Wednesday, 9 December 2009

The Secret to Igniting Possibility

I’ve spent my career working in and on projects on both sides of the fence with many talented people and some less talented who, with genuine attention and guidance, have been able to develop to their fullest potential. I’ve also seen those who’ve been left un-nurtured become despondent, frustrated, and resistant to everything. Regardless of the project or industry sector people are it, which means that if we as leaders are to achieve tangible leadership success we must shift our behaviours first to then help others ignite the possibility. Having watched listened and learned from various gurus and role models, I’ve picked out what works for me and put aside what doesn’t. Here then are my thoughts on 5 common business behaviours that when consciously observed and altered can and do ignite possibility and create different outcomes:

Thursday, 19 November 2009

How does Leadership impact Organisational Challenges?

In his book "The Search for Leadership – An Organisational Perspective", William Tate contrasts and explains the Business and the Organisation. He succinctly describes the business as having an external ‘what’ focus while the organisation has an internal ‘how’ focus. It’s a simple yet thought-provoking distinction but in our experience with clients we regularly see a disconnection between the two and the inevitable resulting pain.

In essence the organisation exists to support the business on its journey of growth and development, and the organisation establishes systems and processes in order to do that. When things are static those processes serve a company well but business is not static. When business shifts and morphs in response to external factors, it exposes the systemic inefficiencies and limitations in the organisations.

Friday, 30 October 2009

How different is Leadership from Public Speaking?

I went to Milan yesterday for lunch. It sounds rather exotic but it had a serious underlying purpose. The lunch was being hosted by The British Chamber of Commerce in Italy and as we’re interested in joining the Chamber their invitation was an opportunity to find out more. It also allowed me to meet new people, talk about our business and expand our list of contacts here in Italy. And, the 1½ hour drive was a pleasant change, fog excluded.

It was a worthwhile investment as not only did I meet some nice people and eat a nice lunch but I was also reminded of 2 very important things:

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Are your Green Projects a sickly shade of Gray?

It’s time to get back to basics.

Green IT 2.0 is getting a lot more publicity but what is it? Put simply it’s about using technology to enable greener business practices. That means deploying IT in smarter ways so it’s used to enable further reductions in the total carbon footprint of a company. I read some Forrester research recently and they cited an example where Tesco has found IT’s contribution to their carbon footprint is only 4% but that it has the enabling potential to reduce their total footprint by 20%, which regardless of the calculator you use equates to what could be huge cost savings.

Good news indeed, especially with regards to the other elephants in the room – Climate Change and the ongoing Global Economic Crisis.

But what of Green IT projects themselves? Are they defined, organised, or delivered in a different way to any other project? And, how can these projects enable greener business practices not just to reduce a carbon footprint but to also increase business process efficiency?

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

5 Steps to Maximise Leadership Success

Have you ever been thrown in the deep end of a new role and asked to work miracles?  What are the first things you do when you're asked to take on a poorly performing team, department, or project in chaos?  Do you leap in like the caped crusader to save the world or are you overly consultative in an attempt to make friends and influence people?

We know how challenging these situations are and we also know that they can be exceptionally rewarding.  To help you swim through the mud we've put together a list of the 5 practical steps that we know work.  Why do we know they work?  Because they're what we do and we've proven their success time and time again. These 5 steps will help you set the scene, quickly establish credibility, build trust and maximize the chances of success.

Try them and let us know how you get on.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

8 Ways to Breakdown Barriers and Reach Your Potential

What is it that’s blocking you from reaching your potential?

Business is expanding in-line with or ahead of plan. Customers pay on time and suppliers deliver exceptional quality consistently while remaining open to constructive feedback for continuous improvement. Employees are motivated, empowered, and fully immersed in a culture that embraces change and responds to challenges as part of business as usual resulting in process improvement and elimination of waste. Revenue is high and costs are low because of the collaborative and adaptive approach to doing business, communicating objectives and people development. Career choices and self-motivation have enabled a personal life that’s stimulating and satisfying both financially and emotionally. Everything and everyone is striving for and achieving beyond their potential – they’re flying!

These outcomes are not fanciful. Read on and discover 8 ways to identify and breakdown the barriers that are blocking you from reaching your potential and fly in a way you’ve never known before.

Friday, 18 September 2009

5 Positive Effects to Walking Your Talk

As leaders and managers we’re constantly bombarded with information that needs digesting and disseminating to others. Some of it good and some of it not so great. While there’s no ‘right’ way to do it there are certainly some simple and effective ways to minimise disruption and maintain or increase motivation and buy-in. Here are 5 positive effects of how when you Walk your Talk you can achieve more with ease whether you're delivering good or bad news.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Have Fun!

