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Debunking the Myth of Leadership Development
Leaders development

Are leaders being set up to fail?

Whenever you are about to make yourself unpopular, it is always a good idea to say right up front what you are absolutely NOT saying and that you really like children and animals. This is about Leaders and Leadership and so firstly, we must declare that some of our best friends are leaders and many others make a living, out of the burgeoning industry of Leadership Development. We’re am NOT saying that this isn’t an important, worthwhile activity. However…

The industry that serves and supports the development of the leaders of our great institutions with every flavour of coaching, consulting, psychology, assessment, training, models and ‘four- box’ solutions, (yes every self- respecting leadership consultant has at least one), we have found over recent years has been a bit like a ‘stuck record’.  For those of you south of the 50 mark, that’s vinyl and it’s making a bit of a comeback). We tend to be repeating and repeating what leaders need to be doing better and have been for many years, yet the evidence seems to suggest that leaders are faring worse now than they were before all this ‘help’ was available.

In the UK, in case anyone missed it, we had three political leaders resign on the same day due to under-performance. This type of leadership failure is more and more common across all walks of life: business, sports, schools, hospitals and our public institutions, despite millions of hours and pounds researching, training, consulting and developing leaders. So what’s not working?

The answer is not simple. One assumption to challenge here is that the way we think about leadership has not kept up with the changes in the world and this has a number of implications. Before we offer some thoughts and our own observations of those implications, we should firstly say what we mean by that. Typically, we have thought of leaders as people we could ‘look up’ to. They generally had more expertise or experience. They could think, decide, engage people, communicate and implement what needed to be done. They would have one eye on the present and the other on the future. Simplistic, but broadly that’s been our view. Some leaders do these things well and succeed at least for a time. Others don’t and eventually fail.

The ‘look up to’ piece is key as this implies hierarchy and our view of leaders is entwined with our thoughts about organisation. We have persisted with hierarchical organisations for a couple of centuries as it has provided wealth and progress but in the last couple of decades it has creaked at the seams, largely due to the speed at which the world is changing.

The problem is this; as we ‘look up’ and wait for something to come back down, (a decision, an insight, a direction, an answer), by the time it gets back down so we can actually do something about it, things have moved on and we have to look up again for new set of decisions, ideas or answers. Aircraft may be obsolete by the time we get airport expansion in the UK!  You get the point. This lack of responsiveness gets worse as the world moves faster. Which it is. Exponentially so. Many businesses know this and have organised themselves differently, but many still have not and continue to struggle.

The way we think about leaders and their development in truth, still has the concept of hierarchy at its heart, even if we don’t like to admit it. Hence, what we do has a high probability of having little or no long-term impact. It’s like we are training footballers then sending them out to play ice hockey without the proper gear.
The implications are many. Firstly, leaders are set up to fail from the beginning; we are just waiting for them to reach that point. Some development may simply delay the inevitable. We may call failure different things and we often pay leaders a lot of money even when they have ‘failed’, but fail they must.

A second implication is that the new generation joining organisations just don’t get it. They don’t really see why it should be like this. Their world doesn’t tend to look up, it looks across, down, in fact in every direction and connects itself through technology without layers or barriers. At best they are confused, “why on earth do you do it like this?” and often they are totally disengaged “I’ll not be part of this” or “I’ll go and do it myself differently”.

So what needs to change? One challenge to make is to just stop thinking about leadership as a role that is in some way unique that we attribute to a few. Changes in the world mean that what was needed from the hierarchy of a few leaders is now demanded from everyone. The skills (or whatever you want to call them) remain the same. Everyone needs to be able to use knowledge, think, decide, communicate and implement what needs to be done both now and in the future, through other people, whatever their age, function or profession. The ‘other people’ in the new world means anyone who might be needed not just ‘those I am responsible for’ as in the old world. “Everyone’s a leader” is a theme we keep coming back to. Thinking in this way also shifts the burden of responsibility from the few with impossible tasks to all of us.

From a leadership development point of view we need to change our focus from the few to the many. Nobody will have the resources to provide the answers simply through more coaching, more workshops or more training. Leadership development is really now about providing the environment and opportunity for everyone to drive their own development. To achieve this the current ‘leaders’ and the leadership development community must become fantastic ‘facilitators’ and not necessarily authoritative ‘experts’. “Gawd save us from the Guru!” may be another blog!


