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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How to have those difficult conversations you avoid


It’s weighing on your mind, disrupting your thoughts, pulling you down. You know that you got to have that conversation. But you don’t want to.

You are not sure how the other person will react and even more importantly how you will react. You are hoping that someone else might address it, that it might go away, get better…but deep down you know that you are going to have to find the courage to have that conversation.

Having the courage to have difficult conversations was the topic of my talk at the Putting People First conference last week. Everyone in the room could recount having a conversation that was ‘difficult’.

Our workplaces and world revolves around conversations. They are at heart of what we do and play a crucial role in organisational effectiveness. Yet, having some conversations can be difficult for a number of reasons:

  • An emotional or sensitive subject
  • Role / status – for example someone senior to you
  • Personality trait – aggressive, domineering, nervous, timid
  • Perceived response / reaction of the other person
  • Opinions, perceptions differ
  • Feels uncomfortable / threatened
  • Not wanting to hurt or upset the other person
  • Resulting consequences such as loss of trust

A CIPD survey found that 4 in 10 UK employees (38%) report some form of interpersonal conflict at work with  the single most common cause being differences in personality or styles of working

Addressing poor performance, unprofessional behaviour, challenging senior staff, personal hygiene, absence and lateness, target setting, redundancy… are topics that are sensitive and emotional and classed as difficult.

The impact of delaying or not having a difficult conversation can result in the issue continuing or escalating resulting in poor performance, decreased capacity to perform, loss of work satisfaction, negative emotions, missed targets, stress and a culture where people are afraid to speak up and hold each other to account.

The best way to have such conversations is to have them as soon as possible and tackle them before they fester within you.

I can recall one of my clients, Sally, voicing how an incident, a year ago, between herself and one of her colleagues, Mike,  had impacted on her, her confidence and her relationship with him. Due to promotion, she was now working much closer with Mike and that past incident continues to haunt and affect her.

Sally made the decision to have an open and honest conversation with Mike. She commented, “I found it a difficult thing to do, had many sleepless nights, but felt relief afterwards. I think that if I hadn’t spoken out, there would have been limitations to our working relationship, trust, confidence and this would have impacted my performance.

Some tips for having those conversations you don’t want to have:

 – Use the direct approach, be upfront ,authentic and respectful“Pete, I would like to have a chat with about what happened at the meeting this morning when….Let’s discuss this afternoon at X time

– Open the conversation gently: “I was surprised about what I witnessed earlier. Your behaviour and attitude is out character and unexpected”

– Be clear, direct and focus on the behaviour that you would like to address and not the person. “You were rude and disrespectful to Sue and missed some important figures in your presentation”

– Invite the other person to share his perspectives: ” I would like to hear your take on this and on what happened…”

– Listen with an open and inquiring mind and try to put your assumptions, judgement aside. Acknowledge what you have heard and understood through your body language, posture, eye contact.

– Seek  his assessment of the impact of their behaviour or actions

– Openly address tactics such as silence, evasiveness… label the behaviour that you are observing and feed it back, “I don’t know how to interpret your silence.”

– Acknowledge feelings. Manage your emotions, posture, body language, tone of voice and stay in adult mode – objective, reasoned, non threatening, use of “I”..

– Check for mutual understanding by asking questions, reflecting, summarising and paraphrasing what you have heard.Slow the pace of the conversation down, taking time to listen and make use of silence.

– Invite the other person to work with you to make things better. Find common ground between your point of view and your counterpart’s. Use insightful questions to help the person come up with solutions. Find ways to be constructive by suggesting other solutions or alternatives

– End with an action / output that you both agree to

– Reflect and learn 

Engage a trusted friend / colleague as a sounding board before hand if this helps. Avoid putting off uncomfortable conversations by having the courage to address them as soon as they arise.

How have you tackled difficult conversations? What tips/ strategies can you share?

Photo courtesy of Skarstedt Gallery

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Using the silence in your leadership conversations


“I nodded, smiled encouraging and said nothing. It felt like ages and I was conscious of the quietness and then she spoke and came up with a way of moving forward …” These are the words of Tom as he feeds back on his coaching ‘homework’ which was to practice his listening skills.

Tom is an effervescent character who thinks aloud and loves to talk. Development areas from his 360 included listening with intent and giving others a voice and opportunity to speak. In between the coaching sessions, Tom had set about to improve his listening skills, do less talking and use more of a coaching approach in his conversations.

Silence is powerful

There is no need to fill it when there is a gap in the conversation. Silence has an energy all of its own. It helps to cut out the noise, slow down the mind and enables us to be present and connected with the flow of energy around us.

Leaders who take time to create moments of silence can exude a feeling of calm and confidence to those around them.

