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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Telling stories: to inspire future leaders

6546233741_53027de382_zEveryone loves a good story and most of us would have been captivated by stories in our childhood. Good stories grab our attention, touch our hearts, inspire us and enable us to vicariously learn through the other person’s experiences.

Stories can be used in any aspect of communication to create a journey of imagination in which transformations can happen. This is potent in any aspect of leadership such as:

  • Implementing change
  • Portraying your brand and values
  • Influencing others
  • Unifying people towards a common vision, purpose or goal
  • Imparting and sharing knowledge
  • Motivating and inspiring

When you tell a story that is authentic, powerful and engage the listener on an emotional level, that story becomes memorable and will stay with the listener.

And for this reason, storytelling has a crucial role in developing future leaders. As a leader, you can use your personal leadership stories to engage, develop and grow future leaders – be it in the workplace, in the community, in school, at home….

There are abundant opportunities in the everyday environment to lead through your relationships, behaviours and  actions. Seize them and start storytelling

Stories that connect are those that include an element of challenge, hardship, unusual moments, learning through failure, showing some vulnerability, compassion…and as effective leaders you will have experienced some of these in your journey.

There is no final destination in leadership, only continued learning.

And leaders need to continue to evolve their skills, competencies, behaviours and abilities to keep updated, fresh and agile in our fast changing environment.

As you continue to learn, your stories will become dynamic and evolve with your new experiences. (like me, you must have come across leaders who keep on telling the same old stories!)

This will enable you to have a supply of stories to tell and if you tell them well, you will have a captive audience who will vicariously learn from what they are hearing and experiencing.

So next time you are involved with future leaders (at work, at home, at play…) think about what stories you can share, that will help to develop their leadership.

Image Flickr

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Learning to lead through adaptive challenges

fractal-757816_1280I am listening to my group of participants as they share their updates on their leadership projects. Their projects are scoped from the challenges that their teams and organisations are facing.

Leadership skills cannot be tested out in the classroom. It must be developed, practised and honed in real life, real time situations.

There is no one way or right way of exercising leadership so it is important that those participating in leadership development programmes are exposed to a range of styles, concepts, frameworks… equipping them with a toolkit and the flexibility to use the most appropriate to the context and audience.

The group is made up of leaders from healthcare organisations and intentionally diverse, ranging from medicine to finance. Why intentionally? It enables the group to gain breadth and depth of insight and perspectives across the whole organisation and functions. This promotes appreciation of each other roles and challenges and encourages cross fertilisation, collaboration and building of networks and relationships…

As they talk, a common theme is emerging….redundancy, reorganisation, restructuring, disbanding of teams and departments, formation of new teams…it’s messy, chaotic, uncertain, ambiguous, complex, fast paced …..

This is not exclusive to healthcare, most of you will recognise the VUCA world in which we now work.

By the time the last person shared his update, I can sense the energy in the room slowly dissipating. The stress and the frustration of working in such environments have seeped into the room.

How do you lead effectively in this environment? Where change is the norm, where the challenges are complex and woven into other departments, organisations and sectors? The stakeholders are diverse and the environment is constantly shifting. There are no easy answers or a clear pathway to a solution.

 Some of the ‘hows’ that emerged include:  

Being objective by gathering evidence and data on what is happening. Taking note of the patterns, nuances and interrelationships that exist

Recognising that by exploring new ways of working/ practices/ possibilities, the message given is that what is current, is ineffective and / or not working

Acknowledging that this will have an adverse impact on those who have worked and invested in what is current

The above means honouring and paying attention to what is good in the current situation

This requires understanding of other peoples’ perspectives and giving them a voice

It means putting forward your evidence for change and listening to their concerns and reservations

This requires being sensitive to people’s feelings and emotions and dealing with the tensions that arise

Building trust, influence, relationships and consensus, enabling staff to commit and take shared responsibility for the process and outcome

It is becoming clear that leadership is not about one person telling others what to do. It is a process that takes places across a network of people who are aligned and committed to a new direction/ practice/way of working….

