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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Emotionally-Intelligent Leadership Challenge Number 9

Challenge #9 Leadership is no longer the role of a single ‘hero leader’

A connected organisation no longer relies on single ‘hero leaders’ or champions to take on that responsibility solo.  This challenges peoples’ individual egos – but it’s actually a reflection of the reality of complex organisations.leader as superhero

“Everything we’re doing is part of the system.  There is no ‘Archimedean point’ where we’re either failing, or, if we pull harder, we’re going to succeed.” 

(Paul Hawken) Continue reading


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Leadership, Engagement and the Culture Change Pyramid

We spend a lot of our time with leaders discussing issues like trust and delegation.  What leaders need to do – more of, or less of.  Taking big decisions about strategic direction and what to stop doing.

Leaders need to work out what to pay close attention to.  And what they need to let go of.

Yes leadership is about the balance between control, influence and acceptance.  But importantly, it’s also about paying close attention to what matters.

The Culture Change Pyramid is inspired by my work in the field of health and safety for over ten years.  In that field they talk about the ‘Bird Pyramid’.

The Lego Pyramid: leadership, engagement and culture change

The Culture Change Pyramid

In my Culture Change Pyramid (right) the bottom rows represent the everyday; the 2 green pillars are priorities.  The larger bricks above are the things that go wrong when the priorities and the everyday aren’t to the team’s highest standards.

It’s also a great way to make the distinction between ‘management’ and ‘leadership’.

It sounds lyrical but, in essence, the Bird Pyramid is just a way of saying that, if you have a high number of low-level H&S incidents, you increase the likelihood of having a higher level incident and fatalities.

Made popular by Frank Bird in 1969, it’s a way of categorising behaviour and helps people to challenge the prevailing culture.

Some people viewed that as a predictor, I see it more as an indicator.  I also believe that the same is true of staff engagement and behaviours.

Towards the bottom of the pyramid are the behaviours that staff display every day.  As long as we’re happy that they are competent and making intelligent decisions; sticking to agreed processes and protocols, there’s no need – as leaders – to micro-manage.

What happens, however, is that poor practices slip by un-noticed in the busyness of the everyday.  These only come to the attention of management when something visibly goes wrong.

  • A deadline slips
  • The auditors turn up
  • Customers complain

These are good indicators of something going wrong at the fundamental level.  Unfortunately, the behaviour itself may not be significant enough, in isolation, to be picked up.  That’s why monitoring of low-level problems is useful.  You can see the overall picture.

And when we have these negative outcomes, the tendency is to deal with them in isolation, rather than to see the bigger picture.  If a customer complains, we’ll deal with that.  Possibly tracking back to the root cause of that single issue.  Rather than asking “what’s the pattern here?”

Because if we don’t deal with a negative pattern of behaviours – the cultural norms – they’re going to create the bigger negative event.  In health and safety that’s typically a fatality.  In a business it might be the loss of a customer.  In the public or charity sector, the loss of a grant – or a programme of work.

One way of achieving this is to increase the pride in work delivered.  Acknowledging staff for their effort and their successes – at the same time as nailing the issues.  Not allowing poor quality to go unchallenged.

  • By partnering pride with productivity, people feel more engaged with their work.
  • Put simply – we all need to feel appreciated.

We feel fairly treated and happy to be part of teams when leaders and managers acknowledge our effort.  Especially when rewards and promotion are harder to come by.  This is what culture is – ‘the way we do things around here everyday’.

So what’s the difference between ‘management’ and ‘leadership’ in this context? 

For me it’s about leaders paying close attention to what matters: the pillars. Managers are entrusted with the responsibility of seeing that the everyday gets done.  Leaders have the luxury of stepping back and seeing patterns and priorities in that busy-ness.

They also need to demonstrate that trust in their managers.  Leadership is often about subtle course-correction, not wholesale change.  This means acknowledging what is working – and just shifting where it isn’t.

Leaders need to ask questions that will identify what creates success in this situation or context:

  • What works?
  • What do people do well?
  • Which behaviours contribute to success?
  • What matters?

Even in asking those questions, most leaders will also hear about what’s not working; what isn’t going well; what’s contributing to failure.

The answers give those vital clues to leaders about what to pay attention to.  In all the day-to-day pressures, there are some priorities that are greater than others.   By setting, and upholding clear standards and goals around successful behaviours – and not diminishing other good work – leaders create a culture of engagement and success.

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Leadership and true team engagement

Is it just me, or is there really a growing rift between leaders and their people?  I’d be happy to be proven wrong, because one of my values is that leaders get to know, understand and, most importantly, apply the wealth of knowledge that exists today about leadership.  Take ‘engagement’ as a case in point.  Have we made it too complex? Continue reading

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LeadershipZone fundamentals: integrity, communications & motivation

When staff believe that their bosses have integrity and communicate well with them, they are more highly motivated and employee engagement scores are higher.   This blog looks at the changes needed when recruiting and developing leaders and the one thing that will make the biggest difference in peoples’ perceptions of their leaders – the appraisal conversation.

Why are engagement scores important?  Let’s take the example of hospitals: if hospital staff engagement with their organisation drops, mortality rates increase.  It’s in all our interests to be sure that hospital staff are well-motivated and engaged with their  work. Continue reading

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Emotional Intelligence – a fundamental leadership skill

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking and writing about emotional intelligence and the fundamental importance it has for ourselves and our relationships with others.  Last Saturday we held a ‘business building’ course for professional leadership coaches and it brought home to me how fundamentally important the practice of emotional intelligence is to each of us.

