The LeadershipZone for better leadership

Get into the leadershipzone – practical tools and ideas you can use to improve your effectiveness as a leader or manager

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Leadership fundamentals: success in a nutshell

When I start working with new clients, I sometimes get the opportunity for an initial burst of intensive coaching.  We talk through issues in sometimes microscopic detail each week and then move to fortnightly or monthly sessions.  The shifts that occur and the results that can happen by working this way are sometimes sensational, sometimes smooth yet powerful.

I’m fascinated by what it takes to transform organisations and the role of coaching in transformative learning – where we shift from problem/solution thinking to behaviours that have far-reaching impacts.

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Leadership and emotional intelligence – on the sportsfield

I’m not particularly sporty and I don’t follow rugby, but I have trained rugby players in coaching skills and seen them apply those tools to their playing and coaching on the field.  I’m also very inspired by seeing the people of New Zealand rising above the huge challenge of having survived two major earthquakes in the last year and for the event to go ahead at all.  Congratulations to everyone who put so much into making that happen.

One of our clients has been saving all year to spend her time travelling to New Zealand – just in time to see England get knocked out…  Perhaps for all these reason I have been enthralled by the semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup.

For those of you who don’t follow rugby, it’s a very physical game, similar to, but with none of the protection used in the game of American Football. It inspires deep passions and fierce debate in the post-match analysis (that is, for UK fans at least, most often in the pub).

Eighteen minutes into the semi-final game between Wales and France, the Welsh Captain, Sam Warburton, was sent off for an illegal tackle on an opponent.  Despite this catastrophic loss, Wales managed to hold out against France, only losing by 1 point.

So what happened?  Perhaps by the time you read this, a replay will be available on YouTube – but here’s my synopsis:

The players reacted from the primeval part of their brain – sometimes known as the ‘lizard’ or ‘reptilian’ brain (technical term: basal ganglia). This means that emotional responses are very simple:

  1. “Will it kill me?”
  2. “Will I kill it?
  3. If the answer to the above is ‘no’, then “Can I mate with it“?

So the tackle that led to the sending off was a primeval response to a perceived threat.  I’m not trying to imply malicious intent or that the player really wanted to ‘kill’ the other – simply that his brain was reacting at a very fundamental level.

In his post-match interview, the Welsh Captain then showed another part of his brain – the ‘mammalian brain’ (‘limbic system’) – where his response seemed genuinely remorseful.  Warburton had a very positive previous disciplinary record, accepted his punishment well (a 3-match ban) and shifted to supporting his team to succeed in the ‘play-offs’ that he will miss.

It was good to note that Warburton was able to express his emotions: “disappointment” and still able to motivate his team to move forward and succeed without him.

And for me that was the greatest triumph of the Welsh team in defeat.  They did everything in their power to limit their opponents’ greater strength and did well to keep the score so close (9-8 to France).  This shows great resilience in the face of a catastrophe – something unexpected and probably unplanned.  You could argue that ‘Plan A’ was to win the match with the full team; ‘Plan B’ was that the remaining players gave their all – which they did.

By contrast, the New Zealand team, who are noted for ‘choking’ – that is, failing to hold together as a team, losing their emotional resilience – managed to win decisively against their arch-rivals, Australia.  We’re used to noticing individual body language: I would argue that there’s such a thing as ‘team body language’ – where the whole team are working as one great organism.

I find rugby very hard to watch – but I love watching the hakas: the pre-match intimidation ritual – they just make me smile.  It’s totally about connecting with that primitive part of the brain: you don’t need to understand what’s being said here to understand the meaning –

So what’s this got to do with the rest of us sitting in our offices, trying to survive in today’s economy?

  • We need to lead, inspire and motivate the people who work with and for us
  • Nothing every goes exactly to plan:  airline pilots call this ‘course correction’.  The aim is to achieve the vision: real life may get in the way and we need to keep on-vision, having corrected our course
  • We need to know that everyone, from time to time, reacts at a primeval level under pressure – and makes mistakes
  • Our teams need to be empowered to succeed without the leader being present
  • We need to recover quickly from mistakes – apologise sincerely, take our ‘punishment’, put things right and then move on
  • Being in touch with, and expressing how we feel is the mark of an authentic leader

Identifying potential trigger points and having a plan to avoid falling into the pit of the reptilian brain’s reactions is vital.  Typical triggers are

  • Situations – e.g. meetings, lack of sleep, too many plates spinning
  • People – e.g. relationships
  • Time – e.g. late nights, early mornings
  • The unexpected

Creating a learning environment and inspiring people to keep moving on towards the vision is the role of the emotionally-intelligent leader.  Noticing when and where these are most likely to occur, and having a ‘Plan B’ can mitigate many situations.  The New Zealand Rugby Team are the favourites to win the final – but watch the team body language, my prediction is that whoever has the greater will win.  If New Zealand maintain that – together with their team spirit, leadership and resilience they will win.


