THURSDAY THOUGHTS! – World’s most trusted leader, or ostrich or bull?

LeadershipThis is a graphic explanation of leadership.  The theory on the left looks nice and neat, whereas the practice on the right looks like chaos.  It looks like chaos because many a person who now considers themselves to be “a leader” feels like that when they are expected to step up to the mark and demonstrate leadership traits.

The theory on the left is what managers learn about leadership from books or business schools: that leadership is the pinnacle of a pyramid of management and promotional circumstances.

The practice on the right is their experience of that pinnacle, on a daily basis!

Leadership is easy until you factor in people.  Unfortunately, leadership is very much all about people, leading them, their competences, their time along paths they might not wish to travel.  At this point, the “leader”, i.e. you, particularly if it’s left unchecked in your early leadership career, either becomes an ostrich or a bull, because this is all about successfully dealing with tensions and resistances.

The key issue at this point is to determine commitment.  Your own as well as your team’s.  Because those who are not committed, merely find fault and blame.  Those who are committed, find a way!

I have witnessed many an encounter where someone has spent a significant amount of time telling me why something can’t happen, or why they can’t do something, or even why its all going to go so terribly wrong.  You know the conversations.  No alternatives are provided, or means of overcoming sought.  It’s just gloom and doom all the way.  To illustrate a point of a previous Thursday Thoughts!, they are the folk who provide little or no discretionary effort, if left to their own devices.  These are the folk who should bring out the best of your management and leadership traits, as they are the ones who provide most challenge to you.

So, whats your reaction to this?  Do you assume ostrich tendencies, and bury your head, perhaps turning to others to support you and dismissing them as “obstructive”?  This suggests neither of you are truly committed, to the task or to the relationship.

Do you become a bull, and force your ideas and thoughts through despite all their reservations?  You give the appearance of listening to them, but at the end of the day,  you are going to do this “thing” whether they like it or not! This suggests you are committed to the “thing” but not committed to them!  They will see through this bull-behaviour, they always do, and beware what they are saying outside the team.  Your reputation is growing by the minute.  As a bull that is!

Or do you listen, process what they are saying, walk a moment in their shoes, rationalise their concerns and either drop the issue if, on reflection they are (shock horror) right, or find ways to make something, not necessarily the original idea, happen and produce a win-win scenario related to the issue at hand?  This demonstrates a committed leader.  Committed to the task, AND committed to the people they rely on to deliver for them.  This tendency will certainly motivate teams to listen back in the future and new ideas will always be given due consideration, not dismissed out of hand.

I don’t think any successful leader has always got it right – they are only human after all.  But the most successful ones take their coaching seriously in order to find these pathways more of the time.

Leave the ostrich and the bull tendencies behind, take the first step in building that reputation for being one of the “most trusted” leaders, today!


THURSDAY THOUGHTS: How do you best learn?

vakEveryone learns best in their own way, and as time becomes more and more scarce, knowing your preferred learning style is vital if you are to make the most of that scarce time.  Do you like to listen to lectures or “how to” explanations; do you prefer to watch someone else do something first and learn from others experiences; do you like to read lots of books or papers and absorb the theory before trying to put it into practice; or do you like to get on with it and learn from how it evolves in real time?

My preferred analytic for determining learning styles is the Honey and Mumford Learning Style Inventory, combined with a  360 exercise. And if you have a team that needs to learn and develop as a group, these ingredients are excellent for illustrating scorings across a diversity of styles, and then designing high impact and longer lasting learning opportunities for everyone.

Individuals who have experienced a varied/generalist career pathway might if continual professional development has been a feature of their careers and subsequently embedded in their workplace, display very narrow but strong groupings (scores) for three out of the 4 recognised learning styles.  Some call this general roundedness in managerial learning terms and/or easy adaptability to new situations.  Pressure is usually welcomed by these individuals and they thrive on it.

Big swings and/or large discrepancies between strong preference and low or very low preferences show a developmental learning need if stress from vastly competing environments is to be avoided.

Therefore, one strong preference and 3 neatly grouped lesser preferences, ideally around the 10 or more mark indicates a highly adaptable individual.  Adaptable individuals are fairly mobile and very definitely sought after in the modern workplace.

