Walk in her shoes, Coaching walks

A few days ago, this picture of Celine caught my eye. Instead of going to school, 4 year old Celine walks miles every day to collect water.

No school means no education – no opportunity to learn to read, write, have a better future.

It resonated.

Born in a developing country, I know what it is like to be poor, to have limited opportunities.

Education provided a way out for me. It broke the perpetual cycle of poverty and going nowhere. It provided me with so many opportunities, including:

– the ability to think for myself

-to learn and be exposed to new perspectives

– developing my potential to achieve things that I thought were beyond my reach

– and most importantly to build a foundation that continues to improve the quality of my life today.

Knowledge empowers. It gives people like me hope, ambition and a chance to be in a place / position that I could have never imagined possible.

I would like to give Celine and girls like her, an opportunity like I had. From 8-14 May, I will be walking 5 miles each day, to raise funds to help bring safe water closer to home, enabling girls like Celine to go to school.

To help me fund raise, I am combining walking with my skills as a coach and am offering  7 coaching walks during the week of 8-14 May in Leeds and around Wharfedale / Ilkley.

Join me on a coaching walk and help children like Celine to get an education

Together we will go on a journey where you will have the time to think, to talk about the issues and challenges that you are facing; to get clarity on what you need to focus on and the actions that you need to take.

Each day between 8-14 May, I am offering 7 coaching walks at a discounted fee. I suggest a donation of £120 for 1.5 hours coaching walk or £220 for a 3 hourcoaching walk.

Donations to be made directly to Walk in her shoes (you can do this anonymously as well)

Walks will take place at your pace, ability and at a mutually convenient time and are a stand alone coaching journey.

Those who have experienced coaching whilst out on our walks, have found that it:

  •  Calms and slows the mind down helping to streamline thoughts and open up new ways of thinking
  • Helps them to be more creative in finding solutions to problems and issues
  • Lifts the spirits and puts them in a better mood
  • Fires up the senses, making them more aware of what’s happening within the environment and themselves
  • Is easier to talk openly and be yourself
  • Provides bundles of inspiration

To walk with me between 8-14 May, get in touch vera@verawoodhead.co.uk

To help children like Celine get an education, please be generous and make a donation 

Thank you in advance for your help


I’m an executive coach & leadership facilitator working with professionals to develop the skills and behaviours to inspire performance and results, achieve promotion, make successful career changes and succeed at work. With multi sector experience from PwC and Merlin Entertainments to the NHS, I work with organisations to design and facilitate coaching, leadership and people development programmes.

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Am I too old for promotion?

‘Am I too old to go for that promotion?’ asks Mary. At 53 years old or young, she is questioning the possibility of going for a promotion at work.

Mary took a career break to bring up her 3 children. She re entered the workplace 7 years ago when her youngest child started secondary school. With the youngest just having started university and the older 2 children in employed positions, Mary feels that now she has the opportunity to focus on herself and to pursue those aspirations which she had put on hold whilst bringing up her family.

She recognises that this was her choice and one which she does not regret. Over the years, she has blossomed in her 3 days a week role, taking on additional responsibility, getting good performance reviews and being well respected by her colleagues.

A role has come up which she knows that she is capable and competent at undertaking. It will be a significant step up, with more leadership and strategic responsibilities and in a full time capacity.

She is is excited, enthused and motivated as she talks about the new role and the opportunity to progress her career.

Suddenly she pauses and a frown crosses her face. ‘Am I too old to be having these thoughts? Will they want to promote an older person? Am I mad to think about career aspirations at my age?’ she questions

In 2010, the Equality and Human Rights commission in their report, ‘The over 50s, the new work generation’ found that the majority of workers over 50 (62 % of women and 59% of men) wanted to continue working beyond state pension age.

This year, the Institute of Leadership and Management in their report, ‘Untapped talent: Can over 50s bridge the leadership skills gap’, the ILM surveyed  over 1400 UK managers with some interesting findings:

  •  61% of managers say their over 50s workers have low (20%) or very low (41%) potential to progress
  • This is despite the over 50s scoring higher than younger workers for occupation specific knowledge and skills (85%) and understanding of customers (78%)
  • The over 50s rated their own keenness to develop at 94%, higher than the youngest millennial age group surveyed, who trailed in last place with 87%.

Kate Cooper, head of Applied Research & Policy at ILM is quoted as saying :

We are seeing signs of organisational ageism, where highly skilled and talented staff members have less opportunity to progress as they get older. It seems this culture is so embedded that many workers over 50s are accepting they have limited opportunities in their current organisations.”

The report cites the Department for Work and Pensions figures  which predicts that an estimated 13.5 million jobs will be created over the next 10 years, over which time only 7 million young people will enter the labour force. This will leave the UK with a skills gap especially within leadership and management positions.

An earlier ILM report ‘Leadership and Management Talent Pipeline’ found that around 93 percent of UK employers worry that low levels of management skills are preventing them from achieving business goals

Should Mary be worried about her age as a factor which will hinder her promotion?


