Want to be a great leader? Learn to Love

Welcome to my blog, in this series I explore leadership characteristics. Here I draw on my own leadership experience and my work as an executive coach to share with you thoughts on what makes for a great leader. I consider there are a number of leadership characteristics you need to display and work on to be more than average.  I want in this blog to focus on the theme of LOVE.

Short on time have a look at this fabulous graphic provided by @engagevisually

150928 LOVE.under 2MP

Love is a strange and potentially difficult concept for some of you in the context of buisenss. I’m sure that you didn’t learn Love in Business School and we never talk love in the boardroom.  Well not in the boardrooms I have been a member of that’s for sure.

I like many of you went to business school and my MBA taught me useful skills and strategies for developing, running and growing business. It also taught me the latest thinking on leadership and management and I think with hindsight it acted as a badge of honour to validate my climb up the slippery corporate pole. It taught me particularly to assess and manage risk and ultimately it taught me that we lead through controlling and sometimes by instilling fear in the workforce. Boardroom talk is so often”meet your targets, keep the project on track, assess risks and avoid failure at all costs”. When you do fail then blame the business context, blame the workforce or worst blame the customers for being too demanding or for wanting something else.

If you love someone do you behave like that though?

Business school didn’t teach me how to really engage customers or staff beyond the business norms. I learnt that instead in business settings, from working with senior colleagues, through my reading and through my own experience of leading. I learnt that we need a radically different approach to succeed.

We need the opposite of strong and tough leaders and leadership by fear. We instead need to build business based on LOVE. To love our products, our customers and to love our staff. There is of course a paradox here with what we are taught in business school, practised in our work and how we do business in the west. Business settings often make us think that love is weak and inappropriate in business as it’s not defined by seeking power or control over organisations or others.

If we focus on love we also face a challenge if we are associated with teams and products we don’t or can’t love and don’t believe in. But, if you are in a business or a team you don’t love I think it shows. So, it’s in all of our interest to find ways to love our work and our staff or leave and find the work and people we can love. Unfortunately our approach to business is more often one of shutting down feelings, emotions and connectedness. I have worked for CEOs who have even said:

“No emotions in the boardroom please that makes me uncomfortable.”

Those sorts of business leaders have always troubled me and they often see me as trouble too. As I just can’t lead like that and I don’t think that’s the way to lead either. I’ve been told at times I’m too connected to the staff and customers and I should hold it all more lightly. But, if you want people to follow will they do it if you don’t take their needs seriously? If you don’t commit to them and the business? I don’t think they do and I think that’s why staff engagement is so poor in many of our businesses.

We instead look around at the businesses who are successful, especially the great entrepreneurs. We see that they love their products and they want to share that love with the world. They don’t grow their business to make money. Money is a by-product of a great offer and a great staff team always reside behind that offer. They love their customers and they get a huge sense of satisfaction with the customer’s pleasure and positive experience. They also go to the ends of the earth to fix problems in their business if customers and staff are dissatisfied. This sort of business leadership is rare and I fear becoming rarer in a world of cost cutting, competitive advantage, professional image and regulation.

Deloittes 2015 HR survey suggested culture, employee engagement and retention is now the most pressing challenge for business. So, my summary of their report is we need to find ways to love staff, even if loving is hard and sacrifices something of ourselves on the way. We need to find ways to keep staff and find even better ways to love them back to us if they are disengaged.  http://d2mtr37y39tpbu.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/DUP_GlobalHumanCapitalTrends2015.pdf

If you don’t believe focusing on love would make a difference to you or your team? Just throw into your next team meeting a couple of questions. Ask each team member to take five minutes and write down their responses and then to stick them up on a board.

  1. Tell me about the risks and challenges we currently face?
  2. What or who do you each love and how does that make you feel?
  3. Think about our business and tell me who or what do you love about this place?
  4. Think about our products and would our customers say they love them and why?

I tell you, the reactions will astound you, we are desperate to love, we look for love and we are brought alive by love. Whereas power and fear shut us all down and scare us out of innovation, creativity and motivation. In her book, Freedom from Fear, Nobel Peace Prize winner and Burmese opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi said, “It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.”

