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I have been reading the latest book by Ricardo Semler, and amongst the many themes it has reminded me of is the one of making work fun.

It is so easy for work to become tedious, the same old round of meetings, discussions, decisions, actions, email clearing etc. This problem is intensified for us as leaders, because not only do we suffer from it, we also have the people who work for us suffering from it as well.

Of course all the tedious things have to be done – well, some of them anyway. But that doesn’t mean that we have to find them tedious. We can choose to scatter rewards for ourselves in amongst the boring tasks – a walk, a quite cup of coffee, a chat with someone, and a job we really want to do.

We can also check out that list of tedious jobs. Are they all really necessary? We often develop a set of routines that are habit rather than necessity, and a check once in a while on the purpose of what we are doing may lead us to remove the task from our list.

Some of the things we do are because we don’t trust people enough. We give them things to do, then check that they know they have to do it, then ask them to report on their progress at regular intervals, and sometimes we still do some of it ourselves because we are not sure that they will do it right.

So how about daring to trust others to get on with things. You may come across the odd failure’ if you do this, but weigh that against the time and effort you could save!

And this brings us to how you can offset the dangers of boredom in your people. One way is to trust them to do something. When we have full responsibility for something, it tends to be more inspiring than when we are given detailed task lists.

Another way is to dare to allow them to manage their boredom themselves. In the same way that you will function better and achieve more if you make work more fun for yourself, your people will make their day work better and produce more, if given permission to do so.

Semler talks about treating people as grown-ups. It requires trusting people to be responsible, and to achieve while giving them the freedom to make their work life work for them as individuals. It might sound risky, but doesn’t it also sound like common sense?


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You know what I mean – the one who won’t participate, who doesn’t want to be there..

We all have these sometimes, when we’re working with groups. And it is easy to take them at face value, and hope you can get away with either ignoring or containing them.

But I was reminded again this week of how important it is to go behind that behaviour, and remember the human being. We had someone who really didn’t want to be there – it was irrelevant to her, and a waste of time, she said.

And we listened, and realised that it was driven by a frustration of long standing – she had expressed her ideas for improvement before, but no-one had ever taken them seriously. As it happened, we had senior managers coming to hear this group’s views. She was encouraged to speak out, and once the bit of moaning had gone through without rejection, she began to speak passionately and articulately about her plea for being treated as a sensible, committed grown-up. It was moving and powerful, and we know that, this time, something will happen as a result.

She could so easily have been sidelined. Thank God, we remembered that awkwardness is a symptom not a cause!


  1. Next time you have an awkward one, just take a little time to listen and find out what’s really going on.
  2. And when you feel like being awkward yourself, in meetings you attend, experiment with tracing it back and explicitly stating what’s really going on with you.


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I have just been to see Daniel Barenboim conducting the Berlin StadtsKapelle playing two Brahms symphonies. What a wonderful experience!

It is so much more than listening to a great performance of a great piece of music. It led me to wonder if those who speak of a great leader as being like being a great conductor have considered the full depth of the ways in which seeing people like Barenboim can enrich our view of what the leader really is.

Of course, there is the obvious piece about enabling the different parts of the orchestra to play together and between them, with their differences, create something wonderful.

But there is more than that. We watched Barenboim stand back sometimes, because they were working perfectly without him. Then sometimes he would take the energy and raise the level, or blend it in a different dynamic, or bring the parts together to make a whole. He would encourage some to play with more heart, and quiet others to let the glory of one piece stand out. And all this and more was done with the minimum of intervention, using what was already there and building on it.

In order to achieve this, we assume that he works with the orchestra members outside the performance, encouraging them, forging relationships with them, inspiring them with a passion for the music, so that during the performance, there is only the need for tiny reminders.

He also set the tone for how to be in the situation. He came on stage, dignified, and very present and calm. Both audience and orchestra knew from the start that this would be wonderful, because his quiet assurance told us so. He also received the applause with grace, acknowledging every section of the audience for their feedback, and ensuring that they gave recognition to those who had played their part outstandingly, by getting different individuals from every part of the orchestra to stand up and take a bow. He valued everyone, in the audience and the orchestra, yet gave some a special thank you for their contribution.