Will her organisation see this as an opportunity to recognise the benefits of an age diverse workforce and realise the untapped leadership talent of the over 50’s?

In July of this year, People Management ( magazine of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) announced its ‘50 over 50’ list, a celebration of the UK’s best workers over the age of 50.

The list which was nominated by the public ‘represents the very best of what older employees have to offer the modern workplace, and should serve as an inspiration to workers, managers and organisations alike to recognise and value their contribution to the British economy’.

Knowledge, talent, ambition and aspirations do not fizzle out when you reach a certain age.

People want different things from their lives depending on their motivation, aspirations, life phase and choices and pathways taken earlier

When we think of ‘talent’, are we conditioned to think ‘young, rising stars ’? How many employers, talent managers… when they considering  ‘high potentials’ and future leaders’ think of older workers?

Should talent not be nurtured throughout the organisation rather than focusing on age?

If you demonstrate the ability, motivation, aspiration and desire to progress surely age is irrelevant . Is it not more about the individual person?

Outdated stereotypes and ageist attitudes are holding many older women (and men) back.

Ageing starts at birth, not at 40, 50 or 60 years old. 

 What would you say to Mary?

If you were Mary’s employers, would you be worried about promoting her? 

                                                                                  Photo credit: Campus of Excellence

Wishing you greater career success, Vera


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Banish limiting beliefs to progress your career

campus of excellence - martin bauer group

Have you ever been in a situation in which you did not perform as well as you could, leaving your confidence at a low and a reluctance to put yourself in such situations again?

I know that I have and in most cases have plucked up the courage to have another stab at it.  But in a few situations, where the stakes were high, it was much harder because I convinced myself that I will fail again. I refused to put myself in such situations again – in case I failed again!

Sounds familiar?

The downside of this is that it limits new opportunities and possibilities being opened up to you and can have an adverse effect on progressing your career and moving forward.

The beliefs that we form when such events take place are usually not based on any evidence. They are assumptions that we make about ourselves and others from our exposure to the people around us, from what we see, hear, experience, read and think about.

They become embedded in our thinking, opinions and are demonstrated through our behaviours, attitudes, feelings, perceptions and affect our performance.

For example, Sally one of my clients applied for a director’s post, was shortlisted, attended the interview and was unsuccessful. Her presentation did not go as planned. She forgot some key messages, became nervous and lost her confidence and composure.

When another position came up, Sally is reluctant to apply as she believes that she was not good enough the first time round and will be unsuccessful again based on her past experience.

Emotionally, she is reluctant to try again for the fear of being rejected so she plays it safe by convincing herself that she will never get the job anyway.

Holding unto such beliefs and assumptions will stop Sally from moving forward. She may never progress her career for the fear of rejection and not being good enough.

Voicing our thoughts to someone else gives us the opportunity to get their perspective on what they are observing and hearing.

One of the fundamental aspects of coaching is to challenge assumptions and limiting beliefs to reshape patterns of thinking and the emotional connections to those thoughts.

This shift in mindset and emotional framing of reality helps the client to move forward, opens up opportunities and possibilities that would not have existed before.

Working with clients over a period of time, enables new learning, thinking and behaviour to be embedded.

Change your thinking

Albert Ellis, founder of REBT, developed a way to teach people how their beliefs cause their emotional and behavioural responses.

For example, you dwell on the negatives of a ‘bad’ experience of giving a presentation. These negative thoughts are played over and over in your mind until they become embedded beliefs.

Whenever placed in similar situations, the feelings of anxiety and nervousness emerge. It is not giving a presentation that causes those feelings, it is the beliefs that you have associated with them.

2 techniques  to use when faced with beliefs that hold you back

1. The ABCDE technique

– A (describe the activating event) I messed up in the job interview

– B (belief) I am failure, not good enough to be promoted, worthless

– C (consequence) devastated, sad, others will think I’m a failure, am unworthy

– Dispute those beliefs:  How do I know that this assumption or belief is true? What evidence do I have? Is this true of the bigger picture ? Interpret the situation more realistically and rationally. There is no evidence to show that by not getting promoted, Sally is an unworthy person or a failure. Indeed she has had many successes and accomplishments and is highly regarded by her colleagues.

– Effect : Sally realises that her belief is irrational and is keeping her stuck. To get better at interviewing she enlists the help of colleagues and friends and engages in role playing interview scenarios to build her skills and confidence

2. Visualisation: Image yourself coping with the situation that is stressing you out.

  • Think of a future job interview
  • Write down the specific aspects that are worrying you
  • Brainstorm ways to overcome these problems. Discuss with a trusted colleague or friend for additional insights/ support/ ideas
  • Make a list of the top problems and the strategies that you can use to overcome
  • Visualise yourself in the situation and imagine yourself coping with each problem by using the accompanying strategy
  • Picture yourself dealing with the problems as they arise. Keep the imagery, vivid and detailed and check in on how you are feeling
  • Keep practising until it feels that what you are doing and how you are behaving comes naturally

Don’t let limiting beliefs hold you back from progressing your career. Change  the way you think and you will change the way you feel and behave.

