Our Thoughts

It’s not advice leaders need. It’s time.

Don’t add to the burden of your leaders.

Don’t eat refined sugars. Take exercise for a minimum of 20 minutes, three times a week. Eat more green vegetables. We’ve all heard this advice repeatedly over the years. Even those of us who love exercise and fitness can find all this well-meaning help difficult to absorb and apply, despite our best intentions. There is always so much to do. (Is there, though? Really? … perhaps for another post!) Heeding advice, even great advice and then adjusting behaviours, can be really challenging at the best of times. And these are not those times.

Information overload

Recently, LinkedIn, Twitter and our email inboxes have been stacked high with brilliant advice to leaders about how they should be leading right now. I’ve seen suggestions about how to reduce calendar overload; approaches to helping team members with wellbeing challenges; maintaining organisational culture during lockdown and many, many more besides. And this collection of sage wisdom continues to grow like Topsy. Indeed, I’ve even contributed to the growing opus myself. The advice is both helpful and yet will ultimately make little or no difference to the way your leaders are leading at this moment. Few leaders will evolve as you hope just because they were influenced to, via a White Paper. No teams will suddenly perform brilliantly, as a result of a Tweet.

I would suggest that if you are a senior leader in HR, L&D or a senior HR BP, you can leverage your new-found organisational status in the business. You’ve been a central player in how your organisation has survived the dislocation brought about by lockdown. Your strategic contribution has been recognised. You are riding on a high and you can exercise this increased influence to help leaders in your business.

But please: Stop with the advice.

Busy leaders won’t find the time to engage with it in the way you want them to – even the best will struggle to apply it sustainably. And you really don’t want to be adding another layer of work to their already overwhelmed state.

Show. Don’t tell.

Now is the time for a different approach. If you want to bring about an evolution in the way your leaders are leading: Show. Don’t Tell. Role model carving out time for planning, preparation and reflection. Demonstrate focusing on strategic areas rather than getting sucked into the operational detail. Show how to focus on delivering key outcomes and impacts, rather than your total hours logged onto Zoom.

Reach out and offer a hand, because you can and because you have prioritised the right actions to be taking yourself. Now is exactly the moment to be the person willing and able to find time to work with your leaders on their leadership, so that they can wrest back some control of how they are leading inside your organisation. Step into coaching mode and help these leaders find ways to: Stop. Pause. Reflect. Plan. And only then, in a more thoughtful way, deliver the business impacts that are so vital to achieve.

Avoiding the obvious trap!

I am struck by the irony of writing a piece of advice (it can all gets a bit circular can’t it?) so here are a couple of ways to make your experience more real and individual to you. My hope is to spur you to take thoughtful action.

Firstly at the end of July we will be running a webinar on how HR professionals can help leaders thrive in the current context, so keep your eyes open for that – connect with me on LinkedIn and you’ll see the event details next week. Secondly, have a go at answering the questions below for yourself and your situation, so you can be the most help you can to your own leaders. Let me know how it goes!

Coach. Don’t tell.

An exercise for you: Think of a specific leader in your organisation that in your judgement would benefit from some of your help creating quality time to reflect on their leadership and ways of working.

1. If we agree that ‘telling leaders’ is not the most effective approach for helping them evolve right now, what other options do you have available?

2. Knowing what you know of this individual, which one or combination of these possible approaches, do you think might work best?

3. Applying some self-awareness here, which of the possible options that are available do you think you are best placed to offer?  

4. What support might you need to access if you are not best placed to facilitate the best option(s)?

5. If you are best placed to help, how can you approach this individual in a way that would enable/encourage them to accept your offer of assistance?

6. What broader awareness would you need to be mindful of, before offering your help?

7. When can you reach out to this leader to start the conversation?

8. What follow-up would you need to consider?

9. What do you need to think about in relation to your own context, workload etc, in order to deliver the best help you can?

10. What question haven’t I asked you, that you can ask yourself, to be able to help this individual most effectively?

Chief concern

What do former British Prime Ministers, William Lamb and Winston Churchill, have in common with sentiments from the French National Convention of 1793 and Spiderman’s alter ego, Peter Parker?  

Well, with great sagacity, they have all declared their own version of the now popular internet meme, “With great power comes great responsibility.” When such an idea was first uttered it perhaps marked a shift in appreciation of how those with power should acknowledge the privilege of having it, coupled with the sensitivity required when it came time to wielding it.

Today’s leaders have been made acutely aware of this same principle every single moment of every single day for the last 11 weeks. As we now face the challenge of shifting from React to Respond, those same leaders will continue to be faced with hundreds of difficult decisions that – unusually for many of them – are often accompanied by a truly, life-or-death level of responsibility.  

