Category Archives: Training & personal development

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.

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 –


Learning and ignorance

‘Education is that which reveals to the wise, and conceals from the stupid, the vast limits of their knowledge.’ Mark Twain

I find it reassuring to know that learning (whether it’s learning to speak a language or ride a bike) is a process. Even a simple skill or a small amount of information takes effort and time to get embeded in our minds or our bodies. To express this in terms of the brain – it takes practice to create new neural pathways.

For this reason, I like The Four Stages of Learning. If you don’t know them, they are:

  1. Unconscious incompetence – I don’t know that there is a language called French.
  2. Conscious incompetence – I know there is a language called French, but I don’t speak it.
  3. Conscious competence – I speak French but I have to concentrate hard to do so.
  4. Unconscious competence – I can speak French without having to think about it.

For me, the greatest value lies in being reminded that we might be at the conscious competence for some time, but that unconscious competence  is just a matter of time and practice.

The Four Stages model also serves to remind us that there is plenty we don’t know – or don’t yet know. And, as Mark Twain points out, wisdom lies in understanding how little we know.

And being wise in this sense helps us to avoid the arrogance of thinking we know it all. Simon Wardley’s Three Stage of Expertise reminds us of the foolishness of this. The Three Stages are:

  1. Beginners – I know nothing, I don’t yet know much.
  2. Hazard – I’m an expert, I know all there is to know.
  3. Expert – I know little, I know there is lots more to know.

See here for more information.

Mark Twain would, I think, like the idea of an expert as someone who knows nothing!






Self-confidence: what is it and how can we improve it?

Everyone experiences low self-confidence in some aspect of life or at some time. Self-confidence is certainly an issue that presents itself again and again in coaching sessions. At work in particular, from junior to senior people, the challenge of improving and sustaining self-confidence is widespread.

Let’s take a closer look at what self-confidence is. For me, it has its roots in self-esteem – the knowledge or feeling that deep down we are ok, and that we feel happy with ourselves. And it draws on self-knowledge – an understanding of who we are, how we behave and what we believe.

What are the signs of self-confidence, how do we recognise it in others? Very often we see it in their body – they are relaxed, they move easily, they stand tall and make eye contact. Self-confident people often just get on and do things, they don’t boast about their achievements or need praise – they are, as we say, calmly self-confident. They take calculated risks, they are happy to acknowledge their mistakes or short-comings, they are willing to express and stand by their views, but equally willing to listen to others. Their mood is self-determined, they tend not to overreact to others.

The opposite of self-confidence is self-doubt, destructive self-questioning, an inner voice that says ‘I can’t do that’, ‘I’m not good enough’. Some of its outward manifestations are social awkwardness, avoidance of risks, self-deprecation, and lack of eye contact.

And a word about competence. Competence is not the same as confidence – you can be good at something (competent) without feeling confident about your skills, and vice versa, you can be over confident (confident without having the competence).

Self-confidence is learned, it’s nurtured, not something we are born with. Therefore, it follows that self-confidence can be developed and improved. Also, if we have confidence in one area of our lives, it doesn’t follow that we have it in all areas – even if we have high self-esteem (a deep feeling of being ok) we can still have low self-confidence is some areas.

So, how do we improve self-confidence? There are various techniques and tips, here are some.

I do a lot of presentation skills training and encounter people who find it hard to stand in front of an audience. I teach them a very simple technique that helps them feel less nervous, more relaxed and in control, and more self-confident. It’s based on the idea that low self-confidence manifests itself in the body (shaky legs, tense shoulders, nervous twitches etc.), and if you can control your body you can raise confidence and reduce nerves. I encourage people to start a presentation and regularly return to an upright standing position, with feet slightly apart, weight evenly distributed over both feet, shoulders slightly back, head up, and facing their audience. They start with their arms by their side or hands clasped in from of them, but as they speak they allow themselves to talk with their hands in a natural way.

This posture allows us to be very stable and grounded, and it feels relaxed. Remarkably, when you adopt it your brain follows your body – it realises that the body is calm, it then thinks everything must be ok, turns down the ‘panic button’ and softens the voice that is repeating ‘I’m going to fail’. There’s a sitting version of this posture, backside squarely on the seat, with hands together on the table.

Another widely practiced technique is ‘fake it till you make it’ in which you act as if you are confident in a particular situation. In doing this you experience what it feels like to be confident and start to build the habit. After a while, acting that way becomes more natural and you gain some of the self-confidence you’ve been faking.

