Category Archives: coaching

Can you be a great leader? – Try CURIOSITY

Welcome to my blog, where I explore leadership  characteristics. Here I draw on my own leadership experience and observations from my work as an executive coach.  I hope you tried out gratitude after reading my last blog. If you did, I am certain you are already seeing a difference in your self-awareness, your resilience levels and your energy levels. You could say I am curious about leaders and the qualities of the best leaders. But, I am curious about many more things and I want to encourage you to develop your skills of curiosity also. In addition to gratitude I think curiosity is an important and under developed skill for leaders. So, do read on, but if your short on time do have a look at this graphic that captures the key messages.


Some of you may at this point want to close my blog thinking, oh yes curiosity if only I had time for that! I am too busy running this place, dealing with business and financial strategy to take time out to be curious. You may be thinking about the other dictionary meanings of the word curious and conjure up in your mind strange, unusual peculiar, bizarre, freak or deviant. Or maybe a parent or teacher comes to mind telling you to FOCUS,as “curiosity killed the cat!” All of those views on curiosity are limited.  For starters the proverb was never originally intended to be “curiosity killed the cat”. The original form of the proverb, now little used, was “Care killed the cat” and is attributed as early as Shakespeare. In this instance, “care” was defined as “worry” or “sorrow.”  It got changed in the 18th century to “curiosity killed the cat” as feminine and feline characteristics were deemed unproductive.  We can agree that worry and stress are disablers for leaders in complex organisations. So, it’s conceivable to think worry would kill the cat also. So, if curiosity didn’t kill the cat but worry did then you might just be seeing curiosity a little more positively now. The other interesting thing about curiosity is it leads you in all sorts of different directions. Curiosity is where we have a strong desire to learn or to know something. Evidence is mounting that learning something new grows your brain functions. That’s where the concept of brain neuroplasticity comes into play. Scientists are discovering that the adult brain can still grow,change and develop and can actually be trained to improve. The flip side if you don’t keep growing your brain or its functions it will diminish. The best way to grow your brain is to learn something or do something new. When you are learning a new skill and you repeat it, or access a memory you grow your brain by making new neural connections. As a leader with all the business challenges you face every day, wouldn’t it be great if your brain was bigger, reasoning quicker and your ability to solve problems more effective.  Some of you are already curious and this blog will be a relief and reinforcement to you leaders. Practising curiosity can help you as a leader but I bet curiosity has not been top of your list as a leader maybe FOCUS has. With your education, your parents and teachers, your college, your organisations they all encouraged FOCUS. Focus on the grades, FOCUS stop day dreaming, FOCUS on getting into the best college, and be FOCUSED in the interview to get the job and boy do you need to be FOCUSED to succeed in business too. I’m not suggesting you toss out focus. Curiosity is not the opposite of focus. If practised curiosity will encourage your brain to change and grow and it can enhance and develop your focus, it will develop your self-awareness, you will think quicker as you make connections across new and sharper neural pathways and your skills and tools will grow. You will spot opportunity, new people, new contacts, and new ways to do things also. This is not magic it will require work and practise just like developing your focus required time effort and practise. Focus has developed the skills and depth of experience that got you to the top table, didn’t it? Well yes it did, but on its own it will not help you now you are there. How do you grow into the 70% of the job of a CEO that your experiences and qualifications never prepared you for? You need to develop yourself and awareness of others, develop radar for what might be, what is out there, what and could be different and what is coming over the hill. You need the ability to lead and engage your staff to follow the company journey. No business survives if it does not grow, change or take its staff with it, especially the diverse thinkers. SAID Business School in their recent CEO report described in their review of leader competencies a new type of leadership intelligence that is needed in addition to emotional and contextual intelligence. From their research the best CEOs seem to possess something they call ripple intelligence. It helps them do the job and continuously adapt and grow personally to keep succeeding as a CEO. Quoting Dr.Michael Smets, Ripple intelligence is described as: “The ability to see the interactions of business contexts like ripples moving across a pond.  It enables CEOs to envision how trends and contexts may intersect and change direction, so they can anticipate disruptions, make time to plan, and protect against being blindsided by unexpected events. Ripple intelligence also makes CEOs aware of their own impact and how it may influence contexts that might otherwise seem remote and unconnected. ” Practising curiosity is a tool that could help you develop ripple intelligence. Start small and like with gratitude do not try anything too ambitious initially. Your brain will need some training here. I know you don’t have much time and with all these years spent focusing you might just find being curious strange and a little tough. Here is a possible small exercise. Find somewhere quiet and undisturbed and set a timer on your watch or phone just for 2 minutes (it will seem like an age). Now get your mind to FOCUS on the present. Think of a small baby, how it uses curiosity to develop its focus by staring at its hand. Just staring at it, and the curiosity and the focus sit together. The curiosity over time when practised develops in the baby the focusing of the optic nerve. So, your curiosity will develop your skills, remember that as it feels strange, your Brain is a muscle and practise will start to stretch it. So now like a baby just look at your hands really look at your hands. Notice their size, their colour, your nails are they short or long? Are they in need of a manicure? Are they grubby from gardening, or are your fingers stained with ink from the pen that leaks? Maybe your skin is a bit dry, is the skin ageing, are the veins noticeable? Do your hands have a light tan from a week skiing maybe? What story do your hands tell you? Time up….just leave it there for today. Tomorrow I want you to notice the hands of others. Glance at them when you shake hands, look at your partners hands, look at your kids hands, let your eyes settle for a moment on someone’s hands on the train or the bus. Look around your board table to see colleagues. What do their hands tell you? Anything just think anything?  Ignore the thoughts in your head telling you this is rubbish and get back to the day job. Just be curious have a look and a little reflection. Keep practising this for a week and see what and who you start to notice, you might want to jot those thoughts down to come back to later. Please ignore the negative thoughts. You will not get immediate external results as this is inside work. You are growing your brain and it takes a little time and practise.    If you want inspiration think of a creative who solve problems, who bring great ideas into play and determine to remain curious yourself.  Read about business breakthroughs like Virgin Airlines and Richard Branson. He went on a delayed and disrupted flight and became curious about how to fix it. He didn’t run airlines, he had no experience in that field but he became curious, questioned and now we have Virgin Airlines. If you found this exercise intriguing you will probably want to move on to something more taxing. Just remember this isn’t a competition.We are building new connections and sharpening those neural pathways so you can move onto some bigger stuff now. You could:

