of them quickly rise up to become happy and productive workers.

An article in Harvard Business Review  reiterates that leaders can shape a company culture through their behaviour and so it’s important to make sure that the right  kind of behavioural example is modeled.

What might you consider paying attention to:

Watch what you say – language is powerful and it’s worth taking time to think about your values and choose words that reflect them. The stories organisations tell about themselves become the reality for those in that organisation. Are the right stories being told?

Watch what you reward – do you ask for one set of desired behaviours and then reward completely different behaviours. Rewards don’t have to be monetary, they can be recognition, access, inclusion. Ask yourself who is being  invited  into the inner circle and why?  Is teamwork encouraged but  individual achievement rewarded? Asking for robust input but dismissing opposing ideas?

Watch what you tolerate – ignoring a  problem sends a message to everyone. If you leave negative behaviour unaddressed you send a message to the whole organisation and what gets ignored becomes acceptable. Hoping problems will just go away if you turn a blind eye is a technique that, unfortunately, doesn’t work, anywhere, anytime.

If  you are trying to shape the culture of your organization, make sure the reflection in the mirror is the one you want to see reflected in the organisation.

What’s love got to do with it?

Love in the workplace?
Try googling that and your eyes water! However, in the interests of rigorous research I went deeper. Lose the “romantic” aspect and what emerges is fascinating. Agape –warm, generous, benevolent, self-giving, unconditional-concerned-respect and neighbour-regarding love – can actually make a difference in the workplace.
People, when treated respectfully, when listened to, and when accepted as valuable equals, respond with increased engagement and greater commitment. Even the hard nosed Harvard Business Review notes that in a Wharton Business School survey of 3,201 employees in seven different industries from financial services to real estate, the results found that people who worked in a culture where they felt free to express affection, tenderness, caring, and compassion for one another­ were more satisfied with their jobs, committed to the organization, and accountable for their performance.
And the renowned (but unreadable) Chilean biologist, Humberto Maturana, has noted that “Only love expands intelligence. To live in love is to accept the other and the conditions of his existence as a source of richness, not as opposition, restriction or limitation.” Imagine that! If we regard and treat people who are different from us as having a legitimate right to be whoever they are….. we all get smarter!  
 While advocating a group hug every morning might be going too far, establishing a culture of concerned respect and good neighborliness is, I would argue, just good business.

An unexpected competitive advantage

Victor Frankl quote As we fly through the year, and the pace just continues to speed up, it’s probably useful to pause and consider an unexpected source of  competitive advantage  – mindfulness.  No longer the domain of hippies and alternate lifestyle gurus, the cognitive benefits of mindfulness –  awareness of perceptions and potential biases, and the capacity to see situations and systems clearly – are now recognized within  global business such Google, Goldman Sachs and BlackRock as vital skills with  Harvard describing mindfulness as  a leadership “must have”.

A recent large scale study noted that mindfulness within organisations can support resilience because it:

  • equips individuals with self-awareness that helps them to understand resilience and actively participate in its development
  • enables people to recognise the signs of stress and respond more effectively
  • develops discernment between activities that nurture or deplete internal resources
  • recognises the power of thoughts and finds ways of skilfully working with them
  • supports a culture where relationships are valued.

Given the above, it would seem that in today’s stressful,  always on,  competitive environment, everyone could benefit from  taking a moment, slowing down and being mindful.

Interested? Give it a try with  Five Steps to Mindfulness or use one of the great apps such as Headspace or Buddhify.  Or get on board with  a great  Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction programme run in our home town of Durban .

Not entirely convinced? Research says that mindfulness also increases creativity within organisations  and helps with problem solving. You’ve got nothing to lose except your anxiety.

Mission Impossible?

Ever found yourself sitting in a meeting that seems to be never ending and completely without purpose thinking, please, just kill me now!!

I have a “this too shall pass” tattoo  from a time I was constantly trapped in a Dante’s Inferno of  hellish meetings and while this time did pass, I saw first hand  the damage such meetings can do to morale and productivity.

However meetings seem to be an inevitable part of organisational life, and as David Pearl notes, they’re a bit like mushrooms which propagate in your diary like a fungus on a rotten tree stump.  While a radical culling of unnecessary meetings is often the answer, here are three  relatively quick, simple tweaks which will immediately improve the meetings you keep;

  1. What’s this about? Write your agenda in the form of questions. Rather than have an agenda item which says “3rd Quarter Budget”, decide what you actually want from the discussion and phrase it as a question. For example
  • “How should we re-allocate the 3rd Quarter Budget underspend” or
  • “What changes are required to stay within 3rd Quarter budget”
 An agenda item phrased as a question ensures that everyone arrives at the meeting with the right question in their minds and with a clear understanding of what is required from the meeting. This is opposed to what can happen when everyone arrives with a different interpretation of what the “budget” conversation will be about and then is annoyed when their specific issue is not addressed. The process of deciding on the correct question can  often be  helpful as well. Also a  great sample  meeting agenda can be downloaded here.
  1. Why am I here? Choose who to invite with care. Like any guest list the people you invite can make or break an event. First be clear about why you are having the meeting and then invite those people who will be able to  contribute or have a purpose in the meeting. When people have a real role to play in a meeting they are more engaged and with all the technology at our disposal keeping people prisoners in meetings purely to keep them informed is nothing short of abuse.
  1. When will (s)he shut up?  At the start of any meeting implement two rules; rounds and no one speaks twice till everyone has spoken once. Rounds are exactly as they sound. With every new agenda item (which is phrased as a question) a designated person provides whatever information is necessary to begin discussion around that item and then everyone in the meeting is given a chance to input into the discussion in a round. Only when everyone has contributed their thoughts does further discussion occur. No interruptions and no comments  during a round ensures that everyone contributes  and that meetings aren’t hijacked by one or two individuals. Another way to stop people dozing off when this becomes predictable is to give a small token  to the first person who volunteers to speak. After their input they pass the token on to another person of their choice and this continues until everyone has spoken once.

