Eeh by gum, that was Grand

When the world’s biggest cycle race came to Yorkshire, it did so with a big bang last weekend. Saturday 5 and Sunday 6 July were a climax after events across the county in the 100 days leading up to the Grand Depart.


I am not a cyclist nor am I a cycling fan. However I am a great enthusiast of Yorkshire, having lived here for 24 years and love the people and the beauty of the place.

What stood out for me is how an event can:

Bring people and communities together

Across the county, we saw people coming together to plan and put on events from large scale cultural events to getting yellow jersey bunting knitted.

In our town of Ilkley there were a host of cycle themed activities from theatre, art, food, drink and culminating in the Ilkley Cycle Races and the Spectator Hub at Riverside Park. Over the 3 days, there were 2 giant screens, fairground rides, beer and food tents, children activities and outdoor movies.

These provided opportunities for people to come together not only to watch the Tour de France but to build and share experiences with their families, friends and the wider people amongst them.

TDF Riverside gardens

During this period, 70 people (Ilkley Guides) gave up their time to welcome and point tourists in the right direction in Ilkley. Here is Agnes one of the Guides with some of our pocket sized Town and Event maps which were given to visitors. These were printed by the Ilkley Business Forum as part of our contribution to the event and the town

TDF agnes

Why is all this important?

Because community and social connections impact on our well being as shown by studies where stronger and broader social connections are associated with positive mental well being, increased feelings of happiness, self worth and longevity.

Research has also shown that people are happiest when giving and psychologists have found that spending money on experiences tends to brings us more happiness than material purchases.

If you need proof, take a look at the pictures and footage from the weekend and you will certainly see happy people in their masses

TDF Riverside

From dreams to reality  

That the Tour came to Yorkshire in the first place is a testament to Gary Verity, chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire whose dream to bring the Tour to the county came through. Taking that vision and turning into reality has been awe inspiring and has certainly leveraged Yorkshire’s brand and profile nationally and internationally.

The can do attitude, overcoming obstacles and progressing something that you so strongly believe in, despite scepticism are attributes that we can develop in ourselves.

Creativity and humour

Yellow fever certainly raged across Yorkshire as the county swathed itself with the yellow of the Tour de France, There were yellow bicycles in all shapes, sizes and texture across the county. The ingenuity and creativity that has been unleashed was simply astounding.

TDF Leeds station

Individuals, streets, communities, villages, towns entered into the spirit of doing something unique. People took pride in showcasing their part of the county.

How good would it be it this was to continue and that people find ways to build on this?

The Pride of the people

If you watched the Tour de France on TV it would be hard not to be astounded by the stunning landscape, hills and scenery as the magnificence of Yorkshire unfolded.

Over 2.5 million people lined the route in various forms standing by the road side, cherry pickers, scaffolding…they found a way to be a part of the Tour and were proud to share and showcase their part of the  county. The welcome and the support that the people showed were just remarkable.

TDF Addingham roundabout

Christian Prudhomme, the director of the Tour de France said the crowds seen on route over the weekend were “unbelievable, incredible, amazing, astonishing”

It was certainly one of the greatest Grand Départs of all time. And one that will live on in Yorkshire for years to come

My takeways

- Anything is possible. Have a dream, have belief, garner support, turn vision into reality …show great leadership…

- We can all do this….in our own individual ways….get involved, form a group, be part of a group,  make an impact, make  a difference…get involved

- Get connected, build relationships, be part of something, give generously…you will be happier

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Rejoice in being a Quiet leader

Thinking1“From the start, with a quiet demeanour, Vera has provided robust input and challenge at board meetings…”
and so goes my board appraisal (my first with this organisation) last week which was an excellent one, exceeding expectations.

As I read the above, I wondered if there was some inference that by being of ‘quiet demeanour’, I would not be able to challenge, speak up, ask incisive questions…?

The word ‘quiet’ has popped up several times over the past couple of weeks:

- Recently I attended an assessment centre. Sitting in a circle with 5 other candidates, we were given the task of ‘coaching’ a manager. As soon as the manager had stopped talking,  2 members of the circle adopted a quick fire approach which lasted for several minutes with little opportunity to intercept.

