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I met up with a manager I hadn’t seen for about two years the other day. It was a delight to see Robert, and we immediately fell back into our old way of talking with each other. Within a short period of time, he had told me about his life over the last few years, both personal and professional. I realised that he had given me his trust, just as he had when I was his coach, and it got me to thinking about trust.

As a leader, two-way trust is essential, if we are to perform well. We need to trust those we work with, both peers and team members, and they need to trust us. With this trust, we can achieve miracles, because we are not wasting our energy on watching our backs, and can focus that energy on doing the job well instead.

The only way we can gain trust from others is through our behaviour and attitude towards them. If we are trusting of them, they tend to return the trust. If we keep confidentiality, they are more likely to tell us the truth. If we are honest with them, they will be honest back.

We all know this – our close personal friendships work on this basis, and our work relationships are not that different. In the same way as we can rely on our friends to support us and be there when we need them, we need to be able to do the same with our work colleagues, because they will help us to perform at our best.

And of course, this is two-way. If we want the best from our teams, we need to be there for them, and support them when they need it. This approach is often seen as part of the coaching style of management, but to me, it is more than just a style. It is a way of life, a way of being with people, that makes work more enjoyable, more satisfying, more rewarding, for both parties.

We sometimes think that caring for our colleagues is ‘too soft’ and will lead to them exploiting our softness. Yet very few people fail to respond to being trusted and supported as a person. And most people work far more effectively for someone they feel they can trust.

If we want to be effective as a coach, either professionally or as a way of supporting our friends, then building trust into the relationship is essential.  (For more on being an excellent coach, visit

Building more trust into relationships.

  • If you are not very trusting, experiment with giving trust a bit more, and count how many times it pays off, rather than back-firing.
  • And if you are a trusting manager, keep going, build on it!
  • If someone comes to you with something personal, make sure that you treat their subject with respect, and keep it to yourself.
  • And if you make a promise, keep it.


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We were recently working with a group, exploring the characteristics of an excellent leader. When we had identified a list of those characteristics, we asked people to choose two that they felt they were good at, and that mattered. A significant number of them chose ‘honest’, explaining that it was vital for trust and good relationships and that dishonesty was something they could not tolerate in others.

I was delighted that this had become so important to people – we have done this activity many times before, and I have never seen so many people choose honest as their quality. Maybe the whole sorry business at Enron, not to mention the questions over the US and British governments’ reasons for going to war with Iraq have brought this issue up to the forefront of people’s minds recently. If so, then there is some good come out of so much unacceptable behaviour!

It is common sense that honesty is the best policy, yet so often leaders are ‘economical with the truth’. This may seem easier at the time, but we all know that longer-term, we win more respect from others when we are honest with them, and they come to know that they can trust us to play straight with them.

We also know that we feel better in ourselves when we are not deceiving others, and on a purely practical level, you don’t have to remember what you were dishonest about if you simply stay honest!

We often misinterpret what being honest means in practice. This is a sad reflection on how common deception is in different forms. Whilst we may all recognise and choose to despise the out-and- out lie, we are often living with the everyday deceptions without even being aware of it in ourselves. We do after all, have a culture of politeness, so we spend a lot of time censoring our thoughts when interacting with people to make sure we don’t offend them, and this is also sometimes a form of dishonesty.  Whereas we react to others who are not playing straight with us, we often don’t realise how much we are doing the same thing.

What we particularly remember in ourselves is the times when we have not told people something negative – where we have ‘held our tongue’ – so when we talk about being honest, we think of telling people what we really think of them – and we don’t think of the nice things we would have to say!

As a leader, I believe we have to wake ourselves up to the full meaning of the principle of being honest, and demonstrate how it works to all our advantages for our staff.

Honesty with ourselves.

  • Are we living our own values?
  • Are we leading others as we would like to be led?
  • Are we being straight with ourselves about the state of our business?

Honesty with our staff

  • Do we tell them both good news and bad news about the company?
  • Do we tell them when they perform well, and when they need to improve?

It is not hard to be honest – it’s easier than deceit or lies!  I’m sure you would prefer to have others honest with you, so apply the same principle in your dealings with others.


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We are all capable of leading well when times are good, even if we don’t always practise it!  But what happens when times are tough?  These are truly the times that test our mettle as leaders.  Tough times can be two kinds:

  1. When we are personally finding things difficult for whatever reason.
  2. When external circumstances are putting pressure on us.


Let’s look at the personal aspect first.  We all come across this one!  It can range from a short-term demotivated mood, where you really don’t feel like bothering, to a more generalised feeling of being demoralised or fed up.  As a human being, we are entitled to have fluctuations in mood, confidence and motivation.  As a leader, we need to know how to handle these in such a way that they do not cause damaging effects that make the situation worse.

