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You’re probably fed up of hearing about Covid. I know I am. And yet, it’s a big mistake to ignore the longer-term effects of Covid on your leaders, your workforce and your organisation. 

At Meta we’re seeing more and more people in our network suffering from the effects of what we’ve termed the ‘Covid Hangover’. So, we wanted to use this month’s blog to talk about what you can do to help mitigate the longer-term effects of that ‘hangover’ on your people and your organisation. 

It’s important to state here that it’s not too late! However, we’d urge you to not wait much longer before you start investing time and yes, resources, to ensure that you, your team, your organisation and your people don’t end up suffering from one almighty ‘Covid Hangover’.

The Covid-19 pandemic has been a real game changer in the world of work. Now, more than ever, we need our leaders and our staff to be performing at their best, to deliver organisational Covid recovery business plans, but, after 18 months of the pandemic (supporting their organisations), the simple fact is that most of us have run out of energy. We’re working such long hours, working harder than ever before (this is borne out of the data in research conducted on working hours since the pandemic began), and almost every person we have talked to in the Meta network over the last few months is tired (at best), running on empty (most of the time), exhausted (more times than not) and, in the worst cases, close to burnout. 

That’s a concern to us, because we genuinely care about you! We also know that, with a small amount of help, support and development, you can prevent the worst-case scenarios, and get you and your organisation into a good place – ready for the next chapter of working in a post-Covid world. 

Organisational resilience is a serious risk to every business right now, perhaps the greatest risk – and your organisational resilience (the ability to bounce back and recover post-Covid) is absolutely dependent on your people’s resilience (their ability to bounce back and recover themselves post-Covid). 

As you know, at Meta we love etymology (the root meanings of words, what they originally meant).

The word ‘ORGANISATION’ comes from the same root as ‘organic’ and ‘organism’, it means ‘a whole consisting of inter-dependent parts, a living system’. 

Your organisation (and on a smaller scale your team too) is a ‘living system’. Its success and ability to recover post-Covid is 100% dependent on your people (the ‘living’ part of your system). As it’s an interdependent system, if one area fails (or in the case of the team, more than one person is off longer term, or you experience staff turnover), then unless the rest of the system (or team) can adapt and pick up the work, the system comes crashing down. 

With very little (if any) spare capacity in organisations anymore, as we’ve streamlined our organisations down to the bare minimum of people needed to deliver what needs to be delivered, it is doubly difficult to maintain the balance in the living system that is your organisation. What once was done by ‘two’ is now done by ‘one’ – if that ‘one’ is missing, who picks up the work? 

Then throw in the mix of a hybrid working model, with some people working virtually and some in the office using resources like protective screens for offices to protect from diseases and have privacy, and this means that more and more work pressures are not shared amongst the team (as they were), but rather fall on the individual.

So how on earth do we tackle this? 

Well first of all, we need to start acknowledging that we can’t work how we always used to. We’re working on average four hours longer a week than we did before the pandemic, and the truth is that, although we are working longer and harder than ever before, we’re still not getting everything done (at least not at the level we’d like to get it done). 

We’re working longer hours, and working harder – working through breaks, doing back-to-back (virtual) meetings, re-visiting our laptops and emails in the evenings, and yet, it’s still not enough. 

We need to be working in a smarter way. But what is smarter working? We’ve heard so much about it, but what does it mean in practice? 

Be very clear here, it doesn’t mean using more technology. Having more technology in our organisations has not lessened our workloads. If anything, it’s just led to an expectation that everything should be done, responded to, solved and completed, quicker and faster. It’s just made us go faster and try and do more. 

Smarter working is about understanding HOW WE WORK AT OUR BEST, as individuals, teams and yes, as organisations. It’s about understanding we’re not robots, we’re not machines, we’re humans and, as such, have to manage our performance and our workloads/tasks in a way that matches our natural peaks and dips in an average working day – and matches our own brain’s ability to perform. We need to understand HOW our brain works: how it stores, processes and performs at its best. Then you can instantly improve your own performance and productivity as an individual. 

Then there’s self-management – the bit where we make sure that we’re in the best state possible to do what needs to be done. When we’re flat, when we’re stressed, when we’ve not slept, when we’ve worked through lunch, we’re just not going to perform at our best and so our ability to do what needs to be done suffers. So does the quality of what we do, so does our ability to be creative, to come up with innovative ideas or innovative solutions. An organisation which delivers poor quality, struggles to be creative or innovative, is not an organisation that will thrive in the post- Covid world. 

We need self-management tools that help ensure we get a good night’s sleep, that we understand our own stressors and have ways of reducing the impact of stress on ourselves. We need to understand and work with our human being-ness – really maximise practical ways of improving our performance. 

