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 Development: 3 ways to escape the Hawthorne Effect

At its heart, leadership development is very simple – we want people to learn some leadership principles, practice them in a safe environment, and put them to work. So what gets in the way? Why does it feel so hard sometimes? I’ve been supporting a client as she’s been travelling the world, working with her team of trainers and coaches to do just that. My role is a sounding board, while she is at the ‘coalface’.

Her efforts went into delivery quality. We deliver Masterclasses and Supervision support for her coaches. And we update trainers in the latest learning and facilitation methods for groups and teams through a blend of methods. All of which produced good results and happier participants.  But how long do they last?  And do they escape the Hawthorne Effect? Continue reading


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Leadership Development: “I’ve never been so motivated”

It seems like people want quick and easy leadership development. The Board and budget-holders mainly.

Facilitators and trainers just spread their magic dust and, lo and behold, powerful leaders emerge. Not only is our expectation of leaders still in the mould of the ‘heroic leader’, but we expect miracles from our leadership development programmes too.

At the same time, there’s  an expectation from programme designers that leadership development is necessarily hard. It’s going to be tough. People will be challenged. Pushed out of their comfort zone.

It’s easy to see where this comes from.

  • The leadership development industry grew out of war – and what makes successful leaders at times of crisis.
  • It grew out of psychology – before the word ‘positive’ was introduced into that field.
  • It grew out of scarcity and the necessity for more – better performance and increased productivity.

So if your leadership pipeline is full of broken people who need fixing psychologically; who are leading through crises, and working in situations of famine and scarcity, not currently delivering – fine.

Go ahead, if you think that approach works.  If, on the other hand, you have a pipeline of good, talented people, who need the skills and opportunities to excel, maybe there’s a better way? Continue reading


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Emotionally-Intelligent Leadership Number 10

Challenge #10: Emotional Intelligence as a ‘whole system’ solution

Leaders need to understand that Emotional Intelligence is a ‘whole system’ benefit; a positive and enduring solution. An investment for now & the long term.

The new leadership is organisation-wide.  Every team member is part of the whole system.  Emotional Intelligence at Work Continue reading


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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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Emotionally-Intelligent Leadership Challenge Number 8

Challenge #8: people are better motivated by positive emotions, but leaders prefer to motivate with the negative

Negative drivers, such as ‘burning platforms speeches’, or ‘carrot and stick’ methods are poor motivators – but seem easy and immediate.

According to Goleman “We’re better motivated by positive emotions: it feels more meaningful and the urge to act lasts longer.” 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