They won’t ask for your sympathy

The human cost of Covid-19 is acknowledged to be a truly horrendous event by most right-thinking people. The cost to the economy, organisations of all sectors, businesses and employees has also been monumental. And the best leaders of those organisations will have stepped up willingly, accepting that when they signed on the dotted line that added a significant ‘C’ to their job title, it meant more responsibility, more financial rewards, more status. Furthermore, whether Chief Executive Officer, Chief Finance Officer, Chief Risk Officer or any other CXO role, they will all have known that along with the tangible upsides it could mean dealing directly with an existential threat to their business such as was last experienced as recently as 2008. They would have been aware that regardless of how slim the chances, there was a risk they might be called into action, in extremis. And while most (but probably not all) would never have wished for something like this current trial, many will be secretly relishing the chance to test themselves against the unique situation they and their organisations are facing. They recognise they are the chosen few. Risk and Reward come with the territory and as such they won’t ask for your sympathy.

Which is probably just as well because I don’t see much sympathy going around. Unlike 2008 there is little blame to be apportioned in relation to the causes of this pandemic. Certainly not in the direction of organisational leaders at least. And whilst we have rightly shuffled outside on a Thursday evening to show appreciation for the heroic efforts of NHS and care staff; shelf-stackers and delivery drivers; transport workers and teachers and so many more wonderful front line staff, there has been little recognition for the efforts of those leading the infrastructure of society.

Human beings too

It would be reductionist in the extreme to try to capture here why some people are willing to take on the ultimate leadership responsibilities within organisations. Many of them probably couldn’t tell us anyway. When I explore deeper motivations to leading with the leaders themselves, their visceral, unedited responses are typically rooted in wanting to help and making a positive difference. Almost never, in my experience, is it about accessing those more tangible upsides.

What has become clear to me over nearly twenty years of working with senior leaders and their teams, is that whilst many leaders are driven by particular elements of their work, they remain first and foremost, human beings. You know, like most of the rest of us. Warm-blooded. With a pulse. Some of them even have feelings. And although many would not be too keen to show it, limited energy supplies and a fragility it is rarely helpful to expose too frequently – even for those pursuing ‘vulnerable leadership,’ whatever that is!

Thrown into sharp focus during lockdown is that many leaders are balancing parts of being a leader with oh! so obviously being a human: unannounced visits on key Zoom meetings from home-schooled children and unschooled pets; insights into the interior design choices of often typically very private people and exactly what your boss looks like in dress-down mode and after 11 weeks without a decent haircut. And whilst we may get an insight to their humanity, a real concern is that these same leaders maybe driving themselves so hard that they fail to recall their own human nature, in service of helping others and making a difference. The self-awareness many of them show in ‘normal’ times has been hijacked by the stress and complexity of the current situation. To reset, these leaders need distance and a break. They won’t ask for it but peers, HRDs and HRBPs need to be the external prompts here. Ask the difficult questions. Suggest a break. Don’t take no for an answer. For these leaders to lead effectively over the forthcoming weeks and months, looking after themselves will be of critical importance, in order that they can continue to perform their senior leadership roles effectively.  

Are you Theory X or Theory Y?

It’s not (ONLY) about Trust by David Pilbeam MA

Not sure that you trust your people to give their best every day when they are working remotely and you can’t see what they are up to? You are not alone. The issue of trust has long been cited in research as one of the principle reasons leaders do not favour home or remote working for their team members. This mistrust is often routed in the leader’s lack of confidence in a performers ability to do the job well and a suspicion that people will abuse their homeworking arrangement somehow. Leadership researcher Jennifer Garvey-Berger calls this a ‘mind trap’[1] and suggests that rather than seeking control leadership ‘requires the counterintuitive move of letting go of control in order to focus on creating the conditions for good things to happen – often with better outcomes than we could ever have imagined.’

Douglas McGregor[2] introduced us all to the idea that leaders tend to naturally favour Theory X or Theory Y 60 years ago. One leader we talked to this week reminded us of its relevance for the present climate. McGregor suggested that leaders favouring Theory X see people as motivated to avoid work when left to their own devices, while those who have a preference for Theory Y are inclined to see people as naturally highly motivated to perform their work. With a preference for Theory Y a leader is more inclined to give trust while the mindset of a leader coming from Theory X might be that trust must be hard earned. The leader in question wanted to make clear to us that more leaders in his sector still had a preference for Theory X than you might imagine and it was they who were struggling most to adapt to present context.