Then there’s smarter working practices, proven techniques from academic, scientific and real-life smarter working experts, which help you to manage, prioritise, delegate, plan and organise your tasks and workloads so that you can be more efficient. You need to make sure that you’re assigning the most complex tasks to when you naturally perform at your best in the day, and the easier tasks to when you’re not. It’s about carving out the time to do the things that you don’t get time for, but you know are important – this is especially relevant for the leaders reading this. When was the last time you felt you had proper time to reflect, look to the future, think strategically and do more, rather than being reactive? 

We’re so busy, that we struggle to find the headspace or thinking time to look too far into the future, to plan our routes ahead. So, we end up firefighting, putting out fires that we probably could have foreseen and made sure didn’t get started up in the first place – if we’d had the time and space to think. It can feel, as a leader, that it’s nigh on impossible to get everything done, but having worked with many senior leaders and executives over the last five years, I can promise you that with some smarter working tools in your toolkit you’ll be amazed at what a difference it can make. 

But this is not just for leaders, there are so many smarter working tools that can help you, whatever level you work at in your organisation, and now we’re moving to a more self-managed way of working in the hybrid era, we can all benefit from a few smarter working tools in our toolkits and in our working practices. 

Then there’s the problem of capacity – as leaders we need to focus on how our people work going forwards. The likelihood is that, for the foreseeable future, we will not be getting any extra resources while we are in the recovery phase of the Covid journey. So, this means INVESTING in your people, up-skilling the organisation at every level (that you can) to help you through this challenging next phase. 

That future isn’t a long way away. You can start working towards it now – creating a new way of working that works for you and your organisation. The future of work is coming, and in order to make current structures work, there will be a need for a multi-skilled workforce – one that works cross-functionally and has a flexible structure that enables the movement of ‘floating resources’ that can help you maintain the living system (the organisation) and keep it working at a high level no matter what comes your way. 

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. First of all we need to take some preventative measures, to ensure that we don’t experience the worst effects of the ‘Covid Hangover’, as individuals, as leaders, and as organisations. 

The first thing you need to do?


Yep, you heard me. You really need to stop and take time out. 

I was working this week (and last) with a senior leadership team in a large metropolitan council. They felt that, even though we were coming out of the Covid tunnel, they were still in ‘emergency mode’. They hadn’t stopped (quite literally in some cases) for 18 months straight. Meta had offered to do a free workshop with them around smarter working practices, and one of the most common pieces of feedback from the leaders was how good it was to stop and take time out for themselves and reconnect together as a leadership team.

It’s not just leadership teams, it’s all teams and all of us. We need to stop, create a little time (in your busy work diary) for reflection. Can you really carry on the way you are working? Or is what you’re doing, and HOW you’re working, unsustainable? Are you finding it really tough to do everything that needs to be done in normal working hours? Are you stressed? Overwhelmed? Run out? Is it affecting your work-life balance? Are you struggling with your sleep? Is it affecting your home life? 

If the answer is YES to any of the above – then please, please PLEASE don’t ignore your own intuition that says something needs to change. 

This is preventative medicine, it’s like taking a glass of water and a paracetamol BEFORE bed when you know you’ve overdone it a bit. It means that in the morning you’re likely to be OK, rather than struggling to function. 

Although I’m using a humorous metaphor here, let’s be clear, there’s nothing humorous about the risk to you as an individual, you as a leader, or to your business that the ‘Covid Hangover’ brings. There’s nothing funny about your leaders’ and staff’s mental and physical health being affected by what is to come – it will seriously affect your business’ ability to function. 


OK so don’t stop reading, but this is where we do a bit of self-promotion. Why? Because we KNOW that we can help you! Be you an individual, a team leader, a CEO or organisational leader – we can genuinely help and that’s what we’re in business to do.

At Meta we’ve always been on a mission to change the way people work, and support leaders and organisations to do that. 

Most of you will know Meta as a business consultancy. You’d have come across us through a team, leadership or organisational development journey that we’ve done in your organisation, that you’ve been a part of.

What you probably DON’T KNOW about us is that, at Meta, we do a lot of research. We’ve been (for example) researching smarter working practices for over ten years now. We understood, earlier than most, that the way we were working wasn’t sustainable, that we needed to develop a new way of working – so have an extensive library of smarter working resources based on the research we have been using in the organisational work we have been delivering these past ten years. 

You probably also don’t know that, during the last 18 months, we have been working with frontline organisations and developing a programme we have called ‘Your Resilience Toolkit’ (see link to download information at the bottom of this blog) – a programme of workshops that brings together the very latest scientific research and simple-yet-practical tools (from our years of trying and testing out what really works in the busy workplace) that enable anyone who attends to re-build their resilience, combat stress, and work smarter not harder. 

We believe we have something really special here, and we’d really love to share it with you and your team or your organisation. We’ve had amazing feedback from the organisations where we have delivered this programme.


If you are an individual – If you’re reading this and you are struggling, or finding it challenging/overwhelming to do everything which needs to be done, or if you’re worn out, run out, exhausted – then PLEASE get in touch to talk to us about how we can help you develop your own personalised Resilience Toolkit to help you perform at your best (and mitigate the worst of your hangover side-effects!) You might have been on one Meta programme YEARS ago, but it doesn’t matter to us how long ago it was, or whether you’ve stayed in touch – if we can help, we will, so get in touch! 

