Posts Tagged ‘leadership skills’

The Resilient Leader

January 31, 2014

Developing a strong and healthy mindset for today’s business challenges.

Have we been doing leadership training to death? Are we management modelled-out with regard to the bewildering array of personality profile questionnaires, ‘How Tos’ and books on the issue?

Well actually… probably not: leadership skills are something that we can and should continue to develop throughout our careers.

However, we’re increasingly finding in our learning and development work that something else is creeping into the mix. The world we live in is changing and the way we do business is changing. Increasingly, it means that leaders must be able to deal with the flux and ambiguity that change can create. They need to be able to develop the PERSONAL strength to succeed even in the face of increasing competition and to bounce back from the challenges and barriers they may face.

Low levels of employee engagement and productivity were identified as the biggest HR challenge in 2013 (research from talent and career management company Right Management 2013) and 59% of adults say they are more stressed now than they were 5 years ago (research from the Mental Health Foundation 2013).

In short, today’s business environment requires a different type of leader – one who remains strong and focused in the face of the rigorous and relentless challenges of today’s world.

The question is, how do we build that mindset amongst leaders? More importantly, how do we build a HEALTHY leadership mindset that capitalises on strengths without leading to burnout, and which maintains core values to boost performance and productivity?


1) Recognise how resilient (or otherwise) you are

Recognising how resilient you are – and being brutally honest about that – is a key factor in building a strong and healthy mindset to handle the rigours of day to day business (and personal) challenges. By resilience, I don’t just mean and ‘I’m still standing in the face of the onslaught’ approach, we mean a mindset that enables you to perform well whatever the circumstances around you.

Your levels of resilience are going to involve a number of factors, among them how in control or autonomous you feel about your current situation (and how you feel about your levels of autonomy): your ‘feedback focus’ – do you have a healthy balance between your self-perception / self confidence and other people’s perception of you: how do you respond to challenges, how quickly do you recover from a setback or disagreement and so on.

How aware are you of your OWN levels of resilience?


2) Recognise what triggers you to ‘de-rail’

Last year I wrote a short paper on ‘Leadership in Crisis’ based on research I’d done on leadership behaviours in the emergency services. (The paper, by the way, is a free download at Never Mind the Buzzwords, at

One of the themes to emerge from that research was that leaders in extreme situations recognise when their stress levels are becoming a problem, and they do something about it. They DO NOT soldier on regardless, as to do so could mean endangering their own lives and the lives of others.

The ability to recognise both emotional and physical signals that might build up and throw you off balance is clearly crucial – and yet most of us are too busy or pre-occupied most of the time to recognise what our own bodies and minds are trying to tell us in any given situation.

Recognising what triggers you necessitates the ability to pause from time to time and focus on NOW before charging forward.

PAUSE now – stop reading this for a minute and register what physical / emotional / psychological signals your own body is giving you now.


3) Acknowledge….and move forward

Obviously, it’s not enough merely to recognise what your body and mind are telling you: it’s a question of acknowledging these physical, psychological and emotional signals (they are what they are, after all) and then consciously deciding what to do.

Developing strategies for building resilience are inevitably determined by the individual in question: changing thought patterns, learning to focus, changing behavioural responses, re-discovering core strengths and values to be leveraged in times of challenge – all will be highly personal.

Building resilience requires conscious awareness and action, but its benefits are pretty obvious: more self awareness, better focus, better quality thinking, more productivity.

And those are benefits not just for your organisation but for you too.

 For more information on our ‘Resilient Leader’ programme, combining the latest research on neuroscience, wellbeing and personal resilience with business best practice and experiential learning, please contact or




Leadership skills that EVERYONE should develop # 7 – develop leaders around you.

August 13, 2011

There are many indicators that show how good a leader you are. And if you’ve absorbed all the lessons in my series so far … and put them into practice, you should be getting there yourself. But one more thing that leaders at any level can challenge themselves to ACTIVELY do is to develop leadership skills in others … the key word here being ‘actively’. It’s easy to be so involved in the business of leading (or leading the business) that it’s easy to lose track of who’s climbing the ladder behind you, or to just assume that other leaders are stepping up to the plate behind you.