However, a score below 10 could be considered a blind spot and blind spots are very much developmental areas if identified.

To find out your individual preferred learning style, or to book a team exercise in order to get the most out of future learning initiatives, get in touch here.  There is no need to waste money any longer on ill-fitting learning which produces no lasting value.  Let us do this analysis for you and maximise future value for money and development.

THURSDAY THOUGHTS! – What is “discretionary effort?”

keep-calm-and-go-the-extra-mile-6The final aspect of enhancing staff engagement brings us to the point of extracting maximum discretionary effort out of our staff.  We might personally be of the mindset that we truly believe all employees will always give their all due to a commitment to the organisation or similar (usually we will believe this given our own motivation and values in the workplace), but the reality is often very different! So what is “discretionary effort” and how do we go about motivating it?

Discretionary effort is the level of effort people could give if they wanted to, over and above what is absolutely required.  It’s what performance appraisals are all about – identifying where more of this can be found and utilised from each and every individual.  It’s probably why performance appraisals are universally loathed by all – when it’s performed badly with those who already feel like they are giving the organisation everything they have to offer, and they are asked for more, or left feeling unappreciated or unvalued for their contributions to date.  There is definitely a knack to extracting discretionary effort!

Some organisations achieve this (thought to be approximately c30%) through headhunting and luring the best employees away with offers of a stake in the organisation.  This is typical if such employees are motivated by that very commitment mentioned earlier.  John Lewis for example gives all permanent, full time employees shares in the company so they have instant ownership over maximising sales figures and other bottom line activities.

During performance appraisals, our managers are likely to see any one (or more!) of five faces from us.  We’ve all seen these faces on others, but how many of us are aware enough to recognise when we are displaying them ourselves?  Which one are you currently wearing?

  1. The Diva: thinks they are a world class performer and has a great deal of opinion about how others should do their jobs!  They are usually high performers in at least one aspect of their role, which has given them plenty of indication that everything they do is a right judgement.  The problem is, they have plenty of development needs in other areas of their roles but they have vastly under-developed self awareness skills and this produces real blind spots.  They are often specialists. In any self assessment exercise, they will rate themselves highly.  They can often be disruptive to any team scenario.  This face produces difficult conversations and requires strong management.  Motivation and incentivisation of this face, to produce high commitment and engagement levels is difficult but essential. Consider the questions people ask and answer during any engagement survey because if left unchecked, this face will produce disproportionate influence on the rest of the team.
  2. The Deflector: lots of excuses and explanations about why they CAN’T do something or why something CAN’T happen, in their experience. These reasons are always outside their span of control and their entire behaviour is governed by this concept of fate and luck.  They will believe you as their manager are part of the overall problem.  This is the most problematic face to motivate and incentivise to engage.  They can be decent performers but the more bureaucratic your organisation becomes, the more evidence of Deflectors you will find.  Left unchecked, discretionary effort will be extinct!
  3. The 9 to 5er: Classic face.  They have very set schedules and cut off easily at certain times.  Often a steady performer but does only that which is required and absolutely no more.  Discretionary effort can often be “bought” with this face through offering added flexibility, particularly if it is involuntary, as a result of caring needs etc.  Incentivisation and motivation is often through time segmentation so its important to understand what makes your people tick.
  4. The Upwardly Mobile: This is the fun face!  These folk seek to excel but often can’t see what their next career step might be.  This face is great to have around and incentivisation and motivation is often through giving recognition and regular feedback.  But they crave your interest in them and beware if you leave them alone for too long without stroking.  Don’t let the deflector anywhere near them!  They need intensive coaching but discretionary effort can be achieved if stroked regularly. They like to describe, in detail, how they will or are going about things and will be seeking reinforcement regularly.  However, because they are so unsure of their own abilities, they are unlikely to be seen as influencers for, or by, others. They can be engaged through involvement in activity, but are rarely leaders of others due to their insecurity in their own competence.
  5. The Star: The best face of the bunch.  They are in control of their area of responsibility and you need to keep them!  High confidence and a magnet for others to seek guidance from.  They are influential throughout the organisation, and  usually profoundly self-aware.  They are often autonomous and will act without you even having to steer. Incentivising and motivating your Stars is usually achieved from giving them room to act independently on occasions, re-engaging them with exciting initiatives etc.  Once they are excited about something, you automatically have a highly engaged individual who will engage others infectiously.