The assessor fed back that I was “quiet at the start”. Now, I am a person who likes to think before I speak and I was intent on listening and assimilating the information before I opened my mouth. When I did get the opportunity, I thought my questions were insightful, stretching and helped the manager to move forward. My response to the assessor was, ‘were you seeking people who spoke first and the most…?’

Question: There are 2 candidates with near identical experiences, qualifications, recommendations. One is charismatic, convivial, quick to answer questions; the other is quiet, thoughtful in responding, taking time to demonstrate a depth of perspective…who would you recruit…..?

- The parent/ teacher 5 minute meeting at my local school went in the typical way it has done for the past 10 years. No 1 son is hard-working, full of ideas, works well in small groups, is bright, articulate, intelligent BUT he needs to speak up, be more participative in class discussions…a recurring theme.

One teacher at his primary school commented at a parent / teacher discussion, “he would never be the light and soul of the party”. That stuck, because I thought it was an inappropriate, irrelevant and insensitive comment to voice in front of a 7 year old child (we were both present at the meeting)
Being true to self, I constantly ask about and question the range of teaching methods, how they cater for different learning styles, what different techniques they use to engage with and ensure that all pupils have a voice…….am labelled, ‘difficult parent’.

Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking says that “our culture is biased against quiet and reserved people and though introverts make up a third to half the population, our most important institutions including our schools and our workplaces are designed for extroverts.” Watch her excellent TED talk here and take this quick test to see if you are an introvert or an extrovert.

- No 1 daughter recounts the story of 2 of her friends applying for university places. Both have the same grades, one has more work experience and the other is very talkative and ‘good at self promotion’ (her words). Following their interviews, the latter has been offered 3 places, the former none.

Spotlight1So now I am wondering if extroverts and outgoing chatty people are seen as the epitome of how successful people act and are favoured in recruitment and selection processes and in leadership positions?

The world is not full of gregarious and ‘shine a light’ on me type people. You do not have to the centre of attention, always talking, be the one to fill the silence… be successful, confident and a leader.

I don’t like to compartmentalise myself and would say my style varies from introvert to extrovert depending on the situation and context. I enjoy solitude as well as large gatherings and taking the spotlight when I need to.

Frances Kahnweiler,  in her book, The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength cites that introverted leaders:

  • Think first, consider, reflect and then respond
  • Focus on depth and like to dig deep into issues and ideas before considering new ones
  • Calm and composed in a crisis
  • Prefer writing to talking
  • Like solitude and spending time alone

Grant et al (2011) in their study found extensive evidence which suggest that ‘extraverted individuals are more likely to emerge as leaders’. It seems that our culture favour the extraverts, the socially dominant, the talkative, the commanding the centre of attention leader – and who not surprisingly, are more likely to be found higher up in corporate hierarchy.

Their findings highlight that, “in a dynamic, unpredictable environment, introverts are often more effective leaders – particularly when workers are proactive, offering ideas for improving the business. Such behaviour can make extroverted leaders feel threatened. In contrast, introverted leaders tend to listen more carefully and show greater receptivity to suggestions, making them more effective leaders of vocal teams”
The study showed that when employees are proactive, introverted managers lead them to earn higher profits. When employees are not proactive, extroverted managers lead them to higher profits.

In Leading Quietly, Joseph Badaracco, tells the stories of people who choose, “responsible, behind the scenes action over public heroism to resolve tough leadership challenges and the techniques they adopt”. He goes on to say that the “vast majority of difficult, important human problems -both inside and outside organizations – are not solved by a swift, decisive stroke from someone at the top. What usually matters are careful, thoughtful, practical efforts by people working far from the limelight. In short, quiet leadership is what moves and changes the world.”

Introverts are more receptive to people as they listen, they engage, they do not dominate the space, instead they create space for others to enter into dialogue and to offer suggestions, feedback and ask questions.

So, if you are quiet, thoughtful, introverted… celebrate your disposition. According to Susan Cain there is a Quiet revolution starting… join in.