So here’s what you need to do …

1) Identify and encourage those with leadership potential.
Keep your eyes open for people who demonstrate integrity and leadership capability, not just in terms of their output, but also in terms of their behaviours.

Bear in mind that this capability can manifest itself in many different ways, and some of them might be easier for you to spot than others. By that, I mean it might be easier for you to spot people with similar leadership skills to your own, but possibly less easy to identify people with a different set of leadership  skills to yours (this links back to the point I made in my last post about NOT necessarily valuing your own skills set above others).

I’d strongly suggest that you observe HOW potential future leaders operate, and don’t just look at their achievements on paper.  In the short term, you might find it acceptable to advance someone who, let’s imagine, exceeds their sales target consistently, but takes short cuts and is a little underhand in how they achieve this.

In the longer term though, negative behaviours  – acting without respect or integrity – are likely to result in resentment and stress amongst colleagues, leading to lowered motivation and lower productivity.  And sometimes, as we’ve seen in recent corporate and political history, the consequences can be far worse.

Remember, too, that not everyone sees their own potential, particularly if they are at an early stage in their career. It might be up to you to identify and nurture the leaders of the future.

2) Coach, don’t always instruct.
Coaching in its truest form involves asking the coachee questions that help them to clarify their thoughts, find their own way forward, and take action. It does NOT involve giving training, advice or instructions for them to follow.

Obviously enough, as a leader, you’re going to need to direct people some of the time. But think how empowering it would be if, rather than trying to provide all the answers to a potential leader, you let them define themselves and, coached by you, make their own way forward.

It’s the difference, in simple terms, between saying “I think you ought to do xyz to improve this situation” and saying “what do YOU think you can do to improve the situation?”. Yes, it takes longer to coach someone than to give them the answers … but the impact and the buy-in  and the long term result in terms of building the confidence of future leaders are all much more powerful.

In developing a culture of independence where people are solution focussed rather than coming to you with their problems and expecting you to have the answer, it’s also a strong approach.

3) Become a mentor.
If you’ve reached a level of leadership to which you reckon others might aspire, you could think about offering to be a mentor.  Mentoring differs from coaching, as here you’ll be offering pointers and advice to the person you are mentoring. In effect, you have travelled some way down the path that they wish to follow.

There are plenty of opportunities for you to become a mentor, within larger companies, within enterprise agencies and indeed within the voluntary sector, so seek out opportunities.

A strong mentor can have a profound impact on the leaders of the future, so it’s a great way to ‘put something back’.

4) Provide opportunities for leadership.
It’s worth taking a step back sometimes and allowing someone else to take the leadership reins for a while, perhaps on a specific project or task.  OK, so you might well remain ultimately accountable, but that shouldn’t stop you from allowing others to step forward and test their potential from time to time.

Conversely, it’s worth giving some thought as to whether you might unwittingly be blocking leadership potential in others, perhaps by assuming control too much, or taking too much of a directing approach.

5) Be a role model .
This, I’d argue, is the most important factor of all.  At some level, you ARE a role model for others, whether you’re aware of it or not.  And I’m sure we’ve all come across people in our lives who are BAD role models and who provide an exemplar of what NOT to do and how NOT to treat people. I know I certainly have!

In short, aim to be the leader that you would want to follow. And remember that, while you’re developing leaders of the future, you’re also developing your own abilities to coach, mentor, and lead, and make a genuine difference.


So there we have it – 7 leadership skills that everyone should develop. Of course, there are many more – the ability to motivate people, the ability to think strategically, the ability to prioritise, to make decisions, to communicate effectively and so on.

I’ve tried to scratch beneath the surface at some of the less obvious, more personal ones, and I hope it’s given you some food for thought as you develop your own leadership style and imprint.

