Category Archives: Managing people

Become a great leader and role model

If asked to name a leader we might think of a captain of industry or a major political figure, a Richard Branson or a Barack Obama. But you don’t have to be responsible for a multinational company or president of a nation to be a leader – leadership also occurs on a much smaller scale. For me, a key part of leadership is the ability to influence and motivate using attitudes and behaviour – leadership doesn’t rely on the use of power and the authority inherent in a high position, nor does it result just from the ability to reward.

Leaders lead by way of personality, attitude and behaviour. A good leader needs to have a clear vision of the future, be confident in their own abilities, have a ‘can do’ attitude, and be a good communicator and motivator – they also need courage and perseverance. So, I would argue that even a junior manager is a leader of sorts – they are a role model for their team, they lead by example, they need communication skills, and the ability to influence, motivate and encourage.

There are lots of models or theories of leadership. I’m a fan of the Transformational Leadership model because it describes a set of leadership characteristics and competences that apply to leadership at all levels. There are four core attributes of a Transformational Leader, they can be summarized thus:

Charisma. The qualities and behaviors that enable a leader to act as a positive role for their team – these leaders display conviction, adherence to a set of values, are ‘true to themselves’, and behave in a consistent manner.

Inspiration. The qualities that enable a leader to articulate future goals with clarity and optimism – these leaders inspire and motivate their team.

Intellectual stimulation. The qualities that enable a leader to be both willing and able to challenge assumptions, and strive for higher levels of achievement – these leaders encourage their team to do likewise and to create a culture of creativity and constant improvement.

Individual attention. The qualities that enable a leader to be aware of the needs of individual team members – these leaders mentor and coach, and give positive feedback.

The first two of these attributes are about leading from the front, the second two are to do with enabling improvement and higher levels of achievement – I think of them as leading from the front and tuning the engine.

The above is the briefest of summaries, if you want to know more about Transformational Leadership (and other leadership theories), Peter G. Northouse’s Leadership gives a good overview.

I offer a ‘How to be a great leader’ workshop that draws on the Transformational Leadership model. This works well for groups of middle and/or senior managers. If you are interested, you can find more information at here – or call or email me.

I’ve also added a leadership element to my ‘How to be a great manager’ workshop. It’s a workshop for new managers or those with no previous management training. If you are interested, you can find more information at here – or call or email me.

Using questions

Knowing how to ask great questions is one of the keys to clear and effective communication. Asking the right question in the most effective way can help both the person asking and the person answering.

Questions are a great tool when you’re managing or leading people, when you’re planning, looking for options or making decisions. Questions can help you learn, investigate, be curious, open up possibilities, challenge assumptions and think outside the box.

There are many different types of questions, here are some of them.

The simplest way of categorising questions is think of them as being either open or closed. Open questions invite thought, allow the respondent to choose how to answer, and they encourage a full answer:

What do you think about that?
How will you tackle that problem?

If you want to ask an open question, a great way is simply to start with ‘what’ or ‘how’.

Closed questions seek specific information, often the answers do not require much thought:

When will that happen?
Have you finished the work?
What did Dave say?

Closed questions often seek clarification:

Are you sure about that?
Are we meeting at 2 o’clock?

Both types of question have their uses. We often find it easier to ask closed questions – try practising asking more open questions.

Beyond the simple open and closed questions there are some more sophisticated types.

Directing questions move the focus of a conversation in a way that is determined by the questioner, often they are some way between open and closed:

What do you think about my idea?
What happened the other day when I was out?

Powerful questions are designed to encourage creative thinking, or thinking ‘outside the box’.

What else could your boss’ actions mean?
What other interpretations could you put on the events?

Sometimes we need to be more forceful. Challenging questions are designed, as their name implies, to change current thinking, to halt to evasion and confusion:

What has stopped you achieving this outcome so far?
What happens if things don’t work out the way you think they will?

Another way to free up, or open up, someone’s thinking is to ask ‘slide past’ questions. These bypass someone’s usual ways of thinking and any mental blocks they might have. Slide-pasts work by including a presupposition:

What were the lessons learned there? (the presupposition is that there were lessons learned)
What will you do when you’ve been promoted? (the presupposition is the person will win promotion)

We might even combine a powerful and a slide past question:

What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?