Wishing you greater career success 


                                Photo credit: Campus of excellence 

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Develop your team by helping them to be problems solvers

Emma is nettled. I can see it in her body posture and hear it in her voice. She is describing her boss and the impact his approach to managing and leading the team is having.

Emma is a highly skilled professional. Her new boss keeps telling her what to do, gives advice and always has a, ‘when I was in this situation, this is what I did…here’s what you should do..”

 Are you someone who has gotten into the habit of telling your staff what to do …?

Most managers have a high level of expertise and skills that they are used to sharing, mainly using a directive approach. This approach is useful in some situations, such as in a crisis or where an employee does not have depth of skills or knowledge to address the problem  and needs to be told what to do or be given  specific instructions.

In most work situations however, team members are trained professionals who are highly capable of undertaking their roles.

If you only have a directive style in your repertoire, you may have noticed that your team:

  • Is becoming frustrated, disengaged and unfulfilled
  • Shows a lack of initiative and enthusiasm

And you:

  • Are getting fed up that your team does not seem to be able to make a decision by themselves
  • Too much of your time is taking up by staff asking for advice

When team members are continually being told what to do and how to do it, they lose their ability to problem solve, to be curious and to learn.

In effective they become dependent on you for their answers. They are not empowered to think for themselves, are less accountable for their actions (you have told them what to do) and their commitment, ownership and motivation to carry out the task are diminished

What can you do to turn this around?

Shift your mindset – see your staff or team as people who are resourceful and have the ability to solve or find the means to work out what it is they need to do.

Move from the belief that you the expert with the answers to seeing your staff as people who have the solutions within them.

See yourself as a facilitator, a guide, a catalyst… in helping your people become more resourceful.

See the bigger picture – instead of thinking about the little extra time a non directive approach may take, see it as an investment. Think of the cascading power of helping your people to grow, develop and have the ability to solve organisational challenges.

Once this approach is embedded and becomes a habit, your team will in turn start to role model these behaviours and style to their own teams and soon you will have a department, an organisation… which has a learning culture that fosters problem solving and agile thinkers.

 Some ways to start:

  • STOP, don’t rush into giving an answer or providing advice
  • PAUSE, think – has this person the ability and inner resources to solve the problem / find a solution
  • Use questions to help the person develop new perspectives, thinking and insights. And remember to check in with feelings, assumptions, beliefs and motivations
  • Use the process of asking non judgemental, neutral questions that will help to identify outcomes, the way forward, options, challenges, a plan of action…. Help the person to come up with strategies that he/she is committed to putting into action

 Here’s an example of Sally whose boss is telling her what to do

Manager: “There are a couple of ways you can handle this. I would suggest that you do this …..” and goes on to tell Sally what she should do. Finishing with, “ let me know how you get on”.

Instead the manager could engage in dialogue, a coaching conversation, which may go something like this:  

Manager: What are the different ways you can approach this?

Sally: Well, I suppose I could do A, B or C

Manager: What criteria would you use to judge those different approaches?

Sally: I would consider cost, time, resources…

Manager: Which option seem the best against these criteria?

Sally: I would go for A because of…

Manager: What is the first step that you will take to get this moving?

Sally: To get your OK in going ahead with it!

Manager: Assuming that you have the go ahead, what will be your next steps?

Sally : I will speak with Y about timings, arrange a budget approval with Z, meet with X to get more information/ data…

Manager: Looking ahead, what potential challenges might you encounter along the way?

Sally: The timing might not be right and I will have to delay it, Z might say there is not enough money to fund it…

Manager:  You have listed 3 possible challenges ( paraphrase Sally’s own words to state what they are)  how might you tackle them if they arise?  

Sally: well, if Y says the timing is not right, I will…

Manager: What milestones do you envision for making this a success?

Sally: I hope to have a meeting set up with Y by the end of next week, get the information that I need by…..

And so the dialogue continues….

In this non directive approach the manager has facilitated a learning process by using questions to guide the conversation to explore outcomes, options, responsibilities, action steps…

Coaching conversations are about fostering learning, about helping others to be resourceful, to take ownership of the situation and be committed to finding a way forward and being motivated to take action.

It is a process, in which you as a manager can do informally or formally in 5 minutes or 55 minutes. The trick is get into the habit of listening, engaging in dialogue and asking questions to help your team find solutions to personal, team and organisational challenges and in so doing learn, grow and develop.

Wishing you better leadership and conversations with your team


Image: Flickr user Peter Hayes


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Why be a Hero when you can be a Leader?

superhero-534120_1280Katy flops down in the chair. Her shoulders are sagging, she looks drawn and weary. When asked how she was feeling, her response was, “I am worn out, pooped, dog tired’.

