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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Do Not Disturb: Successful leaders hit the pause button

Leaders spend a lot of their time, doing and directing – often focusing on what they’ve got to deliver and how they’re going to achieve that.  What we don’t do enough of – and I include myself in this – is simply stop for a moment and hit the pause button.  I know the benefits are huge – I get clarity and become better at making choices and decisions.  Sometimes I need to pause for longer; for example, when we review our business building plans.  At those times I prefer to set aside a couple of hours to really get thinking about what works and where we need to focus our business.  We call the short version putting on the ‘pause button’, and the longer version requires us to hang our ‘do not disturb’ sign on the door.

Do Not Disturb

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Leadership deserves a medal

The question people most often ask me is how we continue to build our business, even during challenging economic times.  I think the answer is in continuous learning from what’s going well – and, of course, changing what doesn’t; attention to detail, preparing for unexpected challenges and using and adapting new technologies.  I wrote last week about some of the lessons leaders can take from elite athletes – because I think leadership deserves a medal.  Of course, not everything athletes do is transferable to the world of leadership, but these practical techniques are a good starting place.

Rowers & their coaches at Dorney Lake, 2012

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The LeadershipZone: the four zones

The complex challenges of work, home, family and social pressures, mean that leadership is more important than ever.  As we go into the new year, I thought it might be helpful to describe the four zones and key elements within them at length, exploring what it means to be a resilient, emotionally-intelligent leader.

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Leadership fundamentals: let’s talk about stress

Leaders are under stress as never before: the complexities of their role, the competing demands on their time, the need both to deliver and be seen to deliver, all point to rising levels of stress and tension.  Good leadership means succeeding in the face of challenges; our decision-making and prioritising require clarity, not confusion.  Higher levels of resilience and practical coping mechanisms are vital to our life balance.

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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. 2: a place to innovate

We’re still looking at the fundamentals of what it takes to create a zone in which leaders can work effectively and the team can deliver.  You know the phrase: ‘in working order, on time, to budget’ – and of course, our stakeholders want to have their say too-

  • Leaders pray:  ‘please let it be successful with minimum hassle’;
  • Customers say:  ‘make it easy to get it working – usable/intuitive – and affordable’
  • The Board demands: ‘make us look good in the eyes of our investors’
  • Shareholders ask: ‘will it create higher dividends?’
  • Society asks: ‘is it safe, and will it meet our needs?’

We’re faced with the daily reality that the LeadershipZone is a complex place, where competing demands come at us from many directions.  Yesterday we looked at the need to focus; today we’re going in the opposite direction – by providing space for your team and your stakeholders to think widely?

We’ve touched on the need for diversity in whatever we do in the LeadershipZone.    ‘Space‘ means different things to people, depending on how we best interact, share ideas and chill out.  And as social beings, we need to network, exchange ideas, support each other and debate together – it’s a vital part of our make-up.

If you are going to use a meeting room for your problem solving, think about your purpose before you book the first space that comes available.  If your meeting’s purpose is task oriented, and you have a clear outcome that you’re working towards, pick a room with a lower ceiling.  This focuses peoples’ attention.  Shakespeare was, as ever, ahead of us on this one – Hamlet said:

“I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space”

wide open spaces inspire innovation and creativity

By contrast, the outdoors is a place to chill and get creative.  Personally I love walking and talking through ideas; many of my coaching clients like to have their sessions in the open air: as well as getting some fresh oxygen to the brain, the surroundings create stimulus.  If it’s blue-sky indoor thinking you’re after, find a room with a high ceiling – church halls and older buildings often have these.  Wider spaces stimulate creativity and innovation.

One final point of difference to watch out for is peoples’ attention spans: this varies from person to person.  Educationalists are just beginning to realise that younger people need shorter lessons, mixed with physical, 0utdoor activity to contrast with the focused learning.

Be aware of the length of your own ‘focus time’ first and foremost; and then observe your colleagues.  Younger, or less mature people, may have shorter attention spans, with higher demands for breaks.  Notice when people start to show signs of boredom, impatience or humour – this is often a signal for ‘time to refresh ourselves’.

While some of us may stay in the focused zone after one, or even two, hours, leadership can only work on the convoy principal: you need to take everyone with you – and that may mean adapting to their pace.

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The Virtual Leader: making the most of conference calls

We’ve all done it: finished our emails while the CEO is delivering his ‘all-hands’ call or texted colleagues and groaned about how boring this is. Conference calls, are seen as an easy, low cost way to ‘communicate’ with large numbers of people; yet the truth is, they are more likely to become a breeding ground for cynicism or disengagement, if done badly.

Investing in global calls can be enormously rewarding – but there are particular techniques to being successful.  I love the sense of reaching out across the world; remembering colleagues I worked with, or clients I’ve worked for and the places I’ve visited as a result.

Whether it’s one to one or one to many, you get what you give on telephone calls.  They take an investment in energy – just like any other major presentation.

Here’s my top ten tips and some suggested reading, for getting the most from conference calls.

1. Make it Visual; Make it Personal:

  • Before the meeting, circulate pictures of team members next to their agenda items, job titles/departments, so everyone knows what each other looks like when they come online
  • Meet your audience in person whenever possible – and connect with them on a personal level – maintaining that connection in calls.

2. Preparation (it’s everything!)

  • Prepare key messages; make them memorable
  • Edit ruthlessly: cut the waffle and junk the jargon
  • rehearse your messages; get feedback – especially on your timekeeping

3. Focus on your online presence

  • What’s the essential you?
  • Find a  metaphor or analogy for the ‘real you’)
  • Be that person on the calls

4 Invest time engaging with people on a personal level

  • At the beginning  of the call when people are joining – make one or two feel welcome, while the others are arriving
  • At the end of the calls invite one or two people to tell you one thing they’re taking away from the meeting

5. Invite people to be focused and engaged

  • You are looking for commitment to the meeting
  • Not doing other emails, taking calls on mobiles, etc., etc.,
  • Everyone needs to step up to the responsibility of making the meeting successful

6.  Who are you being as the meeting leader or keynote speaker?

  • What leadership strength are you bringing to the calls?
  • What engages you about this topic?
  • If you’re not engaged, chances are the audience aren’t either!

7. Not everyone’s first language is the same as yours

  • People may speak the same language, in theory, but culture and different interpretations may blur your messages
  • Slow down your speech
  • Pronounce each word more distinctly

8. Check for understanding

  • Invite feedback and engage people at the same time; some questions to ask might be:
  •  “Am I making sense?”
  •  “Does anyone have a different perspective?”
  • “Does this make sense in your country/territory/division/department?”
  • “Does anyone want to comment on that?”
  • “What questions might you have?

9.  Adapt to your audience’s Learning & Communications styles

  • We’re all different but there are some common themes – some of us are more ‘auditory’, others more tactile, some people make sense by writing things down
  • Most of us are visual – so use commonly-understood images to paint a ‘word picture’
  • Get your audience to write specific points down
  • Ask someone to feed back what they’ve just heard
  • Use variety to engage everyone

10. Combine the rational with the emotional

  • Use rational/logical (information) and emotional engagement – in one message; it engages both sides of the brain and engages your whole audience

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