7 Leadership skills that EVERYONE should develop: number 6 – leverage others

August 8, 2011

One of the marks of a strong leader is his or her ability to leverage the talents of others in order to reach organisational (and individual) goals. Leadership isn’t about knowing (or doing) it all yourself, it’s about enabling others to learn, grow, contribute and achieve excellence.

1) Know your people
I hardly need to say that unless you know your people, you’re not going to know where their talents lie and therefore you’re not going to be able to leverage them.  How well do you know your team, what motivates them at work, their out-of-work interests and so on?

A participant on a course I was delivering recently told me about a team member of his who was terrified of public speaking. Common enough, you might think. However, the course participant knew that this individual sang in a band in his spare time and regularly performed in local venues at the weekend.

Using the rationale that if you can SING in front of a crowd of people you can speak in front of them too, he coached and encouraged the singer to transfer his skills to the public speaking arena … with conspicuous success.

Had he NOT made the effort to get to know his team, this vital talent – and its link to the workplace – might have been missed.

2) Look beyond the obvious
It’s all too easy to focus on the obvious, to pigeonhole people according to their job title and to assume that, because of the work they do, they’re going to be good … or conversely NOT going to be good … at certain things. Look beyond the obvious, though, for hidden and unexpected talents.

I used to work in an organisation where, in the marketing department, we were frequently required to come up with catchy titles for performances, projects and publications.

Whilst it was well outside his remit, someone who we’d often ask for input was the Finance Officer. Why? Because he had a knack for coming up with great titles and captions and had a way with words.

If we’d pigeonholed him as the number cruncher who held the purse strings (which of course he WAS … but there was more to him than that) we’d have missed out on some great headlines. I’d like to think too that he enjoyed being asked to contribute to something that wasn’t directly linked to his job role, but was still of benefit to the organisation as a whole.

3) Don’t value your skills above everyone else’s
This is a bit of a lesson in self-awareness and humility, both of which have a role to play in leadership. Many people, whether they realise it or not, will place their own skills at a higher value than those of others.

To the creative person who loves coming up with new ideas, the logical pragmatist is “boring and conventional”.  To the strategic realist, someone with strong people skills is “touchy feely”.  To the ‘blue sky’ thinker, the person who needs to establish a context is “stuck in the past”.

If you are to leverage the skills of others successfully, you must recognise them for the values that they bring, and not undervalue them because those values might be different to yours.

At the end of the day, leadership and leveraging the abilities of others isn’t actually about you … it’s about them, and about the business as a whole.


Recognising, valuing and leveraging the skills of others is something that requires us all to leave our egos at the door and give ourselves the challenge of looking for people who aren’t just LIKE us and able to ‘fit in’, but who are BETTER than us at a given thing, and who will provide the necessary challenge to move everyone up a notch. And that’s not always as easy as it sounds.

7 Leadership skills that EVERYONE should develop – number 5: manage stress and maintain wellbeing

July 17, 2011

Inevitably, leaders shoulder a lot of responsibility for the departments, businesses and organisations that they oversee. This does NOT mean, though, that neglecting your own health wellbeing and soldiering on regardless is a viable option: you’re no use to anyone as a stressed out, burnt out wreck who’s running on empty.

So here are 5 things to consider as you manage your own state of mind and wellbeing. And don’t tell me you don’t have time to stop and think about this – if that’s the case, you need to MAKE time!

1) Recognise the signs
Working under pressure is a little bit like the old ‘boiling frog’ metaphor: you gradually become more and more pressured until suddenly you develop a stress related illness.

It’s important to be able to distinguish between what, for you, is an appropriate and productive level of pressure….and what becomes panic or extreme stress where you might be appearing to function, but you know yourself you’re not making quality decisions, and are becoming irritable or obsessive.

Think carefully: when you start to feel stressed – WHERE physically do you feel stressed? Prickly scalp? Knotted stomach? Tense shoulders? Where?