Finally, some tips for asking great questions:

  1. Ask short questions, they are more powerful – avoid asking long rambling questions, you won’t get the answer you require.
  2. Only ask one question at a time – if you ask a multiple question you’re likely to only get an answer to the last one you asked.
  3. Be careful not to include an answer as you ask the question – just ask a question.

Questioning is a tool, as such we can improve our skill at using it. What are you going to do to improve your questioning skills?

In my next blog I’ll look at some questioning routes – ways to ask successive questions to powerful effect.

A culture of feedback

Feedback is one of the most powerful tools we have for developing individuals and teams, for improving processes and systems, for enhancing quality and increasing productivity.

Feedback is best used when it’s embedded in an organisation’s culture – as a culture of feedback. It’s a shame that in so many organisations feedback is only given on special occasions, such as the end of a project or a personal review/appraisal. In a culture of feedback everyone is trained to help others by providing great feedback on a regular basis.

There are two aspects to giving great feedback, it is more than just expressing a view. The first aspect involves encouraging others to reflect on what they have done – it asks questions such as ‘what was your goal and what did you achieve?’, ‘what have you learnt?’, ‘how could it have been even better?’ The second aspect of feedback involves an objective assessment and sometimes a personal response, it looks at what was successful and what could have been better and how that might be achieved next time – it also praises and celebrates success.

In such a culture everyone is encouraged to ask for feedback, recognising that it is a way to grow and develop. They feel safe doing this because trust is endemic to the culture, there is a lack of blame and an absence of punishment – no-one needs to cover up or to justify their actions, it’s understood that people learn from mistakes.

I’m currently running a series of workshops designed to develop a culture of feedback – if you want to know more call me on 07932 657925 or email me at

You can read a bit more about a culture of feedback on Ed Batista’s Harvard Business Review Blog ‘Building a Feedback-Rich Culture –


Great questions pt. 2: GROW and 5QF

Here are two very useful tools based on asking powerful questions. You can use both tools to support and help others clarify goals or find solutions, or you can use them to structure your own planning and thinking process.

Both tools are questioning routes, they set out a structured journey based on the power of questions. They will help you think and plan in a positive way. You can use them to help planning, goal setting, and problem solving. They are useful if you’re a project manager, a manager of people, leading a team, running a company, or when you’re dealing with clients or customers.


This was developed as a coaching tool and is now widely used in the business environment. GROW is an acronym for Goal, Reality, Options, Way forward – it provides a structured approach to problem solving and planning.

Some people like to add a T – for Topic – as the first stage to ensure that everyone involved is clear what is being discussed.

It is important to follow the stages in the GROW order.

Stage 1. Goal

Ask: What is it you want to achieve? What is your goal?

Remember – a goal should be aspirational and motivating, and it should also be SMART:

Specific – it is clear, not vague
Measurable – you know when it’s been achieved
Attainable – it’s realistic in the sense that it can be attained, and you have the necessary resources
Relevant – it will help you achieve long-term plans, it is in line with your values
Time specific – it has a time limit

Therefore, after the initial goal question, you might ask others such as:

Exactly what will it look like?
When will it be finished?
How much will it cost?

The goal setting comes at this stage, before the Reality section, so that the process is started on a positive note, and you are less likely to be constrained by thinking about the problems of the moment or past failures.

Stage 2. Reality

Ask: Where are you now? What is the current situation?

At this point you should analyse the current situation, exploring those areas that directly impact on or influence the achievement of the goal. What have you already achieved, and what might be holding you back. In simple terms, you need to know where you are now in order to know how to get where you want to be – if your goal is to make a 1000 widgets a day, or make a journey to a specific destination, you need to know the current level of production or the journey’s starting point.

Stage 3. Options

Ask: What options have you got?

At this stage you should identify the options you have for getting to your goal.

A key question at this stage is: what other options are there? The more options you can explore the more chance of success. Brainstorming can be done to produce a list of options.

Analyse the options and chose the one that will most readily get you to your goal.

Stage 4.

Ask: What will you do now? What exactly will you do?

At this point you need to plan the way forward – how will you put your chosen option into action, what will you actually do?

Sometimes, as you start to plan you realise that there are aspects of the main goal, or sub-goals, that are not clear, in which case you can use GROW again to clarify.