Great meetings help teams connect and connection improves engagement and team performance. If you’re keen to rethink how you use meetings to increase engagement and performance (warning: shameless sales pitch) talk to us about our Transforming Meetings programme.

And if you need convincing that there’s a better way I’d  really recommend “Will there be donuts? Start a business revolution one meeting at a time” by David Pearl.  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, a brilliant book.

And I’d love to hear any of your ideas around improving meetings. Let’s share the wisdom.

Cattle Prods and Other Management Tools

A recent Facebook interaction around the role of gratitude and compassion in motivation led me down multiple wormholes around intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation, mindfulness and gratitude and the role of empathy and compassion in the workplace. If you fancy a bit of overwhelm I have the links!

Portrait of a man roaring loudly into megaphone over white backgroundIn the process I was also reflecting over the many conversations I have had within organisations around motivation, mostly  in the context of “how to motivate”,  requests from frustrated  managers trying to get increased energy and performance out of an ever increasingly disengaged staff.  The tone of the questions reflects the belief that it’s the  manager’s job  to motivate staff,  to find ways to encourage them  to be productive and effective. The assumption being  that left to their own devices most people would not be motivated, would not want to be effective and productive,  and its the role of the manager to jump start this energy and enthusiasm. I often get the impression that the possible use of  a set of jumper cables and some electricity would not be out of the question either!


And I wonder if that mindset is not the actual cause of many of the problems faced by managers. It might be more useful to turn the question around and ask “What should I do to stop de-motivating people?”

Now here I do have some ideas.

Six things that managers, and the organisations they work in, might consider:

Don’t think  that being compassionate and empathetic  and holding people accountable are mutually exclusive – clear boundaries are vital and reflect respect and trust. (There is a whole other conversation around responsibility accountability)

Don’t believe the myth that regularly  saying thank you to employees  will immediately make them ask for more money – appreciation and acknowledgment is a massive motivator.

Don’t set meaningless tasks as a way of thinking you have control –  making people complete checklists and  reports that  no one reads or responds to is a sure fire way to de-motivate.

Don’t micro manage – it drives both you and everyone else mad! And it really is more about you than them. If you don’t trust staff to perform it’s worth considering that micro managing massively increases the chances they won’t perform.

Don’t overload those you think are competent (often meaning they do things my way) to avoid dealing with (holding accountable)  those you think are not – perceptions of fairness are massively important in motivation.

Don’t believe  that money is the be all and end all of motivation – even though this is often  the most visible issue in complaints and  negotiations, like an ice berg there is a lot more going on beneath the surface.

If you are keen to have a conversation about what to do instead leave a nice comment and I’ll feel motivated enough to respond.

In Search of the Easy Life

“I find my life is a lot easier the lower I keep my expectations.”
― Bill Watterson

pet dog looking for a food in basket on white background


One of the greatest frustrations that managers bring to coaching conversations is that of staff or colleagues not meeting their expectations. And these frustrations often result in simmering resentment, deteriorating relationships and increasing disappointment at further unmet expectations. What’s a perfectionist to do!

Faced with the complaint that “So, do I have to lower my standards because of other people” the answer is both you do and you don’t. And there are some  questions to consider which  are helpful in making that distinction.

Are my expectations realistic?   As Dr Travis Bradbury notes in this article   very often smart people set the bar too high, and when people take too long or don’t get things quite right, they assume it’s due to a lack of effort. So they push even harder and miss the opportunity to help others achieve the goals they’re so anxious for them to reach. Sometimes lowering your expectations is necessary to allow for growth and development.

Are they really necessary?  What would happen if the work was done slower, less accurately or just in a way they might be different to your preferred way.   If your expectation is really just a preference you might find  there is very little negative impact organisationally from lowering those expectations.

However sometimes expectations are realistic, with a standard that needs to be met, and lowering them would not be acceptable.

In that case are those expectations explicit? Do staff and colleagues know what is  expected  of them or are you assuming that they “should”  just know.  Often the gap between  what managers expect and what staff think is much greater than managers realise.  Some organisational issues  to check include

  • Are processes and standards  clearly explained and well documented
  • Are people held accountable to those processes and standards
  • Are there consequences for not meeting legitimate expectations
  • Are you clear and consistent in your expectations
  • Are you hiring the right people with the right skills

A gap in any of the above often leads to frustration which is then ineffectively  directed at the individual rather than addressing the systemic causes. It would be interesting to hear how others have dealt with these frustrations.

New Leaders – Don’t let them drown

new managers

The quality of management in an organisation is one of the key contributors to organisational performance and staff engagement – or in the case of poor management, disengagement.

Our management development programme focuses on developing leadership skills to work within the three levels of engagement with the result that managers are better able to  manage themselves, their staff and their environment.




Our approach involves understanding the organisation’s objectives, its employees attributes and areas of growth and then designing the workshop. We believe that a combination of workshops supported by  one on one coaching is a  powerful way of developing people and ensuring the transfer of learning into the workplace.

If you would like to know more we would love to hear from you – make contact