‘What’s causing this?’ I enquired. ‘I seem to spend all my time fixing other people’s problems, and then having to catch up on my own work,’ says Katy’. When asked whose problems she was fixing, she replied, ‘Joe in finance, Mandy in accounts, Trevor the sales rep…”

Are you a ‘Katy’? Is there a Katy in your team, department, organisation? The leader who acts the hero, who saves the day?  The leader who is the fixer, who solves other people’s problems?


  • Because Katy believes that it her role as a leader to fix things, to make things right
  • Because complex, uncertain matters need to controlled and managed by those in seniority
  • Because Katy is in charge, the buck stops here and she feels that she is ultimately responsible
  • Because people need to be told what to do and may mess up and get it wrong

Why not?

Can our complex problems be solved by one person when everything today is interconnected, interrelated and interwoven into other departments, supply chains, organisations, sectors….?

By Katy continually solving his staff’s problems, she is creating dependency. Wonder what happens when Katy is not there?

The time Katy has spent solving other people’s problems could be better invested in more strategic matters and doing her job

Our working environment is constantly shifting as technology, big data, digitalisation of production , changing economic perspectives and shifts in economic power, globalisation, demographics…. influence organisational structures and cultures

For organisations to survive and thrive in this environment, its people need to be agile thinkers so that they can be responsive, flexible, adaptable and not have to wait for a Katy to come to their rescue

Time to let go, unshackle your staff and unleash their potential. Perhaps you can:

Listen well, ask questions to further their thinking and help them solve their own problems. It will take time but once they have developed the ability to do this, imagine what other problems they could solve

Rely less on your position as a leader and more on your ability to influence and engage with your staff. Have less monologue and telling people what to do and more coaching conversations and relationship building to engender trust, loyalty and commitment

Create the time and opportunities which  allow people to come together (virtual or physical) to contribute, share ideas, be a part of something

Allow them to risk take and experiment. Give them the tools, resources and authority to act whilst holding them accountable for their performance

Be the leader who enables others to shine

 The leader who uses her superpowers to nurture future leaders and not followers

 Wishing you better leadership and conversations with your team

Image Pixabay


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Effective leaders coach. 5 guaranteed ways to better conversations


Tony wants to have better conversation with his staff. He is keen to enable his team to experience the benefits of coaching conversations as he did through our coaching sessions.  ‘How will I know that I am engaging in coaching conversations?’ he asks.

Coaching conversations differ from normal conversations. The purpose of a coaching conversation is to stimulate thinking, growth and change which leads to action or a different outcome.

This type of conversation focuses wholly on the other person. It’s not about you, when you experienced something similar; how you solved a related problem…this is about the other person.

Coaching conversations can vary from a 5 minute informal conversation by the water cooler to a 90 minute formal coaching development session. A coaching conversation could be with your direct report, the receptionist, your partner or child…

Engaging in coaching conversations takes some skill and practice. Once mastered, it becomes an approach which will transform the conversations and relationships that you have with others.

Practice these 5 aspects of hosting good coaching conversations and you and those around you will soon notice the difference:

1. You hold the space for the other person

This is a space that you have created that is safe. That enables the other person to open up, to share feelings and emotions. This is the space where you are not judging, where you put aside your assumptions and preconceptions. This is the space where you show compassion, unconditional support and let go of control.

You are not here to fix problems, give advice, belittle, criticise…You have left your expertise and ego outside of the space. Your role is offer guidance with humility, to harness inner resources and strengths, to create the space for growth and learning.

You will find that holding the space will differ depending on the individual and context. Some will easier, some more challenging and demanding, some will have you question your own assumptions and judgement. The great thing is that in engaging in this process, you are also learning and increasing your self awareness.

2. You have built rapport and trust

You are curious and genuinely interested in the other person. Your language, tone, voice, body posture… all signal that you present and interacting fully with the other person.

You are paying attention, maintaining eye contact and focusing on what is being said and how. You allow the other person to speak without interrupting even though you are dying to share what you did in a similar situation, how you felt and what you think the other person should do…

You are checking in to see how you are both interacting. 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.

3. You are doing more listening and less talking

You value what is being said and want to engage in dialogue and inquiry and not be the one who is doing the talking. You are mindful, paying attention and focused on what is being said. You are listening with your ears, heart and eyes – for meaning, patterns, feelings and emotions and are attuned to verbal and non verbal clues such as gestures, posture and facial expressions

4. You are asking questions and reflecting back 

You are listening well enough to paraphrase and summarise what has been said. You are asking open ended questions to stimulate and clarify thinking, bring new perspectives, explore assumptions and re-frame limiting beliefs.

You are in essence, holding up a mirror to reflect the other person’s thinking, actions, behaviours in a non judgemental, objective and supportive way.

Your questions are not interrogative even though you challenge assumptions and generalisations that the other person hold.

5. You are facilitating learning and development 

A coaching style conversation provides challenge through feedback and reflecting on what you see and hear. When you give feedback, your comments are focused on helping the other person move forwards.