So this series has looked at producing highly engaged individuals, with the potential for high discretionary effort. If only a third of the workforce are engaged, then only a third are currently providing that vital discretionary effort all organisations are seeking for improvement and success.   And if discretionary effort can be up to 30%, then this third of the workforce are clearly carrying the rest.

Now isn’t that a profound thought for all managers wishing to improve their managerial skills!

THURSDAY THOUGHTS! – We’ve all been there … haven’t we?


Barry Oshry has spent many years theorising, analysing, describing and helping those who find themselves “managing from the middle”.  He says that the same scenarios exist in every organisation in all contexts; that those at the top of the office are at odds with those who do the work; and those in the middle are torn in two because of this and suffer stress as they perpetually spiral downwards trying to please everyone, taking ownership of   everyone else’s problems.

This is a scenario I have observed in every organisation I’ve ever worked for, and in some, I’ve been that “Middling” person sinking under the weight of being Mrs Fix-It for all and sundry.  It’s not a great place to be, physically, mentally or emotionally.

So what is this middling thing?  At it’s worst, it can be crippling to the individual concerned. I know because I’ve been there – thinking I was completely losing my mind and drowning under the never-ending receipt of actions which always came my way.  Some of the warning signals are as follows:

  • I’m a mess, weak, and nothing I do is ever good enough!
  • I’m letting everyone down
  • I can’t cope anymore
  • I’ll see what I can do (in response on the phone more than 3 times a day)
  • I’m running from one to the other all the time
  • I seem to have to make more and more excuses for everyone around me
  • I fee burnt out
  • I can’t work any harder, but it’s not enough
  • I never have the time to switch off
  • I’ve lost my voice, my independence – I used to have a mind of my own

Would you recognise what Oshry calls “the middle slide” if you saw it?  Do you even know you are doing it yourself?  Did you know that “middles” are absolutely critical in assuring that the goals of the organisation are realised.  So they are worth looking after and allowing them to rediscover their own independent judgement and voice again.

Watch Barry Oshry himself explain his theory and analysis here:

The way of addressing this involves all levels of management, not just the Middling.  It’s everyone’s responsibility to create a more  healthy leadership environment.  It’s an interesting theory and one that should be aired and tackled more overtly than I currently see it being.

If you believe you are a Middling – you are not alone – and ITS NOT YOUR FAULT!

THURSDAY THOUGHTS! – Love or loathe Resource Investigators?

RIWith the opening of the Llandovery Hub (see last blog post), brings a great opportunity to get together with other small local business folk.  It provides a place to meet and mingle and secure a professional working environment with all modern office conveniences.  This pitches very well to the Belbin Team Role called Resource Investigator, of which I am one 🙂  So when I was contacted about it, it immediately sparked my imagination as to what was possible and I’m all over it like a rash!

So what are my RESOURCE INVESTIGATOR characteristics then?  We are relaxed, sociable and gregarious, with an interest that is easily aroused (one phone call got me hooked on the concept). We are good at communicating with people both inside and outside the organisation. We are natural negotiators and are adept at exploring new opportunities and developing contacts. Our responses tend to be positive and enthusiastic, though we are prone to put things down as quickly as we pick them up.

The RESOURCE INVESTIGATORS are usually the team members who go out of the group and bring ideas, information and developments back to it from all over the place. We have an ability to think on our feet and to probe others for information. We make friends easily because of our own outgoing and very amiable nature. We are rarely in our offices, and when we are we are probably on the telephone. I have numerous examples of this when I was corporate office bound!  Always popping to see someone and check something out.  In fact, the receptionist once made me a sign for my door for when I was on the phone which said: “don’t even think about knocking” which was a joke, as my door was always open and I would often flag folk to come in whilst talking to someone else!  We are the teams’ salesmen, diplomats and liaison-officers; always exploring new possibilities in the wider world outside. Our ability to stimulate ideas and encourage innovation by this activity would lead most people to mistake us for ideas people, but we rarely have the radical originality that distinguishes the PLANT. Interestingly, my other team role is indeed Plant, so I often have whacky ideas too.  Just how difficult could I have seemed so some others in the office who craved peace and quiet?