A business has to be involving, it has to be fun, and it has to exercise your creative instincts. - Richard Branson

Fun noun light-hearted pleasure or amusement
(source: on-line Compact Oxford English Dictionary)

Fun! Don’t be ridiculous. Doing business must be taken seriously if success is desired. There are always things to do, places to go, people to meet. It’s a tough world out there; survival of the fittest and all that.

Take Bob as an example. He works hard, always has done, and he’s successful. An expert in his field he exudes confidence earning the respect of those he comes into contact with regardless of position, culture or belief. While he enjoys his work and the benefits it brings is he having any fun in the process? Let’s take a look.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Integrity in Action

Company ABC must tick a box on their control documents to show they have audit trails to support the discounts they give their clients for services. These audit trails consist of photocopies of invoices or documents that prove the work for which the discount is given has been done. Company ABC is ticking this box. Recently their parent company conducted an audit and found their actions in this particular area were not supported by their behaviour. The audit found they were not operating with integrity. They were not doing what they said they were.

Company ABC was not doing this intentionally however it resulted in their parent company not believing what they were saying. They lost face and their integrity suffered.

Conducting business without integrity is conducting business without morals whether intentional or not. In order to do business from a base of integrity there is a prerequisite for honesty coupled with consistency of action and behaviour. What does this mean in actuality?

It means doing what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to it.

Integrity at its optimum then actively manages changing situations as they arise so as to continue to deliver honestly. Things change and so must plans and activities. The base premise of how one responds to those changes is where integrity plays its most critical role.

Altering, for example, an agreed deliverable or date the first time can be generally understood and negotiated with a sense of understanding and responsiveness. The second time is a little harder to swallow for those on the receiving end and the third time… questions are going to be asked and confidence severely diminished.

Without confidence what is there?

Operating from a position of integrity builds trust and trust creates a platform from which respect can grow.

Actions always speak louder than words and when people see and experience a match between words and actions they believe. Take the leader who talks to their team about working extra hours, being available on call, or giving up holidays due to delayed decisions. That team now has an expectation that the leader is including him/her self in this effort. What happens when the leader behaves counter to the spoken word? Any motivation the team may have had to do as requested instantly disappears and any respect they may have had for the leader is damaged.

Integrity in Action is tangible – use the “Do as I do” approach and set the example you want others to follow, NOT the “Do as I say” and then display opposing behaviours.

At Unlike Before integrity rules. Our reputation is built on it and sustained by it. Based on the scale below, how would you rate your level of integrity?
  1. Always
  2. Frequently
  3. Sporadically
  4. Never
In our example Company ABC had always operated with integrity and did not intentionally set out to make this error. Their lapse cost them the trust of their parent company. To rebuild that trust they committed to correcting their procedure and ensure everything was in place AND they did just that. They’ve shown integrity in action and are slowly yet surely rebuilding that trust.

Here are some tips for increasing your level of integrity:
  • Be realistic – agree timeframes that don’t conflict or compromise other commitments.
  • Be honest – if it can’t be done or has to change say so
  • Be consistent – increase the confidence of others through consistent behaviours and actions
  • Be courageous – it can be necessary to say ‘No’ and that’s OK
Review your response to our Integrity rating scale against where you want to be then, if you want to display Integrity in Action, make the commitment and do it!

Friday, 24 July 2009

Show Strength Without Power

Power; do you aspire to power or the idea of power? It’s true that the higher up in an organisation you rise the more power you generally have. Power in business is often associated with:

  • Decision making
  • Budgets and finances
  • Cost cutting or increased investment
  • Personnel decisions on salaries, bonuses, hiring and firing
  • Determining the overall direction and future of a business or division and the people who work in them
All this power comes with the position you hold. It’s not about YOU.

Power has two sides - good and bad. Bad when used for self-fulfilling purposes and the repression of others. Take for example the manager who has to make every decision, review all correspondence, or have the final word on how things are done. And what about those to whom the proverbial brown stuff just will not stick? This is fear based behaviour. Fear of a loss of control, being dispensable, fear of ones performance being scrutinised. Fear and the subsequent behaviours it generates can result in power being misused in an attempt to regain control.

The good side occurs when a leader shows strength and has sufficient self confidence not to control everything or everyone. This type of leader will use their hierarchical position to enable new or altered behaviours in peers and subordinates. The line between enabling and controlling is a very skinny one indeed and as a leader any position of power is a privilege, one that may exist one day and be gone the next.

