Tag Archives | leadership


Capacity. Right now we’re all fighting the problem of capacity. In organisations as they have become more streamlined there is just no extra capacity other than that which is quantifiably needed to deliver what needs to be delivered.

There is NO spare capacity in organisations anymore. No buffer, no extra capacity or resource built in for when for example something unexpected happens in our business plans, no spare capacity in our teams when we have more than one person off longer-term.

The simple fact is that now most of you reading this will be doing the workload of more than one person. Admirably doing your best to fulfil a role that was originally done by two or more people. That means that what once was delivered by two must now be delivered by just one – so now more than ever we need to be working at our best, making sure that we have the maximum internal capacity available to deal with the day-to-day issues that will inevitably come our way.

When we are at our very best, when we’re firing on all cylinders, it’s amazing what we can achieve. When we are on form, there’s almost nothing that phases us and we can deal with almost any issue or problem that comes our way. That’s why in this busy, even crazy world of work that we currently live in it’s more important than ever to build our own internal capacity so that we can be at our best more often.

OK so here’s where I get a little technical, a little ‘science-y’ and explain why it’s so important to look after yourself and more importantly understand how your brain works in order for you to be at your very best. Don’t worry though, if you, like me weren’t that good at science at school, this is what we call – ‘Blue Peter Science – it should be pretty simple to understand.

During our working day we use both our conscious and sub-conscious parts of our brain. The conscious part of our brain, helps us to reason things through, communicate effectively, problem solve, be creative, make multi-level decisions, make pro-active choices, prioritise, decipher what needs to be done when, pay attention, concentrate (amongst many other things). Effectively the conscious part of your brain is VITAL for you as a leader to do pretty much everything that needs to be done in an average working day. The subconscious and unconscious control everything else, they control your neurology, all your body functions like breathing, digesting etc. and your automatic responses to things, things you don’t have to even think about, what some call your ‘auto-pilot’.

What is useful to know here is that the conscious part of your brain, the bit we all need to function effectively in our working day has a very small capacity. It is tiny in comparison to the total capacity of the brain and is comparable to your smartphone’s memory and processing ability compared to a super-computer’s.

During every night, just like your computer at home the content from the day that has been filling your conscious mind is downloaded into the sub-conscious. Both the factual content and the emotional content is downloaded and stored in the internal hard-drive of your brain.

The problem is that most people right now are interrupting their sleep at the most important part – the R.E.M, second deep-sleep stage of sleep, which means that the all important emotional download is interrupted and you wake up with your storage capacity still half–full from yesterday’s content.

Think about this a moment – What happens when you put too many photos, videos and songs into your smartphone? What happens when it gets close to full capacity, it’s memory is full? – It GOES SLOW right? It starts to stop functioning properly. It takes a long time to load information or process anything.

Well, in simple ‘blue peter science’ terms it’s EXACTLY the same with your brain! When it’s running close to its capacity, that’s when we struggle at work with even the most basic of tasks. You’ve all been there, reading that report late at the office, you know the one where you read it over and over but it’s just not going in? That’s because you’re brain is running at pretty close to full capacity. It needs downloading; it needs rest and space to recover itself.

The GOOD NEWS is that the brain is a remarkable instrument. It’s incredibly adaptable and when used well, it will serve you brilliantly. The fact is that right now, we’re not looking after ourselves or our brains well enough and as a result we’re all suffering from a loss of performance, just like our smart phones do when we’ve loaded too much content on them.

So what can we do?
Well first thing to do is to just bear in mind that your brain (and body) just like your phone or pad or computer needs energy in order to work.

What happens if you don’t charge your phone, plug it in for 24hours? Likelihood is, unless you’ve got an amazing battery life on your phone, that it will run out of juice and stop working. And yet, what do we do at work now? Most of us don’t listen to our bodies telling us to stop and take a break and most of us don’t take a lunch break anymore. Is it any wonder that we run out and can’t read that email later on in the day?

Here are some principles to follow that that should enable you and your brain to build capacity and lead at your best:

PRINCIPLE 1: Your brain (and you) need fuel to work at their best

If we are expected to work like the computers we sit in front of, then we, just like our computers need to be fuelled on a regular basis. Remember this isn’t just food and drink, it’s energy, and so anything that gives you and your brain an energetic boost is good.

