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How to be world class: What Bristol Bears physio taught me about leadership

My physio, Ed Wilson, used to be 1st team Physiotherapist at Bristol Bears Rugby. He’s the only therapist able to get results with my husband’s complicated back, so I’m a fan.

Yesterday, while he was treating my dodgy knee, I discovered what makes him a cut above the rest – and how (with courage and discipline) you can apply these lessons to your own leadership.

#1 He Practices what he Preaches

Ed lives and breathes sport, anatomy, injuries, and rehab exercises. In contrast, I once went to a physio who couldn’t demo the exercises on both sides because his core wasn’t strong enough.

Are you expecting your leaders to venture into leadership territory that you’re too lazy/busy/senior to tread?

Are you doing great 121s, giving and asking for feedback, setting clear expectations of performance and not shying away from crucial (sometimes difficult) conversations?

#2 He Is Scrutinised

Working with the Bristol Bears meant Ed couldn’t hide in a clinic. He treated players alongside other physios, doctors, and coaches – and sometimes in front of 25,000 spectators.

As a leader, it takes courage to invite someone to observe you in your natural habitat – but you will only become world class if you welcome scrutiny.

Invite a coach to:

  • observe you running a goal setting session
  • open your strategic map up to interrogation
  • send surveys to your team asking for feedback.

#3 He Doesn’t Pretend to Have all the Answers

Ed couldn’t fake it when he had a top-class players’ career on the line. He didn’t expect to know everything – so he made referrals regularly.

Leadership can be lonely (let alone counterproductive and exhausting) if you keep trying to have all the solutions.

Remember what Steve Jobs said about how “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do.”

If you’re an advice monster, challenge yourself to invite your team to provide solutions.

#4 Continual Learning is Not Optional

Even through lockdown, Ed had to prove he was developing his practice. His professional credibility rests on him proving it.

You don’t always need coaching to develop yourself as a leader – but one thing you must do regularly is reflect.

Regularly ask yourself (and team): What have I learned about myself? What has made me more effective? What behaviours have I tried to stop or start?

Are you a Mountain Gorilla or a Meercat?

One of my favourite activities is observing teams (David Attenborough style) coming together in the wilds of the boardroom. Contact me if you’re interesting in identifying ways you can all become more effective.

And if you live near Bristol and want a top-quality physio, contact Ed Wilson

When your answer doesn’t land like you intend

Your colleague asks you:

“I’d like your thoughts on whether we should go with decision A or decision B?”

And you say:

“I don’t care.”

How would they feel?

It might not be how you intended. ☹

‘I don’t care’ was the go-to phrase my client was using.

He’s a high achiever – he’s efficient and productive BUT he sometimes put these qualities above the need for good work relationships. He didn’t see there was a problem.

I shared how it would make me feel: dismissed and like he really didn’t care.

This was not his intention. He just wanted to prevent a ‘pointless’ conversation when A or B would both have been a good solution.

What he thought he was communicating was this:

“I don’t mind, either is fine. I trust your expertise when it comes to making that decision.”

He signed up to my Stakeholder Centred Coaching programme because he wasn’t getting buy in from colleagues, he is ambitious and it’s clear he has massive potential, but he’d reached a ceiling.

To kick off the programme he asked his colleagues for feedback and suggestions on how he could improve, he gave permission for them to tell him what they thought.

Previously, his colleagues had been too scared of his reaction to share how saying ‘I don’t care’ made them feel. This all changed when he was open with them about HOW he wanted to change and WHY.

The result:

They’re now going the extra mile for him and he’s building up credit in the relationship bank account. This is key given his bigger goal of soon becoming a Director in the business.

If you or your leaders are employing a coach, you’re unlikely to get this kind of result if the conversations don’t go beyond the boardroom.

Want to find out what amazing results you could get if you use a Stakeholder Centred Approach?

Contact me and we can have a chat.

Work life balance sorted? This blog isn’t for you

If your diary is always neatly organised, never gets double-booked, and you have plenty of time to go for a bike ride over lunch, then this message may not be for you.

But for everyone else, keep reading.

I bet you’re looking to delegate more effectively. Feeling overwhelmed and like work is not sustainable is a common problem. Perhaps your team wants more responsibility, and you’ve got an eye on succession planning.

Being a great leader is about enabling others, and you want to do just that.

The issue is that every time you delegate a task successfully, something replaces it, and you’re stuck in a game of whack-a-mole. But here’s the important extra step you may be missing.

Just yesterday, I was coaching an Associate Director who wants his managers to delegate more. He’s exhausted and noticed that one of his managers had started working into the night.

Our conversation went like this:

“If your managers start delegating more, what will this enable them to do?”

“They can get a better work/life balance and start being the go-to people in the team and take some of that burden from me.”