The leader who is clear about their role and the role of others will achieve more by exhibiting behaviours of strength without the need for a power-trip. Understanding the true meaning of empowerment and openly inviting others to empower themselves doesn’t come by telling people what to do or controlling when and how they do it. This leader doesn’t need power to achieve great things and even though they know they have it they’ll use it only when necessary. Generally speaking power is low on the list of regularly wielded skills, tools and techniques for this leader. In fact the less frequently power is used the more impact it can have as it takes courage and strength to set boundaries, make tough decisions, and skill to know when and how to say No as well as Yes without relying on power.
Leaders who use strength without power will:

  • Inspire and motivate others
  • Be respected by their peers
  • Get things done with ease
  • Have people queuing up to work for or with them
  • Draw others to them through their positive energy
Are these skills that can be learned? We believe so. We also know that learning them is not enough. These skills have to be learned, practised and applied with a commitment for different behaviours and outcomes. Without commitment their application is un-believable for others. Once exposed the leaders’ fall-back position is what they know, their comfort zone - power. It takes strength to persevere with a new behaviour.

What type of leader are you? Take a look through the following questions and write down your immediate response to each one. When you’ve finished go back through your notes with an objective critical eye. Decide if your responses suggest you’re operating from a position of power or strength. Ask your colleagues what they think. Better still, ask us! We’re here to help.

Question 1:
Do you have a backlog of work because each member of your team seems to be in constant need of assistance or does everyone get on with their jobs only to request assistance or guidance when necessary?

Question 2:
Are the outcomes you and your team achieve the ones you expect or are they a bit like pulling teeth - difficult and painful?

Question 3:
In a conflict situation are you more likely to turn defensive in an attempt to deflect attention or acknowledge areas that are lacking and commit to collaborate so as to close the gap?

Our Assessment Wheel for Effective Change ( is a tool designed to evaluate 8 important areas of business operation. The responses to each question results in a spider web diagram graphically showing the level of maturity within a leader, team, process or organisation. However once the level has been evaluated it takes effort and commitment to improve it. Take your response to the above questions by doing the assessment, making the commitment and then a plan of action to change.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Philosophy - Dead Horse Management

The tribal wisdom of the Dakota Indians, passed on from one generation to the next, says that when you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount. But in modern business (and education and government) because heavy investment factors are taken into consideration, other strategies are often tried with dead horses, including the following:

  1. Buying a stronger whip.
  2. Changing riders.
  3. Threatening the horse with termination.
  4. Appointing a committee to study the horse.
  5. Arranging to visit other sites to see how they ride dead horses.
  6. Lowering the standards so that dead horses can be included.
  7. Reclassifying the dead horse as "living-impaired."
  8. Hiring outside contractors to ride the dead horse.
  9. Harnessing several dead horses together to increase speed.
  10. Providing additional funding and/or training to increase the dead horse's performance.
  11. Doing a productivity study to see if lighter riders would improve the dead horse's performance.
  12. Declaring that the dead horse carries lower overhead and therefore contributes more to the bottom line than some other horses.
  13. Rewriting the expected performance requirements for all horses.
  14. And, as a final strategy: Promoting the dead horse to a supervisory position.
Amusing it may be but we see and experience this more often than necessary. We're regularly asked to 'sort out' projects to get them back on track and delivered due to the high levels of investment and stakeholder expectations. In some cases stopping and dismounting a project would make much more sense. This however takes real courage and strength but sometimes the pressure of budgets and expectations can override the sensible option.
What is your experience?

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Make Ego Work For You

It would be impossible to count the number of times a day comments are made about one ego or another. There’s no denying every one has a sense of self; it could be high or low self-esteem, or an inflated or minimized sense of one’s own self-importance. Ego can be extremely constructive with increased self-esteem driving us forward to achieve better, faster, more. It can also be negative and downright destructive particularly when one’s own level of self-importance no longer exudes a natural level of confidence but rather is perceived by others as complete and utter arrogance.

An inflated sense of self-importance is neither collaborative nor adaptive. It already knows what needs to be done and how to go about doing it. There is no room for other ideas, opinions or input even if they’ve been actively asked for. Can this behaviour deliver the results? Sure, eventually and usually by default rather than by design. Often though it is after a long drawn-out process full of issues, disruption, lost time and increased costs. All things that could with a bit of effort and some different behaviour, quite easily have been avoided. Interestingly enough, Ego generally only cares that delivery has happened. It has little or no awareness of the carnage and anger (yes anger) it has left in its wake. If there is any spec of awareness Ego more often than not moves directly into a blame culture pointing fingers as others must surely be at fault. Does this behaviour make those involved excited and motivated about working with Ego again? (nanosecond pause for thought…) Nope! Be aware the pointing finger - when one finger is pointing out there are 3 pointing back!

We all see and experience this type of behaviour at work, in sport, in the community and in politics. If you say ‘I haven’t’ then you’re likely to be one of 3 things:
  • telling a toddy-hopper (fib)
  • your Ego's talking; or
  • you’re very lucky!
So, let’s see how, when Ego is left outside, a different behaviour can occur and different outcomes are realised.

Different Behaviours creating Different Outcomes…
A new warehouse management process is about to undergo the final stages of testing prior to being rolled out across all European operations and, while you’ve been praising everyone for their efforts to encourage a last push for the final delivery, a major problem has occurred. The RF Scanners purchased months ago will not work with the software and testing has ground to halt. What happens next?