Ask permission to give feedback. When it is invited it keeps the other person in control of the process. Encourage self assessment from the outset and be specific and direct. Think about the language you use and how you use it and be honest yet supportive in your approach.

Through the process, you have enabled the other person to find his own answers and solutions. He has taken responsibility for his actions and outcomes. You have helped him to become better at problem solving, decision making and take accountability for results.

Use coaching conversations to get better results, improve performance and a culture that fosters growth and development

As a leader, you are in a prime position to role model a coaching approach to leadership, shifting from ‘command and control’ to motivating, inspiring and supporting your people to utilise their strengths, find their own solutions to organisational challenges  and take responsibility for their own development and aspirations

Start using these 5 ways to have better conversations with your team

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Moments in East Africa (3) Selous

…continuing from Katavi to Sand Rivers, Selous

Again we were the only ones on the Cessna, and my youngest took the opportunity to sit by the pilot to ask aviation questions (he wants to be a commercial pilot)

Selous is Africa’s largest game reserve which is  protected by UNESCO. The majority of the area, south of the Rufiji River is set aside for hunting and only 8% in the north is dedicated to photographic tourism.

At Selous we were met by our guide Hamadi. The landscape here again is very different. Lots of trees, woodland and rocky outcrops giving way to wide grassy valleys

Sand Rivers is a relaxed camp which overlooks the river. Similar to Mwagusi Camp, the rooms are spacious with en-suite bathrooms. Our ‘room’ overlooked the river where the hippos are very vocal – day and night!. They reminded me of Santas’ and their  guttural ‘ho ho ho’ sounds!


The following morning we opted for a trip on the river. Along with the masses of hippos in the river, birdlife is abundant. We were rewarded by being able to observe both bird and animal life. Monitor lizards, blue monkeys, hydrax and the striking  black and white colobus monkey with its long beautiful fur.

There were several Goliath herons and we stopped to watch one as it caught a fish, then went on to ‘rinse’ it in the water only for a fish eagle to swoop down and steal it!


There were lots of giant kingfishers  with their large crests and spotted white on black upper parts.

Inside the overhang of a rock, Hamadi spotted a leopard. Even with binoculars I could only just make it out!  We stopped to admire it and after some time it left the overhang and went into the bushes. Before it disappeared it turned around. A vision etched in my memory.


The leopard was within the hunting reserve and therefore most likely to hunted and shot. A sombre and most unwelcome thought.

Finding a sandy area we stopped for breakfast and tried to do some fishing. Mr. W caught a tiger fish and I caught a rock!

Later that evening we managed to watch a family of lions cubs playing a raised wooden platform set amongst some bushes. Two of the cubs jumped off into the undergrowth with the third not feeling so brave. He came down the steps. Priceless!

Walking safari

The early morning walk was educational and most enjoyable, learning about the different plants, trees, what they were used for, symbiotic relationships between plants and insects, between animals, exploring the skeletons of elephants that were scattered amongst the landscape…

As with all our guides, we were impressed with their animal and flora knowledge and expertise

Tanzania skull 2

On our last day we headed to the hot springs. The springs were natural  and untouched. There were 3 of them, the first at the top, being the hottest and the one at the bottom was like having a bath!

On route, Hamadi said there was a surprise ahead. A pair of lions were asleep next to the road.

Tanzania lions on road 2

Around the corner was a lioness whose eyes seem rather soulful.


On our last evening we went by the river for our final sundowner. Sundowners are a common feature to end the day. As well as the drinks we were able to taste a number of different local snacks – smoked coconut shards, cashew nuts…

The sunsets were stunning. Add a gin and tonic and its unforgettable.


Our time in East Africa was truly fantastic. We felt very fortunate, blessed, privileged…to have the opportunity to spend some time in this wilderness and to learn about the animals who live here.

In all we took over a 1000 pictures and then went on to purchase a better camera in Dubai, on route home.

Here are a small sample of some of the other wildlife seen

Tanzania Birds

Tanzania animals collage

A huge thank you to our guides Geofrey at Mwagusi Camp, Ruaha, Mollet at  Nomad Chada Katavi and Hamadi at Sand River, Selous  for sharing their wisdom and to Milly at Nomad Tanzania for a most unforgettable experience.

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Moments in East Africa 2: Katavi

From Ruaha, we set off at 7 am for the flight to Katavi. We were the only passengers on the 12 seater Cessna. After 1 hour 20 minutes, we landed on the airstrip where we were  met by Mollet, our guide and Samy, the camp manager.

On route to camp we stopped by the river, under a tamarind tree where monkeys were busy scampering about, to watch a herd of elephants come to drink and cross the river.


This is what I imagine Africa to be – isolated, wild, remote with its vast open plains covered in tall blond grass and fringed by woodland. I was surprised to see so many different types of trees and acacias in a variety of stages of maturity.


Chada Katavi is a small camp and for that day we were the only ones there- utter bliss! The communal areas reminded me of what colonial Africa must have looked liked.