  •  Take something apart, look inside see what’s there and how it all fits together and then try and put it back together – make sure it’s belongs to you first or family and friends may not thank you.
  • Buy a magazine on a subject you do not know about and take time to read it.
  • Take an elder out to lunch (a neighbour maybe) ask about their life story.
  • Ask someone different to you what the latest movie was they saw, go see it.
  • Take up a hobby, not one you’ve done before though, or, learn a language or try painting.
  • Go to a different restaurant, pub or holiday spot.
  • Join a group or volunteer.

Keep alert and after each activity make a note of what you saw, felt, did, and what is happening? What am I seeing? Who am I meeting? what am I learning? what is different here? Share these reflections with your leadership coach as they can help you process, reflect and help you grow that brain function a bit more. I promise that practising curiosity will help you as a business leader as it will unlock different perspectives. You will start to solve problems because you are open to new ideas, experiences and finding solutions in the less obvious places. You might find improvements in your energy, motivation, business innovation and taking people with you, especially those different to you, in age, gender and race and background. You might just hear a great idea in your organisation and be curious to find out more. Most of all when your organisation hits uncertainty and choppy seas you will remain positive. You have not been here before, but you know you can find a way through because your brain has learnt and is still learning to make new connections and think more. the unusual is not scary its is a new opportunity to learn and to grow. So go on, have a little try at being curious and remember what Albert Einstein said; Never lose a holy curiosity. Contact me for executive coaching, facilitation and keynote speeches at


Can you learn to be a great Leader? – try GRATITUDE

Welcome to my blog, I plan to write 12 blogs in a new series looking at leadership characteristics. I will draw on my own leadership experience along with observations taken from my executive coaching and mentoring practise. My blogs will be focused and to the point so, do read on as I will help you think differently about leadership and how to approach your work.