The opposite of fear is love and the ancient Greeks had 30 words to describe love. Yet we have diminished love to just a few things.  We have often reduced love to erotic love, familial love and friendship love…..but what if we had a broader view of love and brought that to our workplace, our staff, our bosses the business we do,  our customers…how would that change the way we work?

If you remember the movie Jerry Maguire you will remember the character played by Tom Cruise. Jerry loved work with a passion, he loved his business that’s why he wrote that mission statement, that is ultimately why he got sacked in the opening scenes. No one else could get it, engage with it or pull down the façade of business and professionalism they had created. So, they thought Jerry was crazy. Jerry shared the love he had of his only player when he said:

“I am out here for you. You don’t know what it’s like to be ME out here for YOU. It is an up-at-dawn, pride-swallowing siege that I will never fully tell you about, ok?”

But, for most of the movie Jerry never brought that out in the open into his leading or the way he led. He talked under pressure, in a wash room and angry about never fully telling it. Are you that leader? The one who loves? The one who wells up when a customer tells you how a product disappointed them or how brilliant it was? The one who loves but can’t share it?

I am that leader and I know many of you are too. But why are we scared to show that love and that connection with our product, our customers and our business. Why can’t we talk about love, celebrate it and mean it in business?

We have been shut down by a western view of leadership being about control, holding onto power and success being equated with strength. But deep down we feel a fraud as we know it’s something else that is needed isn’t it?

If we take a minute to reflect on these feelings of connection with staff and customers and our product we start to delve into agape which is the love of and for humanity or  philia, the love we feel from a shared experience. Then we are in touching distance of the space where we need to get to be great business leaders.

If we focus on how we can experience and grow love in an organisation rather than leading by fear and control how would that change us and those we work with? Well I think it would change everything. But we so often don’t do it because it is risky. We are not open in business as we fear that protectionism, envy and power are stronger than love. But look to history and tell me did fear and power and envy ever last in the end or was it eventually overturned by love? That’s why we need to love ourselves, our staff, our customers and our organisations. If we love them they will start to love us back.

I think we need to imagine our customers as our family and friends. We know how to love them don’t we? What would our business be like if we loved our customers and our staff like we love our friends, our family or ours sports team. Making it goo denough for your mum, sticking with them, going the extra mile, getting it right for them and staying with it, admitting it when getting it wrong also.

But be careful as for a start it starts with you as an individual and it will be costly as it would mean changing how you engage. You have to be open, authentic and vulnerable as love hurts. But without love you will slowly die and your leadership and business will not thrive as it might. CS Lewis said in his book The Four Loves:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, and irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

Our public services and businesses and our staff need love and leaders who love them. We are so familiar with leaders who are self-serving, egotistical or narcissistic. We read of care scandals, over whelmed and exhausted staff and rules after rules and we know they are not the answer. We cannot change these issues overnight but we need to think about a different approach.

A few years ago I was working for the UK government and had the privilege of organising a study tour to Sweden to look at their model of Dementia care. I took about 20 senior leaders. Civil servants, Public health doctors, social services directors and general practitioners. We visited a number of care settings and met staff and leaders of those services. One day we were in a dementia day centre and the staff member was affectionately holding the hand of an elderly lady with dementia. She had her dog in the unit and would kiss her dog then spontaneous kiss the staff member. Another lady was cutting up apples for a pie (badly and slowly I must add). The place was happy and there was sense of calm, love and affection in it. We asked about lunch and were told they would eat when the pie was ready and that might be later than 12 noon. They operated like your family would, lunch came when lunch came and all contributed.  So very unlike any units you expect to see in this sort of care setting.

Later as a visiting group we discussed what we found and all concluded rather jokingly that based on what we saw we would like Swedish citizenship so we could be cared for that way. But sadly we reflected that in our system that model of care would not be tolerated as the professional boundaries and regulations were challenged by this approach. But we all agreed that they had love and that’s what we wanted if we needed care in old age.

