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.

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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.


Become brilliant by creating space for the team

leadership teamsA couple of days ago I was listening to one of the GB rowing coaches at the Rio Olympics speaking about the process for achieving high levels of performance. One thing he said struck me as incredibly relevant to teams in a business setting. He said that they no longer try to mould each rower into one ‘ideal’ model, but tap into the huge diversity of backgrounds, personalities and talents to create a uniquely brilliant team.


I come across many teams who are not tapping into their full potential because they fail to take the time and space to connect, discover more about each other and learn together.

I recently facilitated the second of a series of away-days for a leadership team that has struggled with internal conflict. The most powerful part of the session was when I invited each person to develop and then share their ‘leadership lifeline’.

I gave them a loose framework to use and they then each took a piece of A3 paper and were asked to represent their life so far in words and pictures. The emphasis was on how their life experience had shaped their attitudes and approaches to leadership. After some hesitation, and encouraged by seeing my own lifeline as an example, they spent half an hour individually working on theirs, followed by a session during which they shared the key parts of their life that had shaped their approach to leadership. I was humbled by the level of disclosure and honesty, and the respectful reaction to their colleagues’ stories.

During this short session they built a profound new understanding of each other and increased the level of trust significantly. Later on, they were amazed at how quickly they were able to come to agreement on some quite tricky business issues, something they’d never achieved before. Disclosure is an important factor in Continue reading


Favorite “If speaking is silver, then listening is gold” (old Turkish proverb)

Gold“Mum, you never listen, I’ve already told you three times where I’m going tonight!”.

Not sure whether other parents of teenagers recognize this, perhaps it’s just me, but this is a common refrain in our household. Why, I ask myself, is it easier to listen well to my coaching clients than it is to my own family?

So many conversations at home take place in a distracting environment. The radio’s on, you’re updating your online shopping order while the dinner’s in the oven, your phone buzzes with a text that’s just come in, and you’re keeping an eye on your work e’mail for the information you need for tomorrow’s client presentation. It takes intentional effort and discipline to stop and focus on the other person.

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Secrets from the Science of Persuasion

From No to YesYou have a great idea about a new product or service that you’re convinced will make a big difference to your business. You’ve done your homework – researched the market, identified your target customer, analysed costs and potential sales in detail and created an implementation plan. So why is it that when you pitch the idea to your boss and her colleagues there’s a resounding No? Surely the benefits of going ahead are obvious, why don’t they get it?

I sometimes come across this scenario with my coaching clients who come to me frustrated that they can’t influence with more success. They understand that influencing others requires not just logical argument, but they feel uncomfortable about what they call ‘playing politics’. For some people ‘politics’ has a somewhat distasteful connotation, it smacks of fakeness and goes against peoples’ integrity. They don’t enjoy ‘schmoozing’ and, women especially (though not exclusively) tell me that they feel shut out by the ‘boys club’.

So what if you were to reframe the problem? If you understood that as human beings we are more likely to say ‘yes’ to ideas, proposals and products offered by people we like and trust, where would you put your effort?

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It’s the small things that make the biggest difference


Last week I was having lunch in the Members café at the British Museum a few days after the start of a major new exhibition. It was busier than I’d ever seen it, and the team of people behind the counter were doing their best to cope despite a growing queue of customers. Two customers sat down at the table next to mine and started to complain to each other about the inefficiency of the café. The waitress, who I have always experienced as being very friendly and customer-focused, brought them over their coffees and apologised for the wait. They then proceeded to complain quite vociferously about how useless she and the team were. In a very British way I kept quiet and said nothing, but I could see that the waitress was very upset. I spent the next few minutes finishing my lunch and wondering what I should do. As I left, I took the waitress aside and gave her a few words of genuine appreciation, and told her that despite what these people had said, I could see how busy they were and that they were doing their best. The transformation in her face was immediate, her energy returned, she looked genuinely relieved and thanked me profusely for what I had said.

It would have been so easy for me to walk away and say nothing, after all it was none of my business. But it just seemed like the right thing to do, and by taking a few seconds to give her a small piece of appreciation, not only did I make a positive difference to her day, I also felt good about myself.

Reflecting on my executive coaching clients over the past few years, I also see that in many instances, it’s the small changes that make the biggest difference. Continue reading


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


The Mastery of Leadership Part 3: Mastering Relationships

Mastery of Leadership.jpg

Welcome to Part 3 in this series about my model ‘The Mastery of Leadership’. This time I explore the second aspect: Mastering Relationships

It’s my strong belief that in today’s complex global marketplace, no one leader can ever have all the answers. In order to become and then stay competitive, leaders need to harness the talents, perspectives and creativity of everyone in the organisation. Hence I believe that Leadership is essentially collaborative. It’s about relationships. It’s not about knowing things but it’s about harnessing the talents of the whole team.

One of the most important skills to master in any relationship is listening. I believe that true listening is the most under-rated yet most powerful of leadership skills. Effective leaders 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