“And what will that enable you to do that you’re not doing now?”

“I want some thinking time.”

“To think about what?”

There was a big pause, and then he said:

“Future developments. We need to be cutting edge, and I need the capacity to plan and innovate. And I’ve got an ISO accreditation I’m responsible for that is crucial for future bids and is in danger of failing.”

Jackpot. He was telling me about the important work that gets sacrificed because of the “busy.”

If you don’t describe the important work, you can’t tell your managers about it, you can’t measure whether it’s happening, and you’ll have no accountability.

Which means it won’t happen. And you’ll keep prioritising the “busy” until there’s a work crisis.

Or worse, a life crisis.

P.S. Curious? The first step is a no pressure intro chat. When we have that call, we’ll get you clear on what’s keeping you from the important work.

The truth about time management that apps and hacks won’t fix (but I will)

“I’ve found a new app that’s eliminated my time management issues and I didn’t have to change a thing!”

Said nobody, ever.

Do time management hacks & software solutions tempt you whenever your inbox is running wild or you’re not getting to everything you’d like?

I know this because I used to be that person.

But I’ve stopped searching for a new and shiny solution, because if I’m struggling with time, or feel overwhelmed – I know exactly why it’s happening, and I know what to do.

What’s the magical solution and how did I figure it out? It came from a conversation with a leader who was seeking help with their biggest challenge. You guessed it: time management and focusing on key priorities.

He’s taken on a much bigger role and there are significantly more expectations of him.

This is what I said:

I think of Time Management like an iceberg.

The iceberg above the water are the bits of the time management issue you can see and feel, for example:

🫥 Long hours

🫥 Conflicting diary appointments

🫥 Missed deadlines

🫥 Disappointed people

🫥 Stress

And the bit under the surface are the reasons and deeper motivations that cause this issue:

  • I prioritise the loudest thing
  • My workload is excessive
  • The workplace has unwritten rules and norms
  • I’ve not been training properly
  • I perceive my boss expects this of me
  • I’m in the wrong role

This is not an exhaustive list, and you will have your own unique iceberg. You might like to create your own iceberg as you work through a typical week.

Here’s an example.

You’re staring at your laptop at 8pm, finishing ‘just one more thing’. Describe the behaviour:

🚫 Regularly working late.

And then think about what led you here.

“I need to hit a client deadline. I got distracted from completing this task because Joe in Design needed my opinion on a drawing. I dropped everything for Joe because I’m worried he doesn’t see how I contribute to the team.”

So in the top of the iceberg you’d have:

🚫I’m working long hours and risking client deadlines.

And in the submerged part of the iceberg:

  • I’m prioritising the wrong things
  • I’m anxious I’m not perceived as valuable by my colleagues

Now you have greater self-awareness about what’s really going on. Which means you can start doing something about it.

When I’ve noticed my own time management issues, in the top of my iceberg is the feeling that I don’t finish everything I set out to. Sometimes I find myself working at the weekend more than I want to.

And it doesn’t feel great – that’s not why I started my business.

This is what’s invariably in the bottom of my iceberg:

  • I’ve taken on too much because I don’t want to say no!
  • I’m unrealistic about what I think I can achieve
  • I’ve been distracted by something new and shiny

I know if this is happening for me, I need to prioritise (using KanBan Flow), put down what is new and shiny, and set myself some deadlines for what I CAN achieve.

What would you put in YOUR time management iceberg?

Worse than the brilliant jerk? (Apparently so)

While the Brilliant Jerk has taken the spotlight for their non-team playing and arrogant behaviour, The Economist has identified a more troubling phenomenon that is often overlooked:

The Nice Underperformer.

These individuals are friendly, amiable, but ultimately, they contribute more to the culture than they do for the bottom line.

The talented jerks are easy to spot, but apparently the Nice Underperformers are like carbon monoxide, silently poisoning an organisation.


The Economist talks about it like they turn up on Day 1 ready to clog up your culture with their low ambitions and negligible talent.

I couldn’t disagree more.

For a start, who do these Nice Underperformers report to? What are their 121s like? And what about the support, feedback and challenge they regularly get?

If they didn’t arrive like this, what happened along the way?

Probably a spoonful of unclear expectations, a dash of poorly timed feedback, and a collection of well-meaning but untrained managers.

It’s time to stop pointing the finger and work out what to do instead.

  1. Train managers to conduct excellent one-to-one meetings
  2. Teach them how to bring accountability into their teams
  3. Ensure that difficult conversations aren’t actively avoided

These 3 ideas are NOT earth shattering.

But when implemented effectively you won’t end up with Mr and Mrs Mediocre.

By addressing the Nice Underperformer issue head-on, we can create a high performance environment for everyone.

