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Nailing those difficult conversations I know you’ve been avoiding

If I had a pound every time I heard a manager say:

‘to be honest, I think it’s the quality of my leadership that’s contributing to their poor performance’…. I’d probably have about £1.30.

But seriously, when things aren’t going to plan, I’m MUCH more likely to hear these phrases:

  • They just need to step up
  • If I could trust them to deliver, I’d delegate more often 😕
  • Everything is a drama with them 🤷‍♀️
  • You’ll notice they’re not the last to leave for the evening, it’s muggins here 😩

The managers using these phrases normally mean well but they’re exasperated.

What they’re really saying is this:

“I don’t have the time to help my team members improve their performance or increase their competence. And I don’t know how to have an accountability conversation that isn’t ineffective or fraught.”

I get it.

Being a people leader is hard and having accountability conversations can be tough, especially if you’re trying to do it all alone.

So I’m going to role play using the Accountability Dial tool from Jonathan Raymond’s excellent book: Good Authority: How to Become the Leader Your Team Is Waiting for.

Here goes.

Someone on your team is always in the middle of (or creating) drama. It’s making delegation impossible.

Start by sharing any specific behaviours or patterns that contribute to how you’re feeling about their performance.

Step 1: The Mention.

“Hey John, I’ve noticed that when you’re involved in team interactions, things tend to become less straightforward and more dramatic than necessary. Have you noticed this as well, and can we discuss how this might be affecting the team’s productivity and collaboration?”

Remember to approach the conversation with curiosity and openness, allowing them to share their perspective and experiences.

If this is enough to change the behaviour, then Bob’s your Uncle and all that. 🦄

But lets imagine the behaviour persists….

Step 2: The Invitation:

“I appreciate our previous conversation about the challenges in team interactions. I’ve noticed that this seems to be a recurring pattern. I’d like to invite you to reflect on how this behaviour might be impacting the team and our work environment. Are you open to exploring this further and discussing potential ways to improve these interactions?”

OK, so you might want to loosen up the language a little, and you should be supportive and non-judgemental – but don’t shy away from being direct.

Sometimes being this candid still doesn’t get results.

And yes, there are two more steps in the The Accountability Dial – and next blog I’ll share them with you.

Creativity thrives on constraint!

Last night I submitted a story to A platform that only accepts stories comprised of 50 words, no more, no less.

You may think this rule restricted my imagination. But you’d be wrong. I was on fire and crafted a story in record time.

This is because creativity thrives on constraint.

But how can you use this insight in your own leadership?

Side note: I realised I kept restarting this blog, so I’ve set a 15-minute timer – this is one way to use a constraint!

Another way is to work with your senior team to define your business priorities using even/over statements:

One good thing Even Over another good thing

This will force you to consider the trade-offs. For example:

  • Local clients even over global clients
  • Employees’ happiness even over customers’ happiness
  • Speed even over perfection

Here is one for my business:

Finish on-time Friday even over Winning more clients

Until I addressed this trade off, I’d often be found writing content or posting on LinkedIn at 6pm on a Friday. Now you’ll find me nagging my daughter about piano practice or improving on my (somewhat dire) keepy uppy skills.

Understanding your trade-offs will help you and the team prioritise the right things most of the time – and you’ll ensure you’re getting the results you want.

Another side note: my 15 minute timer went off 5 minutes ago but it got me started and now I’m nearly finished.

If you want details for how to run this even/over statements exercise with your team, reply to me here.

And if you ask nicely, I’ll even include my 50-word story!

When was the last time someone pointed out your blind spots or the shortcomings?

When was the last time someone pointed out your blind spots or the shortcomings of some of your decisions? It’s uncomfortable, isn’t it? No one wants to hear about their flaws. The (not so) good news for leaders is that they are often shielded from this because people stay silent. Speaking truth to power is often perceived as too risky.

But we have a feedback culture and an open-door policy for heaven’s sake!

I’m sure you’re doing lots of good stuff – but who is the judge of whether it’s enough?

You may think power and hierarchy don’t exist in your organisation, and everyone is empowered to speak truth to power. However, we label each other all the time based on gender, age, ethnicity, job title, appearance, and more, and these labels convey status depending on the context.

Recently, I heard Professor Megan Reitz speak, and her research shows that people with advantageous, status-giving labels often don’t realise their impact on others. As a coach, I was surprised to realise that I’m not immune to this effect either. While I consider myself approachable, some people still treat me like an all-powerful being (I set them straight immediately of course…), and my sponsor may be their boss – it all has an impact.

So why does any of this matter?

According to Professor Reitz’s research, employees’ silence “costs relationships, creativity, engagement, and performance.” Staff members frequently know of problems or opportunities and how to address them, yet they remain silent.

How can we encourage others to speak up?