Making use of silence in conversations

1. Taking time to listen demonstrates that the voice, perspectives, ideas of the other person matter. It signals that you value what is being said resulting in better rapport, trust and hence relationships

2. When you are listening with intent, you are being present, attentive and conveying that at this point in time, the other person is the only one who matters. This is a very powerful message. It conveys empathy, respect, empowerment and enables the other person to feel safe in expressing herself

3. A standard conservative question is likely to receive a quick response. Ask an incisive or probing question (you can only do this if you have listened well) and the other person will have to think, search for answers with a resulting slower response

4. Holding that space signals that the person has the time to think and you have the time to give. Demonstrate that you are ‘there’ with the other person by your supportive body language, being comfortable with the silence, making eye contact, adopting a relaxed body posture

5. Resist from taking the power away from the other person by breaking the silence. She is processing information, making connections, finding new patterns…All this helps to generate new insight, awareness, ideas and for new options and opportunities to surface. From silence emerges moments of self discovering, that shift of thinking and those ‘aha’ moments

6. Silence helps you to be more in tune with your body, feelings and emotions…when the silence is broken, ask the other person what feelings they were experiencing and check in on your own

7. If for whatever rare reason you need to break the silence – you could acknowledge it …“I am sensing that something important is happening within you” or ask a question, “what is emerging from this for you?”

Effective leaders are excellent listeners. Take your listening and communication skills one step further by making use of pauses and silences. Hold the space and let the other person access her inner guidance and watch her grow in her resourcefulness and problem solving abilities. Imagine the outcomes and benefits if you were to adopt this approach with all your staff? 

Working in a group or leading a meeting? Request a minute of silence before you begin to encourage everyone to be present and mindful

Want to know more? Good resources include Susan’s Scott’s  Fierce Conversations and Live One Conversation and Nancy Kline’s Time to Think and More time to think

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A tale of 3 leaders



Once upon a time there lived William, the owner of a company called, Allsorts. He had 3 children and bestowed an equal share of the company to each. His wish was that they use their share for the benefit of Allsorts and the people that work there. He gave them free reign, promising to return after his 3 year sabbatical.

Child number 1, Stu was good at identifying patterns and key issues, connecting the dots and seeing the bigger picture. He had a clear idea of the micro and macro environment in which Allsorts operates within. He was good at scanning trends, interpreting data, taking informed risks and decisive actions. He was ambitious, driven and had a clear vision for where the company should be heading.

Child number 2, Olive was very methodological. She had a knack for doing things that made them flow efficiently.  She created a framework and systems which allowed objectives and goals to be met in a timely and cost effective way. She was process driven and obsessed with quality and value, ensuring that Allsorts products got to the customer in a timely way. She had a head for numbers, was financially savvy and was always looking to make a profit.

Child number 3, Pete excelled at engaging with people. He makes people feel valued and helps them to see the bigger picture and how their roles contribute to this and the bottom line. He takes time to listen as he finds this builds rapport, trust and better relationships.

He encourages ideas and suggestions, takes on board their perspectives and gives focused feedback. He praises people for their effort and their contribution and inspires them to do their best and grow and develop.

After 3 years had passed, William returned and scrutinised his children’s work. He examined the books, scrunched the numbers, engaged in conversations with the staff, suppliers and customers.

He called a meeting with his children and they waited with bated breath to find out who did the best. He thanked them for the work that they did and expressed how delighted he was with their efforts and the feedback that he received.

But they weren’t happy with his response. They began to quarrel, each putting forward reasons as to why they were the best. Stu felt that it was his vision and direction that led to success. Whilst Olive argued that it was her operational expertise and Pete his people and engagement skills.

William got up to leave. ‘You can’t go, until you decide which one of us was the best’ begged an upset Stu.

‘You are all the best, I cannot single one of you out’ replied William. ‘Collectively you are greater, more powerful and stronger than individually. You have each used your talents and strengths to your advantage to achieve results. It is this combined effort that led to success.’

Silence fell as the 3 children digested what was said.  Then they slowly became to understand what their father’s wisdom.

 And the moral of the story….

No one leader has all the qualities, attributes, knowledge, skills…. Leave your ego aside and surround yourself with people who can fill the gaps, have more talent than you…

Maximise the use of your talents and strengths (and that of your staff)….

Work collectively for personal, departmental and organisational outcomes

Effective leaders develop their people and succession plan…

                                                                                          Photo credit amboo who?

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Get the most out of your team: Stop micromanaging & start coaching

personal-109967_1280“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 directors 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 directors 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, you may find these 9 tips useful in helping you to 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? If you are, then articulate and demonstrate this to the employee. Show that you trust him to do the job and ‘walk the talk’. If you are not confident, are there some developmental issues that you need to address?

 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 at how much more effective they will become.

                                                                                                           Image Pixabay

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