There is no one way or one style. Anyone can learn to practice effective leadership regardless of your personality type. Know yourself, identify your strengths, develop and use them, seek feedback and be aware of your blind spots and use techniques and strategies to mitigate against them.

Rejoice in your gifts and your true self. You are as awesome as you are.

Grant, A;  Gino, F and Hofmann D. (2011)  Reversing the extraverted leadership advantage: the role of employee proactivity. Academy of Management Journal. Vol 54, Issue 3, P528 -550

Photos 1, 2 courtesy of

Vera in 2012I am a professional coach (MA in Coaching & Mentoring) at Edimo Coaching & Development, which provides bespoke solutions in people, leadership, team and organisational development.                                  am committed to helping women succeed and thrive in the workplace, developing their leadership brand, confidence, impact and gravitas. 

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Where has my mojo gone?

These past few weeks have been mentally and emotionally challenging for me. I was uncertain as to whether I should  ‘bare/ expose’ myself by sharing a personal story.     After much  contemplation and cogitation, I have concluded that life has it ups and downs and it would be inauthentic to just focus on the good and positive and pretend that nothing has happened.                                                                                                                                   So have put my thoughts into a poem. Here goes:

Where has my mojo gone?
My thoughts are black and weighing me down
They have cast a shadow over all that is positive and good
When things don’t go right and failures are abound
They drag you into a spiralling vortex
Where no amount of exercise, affirmations or positive thinking helps
And the inner Gremlins have started to dwell
Now Eeyore is my best friend
And my mood is permanently blue
But, life goes on and I have a choice
I can choose to wallow or I can choose to crawl out of my hole
My friends, family, faith, routine gives me a helping hand
It is time to accept what is
To live in the present
And recognise that each day brings a new dawn
With new possibilities and opportunities
I am now a little wiser and tougher
And thankful that my mojo is back working

When things are tough, talking about it, writing and journalling can be helpful and cathartic.

Have you ever lost your mojo? Experienced prolonged negative thoughts? What helped you to get back on track?  Love to hear from you

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6 ways leaders can build their resilience

Stressed BusinesswomanChange, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity can be found in most workplaces today. In such environments, leaders are required not only to cope with the resulting adversity, emotional ups and down and stress but at the same time, support their people and help them move forward in these challenging times.

This requires leaders to be resilient. This is the ability to deal effectively with stressors, pressures and challenges and perform to the best of your abilities irrespective of the circumstances in which you find yourself.

Although we cannot control what happens to us, we can control how we respond. This was demonstrated when working with some senior managers of an organisation which is undergoing restructuring and significant changes.

- Mary is overwhelmed. The changing and challenging demands of the job are affecting her work and home life. She finds it difficult to sleep and this is making her short tempered. Her colleagues describe her as someone who is becoming disengaged; less focused and is negative in her attitude. She is constantly whinging, blaming others for the ‘mess that we are in’, that others ‘don’t understand or care’ and has fallen out with her team

- Sue knows that she cannot influence the decisions made and that they are outside her control. She gets on with doing her job and has taken the view that ‘we have come through worst than this’ and will do so again

- Helen has adopted a, ‘bring it on’ mindset and is constantly looking for solutions to the problems that are arising. She sees it as a challenge, as learning and is realistically optimistic. Her ‘can do’ attitude is appreciated by her team.

Feeling positive, being in control and doing the job in hand whilst facing tough times, hardship, overcoming obstacles and bouncing back are aspects of being resilient and all of which can be developed.

The best approach is to build your resilience on a daily basis so that it becomes part of your everyday routine and habits. Try these 6 strategies:

1. Build connections

Engage, connect and build relationships with a wide range of people. Invest the time in getting to know others. When you need to let off steam, find a listening ear, a supportive friend, some advice…you will have an array of people to call upon who will want to help and support you

2. Manage your energies and take care of yourself

Eat healthily, aim for enough rest and sleep, be active and exercise as much as possible. It releases those feel good endorphins which are an instant pick me up. It will also give you the time and space to think, reflect and put things into perspective.