There are many variations of this technique, including basing your behaviour, posture, voice etc., on someone who exhibits self-confidence (this is often called ‘modelling’), or simply dressing in a way that makes you feel good (makes you feel, fashionable, or important, or powerful etc.).

Because low self-esteem is caused by negative thoughts, you can counter it by having positive thoughts. Instead of imagining things going wrong, you can spend time imaging what it will be like when things go well, and instead of focusing on the things you can’t do, you can remind yourself of the things you can. In a similar vein, some people find it useful and confidence building to keep an achievement log – they write down all the things they can do, have done etc.

If you ask a group of people to name the situations where they are most likely to feel a lack of self-confidence, most or many will say job interviews and public speaking. Preparing and rehearsing for these and similar situations is a great way of bolstering confidence. Anticipate the interview questions, prepare your answers and know what you want to say in your talk, rehearse and embed it so that it flows without thought.

The ‘anticipate and prepare’ technique works just as well for formal and informal meetings. And you can take the technique further by familiarising yourself with the room and planning where you are going to sit. If you are nervous about speaking up in a meeting, make sure you say something early on, don’t sit there in silence because your fear is likely to grow – once you’ve made the first contribution the others will come more easily.

Let me be specific about what I mean when I say rehearse. I don’t mean run through your answers to questions or the presentation in your head, rehearsing should duplicate the real situation as much as possible. So speak you’re your prepared answers, say your presentation out loud (with any visual aids), and even better, do it in front of a friendly audience. Also, don’t do it once, do it several times until you have perfected and internalised what you want to say. Be prepared, it will quieten your nerves and that doubting voice.

Lastly, take small steps, tackle one thing at a time. After every step reflect on what you’ve achieved, write it down, and congratulate yourself. Improving self-confidence isn’t easy, it often involves changing the habits of a life-time, but it is possible – remember, small steps and believe that you can do it.

Walk tall, be calmly confident.









Some things that football can teach us

I love football and read a lot of interviews with players because I’m interested in the psychology of competing and of team dynamics. And, I’m interested to hear of strategies, tactics and behaviour that can be transferred and used in a business context. Recently, two things have struck me that can easily be used to benefits all teams and all team members.

When we are a team member and things don’t go well, if we make a mistake or just don’t perform to our best ability, then we need to take responsibility for our short-comings. That’s pretty obvious! But I recently read about a way of taking this one stage further: if a colleague makes a mistake we can ask ourselves if there was anything we did that contributed, or we can ask ourselves if there was anything else we could have done that would have helped to avoid the mistake.

For example, in the context of football, if a teammate delivers a bad pass, fumbles the reception of the ball, or doesn’t react quickly enough, we might ask ourselves ‘could I have been in a better position?’, ‘could I have passed earlier?, ‘could I have passed better?’. It would be easy to find similar situations at work: ‘was I clear in my instructions?’, ‘would it have been better if I’d delivered the report earlier?’, ‘have I played a part in letting standards drop?’

People perform better when they feel confident and motivated. If a teammate performs badly the chances are they know it. The last thing they need is to be criticised, shouted at, moaned about, or in some other way made to feel even worse than they are already feeling. On the pitch, in the heat of the game, and if they are working hard and endeavouring to play their best, then encourage and support them.

You need your teammates to play their best game: what are you doing to help them?

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.

Why be happy at work?

“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” Aristotle.

I guess we can’t argue with that. And what Aristotle said over two thousand years ago is echoed by today’s positive psychology movement: for example, Sonja Lyubomirsky calls happiness the Holy Grail.

Because the pursuit of happiness is fundamental to human beings, possessing a high level of it brings a huge range of benefits. Happiness, the researchers tell us, aids our physical and psychological health. Interestingly, it can also improve our willingness and ability to cooperate, boost our ingenuity and creativity, and make us better leaders and negotiators. If that’s the case then we had better make sure we take it seriously in the workplace.

So what makes us happy? On one level we all desire different things – whiskey rather than gin, that Arsenal beat Manchester United, the country rather than the city. But at a deeper level there are some things that we all need. In the context of work, these are some of the things that have been found to make us all happy:

  • a variety of tasks
  • challenges, things that stretch us but don’t stress us
  • control and self-determination, the freedom to decide some aspects of how things get done
  • doing things that we are good at
  • a chance to learn and grow
  • the sense of purpose which comes from clear goals
  • an understanding how our work contributes to bigger/higher things
  • good relationships with our colleagues, bosses etc.

This isn’t rocket science. But I know from working with hundreds of people from many organisations that these obvious things are often overlooked or not in place. The other day I was talking to a young woman who was at her whit’s end because her manager either micro-managed (no self-determination), or dumped challenging projects on her at the last minute (challenges that stress), and wouldn’t listen (bad relationships).