Our tent was beneath a tamarind tree on the edge of the Chada Plain. It came complete with ensuite bathroom with eco flush toilet and a 20 litre bucket suspended from above to have a have a hot shower. The views and the animals around were amazing.


After a delicious lunch and some fascinating stories from Samy (he is a Masai warrior) we headed off to explore with Mollet, our guide.

Vultures, tracks in the sand, impala and monkeys on alert are signs that predators are around or have killed something. We parked up and watched a leopard with a dead impala up in the tree. Wow, words cannot explain what I was witnessing. After a while it came down the tree and disappeared in the undergrowth. Priceless.


A little bit later, we found a magnificent male lion tucking into a buffalo. His brother had strolled ahead for a drink. The tree above  was crammed with vultures waiting to feast.

Tanzania lion with buffalo

We watched as he moved the carcass into the shade and into the bush. For most of our stay at Katavi, we very rarely saw any other humans or vehicles. Dreams do come through.

After a hot shower, dinner beckoned. Firstly, drinks were served around a roaring fire. As in Ruaha, between the sunset and sunrise, the temperature drops to about 12 degrees! Dinner was a sumptuous 3 course meal washed down with a glass of wine.

The following morning tea was served at 6.30 am. It came in a box to prevent the monkeys from getting into it and the eating the home made biscuits.


Watching the sun rise spreading its apricot glow was spectacular.


Later that day we observed what we had all secretly hoped to see – a leopard lolling in a tree! Like you see in those magazines.

How elegant, sleek and effortlessly balanced on the branch of the tree.

At this point, wished we had a better camera to capture this elusive animal. It was a female who had an injured shoulder. You could see some blood on her right upper front shoulder.

T41 - Copy

Most impressive in Katavi were the large animal herds roaming freely. There were herds of elephants, buffalo, zebras, hippos, journeys of giraffes….it was truly breathtaking and a joy to be able to sit and observe these huge animals with no one else in sight. A privilege.


Walking safari

The next morning, we set off with a ranger, our guide and Julien another guest for a walk.

Like our previous walk in Ruaha, it was informative, educational and we learnt much about animal behaviour. We walked alongside a herd of about 500 buffalo, observing how they communicated to the slower ones to get a move on and how the stronger males guarded the herd.

Shortly afterwards, we came across an injured young buffalo, about 4 months old. He was lying on the ground and as we approached tried to charge at the guide who warded him off. Sadly, being away from the herd and injured, renders his survival rate very low.


Fly camping

We left at 4.30 pm and headed off to the  Katisunga plain where we will be fly camping. On route we spotted many birds including the blue eared starling, marsh harrier, Verreaux’s eagle-owl , tawny eagle…

By the time we arrived at camp it was all set up. There was a shower, toilet, bowls of hot water to wash our hands, a roaring fire and the table set for dinner!


It was an unforgettable night, having a splendid dinner under the stars with Jupiter, Venus and the  Southern Cross clearly visible above.

There was a small owl in the tree above, a hyena roaming past the camp and the lions roaring in the distance. After a good night’s sleep, we woke to the sun rising and was fortunate to see a roan antelope before tucking into a hearty cooked breakfast.


On the way  back to camp, we observed a dazzle of zebras, one of whom was injured, topi, water buck, monitor lizard, a tawny eagle chasing a hawk eagle, herds of elephants, masses of crocodiles and hippos in the river…

Later that evening we embarked on a night ride. I am amazed how Mollet nagivates in the dark as the landscape takes on a different perspective. It was eventful night as we were able to spot many animals. I should correct that. The ranger who accompanied us was able to spot a range of animals including a bush baby, civet, genet, hippos feeding…

On our last day and on route to the airstrip, we came across this herd of buffalo crossing the road with the occasional one stopping to stare at us once it got to the other side.


I was rather sad to leave Katavi, as it epitomises what I had imagined Africa to be. In addition to the magnificent animals and landscape, the staff made the experience truly unforgettable. We felt very welcomed, cared for, were waved off on our drives, greeted and welcomed back with cool towels.

The service at our camp was impeccable with great attention to detail – even the plates were warmed! The food was delicious, sumptuous…heavenly (Milly, get that chef to write his recipes and turn it into a cook book!)


I hope that in 20 years time, when my children visit Katavi with their children, it will remain the same.

Next camp, Sand Rivers, Selous

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Moments in East Africa 1: Ruaha

For the past few weeks, I have been taking some time out to re-energise, reconnect, re-new, build shared memories with my family… with no emails, internet, social media, telephone…

I have shared some highlights in the next 3 posts which I hope you will find interesting and which will serve as a reminder for when I am old (er)… 

Our trip was to East Africa (Tanzania)  to see the big animals:

  • roaming freely in their natural environment
  • do the above with no other or very few tourists about
  • to visit several parts of the country to get a feel for the place
  • to go with a responsible and expert tour operator

Following intensive research we found Nomad Tanzania which ticked all the boxes. After many email exchanges with Milly from Nomad Tanzania we eventually managed to devise an itinerary to fit the dates that we were available. This was in April, which I gather was rather late for planning such a trip!