3. Be mindful and meditate

Bring awareness and commit to noticing new things in your daily life – your own emotions and feelings, the things that you do on auto pilot, the people who you are interacting with, the conversations that you having and the environment around you.                         Breathing exercises and meditation can help you to relax, declutter the mind and increase your focus. You can find a wealth of information and resources on the web

4. Stretch yourself

Do something that you have never done before on a regular basis. This could be anything from trying out a new recipe to taking up new hobby or sport. Undertaking new things and learning new ways can help to build our inner strength and resourcefulness thus enabling further positive coping.

5. Reach out and help others

This can help to reduce self centredness and a fixation on our own problems. Try volunteering your time by offering to mentor someone, helping out at a local group or becoming involved in something that interest you. The more we do for others, the more rewarding and enriching our lives become.

6. Build your positivity

Identify and use your strengths on a daily basis, hang out with positive like-minded people, act as you want to feel and use positive language when you speak.

 How do you cope with uncertainty, stress and challenging situations?

What strategies have worked successfully for you?

Photo credit: Flickr user o2k

This is an updated version of an earlier post

Vera in 2012I am a professional coach (MA in Coaching & Mentoring) working with women and leaders to build their confidence and know how, to progress, make successful changes, leverage their influence, impact, presence and communication.                                                                       I am a part-time lecturer in leadership and work within organisations to develop high performing teams, mentoring schemes and facilitate skills training in leadership and management development. 


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6 ways that listening can help you become a better leader

Group meetingLast week, I spent some time in an organisation with their executive team attending different meetings and discussions which gave me the opportunity to observe them in action with a range of people and situations.

As the week progressed it became evident that there was a common thread running through my observations. There seem to be a lot of talking and not enough listening. The senior team were:

  1. Doing most of the talking
  2. Leading and taking over the conversation
  3. Interrupting the other person’s flow
  4. Not picking up on non verbals and body language cues
  5. Not demonstrating that they are listening

I began to wonder if this was a culture thing where it has become the norm to act this way? Can an organisation have a culture of not listening?

Listening is fundamental in leadership because

-   By listening to your staff it demonstrates that they matter, that you value what they say and that they have a voice which is heard. Your staff will be more willing to share ideas and give feedback if they believe that their opinions are valued and respected 

-   It shows that you care about what is being said and this helps to develop trust and rapport and  better relationships and connectedness

-   It creates opportunity for learning. Good ideas, innovations and knowledge and can come from those who are at the coalface

-   Allows you to understand your employees’ perspectives

Listening skillsIn my role as a coach, my listening skills are well honed as it is crucial to my practice. But this has not always been the case.

I still have in my possession one of my earlier school reports with the comment,‘ Vera’s grades would improve greatly if she did less talking and more work’.

The major communication skills include reading, writing, speaking and listening. We learn to speak at an early age and at school we are taught to read and write. But what about listening? Who has ever taken a course on listening? 

Most of us when we are in conversation, listen with the intent to response. As the other person is speaking, we are thinking about our response to what is being said. We are filtering what is being said through our own lens and our own paradigm. How many times have you heard someone tell a story, and another person would chime in, ‘oh, yes, my boss was XYZ and she used to do ABC’ or ‘yes that exact same thing happened to me and I did…’

 Stephen Covey in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, said, ‘ listen to understand before you can be understood’. To understand what someone else is saying you need really listen and put yourself in their shoes and view the world as they do.

6 tips from a coach to help you hone your listening skills

1. Enter into the conversation with an empty mind

We all have voices that run riotously in our heads…the piece of work that has to be finished by 3 pm, the 2 pm client feedback,  the difficult conversation that you have been putting off and which has been weighing on your mind, the text from your daughter reminding you to pick her from gym which has jogged your memory that you need to fit this in with taking your son to swimming…

It is impossible to listen with all that mental clutter going on in your head. Clear your head by letting go of your thoughts. Imagine that all your thoughts have floated away and your mind is now a blank sheet of paper. Practice some deep breathing for a few minutes and allow your thoughts to drift away. If those niggling thoughts return, continue to focus on your breathing.