But if you are short on time try this visual


There will be problems and this week is likely to present you as a leader, or someone others call a leader with many new challenges. Maybe your teams are not performing, targets missed, your customers or buyers are unhappy and your budgets are overrunning. So, you know what you need to do – be tough minded, make difficult decisions, avoid distraction and focus on the immediate tasks. Or is that the right strategy here? What if instead of being tough minded and focused, firing off directives from the executive floor you went out and around your organisation saying thanks to people? What if at the end of each day you wrote down what you were thankful for in your day and also write down who you had said thanks to. That’s crazy, you don’t have time for that. You have to lead from the front and face problems head on. Its tough so staff need to see you modelling tough don’t they? They don’t need the ceo out bothering and distracting them. And, you have back to back meets all day and you will struggle to find time for lunch let alone have anything much to feel positive about. But, what if I told you research shows gratitude works as an effective leadership intervention. It will help build your presence and will help you specifically over time by; Changing your perspective – once you start to practise gratitude your mind will focus on the positives and the possibilities in situations. It stops you becoming inward looking obsessed with problems and instead your mind starts to clear as you develop a focus on others. Energy –You will start to lead with more energy and commitment as you turn setbacks and challenges into opportunities. You will find creativity to deal with the challenges you and your organisation face, because you are outward focused. Resilience -You will become stronger with greater psychological reserves as you start to build personal and inter personal resilience. I’m not talking unrealistic over optimism but a different perspective on your challenges and problems. You will draw your team around you as they feel valued and attended to by you. So it’s not about you being tough, it’s about a strong team. Getting it back- Leadership is often talked about as a lonely place. No one speaks truth to power and no one walks the journey with you. But gratitude draws others in as when they start to experience you showing genuine gratitude they will offer it back to you. It’s not about you –You will start to see your staff as your greatest asset. You will start to see the person behind the title and start to feel a genuine rapport with those who can engage with gratitude. You will stop feeling you have to solve the problems and instead engage the organisation and its people. Challenges move -It will at times seem almost miraculous when challenges get solved because people collaborate with you with focused and clear minds. They start to know their efforts get noticed so they work harder. Morale will improve – The morale of your workforce will improve as they feel valued. They will focus more clearly on the task as they are not held back by negatively. You will unlock all that discretionary effort that is currently taken up in resisting change or fighting the system. You will become more self-aware – many leaders become isolated, self-absorbed and have a different view of themselves to their staff, their team and their organisations. They get lost in the job of leadership and take reinforcement from the status and the power. Now gratitude given and received starts to slowly open you up to genuine feedback, to noticing others and they then notice when you make a difference. You will be surprised by what others see as important in the leader. You will start to integrate your life – evidence suggests most leaders only talk to other leaders. People who are just like them but it takes a whole organisation to deliver the business so you need ways to engage with all those not like you. If you are a Myers Briggs ENTJ leader you are just 4% of the world. So, what do all those others think!! You will start to find yourself more at ease talking to the PA, the post room staff, your own partner and kids and break into fabulous spontaneous conversations when the train is delayed. You will become a leader who has followers – A CEO can get on a soap box, meet teams, sign off strategic plans but they only become real leaders when they have followers. So, how do you start? Start small, start private and start genuine. Get a notebook keep it by your bed or in your work bag. Write down each day no more than five things you are grateful for. Even on a terrible day when the trains late, a key buyer pulls out or your team misses monthly performance by a barn mile you still had a great cup of coffee. So, write it down. Be genuine, don’t shout about it and don’t kid yourself with big statements. If you are a real leader you are deep in the muck and bullets so a great coffee or a train home that ran to time today might be the best you can do. But, start there it will get better and bigger if you do this genuinely and for at least a month. Once you have got the hang of the GRATITUDE LIST then start a second list; Think of the people you said thanks to today, the bus driver, your PA for that great cup of coffee. The cab driver or your deputy who pulled off the deal for the team.  Notice this list, you might struggle to even put one thank you down at first. You may notice you are rubbish at saying well done or thank you but better at barking orders. So leave it blank and tomorrow commit to say one thank you to anyone, to someone, and mean it. Keep these two lists for a month then review yourself against the characteristics I listed above. Notice how the lists changed and developed, what have you learnt about yourself and notice how you feel about yourself, your family, your work. I’m certain you will do better on authenticity, self-awareness and resilience. You may also have more energy, better staff morale and business success…. Staying with gratitude let’s finish with a story from Aesop… A Slave ran away from his master, by whom he had been most cruelly treated, and, in order to avoid capture, betook himself into the desert. As he wandered about in search of food and shelter, he came to a cave, which he entered and found to be unoccupied. Really, however, it was a Lion’s den, and almost immediately, to the horror of the wretched fugitive, the Lion himself appeared. The man gave himself up for lost: but, to his utter astonishment, the Lion, instead of springing upon him and devouring him, came and fawned upon him, at the same time whining and lifting up his paw. Observing it to be much swollen and inflamed, he examined it and found a large thorn embedded in the ball of the foot. He accordingly removed it and dressed the wound as well as he could: and in course of time it healed up completely. The Lion’s gratitude was unbounded; he looked upon the man as his friend, and they shared the cave for some time together. A day came, however, when the Slave began to long for the society of his fellow-men, and he bade farewell to the Lion and returned to the town. Here he was presently recognised and carried off in chains to his former master, who resolved to make an example of him, and ordered that he should be thrown to the beasts at the next public spectacle in the theatre. On the fatal day the beasts were loosed into the arena, and among the rest a Lion of huge bulk and ferocious aspect; and then the wretched Slave was cast in among them. What was the amazement of the spectators, when the Lion after one glance bounded up to him and lay down at his feet with every expression of affection and delight! It was his old friend of the cave! The audience clamoured that the Slave’s life should be spared: and the governor of the town, marvelling at such gratitude and fidelity in a beast, decreed that both should receive their liberty. We never know when gratitude will be returned so go on start it today. If you like my approach then do contact me to talk to you as a leader or to your team. I love and learn from feedback so do tell me what you think of the blog………