Many observers criticized this polar view of human nature as being over simplistic but McGregor’s central point – as with Maslow[3] before him – was that most people were motivated to give their best and would actively seek responsibility if they had clear goals they were committed to and could see the impact of their contribution. With a newly distributed team we can make a choice to give trust or face weeks of frustration fuelled by feelings of being out of control, and worry about what individuals are actually doing on company time.


So, what if leaders diverted their attention away from issues of trust for a moment and started to frame the problem more in terms of motivation and contribution? How can I create the conditions in this now virtual team whereby each individual can find their own motivation? This being a more helpful question than: how can I over-come my suspicious nature, even if I wanted to? In our experience, when a leader creates the right conditions, people engage and the issue of trust rarely emerges.

Talk to anyone who has worked from home over a significant period of time and they will tell you that their motivation ebbs and flows through any given day or week. However, another theory of motivation[4] suggests that if leaders focus on creating 3 core conditions in the work environment, they increase the chances of a performer finding a more consistent and robust sense of motivation for themselves:

Purpose and Contribution

Many of the people we speak to who demonstrate unwavering drive and persistence in their work are dedicated to a higher cause or purpose and are driven by a desire to make a strong contribution to the work of their team. They go above and beyond the call of duty to persist and perform tasks and work productively, even at times of uncertainty. Finding significance in the project they are working on drives them. Where leaders actively help their people to find ways to contribute the to the team’s ambition and goals that is based on their strengths and passions, motivation increases.

Cultivating a sense of choice 

The more sense of choice people have about how they make that contribution, the higher levels of interest, excitement and commitment they bring. A choice mobilises people’s energies. Micro-management and constraints will sap them. Leaders may not be able to give people full choice over the end game but they can provide choice over contribution and latitude to deliver in a way that fits people’s preferences and strengths.

Growing capability

People want to feel that they are getting better, every day, at what they do. The feelings associated with increased levels of competence fuel confidence and development. Where leaders provide the opportunity for people to stretch themselves and learn something new, motivation increases and is more sustainable.


In our experience, trust building in a team, virtual or otherwise, begins with the leader working every day on becoming worthy of their team members trust. Rather than inviting people to earn their trust the best leaders see it in reverse – ‘it’s my job to earn my people’s trust’. Research[5] tells us that the best leaders do this by paying attention to:

  1. What they say and how they deploy their skills and experience in support of others development
  2. Doing what they say they will do
  3. Being genuinely interested in understanding the world of their team members – what makes them tick?

By combining this personal focus on becoming trustworthy themselves with creating the core conditions for people to find their own motivation, leaders who may be challenged most by engaging their teams in the current context, may discover a new path forward. It is the combination of human factors, such as trust and motivation, and technical solutions that will ultimately fuel success.

Before COVID 19, technology was already making it easier for people to work when they want, where they want, for the hours they want, and for the company they want. This is a trend that has now accelerated many fold – along with people’s increased desire to contribute and make a difference.

[1] Garvey-Berger, J (2016) Simple Habits for Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders

[2] McGregor, D (1960) The Human Side of Enterprise

[3] Maslow, A (1943). A Theory of Human Motivation. Psychological Review, 50, p370–396.

[4] Ryan, R. M.; Deci, E. L. (2000). “Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being”. American Psychologist55: 68–78.

[5] Maister, D.H., Green, C.H., & Galford, R.M., (2000) The Trusted Advisor New York: Free Press,

How to improve productivity in uncertain times

Leading by objectives helps improve productivity

Over the last 3 weeks of lockdown we have spoken to a number of business leaders about the impact that this period of change is having on their business and the different demands it places on their leadership. After the initial phase in which most leaders described a need simply to affect the changes necessary to keep the business functioning, came the need to explore new ways of working that were going to meet the challenges of the uncertainty we are all facing. For many this requirement was driven by teams being forced into working at home and far away from the central hub of business activity.

Many leaders have learnt quickly how to use technology in order to help people stay connected. For many, this is clearly a straightforward and natural process of adaptation. For others, it runs counter to how they prefer to lead. For some, the idea of having the majority of their team working from home is scary. How do I know they are doing the right things? How can I trust them to do what they say they are going to do? This often drives an over-dependence on the technology to ‘check-in’ with people – what they really mean is ‘check-up’.

Same but different

Talking to a senior leader in the world of banking last week we heard that those leaders who appear to be thriving currently are those who have already developed strong, high trust, relationships with their team members. In our research on how the most effective leaders ‘show up’ day to day with their followers we identified 5 essential human qualities that exist in all of us that we can practise consciously in order to build engagement and develop high performance: Determination, Compassion, Balance, Discovery, and Perspective.[1] Leaders develop their credibility with others by building these capabilities through deliberate practice. When the context for leadership changes dramatically it appears these qualities matter more than ever.