5QF is another framework for tackling problems and challenges, and for moving forward.

It’s a great tool for overcoming ‘blockages’ and helping in situations where no progress is being made towards solving problems. It’s a very positive tool in that it looks at assets – what’s working rather than what’s broken, what you have achieved rather than what you haven’t done.

At the heart of 5QF is a simple set of five questions. The order of the questions is important.

Question 1 – What’s working?

In the vast majority of situations there is something that is working, it’s very rare to have a situation where everything is bad, or broken, or wrong. This question starts the investigation on a positive note, it helps to overcome feelings of ‘I can’t solve this.’

Question 2 – Why is it working?

This question is designed to get deeper into an understanding of what’s right, and it reinforces the positive start. Also, if you know what’s working you can do more of it, and this might help you to find other things that work.

Question 3 – Where do we want to be?

This question seeks to clarify the goal – what do we need to achieve, what will it be like when everything is fixed?

Question 4 – What needs tweaking?

This question moves on from what’s working to look at what is almost working, to look at other things that are already in place or already being done, but which aren’t quite achieving the desired results. In most situations there will be a lot of things that don’t need replacing, they just need adjusting, developing, adapting.

Question 5 – What resources could help?

The last question looks at what else can be bought to bear on the problem – does it need more thought, someone else to give a fresh perspective, more time/money etc? It’s the question that starts to look at what else can be done that is not currently being done.

For more on the Five Question Framework see Kurt Wright, Breaking the Rules: Removing the Obstacles to Effortless High Performance, C P M, 1998.

The benefits of good listening

‘Seek first to understand, then to be understood.’ Steven Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Listening is one of our most useful, under-utilised and under-appreciated skills.

So often we prepare for a conversation by planning what we want to say, and it’s easy to think that we’ve had a good conversation if we’ve done most of the talking and put our point across. However, to think about conversations in this way is to miss a number of very important factors, all of which derive from good listening.

I’ve called listening a skill because while it’s a sense (like seeing and tasting) the skill is in our focus on the data that comes in, and what we do with it in the moment. Because it’s a skill, it can be something that we are good at or not so good at, and it’s something we can develop and improve.

Good listening has lots of benefits. For the listener, it ensures good understanding and opens up the possibility of new insights and new knowledge, and it develops and satisfies a sense of curiosity.

For the speaker, it provides the space and time to fully express their thoughts – being listened to encourages them to be open. Also, being listened to will help to build someone’s self-esteem, and it encourages them to trust the listener.

The benefits for both speaker and listener are greater rapport and a deeper relationship.

So, what is good listening? There are three types, or levels of listening.

Level 1 listeners don’t even listen, they feign listening while they look over your shoulder, or get lost in their own thoughts. At best, Level 1 listeners hear what is being said but only focus on their own thoughts and only understand what is being said in relation to themselves.

An example from a work situation might be:

John says ‘I’m finding it hard to work the Jack, I’m not sure what I can do.’

Bill says ‘I find him really easy to work with.’

Bill has heard the words but has only processed them in a way that relates to himself – he’s completely missed what John was saying about himself.

Level 2 listeners are ‘practical’ listeners, they hear what is being said in a matter of fact sort of way – they process the information and think through the implications of what is being said. In the above example, Bill might answer by saying: ‘that’s going to make teamwork difficult and slow down production time.’

Level 2 listeners might also show that they are listening and acknowledge that they understand – perhaps by keeping eye-contact and nodding.

Level 3 listeners are empathic listeners. They listen intently (what is being said is their primary focus), they acknowledge what is being said, and they are aware of other signs of communication from the speaker – the tone of voice, the speed of delivery, the pauses for thought, gestures and other body language etc. At level 3 it is impossible not to listen empathically – here the listener will be thinking about the implications of what is being said, not for themselves, but for the speaker.

In the example above, if Bill was listening at level 3, he might say:

‘What is it that you find difficult?’

‘I understand why you feel like that.’ (even if Bill doesn’t feel that way himself, if he’s listening empathically he’ll understand why John feels that way)

‘What are you going to do about it’ or ‘Is there anything I can do to help.’

When someone listens at level 1 there’s a good chance that the speaker will notice that they’re not being listened to properly. This can lead to feelings of being undermined or unimportant, and they will be dismissive of the listener. Needless-to-say, we should strive to listen at, at least, level 2.