Begin to recognise your own physical symptoms and consciously name them. Recognising and acknowledging these early signs is a key stage in being able to address them.

If you’ve been feeling very pressured, have a look at one of the many stress related websites (like ) to check out the symptoms of stress and compare yourself against them. If you want to be proactive about minimising stress levels within your organisation, have a look at, and speak to Gerard O’ Hanlon there.

Recognise also whether you’re going through a period of short term stress which you can manage and where’s there’s light at the end of the tunnel….or whether the pressures are long term with no end in sight.  The latter requires urgent action.

2) Re-evaluate what’s important
Find a pen and paper and make a list of the ten things that are most important to you. ‘Family’ can count as 1, rather than naming them individually, and the list can be in any order you like.

Be very honest with yourself here. Some of these things might be factors like ‘the need for recognition’ or ‘the need to be wealthier than my peers’ and so on – things that you might not want others to know.

Look at your list, and cross off 3 things which aren’t quite so important as the rest.

Of the remaining things on the list, cross off a further 2 that don’t mean as much to you as the others.

Of the 4 items you have left, pick your top 3.

How well do these 3 life priorities reflect the amount of time you give to them? For example, if your family comes out near the top but your job requires you to be flying all over the world all the time….where’s the balance?

If you look back at your life, it’s unlikely that you’re going to regret not having spent more time at the office.  Consider carefully what the important things in your life actually are, and begin to set yourself some goals around work-life balance.

Define what, to you, a more balanced life with less stress might look and feel like, so that you have a positive situation to work towards and don’t get stuck on a relentless treadmill of pressure, feeling powerless as it grinds you down.

If you’re trapped in a mindset that says ‘I can’t get off the treadmill – I have a family to support, bills to pay’ then give yourself a metaphorical slap in the face. Do your family want you to be a burnt out wreck? Do your creditors want you to become ill and be unable to pay your debts? No. Do yourself a favour and address the stress.

3) Retain perspective
Years ago I worked for a short while on a live, daily TV show. On one occasion, I was working with a TV chef who was assembling a pudding of some sort. Somehow, between the rehearsal and live transmission of the piece, a jug of custard had been moved from one side of the table to another, partially obscuring one of the camera shots.

During the debrief afterwards, some of the directors team were furious about the move of the custard, and went on a considerable length about the problems it had caused. The fact that no-one watching the show at home would have noticed – or even cared – didn’t seem to be a consideration.  Eventually, one senior member of the team brought the argument to a close by saying. “So a jug of custard got moved. Nobody died”.

Refresh your perspective from time to time. Take a step back. In the grand scheme of world events, where does it stand?

4) Don’t be a martyr
Pretending you’re fine and ploughing on is not an option. You might feel for some reason that this is the noble thing to do, but rest assured, it absolutely isn’t.

If you’re stressed, it’s highly likely that you’re irritable or moody and aren’t making quality decisions…which is going to impact on those around you and on your business or career.

Some leaders find themselves taking on too much because they don’t want their staff to feel pressured, working unreasonably long hours themselves whilst ensuring that their team clocks off at 5 pm.

What’s that about?! Learn to delegate, learn to trust the ability of others, and accept that you’re not earning any brownie points by being a martyr and are potentially establishing an unhealthy work ethic.

I used to work with one boss (I was very junior at the time) who pushed himself to unreasonable levels. The company was working on an important project that would impact the entire industry, and the stakes were high. However, he decided to model himself of Gordon Gekko, proclaiming that ‘lunch was for wimps’ and working long hours without a break.

I left before the project was completed, but I did hear that some time afterwards, that man had a breakdown. Was the project worth it? I’m guessing not.

5) Do something different
Make sure you have some out-of-work activities that are absolutely not work related. Golf. Needlepoint. Sky diving. Anything where your brain can have a chance to switch from pressing matters and focus elsewhere.