If you are a team leader – It’s time to do something with your staff. Don’t delay, don’t put it off. Don’t leave it too late before you act. If you’re too busy, if there’s not enough time, then that’s a sure-fire sign that you really DO need to carve out a space to do something with your team. How about arranging a team away-day facilitated by Meta? We could share some of our Resilience Toolkit with you and your team and, together as a team, you can support each other to implement those tools back in the workplace. We’ve done lots of team away-days over the years and we’re really good at them. 

If you are an organisational leader – We invite you to have a conversation with us. It might be that you ask Di or Jo to coach or mentor you as a leader, or do something wider with your leadership team or organisation. It’s so easy, you just drop Jo an email and say “Jo, we’d like to talk about how we help get our organisation through this next stage of the Covid recovery.” Then we have a frank chat to talk through your options. We will always be honest with you, and make sure that what we propose is tailored just for you (and yes, works for your team/organisational budgets too!). We promise you that it will take less time and will cost WAY LESS than you think to do a really effective re-building organisational resilience programme. 

If you are a CEO/leadership team – During this crisis the biggest pressures have fallen on CEOs and their leadership teams. It can be lonely at the top, especially as most leadership teams have been working virtually. It might be that, as a CEO you arrange some coaching or mentoring with Meta, or it might be that you take time out as a leadership team and do some work to reflect and think about how you create the ‘what next’ in your organisational journey. Whatever it is, please do call on us, we’re here to help. We’ve been working with a number of CEOs and senior leadership teams with their Covid recovery plans since the beginning of 2021. We all need to turn the page on Covid: we need to learn what worked, what didn’t work, and create a new way of working. That’s not easy to do with everything else you need to get done. You need to take time out, away from the office, and have some quality facilitated sessions where you really work together as a team to envision and plan your transition strategy to your ‘new normal’ as an organisation. 

The transition out of Covid is an incredibly important period to your business, and we can help you to create an organisational strategy that works best for you and your organisation. 


We have deliberately made this month’s blog serious, and provocative, because we think this is something that we all need to be talking more about. We HOPE that it’s stimulated your thoughts and made you think a bit differently about your current working experiences. We also hope that you will now see Meta a bit differently and call on us whilst the worst of the ‘Covid Hangover’ is still preventable. We will do what we can to help and support you. 

That’s what Meta’s mission has always been, to support lovely people like you – so don’t delay, don’t wait until it’s too late, just get in touch. The help you need is only just an email or phone call away 

You can contact Jo direct:

Or call: 07976 262352

In peace,

Jo & Di xxx

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Feeling valued for the work you do is a foundation for wanting to give of your best. We all respond to being recognised for what we have done, what we contribute.

Yet for many of us, feeling valued is a rare commodity. What tends to get noticed is what we haven’t done or any mistakes we make. After all, if the boss asks us to go and see him or her, few of us are likely to think that they want to acknowledge our good work – we are more likely to worry about what they might say we have done wrong.

So how do we increase the likelihood of being valued for our work and our attitude? We would suggest that you start to value others more: those colleagues you can depend on to do what they said they’d do; that manager who trusts you to just get on with your work without interfering; that person who always makes you smile with their cheerful attitude; that more experienced team member who will explain something to you that you haven’t come across before; the one who speaks up in a meeting, voicing something you were thinking but didn’t want to say.

There are hundreds of everyday examples where someone else makes some form of positive difference to your day. By overtly recognising it, and thanking them for how they’ve contributed to making your day go better, you not only help to make them feel valued, you also are setting an example of valuing others that becomes infectious. By drawing attention to what someone does that is right, you are encouraging them to notice the same thing with others, including you!

I remember being asked by a senior manager to undertake some executive coaching with two of his team. He told me that they were great people to have in the team, and he wanted to encourage them to develop further because they would both be senior managers one day.

When I started to work with them, I realised that they had no idea he thought they were good at their job. In fact, both of them thought they were being coached because there was something lacking in their work or performance – It was a perfect example of not telling people that you saw them as valued members of the team.

I asked them how they felt about him as a manager and they both said that he was a really good manager, and they liked working with him. I suggested that they found an opportunity to tell him that they valued the way he managed them and had learnt a lot from hm. At their next coaching sessions, they both said that they had done what I suggested, and that he had been both surprised and pleased when they had said it. Moreover, he had told them both that he in turn appreciated the way they worked, and that was why they were being given the coaching – a great turn-around for both sides.

So why not try it out yourself? Go and find three people you work with today and tell them what they do that makes a difference to you. Why not make showing someone else that you value and appreciate them one of the daily things to do on your to-do list? There’s a great sense of well being to be had when you genuinely thank someone or let them know that they’ve made a difference to you. And interestingly, just by that subtle act of gratitude, you’ll be spreading that feeling of well being around your team and organisation too.