2.  Put aside your assumptions

Suspend your own preconceptions, assumptions and lens through which you see the world and focus on the other person’s perspectives. Try to discover his standpoint and the beliefs and assumptions that have led to this. Listen with an open head and heart. Hear and feel what is being said from the other person’s viewpoint. Imagine yourself in his shoes

3. Be a mirror

When two people are really paying attention to each other they often copy each other’s posture and will have similar body language. Their gestures and movements match each other. This is called mirroring each other, because they form a mirror image. Observe your and other person’s body language, gestures, posture, vocal tone and volume.

4. Show that you are listening

Demonstrate that you are listening by providing brief acknowledging responses, such as ‘uh huh’, nodding your head, making eye contact, adopting a relaxed body posture

5. Do not interrupt

Interrupting is a way of saying, ‘I have something more important to say than you have’. This interrupts the flow of thinking which may have led to some crucial discoveries, ideas or outcomes. Constant interruptions may lead to disengagement as the person will soon realise that you are not listening. 

6. Ask good questions to check for mutual understanding:

-   Open ended questions-  who, what, when ,where, why ( use the latter with care as you may come across interrogative)

-   Probing questions – to gain further information, follow up and obtain more detail

-   Paraphrasing – summarise and reflect back what you are hearing and sensing to ensure that the message is received correctly. This is a good way to check that you are both saying the same thing and avoids either of you making assumptions.

-   Observing – as well as listening, be attune to body language and observe  for non verbal clues which will help you to match what is being said and the manner that it is said.

Effective leaders are excellent coaches. Develop your listening skills and enhance your coaching abilities.

What has helped you to hone your listening skills?  


Vera in 2012I am a professional coach (MA in Coaching & Mentoring) working with women and leaders to build their confidence and know how, to progress, make successful changes, leverage their influence, impact, presence and communication. I am a part-time lecturer in leadership and work within organisations to develop high performing teams, mentoring schemes and facilitate skills training in leadership and management development.

Join me on my free Inspiring Change event to celebrate International Women’s day on 8 March 10 -12 pm, The Wheatley Inn, Ilkley

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Stop micro managing and start coaching

Group meeting“I couldn’t possibly let him close the deal on his own. What if he gets it wrong or can’t answer a question, I have to be there”, says Gary.

I am in a room with 11 sales managers who have been identified as ‘not able to let go, not letting their sales reps develop, taking over their work…”

As part of a 4 month programme, the managers start by giving their perspectives and context. As I listen to their stories, I am conscious of how typical the problem of micro managing is and the consequences that this has on teams and organisations.

Are you a micro-manager? Do any of these apply to you:

  • I find it difficult to embrace uncertainty
  • I have little faith and trust in my staff
  • I am reluctant to let my staff take considered risks
  • I punish my staff when mistakes are made
  • My staff do not have a voice and their ideas are not listened to
  • I do not share information readily
  • My staff do not have clear stretching goals and objectives which are aligned to the vision and strategy of the organisation and they don’t see how they contribute to this

If you have ticked any of the above, here are my 9 top tips to help you stop micro managing and suffocating your staff.

1. Be confident in your decision and their ability

Are you confident in your decision that the person has the right skills, knowledge and resources to do the job? Then articulate and demonstrate this to the employee. Show that you trust them to do the job and ‘walk the talk’

2. Roles, goals and the bigger picture

Engage with your staff so that they know the company’s purpose and strategy and the ways in which it intends to get there. Help them to see the bigger picture and how their roles, goals and objectives contribute to the success of the team/ department /organisation and the bottom line.  

Take the time to educate them about aspects of the business that will help them to do their job (current financial results, long-term objectives, market share information, other relevant statistics…).

The more you share, the more valued your employees will feel and will develop a better connection with the business.

3. Delegate authority and autonomy

Give them the authority they need to make decisions. Establish metrics in advance so that they know what the desired outcomes are and set clear standards for performance results.