When I was a college department head, we had a drawer in my filing cabinet that was apparently empty.  I say apparently, because actually, we all used it to vent our frustrations, angers and anxieties.  We would open the draw, and tell it exactly what was on our mind, asking others to leave the room if necessary!  When we had finished, we would give it a short burst of air freshener or aromatherapy oil to ‘clear the air’ ready for the next one!  This is one way of satisfying the first need – to express whatever it is you’re feeling.  You can use writing it down, telling a confidante – a trusted friend – or even a filing cabinet drawer!!

Then we need to have techniques to help ourselves to change our state, and help us to get some perspective.  Going for a walk, remembering times when we have felt good about ourselves and our work, and finding something to laugh about all helps.

Finally we need to minimise the situation that will make us feel worse, and maximise those that will make us fell better.  For example we may delay the difficult appraisal interview by a week, and instead talk with one of our most motivated members of staff.  Or we may just clear that damn back log of mails to deal with, so we can feel a sense of achievement!  What we are looking for are the situations which will increase our motivation and perspective, by reminding us of the good bits, and those which will give us a feeling of success.


When the toughness comes from external circumstances, we may need to start by getting ourselves feeling ok, using some of the techniques suggested above.  This is because we need to be able to set the example of how to react, and we can only do this when we feel good.

Often we have a knee-jerk reaction to tough times.  We make rash, short-term decisions, and don’t consider the wider context.  We also frequently forget our values, and look for fixes without considering the consequences.  If we are in a good state, we can take a more fruitful alternative route to decide what we are going to do.

We obviously need to face the situation.  This is best done on your own, or with a team of trusted colleagues first.  Begin by reminding yourselves of what your organisation stands for: your purpose, your values.  Ensure that you remember that your people are not objects, they are human beings, and how you treat them now will have an effect in the future.

Then the questions to ask are:

  • What are the likely and possible scenarios?
  • How can we handle them as well as possible?
  • What influence can we bring to bear to optimise the possibilities?
  • What are the most useful actions to take now?

We all want our leaders to have wisdom, and use their experience well, particularly when times are tough.  You know what would motivate you to do your damnedest to help in tough times.  I know, for me, that I want some straight talking – not pretending everything will be ok – and then I want some constructive thought through things we can all do.  Offer your people something they can act on, and the majority will.  They will certainly respect you as a leader and support you, rather than adding to your problems.

Tough times are bound to happen.  It’s the nature of the dynamics of human beings and organisations.  If we have a ‘tough times’ strategy, we can continue to enhance our abilities as an excellent leader.  Don’t wait for them to happen – start planning your strategy now!!

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There are times when I wonder if I am right off-track in terms of what I believe people want from a leader. Am I being too idealistic in thinking that people would prefer a leader with integrity, intelligence, a long-term view, a clear direction and a desire to make the world a better place?

After much soul-searching, I came to the sad conclusion that, although this may be what we would prefer, it is not what we think we can have. We no longer believe in it as a real possibility. We don’t tend to look for someone who will take us to a better place, but rather look for someone who will keep what we have under some sort of control.

In business the same tendency is reflected in the fact that we talk about leaders, but the majority are not leaders, they are managers – people who work at keeping what there is under some sort of control. Rather than have a vision of what may be possible, most so-called leaders are working to a short-term timescale, managing the resources they have to achieve short-term aims. These people may well do a good job, but they are not leading. The very word implies a movement forward with purpose.

If these people succeed in maintaining the jobs in their area, and keep the business profitable, they are deemed to have done a good job – and they have. What they haven’t done is lead their staff.

And it is a clear direction with a purpose that inspires people to give of their best, rather than do enough to keep the story going.

So are you a good leader? Do you have a vision of how the workplace could be better, how the work your area does could be enhanced, how the service you give could be even better? Do the people around you want to give of their best, come to you with ideas to take your vision forward?

The shift of the atmosphere in the workplace from maintaining the status to moving forward is tangible and fruitful for all concerned. We may not believe that we are likely to have a leader who inspires us to give of our best, but we still delight in it when we do come across one who is like that.

So check yourself out over the next month or so. Ask yourself some simple questions:

  1. Do I have a vision for my area that would move us forward and that inspires me with a sense of purpose?
  2. Have I articulated it to my staff, and if not, how could I?
  3. How can we start moving towards that vision?
  4. How do I encourage my staff and inspire them to want to give of their best?

And choose to be the good leader you would prefer to be.


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My colleague and I recently came out of a workshop in one of the companies we work with just over the moon. We had observed in action real empowerment and it was a delight.

