Breaking the rules of belonging

This Christmas many of us will spend time with the most influential human system we have – our family of origin. We’re shaped by the norms and emotions around us when we grew up. One question worth pondering this Christmas might be this: “Which emotions were allowed in your family of origin and which emotions were not allowed?” As you consider this, you’ll begin to identify the so-called ‘rules of belonging’. One rule might have been ‘never be sad’ or ‘always put a brave face on it’. We bring these (often unspoken) ‘rules’ into our adult life and this is where it gets tricky. As we’re exposed to different human systems such as our partner’s family, university, workplaces, clubs etc, we come across different rules of belonging, some of which conflict with those of our family of origin. In order to grow, thrive and develop strong adult relationships, we must understand how these engrained rules help or hinder us. We can then make choices about whether we are to stay loyal to the original rules, or break the rules. In breaking the rules we risk alienation from the original system, but we also have the promise of new experiences, relationships and growth.

Take attitudes to money as an example. Continue reading


How to grow without losing your soul

SONY DSCYou’re now established as a successful business. Your reputation is growing beyond your early ‘niche’ customer base and enquiries are flooding in. You’re struggling to keep up with demand, trying to recruit fast but worried about losing what made you special.

Last Winter my husband and I returned to the Dolomites in Italy for a long awaited ski holiday. We’d skied a lot in the past and have experienced some good but also some very bad travel companies. We stumbled upon Mogens and his now wife Alice from Simply Dolomiti a couple of years ago. Having bought this small niche travel company a few years back, they developed their offering based on a very clear principle that travellers were not customers, but their ‘guests’. Everything they did was highly personal – Mogens picked you up personally from the airport, he spent time understanding what was important to you, and created itineraries and activities to suit. He and Alice personally led ski and walking tours, sharing their vast knowledge of the area with us. We enjoyed the personal attention, and the feeling that they enjoyed being with us and actually cared about what we wanted. Their success was in a large part down to their lovely personalities and welcoming approach.

Continue reading


Creating a strong learning environment

A current client of mine whose leadership team I’m accompanying through a series of workshops has asked me to facilitate a workshop with the theme of ‘How to challenge ourselves to be even better’. This is a high-performing team yet they recognise that to stay ahead they need to continually challenge themselves to improve. It got me thinking about how we learn for high performance. What are the factors that create a strong learning environment that leads to high performance?


  1. Stretch people beyond their comfort zone
  2. Give and seek constructive feedback
  3. Allow for failure
  4. Build observational skills and grow curiosity

Stretch beyond your comfort zone.

This Harvard Business review article by Andy Molinsky  reinforces the need to move out of our comfort zone in order to learn. I especially like Molinsky’s first piece of advice: “Be honest with yourself. When you turned down that opportunity to speak at a big industry conference, was it really because you didn’t have the time, or were you scared to step on a stage and present?”. Continue reading


Favorite How do we learn best?

How we learn bestOne day a couple of years ago when my son was studying for his A’levels I noticed something I’d not seen before. I’d been encouraging (nagging?!) him to complete his UCAS personal statement. Every time he sat down to do it, he ran out of ideas. In a moment of exasperation, I suggested we do it together. I sat down at my PC and asked him to just talk to me about himself – what he likes doing, what he’s good at, what achievements he’s most proud of etc. I would transcribe what he said and then we could do an edit together once I’d captured the main ideas.
Now, one of his daily tasks in the kitchen is to unload the dishwasher. As I started to ask the questions, he started to unload the dishwasher, moving around the kitchen putting things away (more or less in automatic pilot).

As we continued the conversation I noticed that he continued to move around the kitchen, thinking through his answers to my questions as he moved.Occasionally he paused and leaned on the kitchen worktop, deep in thought, then moving again. It struck me that he seemed at ease, the ideas flowed and there was no restlessness. As a younger child his teachers had always remarked on what a restless child he was, very bright but lacking in focus and concentration. Well, that day as he moved around talking about his ideas, he was highly focused and concentrated in his thinking – he just wasn’t sitting down! It turns out that his best quality and most creative thinking happens when he’s moving.

As an Executive coach, I come across people who learn in many different ways. This means I need to be flexible in my approach to coaching. I need to spot when doing something visual is needed because my client learns well from visual cues. Or, like my son, I need to identify when my client needs to move around to do his or her best thinking. Neuroscientist Lara Boyd in her TEDx talk of 2015 takes the learning from neuroscience and considers how we learn. Boyd encourages us to study how, what and when we learn best and to identify what our own brain requires to be a great learner – what she calls ‘personalised learning’. She explains that everything we do is changing our brain, so we need to study what things change our brain for the better and what changes our brain for the worse. We can then prepare our brains to be effective learners.

Please comment and let us know how you like to learn.


The Mastery of Leadership Part 4: Mastering Engagement

Mastery of Leadership.jpgWelcome to Part 4 of The Mastery of Leadership , this issue focuses on Mastering Engagement. Whilst engagement is by definition about the external world (The ‘Outside’ bit of Inside-Out leadership), leaders cannot gain full engagement without also paying attention to the ‘inside’ pieces of ‘Mastering Authenticity‘ and ‘Mastering Relationships‘. Benjamin Zander, Conductor at the Boston Philharmonic, said that the most important moment of his career was when he realised that the conductor of an orchestra doesn’t make a sound! He said “The conductor of an orchestra depends for his power on his ability to make other people powerful”. He urges leaders to look first at themselves if they see others demotivated and under-performing. I wonder what our workplaces would be like if our business leaders always did this?

‘Mastering Engagement’ gives more focus to the organisational perspective and how we build motivation and create an effective vision and culture. In order to get all stakeholders working in the same direction, they have to have an understanding of and an emotional connection to the Vision. So it’s important for any leader to create an engaging Picture of Success or Vision that people can connect to not just with their heads but with their hearts.

A recent client, a leader in a technology company, was frustrated because his team wasn’t as focused as he was on the KPIs. Continue reading


Favorite The Mastery of Leadership Part 1 – an Overview

In a recent radio interview, 72-year-olMastery of Leadership.jpgd Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones was asked why the Stones still had the appetite to perform. His response was “I think it’s because we still think we’re getting better…..from the way I’m feeling, there’s promise of more…who’s going to jump off a moving bus?”

Dan Pink, in his book ‘Drive’, pointed out that ‘Mastery’ is never quite achieved. It’s something that we strive to approach without ever quite reaching it. Yet many of the most successful people continue to strive towards mastery, knowing full well that they’ll never quite touch it, even if they get really close.

And so it is with Leadership, mastery is impossible but the best leaders continue to learn and develop because, as with the Rolling Stones, there is promise of more. Continue reading


Favorite Three important cultural questions that leaders rarely ask


You’ve just been promCulture questionsoted into an exciting new role in the senior leadership team. Over the past few years you’ve progressed from specialist roles into managerial positions. You’re respected both as an expert and as a manager. Your new role involves managing other managers and you’ve been given the remit to reverse the recent decline in sales and increase both customer and staff satisfaction in your area of the business, both of which have hit all-time lows in recent months. It’s a service business and you understand all too well that a demotivated workforce has a huge impact on customer satisfaction and sales.

You’re beginning to see that it’s important to step away from the operational ‘doing’ and play a more strategic role in creating a culture that engages people and promotes innovation and creativity. Intuitively, you sense that putting together a project to ‘fix’ the culture is not the place to start.

So where do you start? Continue reading