Give them room to discover their own individual methods to approach their work. The degree of independence you give should correspond to each person’s level of experience and competence. Not all of your staff will be at ease with a high level of autonomy. Ascertain what level of guidance they will need from you at the beginning.

4. Check for understanding

Clarify understanding and interpretation by getting feedback. What must be achieved? How the task will be measured? What are the deadlines for completion? Agree on milestones and progress reports and how you will monitor. Inform relevant personnel who may need to know what is happening

5. Provide resources and support

Delegating authority without providing sufficient organisational support will set them up for failure. Give them the tools, techniques, training to handle a wide variety of situations from technical to soft skills.

The degree of support will vary on the employee skills and knowledge and experience level. Start with small steps to begin with.

6. Hold them to account  to produce the outcomes needed

Ask the employee to assess himself. If the target is not met or the work is not satisfactory, hold to account and discuss. You are there for advice, perspective, and guidance, but the employee manages the solution. Resist from stepping in and taking control in solving it.     If you are communicating and measuring against set standards, you will know if you need to get more involved.

7. Acknowledge that mistakes and failures will happen

Mistakes and failures are part of the learning process. Be prepared for this.  Have courage and show some of your own vulnerability. Share some of the failures that you experienced in similar situations and what you learnt from them. Help them to analyse problems and determine how to prevent similar occurrences in the future.

Rather than immediately blaming individuals, look first for weaknesses in your efforts to offer them increased autonomy. Did you give someone more authority or responsibility than he or she was ready to handle? Was sufficient training provided? Were goals and expectations clearly stated?

8. Coach, step back but be present

Looking over their shoulders and continually checking up on your staff will wipe out their self-confidence and desire to take the initiative. Coach your employee to do the job – both technical and soft skills.  Provide the support, guidance and encouragement to help the employee achieve results.

It will take time and patience but the rewards are well worth it.  You don’t have to be hands-on for the right outcomes to occur, but neither are you uninvolved and unaware of what’s occurring.

9. Acknowledge

Give continued encouragement, support and reinforcement and acknowledge small successes and accomplishments.

Take the opportunity to cultivate a coaching approach and watch your staff grow in their competence and confidence and develop a sense of meaning and purpose in their work. You will be amazed  how much more effective they will become.

Are you someone who use to micro manage? What has worked for you? 

Did you have a boss or manager who micro managed? How did that make you feel and how did you deal with it?


Vera in 2012I am a professional coach (MA in Coaching & Mentoring) working with women and leaders to build their confidence and know how, to progress, make successful changes, leverage their influence, impact, presence and communication. I am a part-time lecturer in leadership and work within organisations to develop high performing teams, mentoring schemes and facilitate skills training in leadership and management development.

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Whose on Board?

BoardroomIt is 8.20 am and I have taken up position in the corner of the boardroom waiting for the meeting to start.

I am here to observe the board meeting of a not for profit organisation as part of helping the board with its development and performance.

My initial observations include:

  • Of the 11 people around the table, only 2 are women with one of those being the chief executive
  • The age range is 50 – 70 with the exception of the chief exec who is in her late 30’s
  • They are all Caucasian
  • One board member is absent due to ‘work commitments’  
  • The majority have served more than 1 term of office

During the meeting I noted that:

  • The chair and one other board member dominated the meeting
  • The chief executive seemed unsure in her delivery, wavered when questions were asked (some were antagonistic), seemed intimidated and was unable to stand her ground  
  • There was little challenge and debate in the meeting
  • Not everyone’s opinions and perspectives were sought when making crucial decisions

Board performance is critical to the success of any organisation and board level appraisals are now increasingly more used. The UK Corporate Governance Code (2010), states that “the board should undertake a formal and rigorous annual evaluation of its own performance and that of its committees and individual directors.”

Women around the worldIn this blog, I am going to pick up on my first impressions and the composition of the board.

In evaluating its performance, a board needs to assess whether it has the right people with the right skills at the table.              Some aspects to consider when doing this include:   

- A balance between continuity and renewal is required with the right combination of skills and expertise. This combination of skills and expertise will evolve as a result of the ever changing external environment and the challenges and opportunities that it presents. Having the right people with the right knowledge and up to date skills at the table is crucial.