We asked the leader later over dinner with us why the staff interacted this way and how they maintained professional boundaries when staff did this. Horrified she had misheard our questions she asking our interpreter to translate again. She then took a deep breath and replied:

“We love these people, we can’t do this work without love. We help them by being alongside them, they are not calm, happy or cared for without our staff loving them.”

The next day our meeting with another senior leader was delayed as there had been an incident overnight and she was being interviewed on TV  by local media. We assumed it was a death or a patient had disappeared from the unit. The sort of issues we would go to the media about in the UK. We were genuinely shocked to discover she had called the press in herself. To tell them the service had failed a lady by leaving her unattended and alone on the toilet for an hour and the staff were upset they had let her down. The sort of reaction you would give if you left your own toddler in the supermarket by mistake but not as a business leader. She was the leader of this service and crying on local TV about this incident as if it had happened to her own mother. That looked like love  to me.

So, how do we start to bring love into the business where you are? Start that personal and business journey today. Simply start to love and you will be loved by your staff, your team your customers. Ask your colleagues the questions I outlined above.   Put on your wall in your office a sign saying: if this business were loving its customers what would it be doing? Wait for your visitors to notice the sign and make suggestions.

Remember this is a journey, a mind set shift and you can’t do this overnight and it will hurt at times. Get a coach yourself and a facilitator for your team to discuss this and start to think about having these conversations with staff. When it hurts and is difficult you will need a safe place to take that pain and frustration and to keep working on it so you don’t shut down under the pressure to be open and real.

Let’s finish with that great book The Velveteen Rabbit – as this is how love really works:

“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

Do contact me for executive coaching face to face or SKYPE, mentoring and leadership speaking. I might be some of the difference you need and I would love to work with you on your leadership journey.


Are public sector leaders of any use to the private sector?

I have been pondering this question a bit lately as I am one of 100s of public sector managers who lost out in a board restructure/downsizing. We are all too familiar with the “cull of public sector posts” and with further treasury cuts proposed there will be many more.

Affected and not that young any more but too young to retire, so what to do? I diligently set up a company to ply my strategy & operational management skills. I built my social media presence & I networked furiously asking anyone & everyone: “What is the success of your independent company?”

I Continued with professional development with a post graduate executive coaching & mentor qualification. I  keep my board room skills honed as a Non-Executive for a community trust.  I offered probono support to my son’s school as a year 11 mentor & to my church where I coach the newest leader there.  I read, I watched, I listened and I blogged.

Now increasingly on the outside looking in I have had time to reflect on the quality of leadership across the public sector and leadership skills more generally.  I joined the public sector soon after the Griffiths reforms http://nhstimeline.nuffieldtrust.org.uk/. That was about increased efficiency & bringing private sector managers into the NHS and professionalising management  I benefited  personally by accessing great learning & development and culminating in my Business School MBA. Now on the outside I find myself  supporting private & independent sector companies, individual entrepreneurs, not for profit & education.  Im loving that so the questions arose;

Do public sector managers transition to the private sector and do you want our skills?

In their report “The challenges of transition: from public to private” Hays and the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry look at the assumptions held on public sector managers by the private sector & public sector views of the other. The reports suggest skills are transferable in some instances and we should be open minded to this.

If you are in the private sector and you look carefully at the public sector (maybe via LinkedIn) you will find people who have operated at a senior level with a range of really valuable skills.

So, what can we offer?

“Management of multi-million pound budgets, including critical decision making • Identification and implementation of cost control and best-value initiatives • Compliance with complex regulatory or legislative requirements • Management and mitigation of risk • Development of people and teams • Management of complex, highly political stakeholder relationships • Knowledge of how governmental organisations work and an in-depth understanding of their requirements”

Many of these skills are invaluable in other sectors & new external insights in the board room are always really valuable.

But do public sector managers transition to the private sector & should you recruit them?