pictorial view of the blog thanks to @engagevisually

Cats, power and building barriers in the NHS

well my cats territory now well & truly invaded and 5 year plan suggests move to patient power will personal budgets & self care not just black cat power !!!


In the last year or so we have talked a lot about NHS culture in the media, blog posts and in the Francis inquiry. How the culture is wrong, how we need to change culture. I think we use “it’s the culture” as an excuse to keep doing what we have always done and so we get the same results. Saying it’s the culture is also a way to quieten down those who might challenge the status quo.It all then becomes about keeping going and survival. Some NHS managers and leaders act like my cat when another cat enters her territory.

In the garden today I can see my cat on the fence in a “Mexican standoff “with a black cat. Hissing and howling and just sitting, balanced on a fence refusing to shift. My tabby just digs in and exerts her power on the status quo. I’m not shifting…

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sick of group think and set backs in progressing equality in the NHS

This weekend I have read my way through a challenging and important report for the NHS by Roger  Kline.

“The snowy white peaks of the NHS: a survey of discrimination in governance and leadership and the potential impact on patient care in London and England.” Middlesex University.

If leaves me troubled at the situation we find ourselves in, with data going the wrong way on numbers of Black and minority ethnic staff (BME) and women leaders in the NHS. It not just the NHS either. Statistics tell us in the top teams of the Whitehall civil servants, those who chair national committees and MPs in Parliament numbers of black and ethnic minority staff and women are reducing not increasing. This is at the same time as our country becomes more diverse and dynamic.

How long will Theresa May hold on as the token women in cabinet I wonder? She may just need those kitten heels to stamp on those trying to push her out of her cabinet room chair. How long can Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer Keep putting up with “being the only woman in the room.” Yes, there has been outcry in the news and reinforced actively via social media.  That’s important and talk amongst current leaders including NHS Employers and the NHS Leadership Academy about needing to do something urgently is happening.