- The world we live in and in which organisations operate are diverse and board composition should reflect that. I know of several boards whose members are all Caucasian yet the people that they serve are from a multitude of ethnic backgrounds

- A diverse board leads to a healthy mix of background and perspectives. This not only helps to reduce group think but can also result in a number of benefits as highlighted in the Tyson Report

- Women play an important part in introducing this diversity of perspective into the boardroom as highlighted in The Davies Review, Women on Boards. Here a number of barriers were emphasised which resulted in McKinsey’s Women Matter 2010, calling for organisations to cast a wider net when sourcing talent and looking beyond the traditional routes such as public listed and commercial sectors.

- I can think of several boards who have recruited chief executives who have retired and have gone on to build a career by developing a portfolio of non executive positions. They are usually time constraint (like the board member who couldn’t make it to the meeting), don’t usually get involve beyond attending meetings and rarely make any significant contribution. 

Composition is critical in supporting a board’s ability to carry out its duties and responsibilities effectively. Undertaking a Board evaluation provides an opportunity to review the balance of skills, experience and diversity.

Have you got the right people on board?

Love to hear your perspective. What is the composition of your board?

How diverse is your board? If you are a female non executive, what was your route to becoming a board member?

Images by Surachi and Naypong at

Vera in 2012I am a professional coach (MA in Coaching & Mentoring) working with women and leaders to build their confidence and know how, to progress, make successful changes, leverage their influence, impact, presence and communication. I am a part-time lecturer in leadership and work within organisations to develop high performing teams, mentoring schemes and facilitate skills training in leadership and management development.

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Merry Christmas

To all of my readers

Merry Christmas from Vera

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Storytelling in leadership development

Edimo team coaching  This week I was facilitating a new leadership development programme with a group of directors.

For the past couple of years, the company has been going through some challenging times due to being acquired by a large global organisation resulting in changes, restructuring and shifts in culture.

There was a feeling of powerlessness and a sense that change could not be affected. The sponsor, new to the organisation, and on the executive board, was brought in on acquisition and passionate about attracting and developing women leaders.

Story telling

To help set the context and inspire the group at the start of the programme, I invited the sponsor to share her own journey and how she has affected change within the organisation.

Learning about leadership within the context in which it will practise is important as it enables participants to see real and immediate value in gaining new behaviours and learning from those who have been through the process.

In helping the sponsor craft her story we focused on:

- Being authentic, speaking from the heart and tapping into emotions through use of language and metaphors  

- Relating the story and experience to the company’s challenges, strategy and context

- Pitching the story at a level which is appropriate so that the participants can visualise themselves in it. Whilst the story teller drew on experiences from her previous organisations and at an earlier stage in her career, she related them to the current organisation

- Grabbing attention and connecting emotionally by talking about struggles, challenges and dealing with them, making tough choices. The energy to progress, to drive forward emerges from the things that makes us suffer, causes us anguish and emotional turmoil   

- Engaging participants in dialogue at the end – what might they have done and felt to include the ‘being’ and ‘doing’ of leadership    

- Reflecting on what they have learnt and this can be turned into action

The whole process took less than 1 hour and was invaluable in getting the programme off to a great start. With a 360 feedback process completed, a 2 day dialogue, developmental plans were created with following up action learning sets.    

People will tell stories within organisations. The trick is to choose which ones they tell by you telling them first. Forget lists, slides and bullet points. Get into the habit of telling compelling stories which arouse emotions and energy. Build shared experiences and realities by engaging with others using the old fashion human way – story telling.

Do you use story telling and in what context?

How are you developing your story telling skills?

Read my other blogs on Storytelling 

2nd image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.Net

Vera in 2012I am a professional coach (MA in Coaching & Mentoring) working with women and leaders to build their confidence and know how to progress, make successful changes, leverage their influence, impact, presence and communication. I am a part-time lecturer in leadership and work within organisations to develop high performing teams, mentoring schemes and facilitate skills training in leadership and management development.

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Empathy in leadership: can it be developed?