Simply trying to relax by doing nothing sometimes isn’t enough…the mind just wonders back to the stressful issue. In these cases doing SOMETHING –  mentally taking yourself somewhere else by reading, carrying out an activity, or going somewhere new – is the best approach to take in order to refresh and rebuild your strength.

Make sure that pressure doesn’t turn to stress. Don’t ignore it if it does.

If you look after yourself, you’ll be better able to take care of – and lead – others.

7 Leadership skills that EVERYONE should develop – Number 4: Encourage Learning

July 9, 2011

If you ever get to a stage in your career when you think “I’ve arrived”, you stop learning … and it’s obviously important that leaders at all levels don’t do this. Perhaps more to the point, it’s crucial that leaders act as ROLE MODELS for learning and development, in order to embed it throughout the organisation.

Cynics amongst you might think “Well she would say that –she’s in training and development!”  and I guess there’s an element of truth in that: but I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t believe passionately that it’s important, both to individuals and to businesses.

Here are three things to do with learning that I believe that leaders could do better– whatever size of business they’re in.

1) Elevate the status of learning

I’ve written before about whether people approach training to build a person and their skills (i.e. in a positive and proactive sense) or whether they use it to fix problems (i.e. in a remedial, reactive sense).

If training and development are seen as remedial measures, people are less likely to be motivated to learn – either on training courses OR, more importantly, in their own time and in terms of their own personal development. Almost across the board, that whole personal development area is a huge learning opportunity that companies are missing.

As a leader, making it obvious that you yourself are on a learning journey, passing on some of the things you’ve learned and referencing books, courses, online resources and so on will help raise the importance of ongoing learning within the company.

Put bluntly, if you and your people aren’t learning, they’re remaining in ignorance … and that’s not going to bring you a commercial edge.

 2) Condone the enjoyment of learning

Learning is serious business … but it doesn’t have to be a mirthless drudge of lectures, powerpoint presentations and manuals the size of building blocks.

Years of research in both the training and development and education sectors point to the fact that the brain absorbs information (i.e. learns)  through the five senses, amongst other factors, and that by far the most people learn best through auditory, visual AND haptic means.

I was working for an organisation a few years back which approved a very interactive, innovative series of workshops for junior staff, but insisted that senior managers at the same organisation needed a more ‘serious’ approach.

They seemed to somehow be suggesting that once you  get a  ‘senior manager’ plaque on the door, you suddenly lose your sense of humour and personality and more to the point, lose your ability to learn by any other means than didactic instruction.  This of course, contradicts both academic and medical research … to say nothing of common sense. Do senior managers enjoy boring training courses any more than the rest of us?! I doubt it!

Of COURSE content needs to be tailored to the level of the participant group. Delivery methods, though, need to be as engaging as possible in order to be interesting and relevant to learners.

It should be remembered that people learn more when they are relaxed and enjoying themselves. And there’s no age or management limit to that.

 3) Support the implementation of learning

So! Someone comes back from a training course, full of ideas, keen to test out some of their new found skills! What happens next:

a) Hurray! The company already has a learning system in place, and with the full support of their managers and colleagues they successfully build confidence in implementing their new skills until they become habit, modelling positive behaviours and practices in the process.

b) They have a stab at some of the techniques from the course that they’re more comfortable with, stash the course manual in a drawer somewhere, and remember to tick that training course off on their performance management checklist.

c) They try one of their new techniques and their manager /colleague jibes “Oh, well we can see that YOU’VE been on the training course!” leaving them somewhat crestfallen and reluctant to try to implement anything else they’ve learned.

Clearly individual leaders can have an impact on the level and extent to which they provide an environment where learning and trying new skills is the norm, and where practice is monitored and encouraged, and many already do this.

It can be easier, though to assume that people will come back from a training course or other learning intervention and just ‘get on with it’, without recognising how the environment can affect the extent to which this is done.

Leaders who continue to learn inspire others in the organisation to do the same. Leaders who recognise when other people are learning and coach and encourage them to persevere in implementing their newskills are taking HUGE steps to develop a learning culture.