I’ll explore some of these points over the next few days in more detail, but let’s start with the overview.

  • ‘Emotions’ – those feelings we all get in rapid response to a stimulus, good, bad, happy or sad.
  • ‘Intelligence’ – ‘choosing between’; using our innate intelligence to choose our behaviour based on the whole range of stimuli we receive from around and within us.

The basic EI model is attributed to Daniel Goleman and his associates, authors of ‘The New Leaders’, which looks at resonant and dissonant leadership styles through the lens of emotional intelligence:

  1. It starts with selfawareness: if we can name our own emotions, recognise the triggers that set us off, and identify our responses to emotions under pressure, we stand a much better chance of applying positive behaviours
  2. Choosing positive behaviours is an example of self-management: we don’t have to respond in an argumentative situation and we can choose to celebrate the good things that happen to us – even in tough times
  3. Being open to and aware of others is the next important EI step.  Because we’re improving our self-awareness, we’ve got a good idea how others might be feeling.  The good news is, we don’t have to assume, we can instantly improve our rapport and awareness by asking
  4. Rapport and empathy are examples of using our awareness to create better relationships.  The benefits of actively improving our relationships are all around us: better interactions with shop-staff, better phone conversations with service personnel, better customer service, beter account management – the list is endless.

Improving our relationships with our colleagues, staff and superiors has to be a  ‘win-win’, leading to better engagement at all levels in the organisation.  It may run counter to today’s ‘survival’ mentality – and that’s because when we invest in better relationships it’s an investment in future success, not just today’s.

Improving our emotional intelligence through these four steps is great for us at an individual level too: who wouldn’t want a better relationship with their partner or spouse – or close family members?

The most inspiring stories I hear from my clients are when they start applying their EI skills to their family: supporting children to pass their driving test, appreciating the very different choices young people want to make about their careers; sharing the disappointment of less than perfect exam results, or punching the air with joy over a moment of sporting success.

When I first encountered the concept of Emotional Intelligence – nearly ten years ago now – I recognised that I was starting from a very low point.  Yes of course I could point to incidents in my childhood, or blame my upbringing, but  that contradicts the notion of being aware of how I’m feeling in the moment and choosing between intelligent options now.  The very best news is that, with diligent practice, I can take four simple steps every day.

Over the next few days I’ll be looking at other EI fundamentals, with a particular focus on how we overcome fears such as rejection, failure, and how others perceive us.

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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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LeadershipZone Fundamental no.3: personal space

When I worked in the City of London in the late ’80s, I used to spend some of my lunch hours wandering the ancient streets.  You can walk into medieval churches, cross Roman walls and marvel at the Tower of London, just a few minutes walk from our busy offices.  I’m not saying I was a loner or a saint, many days were also spent with colleagues in wine bars and restaurants, sampling the range of delights on offer – but it was a pleasure to have time to myself to ‘switch off’ temporarily from the demands of the job.

Iconic buildings for London's 2012 Olympics

I can remember people staring upwards as the glass and steel Lloyds’ Building rose in the City.  Today there’s the whole Olympic site to see rising out of the rubble of derelict waste land in East London – and I bet every City has similar sights.

Today the phrase ‘Lunch Hour’ itself is seen as a medieval concept.  Yet having personal space in the middle of the working day is vital for our brains as well as our bodies.  Eating at our desks is neither hygienic nor attractive; and don’t get me started about the greasy smell of fast food!  If you’ve ever sat working while someone else is diving into their BigMcNuggetMac, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

I’m fascinated by the activities that people  do, when their mid-day break has been reduced and they become less engaged with their work.  The time taken out of the working day to deal with shopping, online entertainment and planning leisure activities; it can also be measured in workforce engagement surveys.  People with this attitude believe it’s their right to do this in worktime, because their personal space has been taken away and this impacts directly on the bottom line of your organisation.

There’s some interesting current work on what’s called the ‘positivity ratio’.  The author, Dr. Maynard Brusman cites research work studying the characteristics of high-performing business teams:  “If a team is highly connected, its members will maintain a positivity/negativity ratio above 3:1.”

Other research into peoples’ priorities show that health, relationships, and work come out as top.  Taking a break and eating lunch in a social environment contributes to all three.  So providing personal space – physical and in terms of time – for people to get away from the workzone is a vital leadership responsibility: especially if we want our people to be successful in their roles, and bring engagement, buzz and commitment back into the workplace.

Professionals in human resources talk about the ‘social contract’ that exists between employee and employer.  This is also an emotional contract, and if our staff don’t believe that it’s a fair exchange of effort and reward, they’ll find the most creative ways to rebalance the books.

When I work with teams to improve their performance, I ask them to rate themselves on three key measures on a 0-10 scale:

  • Positivity: how positive am I about the work I’m doing?
  • Productivity: how effective am I?
  • Credibility: how credible am I, within and outside this team?

If you want an easy way to test your team’s overall engagement quickly, I challenge you to ask these three questions.  And, to increase productivity and effectiveness and re-engage your team, I urge you to give them physical and personal space to take a break during the day.