I sat entranced, and realised how we may blithely state that a great leader is like the conductor of an orchestra, yet most of us do not remind ourselves of what a rich metaphor that really is. As a conductor, Daniel Barenboim is outstanding and recognised. As a role model for a great leader, he is excellent and powerful.

Why not treat yourself and go to a classical concert in the next few months? You can enhance your leadership skills while enjoying an inherently enriching experience.


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I have struggled over the years to get team meetings to work well.  There have always been some inherent conflicts I have never really managed to balance.  Whether to allow the conversation to flow freely or to keep strictly to time, when I knew that digressions would often lead to moments of inspiration.  How to keep the whole team interested, when I was keen to understand how each of my team were doing.  Over the years, I tended to vary the format, as it became stale, or as the excuses for non-attendance grew.  Yet, the “right formula” remained elusive.

When I think about the best meetings I have had, as opposed to analysing what’s going wrong, I get a different picture.  In these meetings, people are engaged; the conversation flows and laughter can be heard.  I realise that it is not about having a repeatable formula.  It is about team members feeling engaged as a true member of a real team.  The “chemistry” happens not due to a formula, but when they have been working on something that interests him or her and when they feel their contribution has been useful and valued.

Those meetings finish naturally, not when the chairman says so.  People leave invigorated and refreshed, not relieved or depressed.  The team are re-united and strong again.  The buzz of the meeting often continues into the corridors and onwards to the vending machine.

I have also come to realise that I always had my interests at the front of my mind.  I needed to understand what my managers were doing, what issues they had, where they needed my help or the help of others.  On reflection, they should have been called “my meetings” not “team meetings”, as they were really there to ensure I felt fully informed and in control.

How different it could have been if I really trusted them to do their jobs and used the team meetings as a way of harnessing their collective skills and energies.  So, if you run team meetings in a conventional way and they feel somewhat stale or sterile, this month’s workshop is to encourage you to think differently about them – to make them truly “team meetings”.

Ask yourself whether you are using team meetings for your own ends e.g. as a means of keeping you better informed or for exercising control.  If so, are there other ways of achieving this (as you are not using people’s time effectively!) e.g. making better use of one-to-one meetings.

  1. Choose a single agenda item where you could usefully use the team to collectively resolve.  Ideally choose something where everyone has some level of personal interest in the outcome.
  2. If possible, use an experienced facilitator to guide the meeting, capturing key points.  This allows you, as team leader, to contribute alongside others, rather than to direct the discussions.
  3. Step back and enjoy the interaction and energy as the team starts to work together, resisting the tendency to take control or act as timekeeper.
  4. Recognise when the energy level naturally subsides, resisting the temptation to complete the task, but allowing it to come a useful resting place.  Then spend a little time reviewing where you are, what needs to be done next and agree a time for getting together again.

I tend to measure the effectiveness of such meetings by the amount of laughter heard and by how easily people can magically find space in their diaries when they are looking forward to something!

We have been following this approach in our team meetings at Meta, when we realised a few months ago we were falling into the “formula trap”.  We have had some inspired sessions and our meetings are far more enjoyable.  They now feel like proper “team meetings”.

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Several years ago, I helped a university prepare for a degree course in leadership, which was to be the first of its kind in the UK.  My involvement meant that I became interested in the subject of leadership and well read in studies of great leaders.  As well as satisfying my interest in the subject, I was keen to discover what I could learn to improve my style.  What were the elusive qualities that would turn me into a great leader?  The trouble was, the more I read, the more elusive they became.

My work at Meta brings me in touch with many leaders and I see daily examples of leadership, both good and bad.  Whilst I still read about leadership, I have, at last, come to realise what the elusive ingredient actually is and why I, nor others, can ever replicate it.

Great leaders excel in being themselves.  Their qualities and beliefs shine through and captivate others.  People recognise their honesty, consistency and integrity in what they do.  When there is this congruence, people are able to connect with the leader’s purpose, what they stand for and what he or she is striving for.  It all makes sense.  In an uncertain world, the good leader offers some certainty that people can understand and choose to follow.  So we no longer need to strive to be like other leaders or to become excellent in all the leadership “competencies”.  We just need to understand what qualities we possess as leaders and allow these to shine through.