Of course the answer is Yes and here are some tips to recruit the best:

  • Look for those who have worked across a range of organisations
  • Who have experience in a range of settings & geography
  • Those with a flexible attitude & a range of skills to offer you and your share holders
  • those who are still learning & are curious
  • then test if they can get excited about you and your business – find the passion 

BUT BEWARE not all public sector managers can make that transition. Some may like the routine of pay, pension and the structure of a big organisation to hide in. Anyone coming to the private sector will need help to understand what’s different & demonstrate to the private sector they understand:

  • how  objectives have to be met that clearly deliver profit and shareholder value
  • needing to act quickly and with autonomy to respond to the market
  • they will work innovatively, non-hierarchically & within company law
  • there is much less bureaucracy
  • the private sector has some great leadership roles to offer

And of course I am always looking for new opportunities inside & outside the public sector as a coach & strategist http://www.amandareynolds.org

Bitesize Leadership & Curiosity

Welcome to my bite size. One of 12 blogs in a new series looking at leadership characteristics. I think curiosity is an important and under developed skill for leaders.

Being curious can have negative connotations but the proverb was never intended to be “curiosity killed the cat”. It was “care killed the cat” and it got changed in the 18th century to curiosity.   Curiosity is having a strong desire to learn or to know something.

Learning something new grows your brain. Called brain neuroplasticity scientists are discovering that adult brains can still grow and can be trained to improve. The flip side if you don’t keep growing your brain is it will diminish. When you are learning a new skill and you repeat it you grow your brain by making new neural connections.

As a leader wouldn’t it be great if your brain was bigger? Curiosity will encourage your brain to change and grow, enhancing and developing your focus. You will spot opportunity, new people, new contacts, and new ways to do things. This is not magic as it will require work and practise just like developing your other skills required time and effort.

SAID Business School in their CEO report described a new type of leadership intelligence needed in addition to emotional and contextual intelligence. The best CEOs seem to possess something they call ripple intelligence. Quoting Dr.Michael Smets:

“The ability to see the interactions of business contexts like ripples moving across a pond.”

“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 your ripple intelligence. Think about it in action in business breakthroughs. Richard Branson 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 and now we have Virgin Airlines.

Try being more curious it could lead to great breakthrough in you as a leader or your business:

  • Take something apart, look inside see what’s there and how it all fits together and then try and put it back together.
  • 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 and then go see it.
  • Learn a language or try painting.

After each activity make a note what am I learning? What is different here? Share these reflections with your leadership coach as they can help you process, reflect and grow that brain function a bit more.

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 http://www.amandareynolds.org

Pictorial of the blog thanks to @engagevisually

2. FEB. CURIOSITY. Graphic

Bitesize Leadership & Gratitude

Welcome to my bite size. One of 12 blogs in a new series looking at leadership characteristics.

This week is likely to present you as a leader, or someone others call a leader with many new challenges. 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?

Research shows gratitude works as an effective leadership intervention. It will help build your presence and will help you specifically over time;

Change your perspective – as your mind will focus on the positives and the possibilities. Energy –You will  lead with more energy and commitment turning setbacks into opportunities. Outward focused you will find creativity to deal with the challenges your organisation faces. Resilience you will become stronger with greater psychological reserves.

Your team will feel valued – You will draw your team around you as they feel attended to. Getting it back – gratitude draws others in as when they start to experience your genuineness. 

Discretionary effort emerges – Staff start to know their efforts get noticed and work harder.

Morale will improve – The morale of your workforce will improve as they feel valued.

You become more self-aware –Gratitude given and received slowly opens genuine feedback. 

You will integrate your life – Being more at ease talking to the PA, post room staff, your kids. 

You will become a leader who has 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 you still had a great cup of coffee.  If you are a real leader you are deep in the muck and bullets so a great coffee 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 THANK YOU LIST list. Think of the people you said thanks to today, the bus driver, your PA for a great cup of coffee, your deputy who pulled off the deal for the team.  Notice this list, you might struggle to put one thank you down at first. You may notice you are rubbish at saying well done or thank you. So leave it blank and tomorrow commit to say one thank you 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 and what  you learnt about yourself.

Like my approach? then do contact me http://www.amandareynolds.org to talk at a key event or to coach you or your team. Pictorial of the blog thanks to @engagevisually

Want to be a great leader? Leaders love difference

Welcome to my blog, one in a series exploring leadership characteristics. Here I draw on my own leadership experience and my work as an executive coach to share with you my thoughts on what makes for a great leader. I consider there are a number of leadership characteristics a leader needs to display and work on to be more than average.  I want in this blog to focus on the theme of difference or diversity in leaders and leadership teams.