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Organisational Change Is Always Evolutionary

evoluA previous blog,  “The Age of the Individual”, discussed the idea that the ‘revolution’ before us is one in which the individual is reclaiming control from institutions.  Although true, this is somewhat simplistic. Let’s call it poetic licence. Undoubtedly, these changes will ‘revolutionise’ many aspects of our lives, but the process itself, is, has and will continue to be, an ‘evolutionary’ one.  Evolution seems to be a universal principle.

This period of organisational evolution is already serving up institutions in every sector that are adapting to the complexity (i.e. dealing with more of it) and dynamism (i.e. the rate and speed of that change) in the world where they exist.  Like new branches on an evolutionary tree, organisations are showing very different characteristics as they adapt to different terrains and climates.

To survive and thrive, organisations are becoming more agile, fluid, and less structured with a real blurring of previously well-defined boundaries.  Some organisations look so different in the new world it is important to emphasise that this is ‘evolutionary’.  So what does this imply?

Firstly, evolution means that what went before was not wrong or bad, just appropriate to that previous environment.  A chimp isn’t wrong or bad, just not homo sapiens.  After all, an opposable thumb only gets you so far. We shouldn’t be critical of the past, just accept that it was a different time.  We might reminisce fondly about how much easier it was back then, being a chimp, but really we don’t wish we had primates running our businesses.

Secondly, with evolution, we do not forget the lessons of our previous existence if they are still useful to us.  For example, some organisations like Morning Star (a Californian tomato producer built on a philosophy of self-management),  Giffgaff (a sim-only mobile network operator run by members), Orpheus orchestra (fantastic chamber music from New York City but conductor-less since 1972), have adapted by being textbook ‘leaderless’ organisations.  However, this has not meant they have forgotten the lessons of the skills of great leadership. They have simply decided they are skills required by everyone, not just a few who we pay vast and disproportionate wages to for supposedly having them.

A ‘leaderless’ organisation does not forget the benefits of the things leaders may have brought that may still be important: vision, inspiration, facilitation, motivation, implementation, innovation etc. It uses them appropriately in the new model where ‘Everyone’s a Leader!’

It seems remarkable, although maybe predictable in an evolutionary sense, that some of these leaps have not been picked up by many more organisations.  After all, some of these examples of leaderless organisations have been around for many years and yet we still bang on about the need for great leaders and a whole industry exists to tell leaders what they must or must not do.  There is growing research and evidence for the real lack of a difference leaders make.  The world has shifted and new models are needed.

Thirdly, with evolution, usually the incumbent sticks around, (how else could we have sold teabags in the 1970s?), while the new species find their place.  The emergence of new models of organisation doesn’t mean those originally there just disappear.  Some more traditional organisations are very durable.  However, they would do well to learn the ways of the new world and they will still need to adapt or they will be vulnerable.

Finally, evolutionary processes take time either to establish a niche or to compete with, or indeed replace, the incumbent. Evolution tends to work in small increments. Notice I did not use the word slowly.  Incremental does not mean slow. We will wake up one day and notice we are in a very different world and wonder how on earth that happened!


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Is Amazon re-thinking the importance of employee empowerment?

wormAn article in this month’s publication of the HRDirector features an article that focusses on the societal shift from institutional control to individual empowerment, and the implications this might have over the coming decade.

The HRDirector is always a thought provoking read and, as I flicked through the pages, I was drawn to two other articles whose rhetoric linked to the belief that it is the empowerment of your human capital that will drive organisational development and societal change, more than the assimilation of new technologies and other influences.

Santiago Garcia, in writing ‘Your Old Road is Rapidly Agein’ discusses how HR departments need to evolve faster to embrace all the changes in the complex, uncertain environments of today.  Leaders can no longer have all the answers, and success depends on a company’s ability to ‘unleash the initiative, imagination and passion of employees at all levels.’  The synopsis that ‘everything suggests that we are moving towards a future where people management may become the ultimate source of competitiveness’ very much correlates with this.

However the second article that caught my eye initially seemed to contradict this.  It looked at an organisation that has traditionally and strategically, it seems, put its employees much lower in its priorities, and yet has been extremely successful.   The feature focusses on Amazon and the changes it has made since swallowing up Zappo five years ago.  Zappo was famously employee-friendly, but Amazon had never previously been overt in its people management focus. Their fundamentals were customer focus, long term growth and data based decision making.  Everything that was not about these three success indicators was not deemed important.