When the behaviour of Ego is triggered this is what usually happens. Questions are asked for information to be gathered but the responses are paid lip-service because at the same time instructions are issued on what to do. There is likely to be escalation without qualified understanding, demands on the Vendor for immediate resolution, and various other actions that will be viewed as self-protection. The result is normally one of confusion, annoyance, long hours, lost time and demotivation.
When a different behaviour is triggered there’s room to collaborate. Where the possibility to adapt swiftly to the noise pollution and frustration exists and acts as a calming influence to all. Quick information gathering conversations are organised to get the information necessary for sufficient problem definition and clear communication across the organisation. Collaboration ensures people feel valued and are willing to participate. Short-term contingencies with sensible long-serving resolutions are organised appropriately. The result is normally one where those involved clearly understand the impact, are focused and willing to do whatever is necessary.

Through collaboration¹ and adaptation² the decision maker can ask questions that dig below the surface, involve the obvious people along with those less obvious with an equally valuable contribution to make, and gather the information necessary for an appropriate yet quick resolution.
Note the reference to an ‘appropriate’ resolution and not the ‘right’ one. Why? Because there is no right or wrong, there is only what is most appropriate at a given point in time with the current information available, the variables at play and what is known or projected at that moment about the future.

¹ collaboration -
² adaptation -

Friday, 3 July 2009

Open Your Ears

Hearing is one of our 5 senses and gives us the ability to perceive sound including speech. However the ability to perceive sound doesn’t automatically an active listener make! Have you observed people’s reactions when you speak? What about your own behaviour when someone speaks to you? Do any of the following sound familiar?

Does the speaker…

  • receive acknowledgement through a smile, an audible response, perhaps a simple nod of the head
  • receive no response at all
  • get interrupted as the ‘listener’ assumes complete knowledge before the speaker has a chance to finish
As technology makes the world ever smaller the opportunities for human interaction are reduced putting further pressure on listening skills. Technology such as Twitter, email and SMS messaging encourage, by their very nature, short fast messages and a type of language quite different to that we’ve previously been used to. Even the telephone has taken on a different role in business through conference calls intermingled with internet based net-meetings, and these tools along with mobile phones and blackberry’s allow a mobile workforce to be located anywhere in the world and available at any time.

There are obvious advantages and disadvantages with the constant evolution of technology. Business can use numerous tools and techniques to dramatically lower costs and shorten turn-around times adding positively to the bottom line. Remote working and outsourcing however brings with it new cross-cultural challenges and language differences that require quick learning of new listening skills. Active listening¹ can help significantly but to actively listen we have to stop; stop whatever we are doing and focus attention. If the speaker is physically with us we have the advantage of being able to look at them to see what is happening with their body language observing how that supports the words coming out of their mouth. If the speaker isn’t physically present we must work much harder by concentrating and paraphrasing to ensure clarity of understanding.

Active listening requires us to be present in the moment, pay attention and validate understanding. To be in the moment requires a mind that is empty of what’s gone before or what’s yet to come. This provides us a space within which we can focus on the speaker. We have room to listen without barriers, prejudice, or judgement. It helps increase our understanding and reduces conflict as we listen for underlying emotions. This establishes a totally different atmosphere and builds trust leaving the speaker with an improved sense of inclusion and increased willingness to contribute all boosting motivation and productivity.

Let’s see how in the following example the different behaviour of active listening created a different outcome.

Different Behaviours creating Different Outcomes…

XYZ Company has spent many months specifying their Supply Chain requirements and incurring significant costs during their search and selection process. Contract agreed and budget approved, they’ve been working with their supplier of choice and everything has been going well. Other than a few small issues they are now experiencing a serious problem that threatens to derail the entire project. Agreeing a resolution is proving difficult and has been further complicated by the parties involved being located across various time zones.

Tempers are beginning to flare creating conflict and mistrust amongst the teams. Matilda (not her real name) is involved and has highly developed listening skills. During a conference call she has picked up on a comment made by another junior person who is not a member of the core project team. With a desire to resolve the issue quickly Matilda asked some very specific pointed questions and paraphrased the responses for further clarification to lead the discussion and problem through to a sensible conclusion. By doing this everyone participating in the call has benefited. They have a better understanding of the problem, the technology involved, and increased awareness of expertise previously unknown. The team has developed greater cohesion and boosted their working relationship, which will directly influence how they address future issues. For XYZ Company the biggest benefit is that the project has kept on track reducing the possibility of delay and a budget blowout.

What's the lesson here? Even if you are listening you may be missing something. Check out of yourself and your own agenda for a while and check in to others. Pay attention to:

  • words
  • tone of voice
  • body language
  • silence
Adjust your own behaviour and watch how it changes other people's.

¹Active listening -