It’s not about having one style but a set of styles in your tool kit which you can flex depending on who you are speaking with and the context.

As they discuss how they are developing and its impact, the energy seeps back into the room. There is hope that these challenges can be tackled; there is inspiration from listening to each others’ stories; there is a realisation that they can make a difference and a dawning that they they are changing. Some of these include:

Having their assumptions and beliefs challenged with a resulting shift in attitudes and behaviours

Developing their own internal compass and using this as a guide

– Being much more emotionally aware and sensitive with their staff

Getting comfortable being uncomfortable with uncertainty and complexity

Appreciating that experimenting allows you to test things out and if it doesn’t work, you can try again

The power of pausing, stepping back, seeing the bigger picture, the interconnections and reflecting

–  Receiving positive feedback on their behaviours

We are nearly halfway through the course and I can see subtle changes in how they how they speak, their renewed passion for what they do, the desire to improve their workplace, to be seen as an effective leader…

The foundations have been built, the real work now starts….

Image via Pixabay

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Getting into the leadership pipeline: advancing women in leadership

executive-534415_1280Earlier this week, the Royal bank of Scotland set a target for one third of its top 600 management roles to be held by women by 2020.

The world we live in and in which organisations operate are diverse and senior management positions should reflect this. A world in which women make up about half of the population and who can offer depth and breadth of insight, perspective and experience. The business case for gender diversity is strong and well established.

The lack of women in senior roles has been under scrutiny since 2011 when Mervyn Davies, set a goal to double the number of women in boardrooms to 25% by 2015 in FTSE 100 companies

Although women now make up more than 20% of boardroom roles, the majority of these are non-executives, with only 7% of executive roles being held by women

Success is when more women are in executive directorship roles as this is often where the real power lies.

To get more women onto boards and into senior management positions, requires a pipeline of talent to draw from.

Organisations, like the RBS, need to be proactive in succession planning and talent management to develop and nurture a pipeline of talent to enable women (and men) to progress into senior positions.

This means applying a bottom up approach and ensuring that women who want to progress are supported, mentored and coached on the way there. More women are likely to put themselves forward for such a career trajectory if they can see that there is path there and others are following it.

 What can you do to advance as a woman leader?  

Don’t wait for your organisation to take steps, take control and be proactive in getting yourself up the leadership ladder with these 6 suggestions

 1Claim your ambition for leadership

Let it be known that you are interested in leadership roles and talk about your ambitions and aspirations when relevant and appropriate. Plan your career trajectory and get as much broad business experience as possible. Look for opportunities that will take you out of your comfort zone. Volunteer for assignments or offer to lead a project that will stretch you and offer new experiences and ways of working

2. Grasp opportunities

When opportunities present themselves, refrain from falling into the trap of trying to rationalise and make assumptions about what they might entail and subsequently talking yourself out of it.
If you find a role that offers progression, don’t be put off that because you can only tick 7 out of the 10 criteria boxes, you don’t stand a chance. Go for it

3. Raise your profile and market yourself

Get known by marketing yourself. Let others know about successes, achievements and ambitions without bragging. Don’t leave it to chance that your work or accomplishments will speak for itself and as a result others will notice.

Don’t be afraid to speak up, stand your ground, stand for something and share your perspectives. Do so in a way which respects other people’s points of views. Being able to communicate with impact and in public is a prized leadership skill

4. Be visible

 Networks and connections are a great source of influence. Engage in networking activities outside of your organisation. It can provide role models that may be missing in your own organisation. It will also give you insights into different organisations and a foot in the door for future job prospects. Seek out people with influence who may be able to connect you with others or be able to provide formal or informal mentoring. Build your online visibility and brand on LinkedIn.

5. Develop your leadership brand

Identify your strengths and areas for development by undertaking a 360 appraisal and get feedback and use areas for development and successes as food for continual learning and development.
Work on developing an ‘authentic you’ so that you lead, communicate and build relationships in way that is unique to you. Build on this personal brand so that you are constantly developing the ‘best you’ and making your mark.