On July 11, we left Yorkshire and headed for Heathrow Airport to catch our flight to Dubai and then unto Dar Es Salaam, the largest city in Tanzania.

On arrival we were met by Samuel who took us to our hotel, Sea Cliff which overlooks the Indian Ocean.

Sitting outside for dinner, listening to the live band whilst sipping a mojito signified the start of the holiday. My chilli prawn linguine was much hotter than expected and hence the need for a few more drinks!


The following day we were up at 6 am to catch our  flight to Ruaha National Park. The Cessna landed on a strip and on disembarking, it felt like we had entered another world. There were impala, zebras and giraffes roaming nearby. We were greeted by Geofrey our guide and Vicent our driver and embarked on a leisurely drive to camp.


Along the way, my eyes feasted on a number of animals including a family of gazelles, a giraffe feeding its young, a black back jackal and a herd of elephants.

Birdlife is abundant with flashes of vivid colours darting about in the trees and skyline. I was struck by the elaborate nests hanging down from the tress which reminded me of decorations on a Christmas tree! These belong to the white headed buffalo weaver.


Another conspicuous bird was the lilac breasted roller with its green, violet and blue colours.

Tanzania roller

We came across 4 lions and another 2 around the corner asleep. They were so well camouflaged it took me a while to see them! One of the males got up and mated with the lioness – didn’t expect that!


We meandered our way down to the river where Geofrey, our guide had heard that some lions had taken down a buffalo. We arrived to find a pride of lions feeding on their kill and watched as one of them wandered down to river to drink and then flop down under the shade to rest.


On  the way there were lots of hornbills to be seen, banded mongoose, greater kudu and yellow baboons.

Iconic and magnificent baobab trees were abundant in the Park. These trees can live for several thousand years  and store up to 120000 litres of water in its large trunk! Deep gouge marks could be seen in many of the leafless trees where elephants have eaten the bark.


We were greeted by Yvonne, at Mwagusi Camp and went to join the other guests for lunch in the dining area which overlooked the river bed.

After lunch, it was time for a rest.  Our ‘banda’ (temporary shelter) was a  large spacious tent sheltered by a thatch roof and set on a polished red floor. It came complete with ensuite facilities including hot water and same day laundry service!

Each banda had a hammock, a large verandah with seats providing plenty of opportunities to watch the passing wildlife!


After tea and cakes at 4 pm we set off for an late afternoon drive, stopping along the way to discuss what we were observing, using the binoculars to get a better view and checking in with the reference books.

Geofrey’s knowledge of the animals, their behaviour and in spotting them was remarkable. Some of the creatures that we observed included white back vulture, scaly babbler singing, a family of guinea fowl, a brown snake eagle perched atop a tree, a  Bateleur eagle with its bright red face, herd of elephants, giraffes, lions….

By the time we arrived back at camp, it was dusk. Mwagusi Camp rules are that between the hours of 6.30 pm and 6.30 am, you are escorted to and from your banda with a member of staff.

We meandered down for drinks at 7.30 sharing stories with the guests around a camp fire.  Dinner was a 3 course affair and under the night sky. Magical

Day 2

We were awaken at 6 am the following morning with a tray of tea and set off for an early drive at 6.30. A pride of lions had killed a mother giraffe and its baby earlier.

By the time we got there, there were  a number of  white backed vultures gathered in the trees with some hyenas waiting patiently nearby. Most of the lions were resting with a few still feeding. Nearby there was a marabou stork and up ahead a flock of ostriches with their powerful legs striding in the blond grass.


After stopping for a picnic breakfast we headed into a more wooded area where we spotted some duikers, a group of lesser kudu, dik diks, klipspringers (antelopes), tawny eagle and a yellow collared lovebird with its bright red beak and white eye rings and belonging to the parrot family.

Day 3

Early start as we drove near to the airstrip to join the 2 park rangers who will be accompanying us on our walk along the Ruaha River. As rich in wildlife so was the knowledge of the ranger.  We learnt how to identify the prints in the sand, direction of travel, what to do when you approach animals, their behaviours….

The river was teaming with a variety of different birds…Buffalo waever, African harrier hawk, yellow bearded stork, open bill stork, saddle bill stork, three- banded plover, swallows, African fish eagle, ox peckers, purple roller,  grey heron, egret, Egyptian geese, Hadeda ibis, bushveld pipit…

There were also crocodiles and hippos. It was like a painted water colour scene …only better.


Most fascinating was the Hammer Kop. The shape of its head, long bill and crest at the back reminiscent of a hammer. These birds build huge nests with sticks held together by mud, complete with walls and a domed roof. Extraordinary

Tanzania nest

Sightings of lions were plentiful. We stopped to watch them drink and then come back up passing next to where we were – I could have put out my hand and touched them!