The “secret” to becoming highly susceptible to success

Last year, I saw Derren Brown perform and was predictably blown away. He uses body language and other cues to pick audience members who are incredibly susceptible to hypnosis – which makes it look effortless.

I am not Derren Brown (sorry).

However, I typically get the best results with leaders who are highly coachable. It’s almost guaranteed they will make stratospheric progress and totally nail it. While other folks can sometimes appear a little more…well, average.

The good news:

These coachability traits are learnable and you can apply them even if you’re not being coached.

The even better news:

I promise that if you consistently apply these behaviours you’ll become a better leader… or I’ll buy you a ticket the next time Derren Brown is playing at the Bristol Hippodrome*.

#1 Show up with a humble mindset of: “What’s my part in this?”

Don’t dodge things, make excuses, blame others or become defensive. And if you realise they’re doing those things put your hand up and own it.

#2 – Make strenuous efforts to remove yourself from the treadmill

Take ownership of your diary and make tough decisions to create space. Which could mean: focusing on resourcing, stepping up the delegating, saying no, managing up, and coaching instead of solutionising.

#3 – Use your extra capacity wisely

Create a weekly habit of reflecting on your progress. Focus on the future horizon. Schedule meaningful 121s. Seek feedback. Experiment.

Of course, sometimes you may lapse back to old behaviours and have to get back on the wagon. But if you’re committed to doing what it takes you will see stratospheric progress.

Hit reply if you want your team to be more coachable too.


* Ts and Cs apply. The main one being that I don’t think Derren Brown is performing in Bristol any time soon. But look, if you don’t get results after making these changes you might benefit from working with a coach to understand what’s missing. Hit reply (because I’m a coach.)

Productivity, penguins and having happier employees

You’re on a mission to drive employee engagement and unify everyone under a shared vision. But it feels like you’re hitting a brick wall when not a single question pops up in your all-hands meetings or company offsite.

So, let’s chat about Penguins.

What’s more similar to a penguin, a finch, or a dolphin?

This was the question posed by researchers keen to understand if our perceptions of a penguin are universally understood.

Spoiler alert: they’re not.

In fact, there’s merely a 16% chance we’re thinking precisely the same thing when I mention the word ‘penguin’.

In the world of communication, we often seem to miss each other by a mile. Imagine the mismatch when I say workplace culture, psychological safety, or team norms.

I’ll bet most of your folks remain silent in Q & A sessions because they don’t feel secure enough to voice their thoughts, fearing they might get it wrong.

Running a Q & A session isn’t enough.

Here’s a snippet of feedback from a Culture Design session I recently facilitated at TouchWood:

“I’ve never experienced a workplace that actually listens to their employees or conducts sessions like this!”

The team at TouchWood are typically busy crafting bespoke playgrounds for clients like the Eden Project. But last week, they traded in chainsaws for post-its, and together we made the vague concept of workplace culture tangible.

They had the chance to voice their thoughts on what makes their culture truly fantastic, what might need some tweaking, and what ideas they had for potential improvements.

Everyone shared their unique perspectives, and before we knew it, we were all speaking the same language.

I could literally see change unfolding in the room.

The results were:

✔ Engaged and enthusiastic employees

✔ Silos vanished in thin air

✔ The culture became tangible and real

✔ Teams were more aligned with the vision

If they don’t become more productive, make superior collaborative decisions, enhance their meetings, and find even more joy in coming to work – I’ll eat my hat.

If it sounds like a Culture Design Session could be a good fit for you, hit reply to schedule a no-obligation chat.

The truth about constructive feedback that coaches don’t admit

I’m giving up being a coach right NOW.

^^^ That was my brain overreacting when I heard these words….

“Can I have a word? I want to give you some feedback about something that happened in our coaching session the other day.”

(Next is what happens in my brain seconds after hearing constructive criticism)

My mind: Oof! I’m a useless imposter. I’m giving up being a coach right NOW and getting a job sweeping floors in a cereal factory.

(I take a breath)

It’s taken me YEARS of development to take that conscious breath. In the past, I’d be ruminating at 2am about not being good enough and mentally rewriting my CV.

But the truth is it can still feel like an uppercut to the floating ribs. Yep, sorry guys, you may always catastrophise following difficult feedback.

But there is hope.

I’m happy to say this is what happens after the initial body blow:

Me: Thank you. I appreciate you taking the time to share that with me. Can you give me some examples of when that’s happened?

(My pulse has slowed, and I can think clearly)

Them: Here are some more specific examples…

My mind: This feedback might tell me something really valuable.

Me: OK, I understand. Any suggestions for how I could improve that thing?

(They’re now enthusiastically offering me their ideas.)