Have a wonderful month everyone!
In peace,
Di & Jo xx

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Tips for thriving in challenging times – developing our allies & creating a real support network

Over the 20 some years that Meta has been in business now, we’ve seen the best of business practices and the worst. We thought it was time to share some of the best practices we’ve seen in action that can help you to thrive rather than just survive the current challenging workplaces most of us face.

One of the fundamentals is remembering that work is not a solo sport, that we work at our best not when we isolate ourselves but when we feel part of a cohesive team and are valued members of the organisation that we work for.

Us human beings are social animals, and it’s important that we develop our own social support networks in order for us to thrive. No I’m not talking about online social networks but real social networks with real people we meet and contact on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis. Research has shown that people with the most active social network links are more likely to feel supported and to have a more positive outlook on life, and those that do not have a strong social network tend to feel isolated, unsupported and have a tendency towards a more negative outlook on life.

So what does this have to do with us at work?
Well, the workplace is essentially an extended social network. If we are to thrive and have a more positive outlook about work, it’s important that we develop our support network within our team and wider organisation.

At Meta we’ve often talked about how important it is to have ‘allies’ within your team and organisations, people you can ally with on certain topics that are important to you that you wish to influence. We also think it’s important to have at least one ‘rant buddy’ someone you can talk to about anything in absolute confidence and have a good ‘rant’ with and clear your chest with. And what’s interesting is, that when we share our concerns with others, we often find a kindred spirit, someone who is feeling if not the very same thing, certainly something similar!

When we are under pressure and under stress there is a tendency to try and do everything ourselves. We struggle to see the broader picture and as we become more pressured and the demands on us grow so our focus narrows and narrows until we can literally only see what is next to do on our to-do lists! The irony is that as workloads get bigger we actually need to think more broadly, get perspective on things in order to accurately prioritise and plan what needs to be done.

Our state is incredibly important. Many people now are not getting enough sleep; many of us are running our fuel tanks on empty. So the first step is to notice where our fuel tanks are, are you running on empty? If so, make sure that you consciously make an effort to re-fuel your fuel tank so that you are more resourced.

The second thing is to ensure that you are not doing everything by yourself. There is strength in working with others, and it’s important to share the problems you face. In this case, the old adage is most certainly true; a problem shared IS a problem halved. By opening up to others we can begin to see that it’s not just us that feels like this, that is encountering these issues. Once we realise we are not the only ones feeling this way, we can start to do something about it. Often other people have a perspective that we’ve just not thought of. They help us to see the problem from other angles, to get a clearer picture and often can help us to come up with a way forward out of our ‘stuckness’, into a more sustainable solution.

So who are your allies in your business? Who are people that it’s important to have as a part of your work support network? If you are a leader, who is in your leaders network? Who do you turn to for advice on best practice and leadership advice?

And of course our support network is not just IN work, it’s also outside of work. We often call on our partners and our friends, but its important that we develop other networks of support, involve others who are perhaps in similar positions in other organisations who can understand the particular issues we face.

There is something to be said about developing a community, a network of people that you can share and learn from, it helps us to build our own inner resilience and to deal with the increasing pressures and workloads we all face.

So look to yourself and your network. Do you have a strong, vibrant active support network? Or could it do with a bit of tweaking, re-building and growing?

We at Meta are here to support you in anyway we can. So remember to include us in your support network and if you’re a leader why not come and take part in our new Meta leadership network? The first event is on April 6th and you can find out more about it on our events page –
Have a wonderful month everyone, and if you would like some help with the challenges you face, remember we are here in your corner and are only an email or call away!

Jo and Di xxx

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Everyone these days seems to be getting on with their list of things to do, in their own world of busyness. Yet on a personal level, most of us find that it makes a difference when we stop and consider before we just bash on, and even more of a difference when we talk things through with others.

Yes, there are lots of meetings to go to in most workplaces, but these are not generally for sharing or exploring ideas and possibilities, they are for information giving, reporting and dealing with immediate issues. This way of working results in several things:

People still tend to work in silos

Despite being in a team, most people still do their work primarily on their own, and don’t use the benefits of working together or develop the relationships with others that make that easier.

Urgent gets done rather than important

People deal with whatever seems most urgent, and often neglect the important things that would make a positive difference to the culture, their effectiveness, and help to reduce the number of immediate issues in the future.

No one has a wider perspective

If people are focussed on what needs to be done next, they lose their perspective on what they are trying to achieve overall, and the consequences of their actions for others who are involved in the process.

What’s the alternative?

Most teams have an away day at least once a year. Too often these are just a lengthier and more complex version of the meetings they have back in the workplace.

What if they were a time to reflect, together?