Angry womanHeather, the boss storms out of the department, slamming the door behind her. She is grouchy from lack of sleep, being kept awake by her youngest who is ill. ‘Bloody staff’, she muttered to herself, ‘why can’t they do what they are told’ .

Lisa stands, red-faced and humiliated. She has just had a ticking off from her boss. Her report was late. Her mind was elsewhere as she has just split up from her long-term partner. She had requested a couple of days off to sort herself out but Heather  said no as they are too busy.

How many of you are familiar with such stories and perhaps have been in the position of Heather or Lisa?

How different would this scenario be if Heather showed some empathy towards Lisa? A simple conversation around why the report was late might have given her some insight into how Lisa was feeling and how this is affecting her performance.

If Heather was aware of her own emotions and the affect on this her behaviour and on others, a different scenario may have been being played out.     

NetworkerEmpathy is who we are in our connection to each other. If there is little connection there, our relationships, mood, feelings, emotions are not taken into account. Without any connectedness, there is no insight, understanding of each other’s world and perspectives. There is no openness, trust or vulnerability. There is no sense that you know me as a person. As someone who has dreams, ambitions, hopes, concerns, feelings…There is only the sense that I work for ‘you’, the ‘organisation’ and that I am here only to produce results. How many of you have felt like that?

Empathy is a key part of emotional intelligence and is fundamental to effective leadership. It is the ability to manage and share your emotions and to vicariously understand other people’s feelings and perspectives, and to use that insight to guide your behaviour and actions.

How can you become more empathetic ?

1. Be in tune with your emotions

You cannot manage your emotions if you are not aware of them. Until you are able to do this, it will be a challenge to understand the actions of others which are largely driven by emotions. 

Managing your emotions is about accepting that they exist and dealing with them. To do that requires self-awareness. Emotions carry a message about something that is happening now or that has happened in the past and is unresolved. How we think, affects how we feel and this in turns affects our behaviour. Next time you experience an emotion, notice it and ask yourself ‘what is this feeling trying to tell me?’

Learn to recognise triggers and if you feel yourself getting too upset or angry, take a few seconds time out to THINK about whatever is happening and what might have led to that feeling and deal with it

2. Be curious  

curiousCast your mind back to your childhood and how inquisitive you were? Or if you have children, the endless questions that they ask?

Be brave and take that up again. Strike up conversations with people that you hardly ever speak to. Or even better that you don’t know!

Get an insight into their world and their perspectives. You would be amazed at what you can learn from being open to learning about other people’s cultures, background and worldviews.

Curiosity opens the mind to new ideas and to things that would probably escape your everyday attention.

Have you noticed that people who rarely stray from their circles or networks are those who have the least interesting stories to tell and are usually quite boring!

 3. Be in the moment and listen with intent

Listening is different to hearing – it suggests that you are paying attention, are interested and want to understand what is being said. To listen well, put your thoughts aside and focus on what is being said. Most importantly, try not to think about what you are going to say in response. This is what most people tend to do!

Come to the conversation with an empty mind, putting aside your own preconceptions, judgement and assumptions. A good listener will not interrupt and only asks questions for clarification.

Be receptive to the emotions and feelings and pay attention to non verbal signals.

Next time you are in a conversation, notice how much time you spend listening.

4. Build connections

Giving time and attention to others fosters empathy. Get to know your staff by spending time with them – a conversation over a coffee in the canteen, lunch in the nearby café… Get to know them on an emotional level.

Positive emotions are infectious and these in turn affect culture and the climate of the organisation. You are in a prime position to influence the emotional climate by being attune to the people you lead and responding to their concerns and needs in a way that takes into account their feelings and perspectives.

How are you developing your empathy? What tips can you share?

 Images courtesy of

Vera in 2012I am a professional coach (MA in Coaching & Mentoring) working with women and aspiring leaders to build their confidence and know how to progress, make successful changes, leverage their influence, impact, presence and communication. I am a part-time lecturer in leadership and work within organisations to develop high performing teams, mentoring schemes and facilitate skills training in leadership and management development.

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