My brain: I wonder what this feedback tells me about the wider system I’m operating within.

You may find your instinctive reaction feels unsettling and for some (like me) it might feel horrid – but you CAN learn how to get to the good stuff in a few seconds.

Recognise your instant reaction. Do you get defensive, angry, attack the giver, fall into victim mode?  Notice it, name it and let it pass. Get curious instead.

Make it less about them. If you end up pointing a finger or feeling indignation at who has made the comment, try to view it as data and look for patterns.

Ask for specifics. Feedback givers can be vague. Your job is to help them dig deeper. When did you notice that..? What impact did it have..? What could I do differently next time?

Make a choice. Just because someone thinks you’re abrasive doesn’t mean you should change your personality. However, being curious about how you’re perceived will make you a more emotionally intelligent leader.

Seek it out. Feedback is easier to digest if it doesn’t come out of the blue so ask for in-the moment feedback as often as possible.

If you follow these steps, I pinky-promise feedback will become second nature.

Please note, I do not guarantee it won’t feel bruising on occasion – but I promise it’s worth it.

Damning feedback from the wife of one of my clients

“Weirdly I feel like he’s enjoying the adrenaline a little bit – but it’s not great for his health long term – I think he’ll crash at some point!”

I know what you’re thinking, why is his wife even part of the coaching programme? But who better to give an honest insight into one of his key aims: to be more present at home.

I’d just commented on how exhausting it must be for him to visit multiple countries to firefight a crisis. Exhausting, yes….but maybe it’s more complicated.

Having to step up a gear and urgently problem-solve is quite attractive. This ability to jump into the thick of it, untangling problems, and soothing relationships – while possibly wearing a cape.

OK, maybe the cape is going too far. 😀

But you know that feeling, the blood is rushing through your veins, and you feel IN DEMAND. I have three words for you.

At. What. Cost

My client will be fine – he’s done the hard yards and is not mindlessly firefighting. His position in the business requires a certain amount of ‘jumping, how high?’ behaviour.  But I am still curious how much he is drawn towards the heroics.

If it feels good, does it even matter?

It depends what it stops you doing (the work that is truly important but doesn’t feel urgent) and whether it disempowered your team.

  • And how do you feel after the adrenaline rush?
  • Is it serving you to feel like this – and what is the impact on your health?
  • Is there someone else that could be the hero?
  • And what led up to the need for all these heroics in the first place?

My challenge to you: consider all these questions before you even open the wardrobe where you store your cape.

And I’d love to hear your answers – you never know, maybe I can help you put the cape away for good.

4 bullet-proof steps to fix accountability issues as a leader

“Hey daughter, I noticed you’ve dropped a wet towel on the bed, it can end up smelling musty if it’s left there all day. Did you notice it there too?

She shakes her head and looks confused.

Which I’m taking as ‘OK, it won’t happen again’.

That was Step 1: The Mention from Jonathan Raymond’s 5 step Accountability Dial.

If a management technique works with my teenager then it must be bulletproof.

Maybe the towel thing is a one off. But given she is a teenager and wet towels are like invisible ink I’m guessing it might happen again.

This is how I expect the rest of the conversations will pan out.

So, the wet towel turns up on her bed again. Dammit.

Step 2: The invitation

“Remember our conversation about the wet towel? I’ve noticed this seems to be a bit of a pattern – it was there again. Can we talk about this and look at ways to stop it happening again?”

She says we just need more towels and is fine if they smell like wet dog. But agrees to chuck them on the bathroom floor as a first step.


She makes an effort for two weeks. But it doesn’t last. Of course not.

Step 3: The Boundary

“I’m glad we can talk about the wet towels, and I can see you made some initial efforts. Let’s agree on specific actions to make sure the towels ALWAYS make the journey back to the bathroom. What steps can you commit to address this? And by when?

She agrees to check her room before leaving school and will start tomorrow.

The wet towels have another 2-week vacation from the bed  – and then they’re back (wetter than ever).

Step 4: The Limit

So, I’ve noticed the towels are back. As you know, we’ve talked about this several times, and you’ve explained how you plan to change. However, I haven’t seen the necessary changes in your behaviour.

Any thoughts?

A sheepish look.

I’ve supported you as best I can but it’s your responsibility to change.

A shrug.

Let me know what sanction you think will motivate you most. Restricting your phone, maybe?

A look of panic.


I’m not suggesting your team are like teenagers and Step 4 is going to sound very different for you. But how many times are you noticing old patterns returning – like missed deadlines, meeting actions sliding, and overworking?

A great way to start using the accountability dial is to get really good at the Mention and the Invitation. And maybe you’ll find you only need these 2 steps to start driving the right behaviour in your teams.

(btw No teenagers were harmed in this experiment)