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Leadership & Economic Stimulus

The beauty of writing a blog is that the author can turn their attention to a range of relevant topics.  My focus this week is ‘leadership and economic stimulus’.  Why?  Because as I follow a number of discussions on economic situations around the world I’m reminded how closely it’s linked to our personal self-confidence.

People with money are holding onto it; they’re not spending it, rather they are spending time and effort looking for safe havens.  Whether that’s Switzerland (who have responded decisively to dissuade people from this approach), or major banks (some of which are charging ‘negative interest’ to reflect the cost of this).  A ‘safe haven’ is just a way of saying “I don’t feel confident enough to invest at the moment”.

searching for that elusive 'safe haven'

So Economic Stimulus needs Confidence

There’s so much we can do, as leaders, when we do feel confident.  We all know what it feels like to be ‘in the zone’: dynamic, energetic and full of that ‘can do’ feeling.  We see more possibilities and our brains are more creative.  Brain scientists would say that this is because more of the oxygen in our system is going to the brain – rather than being diverted to our legs (flight), our arms and hands (fight), or to our hearts (when we grieve and mourn).

There are steps we can take to generate economic confidence, and rather than offering out-of-context solustions, I invite you to consider these two questions:

  • What stimulus does your business or organisation need from other businesses/organisations?
  • What will you/your organisation do to stimulate the economy in turn?  Whether at a local, national or international level.

The LeadershipZone – a place of dynamic possibility

So in the LeadershipZone we need to be in a place of dynamic possibility and lead our people and teams towards success and achievement.  Does this feel like a tall order?  When there’s so much to be done before the end of the day, week or month – it  can appear to be so.  My challenge to anyone reading this is to step back and start looking the bigger picture:

  • What’s your strategic vision for what you’re aiming towards?

The steps on the way maybe detailed and complex, but if we – and our people –  aren’t feeling motivated and clear about where we’re going, then nothing’s going to happen.

The converse is also true, sometimes we do, and achieve, a lot – but no-one is stopping to look at the steps we’re taking towards success.  Here’s five things you can do to support yourself and others see the results of the effort they’re putting in:

  1. Notice and express the qualities of the people around you.  For example, if you notice a way of doing something that brings results, mention it publicly – and mention the quality you see in the person that resulted in that achievement too.
  2. Look at your own experience, skills and strengths, and really get to know these factors in your team members.  These are what will get you through the challenges ahead.
  3. Set up mentoring/buddy schemes – so that you and your colleagues have someone who’s open to hearing about the challenges and providing relevant advice.  I’m currently supporting a mentoring scheme for professional women working in logistics in the UK (with links across the world).  It’s amazing how generous people are in offering support to others as they climb the career ladder.  People loved being asked to be mentors – as long as their time and professionalism is respected
  4. Here’s a great website where you and  your people can be reminded to list and reflect on their daily achievements:
  5. Talking these achievements over with a colleague, boss or buddy can really inspire and motivate you and your people

Remember the rules of the LeadershipZone: get yourself inspired and motivated first, so that you can better inspire, motivate and above all lead your team to success.

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leadershipzone fundamentals 4 & 5: your ‘Project Control’ room

One of my coaching clients took me to see his new pride and joy: a gleaming control room to monitor every inch of a regional railway.  The flashing lights, overhead computers and intensely focused engineers was a joy to behold: it brought out my ‘inner control freak’ in a big way.  It also reminded me of being privileged to be shown around an Air Traffic Control centre one evening, when Concorde passed through the airspace just before entering it reached the speed that creates a ‘sonic boom’ over the Atlantic Ocean.

These control rooms had three key purposes: to oversee activities within certain geographical areas, ensure the smooth running of activities within those areas and optimise the safety of the people working in them.  When we’re drowning under a sea of paper and a range of complex priorities, having space to set them out improves working conditions. 

I’m not going all ‘feng shui’ and New Age here; being able to define the zone within which your leadership takes place is one fundamental requirement of your leadership.  It will lead to better definitions of  your vision, mission and values – because it’s clear what’s in scope and what’s out.