However Jeff Bezos (Amazon CEO) has recently been communicating a new-found appreciation of empowerment that may, or may not, have come from Zappo’s influence, but what it shows is that even a successful organisation like Amazon cannot ignore the importance of taking employees very seriously. Bezos has shown that, as a great leader, he has to adapt and ‘reframe’ and has thus responded to the importance of his employees.  It will be interesting to see if this new rhetoric continues at Amazon and the impact it has.


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Are you too busy to learn? 

too busy


I have just read about how Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, showed off his newly acquired mastery of Mandarin during a 30-minute Q&A at Tsinghua University in Beijing.  It seems incredible that someone as busy as he must surely be has found the time to dedicate himself to this feat of learning.   


Learn ‘on-the-job’ 

Talking to our clients regarding leadership development we are prepared for the “we’re too busy to do this” reaction.  We have seen that there is increasing emphasis on providing easily accessible skill development, which can be effectively woven into the day-to-day jobs of busy employees.  Time out of the office for training is a seen as a ‘luxury’ few can afford.  The emphasis is now shifting to identifying development needs in smaller bite-size chunks and then focussing on opportunities to implement learning actions within the normal day’s workload.  Any time. Any place. Any where.

Test your new skills

Consciously testing the use of a new behaviour in ‘real’ situations will also give an immediate sense of the impact.  If colleagues are also aware of the development focus they can also give real-time feedback as to whether the behaviour was applied appropriately. If the outcome is positive that behaviour is more likely to be reinforced and retained.

For example: if you want to develop your use of ‘empathy’: in meetings practise asking open questions, encourage discussion and increase participation from everyone.  Clarify your understanding and encourage others to do the same. The impact of this will be evident immediately and practice will also increase the positive gains.


The principles of social media mean that the modern workforce is acclimatising to more open feedback and more direct interaction.  The development provided by my360plus is based entirely on these principles.  Suggestions for development are clear and targeted and colleagues are guided in how they can support. There is also a professional advisor available to consult if required if a particular concept is not fully understood.

So….are you too busy to learn?

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Does Corporate Social Responsibility make business sense?


I recently wrote to Portsmouth Water to ask them if they would be interested in sponsoring an event I was involved in organising.  They politely replied, explaining that they concentrate their charitable efforts on a charity called Water Aid, which helps to provide clean drinking water in Third World countries.  This is of course a great way for this company to deal with the endless requests for donations like mine but, more importantly, is their strategy for contributing towards the great tide of ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has grown exponentially in the last 50 years, with no major company strategy complete these days without a CSR statement, expressing their intention to invest in communities and care for the environment.  The cynics out there see CSR as merely a marketing ploy but, aside from a few inevitable bad examples, the great majority appear to be having a sincere and positive impact, not only for the wider community, but for the companies themselves. And, done correctly, it makes us all feel good!

As I pop my counter into a box in my nearby supermarket ‘voting’ for a new local playground, there is a feeling that I have done ‘my good deed of the day’.  The supermarket is endearing itself into its community and everyone’s a winner.  Having a quick look at a number of corporate websites today I couldn’t miss such phrases as “a desire to put something back”, “committed to being a global citizen”, and “investing in communities”.  It all sounds so positive.

The surge in socially responsible investing has coincided with increased awareness of global environmental and social problems, highlighted by horrific stories such as the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and the 2013 Savar garment factory collapse. The media onslaught of worldwide man-made tragedies eats at our conscience and it is human nature to want to help.

Yet does CSR make business sense?

  • Financial Gain: One successful approach has been for CSR to drive the company strategy.  Think of The Body Shop, Fair Trade and The Co-Operative Group.  They have built huge customer loyalty based on distinctive ethical values.
  • Cost savings: Recycling, water management, renewable energy, reduced packaging, reusable materials, less paper use etc. all save money and are widely accepted.
  • Community involvement: This can include raising money for local charities, providing volunteers, sponsoring local events or employing local workers,
  • Employee Motivation.  Staff can become involved through payroll giving, fundraising activities or community volunteering.  One standout example is, which has a CSR policy to give 1% of its profit, 1% of its employees’ time, and 1% of its equity to charities and other non-profit organisations.
  • Partnerships.  Brands have come together to tackle larger issues. Rivals such as PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, and Unilever and P&G have joined forces to develop more sustainable refrigeration technologies.  12 of the world’s largest chocolate and cocoa companies, including Nestlé and Mars, are working together to help farmers meet the growing demand for cocoa.
  • Reputation.  And, of course, it doesn’t do a business any harm to be seen to be “doing good” either.