But, talk quietly and off the record to those who lead board development and undertake executive coaching in the NHS and they will tell you the sad facts.  Women who apply for CEO roles are taking 4 times longer than men to get their first post and for the rest of the board appointments look at the colour pictures on websites. 80% of the time you will guess the ethnicity and its mostly white, middle aged and male. We need action and its urgent now and Rogers work puts a loud hailer to the problem.

This isn’t just about numbers and complying with the Equality Act. Though being lawful is the first step and an important one. This is much more about the sort of NHS we are growing and developing. Can this NHS that we have been so proud of for 66 years survive the future if it does not reflect the population it serves?

How will we be truly patient centred and help people from different communities manage their own long term conditions? Where will we begin to help patients stay independent into old age and work with the capacity and capability of their families and communities to support them? That’s before we turn attention to how we maintain the morale of the staff we employ. If we do not have diverse leadership teams then we do not have people who have walked in their shoes and understand their challenges.

One of the most striking things ever said to me more than 8 years ago was a plea from a psychologist when I left a role as a provider director. She said:

“Amanda keep working full time in senior roles and keep progressing upwards in your career. Because when a mum works full time with small children at a senior level and talks about it then we all believe we could do it too.”

This is one of the problems I suspect our BME staff face, lucky to make it to an 8 grade post then they look up at the white peaks populated by tiny numbers of BME staff and many more men than women and don’t believe it could be them.

Beyond rending our garments what can we do? Well I think it has to start with all of us who are leaders and who are coaches in the NHS. As we are there at the top of the mountain and the BME staff are not. We have to make this as important as financial balance and quality of care. Monitor and CQC need to challenge us and themselves to do that too. As successful private sector companies have realised for a while now board diversity does breed success.

But, do we sit quietly in dark corners and think yes we need to do more, but surely the best people are the most talented and ambitious and they apply and secure promotions. Maybe men and white people are just better – we would not dare say that in 21st century multi-cultural Britain would we? We know it’s just not true, more than 50% medical school students are women and numbers of BME doctors continue to increase. Ability deficits are not the issue here, its opportunity and the unconscious bias or group think of the status quo leaders at the top – all of us.

My teenage son, still on his 3 weeks Easter break attends a state boarding school that holds International school status with the British Council. He therefore lives and learns with many black and Asian children (around 30% of the boarding students are Black or Asian and in rural Norfolk!) I asked my son to describe what he knew about the careers his friends wanted and he reeled off lawyer, architect and lots wanted to be doctors. It’s a hard working, high performing school. I then asked him about all the staff in the NHS and asked what does he think is going on if the leaders are not more mixed he said ITS NOT ABOUT THE LACK OF ABILITY MUM.

I’m proud my son lives, learns and grows up within a diverse community as I hope he will be someone comfortable to work and progress alongside other ambitious people of all backgrounds.

But back to the NHS, as Trust Boards finalise their corporate plans and objectives I suggest you take a look at the NHS EMPLOYERS website and their 10 top tips for diversity;

There is lots more great advice via the NHS Employers website on equality and diversity we just need to decide to act on it as leaders and ask for the help to make a difference.

Finally, in 1966 a White Irish Catholic US Senator went to South Africa, the first white US politician to do so during apartheid. While in South Africa he challenged the status quo, right there in South Africa, in the height of apartheid while Nelson Mandela was locked up on Robin Island. He didn’t see it as the responsibility of the BME community to address this, he did something himself as a privileged white leader.

He directly challenged thinking on apartheid and the organisation of life in South Africa by saying in a speech:

“But suppose God is Black, what if we go to heaven, and we, all our lives, have treated the Negro as inferior, and God is there, and we look up and he is not white? What then is our response?”

And of course the irony this Easter is that God is black, white, Asian, male, female, fit, disabled straight, gay, old and young. Because He made us all in his image and guess what, the NHS is that diverse too.

I urge us as leaders to do what we can to change this situation. Challenge ourselves, challenge our teams, and challenge our organisations to let others in, even if that means no place is left for us on the not so snowy peak.