6. Get use to working at board level

Volunteer for board roles – this could be as a governor in a school or hospital, a community group, charity….this will enable you to build your skills in governance, risk management and develop board level skills.

Find out if your organisation will allow you to hold external directorships – there are many in the public, not-for-profit or third sector organizations which.

Image via Pixabay

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Women, lead without losing yourself in the process

executive-510490_1920Do you believe that ‘you’ are your greatest asset? It is your ‘self’  that others connect with, trust and get inspired by.

Yet we do not acknowledge and harness what we innately have, to leverage success. Instead we try to impress, to act and be like others because we want to fit in, to meet their perceived expectations or leadership image.

What a disservice we do to ourselves when:

  • we adopt a masculine style to show that we are tough
  • lessening our feminine or softer side
  • we fail to recognise or use our power
  • put on a façade when we are at work

I remember early in my career being called aloof, hard-nosed and impersonal. Whilst I was not trying to act like someone else, I came across as a different person to my true self. My exterior façade was my way of coping, of hiding my insecurities and fears. I born in another country, from a poor background, part of generation that never went to university or even had a TV! I didn’t want others to know the real me. I rarely talked about myself or let others get close to me.

I know from experience that keeping up appearances is hard work. It takes a lot of energy and effort to be and act like some else especially when they are out of sync with your core values, style and characteristics. How much better would it be to channel that energy into acts that are congruent with who you are?

You are awesome as you are. Be bold and have the courage to let your true self shine through. Work on being the best version of yourself

Some ways that have helped me and my clients become authentic include:

Being clear on your values and purpose

Invest in the time to find out what your values and guiding principles are. What do you stand for? What are you willing to raise your head above the parapet for? What guides your actions and behaviours? What makes you tick, your heart sing?

Our values act as a compass and a guide in how we live our lives, prioritise and spend our time. You don’t need to tell others what your values are, they should see them demonstrated in how you behave, work and live your life.

Values are fundamental in helping us to make tough choices and trade offs such as balancing work and personal life, switching careers, having children, progressing a career with children….

When you are clear on your values and your purpose, the direction ahead becomes much more focused, meaningful and helps us to forge ahead in times of difficulty. You will be less worried about how you appear to others and more resolute on what must be done to accomplish the outcomes you desire.

Being open to being vulnerable

It’s not easy being the person that you want to be. Sometimes we let fear and anxieties shape our choices. It’s a way of protecting ourselves. But at the same time they hold us back.

Being ‘you’ will challenge you and take you outside of you comfort zone, testing your resilience and principles. This may mean leaving yourself open to vulnerability.

Howard Shultz, CEO of Starbucks, is quoted as saying, “The hardest thing about being a leader is demonstrating or showing vulnerability…”

Being your real self, admitting that you don’t have the answer or have failed are not signs of weaknesses but of strength. It takes courage to leave the ego behind, to put aside pretences and show your true self.

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness. Brene Brown

Showing your true self does not mean divulging your stories of your struggles, hardships and personal stories to one and all. It’s about sharing appropriate material to build trust, emotional connection, vicarious learning, to inspire and build collaboration.

It must be relevant to context and situation and pitched at the right time. As Brown suggest, share honest information that will leave you vulnerable only with people who have earned the right to hear about it.

Being clear on how others see you and your strengths

An essential part of self awareness is getting feedback on how others see you. Solicit honest feedback from others such as your colleagues, peers, boss and take proactive steps to manage any perceived gaps.

Don’t just focus on areas for development. Find ways to use your strengths on a daily basis to increase your happiness, satisfaction, flow, engagement and performance

Remember that you are unique and acknowledge that we are all different with our set of strengths, talents and gifts. Start leveraging yours and stop comparing yourself to others 

Being flexible and add styles to your toolkit

Organisations are dynamic and in a constant state of flux with different scenarios being played out and as such leaders need to be able to flex and adapt their style to the situation, the context and the audience that they are dealing with, regardless of gender.