So I want you to think about your own qualities as a leader…

  1. Ask yourself what you are proud of about yourself and how you lead?  What is it that people say about you that they like and admire? Is it your sense of purpose, your doggedness, your humility, your sense of humour, your ability to tell a story, your vision….
  2. How do you demonstrate these qualities as a leader?  Are there some that you tend to suppress?  How are you going to show people more of the “real you”?  When people see you shine through, the more they will trust your integrity and purpose and the more they will respect you as a person and as their leader.
  3. Spend some time thinking about leaders that inspire you.  What qualities do they have that you admire?  Can you learn to develop some of these in a way that will become natural for you?  Take your time, don’t rush.  After all, you don’t want your light to shine less by trying to be in someone else’s shadow!


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‘I’ve always prided myself on being good at analytical/logical thinking, and when I was asked if I would like to go on a programme on developing my skills as a leader I thought I would learn to be even more logical and analytical. Half way through my first day all I could do was shake my head in disbelief.

We had spent the whole morning looking at ways I could make myself feel good and, although that was very pleasant, it felt both selfish and irrelevant to me as a leader.

The workshop facilitator persisted in looking at personal stuff for the rest of the afternoon, which was spent on how I think. Analytical? Nope! My intuition, for goodness sake! I haven’t used that since I was a child. I went home and told my wife that it was a most unexpected day. Two hours later she told me to shut up.

I was curious about the next day and had to admit I felt rather good about myself. As we began to explore what made a good leader I realised that I had what it took, but it wasn’t what I thought it was.

Since that five day session I think I have used about half of what I learned with Di – which is about 100%, at least, more than I have taken from other courses. It makes more and more sense, and it works. No, it really works.’


Di says:

Adam spent the whole of the first day staring at me and shaking his head in disbelief. I could feel his gaze on me the whole time.

It’s a common reaction. At first many people think I am crazy. And I remind them that, when they do get themselves in a state where they feel good abut themselves, they are in a superb position to help others get more from their work.

Western society’s love affair with logical and analytical thought reflects a belief that science could solve all of our ‘problems’ This ‘logic’ breaks work down into boring and meaningless tasks, so that the work does not inspire and motivate, and ultimately the work gets done badly. Nice logic!

We have got to the stage in our culture where many of us think that work has to be boring, hard, stressful. If not, the story runs, we are not earning our money or our leisure time: “work hard, play hard’.


1. Enjoy your work today.

2. Give yourself some treats: stop and smell that flower, smile at that toddler, use your favourite soap, wear your favourite clothes.

3. Take a risk: go in after the traffic, leave your tie at home, leave your e-mails until you have spoken to everyone face-to-face

Enjoy your work today.

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Many years ago, I was working with groups of young people who had been thrown out of school for ‘bad behaviour’. They were a great bunch of kids, once they decided they trusted you. Having been given that honour – of being trusted – I was curious to know what I had done to earn it.

Ade told me that two things mattered to them:

  • I didn’t talk down to them
  • I had never once seemed to doubt their ability to achieve whatever they wanted to

I wondered why that was, and then realised that I had been brought up to believe that everyone has something special about them, so that’s what I looked for in others. And whatever you look for, you find…

It is a vital perspective, if you want to bring out the best in those you work with. There was a piece of research done in the USA, where they took two mixed ability classes, but told their teachers that one group were high achievers, and the other group were slow learners. By the end of the first term, the teachers had proved them right!

The group classed as high achievers were all achieving, the other group were all being slow learners.

With beliefs, you tend, as in this example, to get what you expect. So, stop and think about what you expect your colleagues to be like. If they don’t get your point, do you think they are a bit slow or not bright enough? Or do you think that you have expressed it badly?

We can prove any belief we like to hold, so why not make it easier for you to enable people to be at their best, by deciding to believe that they are pretty special, your job is just to bring that out in them.