And why bother? In the words of the Chinese proverb  “Learning is like rowing upstream: not to advance is to drop back”.

And who wants their own career, their department or their company to do that?

7 Leadership skills that EVERYONE should develop # 3: personal accountability

June 25, 2011

Ego-massaging though it might be to blame your staff, your boss, your company culture, the system, the government, the environment, your cat, your spouse … sometimes, we all have to face the facts and admit “it’s me”.

Several years ago, I went through the corporate equivalent of a ‘messy divorce’, leaving an organisation with what I perceived as a bullying culture, and making a huge fuss as I did so. Whilst I don’t believe that the debacle was entirely my fault, it took me a LONG time (at least two years) to realise … and accept … that I had contributed to my own sorry situation.  “Mea culpa”.  At least in part.

Happily, leaving there was the best career move I ever made. But before looking at some of the factors that contribute to personal accountability, here’s a cautionary tale that illustrates what some leaders will do to avoid it …

Over the last couple of years, the UK’s members of parliament have opened our government up to ridicule and disgust by falsely claiming hundreds of thousands of pounds in expenses. In what can only be described as a national disgrace, our own elected politicians were, in effect, stealing from the public purse.

When the scandal was exposed, did they take personal accountability for their wrong-doing and offer to pay the money back? For the most part, they did these things instead:

Their first instinct was to try to ban investigations into the extent of the false expense claims. They tried to hide the facts.

When this failed, some claimed that the process for claiming expenses was faulty – it allowed too much scope for fraud. They blamed the system.

Some decided to show no remorse for their theft, and carry on as though it was ‘business as usual’. They tried to pretend it didn’t matter.

Some tried to say that their administrative staff had made mistakes. They tried to blame other people.

Others said that they didn’t fully understand the process, it was very complicated and easy to get wrong. They tried to claim ignorance as defence.

Others said that they were only doing what they saw other people doing. They blamed the culture of the organisation.

Some said that the demands of their job meant that they hadn’t been able to keep on top of all their receipts. They claimed that they had had no time.

At the end of the day, this wasn’t down to the system, the culture, other people’s mistakes or anything else: it was down to a group of people with no sense of personal accountability choosing to do the wrong thing – steal. End of.

The system has changed, and the worst culprits have gone from government office to prison. The damage done to the reputation of the British Government, however, and to the public’s perception of Members of Parliament, has been immense.

Personal accountability takes courage, humility and integrity:

Courage to accept the consequences, whether good, bad or indifferent, and to be prepared to make a stand when and where it counts.

Humility to admit that leaders aren’t infallible, and to ask the question “how might I be contributing / have contributed to the problem?”

Integrity to remain true to your own values, and not lose sight  – not just of who you are,  but of the leader that you aspire to become.

It’s not an optional extra for the leader. It’s an essential pre-requisite.

7 Leadership skills that EVERYONE should develop # 2: self awareness

June 18, 2011

To see ourselves as others see us – wouldn’t that be something? Genuine self awareness, and an ability to understand how others see us and the impact that our actions and behaviours have on others, is an important skill for the leader.

As with so many things, though, balance is the key: understanding how we are perceived by others needs to be balanced by our own confidence and sense of self.

Misalignment of that balance – in either direction – can spell trouble for the leader: whilst as individuals we’ll always judge ourselves on the basis of our intentions, we need to remember that others will be judging us on our behaviours.

Why is self awareness so important? Because it’s the beginning of Emotional Intelligence, and as author Daniel Goleman puts it in his bestseller, this “can matter more than IQ”.

In terms of Emotional Intelligence, self awareness is closely followed by four other factors:

·        Managing your emotions

·        Self motivation

·        Understanding the feelings of others

·        Managing relationships

So how, as a leader, can you become more self aware? Here are 5 top tips:

1) Try to objectively assess your impact

Being objective about our own behaviour is exceptionally difficult, because we’ll rationalise and make excuses for ourselves where things are going wrong.