Experiment and find a range of styles that feel congruent with who you are, your values and will help you to accomplish your goals and purpose.

Be proactive in asking for and taking on new assignments, tasks and projects. This will stretch you and provide different experiences, exposure and audiences helping you to add a range of styles to your tool kit.

Become the person who inspires, who role models the behaviours and actions that others want to follow 

Image courtesy of Pixabay 

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Invest in your career, whether you are staying put or seeking promotion

growth-453479_1280Have you ever been complacent or comfortable at work? Perhaps on autopilot?

That was me at one stage in my career. With my children, a great job, good salary…life was rosy. I was coasting along. And then I started to notice that my peers were moving on and changes were happening around me. The landscape was shifting and the wake up call came when someone externally was brought in above me.

I hadn’t given much thought about planning for my career. At the beginning, it was all about getting a job and a good salary. Admittedly, I was pretty naïve. I wasn’t proactive in finding out what pathways to progression existed or what I needed to do to plan ahead to progress my career.

Two decades on, the work environment is even more volatile and shifting. Whether you are happy where you are in your career stage or wanting to actively progress you need to Give yourself the edge and take ownership of your development


Being stretched, stimulated, gaining new skills and knowledge, staying up to date with changes in technology and in your field … can lead to:

  • Increased productivity
  • Make your work more interesting
  • Re- invigorate your passion for what you do
  • Increase your confidence and morale
  • Build your transferable skills sets
  • Expand your competency and capability
  • Increase your professional attractiveness and credibility

…all of which will stand you in good stead for any future promotion or in today’s marketplace, keeping your job.

Career development does not necessarily mean career advancement. But it does mean that you are actively engaging in learning and development and are continuing to add value to your organisation.

Some ways to develop within your current role

Identify your strengths.What are you good at? What strengths are you utilising at work? What talents are you not using and how can you put to work?

Studies have shown that people who use their strengths on a daily basis are 6 times more likely to be engaged in their jobs. For example, if you are good at organising and do this competently outside of work, why not volunteer to put your organisational abilities to use. You could offer to organise the staff team meeting. It might be a job that your manager dislikes doing and one which you can take on demonstrating greater responsibility.

Identify areas that you need to develop. What skills and behaviours do you need to be better at or to develop? Discuss with your manager and demonstrate how by acquiring these, they will help to improve your performance and that of your team’s or department.

Find out if there are any in house programmes that you can attend. Ask if there is any budget or funding that you can access for attending a training course or gaining an extra qualification.

Massive open online courses (MOOC) offer anyone with access to the internet the opportunity to study for free. Try the Open University’s Future Learn or US based ones such as Coursera or Udacity

Show initiative– are there areas in your department or team that could be improved? For example, systems, processes, ways of doing things… that people complain about but no one actually does anything about it?

In one of my early managerial positions, there were no development activities for staff. I offered to organise a weekly lunch and learn. Each week we would explore a different topic. As people became interested, they took turns in hosting a session which showcased their specialist knowledge, skills and interests.

Find a mentor – identify people within your organisation who have the skills, qualities and behaviours that you admire. Be brave and pick up the phone and ask them out for a coffee. Ask them how they developed their skills or qualities, what advice they could give. Be bold and ask if they would be able to mentor you. They may also be able to offer advice and guidance in directing your career growth and direction

If there is no one within your organisation, source a mentor from outside

Grow your network inside and outside of your organisation – connect and build relationships. This will help you to widen your perspectives, gain further insights and serve as connections for possible future job prospects.

Be a mentor– offer to mentor a junior colleague. It will help you to develop your leadership and communication skills, broaden your perspectives and you will have the satisfaction of helping someone to develop.

If this is not possible within your organisation, there are many opportunities for mentoring through local schemes or national ones

Go beyond your department / organisation- are there projects within your company that you could get involved in, that would benefit from your expertise and skills? This will help to open up your organisational perspective and grow your contacts, connections and profile.

You could also try volunteering for roles within your community such as becoming a trustee of a charity, a governor in a school, member of a community group or a sports clubs.