  1. List your beliefs about others, including the contradictions – be honest in this one
  2. Now go through your list and choose the beliefs that would be useful to you in enabling others to develop, then add some if you want to
  3. At your next team meeting, read through the ones you have chosen, and decide to act as if they are always true, for the whole of that session, and see what happens


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When we are young, we are greatly influenced by our role models.  As children, we learn to mimic or parents at a very young age and, in later years, whilst our role models may change, we continue to learn from those we admire.  These will include our heroes, whether fictional or real, those at school who may be brighter, better at sports than we are or those who are the most popular.

Whilst our tastes may change, as we grow older, the desire to learn and emulate others does not diminish.  At work, we try and understand what makes people successful and recognise the behaviours of the most influential.   Our own leadership styles are more likely to reflect what we have picked up from others than what we may have learnt from our own experiences.

Before we notice, others are watching us closely and seeing what works and what they like.  And if what we do does not seem to match what we say, we build suspicion, distrust and potentially lose others’ commitment to our leadership.

So I would like you to think about the behaviours that you demonstrate at work.  Do these reflect the ways of working that you are trying to encourage or are there inconsistencies.  For example, are you trying to encourage others to have a better work/life balance, but are the first to arrive and the last to leave?  Or are you trying to improve team working within your department, whilst being openly proud of your independence and autonomy of decision-making?

We are often unaware of these inconsistencies between what we say and what we do, but they are glaringly apparent to others.  So, ask yourself some key questions:

  1. What are the behaviours and ways of working that you are trying to promote within your team or department?
  2. How consistent are your own actions in demonstrating these changes?
  3. What improvements or changes in your leadership style do you need to make to ensure that there is greater consistency?

Finally, why not take the opportunity to explain to others the changes you are planning to make?  This will demonstrate your commitment, show them that you believe in adapting your own style and so encourage them to take similar actions themselves.  And isn’t that what being a good role model is all about?

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This month, I would like to explore the concept of EMPOWERMENT.  This became a buzzword for the nineties, along with other management concepts, such as de-layering, re-engineering and even, dare I say it, “leadership” itself!  Many organisations embraced the concept and empowered their people, but the results have not been inspiring.

Empowered staff often complain that they are not really empowered, as decisions are still taken by their bosses.  Managers complain that empowered workers ignore the rules and are quick to explain that they “tried empowerment”, but that it just did not work.  Leaders need to anticipate the needs of those that have been empowered.  How will others react to them, will they want confirmation from “the boss”, will they resent their authority?  Leaders and others may also need to show greater tolerance for mistakes and support people, so that they are able to learn from their experiences.

A useful metaphor is a teenager who becomes “empowered” through having greater independence, often financially as well as socially.  As parents, we recognise the need to set boundaries, to gradually develop trust in our sons or daughters, to tolerate their occasional mistake and for them to know that we will always be there for them.  But as managers, we can often operate with a different set of rules.  We do not outline the “do’s and don’ts”.  When people fail, we take back control (after all, it was a daft idea, anyway!) and if things get tough, we are not always supportive.

Think about how you have empowered those who work for you.  Have you provided them with the support, at both a day-to-day level and also at an emotional level?  Are they flourishing, as would a growing adult, or are they floundering like a child in the wilderness?

  1. Spend some time thinking about the people that you manage?
  2. How are they coping with the degree of “empowerment” that you have given them?
  3. Have you outlined the “rules-of-the-game” (both written and unwritten) within your company or are they stumbling into problems on a regular basis?  If not, jot down some of the rules and discuss them at the next opportunity.
  4. How are you supporting them on a regular basis?  Do you share their experiences and discuss ways of improving things next time?
  5. How do you react to mistakes?  Do you support them?  Are you there to help when things go wrong – in a way that is constructive?

Be sure to treat them as individuals, since they will be at different stages and will have differing needs.  Finally, consider the benefits that effectively empowered staff will offer to you.  Perhaps, more time to think strategically or to network with others outside your company or even the chance to occasionally go home early!

Write these down, as they will be useful reminders to you when you are tempted to abandon empowerment and to take control back again!


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