Please don’t think this is for someone else in your team or that I will make a moral or quotas argument about board diversity.  I want to talk instead about the business, rational and logical case to love difference. This is really NOT an add-on to your business or something that your human resource team can lead on for you. You need to pay attention to this yourself to be more successful than your competitors.


I love to coach leaders as they identify their challenges, their business goals and grow their capability, confidence and self-awareness. I had the honour recently of coaching a leader who was looking to expand his team. When exploring what he needed in his team he boldly said:

I need to bring in someone with a very different profile and skillset to me and the rest of the team. I know it will be challenging and the organisation might find it uncomfortable. But, this place will only grow and develop a really engaging vision if I recruit difference.”

He is a leader with a clear goal, he is after DIFFERENCE and he knows why it matters to the growth of the organisation. I think he knows something about the vital role difference plays in top teams and organisations. I know from my own career and personal life how difference can be challenging. I, like others am always more comfortable with those like myself. Then when I look back my greatest achievements in life they have come when I led teams of difference or worked with those very different to me.

But why would a leader go out of their way to look for very different skills, skills they do not have or understand themselves?  Having the hassle of welcoming someone into the team who will not fit easily and may jar with colleagues and the organisation/team culture? That is madness isn’t it? You want people who complement each other and create team harmony for a great team, surely?  People who share the same values and ideas as you. People who will work with you easily. You want people like you surely; no you do not.

The evidence is mounting that loving difference is what you need to do if you want your business to rise above the mediocre and win over its competitors. It is also definitely what you need to do to engage the discretionary effort and maximise the morale of your workforce.

This thinking of mine is not new, in fact Stephen Covey said “Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.”  It’s been around awhile but I think it is still not taken seriously enough. Many Boards are still not making it core. Businesses and leaders are falling behind because they are ignoring it or worse deliberately avoiding difference in their teams or belittling its importance.

But, meanwhile a minority of businesses are seeing the benefits. They will overtake you if you do not get DIFFERENCE into the core of what you do and how you do business.  And that’s exactly what Mckinsey in their recent research found. More diverse boards do equal more profit and have a more successful impact in their market segment. Mckinsey do not say categorically why that is but they suggest some reasons.

I agree with Mckinsey that the CEOs and chairs they found who are open to, value and seek out difference in people around them and in the strategies pursued are then leading more successful companies. Mckinsey go as far as to say they are putting diversity as a core business goal and there is best practise here to watch. These are boards it seems where gender, race, sexuality, varied social backgrounds, belief, age and disability are seen as valuable assets not barriers to success.  You can read the full summary here:


And of course you want to lead the most successful team in your field don’t you? You do not put in the hours and heavy lifting to come home and say I was average today or my team was mediocre do you? If you want to be the most successful business in your field then you need the best team. Many CEOs and Chairs spend a great deal of time with coaches and recruitment agencies considering how to achieve this. But what if they are looking in the wrong places and working with coaches and recruiters too like them? It seems you only get real success by seeking out difference, not the same. Maybe the first thing you could do is fire your recruitment agency or your coach and find a DIFFERENT one!

Patrick Lencioni in his New York Bestseller “The five dysfunctions of a team – a leadership fable” starts by stating:

“Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare.”

Patrick writes convincingly and with much real expertise from coaching executives and teams. But his 5 dysfunctions needs the addition of a 6th dysfunction avoiding difference. Yes we do need to build trust, engage in conflict, build commitment and accountability and focus on the results. BUT we must also seek the different, the divergence, the new, the unusual the downright weird. As in this place is the breakthrough you need in your business and to avoid it you are likely to be a breeding ground for the horrors of Group Think. Group Think is not another new concept either. In fact it was first coined by psychologists in the 1970s. In my work with organisations and leaders I still find it far too prevalent four decades on. Irving Janis in his work at Yale described Group Think and its real dangers as:

“The more amiability and esprit de corps there is among the members of a policy-making ingroup, the greater the danger that independent critical thinking will be replaced by groupthink.”