Take control and be proactive in developing yourself. Jobs are no longer for life. With a rapidly changing work environment, it pays to invest in developing a career with updated skills, knowledge and wisdom which will give you the edge – whether you plan to stay where you are or aiming for progression and promotion.

Good luck


Image courtesy of Pixabay

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Harnessing the leadership power within you


“My biggest challenge was getting comfortable with the notion that I am a leader; I don’t line manage a team of people which in the past to me seemed a pre-requisite for leadership. I’m quiet, I have a natural preference to work collaboratively rather than compete with others. How can I lead?”

This is the start of a reflective piece by one of my participants as she completes her yearlong leadership programme.

As I am reading her assignment, I am wondering if the term ‘leadership’ has become something bigger than us, something removed from the grasp of the ordinary people? Is it still something reserved for those who have been given the title, run a company or a business or lead a team?

Gone are the days when organisations can exist with one leader at the top. For organisations to remain competitive, innovative, agile, adaptable… leadership must extend beyond the boardroom and through the layers to the frontline.

I believe that everyone has leadership potential and it is not exclusive to people who have badges. Many people do not think of themselves as leaders because they do not hold such positions or authority or feel that calling themselves ‘leaders’ is arrogant, lofty or beyond their realm.

This is not so. Each and every one of us has the ability to develop and exercise leadership… be it at home, at school, in the community, at work… One of the facets of leadership is about finding everyday ways to make a difference. Making a difference does not have to earth shattering or life changing. There are many things that we can do to make a difference to those around us.

Where are the opportunities to exercise leadership?

Leadership is everywhere around us …it crosses boundaries at work, at home, at play and is embedded in our daily lives and makes us who we are. It is a way of Being and Doing. It is who we are and what we do – 24/7. When you do go to work, do you put your ‘leadership hat’ on and then take it off when you leave?

Opportunities for leadership, to make a difference, to influence, to create positive change, to be a role model…can be found in abundance in the context of our daily lives through our relationships with others.

Leadership is very much a social process. Unless you are a hermit living on an island you will have relationships with other people. These may be immediate ones such as your husband, wife, children, boss, employees, team, peers, friends. Or not so close ones such as those with schools, clubs, community, church. Or distant ones, such as being a passenger, customer, passer-by…

Just having contact with others, whether it is face to face or virtual, provides opportunities for you to make a make a difference…. in the way you behave, interact, communicate, respond to situations, your warmth, tone of voice, your smile, your attitude, your demeanour … You have the power to make that difference with every interaction.

Leadership is not reserved for the extroverted

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

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

“The vast majority of difficult, important human problems -both inside and outside organizations – are not solved by a swift, decisive stroke from someone at the top. What usually matters are careful, thoughtful, practical efforts by people working far from the limelight. In short, quiet leadership is what moves and changes the world.” Joseph Badaracco. If you are quiet, thoughtful, introverted…be proud of your disposition and of your style of leadership.


Leading collaboratively builds relationships and connects people. This could be from across disciplines, sectors, organisations, supply chains, generations…which results in better buy in and encourages a sense of ownership, shifting from ‘I will work on your goal’ to ‘we are committed to working on our goal’.

Collaborative leadership can lead to increase trust, access to more and better information and ideas, different perspectives resulting in enhanced creativity, innovation and learning

Working collaboratively means letting go of control and allowing individuals to take more responsibility and accountability for decision making. Are you ready to let go of control and encourage others to step up and take the initiative?

Don’t look to others for leadership

Leadership is a journey without a final destination. You don’t reach a point where you become the ‘best’ leader and stop there. There will always be situations, events and people who will test and challenge you and new learning to be gained.

And on that journey you have the power to inspire, shape, influence and develop others…. what a wonderful opportunity that is.

Don’t look to others for leadership. Or wait for them to lead. Take responsibility. Seize the opportunity and choose to make a difference and be the difference. You have the power
within you to affect and impact the lives of those around you. Take it.

Photo credit: Flickr user Håkan Dahlström

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