Rather than banging on about your open-door policy, think about what you can do personally and organisationally to make it easier to speak truth to power. Consider these ideas:

  • Introduce reverse mentoring. Senior leaders should select a less senior employee of a different sex or ethnic background as a mentor. Mentors can help leaders understand what’s really going on from a different perspective, encouraging them to speak truth to power.
  • Observe how you respond to challenges. If you react negatively, even occasionally, don’t expect to hear from anyone other than your trusted few who can get past your appearance.
  • Check your “little list.” You probably have a list of team members who “fit in” and those who don’t. Your team probably senses who is favoured. Check in with this list and see if you can expand it to hear more voices.

Finally, share your insights with the management team. Which voices are not being heard, and what opportunities are being missed?

Can your team be too psychologically safe?

Working alongside Steve sometimes meant ‘robust discussions’ which could get a little shouty. Of course, we were trying to get the best results for our clients and occasionally we’d disagree.

Turns out I was right about 90% of the time.

Ha! Steve is sunning himself on a climbing wall right now so I can say what I like. 😊

We benefitted from these noisy disagreements and sometimes I listen to senior teams being perfectly pleasant to each other and wonder what’s not being said.

Then people complain to me afterwards about a decision that’s been made or the way the meeting was chaired.

They don’t feel enough Psychological Safety in the team.

So they don’t share their views more openly.

This is not a new concept, in 1965 big thinkers Edgar Shein and Warren Bennis described it as: “providing an atmosphere where one can take chances without fear and with sufficient protection.”

If there is psychological safety in a team it enables you to:

•    Feel included
•    Learn
•    Contribute
•    Challenge the status quo

Below are answers to the questions about psychological safety you’re desperate to know –  but were too afraid to ask!

Is it possible for things to be too psychologically safe?

It’s often less about how safe people feel and more about how clear the team are on what is acceptable. If the team feel very safe in telling sexist jokes – we don’t need them to feel less safe, instead we need the bar raised on what is OK and what isn’t.

And if you value ‘getting on well’ you may want to check out whether you’re encouraging debate and disagreement. You might need to bump up against each other in service of innovative solutions and decision making when you’re operating in a fast-paced environment. That doesn’t mean you have to compromise trust in the team.

How can we hold people to account and maintain psychological safety? 

Expecting your team members to deliver what they’ve agreed is not something to shy away from. In fact if you put off crucial conversations you can expect everyone on the team to be impacted. And eventually this will undermine results and no one will feel safe.

Being clear what good looks like as a team will help, and so will perfecting your feedback skills.

This book is a great start: Crucial Accountability: Tools for Resolving Violated Expectations, Broken Commitments, and Bad Behaviour 

Isn’t it all just Political Correctness?

I’m assuming you believe it’s right to be sensitive to other people’s views and feelings, and that respect is important in a team.

And given that you are giving each other permission to be yourselves you’ll want to avoid language or behaviour that will deliberately demean, belittle, or ridicule others.

But how that looks will vary from team to team. Remember how I described the robust disagreements in team Steve & Corine?

It all starts with a conversation about what needs to be in place so you can contribute fully in this team.

Where should I start?

You might want to run a short survey and ask your team to rate their experience in the team. You can create your own survey using the questions psychological safety guru Amy Edmondson suggests. Or contact me to book a chat about this subject and measuring your culture more generally.

Here’s why being your authentic self is BS

There’s been an influx of “authenticity” content across social media, it’s all about being your full authentic self, leaning into you, embracing your flaws –  you know the drill.

I just typed being your authentic self into Google and got these results:

·        How to Be Your Authentic Self: 7 Powerful Strategies

·        Be Authentic: 19 Ways To Do It

·        Develop Authenticity: 20 Ways to Be a More Authentic Person

·        33 Ways To Be Your Authentic Self (And Live More Happily)

So surely the world would be a better place if we all dropped the mask and connect with our true selves?

Maybe. Maybe not.

The case against being authentically you

My least favourite phrase: “I don’t suffer fools gladly.” It’s often code for: I lack humility, I’m abrasive and people walk on eggshells around me.

These aren’t qualities we want in our leaders, and if you recognise yourself with these traits, you might not be getting the results you need.

And if you think that’s BS then I dare say you’re stuck in the 90s (and stopped reading about 2 minutes ago).

You don’t have to be fake.

Author and psychologist Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic sums it up nicely when he talks about how changing your habits will require the exact opposite of being authentic or playing to your strengths.

“It is essentially about learning how to go against your nature, so you can become a more expanded version of yourself. But the rewards are high. Improving how others see you will enhance your career success and upgrade your professional persona. Only those who are privileged and entitled can afford to just be themselves, to everyone else’s peril.”

Tomas offers evidence backed suggestions on how you can change. And they fit like a glove with my Stakeholder Centred Coaching Programme (thanks Tomas 😉):

Increase your self-awareness

This is step one to any coaching programme. Whether it’s a survey or interviewing peers it’s all about getting an undistorted view of how you’re perceived.