A dedicated ‘Project Control Room’  where the WHOLE project can be laid out and left out – visually or physically, has a range of valuable uses.  People can see what’s happening and –

  • Progress can be monitored
  • Visitors can be briefed and ideas presented
  • Issues and challenges can be debated
  • It improves communications and decision-making
  • Delegation and decisions are easier

It doesn’t have to be just transport systems that use control rooms; complex IT systems or projects, hospital services, projects that rely on a number of people across technologies or departments.  Imagine walking into a hospital and seeing the flow of patients out of the Emergency Waiting Room into treatment areas; reducing bottlenecks and saving lives.

Having a control room within which to keep track of these key purposes is an undoubted luxury, but when I saw the Network Control Room, it brought home to me how valuable this space would be to other leaders.

Control rooms don’t have to take up physical space: they can be shared on the internet, reside on flip chart paper or similar temporary methods.  I’ve just bought some rolls of reusable magic flipcharts which stick to any wall.  I’m going to use it to map out my next book, laying it out at eye level around the room I’m using in Italy to achieve the best flow for my ideas.  My plan is then to capture the final version on the computer, roll up the charts, bring them back and re-use them.

By providing technologies which allow your team to map out their ideas, they can share and debate them with colleagues – whether in person, or via a host of modern telecommunications channels.

What has this to do with leadership?  By providing our people with the tools they need to do their job we’re delivering on the fundamentals of engagement: people trust us more when we provide what they need to be successful.  they’re better equipped, both in practical terms and emotionally, to deliver on their role.

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Five Fundamentals for creating your LeadershipZone

Following on from last week’s blog about ‘responsibility’, I’ve been reflecting on what this really means for leaders.  My vision is that LeadershipZone tools pro-actively support leaders to lead, achieve and succeed – by which I mean:

  • Lead: fully take on board your responsibilities, for what you do, how you do it and who you are as a leader.  This also means taking responsibility for communicating well, motivating and developing your people. These last three are not optional extras, by the way.
  • Achieve: together the team accomplishes its goals, such that every project, programme and initiative is attained at a reasonable pace.
  • Succeed: everyone thriving on the challenge they face, taking individual responsibility for their goals,  such that every member receives recognition for their contribution and works in an environment of success and celebration.

My organisation, The Forton Group, has a definition of leadership which is that individuals are personally successful; they enable success in their teams and their organisations, as well as appreciating their wider leadership impact on society.

This week’s theme is about creating that ‘zone’: the environment in which leaders can enable their people to thrive and be successful.  And if you’re a leadership or executive coach – you can use these tools to bring out the best in your clients.

There’s a theory gaining pace that willpower is a finite resource: the more we’ve drained our energy and determination in one field, the less is available for others.  For people who need to exercise more, expecting them to be restrained with the chocolate bars or high-sugar drinks afterwards is asking for too much: they’ve already used up their willpower.

Similarly the role of the leader is to make create the environment for success and make it as easy as possible for team members to be successful and achieve their objectives.

So how do we make it easier for people to succeed?

Here’s five fundamentals; starting with the physical environment, beyond the desk/chair/computer/phone basics (which all need to be in tip-top condition).  Create an environment where

  1. The team can focus on the task in hand: this may mean agreeing –
    1. Set times when they work in silence
    2.  Places where they can go to concentrate on a task
    3. Flags or other ‘Do Not Disturb’ indicators
  2. By contrast, does your team have times and places where they can actively interact – share ideas, chat and chill out?
  3. Do team members have a place – away from their desk – where they can eat and drink?
  4. Create a dedicated ‘Project Control Room’ or similar space, where the WHOLE project can be laid out and left out – visually or physically – and progress monitored.
  5. Finally, enable access to technologies which allow them to map out their ideas, share and debate these with colleagues.  This might be
  • Whiteboards or flipcharts
  • Digital technologies for virtual sharing
  • Or good old fashioned pen, paper and sticky tape…

Now I can hear people out there talking about slashed budgets and no spare money for expensive extras.  My challenge to you is to be resourceful and find ways of achieving what you and your team need to be successful – without adding to the bottomline.  Who says a ‘project control room’ has to be an office at high-end rates for example?  Many silicone valley projects were born and raised in peoples’ garages.  I look forward to hearing what you, or your clients have done to create the fundamentals of a LeadershipZone.