The benefits of good listening in the workplace are numerous – it helps to bring about:

  • good understanding about what needs to be achieved, what is to be done and how it is to be done
  • good relationships between colleagues
  • good management – good listening is a key skill for managers
  • good relationships with customers and clients
  • increased sales – consultative selling relies on good listening

One of the first jobs I had in my early twenties was working on a construction site – on my first day, Dusty (the man I’d been assigned to work with) said to me ‘you’ll get on here if you remember that you’ve got two ears and only one mouth.’ Great advice!

Who have you listened to today?

Three ways to be a great manager and leader

If you want to improve your management and leadership skills, here is an introduction to three tried and tested management models, with suggestions for further reading.

What I like about these three models is that they can all be understood and practiced at a simple level by new managers while also having a place in the more experienced manager’s toolkit. And, they complement one another and work together well.

One – Emotional Intelligence

I’m a firm believer that if you can’t manage yourself then you can’t manage others. It also seems obvious to me that as a manager you have to be able to deal with staff as ‘whole’ people with complex behavioural and emotional lives.

Therefore, the first skill a manager needs is that of emotional intelligence. Simply put, this means that a manager should have the ability to:

  1. understand their own emotional and behavioural lives, their motivations, reactions to situations etc.
  2. manage themselves, in the sense of being able to reflect on and moderate their behaviour
  3. understand the emotional and behavioural lives of others, and be able to manage staff in a way that takes this into account.

The traits and behaviours that result from emotional intelligence are good for everyone, not just managers. Think of it this way, wouldn’t it be great to have colleagues and managers who are:

  • confident, grounded and calm
  • thoughtful and considered
  • respectful and friendly
  • capable of avoiding emotional blackmail, passive/aggressive behaviour, defensiveness, unnecessary aggression etc.
  • not prone to panic or over-reaction
  • fair, and willing to acknowledge their mistakes.

Once acknowledged as important, the skill of emotional intelligence can be built through practice, through feedback from others, and through coaching. If you want to read more, a good starting place is: Daniel Goleman, ‘Leadership That Gets Results’, Harvard Business Review, March-April 2000. For a more detailed exposition, see: Daniel Golman, Working With Emotional Intelligence, Bloomsbury, 1998.

Two – Situational Leadership

When it comes to actually managing people, a straightforward and simple starting point is offered by the Situational Leadership model. What I like about Situational Leadership is that it is underpinned by some very simple and sound ideas.

Firstly, it says that every member of staff is different, with different levels of skill, knowledge and motivation – indeed, people have different levels of skill, knowledge and motivation in relation to different aspects of their work. Therefore, members of staff need to be managed as individuals, taking these differing factors into account. Managing someone with low skills and knowledge requires a management style that is very hands-on, while managing someone with a very high level of skills and knowledge requires the manager to be more hands-off and to delegate tasks and decisions etc. So, a manager uses different styles for different members of staff, but might also use a different style for the same person in relation to the different aspects of their work.

Secondly, Situational Leadership suggests that a manager has a responsibility to continue to encourage and enable the development of skills and knowledge, and to build or sustain a member of staff’s level of commitment. In other words, a manager’s job is to make staff more effective and efficient. How obvious is this? Yet it is so easily and often forgotten.

An easy introduction to Situational Leadership can be found in: Ken Blanchard, Patricia Zigarmi, Drea Zigarmi, Leadership and the One Minute Manager, Harper Collins, 1986. For a more advanced read, see: Ken Blanchard, Leading at a Higher Level, FT Prentice Hall, 2007.

Three – Transformational Leadership

What I love about the Transformational Leadership model is that at its heart is the idea of the manager or leader as the inspiration for the team, the agent of change. For me, this builds on the idea of the emotionally intelligent leader and manager, and fits well with the management methods of Situational Leadership.

A Transformational Leader is aspirational and dynamic, they bring about positive change and development in both individuals and teams. They are a role model for staff because they:

  • inspire and mobilize change through personal influence
  • show thought leadership
  • are creative in their approach to challenges
  • thrive on uncertainty and paradox
  • offer stimulation and challenge, intellectually and emotionally.