The benefits of space and time away from the office can be enormous:

  • The team can develop their relationships with each other in a relaxed environment
  • They can look at ways of enhancing their effectiveness in working together, so they get all that stuff done more easily
  • They can reflect on the bigger picture, what they’re trying to achieve overall, and develop ideas on how to do that more effectively
  • They feel valued enough to be given the space to think about something other than their immediate list of things to do
  • The team can make important decisions together, so that priorities do not get confused
  • They can explore how best to work together, in order to achieve their goals for the year
  • They can develop particular skills across the team that will enable them to deliver their departmental objectives more easily
  • These developed skills become a shared learning, a common language of development that all the team share, something that brings them together
  • They have the opportunity to look at things that perhaps they don’t have time for at the office, things that are important to the team as a whole, but just not important enough to make the top of individual to-do lists
  • They can come up with more innovative solutions to problems because they are away from the BAU (business as usual) tasks back at the office
  • Teams are a living system, a social network, being away from the office reminds everyone that they are not just their job titles or roles, but real human beings and reconnect as such

And ALL these elements make a difference to how they perform when they return to their everyday working.

We at Meta have facilitated such days for teams in organisations over the past 20 years, and we know just how valuable they can be in helping to create sustainable success in the workplace. Time and time again we hear the same things – ‘it’s just so good to get away from the office together’, ‘I feel like this has really brought us together’, ‘I thought it was just me that thought like this, it’s nice to know we are all on the same page’, ‘its nice to have some space and time to think!’ ‘I can see how we can make this work if we work together on this’.

We all instinctively know that time away from the office together as a team isn’t a ‘jolly’ – (unless you decide that go-karting is the way to go!) – it isn’t a luxury, it’s an essential to the long-term success of the team. Without away days teams become fragmented and individualistic. It is no longer about the team and what the team needs to deliver but ‘how can I get what I have on my to-do lists so that I am in the clear’. That may sound harsh, but for many of us that is the truth.

At Meta want to change that story, we want to help you to create a team that grows and develops together. Having your away days facilitated by an independent, someone outside of the team dynamics, who is not involved with the organisation, has been shown to make a real difference to the effectiveness and longer-term success of a team away day. “Facilitate” means ‘to make things easy’ it’s our job to make it easy for you to work more effectively together, back in the difficult dynamics of your workplace.

So think about your team away day this year, would you like to get the most from that day away from the office? Would you like to develop the working practice of your team? Would you like your team away day to be fun, enjoyable, motivating, productive, inspiring and different? If the answer to these questions is ‘yes please!’ Then why not get in touch with us here at Meta?

At Meta we’ve been running staff and team away days for years. It’s what we call our ‘bread and butter’, because we’ve worked with teams at every level within organisations global to start up, from CEO’s and directors to people working on the shop floor. We know what works and over the years we’ve developed and refined our programmes so that they are practical and easily applicable back in the workplace, thus overcoming that traditional ‘that was a nice away day, and now we’re back in the office, we’ll revert back to the way we’ve always worked’. We love helping teams to realise their potential, and we don’t want your away day to be wasted. We want it to become a way for you to sustainably change the way your team works for the better. At Meta we truly believe that its time to utilise this opportunity away from the office to its fullest so that your team comes back raring to go and ready to give of their best.

So why not use YOUR away day this year to get more? Use YOUR team away day to motivate, develop and inspire your team, you’ll be really glad you did!

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It was one of those times when you really just want to curl up in front of the TV and not go out.  But we had tickets to see Nigel Kennedy play Vivaldi, and, having seen him before, we knew that we had to make the effort.

The concert was very late starting – to the point where large parts of the audience were doing the slow handclap of displeasure – and Nigel starts by apologising and taking the blame.  His little speech doesn’t really help the atmosphere – he doesn’t seem sufficiently contrite.

And then, he and his orchestra begin to play.  Everything changes in an instant.  Here is a man who not only plays his violin amazingly, he also plays with his orchestra in the most wonderful way.  He encourages them, enlivens them, gives them credit, all the while creating unbelievably beautiful music without seeming to work at it.

The audience applauds in between movements – unheard of in classical music – as well as at the end.  And the man who was irritating, when he first appeared, becomes someone they laugh with and respond to and delight in.

He is unkempt, he is unconventional, he is somewhat childish – and he is an outstanding performer, a musical genius, who experiments, who plays sublimely, who inspires his orchestra, who lives his music for you on stage.  What a great role model!  Not perfect, quite human, yet working his own particular excellence for us all to benefit from.

It is a totally uplifting experience, leaving your heart and soul singing.  Genius may not be ‘tidy’ or even comfortable sometimes, but it does inspire and remind us that excellence is magical.  And genius is infectious – it reminds us that we also carry elements of it inside us and helps us to bring them closer to the surface.


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It has become fashionable to talk about leaders in organisations rather than managers, and to suggest that everyone can be a leader, so it is not limited to the senior management. Yet the distinction between a leader and a manager is rarely made explicit, and those who are called the leaders still tend to be valued for their management skills rather than leadership skills.