Be open to feedback

Can you talk with your peers and direct reports about what and how you’re trying to develop? It might be uncomfortable, but I guarantee it will always be useful.

Be Determined

You want to be a better version of yourself? Think of it as a marathon and not a sprint. Good news, working with a coach can make developing good habits MUCH easier.

Get Help From Others

This is the crucial step that will take your leadership from good to great. Read how Lewis used the suggestions and support from his peers to get the results he needed.

So, don’t think you’ll transform into Alan Sugar (why would you even want to?!) but you CAN become a better version of you if you put in the effort.

And if you want some help making it happen, call me.

Habits change starts with these 5 questions your tracks…

It’s January, so everyone’s all excited about goal setting and habit change. Well people, here is my truth about setting SMART goals.

I don’t.

In fact, I achieve a lot in my business and in life without SMART goals. I know, right. I’m a coach – I should be the number one goal setter in all the lands. But I find traditional methods make me feel crap by March because they don’t dig deep enough.

I recently listened to a talk by the author of: COACHING HABIT: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever An excellent read by the way.

He asked some questions that stopped me in my tracks and helped me focus on exactly what’s important in my life.

I’m certain you will find them valuable too:

  • First –  what’s on your mind? It could be in business, in your leadership, or in other parts of your life.
  • What’s the REAL challenge here for you?
  • And what else?

Keep asking yourself And What Else? (is on your mind) until you’ve got to the gnarly challenge you really want to address in 2023.

Now ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the prize for doing something about this gnarly challenge? i.e what will dealing with it bring to your life or business?
  • What are the prizes for maintaining the status quo? i.e how do you benefit from keeping things just the way they are?

We all know keeping the status quo is easier than making a change – if there wasn’t a pay off for keeping things the same, you’d have a perfect set of habits (and I’m guessing that isn’t the case).

So what is your prize or pay off?

It might relate to maintaining your safety and comfort, protecting your status and relationships, or protecting the expectations you have of yourself and others have of you.

Be super specific 

For example, I want to finish the first draft of my novel but I’m struggling to commit to a writing habit. The prize if I keep putting it off: I get more time with my family in the evening, I can switch off from the screen for longer, but the REAL prize is that I can maintain the dream that I have a brilliant book inside me just waiting for the right moment to spring into life.

I’ve decided I want to write the book more than I want to keep the dream alive – and now I know this I can do something about it.

Do you have a deeper commitment to keeping things the way they are right now? 

It’s OK if you do – but stop bullying yourself with more goals if it’s not the right time for you. And if you do want to bring about change, identifying the payoff makes it much harder to unconsciously fall back into the habits you’re trying to change.

So, what’s it gonna be?

Attract top talent without getting on the naughty list!

If I don’t want to work in your business there’s a good chance that Mr or Mrs Ambitious, High Potential who you’ve just interviewed will feel the same way too.

Here are the top 3 reasons I will walk away from a prospect:

The leader wants to hide the fact they’re working with a coach. 

Imagine the scene:

Coach: Hi Andre – I’m looking forward to analysing your tennis match tomorrow.

Andre: Fine. But please can you sit at the back.

Coach: What?

Andre: And let’s meet for training somewhere else. I’m not that comfortable with people knowing I need a coach.

Admitting you have room for improvement makes you a strong leader (not a weak one). So does asking for feedback to reveal your strengths and blind spots.

If you just thought ‘what blind spots?’ – say goodbye to Mr High Potential –we need to talk.

The leaders want to develop their future high potentials on the cheap

Red flag phrases:

Can you just run a couple of workshops…

I’m going to self-fund this because HR don’t have a budget for development this year…

Maybe if we just attach something on the end of our normal team meeting…

There are many cost-effective ways of helping leaders develop: book clubs, podcasts, reverse mentoring, shadowing, stretch projects etc. But unless these are rolled out in an environment that invites a coaching approach and employee engagement you may as well just throw your fivers down the loo.

If you want to calculate the ROI of investing in your high potentials –  we need to talk.

Leaders who don’t treat waiting staff well.

I waited on tables during uni – I have a long memory. It doesn’t take long to assess whether you’re an a*se to the ‘little people’. So if you’re nice to me but rude to waiters and admin staff I probably don’t want to work in your business.

If you’re abrasive, stubborn, shouty to everyone, that might be different. You may not realise the impact your behaviour has on employee engagement, productivity, and the health of your business.

If your reputation sucks, Mrs High Potential will see straight through it  – we need to talk.