For many organisations, of course, the transition to a more distributed workforce happened a decade ago and they are largely untouched by this hiatus. Listening to Mark Mullenweg, Founder of WordPress, being interviewed recently on Sam Harris’s wonderful podcast on the future of work[2] you get sense of the massive benefits of having a globally distributed workforce. Find the best talent in the world and provide them with innovative ways to connect and magic will happen. However, many organisations are still organised on more traditional lines and therefore have leaders at the helm for whom navigating this new context remains tough. It rubs against their strong need for control and for systems and process over the more human qualities identified above.

Managing by outcomes

It is an old idea, but could Managing by Outcomes be an approach that would help such leaders succeed in this new order? Simply put, managing by outcomes means defining organisational goals; communicating these objectives clearly; rigorously measuring performance against those goals and then continuously managing the organisation in line with those goals and measures. It strikes us that a structured, goal-focussed approach, makes sense when followers are outside of a leader’s line of sight for extended periods of time.

In this approach, leaders give people the big picture because they recognise that the most talented performers prefer to work with high levels of autonomy. They then manage by outcomes rather than by tasks.They spend a lot of time with people agreeing on what must be delivered. They make crystal-clear contracts about the real results to achieve. From then on virtually every performance conversation will start by concentrating on the agreed outcomes rather than get into supervising the tasks or justifying their working week.

In our experience, organisations who use this approach well:

  • have a clear vision of why they exist, what they want to achieve and how well they are achieving against this;
  • plan their work keeping in mind a clear set of individual and team goals
  • take stock of their progress by monitoring, measuring, reviewing and re-evaluating as they go;
  • learn from success and failure, then modify what they do and how they do it in response;
  • report openly on their results, promoting transparency and providing a basis for dialogue about future decisions in the team

Interestingly they do not stop there. They also aim to deliver in a manner that is consistent with the values and principles that characterise the organisation. They encourage people to focus on setting the bar high when making decisions on how they go about their daily work.

A number of organisations we work with have successfully shifted to this way of working. One in particular, until recent events took over, had all their staff under one roof, but have moved seamlessly to becoming a distributed workforce. The leader tells us that clarity is vital and their role is to communicate the big picture, provide structures and frameworks to guide people and be world class at goal setting and reviewing. Each team member’s role is to make clear contracts about their part in achieving the goals. If people get out of bed a little later than usual or take time out in their day to teach their child’s English lesson, can we learn to live with it – so long as people are delivering what they say are going to deliver?

By David Pilbeam (MA) Leadership coach and coaching supervisor

[1] Pilbeam, D & Wallis, G.P., (2018) Leader iD: Discover your leadership profile – and how to improve. Pearson, London

[2] #194 The New Future of Work, A Conversation with Matt Mullenberg on Making Sense with Sam Harris, Podcast

Why do leaders stop leading?

Leaders Leading Leaders

Brilliant functional leaders who head up their own teams of high performers often share an observable trait: They stop leading when they come together in a group with their peers, e.g. at their regular senior leadership team meetings.

We see it. Too often.

Why do leaders stop leading?

From our data and experience of nearly 20 years, there are a number of reasons why highly effective leaders stop leading when they come together and they include but are not limited to:

  1. A lack of discrete contracting about the expectations of behaviours within the team
  2. A well-meaning but overly directing nominal leader
  3. Leaders in one context limiting themselves to being solely a follower in another setting

Let’s looks at each of these in turn and see what you might be able to do about them if these traits appear in the teams you are involved with.

1. Contracting around behaviours

Great teams spend time getting a clear and shared understanding of what the expectations are on each member of the team. This might include developing both specific roles in addition to a more generalised set of expectations.

One of these team-wide intentions must include the leadership requirement on all members when they are within a team setting or representing the team to the wider organisation, customers and/or other key stakeholders. Being explicit about this single aspect of what it is to contribute to a highly effective team is (in our experience) perhaps most especially important when team members are already leaders elsewhere i.e. have their own team to lead.

2. Overly directing nominal leader

We see the ‘nominal leader’ as the person with the title and ultimate accountability for the team. This person would be the one that the other members of the team would turn to for appropriate permissions, sign-off etc.