Nonetheless, we at Meta believe that the ideal organisation will only come into reality when there is excellent leadership as well as excellent management.  The excellent manager will ensure that everything runs as smoothly as possible, and people perform well.  The excellent leader sets a vision and direction to the organisation that gives dynamism and growth, to the individual involved and the organisation as a whole.  The manager maintains the status quo well, the leader brings continuous development and enhanced possibilities.

The manager controls.  The leader inspires.  One is not better than the other.  It is not a question of either/or.  Both are necessary for a sustainably successful organisation.

What is an excellent leader like?

When we research the descriptions of excellent leaders, there are some clear groups of characteristics that all will have in common.

  1. 1.  Being a visionary

The excellent leader has a vision of how the organisation could be, and uses that vision to give a direction and motivation to the staff.  Their vision is not just about achieving excellent results, it also covers how people will be, ideally as they go about their work, and how the work environment will be, to encourage them to perform at their best.

In defining the vision, the excellent leader also helps people to understand how they can get there.  He/She suggests the possible approaches to turning the vision into reality, and is explicit about the parameters they will need to work within.  These are guidelines rather than rules, giving the staff freedom to develop without fear of overstretching the line.

The key to a great vision, however, is that it comes across as genuinely desired by the leader.  He/She needs to be clearly personally committed to both the vision , and to staying with the company to work towards the vision.  For example, many organisations have been through the phase of wanting to be “world class“.  Most leaders I have heard state this don’t sound as if they mean it, or have even thought through what it means in their business – they just say it because that’s the vision, and it feels like an excuse to beat up on those who aren’t performing perfectly yet again.

I do remember one particular leader stating this vision and catching his whole team in.  He actually said: “Our vision as a company is to be world class, and I reckon that in our area we can set the example for what that means.  Being world class here isn’t just about processes, productivity and quality.  It’s also about a great spirit in the workplace.  So let’s work out how we can build on what we have and become the first to prove it’s possible.” His enthusiasm, his commitment, shone through him, and his team could see that he really believed it was possible.

  1. 2.  Personal qualities

“This above all, to thine own self be true”  Hamlet, by William Shakespeare

One of the reasons that excellent leaders are distinctive is that they have in common a high level of authenticity.  This means that they are true to themselves, and play straight with others.  Their uniqueness as a human being shows all the time, and they do not hide their individuality behind a cloak of conformity.  This is why some excellent leaders may be charismatic, some may be quiet, unassuming characters, some may be quite bullish in achieving what they want, and some may work quietly away behind the scenes.  What they all do is use their personal strengths well, and come across as real human beings who have feelings, who sometimes make mistakes, who have a sense of humour and perspective.

This level of authenticity also gives people a sense of power from within, so that they don’t need to exert power over others to prove themselves.  They are comfortable with themselves, and this allows them to give credit to others, and encourage others to be the best they can be.

3.  Emotional intelligence

The words emotional intelligence were bandied about quite a lot a few years ago, and the phrase captures a quality that we all recognise.  It is firstly the ability to manage yourself and your emotions well, so that you keep perspective and can deal with the ups and downs of life with resilience, and have a generally positive attitude towards life.  This means that they demonstrate the qualities that allow us to be successful in our lives and set the example.  It also makes it possible for them to show the second strand of emotion intelligence; the ability to “read” others and respond to them in a way that brings out their best

  1. 4.  Working with a team

It is in the area of working with others that 21st century leaders differ from the role models of the past.  The models held up tended to be military – yes, inspiring and courageous, but very much the leader out on his own.  Today’s excellent leaders regard their teams as a vital part of their leadership, and recognise that it is their ability to enable and empower others that elicits success.

This means that they elicit, encourage and draw on the strengths of a team of people, bringing them together to work towards a shared vision.  They acknowledge and respond to others’ ideas, they support the growth and development of their team, and they see their role as making it easy for others to give of their best.

  1. 5.  Thinking systemically

The excellent leader is not totally caught up in the everyday.  He/she takes the time to maintain what we at Meta call treble vision:

  1. Current reality and awareness of what is happening now, throughout the business, which allows them to spot the potential problems before they grow into crises, and to be aware of the potential knock on effect of any change.
  2. Mid term future:  the ability to recognise what is achievable towards the vision, and keep the momentum going.  They also keep the system relatively balanced, by ensuring that the developments undertaken are not just weighed in one aspect of the organisation.
  3. Long term future:  ensuring that whatever is developed is contributing towards the vision in some way, and maintaining that vision as the context.

This way of thinking is very different from the thinking driven by a mixture of crises and shareholder profits, and is often difficult to maintain.

  1. 6.  A change agent

Being a visionary means that the leader wants change.  However, it is also necessary to be a change agent, i.e. to know how to make change happen, rather than just have a wish list.  Change agents know how to:

  1. motivate others to engage fully with change
  2. encourage others to be innovative
  3. involve others fully in all aspects of making change happen.

They also recognise that change is about a way of thinking, not an occasional flurry of activity.  They encourage both development and innovation.  They recognise that experimentation doesn’t always work, but can always lead to learning, and they make learning central to their own and others’ view of what is happening.