If your INTENTION has been one thing, but the results are something different, take a close look at yourself and your behaviours to try to understand how you might be coming across.

I came across a stark example of this quite recently. A very senior executive in a global organisation had said his door was ‘always open’, but wondered how it was that few people ever seemed to cross the threshold, unless they were members of the senior management team.

A short while after this conversation, I relayed to him a concern that had come up in the training room, from a couple of participants who shared the same office. His response was to cut me off mid sentence with the response “what do these people want? They need to be empowered and learn to deal with these things!”

Hmm … let’s see, now. Might there be a possibility that staff are thinking, “He SAYS his door is open, but if you go in he’s likely to bite your head off”?

His intention might have been to encourage people to find their own solutions: his behaviour was very easy to interpret as that of someone whose door might be open, but his mind isn’t. The impact was that people DON’T come through his door – it might as well be closed.

2) Be aware of the little things

Self awareness isn’t just about the impact of overt or obvious behaviours – it’s about the little things too.

Imagine a Chief Executive who gives a stunning performance on the platform at the AGM about his optimistic outlook in the coming year. A couple of days later, he steps into a lift and a junior colleague is already there. The junior colleague asks him how things are going. He shakes his head and says “times are tough”.

What’s the understandable interpretation of this, in terms of the truth of the message AND the integrity of the speaker? What message do you think is going to be discussed in the canteen and around the water coolers of Head Office for the next month?!

Non verbal communications and behaviours that take place on an ongoing daily basis need to be considered in the light of self awareness. And actively managed.

3) Have some humility – listen to feedback

For some leaders, this can be a bit of a stumbling block –particularly if they work in (and perhaps perpetuate and enjoy) a culture where hierarchy is important, and where leaders are deemed to be infallible.

Sometimes, it’s necessary to have the humility to just accept feedback, even if you weren’t expecting it. On a recent training course,I offered some impromptu feedback on delegate presentations. One or two commented during the break that they’d not been expecting individual feedback. So?? Will you ignore it, then?

Norman Vincent Peale said that “Most of us would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism”. Given that feedback helps to build self awareness, it’s necessary to be open to it.

360 degree reports are another case in point: I’ve done a lot of coaching around 360 degree reports (feedback reports gathered from peers and direct reports as well as managers). Occasionally I’ll come across someone who rates their own abilities far higher than anyone else does – more often it’s the other way round.

If your colleagues are saying one thing and you’re saying another, it’s worth considering the possibility that they can’t ALL be wrong.

4) What if you’re right and they’re wrong?

I was delivering a workshop recently, and one of the participants said “I’ve really tried to understand my impact with this person,but the problem’s not with me, it’s with them”.

If you’ve been objective about really considering what’s going on, this is fair enough. As I say, there’s a balance to be struck between your own sense of self, and the other person’s perception. You could well be right and them wrong. They might even have another agenda and are deliberately misunderstanding you or the situation

If this IS the case, what next?

This is where we have to move on, in terms of Emotional Intelligence, because you still have to manage your relationship with that person – influence them or whatever – in as productive a way as possible. And this will mean remaining self aware and confident.

No one should stop being self aware because they think they’re the one in the right.

5) Don’t be paranoid – impostor syndrome

I’ve already said that balance is the key here, and this is just as valid for leaders who LACK confidence on certain issues.

I worked with a senior leader recently who, whilst acknowledging that her colleagues respected her, felt deeply self conscious about her humble ‘working class’ roots. The fact that she had a strong accent, she felt, was betraying to everyone that she was a local girl made good. She saw this as a weak point, as she worked with a number of people at this senior level who had had better educational opportunities than she’d had, and who spoke with what she perceived to be a more refined accent.

The issue about her accent had taken on far more significance than it deserved. She was starting to feel uncomfortable in her role and to doubt her abilities – feeling like an imposter.

It took a considerable amount of coaching for her to arrive at the conclusion that her accent and background might actually be a source of inspiration for those further down the corporate ladder, who’d had a similar start to her own. In this case, what she saw as a weakness could actually be turned into a considerable strength.