Where the contracting around leadership expectations has not been completed (See #1 above) and in some cases even when it has, there can be temptation for the nominal leader to feel that – for a range of reasons – they should very visibly and actively lead the team. Albeit that the team may comprise a number of highly experienced leaders in their own right. This disempowers the other leaders, creates doubt and a sense that you don’t trust or value their points of view, experience etc.

If you are such a leader, find ways to re-orient your identity within the team to be more of a facilitator of experts, rather than role model an identity that might look more like “the Boss” to outside observers (such as us when we come and work with you!) This helps you to:

a. add more specific value to team activities, from your own deep experience

b. provides a platform for your team members to add greater value

c. gives you first-hand evidence of how your team are operating and contributing.

3. Identity crisis

For leaders who are also part of other teams of peers/leaders – which is pretty much everyone in an organisation – you need to work out for yourself what it means to be a follower and behave accordingly, whilst … and this is important … not giving up all your leadership activities, skills and experience. You need to be able to do both dynamically – be willing to follow and be led by others, whilst also be willing to pop the leader hat back on when required, step up and do your thing!

We know it is tempting to welcome a break from the responsibilities for a while and let someone else take the mantle/burden of leadership.

But we’ve got some bad news: You don’t get not to lead. It’s a full-time role. That includes when you are working alongside your peers.

Glenn P Wallis helps leaders and teams become the very best versions of themselves. If you would like to know more, please contact us here.

Adapt or Don’t. Succeed or Fail.

Adaptation as Success

This idea of adaptation seems to be the zeitgeist, the trend. So, with that in mind, if we were going to make a case for adaptation as success, what importance would it have for those who want to lead themselves and others successfully?

This was a question I recently asked of Success iD podcast guest, Chris Nel, leadership coach and former British Army Officer. His response to my first question, and other helpful insights, form the basis of this article (A link to the podcast can be found at the end of this piece.) In short, Chris believes that other needs will come and go as the market changes, or as the client requirements change, but being adaptive, having the ability to recognise what needs to change and then to go ahead and change, is the only sustainable competitive advantage.

It should be the legacy of every leadership team to build the ability to change the organisation. After all, the only constant is change.

Overwhelmed and underprepared

Increasingly people are starting to feel overwhelmed by the rate of disruption around them. And so it’s a much easier sell the idea of adaptation now than it was 10 or 15 years ago.

We recognise that as coaches. People experience change fatigue but that is their constant state and that of the organisations they work for. It is re-rating, re-sizing, re-shaping, re-locating, all sorts of different changes that come along, but at such a pace people almost can’t stop to make sense of it all before they’re in the next round of changes.

The Robert Keegan book ‘In over our heads’ captured that feeling. That’s why we’ve got to rewire our brains if we’re going to survive in this new jungle. That’s why coaching is really getting some traction and this idea of adaptive capability is really striking a chord with people.

What is adaptive capablitity?

So, what does adaptive capability looks like and what are its constituent parts?

Nel feels adaptive capability is the organisation’s capacity to making a timely response to the changes in their competitive environment. Can they change quickly enough to survive and thrive or will they be overwhelmed by the competitive forces? This is true at an individual level too.

Its constituent parts are what he and his colleagues at Quest Leadership, describe as the three legged stool.

  • Leadership
  • Awareness and Agreement
  • Learning.

Leadership gets a lot of attention. But using leadership to raise awareness and gain agreement are key here. Leaders can help to cultivate people’s aptitude for change by getting inside the emotional side of people’s brains and make them understand why the change is important to them and secure consent to move ahead together.

Can we learn to be more adaptive?

Do some people have greater propensity for adaptability than others? Is it nature or nurture?

The British army dubbed Nel as a high functioning dyslexic, which got him questioning whether he had trouble processing and memorising things. Filling his brain with everything I needed to learn was horrifying.

Then, being told he didn’t have to was really freeing. He viewed his capabilities quite differently and learned to see himself in a new light.

People who have struggled with things that have surprised them in life, things that have gone wrong, people who have struggled with the system, they’re all interesting to look at from an adaptability perspective.

Seniority is a key factor. If you have seniority you have the power to enforce your point of view (See John Higgins podcast on Speaking up as Success.) People will do what a leader says, which is quite seductive in terms of getting things done quickly. Age is another key factor. The more you’ve experienced the more you tend to fall back on the experiences you’ve had rather than search for new solutions.

This is known as scenario fulfilment – when we rely on what has a high degree of certainty in our minds as it makes us feel we can cope with the situation. You need to break that cycle of automatic thinking, automatic decision making, to give you the break between the input and whatever you decide is output. Make the move from react to respond.