There were a group of team leaders who were asked to state what they wanted to do to improve their area, and what they needed to achieve it. There were several senior managers present, and all of them without exception validated the team leaders’ statements of intent, encouraged them to look at what they could do, and agreed to back them if they needed it.

The team leaders were clear about what would make a difference, knew what needed to be done, and had thought about how to approach it.

It was a room full of people working together like grown-up’s and it was significant in the growth of that company.

This is not something that happens out of the blue. This company has been working with us on the way its leaders lead, the way people are kept informed and involved, the approach they take to change, and the way people are motivated to step up and take an active part in what happens.

It takes a while to get this stuff into the muscle of both the leaders and those who work with them. We are talking about changing people’s beliefs about how people work effectively, what being the leader means in practice, how much control is needed and what people are capable of.

The first step is to get intellectual acceptance, and that can take a while. But more important than that, is getting people to buy into it at a heart level, and that requires different evidence. It is a gradual process of continuing to encourage people to try things out, to have another go, to be straight with each other, and to notice where it works rather than where it is not yet taking hold.

We are delighted to have been able to help create the environment where genuine empowerment is beginning to be the norm, and honour those leaders who have had the courage to step out and make it happen, keeping going until the fruits begin to show.

If you want your people to be genuinely empowered, don’t give up! The persistence pays off.


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We tend to think of being caring with others at work as being ‘soft’, and not very business-like. I don’t know where we got this from, since we all like to be cared for, and we spend a lot of our time at work, so some caring there is a delightful extra!

I remember my first visit to a particular manufacturing company. I was escorted round the factory by one of the manufacturing directors. It took us quite a while to go round, because he stopped and spoke with so many of the people working there. He knew the names of everyone who worked in his area of the business, but more than that, he knew what was going on in their lives, and could sense what sort of mood they were in, and gear his greeting to them accordingly. He cared – not in a ‘soft’ way, but in a way that made his people feel valued, and motivated.

When I worked with the company, I realised the level of loyalty and commitment that he had created. His name always made people smile, and these macho men would declare that they loved working for him.

This caring came naturally to him – it just seemed to be the obvious thing to do! And it produced very noticeable results for the business. His area stood out in the business for low absence, low turnover of staff and high quality standards, and one of the tasks I had been given as a consultant was to discover why there was this discrepancy between his area and others!

I am still shocked that we don’t generally show the same degree of humanity at work as we do at home, because somehow we have come to think of it as a weakness. Yet all of us prefer to be treated like human beings and respond more positively to someone who shows some care for us as individuals. It is time this myth of being business-like – or is it robot-like! – at work was dispersed, and we all allowed ourselves and others to be real feeling caring human beings.

We don’t have to be ‘soft’. We are sometimes quite tough with our children, our friends, but underlying the toughness is a desire for the best for them, to help them to be at their best. Why not apply the same principle to the workplace? It would make it so much more likely that our staff gave of their best at work, and it would make us feel more human and cared for as well.


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I listened the other day to someone explaining why there was no point in being honest about why they hadn’t been at work the previous day. ‘My boss claims he is in a meeting in London when he wants to go and play golf, so why should I say that my wife was ill? I will pretend it was me who had a virus.’

This man had not done anything wrong in taking time off to care for his wife, yet he preferred to maintain the standards of his workplace and cover up with a story.

It made me think about the power of the example the leader sets for his or her team. We all, as leaders, sometimes fail to set the best of examples. I know that I have been guilty of the ‘do as I say not as I do’ syndrome at times. Nonetheless, we need to be really conscious of how powerful we are in determining how others around us behave.

It is worth spending a little time thinking about what example you would prefer to give to others:

  • Are you true to your values, or do you compromise them?
  • Do you bring your human beingness into the workplace or act as if you are a robot when you are at work?
  • Do you ensure that you are in a good state – enough food, sleep, time off – or do you stretch yourself to your absolute limits, and then perform less than well?
  • Do you pay attention to people when they talk to you or wonder how long it will be before you can escape?
  • Do you keep people informed of what is happening or use the information you have as power over others?
  • Do you take risks or always play it safe?
  • Do you admit when you are wrong or try to cover it up?

Of course, this list could go on and on, but this will give you a starting point to consider!

Everyone is affected by their leader. He or she sets the tone for the department or organisation, whether they like it or not. We spend a lot of time in different companies, and we know what the boss is like before we even meet them. We just have to watch how the team behave! Whatever you tell them to do, they will do what you do, so make sure you get what you want from them by being like it yourself.

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We may be pleased or sad when we move from one stage to another with something in our lives, but more often than not, we relegate the experience to the past. This is great, so long as we have taken the time to first appreciate what we have just been through.

Whether the experience was bad or good, we will have gained something from it. So to stop and ensure that we really recognise the ‘treasure’ we have gained from it is vital, if we are to be truly learning and growing in our lives.