So the crazy idea I suggest is you need to build a team that will make life more difficult, more different to you, less harmonious and more conflicted at times. Through this difference you and your business will become more successful in your field.

Malcolm Gladwell in his latest book “David and Goliath” sums up how assumptions and current paths to the top table do not get us diversity in thinking, approach or strategy and he says:

“We spend a lot of time thinking about the way that prestige and resources and belonging to elite institutions make us better off. We don’t spend enough time thinking about the ways in which these kinds of material advantages limit our options.”

We know leaders and business are less trusted now than ever before and we know when we look up at the top table they don’t look much like the rest of us. So, advantages as we measure them, the right school, college internship and CV aren’t advantages. They potentially stop you connecting with your organisation and your customers. You need difference in your team to see different and be different to the rest of the field.

And teams need this difference as teams that are full of people who are too alike often are not harmonious. They can breed constant internal tension and focus turns to individual status, ego and MY results instead of the whole organisational success. Difference stops the internal competition and comparison that is always so tempting to fall into in top teams. In teams where difference prevails the focus shifts to competing together against the world and to grow and succeed together. A good analogy would be to fix a door you need wood, hammer and nails, three of one won’t do it.

We need to go a bit further than just recruiting difference in our teams and organisations we also need to be different ourselves. I recently interviewed a CEO of a very large public sector organisation. He had taken on an organisations that was in a mess and one that has had high profile interest for its many problems from government and regulators in the UK. He was past his retirement age and shared with me how he was leading the organisation back onto its feet and to be a leader in its field. His background was not traditional CEO as he had spent a number of years in research, strategy and policy development. He did not fit the bill for the shortlist. He wasn’t a current deputy CEO, chief operating officer or finance director.  He said to me in describing the rationale for his approach which was different to his peers:

I am not like my CEO peers in other organisations. I have not come through that route and I don’t have status and belonging to that group to hold me back. I’m going to turn this organisation around the way it needs to. It will not be comfortable for me or the Board. But I’m past retirement age so what is the worst that can happen to me? They might fire me.  Then I will say thanks for giving me a try and I will go home to the cottage by the sea and put my feet up!”

He is an outsider with the passion, vision and energy to make the change. He is not reckless and he is building a very clear strategy to develop his organisation. Because he is not part of the pack he can challenge and change things without fear of what he will lose. He does not need the approval of peers and he is not looking for it either.

Malcolm Gladwell sums this quality up as being disagreeable, and my CEO friend, lets call him Ted is clearly disagreeable in his approach:

“Crucially innovators need to be disagreeable. By disagreeable I don’t mean obnoxious or unpleasant. ……They are people willing to take social risks – to do things that others might disapprove of.”

So how do you develop a team that is difference or disagreeable? and how do you work on your own difference? There are a few thing you could try and they build on my Curiosity and Gratitude blogs. If you are serious about being different and loving difference get a coach and a team facilitator if you don’t have one already. Get a coach who isn’t like you but someone who is different to you and your team. Here are some thoughts on what you could do and you will need your notebook again:

  • Go out and about and notice people in your organisation “the ones who are most unlike you”. Take time to talk to them about the business and get their feedback.
  • Who comes to mind as trouble when you implement a new plan at Board? The one who won’t like it or complains about it. Go see Joe, Fred or Betty ask them to explain what’s wrong with your plan, say thanks and just write it down.
  • Who is the quiet one in your team? Take them out to coffee and ask them to tell you what they think about how the business is doing and what could we improve.
  • Look at your top team psychometrics again or get them done. And see what skills and preferences you have lots of and what is missing in team.
  • Go visit a successful business in a completely different field and reflect on what they seem to be getting right.
  • Find out all you can about the main competitors in your field and ask where they are different to you in team and approach.
  • Ask yourself and your team if we made diversity core to our business what would we do differently?
  • Ask yourself if I could recruit any business innovators past and present and from any field to my team who would I pick and why?
  • Reflect on when you last had someone very different in your team, how did you feel or how did you react to them? What have you learnt from this experience.
  • Find out from your team: what is the worst job they ever did? And what was a big event in their childhood? Tell them yours also.
  • Now take some time out to reflect on what’s in your notes and what it is saying to you? Reflect on what surprises you.
  • Set up a top team day and tell your team what you are hearing from outside, ask them to share what their reflections are on this feedback.
  • Start to devise your refreshed business strategy with your team based on what you have learnt
  • Ask your top team one by one and privately to buy in to the new refreshed strategy and direction. Offer them an opportunity to step aside if they don’t want to do the tough work in a DIFFERENT team.