PRINCIPLE 2: Take your breaks – give you and your brain some rest

I want you to think of your brain as a muscle. (It isn’t a muscle strictly speaking but go with me, it’s a useful metaphor). When you go down the gym, or you want to get fit, if you want your muscles to perform at their best it’s important to warm them up, warm them down and to take breaks between sessions. It’s just the same with your brain, give it time and space to ‘warm up’ and take regular breaks. When you take a break it clears capacity and enables you to come back more refreshed and work at a sustainably high performance level.

PRINCIPLE 3: Move your body, move your mind

When you get stuck on something or if you have something that you need to come up with a creative solution to, MOVE. When you move your body you move your mind, so use this as a conscious technique to get out of your ‘stuckness’ and into problem solving mode.

PRINCIPLE 4: Download and unwind at the end of your day

Because we are working later these days we are eating into what researchers say is a key part of every working day – The wind-down. This 1-1.5hour post work slot is a vital part of your day. Use it to download (write or record) anything that’s still buzzing around your head from the day and to consciously unwind and relax yourself. It will help you to get a better night’s sleep

PRINCIPLE 5: Get a good night’s sleep and let your brain recover

Sleep is our most important resource of all. Sleep is when our brain (and our body) regenerates, repairs, recovers and downloads. Follow the principles for a good night’s sleep in my previous linked in article: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/sleep-your-most-vital-leadership-resource-all-part-2-jo-clarkson – and you’ll find that just by getting a good night’s sleep you will increase your brain capacity’s ability to deal with everything that a challenging day at work can throw at you.

PRINCIPLE 6: Be kind to your brain and your brain will be kind to you

Trust me when I say you want your brain to be your buddy not your enemy. Right now we are being unkind to our brains and as a result our brain is sometimes not there when we need it most! So don’t let your brain go on strike, treat it kindly. Look after it and it will most definitely look after you. The good news is that generally things that make YOU feel good make your BRAIN feel good, so do things that make you feel good and you’re half the way there.

In conclusion…

So there you have it, 6 principles that should enable you to get the most from your brain and as a result, increase your capacity to lead. Don’t run on empty anymore, don’t run yourself down, now is the time to be kinder to yourself and to your brain

The result? You’ll be able to function and perform at your best, and when you’re at your best? There’s nothing you can’t achieve and nothing you can’t deal with.

At Meta we’ve been supporting leaders and their organisations for nearly 20 years. We’re passionate about what we do and we’re passionate about finding the research that enables the busy executive and the busy workplace to become a more effective one. We think that with some simple shifts in working practices, some simple principles of smarter working, every leader and every workplace can excel.

We hope that you found the blog useful and if you’d like to find out more about what we can do for you and your organisation, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch. We’re always happy to talk about the principles of smarter working and we’re always happy to support enlightened leaders like you, because that’s what we’re in business for – We do what we do because we’re on a mission to change the world.

Happy capacity building everyone!
Jo x

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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 – www.meta-org.com/.events
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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When we are young, we are greatly influenced by our role models. As children, we learn to mimic our 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, and 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 from 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?

At Meta we love helping leaders and leadership teams to be the  role model and create the culture in which everyone thrives. If you’d like to find out more about how we can help why not download our Leadership brochure from the link below:

Meta Leaders&Leadership Team development


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During August I’ve been doing some work in Glasgow, and staying in the Citizen M hotel. Their staff are called ambassadors and the customer service is way beyond the call of duty. Of course, I was curious about what prompted the level of friendliness and helpfulness they demonstrated, and asked the questions.

So, the answers were consistent, and showed that it’s not hard! Firstly, they are recruited as ambassadors, which means that their job is to make guests feel welcome and looked after, rather than do reception, or bar work, or any other specific role. They are selected for their personal qualities of a positive attitude, a friendly disposition, being prepared to help each other out and work as a real team, and flexibility in the roles they play depending on what’s needed to serve the guests.

They are led by example, with management demonstrating those qualities with guests and with their team, encouraging the team to give of their best, and trusting them to take the small actions that can make such a difference to the guests at their own discretion.

And it is delightful to be in a hotel where all the staff greet you, respond positively to any queries or requests, and enjoy their work.

Two particular aspects stand out for me: the way their role is defined and the way the team is managed.

The role is defined as caring for their customers. It is not implicit in the role; it is explicitly what is important. So they don’t just check in the guests when they arrive, they greet the guests and help them to check in if that is what the customers want. They don’t just serve drinks, they assess how that person asking for a drink is, and respond with conversation, speed, whatever feels right for that person. Their first thought is for the customer, not just getting the transaction with the customer done.

And the manager is not someone in a back office who appears when there is a problem. They are out there helping out when it’s required, and demonstrating the behaviours they want to inculcate. They notice and overtly value the customer service their team gives, and encourage them to take the initiative.