People should try and re-frame how they see themselves, give themselves permission to be environment creators rather than solution providers. It’s the Jim Collins Level 5 leadership thought about humility and drive. The humility to accept that the way we are leading is part of the problem. When teams start to get that, that we say we haven’t got the answer and we need to work it out, then we start to make some progress.

You can find out more about Chris here Quest Leadership https://www.questleadership.co.uk/about-us/meet-the-team/

You can listen to the whole podcast on these platforms:

Spotify: http://bit.ly/2HF5EnM

iTunes: http://bit.ly/2ZHvtdd

Stitcher: http://bit.ly/2LfVRqo

Glenn P Wallis have been developing world class leaders and teams for nearly 20 years. When you need help developing your internal capability, please contact us here. We look forward to helping you.

Why I encourage you to adopt a self-centred leadership style

Developing your self enables you to step up

You are the vehicle for your leadership. Think about that for just a short while and you will know that to be true: When you are feeling unwell, what impacts does it have on your leadership? If you are fully fit and healthy, well rested and focused, then how do you manifest leadership (of yourself and/or others) – usually much better, right? Great. So, if we accept it to be true that the better shape you are in physically, mentally and developmentally, the more successful your leadership is likely to be. This post helps you understand why ongoing development of your Self is key to being able to lead yourself and others successfully towards a meaningful and fulfilled life inside and outside of work.

It’s all about development

Some people develop quickly, some slowly, some are happy where they are. The comfort zone is not a good place for development to happen; by definition, your need to be in a place where you are likely to face stretch and challenge. That’s when you become more capable through the learning you can squeeze from each new level of challenge.

You’ve got no choice in an organisation to stand still – the pace of organisational change is so fast and relentless that to do so will soon have negative impacts for your future success. You may have a coach or leader who can help you come to terms with that, or you may choose to leave if it doesn’t suit you. Insisting people constantly change is not always the best approach. The natural process is that sometimes progress needs to be made and other times it’s a natural step just to enjoy the status quo, which is why it has to be individual and contextual to what is required.

Restructuring needs to be seen as a two-sided enterprise. Senior management teams focus on development but individuals have an equal right to decide if it’s good for them or not. Some get energised by change, others don’t and they shouldn’t be judged harshly for that, just as organisations can’t be expected to change the macro pace. 

How can leaders help facilitate change in others?

When you have no choice but to change very quickly or help others make quick changes, it is possible to change and it’s useful to look back at the Self and when and where the changes happen. People start from not knowing how to do things, usually experiencing lack of confidence at that stage. An effective way to overcome this is for a coach or the line manager to break progress down into small, confidence-building steps, rather than expecting there to be an immense insight and the person to be immediately transformed into a more capable person. It’s essential for the leader to have a good relationship with the individual and work alongside the process, being generous about the person and not just their achievements.

Reflection is very important and we can relate it back to making your life meaningful. People who don’t reflect and don’t examine their life are actually not able to see their life as meaningful. Their life becomes mechanical when they don’t try to develop their self-awareness, self-understanding, self-knowledge. That’s where the meaning is created. Reflection needs space and when organisations don’t create the space for reflection, including thought-provoking questions, it becomes a self-limiting way of being for organisations as it stunts development.

Glenn P Wallis is a boutique leadership consultancy that provides development for leaders who want to become the very best they can be. If you would like to discuss leadership requirements please contact us here.

This post is a summary of the S1 Ep3 podcast with Professor Tatiana Bachkirova.

Preparing to succeed

Some sunkissed, sun-lounger moments over the last few weeks will doubtless have been spent thinking about the start of the final third of 2019 and how to prepare best for a strong finish to the year. What better time to share with you a summary of the key insights provided by Olympian and Paralympian coach, Keith Antoine, when he was a guest on the Success iD podcast sharing his views on the importance of preparation.

The business case for preparation

There’s a difference between preparation and catering for eventualities. People think they have to prepare for what’s going to happen, which is different to preparing for what may happen. Here’s where I am, here’s where I want to go, I will lay the ground as I want the ground to go, yet life has a tendency to mess that up. This can lead people either to feeling, “What’s the point in preparing as you can’t guarantee how it’s going to go?” or over preparing, which can be unhelpfully constraining. You need to look down the road, see the journey, predict what might happen, then prepare yourself for those things that may occur. Being prepared for unpredictability gives you flexibility. A practical way to deal with reality.

Flexibility in planning is key

Expect a plan not to go to plan. Break a goal into small sections – it’s more practical to get from A to B then think about what route the journey make take from B to C, rather than A – Z from the get go.