In order to develop their staff, these managers employ coaching and mentoring techniques, and give personal attention to individuals. They challenge staff to be innovative and creative, while encouraging and enabling them to make decisions.

In regard to the team as a whole, a Transformational Leader ensures that the team has:


  • shared values, in particular, ones that promote respect and cooperation
  • good team spirit
  • clear direction and purpose
  • aspirational goals
  • the necessary plans to achieve these goals.


For a more detailed overview of Transformational Leadership, see: Taneisha Ingleton, College Student Leadership Development: Transformational Leadership as a Theoretical Foundation, International Journal of Academic Research in Business and Social Sciences, July 2013, Vol. 3, No. 7 – available here


So, if you want to be a great manager you would do well to include these models and skills in your toolkit. And, if you want help in developing them, I offer one-to-one coaching and mentoring for managers and leaders, plus:


Introduction to Managing and Developing People Workshop – which includes an introduction to Situational Leadership, giving feedback, listening and questioning.


Coaching Skills for Managers Workshop – which teaches basic coaching and mentoring skills.


Team Development Programme – which helps team members to know themselves and others, and to develop shared values and have aspirational goals.


For more information see

Delegate at Christmas

Christmas is a time for giving, so I thought I’d do a newsletter about delegation. After all, delegation can be like giving a present, with benefits for both the giver and the receiver.

For the person delegating, the benefits include freeing up time. Also, all good managers know they have a responsibility to develop their staff, delegation can help with this and can be a rewarding part of a manager’s work. For the one being delegated to, the benefits include new skills and experience, the sense of being trusted and empowered, and increased motivation. So, benefits all round.

In the workshops and coaching I do, I’m often surprised by people’s reluctance to delegate. Excuses for not delegating usually fall into these three categories:

It’s quicker to do it myself. Yes, if it’s a one-off task it might be, but so often recurring tasks are not delegated – on the first occasion you save time, but on subsequent occasions it starts to cost time.

My staff are not capable. No, they’re not and never will be if you take that attitude. Train them.

They will be better than me. Yes, and that’s how it should be – Richard Branson has said his success is partly due to hiring people who know more than he does. Your staff should be experts at all sorts of things – but you’ll still be the manager.

So, what does good delegation look like? Here are nine steps to help you achieve successful delegation.

1. Make sure you understand the task to be delegated – its measures of success, budget, time-scale etc. If you don’t understand it, it’s unlikely that the person you pass it to will.

2. Think about who you are delegating to – have they got the time, skills etc., and what support or training do they need.

3. Give them the bigger picture. It’s hard to complete a job in isolation, not knowing where it’s come from and what’s dependent on the outcome.

4. Set aside time to delegate. Make sure you thoroughly explain what is to be done – what, when, where, how much etc. Importantly, make sure everyone is clear about what authority and decision making powers you are delegating. Is it necessary to provide a written brief?

5. Check understanding. Ask them and ask if they have any questions.

6. Agree timetable and report backs. How will you know that they are proceeding ok?

7. Be available. You can’t walk away – even though you’ve delegated the task you still have a responsibility to make sure it’s completed.

8. Be available to give advice or support.What happens at the end? Who needs to know when the task is complete?

9. Review and feedback. Spend time reviewing how things went, what has been learnt, and what might it be different next time. Congratulate.

By the way, you can delegate at all times of the year, not just Christmas.

Employee passion

Research by The Ken Blanchard Companies was undertaken to determine the links between leadership, employee engagement, customer loyalty and organisational vitality. The project also sought to clarify the definitions for these terms.

Employee engagement had been defined as ‘a combination of commitment to the organisation and its values and a willingness to help out colleagues (organisational citizenship). It goes beyond job satisfaction and is not simply motivation. Engagement is something the employee has to offer: it cannot be ‘required’ as part of the employment contract.’ ¹

Blanchard findings introduced the term employee passion (in place of employee engagement) because the subject seemed to encompass a greater spread of components. They defined employee passion as ‘the positive emotional state of mind resulting from perceptions of worthwhile work, autonomy, growth, fairness, recognition, connectedness to colleagues, and connectedness to leaders.’ ²

In other words, the factors in an organisation which lead to employee passion are:

Meaningful work – employees perceive the organisation’s larger purpose, believe that their work is meaningful and understand the contribution it makes to the whole.