Often in business, we try to rush people into the future, without giving them a chance to recognise the value of the past. I think we have a fear that they will get stuck in the nostalgia and resent the changes even more. Yet paradoxically, the reverse tends to be true. If you give people a chance to consider what they have gained from what is now passing out of their lives, it gives value to what they have done, and helps them to move on more naturally and more confidently.

It is a natural process, just like the leaves on the bulbs dying back to feed the bulb ready for a new flowering next year.

So encourage your teams to gather the treasures from their past, as they move into new phases, and ensure that you do the same for yourself.


  1. Think of a phase in your life that has now passed. Spend a few moments recognising what you gained from that phase of your life
  2. Next time you are working with your team on something that is new for them, spend a little time at the beginning getting them to recognise how what they are now leaving behind has been valuable for them.


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I was running a conference recently, where I asked people to work in small groups, and then present back to the whole group. No doubt you have used this methodology. I knew there was a danger that the managers involved in the groups would be the ones who presented their group findings, and I wanted to avoid that. Yet I didn’t want to put anyone on the spot.

So I told a story about seeing Richard Branson give a talk. It was at the end of a long day, where everyone had given slick presentations, and we were all a bit mind-boggled.

He came on, and was clearly nervous. His speech was hesitant and his stammer showed through. Yet he held us spellbound. The reason? His talk was heartfelt, rather than clever, and he obviously cared about his subject deeply.

I then suggested to the groups that the person who fed back to the whole group was someone who cared deeply about what they had come up with, and that it didn’t matter how long or slick the presentation was, it only mattered that it was heartfelt.

Although I had set it up, I was astounded by the level of presentation that we had. People who had never spoken in public before were daring to speak, and the genuine involvement just shone through. We actually went past lunch time without realising it, because they were so good!

We often try to encourage people to risk stretching themselves, and there are many ways of ding it. The use of a story is just one of them. But I thought it was worth sharing, to prompt you to think about how you can encourage people, and give them the confidence to go beyond their assumed limitations.


  1. What stories could you tell to encourage people to have a go when they might otherwise not dare?
  2. How else can you give people confidence, so they feel safe in having a go?


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Without consciously knowing what we were doing, we started Meta as a company by really establishing and building its identity. We clarified for ourselves what we were in the business for, and quickly realised that we were not a training or consultancy company – that was not enough.

What we are about is enabling others to re-discover and use their excellence, in simple and straightforward ways that fit with the need to also get on with what we have to do. We just happen to be focused on doing this through the vehicle of our particular field, which is training and consultancy type activities.

I have become more and more fascinated by the power of a clear identity, and the distinction between identity and the way in which you express it. Most companies define themselves by what they do. Yet this is the vehicle for their identity, not what they are really about. And it is not what inspires people and brings out the best in them. We all respond to organisations that have a coherence about what they produce, how they produce it and market it, and what their overall image is.

This coherence comes from the match between what the organisation does and what drives the passion and enthusiasm in it. For example, Virgin suggests exciting and fun as a brand, but its prime attraction is the link to also making things easy and enjoyable for customers. This is its identity as a group, this blend of characteristics.

So what part do leaders play in the identity of an organisation? In the first place, they are the ones who begin the creation of an identity. They do this through their own passions and beliefs and values, and also through recruiting people who share these drivers with them. But the organisation then takes on a life of its own. This starter identity is developed by all the people who play a part in it. The crucial importance of this is generally unrecognised, yet can explain much of what we observe in organisations as being dysfunctional.

If a new leader in an organisation has a different idea about its identity, you will find that the organization becomes schizophrenic, as the new identity clashes with the old. And the people who have worked there for a while become demotivated or discontent without really knowing why. Similarly, a manager of a particular area may establish an identity for his/her area that doesn’t match with the overall identity, so it stands out like a sore thumb. Sometimes it is simply a matter of the leader confusing what the organisation does with what it stands for and therefore not exploiting the passion in the organisation., then people are just doing a job, and the standard is mediocre. And sometimes the brand and the marketing don’t correspond to the true identity of the organisation and we get mixed messages. No doubt you can thnb9k of many more examples of dysfunction!

So your starting point as leader is to explore what the identity of your organisation is. To help you to do this, you need to explore what value your organisation brings, to people, to society, to the world.

Then you can begin to explore how you can fully align what you do with what you’re about.


  1. How does your organisation give value? Ask yourself, ask others. Don’t rely on your marketing to tell you.
  2. How would you then define your organisation’s identity? What are you really about?
  3. Does your area really align with this identity, not just in what it does, but also in how it does it?
  4. If there isn’t a clear identity, what do you want it to be?
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