5 steps to ultimate enlightenment…

I hope you are all preparing to take a break over Christmas and getting a chance to reset for whatever 2023 is set to bring you and the business.  Before you start noshing on mince pies please check out my 5 steps to ultimate enlightenment*

Step 1

Harvest your learning

If you’re part of my community it’s likely you’ve been working on yourself, your team, the business, or all of the above. It’s time to take a pause so you can contemplate 2022 – what did you learn? What do you appreciate? What impact did you have?

Step 2

Fast forward into 2023

What are the top issues and opportunities you predict you’ll be encountering in 2023? What excites you? What is at the edge of your vision and needs your full attention?

Step 4

Increase the impact

Get the SMT or your team together and invite them to answer these questions as individuals and as a team. Discuss and make plans.

Step 5

Get Inspiration

Contact me. My promise to you: If there are any subjects that are up my street (that’ll be your habits, the leadership, your people, the culture,) I promise to write something super useful in response.

Ps. Disclaimer: ultimate enlightenment is not guaranteed and refunds or exchanges can not be made without a receipt.

One way to improve results: The Forgetting Curve

In my twenties I wanted to make a difference.

I was working towards my Ju Jitsu black belt and started teaching self-protection classes.

I talked about self-awareness and that if they were going to fight back, they should never punch with their fist (think punching a brick wall). So they slammed their open hands & elbows into the pads and channelled their inner warrior.

But when I reflect back, all I can think of is Hermann Ebbinghaus.

He was a German psychologist who wanted to understand why we forget things and how to prevent it. His research produced the Forgetting Curve – a visual representation of the way that learned information fades over time.


What are the chances any of these people could put any of it into action in 2022? Or a week later for that mattter.

I’d have had more impact working with boys in school to prevent violence against women (but that’s another story!)

And I’m certain you’ve struggled to remember a handy framework or fancy coaching question when you’ve most needed it. We all have.

But imagine the difference you could make if you retained and put into action more of what you learned?

All those podcasts and books and seminars with brilliant ideas – yet so few of them actually get implemented. And, of course, you don’t get results from ideas you don’t implement, no matter how brilliant.

The key to combatting the forgetting curve seems simple: Review the learning, reflect on its application and put it into practice as often as possible.

But the secret is to incorporate it into your everyday life and find excuses to use your learning as soon as possible.

⭐ How about trying to explain a new framework or technique to somebody else. That way, you’ll deepen your understanding AND spread the knowledge that bit further.

What business book are you reading or podcast are you tuning into that could transform how you work? (If you could only remember what it said!)

P.s A good way to start might be to make sure you remember this tip on remembering by explaining the forgetting curve to someone in your team!

The shift from MD to Chairman

2 years ago Steve decided enough was enough.

His bonsai trees needed attention, he wanted to climb more, and frankly, if Covid taught us anything, it’s that life is too short. So we planned how he could shift from hands-on MD to behind the scenes Chairman.

We’re 2 years into the plan.

So, how did it work out? Am I successfully running the show?

And importantly, what did we learn that will be useful to you?

The good news is the bonsai tress are looking superb and the climbing gym think Steve’s moved in. And we’ve had one of our best year’s yet in the business.

Here are our top 5 lessons learned.

Create a dashboard

Steve keeping his finger on the pulse of the business became harder when he wasn’t doing the finances or talking to clients. So I created a dashboard of measures that would enable him to be reassured all was well – but also allow him to challenge and support me in equal measure.

⭐️ Make sure your dashboard is easy to update and not over complicated. You don’t want to  be micromanaging from afar. I’m talking about the ability to see red, amber, green on key measures that will allow you to spot problems.

Work on yourself

We did loads of financial scenarios. But it all happened quicker than we anticipated which left a lag before Steve’s other plans kicked in. We imagined he’d be juggling things for a lot longer. This was a nice problem to have but you might find you haven’t done enough thinking about your transition.

⭐️ Make sure you’ve worked on yourself. If you’re really hands-on right now it might be quite a challenge to shift into another role. The danger is you hang on when you’re not needed which could undermine your successors.

Set boundaries

This subject has been very real for us for years. When you’re married  and running a business together, chatting about work over the dinner table can become oppressive. But it can be the same if someone is stepping into your shoes. Dipping in and out because you want them to benefit from your experience will disempower and discourage different ways of working.

⭐️ Agree meetings that are fit for purpose. We have a weekly catch up and a monthly strategy meeting

Keep communicating

It’s easy to make assumptions. What did it mean to be chairman instead of MD? What did Steve need to be cc’d on and what decision did he still need to contribute towards?  We sometimes had different ideas in our head and communicating regularly became more important than ever.

And most importantly:

Be kind to yourself.

If you’re making a transition, there will be a period of experimentation and adjustment. You will be grappling with new ways of working (or not working!) and you may start delving into questions of meaning and purpose.

It can be difficult to see the wood for the trees when you’re running the show, a second pair of eyes, a guiding hand or an outside viewpoint could make all the difference and prove there’s another way.