The major characteristics listed above create a picture of someone we would all love to work with, the ideal leader.  Yet this is not our usual experience of being led.  Why not?

The inhibitors to excellent leadership

  1. A.  In the individual

We have been generally conditioned to believe that we have to prove ourselves and demonstrate that we are successful to the world at large. Our education and upbringing teach us to be individualistic, conformist and competitive.  We are taught to try to be “the winner” yet in an acceptable way.

This inhibits us in our role as a leader, at an unconscious level.  We use our own bosses as role models, even though they didn’t demonstrate the qualities we would prefer, because we assume they succeeded because of how they were behaving, and we also want to succeed.

  • We are sometimes reluctant to share the glory, because then we will not look like the winner. And we may therefore be reluctant to run with the ideas of others, or use their strengths.
  • We can avoid taking risks, because we want our success to be seen as acceptable.
  • We fear that treating others well, and supporting and encouraging them may lead to them exploiting us, and seeing us as weak.
  1. B.   In the team

Not only do we have this conditioning to inhibit our practice, so do most people around us.  This means that they may push us into their stereotype of the leader, rather than their ideal, because that is what they expect.

  • They may demand answers and decisions rather than help in working something out.
  • They may bring the responsibility back to you, and play the blame game with you and with other colleagues.
  • They may be suspicious when you arte being supportive and encouraging, expecting that you will somehow exploit them if they accept your approach.
  • They may look for evidence of your weakness or failings rather than notice your support of them.
  • And some will take advantage and go off in directions you would prefer them not to.
  1. C.   In the larger context

There are also external inhibitors which can make it difficult to put excellent leadership into practice.

  • The company culture and history.  Every organisation that pre-existed your leadership has its own identity. And people expect it to be maintained.  If yours is a history of conformity, control, bosses, then you are working against the norm, and there are pressures from everyone to stay with the original story.
  • The expectations of your bosses.  For most of us, there is someone above us in the hierarchy, our line managers, the owner, the executive board, the shareholders.  If they have a narrower, shorter term view of what success is in the organisation, then we are obliged to fulfil these expectations, and may find that either this takes all our time and energy, or that anything more is unacceptable.
  • The cultural expectations.  We live in a world where short-term financial viability is king.  Whether it be shareholders, the stock market, the banks. Or the government agencies, they all work on the basis of assessing our current situation, not our longer-term potential.  Because we need to stay profitable and/or financially secure, we may be forced to take steps that short-term improve the situation, but longer-term slow us down.  We are unlikely to be praised for our excellent work with people, even though this is what will lead to the sustainability of our organisation.

With all these inhibitors, the wonder is that leaders do nonetheless demonstrate some of the characteristics of excellence!


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It is easy to be an inspiring leader, full of enthusiasm, when things are going right. It is when things start to go wrong that our true mettle shows through..

When we work with leaders, we find that they really understand the principles of leadership, and have a genuine desire to put them into practice. Yet they slip back into old habits of control and blame when things get tough, back in the workplace.

Why does this happen? Two reasons:

  1. We have all been well trained in the old habits, so they are your default position,. When we have time to think, we can switch on a different behaviour, but when the pressure is on, we have an automatic response.
  2. Other people expect us to behave as we always have done. Even if it is not particularly constructive behaviour, they at least know how to react if we do what we have always done. So if we step out of that, they often try to push us back into the familiar.

So how do we change our habits?

The easiest way to change a habitual behaviour is to consciously practise at regular intervals. So if you say to yourself that this morning is going to be my time for being the excellent leader I know I can be, and set yourself a time limit, it begins to get into the muscle. Don’t make the time too long – then it begins to get strenuous, just like when you take up a new form of exercise, and you will get disheartened.

There is one caution to this – sometimes we slip even when we have made a conscious decision not to, and then we tend to beat ourselves up for it even more than usual! This is not at all helpful, because the way our brain works is that every time we go through an experience again in our memory, we are rehearsing to do the same thing again, so reliving the not so useful behaviour is a great way to train yourself to do it again next time! Instead, just recognise that your behaviour was not what you intended, and run through the scenario as you would have liked to play it. This is excellent training for handling it better next time.

It also really helps if you can find a mentor – someone whom you respect and trust, who is further along on the path to being an excellent leader. Such a person provides the encouragement, advice and support that can make it so much easier to grow yourself.

Most of us don’t suddenly turn into excellent leaders overnight – it takes practice. Go gently with yourself, gradually introducing more and more of the behaviours you want to demonstrate and you will be surprised by how the ‘new you’ begins to grow!


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As we have been working on our research into best practice in leadership, we have become more and more aware that people really do know intuitively what makes someone a leader, as opposed to being a manager. The leader is taking people somewhere that is better in some way than where they are now. He/she may be improving the workplace conditions, may be inspiring people to a higher performance level, may be innovating in the way they conduct their business, and they may be making a positive difference to their community.