For example, if you were aiming for success at the next Olympics: Then track back, to where you would be in an ideal world, at each separate staging post, ie each championship along the way or the end of each season. Ideally. Not setting these in stone. The stepping stones will ultimately just be fond memories, or not so fond if you get beaten along the way…but that’s okay, as at that point in the journey you were working on these as building blocks for your ultimate success i.e. gold medal at the next Olympics.

So, for leaders, you need to hold on to both the macro and the micro – the end state and where you are now. Leaders have pressures of hitting targets by year end, etc, as that’s what they’ll be judged on, just like heading for the Olympics. It can seem conflicting to take care of today in the rush for tomorrow but you absolutely have to deal with today in the context of tomorrow. People get wrapped up in the busy and judge output as success, but can’t join that up with future goals. That’s normal.

In big complex organisations it can be harder to make those adjustments when people are looking to you but the principle is the same. The world of business is moving so fast now, it is likely that a fixed path will not be relevant by the time you reach the destination. A good leader needs to have the ability to say “you know this plan we had, we need to change it as everything we can see in the environment is telling us the world has changed so what’s the point of keeping to our plan when it won’t apply anymore.”

Coach Keith and I unpicking preparation as a topic.

Connection between preparation and creativity

Some feel that too much preparation stifles the spark of creativity. However, without a foundation of preparation, a core, a central theme, how can you channel creativity effectively? Keith enjoys the creative challenge of working with Paralympians – no two bodies are alike. Working with Richard Whitehead, the double gold medal winning 200m sprinter, preparation/research/understanding of the facts enabled him to innovatively overcome technical issues Richard was having with his prosthetic legs on the bend of the track, to achieve a faster performance and the ultimate success.

In a business context example, prepared key notes for a speaking event are your backbone, but presenting is more than reading something out. You need to read your audience and engage with them and adapt to them.

Preparation is actually freeing, not constraining, both in sport and in leadership. It liberates us as long as it’s servicing the end. For example, Keith’s detailed notes of each training session enable him to deviate from the plan due to unforeseen circumstances like injury or sickness, as he knows exactly the position they need to come back to. If you resist spending more time on building the right foundations, the building won’t be able to fight the vagaries of the actual or the organisational elements, many of which are unforeseeable.

The relationship between preparation and experience

Leaders with many years’ experience, should be able to prep more effectively, faster. They can more quickly work out what should/may happen, at the same time as accepting it’s not absolute and it’s not infallible.

Experience is a wonderful thing as long as it doesn’t stop you looking around and constantly monitoring what’s happening in the here-and-now. New concepts are popping up all the time and experience allows you to determine whether you should pay attention to it or not. A coach may say “This is the latest thing, we need to use this…” Great, take a look at it, however, just because it’s new doesn’t mean it’s better. Experience will help you make those judgements. But you need to be open to looking at it, not just pay lip service. You may have 20 years’ experience doing something one way but a new way looks better. It doesn’t make that 20 years wrong. It was probably fit for purpose then. Value the experience but don’t get locked in to the experience.

Biggest ‘bang for buck’ takeaway for this topic of Preparation for Success

What really makes preparation work is trusting yourself. It’s very easy to get locked into preparation because you’re trying to justify what you’re doing to others, and it’s very easy to concentrate on creativity because you want to validate others’ ideas, but at some point the decision has to be made about what direction you take and you have to trust in yourself, your beliefs, your system, as that’s what drives everything else. It’s easy to get lost in the system and the organisation.

There’s a place for all of that but the most effective way is to trust in yourself whilst being open to other influences. If you’re comfortable with yourself and trust yourself, you’ll be in the best position to work effectively.

To listen to the original broadcast of Preparation as Success with Keith Antoine, please subscribe to the Success iD podcast on Spotify, Stitcher or iTunes.

Are you destined to become a great leader?

It seems to me that as we look around politics and business life, there is a real dearth of great leadership.

What do I mean by great leadership? Let me clarify.

In my view a ‘great’ leader should not be confused with either a famous (or infamous) leader. Leaders can achieve notoriety for all the right, but also many of the wrong, reasons.  Leaders can achieve success through manipulation, threats, bullying and exclusion. To me, the truly great leader positively influences a group. They maximise human, financial and environmental capital, and then motivate those they lead to achieve great things.

A great leader does their job to the highest personal and ethical standards. In doing so, they gain the utmost respect from their peers and team, whether on the factory floor, running a scout troop or even leading a country.

Why do we need great leaders?