It’s not rocket science, but it does help to be reminded of these things.

For more information on this subject, see:

Happier: can you learn to be happy?, Tal Ben-Shahar –

The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky –

Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman –


If you want to know about what I do and how I might help you, your colleagues or your organization, contact me on 07932 657925 or

Triple win development

This is obvious: we train and develop in order to improve skills, knowledge and experience, and to boost effectiveness and productivity.

What’s less obvious are some of the subtler benefits of training and development.

When staff are given training there’s a good chance that in the back of their minds (and sometimes in the front) they’ll think ‘the company is investing in me, it must think I’m worth it.’ From this comes a greater sense of self-worth, and that means happier and more motivated staff.

When training and development succeeds in improves performance. Individuals enjoy the sense that what they are doing today is better, bigger, faster, more creative, and much improved in comparison to what they did yesterday. That’s a nice feeling.

And, when someone feels valued and motivated, and when the see themselves being better than yesterday, that kick starts an upward trajectory. Improvement leads to improvement.

It’s obvious really!

If you want to know about what I do and how I might help you, your colleagues or your organization, contact me on 07932 657925 or



First manage yourself, then manage others

A client of mine lost her temper with her assistant. She was stressed and tired, and, sooner or later, it was bound to show in her behaviour. As lost tempers go it probably wasn’t very high up the scale – it was more of a momentary lapse of control, a sharp word, some cynicism, a snarl.

But the damage had been done. Months of building a working relationship had been destroyed.

What a waste!

Many people are elevated to be managers without proper training. And, much of what managers are taught is designed to help them direct and support their staff, to motivate staff and bring about effective and productive working. Little or no attention is paid to the skills managers need to manage themselves!

A manager’s emotions can have a profound impact on staff morale, working relationships, and ultimately productivity.  Think about how you have been managed or want to be managed – remember the difference between being managed by someone who is happy or sad, passive or aggressive, resistant or compliant, supportive or indifferent.

Understanding emotions, knowing how and why they ‘happen’, how they affect behaviour and relations with others, is an essential skill for a good manager. One way of improving this skill is offered by the concept of emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is ‘the ability to monitor one’s own and other’s feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions’. The American psychologist Daniel Goleman has developed the concept in relation to work and working with others. Goleman proposes that we should have two broad sets of competencies – personal competencies through which we manage ourselves, and social competencies through which we handle relationships with others.


These are Goleman’s suggested competencies for a manager/leader.

Personal competences – self-awareness and self-management

Emotional self-awareness – the ability to recognize our emotions as well as understand their impact on our behaviour, relationships etc.

Accurate self-assessment – a realistic evaluation of our strengths and limitations.

Self-confidence – a strong and positive sense of self-worth.

Self-control – the ability to keep destructive emotions under control.

Trustworthiness – a consistent display of honesty and integrity.

Conscientiousness – the ability to manage ourselves and our responsibilities.

Adaptability – skill at adjusting to changing situations.

Social competences – social awareness and social skill

Empathy – skill at sensing other people’s emotions, understanding their perspective, and taking an active interest in their concerns.

Organisational awareness – the ability to read the currents of organisational life, and navigate workplace politics.

Developing others – the ability and propensity to improve the skills of others through feedback and guidance.

Communications – skill at listening and at sending clear, convincing and well-tuned messages.

Influence – the ability to wield a range of persuasive tactics.

Change catalyst – proficiency in initiating new ideas and leading people in a new direction.

Conflict management – the ability to defuse disagreements and orchestrate resolutions.

Building bonds – proficiency at cultivating and maintaining a network of relationships.

Teamwork and collaboration – competence at promoting co-operation and building teams.


It’s obvious that we all have at least a degree of emotional intelligence – we can sense our own emotions and see emotions in others etc. As a way of improving (we can always improve!) your own emotional intelligence, read through the list again and start to:

  • think about your own level of competence in these areas
  • become aware of some areas where you have competencies you hadn’t noticed, or areas where your competencies need to be improved
  • think about the impact of your emotions on your relationships with people in both your private and work life
  • ask others (staff, colleagues, your own manager, friends and family) for their thoughts.


I run workshops for those new to management or those who have been managers for a while but have never had any proper training. The workshops include an introduction to emotional intelligence. I also deal with emotional intelligence in my one-to-one coaching sessions. For more information email me at or phone 07932 657925.

This list of competences is taken from Daniel Goleman, Leadership That Gets Results, Harvard Business Review, March-April 2000.