However this is not achieved by telling people to change, it is achieved by inspiring people to change, and literally leading the way, making the path. We often forget that one of the most literal definitions of a leader is that they are the person who is setting the pace, carving the route, leading the field. They are out front, setting the example. Yet, intuitively we know that if we are looking to change the habits and customs we have for something better, we need someone to be prepared to have a go first. If  Roger Bannister had not run the mile in 4 minutes, no-one else would have believed they could do it as well. If Mandela had not said that he could forgive all those who had punished him for his convictions, there would not have been a council for reconciliation in South Africa to deal with those who had maintained the apartheid regime, there would have been trials and punishment.

So, if we want to truly be leaders in our own spheres, we need to be the change we want, be prepared to stand out front and set the example. How do we do this? We don’t have to make a major stand to make a big difference. We just have to live our lives and do our work in the way we want others to. It is simple, yet very powerful.

So if you want people to be empowered, empower yourself! Take that action or decision that feels right, yet isn’t usual policy.

If you want people to work together and share their knowledge, work with your team, give them what you know and ask them for their expertise.

If you want people to treat each other with respect, then ensure that you treat everyone with respect.

If you want people to enjoy their work, enjoy your own!


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Trust in senior management is declining in the UK. According to a survey, 41% place little or no trust in senior managers to look after their interests, and only 25% place a lot of trust in their managers.

The effect of a lack of trust is low loyalty, and lack of commitment to the organisation. Can you afford this as a cost in what you are trying to achieve in your organisation?

Most leaders I meet would prefer to be seen as trustworthy. What may stop them is that they don’t know how to create that perception – ‘ I am not like others’ – or don’t know how to manage the expectations of their own bosses/shareholders and be trustworthy for employers.

So how do you come across as trustworthy? Obviously, the first step is to have the integrity that leads to trustworthiness. We tend to trust people who are straight with us, tell the truth, recognise and value what we do and who we are.

So as a leader, we need to be known by our workforce, and know them. This is not hard. It requires us to set some time aside each day to wander around our workplace, talking to people, gradually getting to know their names, and noticing their reliability rather than just descending when there is a problem. It is amazing how powerful it is just to know people’s names – we all feel more recognised when someone remembers who we are!

We also need to be straight with people, and keep them informed. By the way, this includes telling them that you don’t know the answer to their concern, rather than bullshitting your way through! We were talking about this issue in a workshop the other day, and one of the leaders present said that his old boss used to have set times for appearing in different parts of the organisation, and would be there for an hour or so. People knew that they could ask him anything at that time, and did so. If he didn’t know or hadn’t got the time to talk properly with them, he would always say that he would get back to them – and he did! It made him a trusted leader.

And what if your bosses are putting pressure on you to cut staff, or cut costs in some other way? It is time we started working out the maths for the real cost of these sorts of actions as a short term solution: the cost of increased staff turnover from survivors of staff cuts – often our best workers who have lost faith in their leaders; the cost of low morale from those who are left, and the resulting lower productivity; the cost of reducing the standard of our customer service in terms of longer term customer retention and increase. We all know with our common sense that these types of cuts only pay off in the short term, and cost more in the longer term.

As a leader we have to be both courageous enough to say so, and astute enough to actually present a good business case for taking another approach.

There is a history at work of people not trusting their boss. The lack of trust is getting worse. Make sure you are in the healthy minority who have integrity and demonstrate it, and help us to create more long term sustainable organisations with a trusting and motivated workforce.


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There is no doubt that a major crisis is often the prompt for fundamental change of some sort, whether that be in our personal lives, in organisations, or globally.

What I wonder is if that is the most effective way to be prompted to make a change.

Britain  suspends the debt repayments for the countries hit by the tsunami for ten years – if we had suspended the repayments five years ago, would those countries have been able to deal with the disaster better?

A person is told they have a life-threatening illness and changes the way they live their life – would they have even had the illness if they had been prompted to change their lifestyle earlier?

A business makes a loss and can make no payments to its shareholders, so changes its structure to become more efficient, cutting staff in the process – if those staff had been motivated to become more productive, would the business have made a loss?

As leaders, we are often in the position of responding to some form of crisis at work: a supplier lets us down, key staff are off sick, a customer is threatening to withdraw their custom. Many leaders say that they do not have time for forward thinking, because they are too busy firefighting.

Yet what could we achieve if we concentrated on the possibilities rather than the contingencies?

As a leader you have the opportunity to make a significant difference to how we approach change.

  • You can look forward and try out ways of improving what you already have, so that it becomes more robust and able to ride the crisis.
  • You can inspire your people to give of their best at work, so that there is less need for fire-fighting
  • You can aim to have the best possible service rather than one which is generally good enough, so that customers want to stay with you.

In our personal lives, we achieve most of our change and growth gradually, driven not by crisis, but by a desire to make things even better. If we applied the same principle at work, perhaps change would become an automatic gradual part of our work lives as well and there would be less crisis.


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