This will not be easy, it will be harder work but you WILL get better results.

So, in summary difference is what you need in your team and your organisation and different is what you need to be also. Maybe you are more different than you let on and maybe on your journey to the top you have hidden your unique attributes and difference? Don’t hide yourself anymore,  be authentic and it will make you a better leader if you share your difference.

“As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”
― Nelson Mandela

Do contact me for executive coaching, mentoring and leadership speaking. I can travel to you or I offer high quality Skype coaching. I might be some of the difference you need and I would love to work with you on your leadership journey.


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


Can you be a great leader? Experience failure

Welcome to my blog, one in a series on leadership characteristics. Here I draw on my own leadership experience and my work as an executive coach and share with you my thoughts on what makes for a great leader. Did you try to be more curious ? I do hope that you did. Because if you are trying to be more curious then your brain is already growing in strength and size as it forms and deepens connections. Don’t forget to write down what you are learning and discuss it with your leadership coach. This will really help you grow in your self-awareness also. Growing self-awareness is a nice link in to my next topic, failure. I’m sure you are feeling both intrigued and maybe a little uncomfortable right now. Short on time then take a look at the great graphic by @engagevisually


We don’t talk about failure in leadership much do we? In our fast paced business environments with many challenges we focus instead on performance and delivery. It all about success and more success, leaders can’t be allowed to fail, can they? So, what happens to the leaders who do fail? We know in our hearts and from research that many of them do? I think they go quietly out of their role, in hushed tones, ashamed to talk about what went wrong in a world where success is so prized. We talk about them though don’t we? not to them but we do talk and wonder about their failure and how on earth it happened. And, how we can avoid it. Because deep down we may suffer from imposter syndrome, am I good enough? Will I be able to hold the performance of my team together? Will my company grow and survive this market? How will I navigate the choppy waters ahead? How the heck do I keep my life in balance and be great at work and at home also?

Don’t kid yourself  the odds are stacked against you also. With 40% of CEOs failing in their first 18 months and even more failing to live up to their company board expectations in the medium term. But, you don’t have to be on a leadership track based on the statistics. You should though start to expect failure and learn from it. Even get to a  place of embracing the failure.   I am not wanting you to become pessimistic and disabled by the thought of failing. I know that failing as a leader can be a catastrophic life event but it does not have to be. I want to suggest a new way of approaching failure. I believe that we all fail as leaders and we will go onto fail more as our careers progress. Even if we don’t make it out of the door, box in hand as the next big firing, if we are leading then we will fail at some point. In fact I suggest we need to experience failure to get success. We need to engage with the failure and learn from it. I also don’t actually think we will succeed unless we fail.

Crazy but true, look at some of the great business leaders over the life of their careers. Take Walt Disney, failure after failure but that’s not the story we remember is it?  His first animation company in 1921, he had to dissolve it as distributors didn’t pay him.  Then Universal took his cartoon rabbit and claimed ownership and stole his Disney artists to work on it!  MGM told him Mickey Mouse would terrify women on the big screen. He was told Three Little Pigs & Snow White would not sell. Pinocchio production was shut down due to spiralling development costs. When he did premiere it, his publicity was a disaster as the 11 people he hired got drunk, then stripped naked and ran around New York!  He experienced failure upon failure, but he learnt from his failures. Failure brought him insights and wisdom that success would not and so he then went on to great successes.

The ones we really need to worry about in business are those leaders who think they never fail. I know you have met them and recognise them. You definitely cannot fail around them as failure is seen as a moral failing. Then there are those who hold the badge of CEO but are not leaders but managers. You recognise them also as they were recruited for their technical skills. Maybe a finance or chief operating officer by background. They carry on like they did in their previous role and subtly use power and processes to coerce their organisation and staff. These are people that John Kotter (1990) would describe as transactional and not transformational. You work for them and ache to discuss vision, purpose and the impact that your organisation is having on the customers.