Great leaders are important to:

  •  Your team: The effectiveness of the majority is either positively or negatively impacted by their leaders. Research demonstrates that most people need, indeed want, to be led. Many have no desire to lead other people. That’s fine. But leaders of character will expect this broader group of people to lead themselves effectively, even if they (understandably) do not want to lead others. While there is some debate around whether a person would leave a job because of their leader, we know the experience of having a great leader and mentor in early years development, often stays with people throughout their entire career. And always remember that future great leaders may be members of your own team!
  • Your organisation: According to The Business Management Report, 2017: “Employees who are happy and feel in control are 57% more likely to be engaged and 53% more likely to be productive.” Failing to recognise that most people are not interested or courageous enough to step up and lead, is the single greatest mistake of the organisations that I have worked with over the last twenty years. Where they think about people at all, organisations still subscribe to the idea that, “people are our most valuable asset”. They’re not. Leaders of character are your organisation’s most valuable asset!

So, do you have what it takes?

It’s my assertion that anyone can be a great leader. Some may have more challenges to face along the way, but being a great leader is accessible to all.

But to be a great leader requires you to look deeply at your ‘self’.

If you aspire to lead at any level, you need to take time to analyse your current skill set, embrace fully the idea of being a leader and commit to continually developing your ‘self’ to become the best leader you can be.

What areas should you focus on?

In our book, Leader iD, David Pilbeam and I codified four years of research into five key human characteristics of highly developed leaders:

  • Discovery – You have a deep spirit and love of learning. You look for better ways of doing things, and shamelessly take ideas from one context and apply them to your own.
  • Determination – Leadership can be tough. You are going to need huge reserves of resilience, energy and courage to lead effectively when times are challenging – which they most certainly will be.
  • Perspective – Developmental psychology suggests that the more perspectives a person can hold indicates their levels of intellectual/emotional/cognitive/personal Challenge yourself to look at things from a different point of view.
  • Balance – Are you able to hold things in balance? Can you really challenge your team while also providing support? Can you manage speed and reflection? The need for both action and consideration?
  • Compassion – Your ability to be genuinely empathetic and supportive with those you lead.

Take action to become a great leader now

I believe that while we are all born with a range of abilities, the five characteristics above can be developed by anyone. But only if you build on your strengths, recognise and accept areas of improvement, and take time to work on those areas so they also become your strengths.

Practising your leadership is essential. Initially on yourself, then with your team. Work at leadership all the time. Reflect on success and failures. Why did you achieve the result you did? How could you have reached a different outcome. And don’t be afraid to ask for feedback, from peers, colleagues and your team.

In my experience, there are no shortcuts, to becoming a great leader. It is a lifelong commitment. But it is one that is within your grasp, if you’re prepared to focus on and develop your leadership ‘self’.

Dr Glenn P Wallis, Executive and Leadership Coach

This article first appeared on The Royal Society of Arts online blog 12 September 2018

Leader iD, written by David Pilbeam and Glenn Wallis is published by Pearson UK, Business Book of the Month in W H Smith Travel outlets August 2018 and is available to purchase at all good bookstores and online.


Why Leader iD is more than just a book

As experienced qualified coaches, David Pilbeam and I have always shared a vision to create affordable development tools for ambitious leaders in the early stages of their careers.

Leader iD, published this month by Pearson, and currently WH Smith Travel Business Book of the Month, is one such example. It’s filled with tools and advice, and is based on our experiences of coaching and developing successful leaders.

Anyone who buys Leader iD, can also take a FREE online Diagnostic Assessment  to assess their leadership profile and development needs.

Completion of the assessment results in a confidential Personalised Profile Report identifying each leader’s strengths and areas for improvement. That’s a great way to get the best from the book.

But the book is only half the story…

The Leader iD Development Programme

For those leaders who want to really invest in their development, we created an innovative Online Leader iD Development Programme.

It’s presented in practical modules and includes 45 podcasts, nine videos and a comprehensive Workbook with hundreds of questions, and a ‘deep-dive’ exercise to make the learning stick.

You could view the programme as a tailored roadmap for professional growth. It’s ideal for new and aspiring leaders and costs just £99 for individuals. That feels like a small price to pay for being the best leader you can be!

Could this be a solution for your leadership team?

At a time when L&D budgets are under pressure, it strikes us that we could also offer the Leader iD Online Development Programme to corporate customers (with a volume discount, of course)!

If you’re interested in a low-cost, easy access and comprehensive development programme for your future leaders, feel free to give me a call on +44 (0) 20 3858 7337 to learn more.


Dr Glenn P Wallis, The Leadership Coach

Leader iD, published by Pearson, is currently WH Smith Travel Business Book of the Month and is also available to purchase at all good bookstores and online.

©Glenn P Wallis Ltd