Without the stimulus of others, for example in solitary jobs, RESOURCE INVESTIGATORS can become easily bored, demoralised and ineffective.  This is precisely why the Llandovery Hub is, in my mind, a fine asset to our community.  But I would say that wouldn’t I, being a resource investigator! So I love the idea and will definitely use the facility as I need to be around others and others instil the necessary discipline in me to focus and produce, otherwise I will float all over the place having a lovely time talking to loads of folk, but I will lack productivity.

Conversely, I’m hearing that the organiser of this fine facility is experiencing some criticism from others in the local community (are they Monitor Evaluators who can be characterised as overly critical and slow moving?) who merely see this as another office and are asking why people need an office if they have one at home etc?

I suspect a local initiative has suffered from a little lack of concept selling as its much, much more than merely “another office”. Have you come across an annoying resource investigator in your time and which characteristics have particularly challenged you in your day-to-day work? Could your team have succeeded (in your view) without one and if so, why do you think this?

THURSDAY THOUGHTS! – How do you demonstrate your personal qualities?

We’ve often talked about leadership qualities through this blog and this week we do so again, with  no apologies.  This blog is about improving your personal contribution in the workplace and leadership is just one domain of that menu.

Effective leadership requires individuals to draw upon their values, strengths and abilities to deliver high standards of service. To do so, they must demonstrate effectiveness in:

  • Developing self awareness by being aware of their own values, principles, and assumptions, and by being able to learn from experiences
  • Managing yourself by organising and managing themselves while taking account of the needs and priorities of others
  • Continuing personal development by learning through participating in continuing professional development and from experience and feedback
  • Acting with integrity by behaving in an open, honest and ethical manner.

Look at statements below:

On the scale next to each statement, choose a rating that reflects how frequently it applies to you then total your scores after each domain and reflect on how you have scored yourself.

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This interesting exercise will stand you in good stead for the first part of any future leadership assessment programme.

THURSDAY THOUGHTS! – Are you a problem child or a superstar?

Get 360Spotting potential and developing yourself or those in your teams take a certain degree of judgment and a whole lot of effort! To avoid developmental activity is to contribute to raising problem children.  There is absolutely no reason why everyone, with developmental help and an atuned sense of professional self awareness, cannot all be rising stars for the organisation’s they work for.  Aresko can help, in all sorts of ways.  The first step is usually a vitally important 360° feedback exercise.  This exercise can help to spot where on the matrix below you might be now, and it can give us some developmental ideas on the way to affect the shift into “Superstar” status.  So what are you waiting for?

Here are a few tips for managing your team now:


High performance, low potential. Give recognition for good work, use to coach others, do they really have no potential? (Use Aresko for development purposes)


Low performance, low potential. Could contain potential stars and backbones.  Counsel, establish trust, agree aims, and take action to help, including outplacement if best. (Contact Aresko for strategies to improvement)


High performance, high potential. Agree challenging work to stretch them.  Coach and mentor (Aresko supplies both services!).  Agree projects and career development.


Low performance, high potential.  Counsel (boredom or low challenge?)  Inspire, motivate, encourage and reach potential. (Contact Aresko for improvement strategies and assistance).

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So were are YOU on this grid?  Where would you put your TEAM MEMBERS?  Is it where they see themselves?

The gap that this final question will inevitably reveal is where a 360 exercise can really help. The result will be inevitable improvement – for both of you 🙂

THURSDAY THOUGHTS! – Are you an equal with your male peers?

WomenomicsAfter a lovely Easter week off, it’s time to get back in the swing of things with our weekly look at a poignant self-development topic.  This week has proven easy to pick a topic, with the news full of the fact that the only woman Prime Minister the UK has ever had, has died.  Love her or hate her – and passions are high on both those axis – the fact remains that she made it to the top in what was, and still is, considered very much a man’s world. A product of her time, or have times changed in terms of female leadership?  Womenomics: say the Hot Chilli company, is very much alive and well.