I saw a lovely example of this one evening. There was a big event on downstairs, and a couple of ambassadors who were in the bar area upstairs came down and told the manager that they were quite quiet up there, so they’d agreed that two of them would come down and help out those who were looking after the event. They could have just taken advantage of the quiet time, and the manager could have told them that he had enough staff in the event. Instead he said, ‘Great idea! Thank you’ and they took an extra dose of positive energy into the event space.

Everyone’s a winner with this approach to customer service. The customers are happy and want to go back. The staff are happy in their work because they feel valued for what they do and trusted to do a good job. The organisation is happy because happy customers and staff means more business.

Wouldn’t it make sense to apply these principles whenever we are serving customers?


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With the general election coming up, the last few weeks have been a vivid reminder of why office politics has such a negative connotation: we have been subjected to empty rhetoric, empty promises, back-stabbing, meaningless jargon, false presentation of ‘facts’, popularity contests, and false personas intended to impress us. We have few examples in our governmental politics to inspire us to apply real politics when it comes to our workplace.

Yet the word politics comes from the Greek and Latin words meaning ‘affecting all the citizens of the state’ – it is neutral not negative, and simply means that what you do or say or legislate has an effect on the members of the whole group.

Since our politicians don’t generally seem ready to consider the possibility of setting us an example of how to make that effect positive and inspiring, maybe it’s time for us in our organisations to set them the example!

We all do engage in office politics whether we are conscious of it or not. We all have an impact on others in the group, through our behaviour and actions. These may be the small everyday impacts: being in a good or bad mood, and affecting others with its effect; or it may be the decisions we make as leaders: introducing a shared service because it will cost less, at least in the short-term.

We all have the power to change the connotation of office politics by choosing to behave in ways that demonstrate a genuine intention of having a positive impact on those around us.


Firstly, let’s demonstrate the values that are supposed to be underlying our behaviour at work: words like trust, respect, ethics, transparency, fairness, come to mind. Most organisations would claim that they intend to apply these values, so let’s take them at their word. It doesn’t require a lot of thinking through: just consider how you would like to be treated by others and apply it to the way you treat those around you. This on its own will change the way we impact on others to the good, and will set a differed tone to office politics.

Then let’s just add a couple of simple questions to our preparations when we are about to act or make a decision. The questions are: ‘Who will this have an impact on?’ And ‘How can I ensure that the impact is as positive as possible?’ I know that sometimes we have to make difficult decisions, but that doesn’t mean that we should just ignore their impact. It is always possible to alleviate the negative impact in some way, if only by being honest about it, and helping them to cope with it – isn’t that what we would want someone else to do for us? And don’t forget that we may have seen a benefit to someone of a decision we make that they don’t get immediately, so we need to explain that as well.

Finally, let’s stop trying to prove ourselves or compete with others. If we all behaved in ways that have a positive impact, then we all benefit, because others will be behaving like that with you. Wouldn’t it be lovely if you succeeded by being someone who treated others well, and being yourself instead of by putting energy into trying to outwit and outdo others?

This simple change applies whether you are considering a restructure or just whether to send an email. Each time your actions or behaviour involves others; you are playing politics, so play it well. Isn’t it time we had some positive example of office politics where the common good was to the fore?

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Nowadays most organisations have leadership teams rather than management teams, but a change in title doesn’t change behaviour, and management and leadership are not the same thing. Management is about controlling and maintaining the status quo. Its purpose is to ensure that nothing goes wrong.

Leadership, on the other hand is at the next level. It is taking the organisation further by having a vision of an even better workplace, and turning it into reality by inspiring the people in the organisation to work towards that vision.

Why being a leader matters

If organisations are to continue to be successful, leaders play a vital role. It is no longer enough to just avoid problems, if it ever were. Organisations need to be flexible and adaptable if they are to survive and thrive in our changing world. And this means that the people within organisations, the heart of the workplace, need to be flexible and adaptable. Achieving this requires leaders whom they trust and who make them feel valued, who enthuse them to make the workplace even more effective.

Requirements for leadership

Being a leader is primarily based on personal characteristics. This means that leaders need to start by developing themselves rather than a set of technical skills. They need to be self-aware, and recognise their impact on others, because their effectiveness in encouraging their people to enhance the way they work depends on the example they set in their own behaviour.

No one will follow someone who is just out to give themselves kudos, or who doesn’t seem to care about them as people.