CSR has become more institutionalised and, so long as it is not viewed as a meaningless PR effort, has become increasingly significant for business success.  In another blog soon I’ll share how my360plus clients are also tying their leadership development to their CSR strategy.

Now, where did I put my ‘Bag for Life’?…

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The workplace has all the ingredients for conflict to boil over.

boiling-over-potThe Sunday Times recently published an article about the major problems conflict can cause in the workplace, especially if avoided by managers and leaders.  Studies have shown that up to 40% of an executive’s time is spent dealing with conflicts.  Another study shows that more than 65% of performance problems result from difficult employee relationships.  The ability to manage conflict can define a good and a bad leader.

We are all, by nature, emotional creatures, and it would be impossible to conceive that all differences between us could be avoided.  The workplace breeds a climate rife for blowing conflicts out of proportion.  It brings together so many different aspects of society – be it through differences in age, experience, upbringing or culture – and mixes them together in a close environment.  To use a cooking analogy, rarely do recipes succeed when ingredients are randomly chosen and combined without forethought and careful planning!  The resulting dish can certainly be unpalatable!

So how to do we ‘choose the correct ingredients’ and ‘mix them’ together for a successful recipe?

  • Recognise that conflict exists and seek it out.  By addressing it early it is possible to avoid an escalation.  However don’t look for arguments for argument’s sake – analyse what is important and likely to impact on performance.
  • Set the ground rules.  There should be a clear understanding of what is acceptable behaviour.
  • Effective communication. Clear, concise, accurate and timely communication of information will help ease both the number and severity of conflicts.
  • Use empathy (a Schroder High Performance behaviour) to understand individual motivations and attitudes.  Involved parties often have personal agendas that may conflict.  Also remember what might seem trivial to one person, might be a source of stress to another.
  • If possible, approach conflict from the perspective of taking the action that will help others best achieve their goals.  Always look for a win-win solution if possible.
  • Identify the strengths of his individual team members and clearly communicate their roles and contributions towards a common goal.
  • As we often discuss in our my360plus blogs, regular feedback is essential towards creating a more open and constructive working environment, with increased self-awareness.  Openness in the workplace is a vital ingredient, essential for encouraging creativity, improving systems and making team members feel valued.  If fear of conflict is acting as a barrier to this then productivity will be impacted.  Recognise that differences in opinions are not always a negative.
  • Have relationship and team building events.  These are always valuable whether you are building a new team, integrating new members to an existing team, or need to refresh relationships within more established groups.
  • Don’t put your head in the sand.  Conflict rarely resolves itself and will normally escalate if not dealt with proactively and properly.
  • Don’t get involved in the ‘drama’. Maintain neutrality and don’t tolerate self-serving behaviour.

Back to the cooking analogy – by quickly recognising when an ingredient is damaging the taste, it needs to quickly be removed, or counteracted with a remedy that removes the bad taste.  Ignoring it may result in burnt offerings.


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La Rentrée: this time of year we all go ‘back to school’

la rentree2My children have been back at school a few weeks now and we have just about settled back into the routine of it all. My eldest son is now at secondary school and has been subjected to various assessment tests to determine which sets he goes into for the key subjects.  This process of working out his strengths and areas for development reminded me, of course, of my ‘day job’.  However, it struck me as no coincidence that my360plus saw a marked increase in demand for 360 degree profiling in September.

I think that it is has been ingrained in us that this time of year we all go ‘back to school’. In the world of work there is often a shift from the slower summer mindset to a more focussed attitude.  The French even have a word for this: ‘La Rentrée’.  Many French people are on vacation for all or part of August, which means that la rentrée, in September, is when everyone is returning home and going back to work.

So as we look at the year ahead, it is a good time to analyse what additional skills or training might be useful, so what should we be considering?

  • Talk to our managers and discuss any available training that is related to the job we are doing, or future projects we will be involved in.
  • Do we have a good self-awareness regarding our skillset?  We should talk to our managers, peers and teams to gain their views.
  • Consider what we are naturally good at and would like to develop and use more, rather than just the things we need to improve.
  • Another option is mentoring or being mentored, providing the chance to share skills and experience with colleagues.
  • If appropriate, talk to our managers regarding changing some responsibilities in order to develop new skills.
  • Create a clear development path for the months ahead with distinct goals.

So how could my360plus profiling help you now?

