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: it’s not all about the individual leader

I’d be interested to know if you share my concerns about leadership development.  Much as I’m fascinated by the topic, and by the very real need to develop the leaders of today and tomorrow, my concern is that leaders think it’s all about them.

What their personality profiles tell them.

What their personal preferences are.

Over the years I’ve heard about ‘plants’ and ‘shapers’.  Tuckman’s theory.  Quality Circles and self-directed teams.  I love them all.  They’re ways of looking at the world that challenge our thinking and help improve team success.

But have you found that sometimes leaders – and future leaders – think it’s all about them?   Continue reading


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Why is a Commanding Leadership style high-risk

Please Note: this blog has been edited to remove two words that offend spam-software

For the last twenty years I’ve worked in health and safety.  Today I spoke with one of our senior leadership coaches about a recent international tragedy.Forton Group Leadership Development Health & Safety at work

The leader in this situation was known for his autocratic and authoritarian style.  Unapproachable and commanding.  So when a major incident occurred, no-one spoke up to prevent or avert the disaster.

My colleague is coaching a cohort of talented leaders in this company.  They are stepping in to replace these old-style leaders.  Because their organisation has recognised the issue and is making major changes.

I’m not giving details because the exact situation doesn’t matter.  I’ve heard this story too many times now.  Across all the sectors I’ve worked for.

The players are different, the outcomes, tragically, remain the same.

In complex situations, where there is a culture of commanding or controlling leadership styles; a lack of trust and failure to delegate, people are at high risk.  Unnecessarily.

A commanding and controlling style of leadership is a significant underlying cause in all these situations.

Why? Continue reading

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Accelerated Learning – Why we use Fuzzy Sticks in our Classrooms

leadership development using accelerated learning

Bird on a Wire made from fuzzy sticks. Click here to see our fuzzy stick picture gallery

You can see the bafflement on peoples’ faces sometimes.  They walk into our classrooms at the start of one of our leadership development programmes and there, on the desks are brightly coloured pens, ‘fuzzy sticks’ (called pipe cleaners when I was young) and pompoms.

I remember one ex-army officer making loud disapproving noises – he didn’t like the idea of making the desk untidy – but that was before he created a perfect model of the Forth Road Bridge.

Why do we use these?

A lot of attention is paid to how people learn.  The study of neuroscience and ‘brain friendly learning’ is all the rage.  We call it ‘accelerated learning’ because we see how the environment we create in the classroom helps speed up peoples’ learning.

Accelerated learning is multi-sensory.  To learn best, people need to engage all of their senses: eyes, ears, hands, and feet – not just their brains.  We also know that learners aren’t focused 100% of the time.

I observe our course participants disengaging from time to time – not because they’re not interested in the topics we cover – but because it’s not physically possible to be full-on, all the time.  Nor is it possible, when you have a group of people in the room – to have breaks that suit everyone.

Our workshop participants are already using their eyes, and ears in the discussions and practical skills exercises we use.  They use their feet when we get them to move around the room.  So this aspect of accelerated learning is a creative way to use their hands, when they’re not taking notes or jotting their ideas down on paper.

Accelerated learning shifts us to the creative side of our brains.  It’s also giving our logical brains a break from full-on focus, without leaving the room.  We see people pick up a coloured pen and start doodling.  This keeps their brain working, in a pleasant way.

We see people start to twist the fuzzy sticks into different shapes and then start weaving in the pompoms to create the desired effect.  Then, when they’re ready, they put down their work and re-engage with the discussions.

It’s a key principle of adult learning environments that they are safe places in which to learn.  The last thing our senior leaders need is to feel stupid, or that it’s unsafe to speak up and challenge the prevailing view.  We want people to explore and challenge our thinking – because that’s what leaders need to be able to do back it the workplace.  Equally, their peers need to feel that their views are respected – even when not everyone agrees with them.

So fuzzy sticks, pens and pompoms are part of this safe environment.  It also helps in creating community as people start working their designs together.  If one person creates an animal out of the materials in front of them, someone else might build a shelter.

This is not to say that the serious content of the classroom isn’t happening.  It’s just that we build ‘serious play’ in to the learning process.  We help people to recognise that downtime is as important as the content and that it’s not ‘wrong’ to want to switch off from time to time.

So the next time you want to inject some creativity into your meeting – or need a way to keep attention high over a sustained period of time – try a few fuzzy sticks – and see what a difference accelerated learning makes.

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Leadership – setting the tone

Talking with a client the other day about a Google story – how they have a slide in one of their buildings instead of stairs. We got to talking about leaders set the tone for their leadership.  By the environment they create around them.

It also got me thinking about the difference between tone, mood and emotions.  If there is any, to start with.  And what leaders need to do about the tone they set – so that their team can work in the best possible environment. Continue reading

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Leadership & Difficult Conversations– seven qualities that flip the 80:20 switch

This issue of ‘difficult’ conversations certainly stirred up a hot debate in an Ignite workshop we ran last week.  What I love about our clients is that they’re the kind of people to discuss things rigorously.  Whether they agree or disagree, they’re always willing to give our recommendations a try.  That’s a real leadership quality.  In this blog I focus on seven leadership qualities that will make your life easier.  Give them a try.  They’ll also switch your team towards positive delivery, development and greater solidarity Continue reading

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The Good, the Bad & the Ugly of Leadership – Boss Taming part 2

On Sunday I posted part one of this blog – ‘Good Boss, Co-Create’ – now we begin to get into a little less comfortable area of leadership – so let’s see what we might do….

The Bad Boss – Check for Checks and Balances

I’ve got those Spaghetti Westerns cowboys in mind.  A rough figure in a poncho.  Sombrero tipped off his head, half-covering the rifle slung across his back.  Liable to pull it into action at any minute.  Or fire off from one of the pistols at his hips.cowboy

This is a sharp-shooting leader of my acquaintance.  Oh, and he’s a she.  Busy building her own career with the politicos and external stakeholders, she’s driving her posse from one poorly-thought-through project to another.  Continue reading

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Boss Taming – the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of leadership

My alter ego is an ‘Emma Peel’ figure from the ‘60s British TV series The Avengers.  I see myself jumping into a red Mini Cooper, probably emblazoned with the motto “Coach on a Mission”.  I pack my Boss-Taming kit in the tiny boot, and deal with the good, the bad and the ugly of leadership.

The boss tamer's top hat

The boss tamer’s top hat

This is a longer blog than usual.  So I’m going to share it over three days – and give you time to think about the different elements. Continue reading