We also want to feel that the leader has integrity and ethics, that they won’t go for results at any price, and that they genuinely want to make the workplace better.

Signs of leadership in action

  1. They want their organisation to be an even better place to work and have a vision of how that could be
  2. Their team is given the credit for what is achieved
  3. They make their people feel valued
  4. They behave as they want others to behave and are conscious of the impact they have on others
  5. They actively engage their people in their vision for the future of the organisation and give them ownership of achieving the vision
  6. They are willing to listen and learn – they don’t assume they have all the answers
  7. They use the strengths of others
  8. They act with integrity and fairness

Are you a leader?

Does this all sound impossible? Many organisations have so much emphasis on the management of the business that time to be a leader seems more than you can do, an extra ‘task’ on top of the never-ending list you have already.

Yet if you look again at that list of signs of leadership, you will realise that sometimes you are like that, and that none of them are too difficult if we choose to put them into action. They are primarily about a way of being with those you work with, not extra tasks.

Furthermore, were we all to behave like leaders, the workplace would be a less stressful place to be, because people would be feeling more positive about what they were doing, more motivated to make it work well. Isn’t it time we decided to make work a positive and inspiring part of our lives? People make or break the effectiveness of an organisation, and their leaders are the ones who influence which way it goes. So dare to dream that your workplace can be how you wish it were, and that you can make a difference. Be the leader you would like to have, and bring out the best in your people.

At Meta we’re starting up a leaders network, so if you’d like to explore what it means to be a leader today, then why not come and join us? You’ll find information about the leaders network on our events page – www.meta-org/events

Have a great month!
Di and Jo x

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Right now I’m going to ask all you managers out there that read this to do something completely counter cultural. I’m going to ask you to break out of the current conformity within business and do something different.

It’s time to rebel.

It’s time to break out of the tight constraints that current business practice has you tied up in.

It’s time to release yourself from the shackles of management and step up into a leading role.

It’s time.. To dare to lead.

Right now there are many things that are wrong with business. One of the fundamental issues is that everyone is managing and no one is leading. It’s a provocative statement but in my opinion it is true, there are too many managers and not enough leaders.

So what is the difference?

Well leaders are like directors (in a film/play). Their role is to be able to have a perspective on what is going on. They are the ones with the oversight, who ensures that all the parts are working together to produce the best possible result.

Excellent directors (like leaders) play two main roles visionary and facilitator. They are always looking for how the parts could work together even better to produce even more innovative results – the visionary part – and they do everything they can to make it easy for their people to give of their best – the facilitator part.  Notice we say facilitator rather than manager. Sure its important for a leader to be able to manage in fact you cannot be a leader without being an excellent manager, however when you step up into leadership you become a facilitator not a manager.

So what’s going wrong?

Right now business is busy being busy. It hasn’t time (or budget) to develop people as they are promoted. There isn’t the time to ‘show someone the ropes’ or handover properly to the new manager, and so although the person promoted has the raw talent and skills to do the role they are not given the time to develop their managerial skills to such a level as to fit the new higher position. With constant restructuring in most organisations since the recession this means that many people are now doing the role that pre-recession was done by a minimum of two people. This means that there are many ‘leadership teams’ who just do not have the leadership skills required to lead rather than manage. This means that there is an effective ‘shrinking’ of the management structure, directors feeling they have to ‘step in’ to manage things that really they shouldn’t be managing!

If you’re a manager you probably already feel that your directors/senior managers do this too much. How does this make you feel as a manager? Well it tends to make you feel disempowered. Why bother when the likelihood is that your boss will step in and change it or interfere anyway?

On the flip side I hear over and over again from people we know who are directors that their leadership teams are not ‘stepping up to the mark’ that they feel they have to intervene and are fed up with having to do so.

So if both sides don’t like what’s going on, maybe its something that needs to be looked at? Maybe its something that needs to be paid attention to, a fundamental problem that needs to be resolved.

There is a simple solution. And it’s so simple that I really can’t understand why no one is doing it.

How about investing a short amount of time (and money) into developing your leadership teams’ leadership skills? How about getting back to having a ‘handover period’ (of a few months) when someone who has been promoted gets to grow into their role rather than just being expected to run from day one? There was a genuine reason for doing this, it meant that it could be identified what extra skills/development they needed in order to effectively do the role and meant that their senior manager could get back to what they did best, leading!

So what can you do? You, the manager, the leader within your organisation?

Well, you can either wait for someone to encourage or tell you to lead..  (Good luck with that one; you may be waiting a very long time!!) OR you can just DARE TO LEAD.