Collaboration – employees perceive an organisation that encourages collaboration, sharing and team spirit.

Fairness – employees perceive an organisation that fairly distributes benefits, resources and workloads, and is consistent in its decision making.

Autonomy – employees perceive that they have the information and authority to make some decisions, that they are trusted, and there are clear boundaries to their autonomy.

Recognition – employees perceive that through feedback and rewards they are recognised for their performance and contribution.

Growth – employees perceive that there are opportunities for growth and development.

Connectedness to leader – employees perceive that there is good rapport with the leader, and the leader takes a personal and professional interest in them.

Connectedness with colleagues – employees perceive there is good rapport with colleagues who take a personal and professional interest in each other.

This research was part of a larger study into what The Blanchard Companies call The Leadership-Profit Chain.

This chain links the effectiveness of leaders to employee passion – there needs to be both strategic leadership to set direction, and operational leadership to shape appropriate policies and procedures to reach the organisational objectives.

There is then a further link from employee passion to customer devotion –customers are loyal because they have a positive experience of the organisation’s products, services, procedures and people.

And, customer devotion leads to organisational vitality – the degree to which the organisation is successful in the eyes of customers, employees, shareholders, and in terms of economic stability.

If you want to know more see Employee Passion, The New Rules of Engagement, and also The Leadership-Profit Chain. Both of these papers are available as free downloads from  – you’ll need to register first.

Happy passion seeking!


¹ From CIPD paper on employee Engagement, available at

² Employee Passion, The New Rules of Engagement, available from www://

A lesson from Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s play are littered with words of wisdom, my favourites are those he puts into Polonius’ mouth in Hamlet. Polonius is something of a buffoon and ends up paying the ultimate price (as many of the characters in Hamlet do), but there are one or two gems in the advice he gives to his son, Leartes.

After advising him to hold his tongue and not act on ‘unproportioned’ (reckless) thoughts, he says:

‘ Give every man thy ear but few thy voice; Take each man’s censure (opinion), but reserve thy judgement.’

I love that line about giving every man thy ear. In so many of the workshops I do I include the practice of listening – listening is, in my view, the most underrated of the skills we use at work. So often (perhaps 80 or 90% of the time) when we enter into a conversation we do so thinking about what it is we want to say, rather than wondering what it is we can hear and learn. And how often do we jump in with our opinion or judgement before we’ve helped to establish all the facts and gathered all the information?

Listening to a colleague or customer, gives us knowledge, understanding, insight, and possibly power as well. If we listen attentively, we give the speaker the confidence and time to develop and clearly express their thoughts, ideas, feelings etc. A manager who listens well can increase self-esteem, creativity and motivation of their staff. In a selling situation, Listening is as the heart of the consultative process by which we find out what our clients and customers really want, and this puts us in a better position to meet their needs.

Who have you listened to today?

Questions can change lives

The right question, asked in the right way at the right time can challenge (in a good way) someone’s perception and thinking, and change their beliefs and behaviours. Asking the right question at the right time can be a great tool to help your staff and colleagues.

Asking something as simple as ‘what do you think?’ can help to:

Make them feel trusted and valued

Build their self-esteem

Build a good working relationship with them

Build their motivation and commitment


If that is followed up with ‘what else do you think?’ then you have the potential to help them:

Think more profoundly

Think things through

Think outside the box

Challenge accepted ways of thinking and doing


These questions are powerful because they have some key attributes.

They are ‘open’ – they invite or push someone to think, to give a detailed answer (as opposed to ‘closed’ questions that require only a yes or no answer).

They are very concise – if you ask a long question the intent can easily get lost, if you ask a multiple question (requiring several answers) you’ll probably only get an answer to the last part.

If you build your own view into the question it can direct or inhibit the answer – asking ‘what do you think?’ is better than saying ‘I think this, what do you think?’

These powerful questions very often start with ‘what’ or ‘how’ – ‘what can we do?’, ‘what will happen?’, ‘how can that be achieved?’, ‘how will you tackle that?’ Be careful of ‘why’ questions, they can sound slightly threatening.

By the way, don’t fear sounding naive when you ask question like this – your brevity and lack of expressed opinion are partly what gives these questions such power.

And, if you suspend your own beliefs and opinions for a moment, you never know, you might get an answer that changes your life too.