Margaret Thatcher was one of the toughest leaders of her time – but a leader she definitely was. So today, are women held back by factors like unequal pay and workplace sexism? Or are we opting out because we don’t apply, think we aren’t qualified, fear rejection, or concern for our family?

That’s the debate we are having this week. The current picture shows that the few who manage to penetrate the higher corporate levels must still be as hard as nails, sometimes even outdoing our male peers when it comes to aggressiveness. Do we really have to be more masculine than a man to make it to the top of our respective trees?

When the message conveyed to women is that to succeed in our careers we must adopt characteristics perceived as male and marked by men as “good”, while shedding characteristics identified as female and perceived as “not good” – do we internalise the idea that our psychological structure is less suitable for leadership and management?  Feelings of inferiority can be very heavy weights to bear when climbing upward.

As long as this is the situation, the distance to true equality between men and women will still remain great.

Where do you see yourself in this debate?  Do you consciously suppress female strengths to succeed or do you make a feature of them in the workplace?  What results are you achieving by doing so?

THURSDAY THOUGHTS! – What does the workplace of the future look like?

The Future is Now - Ornate ClockWe are working in testing times.  The pace is fast, the expectations are high and change is all around us like never before.  Many are struggling to keep up.

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A recent study, researching this question amongst 1130 leaders, produced the following:  The workplace of the future will, at its core, be described as owning and displaying the following characteristics:

  • Hungry for change;
  • Innovative beyond belief;
  • Connected;
  • Disruptive by nature; and
  • Genuine, not generous.

Do these characteristics apply to your organisation now – or perhaps just one or two do at this present time?  Score yourself, your manager and then your organisation on a scale of 1-5 below, with one being weak (others wouldn’t automatically see this characteristic) to 5 (this characteristic is embedded and commonly recognised as “the way we do things around here”), to see if you are part of the gap mentioned above, or whether you are really doing everything to try and narrow it.



Your Manager

Your Organisation

Hungry for change      

Conclusion: are you adding to your organisation’s resistance to change?

To be part of a high performing organisation, which is agile, nimble and ready for the demands of the future, you need to analyse your own state of readiness to help it be so, first. Any organisation is merely a collection of individuals, but it’s how those individuals act, react, behave and respond that gives any organisation its buzz.

THURSDAY THOUGHTS! – When did you last lose your voice?

mouthyHave you lost your voice recently and if so, what did you learn from the experience?  Strange question? Well, it probably forced a luxury called listening into your day if nothing else.

The fact of the matter is, today, the normal business meeting seems to be a place where there is a constant race taking place to say something.  It’s the short period of time to get all your points over before anyone else does, there are instances of people trampling over each other and rushing to cover as many points as they can before the next loudest voice hogs valuable vocal space.  We’ve all been in meetings where there have been constant interruptions before one or another colleague can finish their piece.

So you see, losing your voice can be an absolute blessing in disguise, as you are forced to listen instead of speaking.  Listening is an absolute art and all the greatest leaders are masters of it. Bernie Ferrari, Dean of the John Hopkins Business School has gone on the record in saying:

“The difference between great and mediocre leaders is the ability to listen.”

So, when did you last give your own “inner voice” an airing?  Steve Jobs, of Apple, often talked of the power of your “inner voice.”  He warned against being drowned out by the results of other peoples thinking, having the courage to not let the noise of others opinions drown out your own intuition.

Effective communication requires lots of focus and its been proven that better decisions are taken when you are truly listening.  It’s a matter of perfecting the 80/20 rule  and it  has very little to do with what you have to say and EVERYTHING to do with what people say about you following various interactions.  So, the sooner you lose your voice the better and grasp the opportunity to become the talking point of the next meeting for the right reasons – for being the listener in the room.  Listening has been proven to:

  • capture and maintain attention;
  • be more engaging;
  • demonstrate high degrees of psychological value; and
  • create meaningful interactions as a result.

Therefore, a period of planned loss-of-your-voice could be well overdue.  Do some active listening soon and let me know how it went.  Without the pressure of always thinking about the next witty interjection, or spotting the next goal scoring opportunity, you’d be surprised how much more you will bring away from your meeting.

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