Whatever level you are within your organisation if you have line management responsibilities, then you have an opportunity to lead.

Yes I know that your organisation’s leaders may well be caught in managing too much, but if you don’t take action and step up into leading then who will?

It feels that right now everyone is waiting for everyone else to do something. Waiting for a miracle to happen when suddenly everything changes. It’s not going to happen unless someone starts to do something different. So how about YOU do something different?

How about you buck the trend and start to lead rather than manage? How about you become the director of the film of the story of your life at work? How about you start to create a new version of how work is for you. One where you empower yourself (And empowerment can only EVER come from you first!) to start leading your staff in the way that you would like to be lead?

You see we KNOW how to lead, we just don’t believe that we can in the places we work. We don’t believe we have the power or the authority to. And yet if we are not in control of our own behaviours/ways of being then who is?

Isn’t it time we took our own power back?
Isn’t it time that we decided to embody how we want leaders in our workplace to be?

If we don’t do it? Then who will?

Its time for a change and change starts with you first. So if you want to change the way that your organisation is lead, start by leading yourself. Start being the model for how it could be. You’ll soon get results and they’ll be visible (if you shout about them), you could be the example that others can follow and when enough people are daring to lead then it influences up. If people start being leaders we can change the world of business and if we change the world of business we can truly change the world.

Go on.. I dare you.

Dare to lead this month, treat it as an experiment and see what happens!

And if you need help or want some advice on how best to lead, how to take that step up into leadership, then we here at Meta are at your service. We have a vast library of research and a wealth of experience on the subject of putting leadership into action.

So please do call on us, we’d be happy to help you, why? Because our mission is to change the way we do business for good and if we can help you, then we’re doing what we’re here to do!

Much love to you all,

Jo xxx

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We may be in the 21st century already, but many of our organisations are still being managed as if it were the 20th century, or even the 19th! In the rapidly changing world of work, this is a recipe for disaster, and anyone who wants to be part of the new economy needs to take stock of their skills, and choose to change their priorities.

Leaders set the example for how to be and behave in this day and age. You need to be leading others into working smarter and exploiting the potential of their skills and qualities, rather than demonstrating that working hard is the only way to go.

What does this mean in practice?


The 21st century leader starts by managing themselves. He/she knows how to maintain a positive attitude, keep themselves from getting stressed, stay energised, and manage their time and priorities. A tall order? No, this is just about taking responsibility for making your life work for you. It is about ‘breaking the rules’ of custom and practice in traditional working cultures, and applying common sense instead.

After all, we all know that working for 4 hours on a report when we’re in the wrong mood is unproductive and inefficient, even if we do look busy, and we all know that we are more effective in our work when we feel energised.

Setting the direction

Are you still controlling the minutiae of what your staff do? If so, it’s no wonder if you feel overstretched, and your staff feel disempowered!

It’s time to start concentrating on the bigger picture: what, ideally, will your team achieve, and how, ideally, will they work? Give them something to work towards that’s inspiring, and some agreed parameters for what ‘a good job well done’ looks like in that vision, and let them get on with it. Lead with inspiration, instead of managing by control.

Managing others

It’s time to put into practice the implications of that old chestnut, ‘People are our greatest asset.’ We can all begin to pay proper attention to our staff, treating them as we would like to be treated. Treating people as our greatest asset means that we put our support and encouragement of them first on our list of priorities, not last. If they were a very expensive piece of technology, we would take great care of them, and they are better than that – they can achieve miracles if we treat them right!

By valuing and appreciating what others contribute, by encouraging them to use their strengths, we also set the example for how they treat each other, and customers, as well as bringing out the best in them.

Being a role model

The most powerful message we give to our staff is not through words, it is through our everyday behaviour. Just like children, we tend to copy what others do, rather than do what they tell us to do. So be aware that how you approach things, how you tackle your own workload, how you deal with others, are the messages you give about what is acceptable here. If you are managing yourself well, you will be encouraging others to do the same. If you are constructive in your approach to issues, others will be too. If you show respect to your colleagues, they will show respect to you and each other. It is a very simple formula, although not so simple to put into practice!


This might sound like a nice idea, but your to do list is miles long, so when you have time… Please realise that we will never have time – this is a choice we make, which will gradually make our lives easier, and enable those around us to work smarter as well.

The qualities of the excellent 21st century manager are not alien to any of us. They are the qualities of mature and thoughtful human beings. You undoubtedly have them – the question is, are you using them at work? And are you willing to make that choice now?

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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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