Self awareness is NOT about denting our confidence and bringing us down to the level of other people’s perceptions.  It IS about genuinely evaluating our behaviours, how we come across, and the impact that we have on others, and building on this to develop our own abilities, and our relationships with others.

The leader who is not self aware is sticking their head in the sand … leaving their backside dangerously exposed.

Watch out over the next couple of weeks for the 3rd leadership skill that EVERYONE should develop: personal accountability.

Three leadership truths that EVERY business leader must know

March 3, 2011

I have Sam Gibson (about whom, more in a moment) to thank for the three key points in this blog, and I want to start by asking you a question – especially if you’re in a position of senior management.

What’s your attitude to learning and development? Is it something you used to do while you were on your way up the corporate ladder, but don’t have the time for now? Is it something that senior managers don’t really have to do any more – you’ve learned what you need to know, and it’s something for those further down the organisation, to develop the skills and attributes that you now have? Or are you one of those rare creatures who genuinely continues to learn, challenge themselves and do something different?

Leadership truth # 1: as long as you believe yourself to be on your journey, you continue to learn. As soon as you think you’ve “arrived”… growth, learning and development stop.

Sound familiar? If growth and development stop because you’ve “arrived”, what sets in to take their place? Apathy, arrogance… or something worse?

I’ve worked with some amazing senior leaders who have the humility and self awareness to realise that we’re all on some sort of journey, and no-one ever truly “arrives”. When they reach a particular point, they quickly discover that there’s more to learn over the next horizon.

These are the ones who lead by example, who continue to learn and develop themselves and encourage others to do the same, who gain the admiration and respect of their colleagues and peers, and whose businesses and organisations thrive and grow.

I’ve also worked with some people who appear to think that the plaque on the door of their 6th floor corner office means that they have nothing more to learn.  I can’t help feeling that, not only have they missed the point, they’re missing out.

Have they actually reached the point of omniscience…or ignorance? 

Leadership truth # 2: if you stay too “me-focussed”, you’ll miss the bigger picture.

Hey! What are you looking at?! Yeah you!

I remember my first driving lesson. I was so terrified I drove at about 10 miles an hour, and kept my eyes firmly focussed on the road about a foot in front of the bonnet. I thought that if I looked up at the road in front of me… well, I don’t know WHAT I thought; I was just too scared to take my eyes off that patch of tarmac immediately in front of my car.

Where’s your focus? On the tiny little patch of whatever’s within arm’s reach… or the bigger vista on the horizon?

Perhaps the question is more to the point in a leadership context… where’s your focus? On YOU climbing the greasy corporate ladder, come what may, and getting to that board position / corner office / chauffeur-driven Roller… or on providing an exemplar of leadership that others will want to follow and emulate, that genuinely makes a difference?

And if your focus is on your own navel… what AREN’T you seeing?

Leadership truth # 3: If you have to fight, manoeuvre or politick to get into or maintain a position of leadership, something is seriously wrong.

Surely, one has only to look at the current situation in Libya to recognise the truth in this.

How did you get where you are? Through your abilities, dedication and people management skills…or by lobbying the chairman on the golf course, because it was your turn, or by trampling your peers to get to first place?

People WANT to follow the best leaders, they don’t have to be forced. They respect them; they might not always love their decisions, but they trust them. The worst leaders face the stress of constant fire-fighting to maintain their precarious positions.

Which have you become… and which would you rather be?
So (I hear you ask) who is this Sam Gibson, and wherefore the pearls of wisdom?  A groundbreaking entrepreneur? A personal development guru? An organisational development expert?

Actually no. He’s a preacher and on the senior leadership team of GLO (Gospel Literature Outreach). And the source of these observations? The stories of King David in the Old Testament of the Bible.

Why am I telling you this? Because it’s part of the Yara philosophy of having the humility to learn from everything… including the unexpected.