The river provided plenty of sighting of animals. Along many parts, it was dried up with only a small amount of water remaining. The elephants do not drink the stagnant water. They dig holes and use their trunks to syphon up clean water from under the sand. Clever.


Nearby there were  7 cubs playing whilst the 3 lionesses snoozed in the shade. Needless to say we spent a long time soaking up their cuteness!


Next camp, Kavati

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Get the most out of your team: Start building trust

skydiving-658404_1920Last week I was working with a leader who was poor at communicating with his team in a timely fashion, often micromanaging and engaging in excessive oversight. Things came to a head when one of his team members blurted out in a heated exchange that he was “controlling, made promises that were not fulfilled, didn’t share information in a timely way…”

Exploring these issues and holding a mirror up to the client helped to raise his self awareness and role in contributing to the problem. This can be quite hard hitting when you are the one receiving such feedback.

One of the ways of dealing with communication issues within a team is to get everyone in the room at the same time to surface and explore the issues from differing perspectives. Silence, tension, conflict, emotions…may arise when such issues are fleshed out in the open.

Fostering a safe space where each person can be heard, has a voice and can speak openly and honestly is essential when facilitating this type of exploration and dialogue.

Listening to other people’s perspectives creates greater insight and understanding which in turn enables better relationships. The result of engaging in such ‘difficult’ conversations can help with accountability, ownership and responsibility for behaviours and actions.

Being open and honest with each other is dependent on trust. Trust plays an important role in organisational performance and has been shown to have positive commercial benefits when it has been built, developed and maintained (Searle and Skinner 2011)

Returns to shareholders were significantly higher at organisations with high levels of trust, where there are clear linkages between jobs and objectives and employees who believe that the company manages change well (Watson and Wyatt 2002)

Trust is the willingness of individuals to expose themselves or become vulnerable to others (Butler 1999). It expressed by Rousseau et al. (1998, p.395) as “a psychological state comprising the intention to accept vulnerability based upon positive expectations of the intentions or behavior of another.”

Trust is difficult to describe but you know immediately when it is not present. It holds people together, is earned and tends to grow at a slow pace. Research indicates that this is unlikely to be achieved at work in less than 5 years.

The 5 drivers of trust as found by ILM research are openness, effective communication, the ability to make decisions, integrity and competence. Trust is dynamic and leads to behavioural expectations.

Some ways to engender trust:

Demonstrate integrity, keep your word and deliver your promises. If you fail to do these, others will lose their trust in you. If others have little trust in you, they are less likely to respect you, believe what you say or be influenced by you. Leaders achieve results through others. If you cannot influence your people, you are less likely to get the results that you seek

Build relationships and rapport with your staff and get to know them beyond the role that they do. Swap a lunch / coffee break with your peers, for one with your staff / direct reports on a regular basis. In large organisations where this is a challenge, communicate with your staff through regular updates, newsletters, video conferencing… Maintain open and honest lines of communications, sharing information and knowledge

Show your human side. To enable others to trust us, we may need to show some vulnerability. In my experience, this can be a challenge for some. Many who lead or are in a position of authority are reluctant to display any signs of vulnerability for the fear of being perceived as weak or not in control.

It takes courage to leave the ego behind and let people see something of the real you. This does not mean baring all but showing that you are human. I recall a team coaching session where one of the members shared how he felt when he was promoted to his current position. Another member of the team who had described him as being “hardnosed, superior and perfect,” saw a glimpse of “uncertainty and frailties”. Her perspective of him shifted and a connection was formed because she had experienced similar feelings and this resulted in a change in their relationship.

Be accountable  when you are in the wrong, make a mistake…own up, take responsibility. People are more likely to respect and trust you for being open and honest. And following your example, they are more likely to do the same

Model the behaviour you seek  As a leader, you set the culture of your organisation through your actions. This could be anything from your how you speak with your staff, how you share and communicate information and how you make people feel. Do they feel appreciated, valued, listened to? If you value your staff, how do you demonstrate this? If you say team work is important, how have you ensured teams and functions collaborate? Are you walking the talk? Do you know how others experience you? Feedback and self awareness is essential

Tell stories Trust in leaders is critical in times of uncertainty and change which in today’s environment is a common occurrence. Staff are less likely to respond to change if they do not trust their leaders.

I often tap into the power of storytelling when working with clients enabling them to use stories to connect and build trust .

Storytelling can be used effectively to emotionally connect with others. Rationality, objectivity, facts and data may be useful in connecting with the mind but they do little for engaging with the heart.

Crafting stories, weaving in examples and personal perspectives, being honest about the uncertainties and difficulties that lie ahead, showing empathy and authenticity in your delivery can help to engage hearts and emotions. When people connect with you on an emotional level, a bond is formed. An authentic connection  takes the relationship to a deeper level and engenders trust

How do you build trust in your organisation? Love to hear the strategies that have worked for you

Image Pixabay

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