  • It creates a simple, straightforward, easy-to-understand profile of strengths and areas for development.
  • Our 360 tool is straightforward, quick and easy to use online.
  • It is an efficient and cost effective process.
  • Our approach does not stop with the production of a report.  my360plus sets up ongoing real-time coaching with plain English suggestions on what to work on and how.
  • The development is measurable and is directly linked to improved performance.
  • The approach is proven, and is underpinned by robust science.


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Inspiring Leadership. Richard Branson breaks the rules again!

“My philosophy is, put your employees first, your customers second and your investors third and, in the end, everyone will be happy.”

bransonVirgin Boss, Sir Richard Branson, has nailed another PR coup.  Setting the cat amongst the pigeons and challenging employers to discard the traditional holiday contractual allowance, he has dared to suggest that staff should be able to take as much holiday as they like.

At first glance this is a great way of empowering the workforce and trusting them to have more ownership of their work-life balance. I will watch his ‘experiment’ with interest as he has initially rolled out this new policy to 170 of this staff (his total workforce has more than 50000 employees around the world).  The clever proviso is that any absence should not damage business or ‘their careers’.

Sir Richard Branson is a great case study in modern leadership, and we often cite him at my360plus as a great example when we are discussing the ‘involve’ and ‘inspire’ clusters of high performance leadership behaviours:

Involving Leadership Behaviours:

  • Encourages a ‘hands-off’ approach to management so that employees make their own decisions.  Branson trusts and empowers his teams.
  • Makes employees feel truly valued and appreciated. This increases company loyalty and provides a true sense of purpose.
  • Encourages communication and feedback. Did you know that he even gives out his phone number to all employees encouraging ideas, suggestions or comments?!
  • Actively listens: he is very approachable, and is able to connect with people at all levels.  Feedback is truly encouraged and valued.
  • Seeks to always look for the best in people.  He moves people into different jobs within the organisation to transfer, develop and maximise skills.

Inspiring Leadership Behaviours:

  • Encourages his employees to be innovative and take risks.  Branson himself is not afraid to make mistakes, taking on challenges, demonstrating determination and persistence to bounce back and learn.
  • Promotes a clear vision that is consistently and clearly communicated – the ‘Virgin Brand’.
  • Builds confidence in the company’s potential for success.
  • Is a role model. Branson is motivating, energetic and ‘walks the talk’.  “If you love what you do and if you believe in what you do, others will share your enthusiasm.”
  • Has an innovative approach to business: likes to break ‘rules’ and do things differently.
  • Values and rewards truly exceptional customer service.

“You don’t learn to walk by following rules,” Branson says. “You learn by doing, and by falling over.”


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The Scottish Referendum highlights the pros and cons of complex decision making.

yes noThe big decision faced by the Scottish dominates the news at the moment; as the outcome of the impending referendum currently appears too close to call.  The answer each individual has to give might just a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’, but the complexity of the decision making process makes it far from black and white.

The basis of any good decision is the depth and breadth of the information available.  In this instance it is not for lack of relevant information and advice, but because of all of the unknowns. Politicians are scurrying around making firm ‘promises’ regarding Scotland’s future, but they can’t escape the key factor: the future is certainly unknown. Therefore making a decision seems risky.

Complex decision making, full of unknowns, is prevalent in the business world.  It is accepted that often there is no ‘right’ answer.  However, business leaders recognise that with uncertainty also comes opportunity and, for Scotland, whichever way the vote goes, change is now inevitable.  The issues that are the most important to the electorate have been shaken to the surface and won’t be allowed to continue on in the same ‘old’ ways.

So that’s a good thing – surely?!  To sweep away the old cobwebs and refresh; to identify the critical issues and review better or different ways to address them; to regularly adjust the direction.

We know that businesses that constantly review and adapt are more likely to succeed.  Armed with rich information and strong diagnostics, a good leader will encourage flexible thinking and scenario planning throughout their business.  This is all about seeing things differently, trying new ways, and looking at things from a different perspective.  My360plus encourages businesses to challenge the ‘this is the way we’ve always done it’ mentality.  The ability to acknowledge alternatives is a vital leadership skill, proven to increase performance, and that is why it is one of the key high performance behaviours that my360plus rates and coaches.

The Scottish people have been discussing the pros and cons of Independence or Union for the best part of 300 years. They are a well informed electorate.  Whatever the result on 18th September, Scotland will move forward with a clearer, cleaner vision, with a more engaged population.  This can only be positive.

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