Or worse still they are failing and have no idea of the failures they are presiding over or the impact of those failures on their staff or their organisations performance. They lack insight into the role of  leadership and do not have the antennae leaders need to spot what is really going on. They have not developed their antennae because they never engage their team, do not look at themselves, they never ask for feedback and they never look at wider industry and its advances. Recognise that boss?

So why do leaders fail? Are there some common characteristics. In a fascinating book   “Lead like it matters because it does” published by McGraw Hill (2014) Roxi Hewertson, CEO of Highland Consulting Group and AskRoxi.com lists five reasons why leaders fail: Over or under confidence – not leading confidently and so not taking people with you or being over confident and rather too big for your boots. Approaching leadership with the wrong expectations – many leaders have a limited idea of what they are getting into when they take on a leadership role and don’t realise that growing and leading their team is key to success. Lack of training in the skills of the leader – leaders fail when they try to apply the technical skills they acquired on the journey to the role of the leader. It requires different skills now and they need to be learnt and mastered to succeed. Ignoring the need for a healthy team – leaders need a team around them, they need to build that team and develop healthy interpersonal relationships with and within that team,. They need to build trust and the will to follow them in others. They have to keep working at this listening and growing themselves on the way also. Failure to listen – leaders often feel they need to be directive, to have all the answers and tell not listen. They need to learn to listen, not to jump in, to reflect, to engage and develop the organisation to find the answers.

So, why is failure important, something to engage with and not run away from? As I stated earlier if we are truly leading we will fail, we will sometimes push too hard.  We may be in a culture that does not fit well, not take people with us and not get the change happening. Leader don’t operate in a vortex so we might be failed by the business context or by our own organisation. We may have a vision and values not aligned or we might have an innovation or idea ahead of its time.

Do not run away from your failure instead let the failures be your teacher. This is difficult I know as with a sense of failure often comes despair, guilt and a sense we are inadequate in some way. Those emotions are normal but failure is not an end, it can and often is instead a beginning. It just requires us to look at ourselves.  Ask yourself, with the support of your coach: Where did I fail? Were the examples above speaking to me? Were there signs of impending failure that I missed? Were people trying to warn me and did I not listen? What have I learnt? How did this failure impact my values? What is my leaders vision and how do I stay on track? What can I do next time? Who should I have working alongside me? How can I turn this lesson into a success in the future?

Then encourage yourself to try again, be easy on yourself, and others when you fail and keep talking about it. Surround yourself with “life enrichers” who will help you to rebuild and move forward. Walt Disney learnt to recognise business people around him. He described three types: “There are three kinds of people in the world today,” Disney said. “There are ‘well poisoners,’ who discourage you and stomp on your creativity and tell you what you can’t do. There are ‘lawn mowers’ – people who are well- intentioned but self-absorbed; they tend to their own needs, mow their own lawns and never leave their yards to help another person.

Finally, there are ‘life enrichers’ – people who reach out to enrich the lives of others, to lift them up and inspire them. We need to be life enrichers, and we need to surround ourselves with life enrichers.” So, in summary we leaders need to develop mastery of ourselves and be around life enrichers. We need to become self-aware to our strengths and most importantly our weaknesses. We need to spend time reflecting on where we got it right but more importantly where we got it wrong. We need to admit the failure(s) and we need the support and affirmation of a great coach or mentor to do this with us and to avoid us falling into negativity or despair as we reflect. We also need to be aware of others in the team, how they also will succeed and fail and how we must help them move forward on their journey also. We need to be transparent and show some humility and humanity to those around us knowing that we all fail but we can succeed also. Only if we are open to failure and to learning from it  as a continuous circle of leadership improvement, only then will you be effective as a leader. Do contact me for executive coaching, mentoring and leadership speaking. I can travel to you or I offer high quality  Skype  coaching. If you want to learn then I would love to work with you on your leadership journey. http://www.amandareynolds.org